Monday, May 2, 2011

Within and Without

Hanuman “Having made up his mind thus, that heroic monkey, Hanuman, eager to see Vaidehi, wished for the sun to set.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.48)

iti saṃcintya hanumān sūryasyāstamayaṃ kapiḥ |

ācakāṃkśe tato vīro vaidehyā draśanotusakaḥ

Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama and a stalwart of the practice of devotional service, herein reveals his eagerness to see the Mother of the Universe, Sita Devi, who also happens to be Rama’s wife. Ironically enough, at this point in time Hanuman had never met Sita and neither had he any interaction with her. Yet he was so eager to see the kind princess that he was anxiously awaiting the sun to set to allow him to enter the enemy territory of Lanka in the dark of night. Sita had been taken there by a powerful Rakshasa king who had filled his city with beautiful opulence consisting of ornaments, tall arches, gem-studded palaces, and gold. Hanuman was not eager to see any of this, though he certainly appreciated the beauty of the city. The real jewel inside of Lanka was the one woman who was being maltreated and held against her will. Due to the ill-treatment shown this most deserving of worshipable objects, Lanka would soon be shorn of her beauty, as the fiery Hanuman, both literally and figuratively, would burn the entire city, dealing a warning blow to the residents for what was to come.

Hanuman setting fire to LankaThese events transpired in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. The Supreme Absolute Truth is meditated upon by yogis and discussed by scholars of transcendentalism looking to negate the various illusory aspects of the phenomenal world. But despite how this original Divine Being is approached, His position as the supreme object of worship remains unchanged. Irrespective of how one views God or addresses Him, His actual position is forever fixed. And what exactly is this position? There are three aspects to the Supreme Energetic Personality in the spiritual sky that are helpful for the conditioned entity looking for respite from their toils in the temporary world full of misery and heartache to know. The first property is self-evident: God is the original proprietor of everything. We may purchase a piece of land from someone else or settle upon an area of earth and proclaim it to be ours, but all objects of matter have an original creator. As man is incapable of creating life without the hand of spirit, the proof of ownership of the entire creation naturally falls into the Lord’s hands.

The second key property of the Supreme Lord is often overlooked. God is the ultimate enjoyer; i.e. His pleasure is more important than our own. From the third primary property of the Lord, that of being the best friend of every living entity, the enjoyment aspect can be understood properly. The Supreme Lord, as the ultimate enjoyer, can be pleased by utilizing the property around us, which originally belongs to Him anyway, for His happiness. Subsequently, since God is the best friend and well-wisher of every single form of life on earth, the pleasure resulting from the service offered to Him automatically brings transcendental bliss to the person offering the service.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Lord is known by thousands of names, the most complete, concise, and pleasurable to recite of which is Krishna, a Sanskrit word which means all-attractive. Not only is Krishna’s position fixed in the spiritual world, the realm situated far above our current abode, but His residence within our hearts is also permanent. There is not a single form of life that does not have this divine expansion residing within them. Since this form of the Lord, which is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, is not visually manifest to the conditioned eye, it can be addressed as the nirguna form, or the form of the Truth that is without attributes. The nirguna aspect is also sometimes described as alakshya, or invisible.  These descriptions are entirely from the perspective of one who doesn’t have the vision to see the Lord. Just as sometimes we’ll say that the sun is not out today, Krishna, as remaining firmly locked inside of our hearts, can be considered to not be manifest before us in a form that has identifiable attributes. But just as the sun’s position remains completely unchanged irrespective of how we describe it, the Supreme Lord forever retains a transcendental body which is full of form, bliss and knowledge.

To aid the living entity dealt a contaminated vision at the time of birth in identifying the nature of the Supreme Absolute Truth, Krishna periodically descends to earth and takes on visible forms, those which are described as saguna. This isn’t to say that He ever associates with matter, as such a defect is only found in the conditioned entities, those tiny fragmental spiritual sparks emanating from the gigantic fire of energy known as God. In the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Lord, in His visually manifest form possessing transcendental attributes known as Lord Rama, roamed the earth for a considerable period of time. Not only is Rama, who took on the role of a prince and expert bow warrior, worshipable in His direct form, but He is equally as worthy of worship in the deity representations crafted by the devotees for their own pleasure. We may keep a picture of one of our loved ones on hand so that we can remember them, but by looking at this picture we can’t directly talk to the person, nor can we offer them our obeisances. With the Supreme Lord, this limitation is absent. His deity representation, by being empowered by the devotees who create it and duly initiate the worship of it, can be offered worship that directly gets relayed to the Lord Himself. In fact, during Lord Rama’s time there was one specific brahmana living in His kingdom who made a vow to not eat unless he had seen Rama that day. Sometimes when Rama had to leave the kingdom to tend to administrative affairs this brahmana would forgo eating. Not liking the fact that His dear devotee was suffering, Rama had a deity of Himself installed in the brahmana’s home. This way the humble devotee could have darshana of Rama every single day and eat without a problem.

