Saturday, February 19, 2011

Iron Arrows

Lakshmana “Lakshmana has many naracha arrows [made of iron] that are just like the thunderbolt hurled by Indra and lightning in the potency of their impact, as they can even split mountains.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.15)

lakṣmaṇasya ca nārācā bahavaḥ santi tat vidhāḥ |

vajra aśani sama sparśā girīṇām api dārakāḥ

Shri Lakshmana, the kind, compassionate, devoted and sweet younger brother of Lord Rama, is composed entirely of pure goodness. He possesses every desirable trait imaginable, and he uses all of his potencies to protect the interests of the Supreme Lord. God, as the all-powerful and omnipresent Lord, certainly doesn’t need a protector, but He derives tremendous pleasure from pure association. We too enjoy spending time with our close relatives, friends and children, so why shouldn’t the Lord have a penchant for the same activity? He is everyone’s father after all, so He is inherently tied at the hip to every single individual spanning every type of body. Yet since God is the Supreme Pure, He has a higher standard for enjoyment. As such, divine satisfaction only comes from association with those who want to be with God. Lakshmana cannot survive in Rama’s absence, a feature which makes him worthy of worship from all of mankind. Yet Lakshmana’s desire for association is not of the selfish variety. He is ready, willing and able to do whatever Rama asks of him, and even sometimes things the Lord doesn’t openly request.

LakshmanaWhat does this mean exactly? When love is very strong, the lover will take to action they deem to be beneficial for the object of their affection. Sometimes the loved will not ask for such dedication or maybe they will outwardly voice their displeasure at a particular behavior, but the lover nonetheless continues on their decided course. This is the case with Lakshmana, who as a great bow warrior, was ready to attack anyone who wronged his brother during the duo’s time spent on earth many thousands of years ago. This isn’t to say that Lakshmana was impious in any way, but since Rama, as a prince devoted to the rules of propriety and religion, was completely pure and free of sin from the perspective of ordinary piety, anyone who would wrong Him would surely be worthy of punishment. Keenly aware of this, Lakshmana always stayed by his brother’s side and was ready to attack any enemy with his arrows. This behavior was noted, appreciated and remembered by Shri Hanuman, another faithful servant of Rama’s, who kindly reminded a dear friend of Lakshmana’s nature during a particularly difficult time.

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the one person beyond duality and illusion, appeared in this temporary and miserable world out of His own free will. The perceptible world is considered miserable because there is no single permanent condition. Therefore even a turn in fortune deemed positive and beneficial will eventually have to fizzle out. This world is not a permanent home for any person, but rather a prison house aimed at reforming those spirit souls whose desires became polluted to the point that they wanted to imitate the Supreme Absolute Truth. God is known as the only truth because there is no denying any of His potencies or attributes. Even the atheists worship God in His separated feature of matter. One may deny the Lord’s existence and refuse to say His name, but they will meet Him anyway at the time of death, for even the greatest skeptic of religion must succumb to the forces of time. We may be very wealthy, beautiful and wise, but since death is imminent, these attributes eventually disintegrate. Since God never dies, the truths which describe Him can be considered absolute. There is no logical proof or series of statements that can be taken together that will nullify the Supreme Lord’s authority.

Krishna speaking to Arjuna When the wayward spirit souls become envious of God’s position or when they too would like to enjoy the benefits of being supremely powerful, a temporary realm is created for them to act out their desires. The flawed desire to imitate God cannot be acted upon in the spiritual world; therefore a temporary realm is needed. Since no one can actually become God, the temporary playing field automatically becomes a place full of miseries. Competition for supremacy in small and large scales results in cheating, lying, stealing, war, famine, pestilence, etc. When the individual residing within a specific body type runs out of ammunition, their present body is destroyed and a new one is immediately given. Hence the process of reincarnation continues until the desires of the conditioned soul completely change. When desire is purified, the soul returns to the spiritual world, where it once again enjoys God’s association, but this time for all of eternity.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)

In order to facilitate the purification of desire, the Supreme Absolute Truth descends to earth from time to time. Since He is the creator of matter, which is the predominant agent of the temporary realm, the Lord cannot be subject to its forces. There is an energy that governs this world which fools us into thinking that there is no God and that mundane enjoyment is actually of the topmost level. The influence of this energy is best seen in the activities of lower grade animals. A pig rolls around in its own stool all day. Yet the pig is not concerned at all with the uncleanliness of such a living situation, nor is it worried about what others will think of their behavior. To the intelligent human being, such a lifestyle is repugnant.

Just the ability to compare and make judgments on behavior shows that the human being has a heightened level of intelligence. The higher potential for knowledge acquisition was given to man for a reason. It was not meant to be squandered away through acts of sense gratification, which bring a level of enjoyment already available to the less intelligent animal species. Rather, the mature human being has a chance to see the temporary nature of the world and the influence of overindulgence in sense gratification. Yet even with the heightened potential for intelligence, mankind still falls victim to maya’s influences. Even those who are directly engaged in God’s service can fall off the straightened path when faced with temptation. The Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest many thousands of years ago had a brief departure from the path of dharma, but fortunately they had one of the Lord’s dearest servants with them to keep the torchlight of transcendental knowledge ablaze.

Lord RamaDuring the Treta Yuga, God appeared on earth as Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. Roaming the earth alongside His wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana, Rama took up residence in the forest of Dandaka for some time. On one occasion, Sita would be kidnapped by a demon named Ravana. Not at the hermitage at the time, Rama and Lakshmana returned to see that she was missing. In their subsequent search for her whereabouts, the two brothers made their way to the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited by a group of Vanaras, an elevated race of monkeys. The ruler on Mount Rishyamukha in Kishkindha was Sugriva, and through the efforts of Hanuman, Sugriva’s chief minister, Rama and the monkey-king forged an alliance. Rama first delivered on His promises, which then left the burden up to Sugriva to come through on his. Sugriva had agreed to help Rama find Sita, so in order to achieve this end, the monkey-king dispatched his massive army around the world. The task was pretty straightforward: the monkeys had one month to find where Sita was and return that information to the camp.

Hanuman was part of the strongest group dispatched by Sugriva. Yet after a month had passed, the monkeys were unable to find the missing princess. Making their way to a beautiful cave and then to a seashore, the leader of the group, Angada, decided to abandon the mission and not return to Kishkindha. Though he was deputed by Sugriva to perform a task of devotion for Shri Rama, Angada fell victim to maya’s influence. Ironically enough, an actual demon named Maya had constructed the cave and filled it with wonderful material opulences. The comfortable lifestyle was very appealing to one of the monkeys who was advising Angada and also to the other soldiers. As such, they decided to stop the mission and either take refuge in the cave or simply starve to death on the seashore.

Hanuman Hanuman did not like the decision at all. He had no desire to stop, for he is not influenced by maya in any way. In order to convince Angada and the other monkeys to continue the mission, Hanuman took to the ancient tactic of diplomacy known as division. His goal was to create dissension amongst the ranks, raise doubts about the validity of the decision to quit. In the above referenced statement, we see Hanuman correctly reminding Angada of Lakshmana’s powers. Lord Indra is the king of the heavenly realm, which, as a part of the material world, is only a land of increased enjoyment. The demigods, or suras, are always in battles with the asuras, or demons. The struggle between the pious and the impious has been going on since the beginning of time, and there is no end in sight to the hostilities. Good and evil will always clash, so in order for the good to win, they must be very strong. Indra, as the leader of the “good guys”, uses his thunderbolt to attack the demons. He had even previously attacked the same demon Maya in the cave that the monkeys were now thinking of taking refuge in. Indra was able to make a small dent in the cave, as is the case with thunder and lightning. The amazing mountain structures that we see around the world are all the result of natural forces. We could never think of making a beautiful mountain ourselves, but with the help of thunder and lightning, these structures are carved out very nicely, as their original forms split on impact.

