Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sword of Devotion

Hanuman meditating“Or I think that maybe she was taken to Ravana's home and is crying very softly there like a caged myna. How can that wife of Rama, who is born in Janaka's family and has a slender waist and eyes like lotus petals, come under Ravana's control? Whether Janaka’s daughter is spoiled, lost, or dead, it is not possible for me to tell Rama, for she is His dear wife.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.15-17)

athavā nihitā manye rāvaṇasya niveśane ||
nūnam lālapyate mandam panjarasthā iva śārikā |
janakasya kule jātā rāma patnī sumadhyamā ||
katham utpala patra akṣī rāvaṇasya vaśam vrajet |
vinaṣṭā vā pranaṣṭā vā mṛtā vā janaka ātmajā ||
rāmasya priya bhāryasya na nivedayitum kṣamam |

“Do this; do that. Take care of this responsibility; make sure not to forget to do that. What happens if I fail in this task, how will I survive? What if this particular event doesn’t go my way, will I be able to handle the loss? Will others around me be able to deal with the sudden turn of events?” In a realm governed by illusion, man is enveloped by a fearing attitude, knowing full well that everything he is accustomed to having in his surrounding environment can be taken away within seconds. Rather than accept his position that is insignificant in comparison to the larger forces operating in nature, man’s tendency is to try to get a handle on everything by asserting even more control over events. But pretty soon, the possible outcomes can become too much for the mind to handle. Even the dearest servants of the Supreme Lord are not immune to being overwhelmed within the mind, but because their consciousness is focused in the right area, they are eventually able to figure out the proper course of action, to see to it that the situation ends well.

“Is it possible for consciousness to be directed towards an improper place?” Certainly it is, and this shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. If I have a major project due in a class I am enrolled in, my focus of attention should be on the completion of that task. To meet that objective, I have to do preparation work, research, and the actual implementation, followed by a thorough review. This must all be done within the time constraints allotted for the task. The organization, time management, and steadiness of mind are of paramount importance.

dog taking napNow, instead of focusing on the project, let’s say that my consciousness were to drift towards other engagements, things that would help lengthen my procrastination. The nap is the most appealing outlet in such situations. When we fall asleep at night, there is some pressure to wake up at a certain time in the morning. If, after lying in bed for a few hours, we still haven’t fallen asleep, the mind starts to worry. “If I don’t fall asleep right now, at this very instant, I’m going to be tired when I wake up in the morning. Then I won’t be able to do anything properly throughout the day.” The nap, on the other hand, is by definition meant to be an escape from pressure. The nap is an unscheduled period of rest, where there is no set time for falling asleep or waking up. Now, imagine if you have something very pressing that needs to get done. In this situation, the escape that is the nap will be enjoyed even more.

If my consciousness is focused on sleep when it needs to be fixed on the project due in my class, obviously the chances of completing the task on time and in a proper manner will be reduced. Similarly, in the struggle for existence, if the mind remains wrapped around tasks which have been previously completed many times successfully, the bigger picture, the ultimate goal in life, will remain far, far away. On the other hand, when keeping the mind fixed on the Supreme Person, the object of energy from which all energy manifestations emanate, even a temporary setback in a prioritized engagement can be beneficial.

How does this work exactly? For starters, we know from our past experiences that we made it through difficult tasks, jobs that we worried about throughout the implementation. We can take something as simple as graduating from high school to be reminded. For those who passed high school, there were many years of courses and homework assignments to complete. Surely there was pressure felt in the periods of time preceding many of these tasks, yet somehow we made it through just fine. We worried about what might happen if we didn’t succeed, but eventually success was found anyway.

graduationSince the mind is so forgetful, the individual doesn’t remember that he has completed so many difficult tasks previously. Therefore worry tends to crop up over and over again. How do we solve the problem? How do we find peace and satisfaction in life without worrying about the important jobs that need to get done? Moreover, how do we keep the mind from dwelling on the worst possible outcomes? Rather than eliminate the negative thoughts, the assertive approach proves to be more fruitful. Keep the mind attached on the supreme loveable object and His interests, and this will provide insulation from the negative thoughts that have a harmful influence.

Those things in life we view as negative can only be labeled as such if they produce an unfavorable outcome. For instance, the scorching hot rays of the sun in summer can cause sunburn which leaves the skin irritated for weeks on end. But if we just take a little bit of the sun’s rays and make sure to protect ourselves at other times, the rays that were previously negative turn out to be harmless. On a more abstract level, if our negative thoughts can be tossed aside in favor of a positive engagement, one that leads to the best resting place, or param dhama, then even the temporary turmoil caused by the reappearance of those impure thoughts turns out to be a blessing.

