Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thinking The Worst

Ravana fighting off Jatayu“Is it possible that Sita - the princess of Videha who hails from Mithila and is the daughter of King Janaka - is together with that wretched Ravana after being forced by him? I think that maybe when the Rakshasa was taking away Sita, fearing Rama’s arrows he flew up so quickly that it caused her to fall.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.6-7)

kim nu sītā atha vaidehī maithilī janaka ātmajā ||
upatiṣṭheta vivaśā rāvaṇam duṣṭa cāriṇam |
kṣipram utpatato manye sītām ādāya rakṣasaḥ ||
bibhyato rāma bāṇānām antarā patitā bhavet |

Shri Hanuman, ever the sweetheart deserving victory in any endeavor he follows, here continues his mental review of the troublesome situation he found himself in. Assigned the herculean task of singlehandedly finding a missing princess inside of a city filled with the wickedest creatures of the world, Hanuman’s greatest difficulty came not from the opposing forces, but from his own mind, as his eagerness to meet the beloved wife of Lord Rama tested his patience. In reviewing what might have happened to the missing princess, Hanuman covered all possibilities, even those one should never think of.

Sita DeviWhat kind of thoughts should we never even entertain? With Sita Devi, the princess in question, the defining characteristic is devotion to Lord Rama. In fact, all of her other features are derivatives of this dedication, as her eyes dare not even rest on another man’s glance. Because of her spotless character, she was the object of desire for those consumed by their sense demands and her husband in turn the object of envy. That Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord descended to earth in a seemingly human form, would be envied is not surprising, for the very genesis of creation is rooted in this sentiment. Without a fervent desire to compete with the mightiest divine being, the original creator, the fountainhead of all energies, birth in a temporary land filled with miseries could not be possible.

Why would anyone be jealous of God? The real question is, “why wouldn’t everyone be?” The insecurities borne of ignorance keep us ever fearful of losing our possessions. If we see someone successful in business or life in general, it is natural for feelings of inferiority to arise. Only one who is self-satisfied, knowing the Truth and man’s position relative to the different energies emanating from Rama, will be non-envious. Such a person will rejoice over another’s success, and another’s sadness will be the cause of the greatest distress.

Knowing and loving God thus forms the primary goal for every form of life, but especially the human being, who is endowed with the ability to perfect consciousness. With proper adherence to austerity and religious practice from the time of birth, the mind can be taught to focus on activities which keep a steady target on the proper aim, one that is tied to the most pleasurable object. Rather than just a mental exercise devoid of pleasurable feelings, the highest form of religion known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is meant to complement every practice with a corresponding level of joy and happiness. Among the gamut of emotions capable of emanating from the liberated spirit soul, the ability to praise and glorify others stands as the source of the highest pleasure. If a corresponding beneficiary is identified who has unlimited features and glories, the praising can continue uninterrupted and without motivation.

To see how bhakti is practiced perfectly, the Lord’s most intimate associates descend with Him from the spiritual world. When Lord Rama advented during the Treta Yuga, His eternal consort from the spiritual sky did so as well in the kingdom of Videha. Maharaja Janaka was the king at the time, and he was famous around the world for many reasons. He was extremely pious, chivalrous, charitable, and dedicated to dharma, or religiosity. A king who follows the prescribed duties assigned to his order meets unhappiness neither in this world nor in the next. Janaka was also known as Videha, which means “the bodiless”. He was so adept in mysticism that he had practically transcended the influence of every one of the senses acquired at the time of birth. He was self-realized and fully satisfied, thus he was deemed beyond emotion. It is much easier to abide by prescribed duties when carrying out your responsibilities doesn’t cause you any pain. When you are immune to both happiness and distress, following the righteous path is a piece of cake.

The fruit of Janaka’s religious practices would come on a fateful day when he was ploughing a field for the purpose of performing a grand sacrifice, or yajna. While ploughing, he found a small child emerging from the earth. Not knowing who she was, Janaka picked her up in his arms and held her with fatherly affection. Though he was Videha, he couldn’t help but be consumed with loving emotions upon holding the young girl. Then a voice from the sky, as if to alleviate Janaka’s concerns over who the child belonged to, told the king that the girl was his daughter in all righteousness. His concerns gone, Janaka took the child home with him and put her in the custody of his wife. Since she was born of the earth, he gave her the name Sita.

Sita holding lotus flowerThough she was a female and thus at the time not formally trained in Vedic principles and concepts, Sita still acquired the same attribute of dispassion found in her father. Born in a family known for its chivalry, righteousness, and detachment from sense gratification, Sita Devi was essentially a yogi in every respect. Of course the true source of her mystic abilities was her undying love and affection for the Supreme Lord, whom she would receive as a husband when she reached the appropriate age.

