Sunday, December 18, 2011

What If Scenarios

Sita Devi holding lotus flower“Or I think that while being carried away and travelling through the aerial path, which is attended by the Siddhas [perfected beings], that noble lady’s heart sunk after seeing the ocean below. Or I think that on account of the tremendous speed of the flight and the force of Ravana’s arms that wide-eyed and noble lady gave up her life.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.8-9)

athavā hriyamāṇāyāḥ pathi siddha niṣevite ||
manye patitam āryāyā hṛdayam prekṣya sāgaram |
rāvaṇasya ūru vegena bhujābhyām pīḍitena ca ||
tayā manye viśāla akṣyā tyaktam jīvitam āryayā  |

Samadhi, or divine trance, is so difficult to achieve because of the object that needs to be harnessed. It is one thing to find shelter from the blustering wind by running quickly into the house. It is yet another to escape the scorching heat by blasting the air conditioner. But controlling the mind, which is as wild as the rapidest ocean currents that no surfer would ever dare think of mounting, is nearly impossible. One of the mind’s best tricks is to flood thoughts of horrific, unimaginable events to see what effect they have on the psyche. Sort of like the child placing his hand into the fire to see just how hot the flame is, the mind conjures up negative images to see if they really will make a negative impact. But for those who are in samadhi, with the mind fixed on the right cause for the right person, what seem like attacks by the mind actually do no harm.

Why is the mind like this? Why can’t it just stay happy? So much excitement and anticipation over new activities is there, but why not constantly remain in a steady state? This is perhaps strange to accept but we actually don’t need the many changes to external surroundings to find happiness. If the mind can be convinced that it is happy, that it is in need of nothing and that there is no reason to fear loss, it will remain in a pleasant situation.

“As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.19)

Lord KrishnaNot surprisingly, the only way to find samadhi is through focusing the mind on God, and more specifically, on devotion to Him. From the Bhagavad-gita, the song of God sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we learn that for one who maintains attachment to sense gratification borne of material desires, there is no chance of steadiness in devotional service.

What is sense gratification and what is devotional service? How can we tell the difference between the two? An easy way to understand sense gratification is to think of eating food. We have to eat to live. If we didn’t eat we wouldn’t have energy. Try studying for a big exam on an empty stomach and you’ll notice very quickly how important food is. Try running a long race after not having eaten anything that morning or the night before and you’ll realize the important role food plays. Food is a requirement in this sense, as even the animals know they must eat. But the question remains, “How much should we eat?” Also, “what kind of food will provide sufficient levels of energy?”

Let’s say that we have a fresh pizza pie in front of us. On a personal note, pizza is our favorite food, so when discussing matters of eating, we tend to use pizza as an example, sort of a subtle form of projection. A large pizza pie is quite a good sum of food, with enough calories to surpass the average recommended daily intake for one person. If we are hungry, we will maybe eat one or two slices. This will be sufficient for the average person to satisfy their hunger.

pizzaBut under the model seeking only sense gratification, the taste of the pizza takes precedent over every other concern. We may even know that if we have just one more slice, we will feel ill effects later on. We will feel fat, bloated, lethargic, or downright in trouble in the stomach area. Nevertheless, the mixture of the cheese, sauce and dough is just too delectable to pass up. So we dive right into another slice. “Hmm, that didn’t seem to do much for me. I’ve eaten three slices already, why not have another? After all, how often do I get to eat pizza? This is a fresh pie too, so if I save the other slices for later they won’t taste as good.”

Replicate this same scenario across a wide variety of activities and you get what the Vedic seers refer to as sense gratification. The body requires interaction with the material elements to maintain the vital force within, but basic interaction is all that is necessary. Anything above and beyond necessity is deemed sense gratification, and for one who is looking for eternal happiness and peace, they must abandon attachment to it.

“Can we be attached to sense gratification? Is that even possible?” Not only is it possible, it is more often the norm. The alcoholic knows that drinking regularly leads to so many unwanted effects later on, but they nevertheless continue to get intoxicated. The gambler has wasted so much time thinking of wagers, which even when won provide little happiness, yet they still continue to check the latest point spreads and visit the casinos to try for their big payday. The same sequence is followed in the pursuit of money by businessmen and the desire for unlimited sex life by those who can’t control their sensual urges.

What is the solution? How do we control sense gratification and how do we abandon attachment to it? This has been the question pondered by sober minds since the beginning of time. One option is to forget about self-realization altogether, just continue on down the path of least resistance. Instead of getting bogged down with sense gratification in one area, just find new passions every day and go after them. Obviously this will not bring any lasting peace either. The king, the government leader, and the community head all have important posts, which are coveted by many. Though they have successfully risen to a position of prominence, they nevertheless don’t sleep very well. They are always worrying about how to maintain their position and keep their dependents happy.

