Saturday, May 7, 2011

Shorn of Brilliance

Hanuman“When the evening came the very powerful Hanuman quickly jumped up and entered the beautiful city, which had great pathways that were well-divided, was filled with rows of mansions, and had golden columns and golden latticed windows that made it resemble the city of the Gandharvas.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.50-51)

pradoṣakāle hanumāṃstūrṇamutplutya vīryavān |

praviveśa purīṃ ramyāṃ suvibhaktamahāpathām

prāsādamālāvitatāṃ stambhaiḥ kāñcanarājataiḥ |

śātakumbhamayairjālairgandharvanagaropamām

The land we currently inhabit has its appealing aspects to it, especially the wondrous sights and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. But when placed in the proper context, the phenomenal world is one shorn of brilliance, as it is a mere shadow copy of the original realm that never knows decay, destruction, or temporary renovation. The allures of the visible world, which are enhanced by brilliance in the form of valuable jewels and gold, is not appealing in the least bit when separated from the most beautiful object to have ever graced this earth. Indeed, for one who has dedicated their life to serving such a benevolent master, the only appealing aspect of this world is the opportunity it brings for divine service. When not used to further solidify a relationship in the mood of service to the most loveable entity, any worldly object can be considered to be no better than an ordinary particle of dust.

VHSDuring the days of VHS tapes, when a copy of a particular video needed to be made one would play the original tape and then record the relevant sections onto a new tape. Since the content was travelling from tape to tape, the copied version wasn’t as clear as the original. The copied version was thus correctly labeled as “generated”. When a generated version would get transferred to another tape, a further loss in clarity of the picture would occur. Hence the more generated video cassette you got, the more degraded the picture would be. In a similar manner, the world we currently inhabit, the gigantic land mass known as the earth and all the various planets, is a shadow copy of the same land that exists in the spiritual world. This isn’t to say that all the objects fall into precisely the same arrangements, but the overall nature of matter is completely different. In the phenomenal world, matter is dull, lifeless, ever changing, and ultimately the cause of bondage. In the original realm, the same elements are full of life, permanent, and the cause of bliss and enjoyment due to their utility. In the shadow copy realm, which is akin to a highly generated version of the master copy known as the spiritual world, the worldly objects are mistakenly taken to be very appealing and the source of personal enjoyment. Yet items such as gold, silver, and precious jewels really have no tangible value unless they are used for the highest purpose.

Though stuck in a temporary realm that is governed by the illusory force known as maya, through the proper course of action, one which triggers a progressive shift in consciousness, the conditioned soul can return to the land that time never even touches, an area where space limitations are also nonexistent. Those whose vision is cleared through practicing divine love are able to see everything in the proper context and thus remain free from the tendency towards worldly sense gratification. Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, is an example of an individual possessing a pure vision. During the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the eternal proprietor of the spiritual kingdom, the only entity who is ever unchanging and undying in any form He takes on, descended to earth in the guise of a human being, or one that at least appeared to be mortal and the same in quality as everyone else. The living beings, who are linked to the Supreme Truth through the relationship known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, are also eternal forces, but due to their inferior nature they have a tendency to deviate from their original consciousness and fall prey to the allurements instigated by the senses.

Lord RamaGod and His creation are indeed one, but there is still differences in the magnitude of spiritual potency. The arms and legs of the body are part of our identity when they are attached and functioning properly. If we somehow lose one of these appendages, however, our identities don’t change. We can continue to remain whole even through the loss of an entire body, for identity comes from the spirit soul residing within. Similarly, the Supreme Soul, that person who is the source of all potencies, remains complete and self-satisfied irrespective of what His multitudes of fragmental spiritual sparks are doing or not doing. When the individual soul, who is similar in quality to the Truth but vastly inferior in the quantitative exercise of freedom, remains in the company of the original spiritual fire, there is peace, prosperity and undying happiness. As soon as the sparks turn their backs on the Supreme Master and try to pursue their own level of supremacy, the promise of protection and freedom of movement granted by the Creator are lost. The sparks are essentially left to fend for themselves, though the door always remains open for reentry into the spiritual kingdom.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Shri Rama appeared on earth out of His own desire to reclaim the sincere souls looking for a return trip back to the imperishable land. The divine lovers, those who have established and maintained a purified consciousness, actually have no explicit wish to return to the personal company of the Supreme. Instead, they take every opportunity to remain connected with God in thoughts, words and deeds. Because God is absolute, there is never actually any separation for the devotees. Indeed, a nice side effect of a purified consciousness is that those things which are detrimentally enticing for the conditioned souls who have turned their backs on the spiritual realm have no effect on the individuals wholly dedicated to the original and bliss-providing engagement, bhagavata-dharma. One’s occupational duty aimed at maintaining an essential characteristic constitutes their dharma. Since all perceived palatable conditions save the eternal link with God are temporary and subject to destruction, every dharma aside from the occupational duty aimed at serving the Supreme Lord is thus considered inferior. The humble sage, who may or may not take on a specific outward appearance, dedicates all his thoughts and deeds to remaining connected with Bhagavan, which is another name for the Absolute Truth that describes His mastery and full possession of the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. One who abides by the dictates of the supreme dharma always retains their essential characteristic of devotion to God.

HanumanShri Hanuman knows no other dharma besides devotional service. Since he is on the highest platform of consciousness, there is no difference between his body and spirit. His spiritual form effuses love and devotion to God, so much so that he periodically has to expand the size of his external features to accommodate the immense love he has. Though the Supreme Absolute Truth, whose original form is described as being all-attractive and is thus addressed as Krishna, is a singular entity, He still has multitudes of non-different bodies which serve different purposes. The avatara of Rama served the purpose of ridding the world of the dastardly influences of a very powerful Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Since Rama was God, the beautiful qualities found only in Bhagavan couldn’t be completely hidden from those with a clear vision. Hence Rama was the source of great pleasure to the pure souls He encountered, especially Hanuman. Though Shri Hanuman understands the Lord’s all-pervading nature and His kind mercy towards all forms of life, he still does not worship anyone as God except Rama.