Hanuman here states that Lakshmana’s arrows are each like thunder and lightning in impact, and since his quiver is filled with arrows made of iron, Lakshmana can hurl weapons of destruction at will. The intent of this statement is quite obvious. Lakshmana is Rama’s faithful younger brother, and should he find out that the monkeys abandoned their mission without due cause, he would most certainly be angry. In attacking the demon Maya, Indra was only able to make a small dent with his weapon of choice, the thunderbolt, in the illustrious cave. But since Lakshmana possesses even greater strength, he would most certainly destroy the entire cave and whoever was seeking refuge in it. In this way Hanuman is trying to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the monkeys who had failed to carry out their prescribed duties. Though Angada would subsequently choose the suicide through starvation route, Hanuman’s tactic would eventually bear fruit after the monkeys got further information of Sita’s whereabouts. Not ironically, it would be Hanuman tasked with jumping across the ocean to Lanka, where Sita was. Finding her location and successfully returning to Kishkindha, Hanuman and the monkeys would end up completing their mission and satisfying Rama.

HanumanThough they were presented through a psychological tactic, Hanuman’s cogent words of advice, which were grounded in the highest truths, show that there is no safe haven in this world from tasks and responsibilities. We cannot seek refuge in one area and hope to forever be free of pressure, loss and heartache. Rather, the exact nature of the material world is one of misery and pain. Despite this gloomy outlook, the more potent positive aspect of the human form of life can be discovered from studying the behavior of the same monkeys who were ready to quit. Through Hanuman’s efforts and dedication to action, the monkeys were eventually able to see the light and continue with their prescribed duties. All of mankind shares a common occupational duty, that of returning to the spiritual land after the time on earth is finished, which trumps all other responsibilities. Maya’s influences are very strong, for she repeatedly attempts to lure us into taking to intoxication, gambling, meat eating and illicit sex life. But these activities don’t represent any real refuge. Though Lakshmana may not personally attack us for our transgressions with his iron arrows, the punishing forces of all-devouring time will knock us down from whatever lofty position we ascend to.

To fend off maya’s advances, strength of conviction that is reinforced through the association of saintly personalities like Hanuman, someone who is above the influences of duality and the allurements of the contaminated senses, is required. Therefore one of the central Vedic tenets is that we should try to associate with pure souls, those who are devoted to always serving the interests of the Supreme Lord. In this day and age the true mission of life can be accomplished by taking to positive activity, those actions which are part of the sublime engagement of pleasing Bhagavan, the most fortunate entity in all the worlds. The quintessential act of devotion is the chanting of the names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though these names come from the Sanskrit language, the sound vibrations are open to any person to produce. The material world is not miserable only for Hindus or those born in a family with Indian traditions. The constitutional position of the soul is absolute, and so are the truths relating to the flawed material world. Therefore the incidents documented and described in the Ramayana can help all of us stay on the straightened path.

HanumanAs an added bonus, if we sincerely take to devotional service, the mission entrusted to all of us, Lakshmana will use his same iron arrows to protect us. Though Hanuman correctly pointed out the potential of Lakshmana’s wrath to those transgressing the Supreme Lord’s dictates, during the subsequent battle with Ravana and his Rakshasa army, Lakshmana would use his arrows to protect the same band of monkeys. Devotional service is never overlooked by the Supreme Lord. If He sees someone sincerely trying to please Him, He will take whatever steps are required to ensure that such service continues uninterrupted. It was no accident that Hanuman was sent with the party of Angada and other strong monkeys. Hanuman is forever the Lord’s messenger, the spiritual guide that keeps maya’s influence at a distance. For this and many other reasons, Hanuman is deserving of the highest adoration, worship and love.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Staying With Those Who Need Him

Lord Krishna with Mother Yashoda “The Supreme Lord descends to this material world just to protect His devotees from distress. In other words, if devotees were not in a distressed condition, the Lord would not have come down.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

Though It’s sometimes difficult to understand at the time of initial impact, distress can prove to be very beneficial. Depending on the nature of the activity, defeat and frustration can lead to a progressive march towards knowledge, a further development of intelligence. Working off intelligence guided by experience allows the otherwise hesitant worker to know what to do in any and all situations. Moreover, they will recognize which activities to avoid and which ones to take part in wholeheartedly. Especially in the arena of spiritual life, distresses become the most sublime gifts, the greatest benedictions one could ever receive. If any event, positive or negative, can bring about the personal association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His outward form which is eternal and full of bliss, it should be considered the greatest fortune, the most favorable turn in circumstances.

Lord KrishnaUnderstanding that distresses are sometimes good for us shouldn’t be very difficult. A few simple examples illustrate the pleasure that can result from pain and disappointment very clearly. As most of us eventually realize, putting our hand in fire will cause pain. Actually, the hand touching an open flame will cause a severe negative reaction, one which is very uncomfortable. The pain is just the first indication of the tremendous damage that is ready to ensue. The more intense detriment received from associating skin with fire is the future inability to use the hand. The example of the fire burning the hand can also be used to describe the different knowledge acquiring processes. In our youth, our parents likely told us to avoid certain activities, such as drinking from chemical bottles, putting our fingers in electrical sockets, and of course, playing with fire. Just hearing this advice and accepting it wholeheartedly would be enough to arm us with perfect knowledge pertaining to the activities that should be avoided. In fact, the entire purpose to knowledge is to alter behavior. Simply learning a few facts doesn’t really do anything for us if we can’t use that information to our benefit. Attaining a future favorable condition is actually more important than the knowledge acquired. If a young child knows not to touch fire, what does it matter if they know why?

On the other hand, there are those who rely primarily on observation and experiment to acquire and validate knowledge. Using scientific methods, they may eventually reach the same conclusion as the person who accepted knowledge from authority, but there will be many pains and unpleasant consequences encountered along the way. Taking the same example of the young child, if they were to reject the sound advice of their parents and touch the fire anyway, they would surely get burned. The child may then think, “Ok, my parents got lucky on that one. Maybe if I touch the fire again, it won’t burn.” Nope, that definitely won’t work. Notating these observations in their mental list of experiment results, the child may then try to touch another instance of fire, one of a different size and shape. “Maybe this fire won’t burn me.” Wrong again. In this way, a child can go about testing their hypotheses over and over again until they hopefully reach the conclusion that fire will always burn them. If they had just taken the advice of the parents, who are authority figures, much time, effort and pain would have been avoided.

Yet even the pain felt by those taking shelter of ascending knowledge, wherein experiments are conducted that gradually lead to a final conclusion, can be beneficial. When the child who rebuked their parents’ helpful words ultimately reaches the proper conclusion through much discomfort, they may also realize that their parents are correct about a lot of other things. In the future, the child may not be so averse to heeding the good advice of the mother and father. Stern defeat due to bucking authority is actually beneficial in many other paradigms of knowledge acquisition, including the interactions between a disciple and their guru. In the Vedic tradition, the ancient spiritual discipline instituted at the beginning of time by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, much stress is applied towards the need to accept a bona fide spiritual master, or guru. The idea is that the guru has seen the light through humble service to their own guru. Climbing up the chain of disciplic succession eventually brings you to Krishna; thus the knowledge being passed down is considered perfect and universally applicable. Simply accepting the words of the spiritual master and acting on them is enough to ascend to the perfected stage of existence, where every thought and desire is focused on the Supreme Lord and His pleasure.