When Rama and Sita were residing in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana, the king of the Rakshasas living in Lanka, heard of Janaka’s daughter’s immense beauty. Despite having hundreds of the most beautiful princesses as wives, Ravana was intent on having Sita. As much as Janaka was videha, Ravana was that much attached to his senses, and then some. But Ravana knew he couldn’t fight Rama one on one and live to tell about it. Therefore he set up a ruse and quickly took Sita away while Rama wasn’t looking.

In the subsequent search for His wife, the all-knowing Rama enlisted the aid of a band of forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. Hanuman was their most capable warrior, and through many trials and tribulations, he managed to make his way to the island of Lanka and then inside the inner apartments unseen. He searched and searched, for his devotion to Rama was impossible to properly measure. He had never seen Sita before, but that didn’t deter him in his mission. He was so anxious to meet her that he was willing to do pretty much anything to succeed.

After seeing so many beautiful women and unearthing practically every inch of the island, Hanuman stopped and reflected for a moment. It’s completely understandable that his enthusiasm would be tempered every so often by doubts and fears. Hanuman was not worried about his own well-being. He was concerned about the other members of the monkey-army, Sugriva [the leader of the monkeys], and Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. They were all counting on him, so Hanuman did not want to let them down.

Shri HanumanIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is running through the possibilities of what might have happened. We see that he briefly contemplated whether Sita might have agreed to Ravana’s advances. But to rightly convince himself otherwise, Hanuman remembered that Sita was brought up in the line of Videha kings; therefore she could never be tempted by anyone’s advances, no matter how beautiful or powerful the man was. She loved Rama for who He was, not because of any of His outward features, though the Lord wasn’t lacking any opulence. Sita is a pure yogi, so she knows that the soul is meant to be attached to the Supreme Soul, the plenary expansion of God residing within the hearts of all living entities.

Abandoning that incorrect line of thinking, Hanuman next thinks that maybe Sita fell down while Ravana was flying away in haste. The demon would obviously be afraid of Rama’s arrows coming his way during the escape. Prior to Ravana’s taking of Sita, Rama had dispatched 14,000 of Ravana’s Rakshasa associates to the land of Yamaraja, the god of justice. How one man can kill that many fighters by himself is known only to the Supreme Lord and those ever devoted to Him. Ravana was no fool in this regard. He was thus surely in a hurry to get out of Dandaka and back to his island of Lanka, which was strategically situated far away from any mainland.

Hanuman would eventually fight on, pushing aside his fears and concerns. What else could he do? Give up? That would serve no purpose. The perseverance shown in devotional service brings the highest reward, for it validates the worthiness of the mission of life to the dedicated worker. Hanuman didn’t require this validation, but through his concerns his love for Rama only increased. They say familiarity breeds contempt, but with Hanuman the more he thinks of his beloved Sita and Rama, the more he becomes attached to them. Similarly, anyone fortunate enough to follow Hanuman’s travels through Lanka and his eventual finding of Sita will only learn to love him more and more with each passing day. Having his association is the greatest boon, as Hanuman carefully plants the seed of love for the Supreme Lord within the heart of the sincere devotee. By carefully watering that seed with regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the effects of the senses become mitigated, and the bodiless sincere soul never strays from the purified platform of God consciousness.

Every party involved kept hope alive. Sita remained within her body by always thinking of the glories of her husband. This unique practice is a lesson for every soul suffering from the pangs of material existence. Even Hanuman followed this practice when he met difficulty. And why should there not be bumps along the road of life? For the fruit of our existence to be acquired and tasted, it must be something we really want. If devotion to the Lord is just handed to us, the fruit might be rejected or held off to be enjoyed later on. On the other hand, one who becomes hungrier and hungrier for finding that transcendental taste will relish the devotion instilled within their heart through solid practice of bhakti.

Hanuman chantingAnyone who finds themselves in distressful situations can follow the path laid down by Sita and Hanuman. In fact, if we concentrate our minds on their remembrance of Rama, their constant hope of being reunited with Him and seeing a smile on His most beautiful face, there is every chance at succeeding. Sita and Hanuman humble even the proudest person through their practically impossible to believe love for the Lord of the universe. Their pastimes and characteristics would not be believable were it not for the visual evidence that is the exhibition of divine love by the sadhus following in their line. The devotees prove that God exists and that He is most satisfied by love and devotion. Shri Rama doesn’t necessarily reside in the ashrama of the yogi, in the home of an opulent king, or in a place of sacrifice. He stays wherever His name, fame and glories are constantly recited. He resides with those who make the heart the resting place for these transcendental features.

In Closing:

“Is it possible for Sita of Videha’s line,

To give in to the Rakshasa of the worst kind?

Perhaps Ravana in a rush to retreat,

Rama’s arrows perform amazing feats.

Flying in a rush to avoid arrows abound,

Perhaps Sita then fell from chariot to ground.”

Hanuman knew that these thoughts not true,

But Sita not found, what else could he do?

Thought the worst but victory he’d see,

Without love for Rama he cannot be.