Rather than just accept nice gifts and pleasant circumstances, the devotees prefer to always be actively engaged in the service of their object of affection. As such, Rama provided tasks for Hanuman to complete. Since Hanuman was no ordinary figure in terms of wisdom, strength, prudence and courage, the tasks assigned to him were not easy to complete by any estimation; the degree of difficulty of the work corresponded with the level of ability of the worker. While on earth roaming the forests, Rama’s wife Sita Devi was unscrupulously taken away by Ravana back to his island kingdom of Lanka. Hanuman, who lived with a band of celestial monkeys in the forest of Kishkindha, was entrusted with finding her whereabouts. After braving the elements and overcoming adverse conditions along his aerial path over the massive ocean, Hanuman made his way to the shores of Ravana’s capital city. Still, only the first part of the mission was complete. Now he needed to figure out how to infiltrate the city without being noticed. This way he could find Sita, inform her that Rama was coming to her rescue, and then return back to Sugriva, the king of the monkey-party serving Rama in Kishkindha.

HanumanHanuman decided that he would assume a diminutive form and enter Lanka during the nighttime. His newly transformed body had the dimensions of a cat and was wonderful to behold. In the above quoted passage from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman preparing to enter Lanka, which was fully adorned with items of exquisite beauty. In the conditioned state, when one remains ignorant of the unmatched opulence found in the imperishable realm, worldly sights are taken to be very visually appealing. Indeed, with all the pressures of school, work and family, getting away on vacations to visit exotic destinations around the world is seen as a pleasurable activity. Those who have travelled to such areas will recommend to their friends that they have to go to the same places, for they will derive tremendous enjoyment simply from the sightseeing.

Hanuman, in executing his mission for Rama, saw some of the most exquisite palaces and housing complexes ever created. This beauty was compared to that seen in the heavenly planets where the Gandharvas, or celestial singers, reside. Ravana had real wealth, not the kind that can quickly lose its value based on shifts in economic conditions. In the modern age, wealth is determined by one’s net worth, which consists of the aggregate value of the various assets that one possesses. Simply holding a large value of paper currency is enough to be considered wealthy, but as we all know, dramatic shifts in public policy can devalue a currency very quickly. It is for this reason that the workings of the Federal Reserve Bank in America are closely monitored. The chairman of this bank can be considered one of the craftiest speechmakers in the world, for if he makes one small slip up in his addresses, entire markets can drastically change in value. Therefore the content of his testimony before congressional committees is usually quite vague, with no direct endorsement for any specific policy given. Neither does he openly endorse or reject any particular sector of the economy.

Hanuman in LankaReal wealth is something that has value under any and all conditions. Commodities like gold, silver and jewelry are valuable irrespective of the political climate and the level of national debt. If a nation’s economy collapses, you can still take your gold to another region and have a tangible asset. Gold will always be valuable wherever one lives. Since Ravana’s capital city of Lanka was filled with gold, it had real opulence; that wished for by any materialist. Hanuman noticed the beautiful sites and had some appreciation for it, but in the end, he had no attachment to any of it. Any place divorced of its relationship with its original creator must be deemed second class and thus not worthy of attachment. Saintly figures like Hanuman can remain in a secluded forest and still feel as if they are in the most opulent kingdom, provided that they get to remember the Supreme Lord and His immediate family members. Hanuman was searching for Sita, who was the real jewel lying hidden in a city masked by illusory aesthetics, items whose visual appeal, while high by the material estimation, paled in comparison to the transcendental beauty belonging to the Lord’s eternal consort, Sita Devi.

Through his fervent desire to see real brilliance and beauty, Hanuman would end up finding Sita and temporarily allaying her fears. Due to his heinous act of trying to enjoy what rightfully belonged to Rama, Ravana and his opulence would soon be destroyed. On his way out of Lanka, Hanuman would be temporarily taken captive by Ravana and brought in front of his royal court. Setting fire to Hanuman’s tail, Ravana thought that he had taught the monkey a lesson; that he should never mess with Ravana and his Rakshasas. Hanuman, ever the resourceful warrior, took full advantage of his tail being set on fire by subsequently laying to waste the materially enriched city. Assuming a massive form and waving his fiery tail from place to place, Hanuman left Ravana with the most memorable parting shot, a gift that kept on giving, a warning of what was to come his way. Later on Hanuman would return with Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and the monkey army commanded by Sugriva. Ravana and his kingdom would be destroyed, and Sita would be rescued.

Hanuman laying waste to LankaThough the palaces and highways of Lanka were exquisitely adorned with gold and other jewelry, their beauty was no comparison to the splendor of Rama’s faithful servant and the radiance and blissful energy of the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi. Hanuman, though in the form of a forest dweller, a lowly monkey, is far more beautiful than any site this mundane world has to offer. Simply remembering his wonderful form and his undying devotion to Rama is enough to bring eternal pleasure to the heart. The external world, which goes through cycles of creation, maintenance and destruction, may have aspects to it that are temporarily appealing, but the accounts of the transcendental exploits of Hanuman and the sound vibrations he produces on a regular basis in praise of Rama, Lakshmana, and Janaki represent brilliance that never loses its luster. By regularly reciting the sacred formula of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the undying brilliance of the spiritual world and all of its divine inhabitants can be remembered during every second of every day.