Shrila Prabhupada But when a disciple is a little doubtful of the words of the guru, they may be tempted to take to the ascending process of knowledge acquisition in lieu of the descending process, wherein all words of the guru are accepted without challenge. If the guru is bona fide, their words will never be incorrect or against the injunctions passed down by Krishna Himself. Depending on time and circumstance the exact nature of the prescribed rules and regulations may vary, but the end-goal is always the same. The spiritual master’s duty is to liberate their dependent from the cycle of birth and death, elevating them to a heightened state of consciousness where the effects of material nature are completely mitigated. Maya is known as “that which is not”, or “that which is not Brahman, or God”. Certainly the Supreme Lord is everything, but His separated energy does not bring the benefits that personal association does. Therefore maya is deemed illusory, or separate from God, to one who has no desire to enjoy the benefits that come with divine love. In the conditioned state, the living entity falsely identifies with their body and thus takes sense gratification to be the topmost priority. When each new day begins, plans are made in relation to meeting the demands of the body. Death, which is just lurking around the corner, is completely ignored, as any thought given to such a grim event would only impede the march towards higher and more potent forms of sense gratification, all of which must be squeezed in before God in the form of all-devouring time comes to take everything away.

The guru’s business is to educate the disciple on the eternal nature of the individual soul, the spiritual spark within the body. If not for the presence of the soul, the senses would not exist. Without senses, the body would not develop; hence there would be no actions taken. In this way the soul’s needs and future fortunes should take precedent over all other concerns. When actions are performed solely for the interests of the spiritual spark within the body, then the senses, which previously were the driving force to action, take direction from the steady mind of the sincere devotee. When this purified state is reached, liberation, or freedom from the harmful effects of material nature, is already achieved.

Nimai-Nitai chanting Hare KrishnaBut since the living entity adopts the ignorant mindset at the time of birth, shifting from sense consciousness to God consciousness becomes very difficult. The spiritual master’s main prescription is that the disciple chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible and refrain from the most harmful of activities: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. The challenging disciple may think, “Hmm, this chanting seems alright, but why do I have to do it every day and for so long? I think I can just chant one round on my beads every day while meditating thoroughly and everything will be alright.” The regulation passed down by the Vaishnava acharyas is that the Hare Krishna mantra be chanted for a set number each day on a string of japa beads. The key is to always maintain or increase the number of rounds chanted and never decrease. For the sincere students of the modern age, the prescribed minimum daily chanting regulation calls for sixteen rounds. More than any other effect, this regulation, which represents the lower limit of spiritual practice, occupies a good chunk of an aspiring transcendentalist’s time each day. Even if concentration is lax during the chanting period, there is automatic retraction built into the process. If one is chanting the sweet names of the Lord for one or two hours every day, they are automatically avoiding sinful activities, which are engagements which further develop and solidify the sense consciousness, giving fuel to the fire of material existence. Therefore the regulation of chanting sixteen rounds has tremendous potency and intelligence built into it. All the tendencies of the conditioned entity have been factored into the prescriptions provided by the guru following in a chain of disciplic succession descending from Krishna.

So, let’s say the disciple only chants one or two rounds every day and maybe takes to getting drunk a few nights a week. Only slightly bucking authority, the challenging spiritualist thinks that they will still be able to make great progress while remaining attached to various sinful activities. They would rather learn spiritual information through experiences in the ascending process, where various experiments are made, the results noted and future behavior altered based on the findings. But since the disciple isn’t accepting all of the recommendations of the guru, there will surely be pain to endure. Just as the child will get burned by repeatedly touching fire, the aspiring transcendentalist will get burned by material nature and the senses over and over again until they learn their lesson. When there is great distress, as there will inevitably be, the disciple will hopefully realize, “Oh wow, my guru was right. He told me what to do, and I didn’t listen. Maybe from now on I will just accept whatever he tells me with a humble and submissive mood.” With such an attitude, spiritual advancement comes very quickly, provided the guru is himself adhering to all the regulations he institutes.

In the case of the defeated challenging disciple, failure actually brought about an increased appreciation for the spiritual master, the via-medium to the spiritual world. In a similar manner, the pain resulting from the hand’s contact with fire is extremely beneficial. Let’s pretend that the pain wasn’t there. This is actually possible if the hand has somehow gone numb through uneven applied pressure or through an injection of a pain killer. If there is no feeling in our hand and we were to put it into fire, obviously there wouldn’t be any pain resulting. But is the absence of pain a good thing in this case? Obviously it isn’t because our hand would start to burn and we wouldn’t even know it. Eventually the numbness would wear off and we’d be left with a severely damaged hand. The nerves in the hand essentially act as our protectors, our friendly guides. The pain from the hand is a signal that the activity causing the discomfort should be given up.

“The Lord creates this material world by His external energy, but this external energy is in one sense not different from Him. Yet at the same time the Lord is not directly manifest in the external energy but is always situated in the spiritual energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.17.29 Purport)

Lord Krishna Since the spirit soul is not meant to be a slave to the senses, the discomfort it feels while in a material dress is actually very beneficial. Spirit is an ever-existing entity, a representation of the Lord’s internal energy. Shri Krishna, the original form of Godhead, the singular entity that most of us refer to as God and look to in times of trouble, has three distinct energies. The internal energy is spiritual; it is similar in quality to Krishna. Spirit is pure, eternal, blissful and knowledgeable. It cannot be created, altered, or destroyed. Krishna’s external energy, material nature, is also eternal, but it is considered separated. Matter, or prakriti, is God’s external energy, and since it is dull and lifeless in the absence of spiritual injection, it is considered inferior to the internal energy. We living entities are originally part of the internal energy, but since we have a tendency to associate with prakriti, we are actually part of Krishna’s marginal energy. The jivas, the living entities, are on the fringe; they can choose to either take shelter of the internal energy represented by Krishna and His personal expansions, or remain forever ignorant through servitude to the material energy.

When the spirit souls, fragmental energy sparks emanating from the original source of power, Shri Krishna, want to associate with the external energy, they are provided bodies composed of varying material elements and given a home in a perishable and miserable world. The pain felt through chaos, tumult, despair, anger, murkiness, etc. are all beneficial in the grand scheme. If association with the external energy wasn’t discomforting, the spirit soul would gladly remain a servant of maya, or that which is not pure spirit, in perpetuity. It is for this reason that activities in the mode of ignorance, such as intoxication, should be avoided at all costs. Such actions only serve to further cloud the natural intelligence of the pure spirit soul. Similar to numbing the hand before placing it into a fire, intoxication simply dulls the pain of material existence temporarily. Regardless of the amount of time spent shielded from the miseries brought on by contact with maya, the numbing effects will eventually wear off, leaving the individual in a worse-off position from where they started, as precious time that could have been used to further purify consciousness has gone to waste.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Praying to KrishnaExperiences in material life should be painful, and one who is wise enough to understand the cause of this pain can take the necessary steps to permanently remove it. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God spoken by Lord Krishna on this earth many thousands of years ago, it is described that those who initially approach the Lord to offer service generally have one of four motives, or impetuses for taking to spiritual life. One of the motivations is the alleviation of distress. As such, it can be understood that pain in the material world has the potential for bringing about the highest benefit, as it can lead to seeking the shelter of the Supreme Divine Entity, the only person fully capable of eliminating the harmful effects of material nature, an energy that works at His command.

