Monday, December 26, 2011

Quitting the Body

Lord Rama“Meditating on Shri Rama’s face, which resembles the full moon and has eyes like lotus petals, that poor lady must have died. Maithili [Sita], descending from Videha kings, must have given up her body while greatly lamenting, 'O Rama and Lakshmana' and 'O Ayodhya'.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.13-14)

sampūrṇa candra pratimam padma patra nibha īkṣaṇam ||
rāmasya dhyāyatī vaktram pancatvam kṛpaṇā gatā |
hā rāma lakṣmaṇa iti eva hā ayodhyeti ca maithilī ||
vilapya bahu vaidehī nyasta dehā bhaviṣyati |

The lotus flower is the most beautiful, for simply looking at it brings joy to the heart. The full moon in the dark night brings light to the distressed eye searching for a meaning to life. The city of Ayodhya, the dhama where Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended on the ninth day of the month of Chaitra many, many moons ago, is forever holy. Rama’s closest brother, the one who never leaves His side even during the best of times, Shri Lakshmana, is equally as worshipable as Rama and His land. Remembering these objects and people related to the Lord brings all auspiciousness, especially to one who is renouncing their body.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Lord KrishnaWhy is it important to remember something specific while quitting the body? Don’t we just automatically go to heaven when we die? Aren’t we sent to hell to suffer our punishment after the term of our current life is over? While it may be a little difficult to understand, the terms “life” and “lifetime” are relative. The injection of the spirit soul into the womb of the mother and the subsequent exit from the particular form do not have any bearing on the identifiable aspect, the resident calmly living within. Though to the occupant it may seem that they have lived for a very long time, with respect to the age of the universe their duration of life, which starts from the exit from the womb, is not very long at all.

To take a common example to see how time has no effect on the soul, let’s say that we took a picture of ourselves right now. Take out the mobile telephone, point it at our face and take a picture. Now, let’s say we waited a minute and took another picture. There will not be much difference between the two photos, especially as it relates to our appearance. There is no way to judge which picture is older based only on observation.

Let’s fast forward a year, maybe even two. We’ll take a new picture of ourselves and compare it to the ones we took in the past. All of a sudden, there are differences. “What was I wearing? Look at my hair back then, I can’t believe I walked around looking like that. What was I doing when I took that picture?” The only change has been the influence of time on the outer form, the covering of the soul. Our identity has not changed at all. It is easy to forget these things because the influence of time causes our mind to shift to other areas of interest, which means that items of importance from the past automatically get forgotten. Dredging up every one of those memories is nearly impossible, even when looking at old photographs.

So what does this all mean? The time of death is understandably taken very seriously, but the actual effect it has on the soul is nothing. The spiritual spark within cannot be created, destroyed, made wet, burned in fire, or altered in any way. Just as our identity didn’t change when we took those pictures minutes apart, the identity of the soul cannot be altered between the time of birth and the time of death. What can change, however, is residence. This is why it’s vitally important to have a properly situated consciousness while exiting the body.

“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.23)

Lord KrishnaThose who are wise, the pure souls learned in the ancient art of bhakti-yoga and all that it entails, maintain a proper consciousness all the time. This ensures that they have the proper thoughts at the time of death, even if there are longings that seem somewhat painful. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman is revealing that Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama, is always pure in thought, word and deed. Even if she is in a distressful condition, her heart is in the right place. What’s ironic is that the situation created by Hanuman’s thoughts quoted above is just hypothetical; he doesn’t know for sure that Sita has quit her body. He is afraid of the worst and is trying to see how he will react to contemplating such horrible events.

Hanuman’s mind led him to this point because he had been searching for Sita for a long time. As a beautiful princess, she was coveted by many a prince, but only Lord Rama was worthy enough to be her husband. God is one, but since He is so kind He descends to earth every now and then for specific reasons. On other occasions, He sends His bona fide representatives to teach specific religious principles. Due to time and circumstance we see different religions. If man was overly attached to killing, the representative brought forth law books that provided a list of do’s and don’ts. If man was overly attached to sex life, the representative would institute rules and regulations aimed at limiting such practices.

But when the Lord comes personally, He does so for His own pleasure, which in turn brings pleasure to others. Appearing in Ayodhya as the eldest son of King Dasharatha, Rama was the delight of the town throughout His life. When He left for the forest for fourteen years with Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana, there was doubt over His return. The same doubts were present in Sita, who always hoped for her husband’s safe and triumphant return to His home kingdom.