This was the case with Shri Hanuman, the most faithful Vanara warrior and dear servant of Lord Rama. Hanuman has a strange appearance; he has the form of a monkey with extraordinary abilities. When it comes to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, it is understandable if someone hereditarily predisposed to religious life would make devotion their primary engagement. For instance, seeing someone born into a family with a rich tradition of spiritual life take to devotional life, regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is not that surprising. What other occupation did we expect them to go into? Did we really think they’d become football players, heads of state, or business moguls?

Lord Rama holding His bowBut when someone who you wouldn’t think would take to religious life becomes a dear servant of the Lord, the effects are far reaching. In the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the forest dwellers were monkey-like, but they also had many human capabilities. Since they lived in the forest, they were still considered less civilized, not cultured enough to get a formal education. Shri Ramachandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead appearing on earth during that time in the guise of a warrior prince, bestows His mercy to all. To avoid this being mistaken for a lofty promise, Rama backs up His supreme position and divine mercy by showering His blessings on every single man, woman, child and creature roaming the earth.

The sun is God’s direct representative, and it shines its light on all the creation. As the spiritual sun, Lord Rama is meant to be worshiped by everyone. Rather than gift the entire world endless amounts of sense gratification, which would do them no good, Rama brings with Him the opportunity for service. Who is granted enrollment? Obviously those who are the most eager would get the highly coveted positions. In all the three worlds, within every inch of space, you could search through and through and you would never find anyone more eager to serve God than Hanuman. To meet his enthusiasm for devotion to Rama, there needed to be a difficult task. That was taken care of by the Rakshasa king Ravana, who through a backhanded plot took Sita away from Rama’s side while the couple was residing in the forest of Dandaka.

The Vanaras of Kishkindha, headed by Sugriva, were tasked with finding Sita’s whereabouts. Hanuman, being their most capable warrior, was the one who made it to Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka. Unfortunately, Hanuman was there all alone. None of the other monkeys, as powerful as they were, could make the giant leap across the ocean separating Lanka from the mainland. Though he had a daunting task ahead of him, Hanuman is never faint of heart. So many obstacles were thrown his way, and yet he managed to maneuver around each one of them, finally making it to the insides of the city.

Shri Hanuman worshiping RamaAfter searching here, there and everywhere, Hanuman still could not find Sita. He found Ravana, his palace, and the beautiful queens living inside of it. Despite this, he still had yet to ever see Sita. Understandably, Hanuman succumbed to some doubts; some mental demons started to appear. He began to contemplate the worst, that Sita might not be alive anymore. He thought of the different ways that she might have been killed, almost testing his resolve to see if he could handle thinking of such horrible occurrences.

In the above referenced verses from the Ramayana, Hanuman is wondering whether Sita has been placed in a cage somewhere and is crying the whole time. Then he wonders how Sita could ever fall under the sway of Ravana, for she is forever devoted to Rama. Next, Hanuman’s mind jumps through the possibilities of how and what to tell Rama. If Sita were dead, Hanuman could never bring that news to Rama. If he had failed to find Sita, the news would be equally as disturbing. Yet if he didn’t say anything, even that was sinful. What to do?

Mind you, at the time Hanuman had already faced so many difficult obstacles and pushed passed each of them. In this respect he had no reason to worry, as the mission was so important that Rama would ensure his success. Nevertheless, he loves Sita and Rama so much that it pains him greatly to even think of failing them. As mentioned previously, if consciousness is situated in the right place, even temporary bouts of mental turmoil can turn out to be a blessing. Hanuman can never divorce himself from Rama and His interests. Therefore he was able to successfully defeat his mental demons and forge ahead, continuing his search. He would eventually find Sita, and the triumphant reunion of the divine couple would occur soon after. Just as Hanuman succeeded by keeping Shri Rama at the forefront of his consciousness, anyone who regularly remembers and honors Shri Hanuman while performing their devotional service, which is man’s ideal occupation, will be able to slash every unwanted desire that should happen to arise. Hanuman gives those who love him the sword of devotion, which can cut through even the thickest covering of doubt.

In Closing:

“Maybe after to Lanka Sita bringing,

She in Ravana’s home like caged bird singing.

Of Ravana how could she ever come under control,

For Sita from Janaka, who of piety has firm hold.

If she is lost, dead or spoiled, whatever the case,

Never I can tell Rama, He of moon-like face.”

Thus Hanuman by his mind greatly troubled,

But with sword of devotion commitment redoubled.

That sweet and chaste lady he would find,

Glory of Rama’s servants the world he would remind.