Saturday, January 7, 2012

All The Shots I Take

Hanuman's heart“If having not seen Sita I shall leave from this place and go to the city ruled by the king of Vanaras, of what avail will my achievements prove to be? My crossing over the ocean, entering Lanka and seeing the Rakshasas will have all been useless.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.20-21)

yadi sītām adṛṣṭvā aham vānara indra purīm itaḥ ||
gamiṣyāmi tataḥ ko me puruṣa artho bhaviṣyati |
mama idam langhanam vyartham sāgarasya bhaviṣyati ||
praveśaḥ civa lankāyā rākṣasānām ca darśanam |

Man’s ideal occupation is devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, which is so powerful that the benefits of adherence to it automatically trickle down and impact other aspects of life in a positive way. The enjoyment of the fruits of action serves as the initial impetus for activity, including the most strenuous and pressure packed engagements, but the wise know that just as the body is renounced at the time of death, so the results of action have a shelf-life, a date of expiration. When operating under the proper consciousness not only are the results of action renounced, but the activities themselves are done to further a purpose beyond the interests of the body. The imperishable, gigantic spiritual powerhouse of energy is the object of all service, the enjoyer of every sacrifice, and the ultimate beneficiary to the potent potential for love found within the soul.

Why not enjoy the fruits of labor? After all, we earned them, so why would we want to give them up? This line of thinking seems logical enough, and the living being does take this tact by default. Yet during the typical maturation of the human being from infancy to adulthood, we notice that the need to renounce fruits of action starts to surface regularly, enough to the point that engagements themselves are renounced before the nature of the rewards are studied.

What do we mean exactly? Let’s look at something as common as playing video games. The child is dependent on elders for its sustenance; it has no pressing need to work or to worry about its well-being. In addition to not having to care about adult responsibilities, there is the advantage the child has in the energy department. Take an old man and force him to wake up early and sit in school for long periods of time, only to come home and then work on homework for several hours, and you’ll get major resistance. Yet a child doesn’t know any better. They can go to school for hours at a time, come home and play in a tiny area, sleep on the floor if they have to, and find the lifestyle to be loads of fun.

video gamesBecause of the child’s ability to follow difficult paths without much resistance, parents ensure that their children are given an education, even if the child doesn’t want it. After all, what opposition can a child put up anyway? “No, Dad, I’m not going to school. I’m going to sit home and do nothing.” This isn’t much of an argument, and the child is well aware of it. A good way to pass time for the child forced to get an education is to play video games. The simple, yet addictive games can run the gamut of genres and tasks. Some games are sports simulations, while others involve role playing, wherein powerful evil forces are taken on in battle. In any case, there comes an ideal end point, an achievement of victory. Either the championship is won in a particular sport or the most powerful boss is defeated.

What does the child gain by putting forth all this effort? For starters, their time was spent without boredom. A few hours can seem like a few minutes when deeply immersed in a video game. Maybe some problem-solving skills were acquired as well, as for serious players success doesn’t come right away in these games. If it did there would be little enjoyment derived. Though in an episode of the famous sitcom Seinfeld one of the adult characters enrolled in a children’s Karate class to feel superior to the competition, this isn’t the norm. There has to be some kind of a challenge to feel any elation or sense of accomplishment from the resulting victory.

Kramer doing karateWith maturity, the child starts to realize that victory in these video games doesn’t amount to much. There is mental effort expended, but what is really gained? When these issues surface, the objectives shift to other areas of life. Maybe the new goal becomes graduating from college or earning a Masters degree. After that, the goal can be to succeed in a particular occupation or build something difficult to construct. One by one, the inquisitive human being searching for lasting happiness in a steady engagement jumps from task to task to taste the fruits that result.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately note that no fruit related to the body can ever provide lasting happiness. What to speak of the video game victory, not even the monumental achievement of the largest business mogul in the world really amounts to much. How can we say this? Isn’t building a skyscraper a big deal? What about the invention of airplanes and the railroad? Surely these made a huge impact, no? All the shots endured through struggles and defeat are worth it when the success is meaningful.

But beyond the temporary fruits found in material existence is the spirit soul, an eternal spark of energy. As soon as there is birth there must be death. This means that as soon as a fruit manifests, it must be destroyed at some point in the future. The fruit itself doesn’t have to crumble right away; our relationship to it, i.e. our ability to enjoy it, is automatically checked by the definition of our existence. For instance, if I work hard and construct a large home to reside in, at most I can live in it for one hundred years. At the time of death, the housing structure may still be there, but I will be forced to leave its company. This holds true of every one of our relationships, including the strong bonds we have to friends and family.

Why are we bringing this up? Isn’t this something we know already? Can’t we just forget about death and live happily enjoying life? The Vedas don’t remind us of the obvious truths about material existence without good reason. Because the spirit soul is eternal, it can have an engagement which brings everlasting fruits. Have we introduced a contradiction here? After all, for something to be created, it must be destroyed also, no? If we produce a fruit through some effort, it must mean that the enjoyment derived cannot last forever.