For the sincerest devotees, the pure souls who want nothing else but Krishna’s association, the Supreme Lord personally appears and stays with them forever. Usually the appearance is in the form of the holy name or the deity representation. Blessed with divine association, it is not uncommon for kind-hearted devotees to ask the Lord, “Why me? Why, out of all the people in the world, do You choose to stay with me always? How come I get the benediction of chanting Your name every day and seeing Your beautiful form everywhere I turn, but others do not? I am not deserving of this in the least bit, so Your blessings upon me are certainly a black mark on Your character, as You have chosen to associate with such a wretch as myself.” Shrila Sanatana Gosvami, a giant of the Vaishnava literary world, was extremely humble and kind in his dealings with Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s preacher incarnation who appeared in India some five hundred years ago. At one time in his life, Sanatana Gosvami was suffering from a bout of eczema, so he had many sores all over his body. Lord Chaitanya would always hug Sanatana Gosvami when they met, so during Sanatana’s illness period the Lord would get different impure fluids on His body through this contact. Thinking that he was offending Shri Gaurahari because of the contact of his infected body, Sanatana decided to commit suicide. Lord Chaitanya, as the all-knowing Personality of Godhead, stopped Sanatana Gosvami from doing this, saying that his body now belonged to God and, as such, he had no claim of ownership on it.

Lord Chaitanya The pure devotees have no other sustenance than the chanting of the Lord’s names and thoughts of His beautiful form. The Supreme Lord, knowing that such individuals have nothing else in their life, always remains in their company. For the most exalted of individuals, those wanting to enjoy with God through various transcendental mellows and who have not a tinge of desire for material enjoyment, the Lord grants His personal association. This was the case five thousand years ago when Lord Krishna, in His original form, descended to earth and spent time with purified souls in various parts of the world, including Vrindavana and Dvaraka.

“I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.25)

Krishna pastimesIf the devotees weren’t distressed, or if they derived great pleasure from material association, what need would there be for Krishna to descend to earth? The famous prayer of Kunti Devi, Krishna’s maternal aunt during His time on earth, proves to be very accurate in this regard. She prayed that all calamities in life would repeatedly occur for her because that would bring Krishna’s association and protection. Through this kind prayer, she revealed the secret to achieving Krishna’s mercy. If we make the chanting of the holy names of the Lord our life and soul and the future well-being of our fellow devotees as the most important task in life, any distresses encountered in our affairs will only turn out to be blessings. As should be vividly apparent, logical and obvious to us, Krishna only stays with those who want Him. By regularly calling out to Him, we can let our desires be known.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cutting Through Illusion

Shri Lakshmana “Formerly this cave was slightly damaged by the thunderbolt hurled by Indra [which drove away the demon Maya], but Lakshmana, using his very sharp arrows, can cut it apart like a leaf being removed from its stalk.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.14)

svalpam hi kṛtam indreṇa kṣipatā hi aśanim purā |

lakṣmaṇo niśitaiḥ bāṇaiḥ bhindyāt patra puṭam yathā

This comparison made by Shri Hanuman, the faithful and loving servant of Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is completely rooted in the truth, yet is beautiful and humorous at the same time. The humor comes not from the validity of the statement, but rather is found in the lengths that Hanuman goes to to show his deep love and affection for Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Indeed, Hanuman will stop at nothing to defend the interests of his beloved objects of worship, showing that he has no other concern than the eternal engagement of divine love. Indra, who is known as the chief of celestials, the most powerful demigod, is often used as a reference point in Vedic literature to compare strength and ability. In this instance, Hanuman is essentially belittling Indra’s fighting potency as a way to properly convey the level of strength possessed by Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana, who is a divine figure and one of the most powerful bow warriors to have ever roamed this earth. Hanuman had no gripe with Indra, nor was he trying to purposely insult the great demigod. Hanuman is so loyal and affectionate towards Rama and His family members that he doesn’t mind criticizing others or putting their strengths into proper context. Hanuman is a supreme authority figure on the Absolute Truth, so he was not afraid to expound on It to Angada during one particularly troubling time.

Hanuman These events took place many thousands of years ago. when there weren’t any formal written books. As such, the details of significant events were related through poetry in the Sanskrit language. Maharishi Valmiki penned the Ramayana, which is a tale of the journeys and triumphs of the Supreme Lord during His travels on earth in a specific time period. The person we all know as God, the Supreme Being who is beyond fallibility, comes to earth from time to time to enact pastimes, punish miscreants, and give future generations of adherents endless waves of pure bliss in the form of stories describing historical events to swim in. Watching movies and televisions shows are quite popular pastimes in the modern age. While these activities focus on fictitious settings and storylines, taking the mind back in time to when the Supreme Lord roamed the earth brings the highest benefit, both spiritually and mentally. The effects of the senses are so strong that we are always looking to escape. Some methods of escape, such as drinking and doing drugs, prove to be harmful in the end. Yet escapism in the form of reading novels and watching movies tends to be less harmful, as there is no chemical reaction. When the desire to mentally leave the mundane platform takes the mind to a transcendental realm, a place where the Supreme Lord resides alongside His closest associates, the resulting bliss is unmatched. Therefore hearing the sacred stories found in the Ramayana is the best way to transcend the effects of the senses which give us so much pain.

The Ramayana is quite lengthy and chronicles many different events. Rama roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince, so He naturally had to deal with many opposing elements. The leader of the opposition at the time was a Rakshasa named Ravana. He devised a way to take Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, away from the Lord behind His back. In the subsequent search for Sita, Rama and Lakshmana made their way to the Kishkindha forest, where they ended up forming an alliance with a band of Vanaras, or a monkey/human species. Within each creation the events of the Ramayana take place in the Treta Yuga, which is the second of four delineations of time, or eras. Since the Treta Yuga is a more pure age, there are different types of species that roam the earth during this time. Even the monkeys, who are known as forest dwellers, are advanced in intelligence and ability.

Hanuman with the monkeys Sugriva was the king of the Vanaras in Kishkindha, and he kindly dispatched his massive monkey army around the world to search for Sita. The lead party included Hanuman, Sugriva’s most faithful, pious and powerful servant. In fact, any and all beneficial attributes the mind can conjure up are possessed by Hanuman. He is lacking nothing with respect to stature or content of character. The mission given to the monkeys was quite straightforward: find Sita within a month and return to Kishkindha with news of her whereabouts. After a month had passed, Hanuman’s group was unsuccessful in finding her. They came upon a beautiful cave which then led them to a seashore. The cave was very appealing to the eye since it had every opulence imaginable. The de facto leader of the monkey group, Angada, decided to abandon the search and either starve to death on the seashore or take refuge in the adjacent sanctuary-like cave.

Seeing the sudden change in plans, Hanuman became quite upset. Though he is supremely powerful, courageous and pious, Hanuman has no desire to please any of his own senses. Instead, he is always thinking about Rama’s happiness and the well-being of his friends. Seeing the other monkeys contemplate quitting, Hanuman decided to play a little politics to get his way. Though today most major governments are run through a parliamentary style system where votes determine the course of action, Vedic teachings provide a nice guideline for how to conduct diplomacy. There is even a section which describes how to deal with an enemy, someone who is unwilling to listen to your point of view. There are generally three options available to a king when faced with this situation. The ruler can win the dissenter over with words of flattery or they can also use brute force.

