Friday, December 16, 2011

General Admission

Rama breaking Shiva's bow“One party is very jealous while looking at Janaka welcoming everybody. The place was so crowded on the inside and out that one cannot describe it.” (Janaki Mangala, 13)

janakahiṃ eka sihāhiṃ dekhi sanamānata |
bāhara bhītara bhīra na banai bakhānata ||

You work hard, play by the rules, administer to the needs of your close family members and are responsible with money so that you can have a comfortable establishment that is the home. The association with the spouse, relatives and children comes together when there is a nice gathering place, a dwelling you can call “home”. The more inviting the establishment the more people will want to visit. The more people that come over the more satisfied you feel about the life that you work so hard to maintain. While the quality of the erected structure may draw the attention of others, what will keep them coming back is the quality of the inhabitants, the hosts who welcome the guests and provide them a pleasurable experience. One person in particular had such good qualities that when he hosted a wedding ceremony for his daughter, the number of people that came from around the world could not be counted. However long their journey was and whatever crowds they had to sift through to attend this event, the effort was worth it.

living roomDespite your best attempt to establish a comfortable dwelling, you are not the only one living this lifestyle. Many others, especially those following religious principles, accept the grihastha ashrama, the second stage of life as delineated by the Vedas, the scriptural texts providing guidance on all aspects of life since the beginning of time. An ashrama is a spiritual institution, so even the time one spends married and raising children is meant for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge, with the consciousness ideally ascending to the platform of detachment from the rigors of daily life, which is filled with constant ups and downs.

Remaining detached is very difficult, because with each successful outcome comes a realization of just how difficult the effort was. At least for those living In America, buying a new home is not easy at all, especially if there are thirty years of mortgage payments one has to assume responsibility for upon purchase. It’s one thing to enroll in school knowing that you have to attend classes for a certain number of years or accept the responsibility of a child for the first eighteen years of their life, but the mortgage on the house purchase is there for thirty years. Surely you can sell the house at any time, but if you want to continue living there, you better deliver the goods month after month for many, many years.

Knowing the difficulty in securing material possessions - especially in an advanced technological age where the simple, rural lifestyle is shunned as being outdated - it’s very easy to become attached to what you do have. Moreover, if you have a system in place to provide the comforts in life going forward, if anything should happen to threaten the vitality of that system, tremendous disappointment and fear will arise. This can only happen when there is attachment, for if we don’t care about something, how can we be sad when it disappears from our vision?

Adding further complexity to the mix is envy, seeing someone else in your field surpassing you. In family life, the worthiness of the home is established in part by how many guests come over and how welcome they feel. It is one thing to invite people to the home, but it is another to have them want to come over.

The householder is given a specific responsibility in the Vedas. They are to first feed the Supreme Lord through offering sumptuous food preparations, whatever can be made. If a man is wealthy and has time, he can offer elaborate preparations, and if one is not well off they can even offer something simple like a flower, fruit or some water. The Supreme Lord in His personal form of Krishna validates that such offerings are accepted, provided that the mood of the devotee is proper.

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

Flower garland offered to KrishnaIn some households, tradition calls for worship of other divine figures, those who work directly under Krishna to provide targeted benefits to their devotees. Though every ashrama is meant for reaching the final goal of full detachment from material life and complete attachment to the lotus feet of Krishna, it is unavoidable to have some fears over the potential obstructions that may arise and the loss of fortune. Therefore demigod worship has been popularly patronized since the beginning of time. The householder, if they are so inclined, can offer the remnants of Krishna’s prasadam to such figures and thus maintain their family traditions.

More importantly, when prasadam is fed to guests, the Lord’s mercy is distributed all around. Taking care of a guest is part of dharma, or religiosity, as is described in the Mahabharata. While many people inherently know to treat guests properly, to learn that hospitality falls in line with one’s gradual progression towards a purified consciousness validates the behavior. As is the case with any endeavor, however, there is bound to be jealousy. If we see someone else who has more people coming to their house regularly, we might feel inferior. “What do they have that we don’t? Why can’t people come to our home instead?”

These envious feelings increase when the viewing eyes believe that their dwelling is more opulent or that they are more deserving of attention because of their standing in society. Add to the mix a royal palace, which is expected to be viewed with awe and reverence, and you can see why so many kings were jealous of Maharaja Janaka many thousands of years ago. He lived during a time when dedication to Vedic principles was very high. Though he was a ruler, Janaka was not attached to anything about material life. He went through the rules and regulations as a matter of procedure, for he had no need to purify his consciousness. This shows that even one who is above the work prescribed to those desiring fruits to their action accepts obligations to set a good example for the rest of society.