Lord RamaThe dry renunciate, he who has yet to understand the personal nature of the Supreme Absolute Truth, will only take to worshiping the Lord’s unmanifest form. Not understanding that Krishna possesses a transcendental body, the yogi inclined towards meditation will at best be able to contemplate on the exterior effulgence beamed off the Lord’s immeasurably large transcendental body. Since this jyoti, or light, is full of Truth, it is also considered a representation of Krishna, an energy known as Brahman. For one who exclusively worships Brahman, which itself is formless and thus not a candidate for being considered an object, the renounced order of life, or sannyasa, is a requirement. It is for this reason that parents of children who take an interest in the spiritual traditions of the Vedas often get frightened that their beloved offspring will abandon worldly life at an early age and take to begging and destitution. From studying the example of Shri Hanuman, who wasn’t a formally acknowledged sannyasi but still exhibited all the qualities of one, we see that the renounced order of life, when taken to properly, actually has nothing to do with giving up passion. Since the Lord’s personal form is the reservoir of all pleasure, simply meditating on His associated effulgence has no possibility of bringing lasting happiness. One who directly worships Krishna or one of His non-different personal expansions always keeps the flame of devotional service alight. In such a state, there is always eagerness to serve the fountainhead of both the manifested and the unmanifested forms. Indeed, the pure devotee understands the true nature of the expansion of Krishna residing within the heart; thus the worship they perform through remembrance and contemplation on the nirguna form is just as potent and pleasure-giving as their outward worship.

Rama, as a visually manifest incarnation of the Supreme Absolute Truth, dispelled many of the myths and rumors about God’s nature. Goswami Tulsidas nicely explains that the unmanifest form of the Lord is akin to the numeral written on a bank transaction, or check. The visually manifest form, the incarnation or deity that is worshiped, is like the written-word version of the same numeral. Both versions are equivalent, as they both represent Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yet the numeral representation can be easily misunderstood, misidentified, or worse, purposely altered by those wishing to cheat the innocent public. The written-out form of the same number is less prone to error resulting from misperception, as it is a more complete description provided to the conditioned eye, who has the potential to be victimized by illusion, their imperfect senses, their propensity to cheat, and their penchant for committing mistakes. Rama’s appearance on earth dispelled the theory that God is formless and that He is not a personality.

Lord RamaRegardless, the purpose of the Lord’s incarnation is much more intricate than that of saving people from the perils of impersonalism. Indeed, as the supreme object of pleasure, Bhagavan creates situations that allow others to offer their kind service to Him, a practice that every individual, as a spirit soul, is naturally inclined to perform. Divine love, or bhakti, is a characteristic of spirit that can never be removed. In the conditioned state, this loving propensity can be clouded or misdirected to other areas. Even hatred is a product of the bhakti mindset, as it is simply the inversion of the divine loving propensity.

Rama not only allowed others to serve Him by granting them His divine vision, but He also created situations where others could volunteer efforts that best suited their current body type. When Rama’s beloved wife Sita Devi was taken by the Rakshasa demon Ravana back to his kingdom of Lanka, a wonderful opportunity for service presented itself. Who were the lucky individuals tasked with finding Sita? Ironically enough, they were Vanaras, a race of monkey-like forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. Headed by Sugriva, these monkeys were very powerful and burning with the desire to serve Rama’s interests. Of all the Vanaras, no one was more dedicated to this service than Hanuman. Not surprisingly, Hanuman was also the most capable, as he had mastered every mystic perfection, or yogic siddhi, and his knowledge on all matters material and spiritual was perfect. Hanuman was a pure lover of God, so why shouldn’t he have been the most knowledgeable and powerful entity? The Supreme Lord, as the original proprietor, is also the controller and owner of the material elements that constitute our various bodies. Therefore whatever body type we have, especially if we are in a human form, is vouchsafed to us for the purpose of pleasing Rama. Hanuman’s personal features were perfectly suited for infiltrating Lanka, finding Sita and alleviating her fears.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)