Another option is to try yoga, some form of exercise or meditation that keeps the mind away from sense gratification. Sit in lotus postures for a long time, breathe a certain way, or just exercise a lot to keep your mind off of things. But the senses are not so kind. They don’t let you out of their clutches so easily. The yogi also has trouble sleeping because he must always worry about performing yoga perfectly, adhering to the different exercises properly. A yogi must keep progress in mind as well, ensuring that they are advancing in their regimen.

Then there is another form of yoga known as jnana, wherein one follows austerity and studies scriptural texts on a regular basis to understand the differences between matter and spirit. Though sense gratification is renounced, since there is no active pursuit of a pleasurable experience, the jnana-yogi is constantly on edge about ending activity and merging into the light of Truth known as Brahman. If there is even a hint of attachment to the senses, the jnana-yogi has no chance of success. Therefore the requirements themselves serve as the catalyst for sleepless nights.

Only the devotee, he who follows bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, can sleep in peace by keeping the mind always at ease. Devotional service differs from sense gratification because of the beneficiary of activity. With sense gratification the senses lead the person to things that are bad for them. In bhakti, the same senses are spiritualized and thereby cause the sincere soul to act in the interests of the Supreme Lord. Those interests are handed down confidentially from spiritual master to spiritual master to be passed on to students sincerely interested in learning about the meaning of life, God, and how to be devoted to Him.

The devoted spiritual master’s number one recommendation is that the student chant the Lord’s holy names. Rather than squabble over which religion is valid and which one isn’t, one should take it as a fact that if God is to be who He is, He would have to be the most attractive person in the world. He would also have to give transcendental pleasure to anyone who would cross His path. Therefore the Sanskrit words Krishna and Rama would very accurately address Him. God must also have an accompanying energy, a force which is always tied to Him and gives Him pleasure. Therefore the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, becomes the most appropriate way to address the Lord.

HanumanThe exalted servants get to offer their service directly in the presence of the Lord. Such was the case with Shri Hanuman, the faithful messenger of Lord Rama and the monkey-king Sugriva. Lord Krishna delivered the Bhagavad-gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, but many thousands of years prior He roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. On one occasion, Rama’s beautiful wife Sita Devi had been taken away stealthily by a Rakshasa king named Ravana. Sita was in the forest of Dandaka at the time, so Ravana grabbed and placed her on his aerial car and then sped away in the sky.

Later on, Hanuman would be sent to look for Sita. Making his way into Lanka, he was initially unable to find her. He had searched through every nook and corner of the city, but nowhere was she to be found. Though he was always in bhakti-yoga, in samadhi, Hanuman had temporary bouts of dejection and sadness. The dastardly mind looking to test the resolve of the faithful servant rose to the challenge by implanting the most negative thoughts within Hanuman. “What if Sita isn’t alive? What if she died along the way to Lanka? What if she couldn’t handle the speed of the aerial car?”

These thoughts entered Hanuman’s mind as an attempt to explain the dreadful situation. How would he react to thinking these things? Our minds keep traumatic events safely tucked away to be invoked whenever we want to test our resolve, to see how we can handle the worst news in the world. Now Hanuman was smack-dab in the middle of trouble, and he had to see just how strong his resolve was. What if Sita were dead? What if he never found her? What would he do?

It seems like this mental distress proves that Hanuman was not in samadhi, and that bhakti-yoga doesn’t allow a person to remain mentally satisfied. But in reality bhakti is only hindered when there is attachment to sense gratification. For Hanuman, even in times of trouble, he had no concern over himself. His dejection was spiritual, as it was related entirely to Sita and Rama.

Mental despair resulting from attachment to sense gratification is detrimental because the attachment itself shouldn’t be there. On the other hand, even dejection in devotional service is beneficial, as it increases the resolve of the devotee and their appreciation of other servants and the object of service as well. Hanuman would ponder these horrific thoughts and then decide that it didn’t matter what the current situation was. He was going to forge ahead anyway. What other option was there? Was he going to quit? Was he going to cry for the rest of his life? He still had his vital force within him, so why not use that for Rama’s benefit? He would do just that by eventually finding Sita and then helping Rama defeat Ravana.

HanumanThe mind will always ponder “what if” scenarios that test the reaction to ill fate. Yet the same practice can be turned around to reflect on the positive. What if we remember Hanuman and his immeasurable love for Sita and Rama every day? What if Krishna’s promise in the Bhagavad-gita to deliver the fallen souls who surrender to Him is true? What if we continue in devotional service for the rest of our lives and remain in samadhi? As long as there is a vital force within the body, there is every chance at success in spiritual pursuits. As long as Hanuman is remembered, there is every chance of remaining perseverant along the perfectional path.

In Closing:

Samadhi means to remain in divine trance,

But with mental agitation there is no chance.

Attachment to the senses causes disturbance,

On material enjoyment abandon reliance.

With horrible what if scenarios mind will test,

Resolve of worker who at yoga trying their best.

Yet if attachment to the Supreme Lord is there,

Not even tragedies the devoted worker can scare.

Shri Hanuman thought the worst but moved on,

Would see Sita and please Rama at future’s dawn.