Saturday, May 21, 2011

Seeing Vishnu Everywhere

Lord Vishnu“That great hero among monkeys saw the rising moon, which had a color as white as milk or a lotus fiber, the luster of a conchshell, and resembled a swan swimming in a lake.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.58)

śaṅkhaprabhaṃ kṣīramṛṇālavarṇa |
mudgacchamānaṃ vyavabhāsamānam |
dadarśa candraṃ sa haripravīraḥ |
ploplūyamānaṃ sarasīva haṃsam ||

The Supersoul, the direct expansion of the Supreme Absolute Truth that resides within the heart, is the all-pervading witness, a knower of all actions, past, present and future of every single living entity. We may be able to hide our pious and sinful deeds from the watchful eye of the government and others in positions of power, but the highest authority figure, He who is described as antaryami, sees all. Although He is the supreme witness and the root cause behind every visible result, He takes no direct interest in the worldly activities of the ishvara, or controller, of the individual body. Rather, He stands by and watches the jivatma, or individual soul connected to a temporary covering, engage in various enjoyments and sufferings, all the while remaining present as the best friend, a well-wisher who is ready, willing and able to provide the topmost instructional system aimed at achieving liberation from the temporary ups and downs associated with material contact. Those who understand the callings of this benefactor, who is like a transcendental bird that remains forever perched within the heart, are not only able to take to the proper course of action and activities recommended by shastra, or scripture, but they also start to view all the worldly objects around them as being part of the original Divine Being. Through this purified vision, the formidable and blissful presence of Lord Vishnu, the all-pervading aspect of the Absolute Truth, gets noticed everywhere.

koorma-purana-DJ76_lWhatever the mind is focused on for a given period of time is what it will likely see in its external observations. For instance, a thief is only interested in taking objects of value from others. As a result, he is always suspicious of getting caught. In addition, the thief also always keeps an eye out for new projects, i.e. new items that can be stolen. This aggregate mindset can be described as theft consciousness, wherein all thoughts and desires are focused on the foremost task of thievery. Similarly, one who is in love with a paramour will think of their beloved wherever they go. If they spot a shop selling nice flowers such as roses, they will stop in and purchase a nice bouquet to give to their life partner, their beloved whose company serves as their reason for living. In this way, we see that activities and desires sort of paint a color across the eyes that causes all objects to be seen through a specific prism.

When under the spell of bhakti, the eyes are anointed with pure and undying love for God. A paramour may serve as an object of love and interest for one person, but likely that relationship is exclusive. Indeed, the personal and direct nature of the romantic relationship enhances the attachment and bliss felt by the participants. One who gives their love away freely is referred to by derogatory names, for they are considered violators of fidelity. The Supreme Lord, as the ever well-wishing friend of all forms of life, can take part in the most intimate of relationships with every single person and yet still remain completely dedicated to everyone. Therefore anyone who takes to bhakti-yoga, or the divine engagement of devotional service, can have God all to themselves and at the same time induce others to enjoy with Him also.

“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is Shyamasundara, Krishna Himself with inconceivable innumerable attributes, whom the pure devotees see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.38)

Lord KrishnaGod is the creator of everything, but only when the eyes are anointed with transcendental love can the Lord’s influence be seen everywhere. This truth was validated by the behavior of Shri Hanuman, the exalted Vanara warrior and eternal servant of Lord Rama. The Supreme Lord expands Himself into direct, fully capable copies that reside within the hearts of all living entities. It is heard that great mystic yogis of the past sometimes divided their individual souls up into different pieces and thus expanded the reach of their consciousness. Nevertheless, even with this division each individual remained a singular entity. With the Supreme Lord, there is never a division, but rather an expansion. It is not that God has been broken up into millions of different containers which will one day meld back into each other. The Paramatma, or Supersoul residing within the heart, is a distinct and autonomous entity who is simultaneously a most merciful divine incarnation, an ever well-wishing friend and kind companion of the wayward soul wanting to try their hand at creating, maintaining and destroying.

The soul certainly does have independence, but this free will can only lead to positive outcomes when the engagements undertaken match the nature of the performer. For instance, we may own a laptop computer which is capable of carrying out many different complex functions, but if we use the device as a paper weight or as a tray to carry our food, we aren’t really making the best use of it. The laptop can obviously be useful in these settings, but the true potential of the device remains untapped. The laptop is meant to handle word processing, internet, email, and many other software related tasks. The internal computing abilities are what give the laptop its identity. In the conditioned state, the living entity takes to observing nature around it and concocting various theses about the origin of the earth and the manipulations of matter that are required to further enhance the human experience. Yet the higher potential for intelligence that is exclusively found in the human species is not intended to be used for such paltry and useless endeavors.