While Janaka certainly had a kingdom worth visiting, what really drew attention to his home on one particular occasion was his chivalry, knowledge of the Vedas, and general love for humanity. He also had a beautiful daughter who was considered the goddess of fortune on earth, and in reality she was the goddess of fortune from heaven, appearing on earth to take part in the real-life play that would later be called the Ramayana.

Sita DeviNamed Sita because the king found her as a baby coming out of the earth, when Janaka’s daughter reached an age appropriate for marriage, the king decided to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, to decide her nuptials. The planning for Sita’s svayamvara can’t be compared to how weddings are organized today. If you don’t own a large plot of land, you’re limited in the number of guests you can invite. Plus, if you have to rent out a hall, the complexity of per head charges and a minimum number of guests gets thrown into the mix. With some modern weddings the host worries about either having enough people to fill the minimum seat requirement or trying to cap the number of guests so as to not go over the maximum occupancy limit reserved for the price range that they’re willing to meet.

For Janaka there were no such concerns, for he was the ruler of a majestic kingdom in Tirahuta. He could accommodate as many guests as desired to come. There was no need for making elaborate arrangements in that regard, as anyone who wanted to attend was allowed. Since Janaka was known as Videha, or bodiless, and since both he and his daughter were of the topmost quality, practically all the kings from around the world attended the svayamvara. They loaded up the caravan with their royal paraphernalia and entourage and made the trek to Janaka’s city.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas is continuing his description of the scene on the day the kings arrived. Though a self-choice ceremony, the occasion of Sita’s marriage was more a contest. In the central arena, or marked earth [rangabhumi], was a very heavy bow initially belonging to Lord Shiva. Whoever could lift the bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. The bow was so heavy and there were so many arriving princes that from afar the line looked like a conveyor belt forming. One person was arriving, another was stepping up to the bow, another was trying to lift it, and another was going back to sit down after having failed to even move it.

While this was going on, King Janaka was welcoming the many guests. There was a huge crowd both on the inside and outside of the city. Some arriving kings couldn’t help but look at Janaka with envy. How can they be blamed for this? If you have an opulent kingdom filled with every material amenity, you will naturally want others to visit it and be welcomed. The President of the United States throws elaborate State Dinners for this very purpose. Yet Janaka wasn’t even trying to host any one person in particular. He was just holding a marriage ceremony for his daughter and then so many people showed up. Because of the attention he got, the other kings felt defeated by Janaka, which actually wasn’t a bad thing.

Why is this? For starters, the fact that Janaka welcomed everyone added to his stature as a pious king. In addition, if you look around you, there are so many people that are candidates for receiving high blessings and honors. The fact that the honor of hosting the most widely attended wedding in history was bestowed upon Janaka meant that he was worthy of it. The source of his worthiness would prove to be an invaluable educational tool for others. Janaka’s real wealth was his love for Sita, who is God’s wife in the spiritual world. Janaka’s love was pure too; he wanted nothing from his daughter, though Sita can turn even the poorest man into a millionaire in a second.

Sita and Rama weddingJanaka received spiritual wealth from being able to love Sita with parental affection. She was the goddess of fortune to him through her association, which would subsequently bring Lord Rama’s company as well. Rama is the Supreme Lord Himself, who is eternally linked to Sita in the spiritual world. Not surprisingly, Rama would arrive on the scene and lift the bow without a problem. He would give the massive general admission crowd their money’s worth. For even the jealous kings the event was worth attending, for they got to see Sita wed Rama, an event which is still talked about to this day. Janaka, by remaining pious and hosting a number of guests too large to count, took part in the largest prasadam distribution known to man. He distributed spiritual food for the eyes, which then turned into mental images that the onlookers would never forget.

In Closing:

Guests to the home one likes to invite,

Hope that in hospitality they delight.

Others with more guests makes one jealous,

“What could their home possibly have on us?”

With king increased is responsibility,

To host unlimited guests kingdom’s ability.

Many kings did Janaka to home welcome,

Size of crowd in and out just awesome.

Jealous kings the reward of their eyes to take,

When Sita wedded Rama, who bow did break.