Saturday, December 24, 2011

All the Pieces Fall to His Wish

Rama and Lakshmana with Vishvamitra“Meanwhile, the son of Gadhi [Vishvamitra] went to Ayodhya. King Dasharatha said, ‘Please bring him here to the palace’, and welcomed him.” (Janaki Mangala, 15)

gādhi suvana tehiṃ avasara avadha sidhāyau |
nṛpati kīnha sanamāna bhavana lai āyau ||

As with a marriage there is the merging of two families, the wonderfully auspicious event of Sita’s nuptials joined two kings renowned for their ability to protect and abide by the righteous path. Thus far in his poem called the Janaki Mangala Goswami Tulsidas has set the scene in the kingdom of Tirahuta, where the leader Janaka is preparing for a svayamvara for his daughter Sita. But with every marriage there is the counterpart, though in the case of Sita’s wedding the winner of her hand was not known to everyone. The person who would emerge victorious in the contest to lift Lord Shiva’s bow was from the land of Ayodhya, and His journey towards the event in Mithila was not the same as any other attendee’s. Vishvamitra Muni, the son of Gadhi, would be the instrument to bring Lord Rama to the svayamvara, and King Dasharatha’s pious nature would sanction that move, though indirectly.

Sita Devi holding lotus flowerSita Devi is the goddess of fortune; she is married to Lord Narayana, or God. Fortune is a gift from higher authorities; we cannot just create it on our own. Even the wealthy moguls who strike it big in business do so as the result of the consuming public’s interest in their product or service. With investments that hit it big, there are the actions of others that cause the rise in price of the commodity. Therefore fortune is really out of our control, though we have the tendency to think otherwise.

As Lakshmi Devi, Sita controls the fortune of the entire world. Her husband is the most fortunate living entity because He is loved and adored by Lakshmi, who showers Him with affection nonstop. Sita’s association in marriage was considered a similarly fortunate blessing. Thus many royal families from around the world came to Janaka’s kingdom to try to earn her company. Janaka was attractive because of his piety and Sita her beauty and family link to Janaka. The great king could think of no other way to decide her marriage than to hold a self-choice ceremony, where prospective grooms would try to lift a heavy bow initially belonging to Lord Shiva.

The future winner of the contest resided in Ayodhya, and He was not made aware of Janaka’s vow because He happened to not be home when the announcement was made. The venerable Vishvamitra Muni was residing peacefully in the forest when a band of night-rangers, ghoulish creatures given to changing shapes at will, started to harass him. A brahmana is a priest, so they have no association with violence, money, or competition. They essentially have no reason to have strife with any other person. These night-rangers knew the power and sway that the priestly class hold in society. They were also keen on eating human flesh, so who better to attack than defenseless mendicants residing in a forest?

VishvamitraVishvamitra Muni went to Ayodhya because it is the king’s duty to protect the innocent, especially the brahmanas. King Dasharatha had jurisdiction over the forests where Vishvamitra was staying. When the sage reached Ayodhya, the king welcomed him and brought him into the palace. The proper etiquette for receiving a guest is to invite them into the home, give them a nice place to sit, and then offer food and drink for consumption. Vishvamitra was the most exalted guest, so even a royal leader like Dasharatha considered it a tremendous blessing to welcome him. Vishvamitra could only bring good fortune, for he would either give his blessings to the king and his citizens or provide needful instruction on how to improve the living situation.

What no one knew at the time was that through his desire to have protection in the forests, Vishvamitra was setting the wheels in motion for Rama to marry Sita. Dasharatha, though attached to his eldest son Rama, had to part with Him at the request of the sage. For a chivalrous king, his word is everything. Dasharatha promised to give Vishvamitra whatever he wanted, for a respected brahmana should never be denied anything. What could they want anyway? Brahmanas have no desire for wealth, money, women, or property. Dasharatha never thought that Vishvamitra would want to take Rama away from him, for the eldest son was still just a young boy. Dasharatha told the sage that he had many other fighters in his royal entourage capable of protecting him, but Vishvamitra knew Rama’s special grace, His ability to fight off even the most powerful flesh-eaters ranging the night.

Accompanying Rama was His younger brother Lakshmana. After he was satisfactorily protected by Rama and Lakshmana, the sage took them to Janaka’s kingdom at the same time the svayamvara was taking place. Therefore if it weren’t for Vishvamitra’s request and Dasharatha’s acquiescence, the marriage may never have taken place. For the Supreme Lord, all the pieces fall to His wish. Every action takes place in such a way that so many other items are taken care of simultaneously.