HanumanSeeing that both of these options weren’t feasible, Hanuman took to the third option: division, or bheda. This is a method commonly adopted by weaker parties, those who don’t have the strength to use brute force or the wherewithal to properly flatter the opposition. Hanuman surely could have fought with his fellow monkeys, but since he needed them to help him find Sita, it wasn’t a wise tactic. Therefore he took to fomenting dissent by directly challenging Angada in front of all the monkeys. First Hanuman praised Angada, but then he praised all the other monkeys as well. He told Angada that monkeys are generally fickle-minded, so even if everyone was agreeing to give up the mission right now, their minds might change very quickly, especially when they would start missing their wives and children.

In the above referenced statement, which was part of the bheda tactic, Hanuman is very nicely using a comparison to illustrate Lakshmana’s supreme strength. By invoking Lakshmana’s name, Hanuman is reminding Angada and the rest of the monkeys of what might happen should they fail to carry out Rama’s orders. Lakshmana is extremely kind and compassionate to the pious, for he is a part of Lord Vishnu, a non-different form of the original Godhead. Yet Lakshmana is the greatest defender of Rama, so if he sees someone disrespecting his dear brother, he will not sit idly by.

Lakshmana Hanuman’s reference of Indra and his effect on the cave in question has practical meaning to everyday life. Angada and the other monkeys were essentially lured into a form of procrastination. The demon Maya had created the wonderful panacea of enjoyment, which seemed to be well-protected. The monkeys had a choice: perform their prescribed task or take refuge in maya by giving up. Though this particular incident references the demon named Maya and the cave he created, the word “maya” also means “illusion”. Maya is the governing agent of the world that we live in. It is not that the world around us is false, but rather it is temporary. All objects of the phenomenal world are ultimately destined for destruction. The illusory forces really take hold when one gains an attachment to the temporary world. If we view an object as our life and soul even after knowing that it will be destroyed at some point, then certainly we have fallen victim to illusion. Reality, or not maya, is God. The aim of spiritual life is to break free of the effects of maya and take refuge in God.

The monkeys in this instance became victims of maya’s influence. They had been given a task directly by a representative of God, but through fear of failure, they were contemplating taking refuge in the comforts offered by the illusory surroundings. This is similar to how many of us procrastinate when we have a difficult job to do. Life is full of pressures, especially when we have a major homework assignment to complete or a project to work on for our job. The reason companies have physical office locations is to increase productivity. If we were to work from home all the time, the chances of procrastination would increase. Say, for example, we are working on a project in our bedroom at home. If we hit a bump in the road, a moment of difficulty, it would be very easy to take refuge in the bed. There is no better sleep than that which is evoked through procrastination. Normally when we go to sleep there is a pressure to wake up at a certain time the next morning. The procrastinator’s nap brings solace and comfort, a feeling of security, as there is no set time for waking up. When we are underneath our covers and enjoying the resulting warmth, we feel as if we are safe from all the pressures and stresses of life.

Hanuman worshiping RamaBut in reality, this comfort is simply illusion. We can certainly feel safe underneath our covers, but it would be silly to think that a blanket could protect us from the negative effects that result from not performing our duties. Shri Hanuman is basically making the same point to Angada. The monkeys, provoked by the sentiments of a commander named Tara, thought they would be safe living in the cave full of illusory enjoyments. Indeed, even Indra, the chief celestial, was only able to make a slight dent in the cave with his thunderbolt when he rooted out the demon Maya. The power of thunder and lightning is unimaginable. They say that if man could just figure out how to harness the power of one bolt of lightning, he could have enough power to last a very long time.

Yet as Hanuman accurately points out, Indra’s thunderbolt is not nearly as strong as Lakshmana’s arrows. During the Treta Yuga, warriors fought with bows and arrows. Though this method of fighting seems primitive today, the warriors used to invoke sacred mantras which would greatly augment the power of their arrows. Lakshmana, being a part of Vishnu Himself, had the most powerful arrows in the world. Hanuman says that Lakshmana’s arrows would treat the seemingly heavily fortified cave as a leafstalk. Tearing apart a leaf from its bed is not very difficult at all, even for the weakest person.

When the leaf is removed, it obviously loses its life and ultimately wilts away. In this way, Hanuman is saying that by angering Lakshmana and abandoning the mission, the monkeys would easily be found and killed. Angada’s strongest case for taking refuge in the cave related to the anger that Sugriva would show them for having failed in their mission. But through Hanuman’s cogent words, the monkeys were correctly informed that they would actually be punished more severely for not carrying out Rama’s wishes even after their allotted time had expired.

“The worker who is free from all material attachments and false ego, who is enthusiastic and resolute and who is indifferent to success or failure, is a worker in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.26)

Shri Rama Darbar Lakshmana’s strength is very great, as is Hanuman’s love for him. The monkeys would eventually continue their mission after they received some helpful words of advice from the elderly bird Sampati. Hanuman’s crafty attempt at playing mind games kindly reminds us that there is no safety in life. Maya cannot provide us security from the forces of death, which take hold through all-devouring time, kala. Therefore it is better to carry on with our prescribed duties, regardless of the success or failure we meet. We may win or we may lose, but either way, there is no avoiding the realities of life. Maya is certainly a strange bedfellow, someone we definitely don’t want to remain attached to. By regularly remembering Hanuman and his dedication to Rama and Lakshmana, maya’s influence can be reduced and the shelter of the Divine Nature of the Lord can be had. The most potent form of protection available to the sincere souls of today is the transcendental sound vibration of the name of the Supreme Lord, a shelter which can be permanently erected by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. When it comes to spiritual life, there is no need to procrastinate. Chanting can be practiced at any time and at any place. Remembering God and His dearmost associates is never a waste of time. Morning or night, awake or asleep, if we remember Hanuman, Lakshmana, Rama and Sita, our time will be well spent.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Sweetness of Happiness

Mother Yashoda and Krishna “When a devotee is put into a situation of distress, his devotional activities are accelerated. Therefore, to show special favor to a devotee, the Lord sometimes puts him into distress. Besides that, it is stated that the sweetness of happiness is sweeter to those who have tasted bitterness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

A thirsty man relishes his small cup of water a million times more than one who is accustomed to drinking loads and loads of the tastiest beverages on a daily basis. A hungry man will feel that the meal he has acquired after so much effort is the greatest tasting one he has ever had. In a similar manner, the humble sage, the purified soul, upon realizing that he has neglected the company of the Supreme Loveable Object for his entire life, will relish any and every chance he gets to associate with Supreme Spirit. Moreover, once he tastes this unmatched transcendental sweetness that can only come through a link in consciousness with the one entity who is the most attractive, the pure devotee will never want to go back to his old life of pain and misery.

Lord KrishnaAside from the common arguments pertaining to God’s existence, there are debates as to His exact form, features and nature. Does God even come to earth or is He above that? According to the Vedic angle of vision, the eyes of the sacred texts of India, the Supreme Lord can do or say anything that pleases Him. In fact, this perpetual lack of impediment to the exercise of free will only belongs to Him, for none of us are capable of getting what we want at all times or doing whatever we want without negative consequences. The concept of consequence only applies to fruitive activity, wherein a seed is planted in the form of a specific activity and a resulting fruit hopefully comes to bear sometime in the future. Even one who strictly abides by the rules and regulations of his specific field of activity is not guaranteed of success. This is because if we take to one engagement with the hope of growing a nice fruit, we are at the same time neglecting some other task. Though consequences are usually perceived through explicit action, the absence of activity can also lead to negative effects. For instance, if we fail to pay our utility bill, the power in the home will eventually get shut off. If we don’t feed our young children, they will surely starve to death.

