Friday, December 2, 2011

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Hanuman“Indeed, perseverance is what always propels one to pursue all profitable objects. It makes the actions it inspires in living beings successful.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 12.11)

anirvedo hi satatam sarva artheṣu pravartakaḥ |
karoti saphalam jantoḥ karma yac ca karoti saḥ ||

Hanuman is such a humble soul that he has no idea that through his own actions he gives proof to the age-old adages about perseverance and fortitude. When we are in a troublesome situation, a calming technique is to take shelter of past incidents involving people who had to struggle. “Hey, if other people got through similar circumstances, then maybe I can as well.” The most frustrating aspect to a particular task is lack of progress, the fear that success will never arrive. When that fear arises, it helps to look back to examples of past figures who persevered through difficulty, who fought the hard way and eventually got what they wanted. Hanuman, reminding himself of the benefits that come from perseverance, would himself set about creating a wonderful example for millions of people, spanning countless future generations, to follow. That example reveals yet another reason why his glories continue to be sung, honored and remembered.

The difficulty of a task and the fear of what might result with failure take away rational thought. In every aspect of adult life there is some sort of fear, as this is ingrained into the mature human being. Even the animals have fear, along with desires to eat, sleep and mate. With the human being lacking full knowledge of the spirit soul and its relationship to the Supreme Lord, fearing can reach a new height. The fear easiest to identify is that of dying. Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord in His form as the two-armed warrior prince of Ayodhya, notes in the Ramayana that for the mature human being there is no other fear except death.

“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)

Lord RamaThe comparison Shri Rama makes is to the ripened fruit. The fruit starts off as nothing but a tiny seed within a larger plant. Through the gifts of nature and the influence of time, gradually the seed matures into a full blown fruit. Maturity takes a while, so there must be good fortune for the fruit to reach ripeness. Any of the inhibiting influences of material nature can take effect at any second. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, group miseries into three categories. There are those inflicted by the heavenly forces, acts of God if you will. These miseries include hurricanes, tornadoes, and just about any general unpleasant weather event. Then there are the punishing influences of other living entities, those who infringe upon others’ natural rights. These people may also harm us with their insulting words aimed at breaking our resolve.

Last but not least, there are the miseries inflicted by the body and mind. These can include diseases and also fearing. The mature fruit does not have the advanced consciousness to fear, but once it reaches its peak development, its destiny is to fall off the plant and get eaten. It has nothing else to wait for. Similarly, the human being matured through the various stages of life, after acquiring so many objects relating to the senses and forging so many relationships, has nothing left to do but die.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

As the body was at one time accepted, a sober person can realize that it must also be renounced. In this sense there is nothing to fear, but the forces of material nature are such that fear nevertheless takes over. From the fear of death come all other types of worries and concerns. For young children, there is a fear of not performing well in school. In our youth particularly, in every year of school we were afraid of being left back, forced to repeat the same grade. We even had a recurring dream where we regularly skipped a particular class, only to have a final exam forced upon us at the end of the year that we weren’t prepared for. This isn’t an uncommon dream, as the fear of failing in the classroom is quite widespread.

schoolAs one gets older, the fears turn toward the safety and security of family members and occupation. Since fear of failure is so common, and since frustration is found at every corner of the material existence, young children are given lessons on perseverance. Famous fables relay the importance of sticking with a task and seeing it through to completion. Sayings like, “early to bed, early to rise”, “the early bird gets the worm”, and “put your nose to the grindstone” reinforce the need for regulation and dedication in attaining a beneficial end.

In the sports world there are so many instances of athletes overcoming obstacles and defying the odds through perseverance. When a famous athlete fails on the big stage, the impulse reaction for the fans and sportswriters is to label that person a bum. “Oh, they choked. They can’t win the big one. Perhaps they will never win. They will stay a failure forever.” Driving these fatalistic predictions is fear, the thought of what would happen should such and such player or team never achieve their desired end.

Those who do overcome obstacles and finally achieve the victory that everyone thought was impossible become almost folklore. Their stories are honored and remembered for many years, as everyone takes comfort in their triumph over inner demons. The more stories there are like this, the more people will have faith in their abilities and the benefit of fighting through adversity.

When you throw spirituality into the mix, the benefits of perseverance take on a divine nature. What does this mean exactly? Just as the human being is destined to renounce his body, or die, the rewards accumulated that relate to the enjoyment within that body are also short-lived. Perseverance in running the race can bring victory, a trophy indicating an achievement. Fighting through the difficulties in school can result in a degree, and fortitude at work can make others happy, but all of these things will be given up along with the body at the time of death.