Sita and RamaThe successful outcome would be put in jeopardy when Sita would be kidnapped by a Rakshasa named Ravana. The villain took the innocent princess back to his island kingdom of Lanka, with no one knowing where she went. Through an alliance formed with Sugriva, Rama enlisted the aid of a band of monkeys, which included Hanuman, to search for Sita. Hanuman made it to Lanka, but he had difficulty finding Sita. He had searched the entire city and still no success.

As is understandable, Hanuman next suffered through a bout of doubt and hesitation, where he worried over what might happen should he not find Sita. He tried to explain the current situation by going through different scenarios. Though none of these thoughts were actual realities, they revealed just how much Hanuman knew about Sita and how glorious he is. One who knows the transcendental nature of the Supreme Lord’s appearances and disappearances does not, upon quitting his body, ever return to the cycle of birth and death. Yet Hanuman was so glorious that he knew everything about Sita as well.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.9)

Lord Rama had eyes like lotus petals, so His face was the most beautiful. Though he had never met Sita, Hanuman knew of her devotion to Rama. If she were to quit her body, she would obviously be thinking of her beloved’s beautiful eyes. Shri Rama’s face was like the full moon, hence He is also addressed as Lord Ramachandra. If Sita were to quit her body, she would not focus on anything else. She also loved Lakshmana very much, for he was always interested in his brother’s welfare. There has never been a more unselfish person to roam this earth than Lakshmana. Therefore it is not surprising that he is an object of worship, always seen by Rama’s side in famous pictures known as the Rama Darbar.

It is one thing to try to maintain nice thoughts and have your mind focused on God all the time, but it’s even better to focus the mind on someone else doing the same. Add to the equation the distress of being forced away from your husband’s side and you see just how glorious Sita’s dedication in yoga is. Even in someone’s thoughts, she retains her high standing. She is forever an object of worship and someone who should never be forgotten. Before he ever met her, Hanuman had qualified himself to be in her presence by being devoted to Rama and His interests.

HanumanHanuman’s remembering Sita and her undying love for Rama only further strengthened his resolve. If the above mentioned scenarios were actually true, they would serve as further impetus to fight ahead. The fight or flight choice is available to every single living entity. Either abandon the pursuit for self-realization and take your chances with reincarnation, or take the difficult leap forward into spiritual life by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and make the most of this human form of life right now.

The name “Rama” represents Lord Rama or Balarama and “Krishna” addresses the Lord’s all-attractive, original form of Shyamasundara. So many prayers need to be learned and rituals practiced in order to achieve specific ends. Unless we are taught these valuable tools from someone else, they will forever remain a mystery. God, however, never wants to hide Himself from anyone. Therefore the sacred maha-mantra is there for any person to invoke, enabling them to recite the perfect prayer at any time and at any place. This mantra is the easiest to distribute as well, for it can be recited in song or repeated loudly in person with others around. Meditating on these sacred words creates a mindset similar to the ones found in Hanuman and Sita.

Being touched to the heart by Sita’s devotion, Hanuman continued to fight on. No impeding forces, either external or internal, would deter him from completing the mission assigned to him. He would either find Sita or die trying. There was no serious consideration of quitting. Because of this resolve who could ever be more dear to Rama than Hanuman? The love that Sita and Rama feel for Hanuman can never be measured. We only gain a slight understanding of it by familiarizing ourselves with Hanuman’s thoughts, words and deeds.

HanumanVedic teachings forward the concept of working with detachment, following the righteous path that ideally leads to the intended goal. Should there be defeat in the end or pain and misery encountered along the way, just cast them aside, taking them to be little pins pricking the skin that don’t leave a lasting impression. Dharma, or occupational duty, brings all auspiciousness in life, for the soul attains its proper destination, the spiritual sky, from following it.

In the famous Bhagavad-gita, delivered by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to a hesitant warrior named Arjuna, the final instruction was that Arjuna should fight ahead and not have attachment to the result. Following Krishna’s order is always the way to go. Hanuman did just that by staying true to the mission at hand. Whether he succeeded or not was in the Lord’s hands, but his choice for fighting ahead rested with him. He would not let Rama down in this instance, and history would mark his bravery, dedication, cleverness, intelligence, strength, valor, and most of all, his unmatched love for Sita, Rama and Lakshmana.

In Closing:

At the end of life, when about to die,

Focus on face of Shri Rama, with lotus eyes.

Sita Devi, suffering from separation’s swoon,

Always thought of husband whose face like full moon.

Even in hypothetical Hanuman knew Sita well,

Without meeting her, her devotion to Rama he could tell.

Hanuman to fight ahead, failure not him would deter,

Upon him Rama all successes would confer.

Follow bhakti to maintain pure thoughts’ stream,

Always in comfort of God’s vision beam.