LaptopSaying that material science used to further sense gratification is a waste of time seems like a rather bold assertion, but if we juxtapose the life of the scientist with the life of the animal, there is no question as to which entity is better off. The typical animal - which is completely ignorant of math, science, philosophy and religion - takes primarily to eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Food is amply available from nature without any need of a governing body, a progressive income tax, a Federal Reserve chairman, or an equal redistribution of wealth. Shelter is also provided by nature, as is sex life. The animal has no concerns over mortgage payments, conflicts with coworkers, or maltreatment from paramours. The animal is even unaware of its impending death; hence the most potent fear of life is absent.

The human being endeavoring to understand the nature around it through scientific analysis is constantly in trouble and worry. For starters, scientific experiments require great time, education, endeavor and resources. And if a large experiment should turn out successful, the only tangible benefit is some advancement in material comfort. An astronaut may train very hard to travel thousands of miles into outer space, but the same enjoyment is felt by the animal which hardly moves at all during the day. Indeed, a human being who simply stays at home and enjoys with their family members has no need to travel long distances. The scientist will argue that their research is advancing the cause of human civilization. Yet if death occurs for both the animal and the human being, what does it matter where one travels or how they get there? Has not the scientist wasted much valuable time in finding their paltry level of enjoyment which the animal obtains all the same without any frenzied pursuit?

Human beings do have a higher potential for intelligence, as knowledge of the Absolute can never be separated from the soul. Even in the body of an animal, the soul has a full level of intelligence that can beam throughout the body. Yet only in the human species can the nescience enveloping the knowledgeable soul through material contact be removed. When one regains their constitutional position, the activities adopted then tap into the full potential for bliss and knowledge that is part and parcel of spirit.

HanumanSince Shri Hanuman is fully infused with spiritual energy and the desire to serve the source of all matter and spirit, God, he is never clouded by nescience. All of his time is spent in the light, even when there is apparent darkness in the surroundings. Just prior to his entry into the enemy territory of Lanka, Hanuman assumed the size of a cat. The onlookers, the denizens of the celestial realm, were quite amazed by this transformation, for Hanuman had not too long before assumed a massive stature to cross over an expansive ocean. The princess of Videha, Sita Devi, had been taken captive by the king of Lanka, the Rakshasa named Ravana. Since Lanka was far away from any mainland, only a truly capable warrior was able to reach it. Not having access to aerial cars or machine powered boats, Hanuman expanded his size to match the difficulty of the mission. Leaping off a mountain peak, Hanuman then flew through the air and reached the shores of Lanka.

In the spiritual world, Sita Devi is Goddess Lakshmi, the controller of fortune and the wife of Lord Narayana, the source of all men. There is only one God, but He expands into different spiritual forms to perform specific functions. For the purpose of creation, Lord Vishnu, the very same Narayana, exhales in the spiritual sky and creates the universal cosmos. The first created living entity, Lord Brahma, who takes birth from the lotus like navel of Vishnu, then takes charge of creation. Sometimes Vishnu Himself likes to come to earth to deal with nefarious elements and give pleasure to His ardent supporters. Rama was one such incarnation of Vishnu, and Sita, Rama’s wife, was the corresponding incarnation of Lakshmi.

Lakshmi NarayanaSince Hanuman and his monkey associates were so eager to serve Vishnu, the Lord provided them an opportunity to do so by asking them to find Sita. Hanuman was the most capable of the Vanaras associated with Rama, as he was really a celestial figure in the form of a monkey. The scientists of today have certainly made tremendous advancements in the areas of aviation, electricity and medicine, but they have yet to study the soul, its properties, or how it can be detached from the influences of the senses. Through the ancient art of yoga, one can harness the true power of the soul and thus invoke various siddhis, or perfections. Hanuman, through no extraneous endeavor, was an expert yogi capable of using all of the mystic perfections; thus he could assume a large or diminutive stature at any time. A person can sit inside of a massive rocket ship and thus consider their size to be expanded, but there has yet to be discovered a materially scientific way of assuming a small size at will. But from the fact that we survived months within the womb of our mother prior to birth, we can understand that the soul, the individual functional unit of life, is indeed capable of existing in the tiniest of bodies.