The spirit soul, on the other hand, continues its existence. Like a natural acrobat, a space traveller not requiring any rocket ship or spacesuit, the soul jumps from one body type to another through what is known as reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. But this cycle does not have to continue perpetually. One who has their consciousness properly situated before renouncing their body does not have to take birth again. As soon as birth ceases, so does death. When death is stopped, the most inhibiting fear, the root of all other worries, is eliminated for good.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

Lord KrishnaHow do we know that a specific type of consciousness can stop death? Aside from the fact that Lord Krishna - the same Shri Rama who appeared on earth some five thousand years ago and delivered the Bhagavad-gita on a battlefield - clearly says so, we know from our own experiences that consciousness can alter future fate. Taking shelter of perseverance is an act of the consciousness, for there is no physical work involved in generating motivation. The physical work itself can only harm motivation or cause doubts within the mind. It is through rational thought that situations become favorable or unfavorable. The fruitive worker driven by sense desires looks at the scorching sun as the cause of pain and discomfort, while the yogi who limits their food intake and sleeping sees the sun as the giver of life, a direct manifestation of the Supreme Lord.

Depending on consciousness, even defeat and frustration can be handled as favorable conditions. We can take the example of Shri Hanuman to see how this works. During Rama’s time on earth many thousands of years ago, His wife Sita Devi was taken away from His side while the couple was residing in the forest of Dandaka with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Hanuman, a Vanara warrior, a forest dweller residing with others of his kind in Kishkindha, made his way to the enemy territory of Lanka to find Sita. His mission was to find her, though he had never seen her before, and give to her Rama’s ring. The Rakshasa king Ravana had brought Sita back to Lanka against her will, so Rama wanted to give the princess an indication that He was indeed searching for her and dedicated to her rescue.

Hanuman didn’t have fears over death. He is an eternally liberated soul, which means that material nature can’t affect him. His consciousness is properly situated, so his mind is always connected to God. Even still, this doesn’t mean that defeat and frustration, and even fear, become totally absent. Rather, they just take on a different nature; their influence is different. The same goes with the invocation of perseverance, as using fortitude in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, brings the highest benefit.

HanumanAfter searching long and hard, Hanuman had yet to find Sita. It just didn’t seem fair. He had braved so many elements to reach Lanka. No one had before done what he did, so there was no comparing his activities to anyone else’s. Nevertheless, the mission still wasn’t complete. After clandestinely searching through Lanka for Sita, Hanuman still didn’t see her. The fear in his mind now related to Rama and the monkeys in Sugriva’s army. Sugriva was the king of the Vanaras in Kishkindha, and it was at his command that the monkeys were dispatched to search for Sita.

The monkeys searched valiantly, and at one point it looked like they wouldn’t succeed. Hanuman remembered his friends and what they had been through together. The last thing he wanted to do was return to them a failure. He couldn’t bear to see the look of disappointment and sadness in their faces. He didn’t want to return to Kishkindha and meet Sugriva’s wrath, for nothing makes a ruler angrier than learning that his subjects disobeyed his orders. Sugriva told the monkeys to find Sita or face severe punishment. Hanuman also didn’t want to disappoint Rama, who was showing signs of suffering from separation from His wife.

Before moving forward, Hanuman decided to think things over. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, he reminds himself of a few adages relating to perseverance. Tireless determination, indefatigability, leads a person to their profitable end. This makes sense, for if you don’t really want something, you won’t be willing to put in the work to see the successful outcome. Hanuman wanted to find Sita more than anything, so motivation was there. He remembered that when there is desire, strong motivation, the chances for success will greatly increase.

The famous saying, “God helps those who help themselves”, applies nicely to this situation. It is actually most appropriate with Hanuman because he was involved in a mission seeking to please God. In cases not relating to the Supreme, the saying doesn’t really apply. For instance, if our perseverance is dedicated towards procuring liquor and beer to get intoxicated, why would the Lord help us? If our desire is to perpetrate some horrible deed, something against the law, surely the divine forces will not provide any aid.

HanumanIn fact, any activity performed for our personal benefit does not catch the Lord’s eye in the least. There is really no such thing as good or bad when it comes to the body that is destined for destruction. There is only favorable and unfavorable with respect to the advancement of consciousness. Hanuman was engaged in the constitutional activity of bhakti; therefore for him there was all sorts of aid from the Supreme Lord. The motivation itself, his strong perseverance, was enough to forever endear him to Sita and Rama.

Not surprisingly, Hanuman would end up succeeding in his mission. While taking shelter of a truth of life known to the wise, he ended up giving countless generations a real-life example of those principles put to use. As our mission in life is to become God conscious, the best way to adapt to every circumstance is to regularly chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. In the pursuit of spiritual perfection, there will be many obstacles and moments of despair, but by remembering Hanuman and his perseverance, our chances for success will greatly increase.

In Closing:

Tendency to fear will always be there,

Thought of losing everything causes scare.

For mature fruit no fear but to fall,

For adult human tolling bell death's call.

Perseverance in worker thus praised,

Famed is champion with victory's arms raised.

Hanuman knew that perseverance guided will,

Brings fruit to those who through trouble stand still.

Success when from fortitude action springs,

Lesson of Hanuman insight brings.