Rama would lift the bow easily and thus win Sita’s hand in marriage. The event would bring together Dasharatha and Janaka, kings who were wise enough to follow the advice of their brahmana counselors. It was the royal priestly order that advised Janaka to hold a svayamvara, and it was Vishvamitra who requested that Rama be allowed to attempt to lift the bow. Lakshmana was not a candidate because he was younger than Rama. Plus, he would never show up his brother like that. The fraternal affection shared between Rama and Lakshmana cannot be described. Several years later, when Dasharatha decided to install Rama as the new king, the Lord immediately went to Lakshmana and told him that the honor belonged to him as well, for the Lord did everything for Lakshmana’s benefit. The feelings were mutual, and Lakshmana never for a second wanted to take away the glory of his beloved brother. He delighted more in seeing Rama happy and successful than in gaining any fame for himself.

“O Lakshmana, do you rule this earth with Me. You are like My second self, so this glorious opportunity has been presented to you as well. O Saumitra, do you enjoy all the pleasures you desire and the fruits of the regal life. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, 4.43-44)

Rama and LakshmanaFrom following the advice of the priestly class devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so many auspicious conditions arrive automatically. The priest in the form of a spiritual master may not always reveal their real intentions or discuss the full benefit that will come from following a particular recommendation, but the faith extended by the recipient proves to be invaluable nonetheless. Who would have thought that by agreeing to Vishvamitra’s request, Dasharatha would get the goddess of fortune as a daughter-in-law? Who would have thought that the families in Ayodhya and Tirahuta would be joined simply through Dasharatha’s reluctant acceptance of the son of Gadhi’s request?

From following the recommendations of the spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition the benefits are there for everyone to enjoy. While the royal order has dissipated in modern times and been replaced by a democratic system that relies on relative morality, the opportunity to abide by dharma is still present. The only benefit to be found in the less auspicious conditions of today is that the pathway towards meeting God and His wife has been made easier. There is only one recommendation for every single soul living in the Kali Yuga: chant the holy names. Recite sacred formulas like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible, keeping the mind attentive on the sound vibrations produced. Refrain from the most harmful sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex at the same time to speed up the progression towards a pure consciousness.

We may be reluctant to abandon our previous attachments, but extending faith to the recommendations of the Vaishnava acharyas, who lead by example, has safety built into it. Dasharatha didn’t want to let go of his son, but in the end he would glorify the Raghu dynasty by giving in. For a famous king like Dasharatha, a predominant fear was to somehow sully the good name of the family, which had produced a long line of pious rulers starting with Maharaja Ikshvaku, the founder of the family line. Denying the request of a venerable sage like Vishvamitra would have brought scorn to Dasharatha and his family, and it would have not helped his standing that many sages would continue to be killed in the forest without protection.

Janaka as well could have forbidden Rama from participating in the contest, for the Lord was rather young at the time. Many of the onlookers in Tirahuta were afraid that the Lord wasn’t going to be able to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. In their minds they cursed King Janaka for having made the oath, which he could now not go back on. But staying pious, following the proper course, proved to be the right choice in the end. Similarly, regularly reciting the holy name - the sound vibration that best represents God and attacks the contaminated consciousness grown weary through the swinging pendulum of acceptance and rejection - causes the thick cloud of nescience enveloping the otherwise pure consciousness of the essence of identity, the spirit soul, to eventually dissipate.

Sita and RamaThe holy name also reminds us of Sita and Rama, how they were brought together through so many events that didn’t seem to be related. In one sense, even the vile Rakshasas deserve some credit for the marriage. Had they not harassed Vishvamitra, the sage may never have gone to Ayodhya to ask for Rama. If he had not been with Rama and Lakshmana in the forests near Tirahuta, perhaps Rama would never have attempted to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. This broad perspective of appreciating so many actions, even those of miscreants not interested in the final outcome, is acquired through constant connection with the holy name, which brings all the good qualities that a person could ask for. From following the chanting recommendation, from investing full faith in the words of the Vaishnava whose only business in life is to glorify God and get others to be devoted to Him, all the right pieces in life fall into place. The most auspicious condition of being able to remember blessed events like Sita’s svayamvara will be accepted as well. Goswami Tulsidas, by composing his Janaki Mangala, allowed for countless future generations to find that auspiciousness, to remember the divine couple and love them without inhibition.

In Closing:

With God’s arrangement no chances missed,

For all the pieces fall to His wish.

With peaceful sages night-rangers fought,

This to Ayodhya son of Gadhi brought.

King Dasharatha, free of vice and malice,

Welcomed Vishvamitra to his palace.

With Rama by his side safe would sage be,

Though reluctant, Dasharatha had to agree.

With him Rama and Lakshmana the muni took,

King Janaka’s town at God’s face soon to have a look.