Through yoga practice, an outward dress of any size can be had without difficulty. Evidence of variation in body types is seen all around us, as the elephant and the ant are both living entities with souls, but they have vastly different external sizes. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately note that there are no differences in the qualities of souls between living entities, just variations in outer coverings. One who has harnessed the massive capabilities of the soul can escape the bonds of the material body that was given to them by nature.

HanumanAfter Hanuman finally made it to Lanka via the aerial path, his difficulties were just beginning. He was now in enemy territory, so he wanted to make sure that the Rakshasas living in Lanka would not see him. At the same time, he needed to look for Sita and deliver to her Rama’s ring. After downsizing his form, Hanuman was ready to enter the city. From the above referenced passage, we see that just prior to entering enemy ground, Hanuman noticed the bright moon in the sky, a shining object which appeared to come out of nowhere to help him see the path ahead. Hanuman decided to enter the city in the dead of night to minimize the chances of others spotting him. The moon, realizing the sublime nature of Hanuman’s task, kindly alighted the way for him.

The comparisons used to describe the brightness of the moon in this passage are not accidents by any means. The Supersoul witnesses all actions undertaken, including those by Hanuman. But with the pure souls, the observations are not unidirectional. Just as the Supreme Lord witnesses all of our actions, the bhakta sees the imprint and markings of the Lord wherever they turn. Lord Vishnu, the four-handed form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is known by His various symbols, which include the conchshell and lotus flower. In two of Vishnu’s hands are the club and disc, which are both used to punish the miscreants. For the devotees, those who are peaceful towards the Supreme Lord, His dictates, and His devotees, i.e. those who follow the path of dharma laid down in the shastras, Vishnu holds in His other two hands the conchshell and lotus flower. Hanuman noticed that the moon was as white as the lotus stalk or milk and that its brightness was just like the luster of a conchshell.

Vishnu in ShvetadvipaLord Vishnu resides on the planet of Shvetadvipa, which translates to “white island”. In this realm there is an ocean of milk upon which the lotus flowers that surround Lord Vishnu rest. Lakshmi Devi is known as Padmini because she is always on a lotus flower enjoying the company of her husband. The swan is also tied to Vishnu and His devotees because of its purity. A swan always remains amidst lotus flowers and is able to separate the milky portion out of a mixture of water and milk. The crow, a bird of a lower stature, chooses to remain around garbage and lower kinds of floral life; hence it is generally associated with the opposite of purity. Thus Hanuman, by observing the moon, only noticed auspicious symbols associated with Lord Vishnu. The moon that was providing light to Hanuman looked like a splendorous swan swimming in a lake.

“How can that female swan who is accustomed to sporting with the king of swans amidst lotus flowers ever cast her eyes on a water-crow that stays amidst bunches of grass?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.20)

The swanlike moon would help Hanuman in his most difficult mission, one that called for him to enter the land inhabited by the crow-like Rakshasas and their leader Ravana. Previously, when Ravana had tried to win Sita over, she sternly rebuked him by comparing him to a crow and Rama to a swan. The purport of her statement was that since she was accustomed to associating with the supreme swan that was her husband Rama, she could never degrade herself by remaining with an impure crow like Ravana. The devotee always sees the Supreme Lord’s influence in everything good in this world. Even when encountering the evil elements such as Ravana, thoughts of Vishnu and His purity remain forever at the forefront of the mind of the bhakta. The moon, which appeared just like Vishnu to the ever devoted Hanuman, aided him in his battle against the crows of Lanka. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would triumph in his mission by finding Sita and safely returning to Rama and informing Him of her whereabouts. Wherever there is Vishnu, there is purity of vision. And whenever the vision is pure, as it was with Hanuman, success in the most sublime engagement of devotional service is guaranteed.

HanumanFor the conditioned souls battling the crows of the modern world who are intent on persuading others to follow any activity besides pure surrender and devotion to God, keeping the thoughts fixed on Hanuman, Sita, Rama, and other pure divine figures is the only option. Though we may not be able to see Vishnu at every step while in the conditioned state, we can most certainly produce His most powerful incarnation, His transcendental name, at any time. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the swanlike presence of the Supreme Lord and all His glorious paraphernalia can be seen in all that is good in this world. When the vision is cleared through this type of consciousness, even liberation from the cycle of birth and death will be viewed as an insignificant achievement. With devotion in full surrender the true potential for action found in the soul is realized, and the faithful servants like Hanuman are pleased. One who sees and hears Vishnu everywhere can never remain in darkness.