Saturday, January 21, 2012

Basking in Sweetness

Lord Rama's lotus feet“Seeing that sweet and beautiful form, the muni wants to keep worshiping it. Again and again, the muni praises the great spiritual merits of King Dasharatha.” (Janaki Mangala, 20)

madhura manohara mūrati cāhahiṃ |
bāra bāra dasarathake sukṛta sarāhahiṃ ||

In bhakti-yoga the purpose of every recommended activity is to foster Krishna consciousness, pure thoughts within the mind. The behavior we adopt, those things we pay attention to, imprint our consciousness with items for further contemplation. If our time is spent mired in filth, debauchery, and images that shouldn’t be seen, the consciousness will continue to contemplate upon them long after the original contact. The same principle can be turned in our favor should we change the nature of the associated objects. This is the purpose of divine love, the highest discipline man can follow. Regardless of whether we’re after spiritual merits or material rewards, gazing at the sweet and lovely form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead clears all misgivings, doubts, needless desires and erroneous thoughts.

Lord RamaWhat is an erroneous thought? Think of a conclusion that you reached that was based on ignorance. For the child this is quite commonplace, as they just don’t know any better. In adulthood we are also quite commonly mistaken, thinking that someone is evil when they are really not or guessing that one way to do something is correct when it later turns out to be wrong. To ere is human after all, and the living being’s propensity is to commit mistakes. The mistakes are rooted in illusion, taking something to be that which it is not. Therefore the material energy is known as maya, which is filled with objects considered to be one thing that are really something else.

The mistakes start from the time of birth, where the living being identifies with the body type accepted. Never mind the fact that you had no say in choosing the womb you would emerge from or the type of features you would assume, somehow that dwelling is equated with identity. The accepted form will constantly change through the passage of time. The infant child has a completely different body from the adult, yet the bewildered individual occupying that changing dwelling always takes identity from the body.

This misidentification indicates both illusion and mistake. From the root mistake other erroneous conclusions are reached. The family bonds are taken as absolute and the land where one was born becomes worshipable. Again, the birthplace could have been anywhere; you had no control over that. You may hate one area of land today because you consider it foreign, but you easily could have grown up there and learned to speak the language, immersing yourself in the “foreign” culture.

The doubts are dispelled through following a bona fide discipline of spirituality. In material education, there is some knowledge acquired, but the guiding conclusion is still erroneous. The fact that material nature, which doesn’t represent our identity, should be exploited through effort and work shows a misidentification with the body that perpetually leads to trouble. The animals don’t require education, for they instinctively know to look for food, erect shelter, mate with other members of their species, and sleep when rest is required. The human can similarly live a simple life involving these behaviors without needing any education whatsoever.

Real education teaches the individual that they are spirit and not matter. That spirit’s existence is evidenced through the autonomous actions of the residence it occupies. Death thus represents the exit of the spirit from its dwelling; not the end of life itself. Rather, life in a localized area can only exist when spirit is present. The fetus within the womb only develops when there is spirit inside. Abortion is only an option when there is a life; otherwise the fetus would never develop and cause the unwanted “burden” to the mother deciding to kill her child.

Education in spirituality is meant to alter behavior, to affix upon the consciousness images and sounds that are sweet, or madhura. There is nothing sweeter than the transcendental form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One way to distinguish between God and the living entities is to know that the Lord is never subject to illusion. He does not commit mistakes because His knowledge is never incorrect or incomplete. By the same token, objects of illusion are relative, so even the material nature we have so much trouble dealing with is spiritualized when in contact with the Lord.

Shri Rama Darbar deitiesIn bhakti-yoga, which teaches all of these relevant truths and imparts the proper principles within the worshiper through dedicated activity, one of the central practices is deity worship. The material elements that are mistaken for our enjoyment or identity get manipulated in such a way so as to represent the transcendental features of the Personality of Godhead, which are described in the shastras, or scriptures. The deity is not a mentally concocted idol that a foolish person all of a sudden decides to worship. The fact that someone would want to worship a fake idol reveals at least that the soul’s natural propensity is to serve. Dharma as a system is built around the principle characteristic of the living entity. Despite one’s current status, high or low, in a position of power or servitude, service will be the catalyst to behavior. Tyrannical regimes have flourished throughout the course of human history precisely because they exploit this penchant within their citizens.