With the Supreme Lord, however, there is no impetus for performing action or refraining from it. As such, the Vedas describe Him as atmarama. He is both formless and full of form. For there to be an absence of form, there must originally be the tangible object which is full of form. The variegatedness, potency, and pleasure that we can perceive are but mere reflections of the original energies belonging to the eternal realm. In the absence of an original form, the concept of formlessness loses its meaning. Therefore the Lord, in His original feature, is certainly full of form, possessing a transcendental body which is ever-blissful, independent, knowledgeable, and capable of delivering the highest pleasure to every subordinate entity. Any person who is not God can be considered inferior to Him. Yet as the supremely satisfied divine entity in the spiritual sky, the Supreme Lord has no need to pump His fists or pound His chest over His dominance. Rather, His very existence is all that is required to maintain the permanent subordinate status of all other forms of life.

Krishna incarnations So does the Lord come to earth? Again, according to the Vedic angle of vision, He most certainly does. If He created all the material elements, including the innumerable solar systems and their included planets, why can’t He travel to them from time to time? Is an owner restricted from entering the workspace? The workers may not appreciate such visits, but the owner still has the prerogative to traverse any space that he owns. In the National Football League, it is not uncommon for owners to man the sidelines during important games. The players and coaches go on alert when this happens, but as the owner of the team who invested millions of dollars for the franchise’s upkeep, he never meets any opposition from anyone within the organization when patrolling the sidelines.

“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)

The original creator certainly can descend to the land of misery and heartache which manifests to facilitate the desires of those wanting a shot at imitating God’s powers. Yet since His position never changes with the constant tide of ups and downs of material fortunes, the Supreme Lord remains unaffected by the material elements even when He directly appears in the phenomenal world; such is the grand nature of Supreme Spirit. So when and why does He descend to earth? What is the purpose of His visits? To understand the behavior of the one entity who never has to explain Himself, we must first understand why we are in the material world. As fragmental sparks emanating from the gigantic fire of spiritual energy, we are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. In this sense we are also meant to be infinitely blissful and eternally situated in transcendental happiness. Yet as we know from our own experiences, life in the material world is anything but blissful. Rather than find happiness at every corner, even the gains acquired are short-lived, and it seems that the effects of misery and defeat are far more intense than the benefits derived from good fortune.

Federer winning French Open Ah, but this is by design. The wise can take great lessons from their defeats and their mistakes. Indeed, learning from defeats in sports, business and politics can certainly bring about a higher gain in the future. Winning the prized championship in a particular sport, becoming a Fortune 500 company, and being elected president of a particular country are all grand achievements that require perseverance and dedication to the tasks at hand through the toughest adversity. For one who has tasted defeat, the sweetness of victory is all that much greater. Of this there is no doubt. Roger Federer, the tennis legend and celebrated ambassador for the sport, was missing the French Open title from his resume for many years. After losing in his third consecutive final in 2008, Federer still kept hope alive that he would one day win the one major tournament that eluded him. He even mentioned that perhaps the victory, when it would come, would be that much sweeter since he had tasted defeat so many times. Indeed, the following year Federer would win the tournament, and his joyful reaction showed every indication of a man who truly understood just how difficult it was to achieve a major success. Surely such an intense reaction, which was full of tears, wouldn’t have been shown had he not struggled so much at the tournament in the past.

Along similar lines, those who have been bereft of the Lord’s association for so long, should they have the wonderful opportunity of meeting Him face to face, then cherish every minute they get to be in His association. The ebullience and gratefulness of the spiritually enlightened devotee provides the real answer to explain the Lord’s periodic advents to the perishable land. When the spirit soul, the autonomous life spark residing within the body, desires to separate from Krishna, the parting of ways is begrudgingly agreed to by God. Yet when the individual fragment of spirit leaves the Lord’s association, all the protections provided and the bliss felt through divine association vanish. In the absence of God’s direct presence, one is left to fend for themselves. As mentioned before, only the Supreme Lord is undefeated and incapable of suffering pain and heartache. As such, we see that misery and pain begin right from the very moment that the separation from God occurs.

For the fortunate soul, there comes a time in life when they realize the source of their misery. Regaining their full cognitive powers, they realize that the previous defeats they suffered at the hands of the forces of material nature only served to help them along in the ultimate goal in life, that of becoming God conscious. Let’s try to imagine never having suffered defeat. Obviously this is a difficult exercise, as we are not God. Man is prone to four defects, with the propensity to commit mistakes being one of them. Either way, let’s assume that we go through life with minimal defeats in every area of endeavor. We get to marry whoever we fall in love with, we make millions of dollars a year in income, and we have every material amenity available to us. In whatever passionate activity we take up, we are successful. Now, would such a high success rate be good for us or harmful? The governing agent of the material world is known as maya, which means “that which is not”. Pure spirit, which includes God and His internal energy expansions, is the only entity that “is what it is”. Hence any successes that we achieve pertaining to maya are by definition unrelated to God. As such, the bliss derived from unending victory cannot compare to the thrill one receives from seeing the sweet smile of the original Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.

“Dear Krishna, You are the killer of all the fears of the inhabitants of Vrindavana. You are the supremely powerful hero, and we know that You can kill the unnecessary pride of Your devotee as well as the pride of women like us simply by Your beautiful smile.” (Songs of the gopis, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 31)

Lord Krishna with cow On the flip side, one who is regularly accustomed to defeat will have to reassess their strategies in life. After making material adjustments here and there, they can taste tremendous sweetness in their subsequent victories. But one who is constantly defeated, over and over again, to the point that they abandon all hope for happiness through maya’s association, will have the greatest opportunity for finding real pleasure, “that which is”. For such individuals, the Supreme Lord personally descends and gives credence to the truth that only He can provide supreme bliss. Therefore it is seen that the pure devotees, the bhaktas who always engage in chantingHare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, often aren’t very successful in material endeavors. Prior to purifying their consciousness, they may have been drug addicts, thieves, lazy, or just plain delusional. Even those who have every material amenity available to them, such as famous musicians and movie stars, are not immune to finding depression and misery. Often times their stardom makes them even more prone to such fall downs.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.61)

Downturns in mood can turn out to be the greatest blessings, provided that the downtrodden know where to turn for upliftment. As part and parcel of God, the soul’s only permanent source of bliss is Krishna’s association. Fortunately, the Supreme Lord accompanies the jiva in his descent to the material world. The spirit soul, the functional unit of life, resides within the heart, and adjacent to this potent spiritual force is the most knowledgeable and all-pervading entity, a direct copy of the Supreme Lord, the Supersoul. Why would God expand Himself and reside within our hearts? Just as a fire cannot exist without heat and light, the individual spirit soul can never be truly separated from the Supreme Lord. Even if we outwardly reject spiritual life and turn into the staunchest of atheists, someone who cringes at the very mention of religion or God, the Supreme Lord still remains with us. Where separation can occur is in the area of consciousness.

Narasimhadeva with PrahladaThis brings us to the final conclusion, the real justification for the Lord’s advents in various visible forms such as Lord Rama, Narasimha, and Varaha. To find real pleasure, the defeated and fatigued individual simply has to turn inward and shift their consciousness towards the Supreme Soul residing within the heart. To aid this process along, the same Paramatma, in a more complete feature known as the avatara, comes to earth and provides direct association, person-to-person interaction. Obviously the benefits to such direct association will not be available to those who don’t want it. Even when looking directly into the eyes of the most blissful, powerful and benevolent Lord, many demons of the past such as Hiranyakashipu and Ravana, who were overly puffed up with their material fame, fortune and prowess, refused to acknowledge God’s supremacy and His intimate friendship. In this respect, defeat in material life becomes all the more important, serving as a qualification, a pre-requisite, for having a direct meeting with Krishna that produces the most tasteful fruit.