HanumanHanuman put his qualities to good use by leaping his way across a massive ocean and reaching the outskirts of the capital city of the most powerful ogre, Ravana. Hanuman, in addition to being tasked with finding Sita, was also asked to give her the precious ring belonging to Rama as an indication of the authenticity of his purpose. Sita was surely in a grief-stricken position, so she wouldn’t be overly trusting of anyone approaching her, let alone someone in a monkey form. Rama’s ring would serve as Hanuman’s offering to Sita. In the Vedic tradition, when there is worship of the deity or the spiritual master, there is usually some type of physical offering made, which is either a flower, fruit, or some nice food preparation. The offering itself is trivial; the emotion and the sentiment are what counts. Lord Krishna Himself declares this in the Bhagavad-gita, where He states that one can even offer Him something as simple as water and have it accepted, provided that the offering is made with love and devotion.

In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman is preparing to enter Lanka. He has decided to enter the city at night and in a diminutive form, so as to mask his appearance. The Rakshasas would surely be on alert for enemy attack, so if they spotted Hanuman, a fight would result. Hanuman, though capable of destroying the entire city and all its inhabitants, was only tasked with meeting Sita, allaying her fears, and returning the information of her whereabouts to Rama. Settling upon entering the city at night, Hanuman is anxiously awaiting the sun to set, as he wants very badly to see Sita.

Sita DeviIt should be noted that Sita Devi was considered the most beautiful woman to have ever roamed the earth at the time. This is what led Ravana to hatch the ill-fated plot to take her away from Rama’s side. This plot is correctly identified as ill-fated because even though he was able to successfully take Sita away while Rama was not by her side, this move would prove to be fatal to Ravana, as his opulence, position of power, and kingdom would be destroyed as a result. Even though Hanuman had never met Sita, he was still very anxious to see her. He had no desire to enjoy her beauty or take her for himself. As a pure lover of God, he naturally held great affection for any and all of Rama’s immediate family members; such is the glorious nature of Hanuman. Though he is capable of worshiping the Lord perfectly within his heart and mind, Hanuman is just as anxious, if not more, to serve the visual manifestations, the personal forms of the Lord.

His mindset shows the true benefit of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Advancement in spiritual life is not indicated by how many new things we hate or how much of the world we renounce. Surely the advanced transcendentalist will give up the most harmful of sinful activities, including meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, but the greatest indication that one’s natural love for God has come to the forefront of the consciousness is the increased fervor and fire in the belly. The devotee will become more and more eager to engage in the outside world, as everything will be seen as part of Krishna’s grand opulence, mercy and energy. The topmost transcendentalist is known as a paramahamsa, which means a supreme swan. The swan can extract the milky portion from a mixture of milk and water; hence it is able to extract the good from something that is considered contaminated. Similarly, the pure devotee sees God’s personal influence in all areas of life; so he becomes very eager to offer services both internally and externally.

Hanuman’s eagerness would pay off, as he would meet Sita and give her Rama’s ring. To this day, Hanuman is one of the most celebrated figures of the Vedic tradition, as his worship is directly authorized, empowered and recommended by both Sita and Rama. He is never out of their good graces for even a moment, and he never spends a single second not thinking of how to please them. Though he can practice meditation perfectly, he is equally as anxious to serve the Lord personally. Not only does the eternal flame of devotion burning inside lead him to anxiously perform service, but it also makes him very eager to see the Lord and hear about His glories.

HanumanWe should all take full advantage of both inward worship through meditation and chanting and outward worship through seeing the deity in the temple. The best way to keep an attachment to both manifestations of the Lord is to regularly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name, being the most powerful representation of the Lord, automatically brings the associated forms, pastimes and qualities. The name is the jewel secured within the box. Just as Hanuman was anxious to see Sita and provide her a kind offering, we would be forever benefitted to be equally as anxious to see, hear, and think about Shri Hanuman and offer him our kind prayers and obeisances. Any day where Hanuman’s name is recited and his qualities contemplated on is surely a good one.