The deity is the proper beneficiary of the worshiping propensity in man. The deity is not created on a whim; rather it is crafted from the detailed descriptions found in the scriptures. The features of the Personality of Godhead are real, with their genuineness revealed through the results that come from authorized worship. And what are the results we’re looking for? The above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala provides a few hints. The same deity that is worshiped in so many temples appeared in His own form on this earth many thousands of years ago to delight the hearts of the devotees and instill terror in the miscreants who were dedicated to thwarting the peaceful acts of the pious.

The muni Vishvamitra was visiting the city of Ayodhya, ruled at the time by King Dasharatha. Vishvamitra needed some protection while residing in the forest, as the night-rangers were assuming shapes at will and harassing the sages. Dasharatha offered the sage the utmost respect and then brought his queens and sons to give the same hospitable welcome. Dasharatha’s oldest son, Lord Rama, was the one who caught the muni’s eye. Rama is the very same Personality of Godhead contemplated upon by yogis and philosophers since the beginning of time. In this specific form, God took on the role of an expert bow-warrior, committed to protecting the innocent.

When Vishvamitra first saw Rama, he was mesmerized. Though only a young child, Shri Rama’s form was so beautiful, sweet in every way. That sweetness is what the living entity is looking for. In devotional service there are different transcendental mellows, or tastes through association. Even outside bhakti these tastes are seen to varying degrees. For instance, the relationship with a friend carries a different enjoyment than the relationship with a dependent child. The conjugal affair is of a different nature than the relationship of reverence established with respected personalities. Despite the differences, love can be present within all of these exchanges.

Madhurya is the highest transcendental mellow. Though it is usually taken to mean conjugal interaction, the root meaning of the word is sweetness or loveliness. In madhurya-rasa, or shringara-rasa, the Lord is appreciated for His transcendental sweetness. If we taste something very sweet that is intoxicating at the same time, the tendency is to continue to relish that taste and repeatedly indulge in it.

Lord RamaWhen intaking transcendental sweetness, the reservoir of enjoyment cannot be filled up. This was shown through Vishvamitra’s reaction. Rama’s form is compared to a murti, which is like a deity, and Vishvamitra’s attitude was to continually worship that form. He did not want anything else. Just from worshiping the deity and appreciating the sweetness of the transcendental features, the requisite consciousness can be acquired. It is for this reason that the temple exists. Outwardly there is the regular worship that occurs, but the underlying purpose is the desire to keep God’s features within the mind, to maintain that sweetness in association even when separated from the deity.

Vishvamitra was so pleased in the heart that he again and again thought of how fortunate the king was. Dasharatha must have accumulated so many spiritual merits, or sukriti, to have such a son. Ironically enough, Vishvamitra came to borrow that son, to temporarily separate Him from His father. Dasharatha would not like this proposal, but since the king’s vow was to defer to the priestly class, he could not deny Vishvamitra. Thanks to that genuineness of purpose, that selfless act of sacrificing the association of the person he loved the most, the king would allow for Rama to eventually make it to the kingdom of Tirahuta, where a notable contest was taking place to determine the husband of an unmarried, beautiful princess.

Just as the murti is worshipable and brings the sweetness the individual spirit soul is looking for, the scene of Vishvamitra lovingly gazing upon the beautiful form of Rama brings so many spiritual merits to the devotee. The purpose of the poet’s Janaki Mangala is to create as many such images within the mind of the listener. The poet himself got to relive the scene over and over again by singing his verses. When high concepts are put into poetry and song, they are easier to remember. Just from singing a few words and thinking about them, so much constructive thought can be triggered within the mind. The vision of young Shri Rama triggered boundless sweetness within the mind of the muni, whose thoughts were already pure. On that wonderful day in Dasharatha’s kingdom, the sage showed us the purpose of the murti, and why worship of it is a central aspect of bhakti-yoga.

In Closing:

Images seen into your consciousness they sink,

Repeatedly then of them you can think.

Keep association of objects bearing sweetness,

So that mind will remember and find happiness.

The muni Vishvamitra saw Rama and was amazed,

Upon such a beautiful form he repeatedly gazed.

Countless spiritual merits, what did the king do,

To deserve such a son, kind, sweet and charming too.

No matter, the muni would get to take Rama with him,

Eventually to Sita, Rama her hand to win.