In even more special circumstances, the Supreme Lord, in His original form of Krishna, descends to earth and enacts wonderful pastimes. Since the Supersoul resides within the heart of every living entity, it is understood that God’s presence is felt everywhere. One simply has to have the eyes to see Divine influence. In the conditioned state, where temporary victories further advance the illusion of material life, the eyes are not trained to see things as they are. But for one who has tasted defeat innumerable times, there is the greatest opportunity to take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is the only discipline that can permanently remove the cloud of ignorance that we inherited at the time of birth.

Radha Krishna deities Purification of vision only comes to those who regularly remain connected with Krishna in the forms of His transcendental sound vibrations, the words describing His glorious pastimes, and the exalted spiritual masters, the gurus and devotees who kindly take to rescuing the fallen souls of the material world. When one finally does see God everywhere and in every being, they become perfectly eligible to see Krishna in His original form. One who has tasted the bitterness of defeat and eaten the humble pie served up by material existence will relish every opportunity to even be able to think of the Lord, let alone chant His names and worship His deity.

When the devotee is purified in this way, they can understand that their previous misfortunes were due specifically to Krishna’s influence. Hearing this, one may ask, “Why doesn’t God just put everyone into distress? After all, that would be a way to secure purification of vision for everyone.” Though it sounds like we’re presented with a “chicken or the egg” scenario, it must be noted that the desire for yoga, or complete connection with God, must originate with the jiva. This inkling towards divine connection may have been aroused in a previous life or been ignited through taking the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee. Either way, even without Krishna’s direct intervention misery is already readily available to those who reside in the material world, as no fruitive endeavor can successfully result in the usurpation of the Supreme Lord’s fixed position. For one who is sincere about advancing in consciousness, one who has an earnest desire to associate with God, the Lord accelerates their advancement by specifically placing obstacles in their path of material sense gratification. A famous country singer once thanked God for not answering his previous prayers because if He had, the singer would have actually been more miserable. The cause and effect is similar to how a good parent will deny the harmful requests of their child. When we are young, we don’t know what’s good for us, so we rely on the discretion of our parents to protect us from ourselves.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.29)

Narada Muni Misery is found at every corner in the perishable land, so in this sense there is no protection available to anyone. Yet for those who are sincere in their desire for Krishna’s company, while remaining free of any hankering to attain mystic perfection, alleviation of distress resulting from sinful activities, or material opulence, the Lord takes charge of their fortunes, just as a good parent protects their loved one from danger throughout their life. This is not simply a theory concocted by the Vaishnavas, for God, in His form of Lord Rama, validated this truth one time when discussing transcendental subject matters with His dear devotee Narada Muni. Previously, Narada, who derives the greatest pleasure by travelling from planet to planet and chanting the glories of Narayana [another name for Krishna], had temporarily fallen down from his high position through a desire to marry a beautiful princess. He prayed to Lord Hari, yet another sweet name for God, to make sure that the beautiful woman in question would want to marry him. Yet Hari only pretended to grant his request, while in fact only doing what was good for Narada. Indeed, Narayana made sure that the woman specifically didn’t choose Narada at her svayamvara, or self-choice marriage ceremony. Being rejected by the woman and realizing that his apparent ill-fate was due to Hari’s influence, Narada became very angry and cursed the Lord to appear on earth in human form. Surely no one can curse God, but since Narada was a pure soul, the Lord wholeheartedly accepted the perceived punishment without any opposition.

Lord KrishnaAcceding to Narada’s angry demands, Lord Rama, appearing on earth, met with the saint one time while in a forest, and the two discussed the previous incident. Narada couldn’t understand why the Lord hadn’t granted his request to marry the princess. Shri Rama replied that for the purest of devotees, He personally tends to their well-being throughout life, never letting them go. As such, it is impossible for souls like Narada Muni to be led astray, even if their desires lure them in every which direction. As Narada is a sannyasi, or one in the renounced order, he is not meant to be married, for his devotional activities would then be hampered.  From this example, we see that the ultimate desire within the heart is what counts, the overarching hankering for a purification of consciousness. One who is sincere in their kind sentiments towards Supreme Spirit will always be guaranteed of conditions favorable for the execution of their devotional practices. Sometimes these conditions involve defeat, heartache and poverty, but in the realm of spirituality, there are no absolute laws pertaining to good and bad. In the spiritual world, one minus one can equal two, and surely poverty and defeat can equate to the greatest gain, that of Krishna’s association.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Indescribably Endeared

Hanuman with Rama and Lakshmana “Based on what you have heard [from Tara], you regard this cave as being capable of providing protection, but tearing it apart will be easy work for Lakshmana’s arrows.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.13)

yām ca imām manyase dhātrīm etat bilam iti śrutam |

etat lakṣmaṇa bāṇānām īṣat kāryam vidāraṇe

When someone is convinced of a particular way of thinking or is overly confident of a certain ability, an effective way to debunk their viewpoint and shake their resolve is to make a comparison to an entity of secondary or tertiary authority. Every person, regardless of their cognizance of the fact, has a belief in an ultimate controller, a supreme power. Those who are not devout to the original dharma of the soul will take the supreme authority to be nature, a series of chemicals, or an elevated personality. When arguing in support of a particular doctrine or philosophy and against another, it is not ideal to invoke the powers of established supreme entities because the capabilities are inherently implied in their names and anointed titles. Rather, to stress the severity of the error prescribed by a competing viewpoint, the debate counterpart will make comparisons to objects which aren’t obviously deemed to be the most powerful or the most capable. In this way the dissenter can very emphatically get their point across and hopefully make an impression on the person they are trying to convince. This was a tactic employed by Shri Hanuman many thousands of years ago when he found himself in an uncomfortable position, with his close associates having fallen victim to a faulty viewpoint espoused by one of the leaders of the group.

HanumanTo help us understand the effectiveness and proper use of this particular weapon of argument, let’s break down a simple example. Say we have one person who is boastful of their powers in a particular field. Say they are a great basketball player who is well skilled at scoring, defending and rebounding. This player is quite confident of their own prowess and not afraid to share their viewpoint with others. A dissenter, one who disagrees strongly with the opinion of the self-anointed star, will have to carefully craft their arguments so as to convince the other party of their errors. Indeed, if anyone else is privy to the argument, they too can be convinced of the dissenter’s point of view through the use of this nice tactic. In basketball, the consensus opinion is that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time. In fact, every new star player that comes along invariably gets compared to Jordan. Analysts will compare height, reach, speed, and dribbling and shooting abilities of the two players. Since Jordan is considered the greatest player, every new star thus becomes a candidate to surpass his legendary stature.

The Jordan comparisons get old very quickly though, with the reason being that Jordan set such a high standard for excellence that it is nearly impossible for anyone to ever equal his records and influence on the game of basketball. Continuing with the example, if the dissenter were to invoke Jordan’s name as a means of supporting their viewpoint, the argument wouldn’t hold that much significance. By saying, “You’re not that good of a player. Michael Jordan could run rings around you on a basketball court”, the person making the claims of greatness wouldn’t be that phased. After all, Jordan is widely considered the greatest of all time, so there really is no argument as to what would happen on the basketball court if Jordan were there to compete.