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.9)

Lord KrishnaThe cycle of creation and destruction holds true with what we’ve witnessed thus far in our current life, but beyond our memories accumulated in this lifetime is our original home of the imperishable spiritual sky, whose leader is the person most of us refer to as God. Work done for the Supreme Lord - who is known as Vishnu because of His all-pervasiveness and His brilliant and opulent four-armed form that resides in the spiritual realm of Vaikuntha - should always be performed because the results don’t bind the living entity to the cycle of birth and death. Even if you don’t want to believe in reincarnation, you can plainly see that the results of action bind one further to fruitive activity. As a common example, buying a house and getting married brings the reward of a stable family life. The objects of enjoyment can be considered the fruits, or results, of work. In Sanskrit these are referred to as karma-phala, the fruits of work performed under the jurisdiction of karma, which is the cause-and-effect chain governing action in the material world.

With the rewards of the home and family comes the pressure to maintain. Before the fruits were there, the pressure was absent. This means that the work that was used to produce the results served as the cause for the bondage, or the new responsibilities, the beasts of burden. “This thorn in my side is from the tree I planted”, is a nice way to think of it. You sow the seeds to be able to get trees to provide what you need. But every tree also brings thorns that tear into your skin and cause you to bleed. The two-sidedness of enjoying the fruits of your labor is likened to the camel that eats the thorns that cut its tongue, thus enjoying the false taste of its own blood along with the food items.

Work for Vishnu is not binding. If anything, it keeps one tightly wrapped around devotional service, or divine love. This bondage is not material, as there is no burden placed upon the body. Indeed, the body can be completely replaced and the divine love still followed. Another nice side effect of action in devotion is that the worker is conscious of the purpose to his actions. We take many shots in our journey towards success in a fruitive venture, but if the enjoyment from the fruit is temporary and also carries future bondage, what use was there to all the work? The devotee keeps this in mind when working for the Supreme Lord Vishnu. The awareness ensures that their actions are done to fulfill the highest purpose of satisfying God.

Hanuman's clubShri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior and devotee of Lord Rama, gave us a wonderful example of this attitude in action. Vishnu is God, and depending on His will He makes appearances on earth every now and then. In the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, He roamed the earth as a warrior prince named Rama. As vishnu-bhakti can be applied to any of Vishnu’s non-different forms, accepting Rama as God is as good as exclusively worshiping Vishnu or Krishna.

To worship, there must be a worthwhile engagement. Since Rama was there personally in front of Hanuman, just attending a temple or contemplating on the Lord within the mind wouldn’t have been the best use of the opportunity. Hanuman is a divine figure endowed with tremendous strength, both physical and mental. To correspond with his natural abilities, Rama found a difficult task to give Hanuman. Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, had been taken from Him through a backhanded plot hatched by Ravana, the king of Lanka at the time. Rama outwardly did not know where Sita had gone or who had taken her, so He took the help of Sugriva, the king of monkeys residing in Kishkindha. Hanuman was Sugriva’s chief minister, and he was entrusted with Rama’s ring to give to Sita should he meet her.

What a wonderful mission to be given. At the same time, there was a lot of pressure on Hanuman. There were many powerful monkeys in his pack, but it was expected that Hanuman would be the only one who could find Sita. Sure enough, he would have to separate from his group when it was learned that Sita was on an island far away from the mainland. Only Hanuman was capable of leaping far enough to reach the island.

Not only did he brave the obstacles thrown his way during his aerial journey, but Hanuman also knocked away the impediments found within Lanka. He managed to infiltrate the city without being noticed and look through every inch of space, including Ravana’s numerous palaces. Yet he still could not find Sita. At this point he started to run through the different options, what might have happened to the princess. He was thinking that maybe she wasn’t alive anymore, for how could he have not found her if she were still living?

It’s one thing to think negatively, but it’s another to act off of that depression. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman has reached the point where he must decide what to do next. If Sita really weren’t alive, he’d have to return to Kishkindha and tell everyone what had happened. But then he started thinking to himself, “What purpose would my leap across the ocean and my infiltration into Lanka have served?” Just see how keenly aware Hanuman is of the mission in life and the need for detachment from the results of action. Pride emerges from the young child after beating a video game and from the wealthy tycoon after making billions of dollars, but Hanuman surpasses everyone in ability. His leap across the ocean was so unique that the denizens from heaven looked on in amazement. His ability to change his shape at will, to go from being as large as a mountain in stature to the size of a cat within seconds is so marvelous that others can’t believe these events really happened.

HanumanYet Hanuman knew that these feats wouldn’t be meaningful unless the mission at hand was completed. His only business in life is to please Shri Rama, so the fruits of his devotional efforts always appear. No attachment does he harbor for his dexterity or strength, for he knows that the Supreme Lord is the ability in man and the cause of the creation. Rather than take credit for himself, Hanuman always thinks about how his actions will affect others. At a crossroads, Hanuman would eventually choose to fight ahead, to continue his search for Sita. With such a kind attitude, can Hanuman ever fail? Not a chance. Throw whatever you have at him, and he will absorb your blows and not be deterred in his dedication to Sita and Rama. May we have the same level of dedication in honoring and adoring him.

In Closing:

Hanuman’s leap across the ocean most amazing,

But not interested was he at personal feats gazing.

Unnoticed into enemy land of Lanka did he crawl,

To stay incognito in search for Sita an order tall.

But divine vision of Rama’s wife is what he sought,

So returning home unsuccessful make efforts for naught.

For personal achievements Hanuman never does care,

Only thinks, “In doing Rama’s business how did I fare?”

Such a sincere worker never in devotion does fail,

Would find Sita and then burn Lanka with his tail.