Pippen and Jordan A better way for the dissenter to get their point across is to make a comparison to a player that is close to Jordan in abilities but not as widely talked about or hyped up. For example, say the dissenter were to invoke the name of Scottie Pippen, another legend of the game and teammate of Jordan’s. By saying, “Scottie Pippen could easily take you down. You wouldn’t even stand a chance against him in a game”, the dissenter is establishing the fact that even someone who isn’t deemed as superior as Jordan would be able to surpass the player’s abilities. This line of argument serves as praise for Pippen and also augments Jordan’s stature at the same time. If the player making the claims of greatness could easily be defeated by Pippen, then surely Jordan’s abilities must be all that much greater.

A similar technique was invoked in an argument by one of the most intelligent divine figures, Shri Hanuman. Lord Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, a non-different form of the original Personality of Godhead, didn’t employ this style of argument as a mere mental exercise, but rather as a part of a crafty game of psychology aimed at achieving the highest end. Many thousands of years ago, Shri Rama roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince. When His wife, Sita Devi, was taken away from Him through underhanded methods, He joined forces with a band of Vanaras to help locate the beloved princess. The Vanaras were headed by their king Sugriva, whose lead warrior was Hanuman. Those familiar with Vedic traditions surely know who Hanuman is, but for those who don’t, he is widely recognized as the greatest servitor of God, someone who possesses every noteworthy attribute to the highest degree. He is loved and adored so much that he is the principle object of worship for millions around the world.

Hanuman with Lakshmana and RamaHanuman achieved his legendary status not only by dint of his qualities described by others, but also through activities performed under the greatest duress. One such troublesome time was when his band of Vanaras, which were deputed to find Sita, decided to abandon the mission in favor of either starving to death or taking refuge in a pleasant-looking cave. The de facto leader of the group, Angada, was advised by a commander named Tara that it would be better to give up the mission rather than risk impending death at the hands of Sugriva. The monkey-king had given strict orders to his warriors to not return to Kishkindha without information of Sita’s whereabouts. He gave them one month to find her, and after the time period had elapsed, the monkeys in Angada’s group were at a crossroad. They could either forge ahead by continuing the search for Sita, or they could return to Kishkindha and face Sugriva’s wrath. Angada chose a third option, that of giving up completely. His plan was to starve to death on the shore of an ocean, while the plan recommended by Tara called for taking refuge in a cave guarded by a very thick wall, a place the monkeys had just escaped from to reach the shore.

Hanuman didn’t like either of the two new plans. He always takes God’s interests to heart, as he would rather die than not act out divine orders personally delivered to him. Sita was taken away by a Rakshasa demon after all, so obviously she couldn’t have been in a pleasant situation. Rama was probably feeling even worse, for He had no idea where Sita was; she could have been dead for all He knew. All of Sita and Rama’s hopes lay with the monkeys dispatched by Sugriva. In actuality, the Supreme Lord can never be subject to the ups and downs of material life, but in this instance He was simply carrying out His desire to imitate the regular activities of ordinary men. This wonderful display of mercy allowed service to be offered from Rama’s most sincere servants, those who had abandoned all desires and hopes for happiness through association with maya, or that which is not God. The Absolute Truth is everything, for His influence is seen even in the atom, but in the conditioned state man tends to forget Him. Maya is material nature, or the illusory enjoyments that we see before us. When the sneaky influences of maya are realized, inquiries about the Absolute Truth and how one can go about associating with it are made. Upon realizing that the only Truth is God, the wise take to acts of devotion, or bhakti-yoga. We can think of bhakti-yoga as the religion of love, where every action is performed for the benefit of the Supreme Lord.

Hanuman chanting Shri Hanuman is an eternal adherent to bhakti-yoga. The monkeys in Sugriva’s army were similarly devotees, but on this occasion they were victims of maya’s influence. Thinking that they would be more happy and peaceful remaining in the cave or starving to death, they decided to abandon the mission. Hanuman knew he couldn’t convince them of the folly of their ways simply by force or by lecturing, so he tried his hand at the age old tactic of division.

To foment dissension amongst the ranks, Hanuman directly addressed Angada in front of the other Vanaras. Hanuman first praised his great fighting abilities, for Angada was the son of Vali, Sugriva’s late brother and an extremely powerful warrior in his own right. After complimenting Angada, Hanuman then praised the other monkeys and warned Angada that they were all independent thinkers who had their own interests to worry about. If things should turn sour, they would all turn on Angada in a second.

LakshmanaIn the above referenced statement, Hanuman is continuing his psyops campaign by tearing down the argument of security being found in the cave. Due to the influence of an unintelligent advisor named Tara, Angada was considering that the monkeys would be safe in the cave they had settled upon. Hanuman easily could have invoked Rama’s name and reminded Angada that God is capable of finding and destroying anyone. But that comparison would have been too obvious and maybe would have initially missed the mark. Instead, Hanuman first invoked the name of Shri Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother. This earth, and the universe for that matter, has never seen a brother like Lakshmana, and it won’t ever again until the time of the next creation when Rama will return to reenact His pastimes. Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother, but He was the most faithful servant. As a member of the warrior caste, Lakshmana was equally as powerful as Rama, but since he loved Rama so much, Lakshmana made sure that Rama got all the attention and glory. These are the ways of devotional service. There is always give and take, back and forth as it relates to the praising and extolling of virtues between the object of pleasure and those providing loving service. Lakshmana was actually a partial incarnation of the Supreme Divine Being, so the supremacy of his powers was never in doubt.

“Rama's younger brother, Lakshmana, has reddish eyes and a voice that resounds like a kettledrum. His strength matches that of Rama's, and his face shines like a full moon. Just as wind gives aid to a raging fire, Lakshmana has joined forces with his brother. It is that best of kings, Shriman Rama, who has brought down the Rakshasas fighting in Janasthana.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.16-17)

By invoking Lakshmana’s name and prowess, the argument presented was that even the perceived second greatest fighter in the world would easily be able to root the monkeys out of their hideaway. Lakshmana’s arrows were very powerful due to His divine nature and His expert knowledge of the proper mantras used in warfare. Therefore if the monkeys were to seek refuge in the cave, Lakshmana would surely become angry and look for them. Lakshmana never took well to any ill-treatment directed at Rama. Hanuman, Lakshmana’s dear friend, well-wisher and representative, is kindly reminding Angada that Rama’s beloved younger brother could defeat and kill all of them if he decided to.

Hanuman Hanuman’s dissension tactic wouldn’t work immediately, but it would further endear him to the monkeys as well as to future generations of admirers, our humble self included. When the monkeys eventually decided to resume their search after receiving information from the bird Sampati, they still found themselves stopped on a shore and unable to make their way across the giant ocean to Lanka, where Sita’s captor Ravana lived. Fear not, as Hanuman would end up leaping his way to the majestic island, where he would find Sita and give her the news of Rama’s impending attack. All would end well, in no small part due to Hanuman’s efforts. This incident relating to Angada and the Vanaras contemplating abandoning their mission illustrates the pure love that Hanuman has for all of Rama’s family, including the dear Vanaras. The relationship between Shri Hanuman and Rama’s family can never be accurately described in words. He is their beloved friend, servant and well-wisher. Wherever there is Hanuman, there is Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Wherever Hanuman is present, effort, perseverance and confidence in the discharge of devotional duties is well represented. By remembering Shri Hanuman every day, we will never fail to act in accordance with the Lord’s wishes.