Monday, January 23, 2012

Concern For Our Friends

Sita and Rama in Hanuman's heart“Seeing Rama in such a condition, the king of monkeys, Sugriva, who is grateful and true to his promise, will give up his life. Being depressed, aggrieved, sad, and full of miseries, poor Ruma will give up her life, being tortured by the grief for her husband.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.28-29)

kṛtajñaḥ satya samdhaḥ ca sugrīvaḥ plavaga adhipaḥ ||
rāmam tathā gatam dṛṣṭvā tataḥ tyakṣyanti jīvitam |
durmanā vyathitā dīnā nirānandā tapasvinī ||
pīḍitā bhartṛ śokena rumā tyakṣyati jīvitam |

Shri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior, the eternally celebrated divine figure of the Vedic tradition, has concern for every living being. Not sidetracked by his own interests, he uses his love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead to guide all of his decisions, his choices in life. In others this natural impetus for action can get sullied through a desire for self-aggrandizement or personal profit. Hanuman would become famous for his successes in one of the most difficult missions in history, yet his concern was always directed at the innocent people of his village back home, especially because of their close ties to Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana.

HanumanDepending on your angle of vision, bhakti-yoga can be considered a method of mysticism aimed at removing distresses in life or it can be viewed as the foremost occupational duty for the spirit soul. Bhakti is multi-faceted, so we can’t just point to one activity and say that it is the definitive embodiment of bhakti. Meditational yoga has its sitting postures and breathing exercises, jnana-yoga has its study of Vedanta philosophy, and karma-yoga has its fruitive work where the results are renounced for a higher cause. Yet bhakti, which is nothing more than pure love for God, can follow any activity. Even assuming a false guise, infiltrating an enemy territory, and looking through different rooms inside of a palace for a woman can be part of bhakti.

Just as the soldier is not punished for his act of killing an enemy fighter, one who takes to seemingly sinful behavior but for the proper cause does not suffer the negative consequences. Just as if we let go of an object from our hand it will fall to the ground, any action taken against the injunctions of scripture will lead to a negative reaction in the future. Because of this property the prohibited actions are considered sinful. If not for the negative consequence, there would be no question of sin.

Lest we think the guaranteed delivery of the unwanted side effects is just a sectarian belief, we can see evidence of the negative reactions from our own lives. If we were to run a red light, not only is there a chance of getting a ticket, but there is every possibility of colliding with traffic crossing from the sides, for they have a green light. If we eat too much food, we will feel physical discomfort. If we don’t pay our taxes, the government will eventually come after us. Each of these actions goes against standard codes of conduct.

The scriptures, the law codes instituted by the Supreme Lord at the beginning of creation, are meant to guide human behavior. The animals are excluded because they don’t have the intelligence to understand right and wrong and the purpose to their existence. Children are also excluded, as the responsibility for their actions falls squarely with the guardians. But the adult human being, who has the capability to make a sober choice in his pursuits, is advised to follow scriptural injunctions to avoid punishment. Following the recommended rules and regulations allows for advancement in consciousness, and going against the same obviously leads the worker in the opposite direction. Like trying to reach the sky by catching hold of falling raindrops, one who lives a life of sin and is wholly averse to bhakti has no chance of advancing the plight of the soul.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Bhagavad-gitaHow can the soul advance? Does not the soul reside within a particular body? Therefore if we want to move the soul somewhere, shouldn’t we just take our body to that place? Though the soul dwells in a particular form, it is known that it doesn’t stay there forever. The soul existed prior to our birth, for Lord Krishna reveals in the Bhagavad-gita that the soul does not ever have birth or death. Hence we know that the soul will continue on long after the current life is finished. Something must determine where the soul ends up, and according to revealed information, that something is the sum collection of work and desires. Just as if someone works hard to become physically fit and desires to eat healthy they will get a lean and properly functioning body, someone who desires the best end for the soul and takes to the necessary work will be granted that reward in the future.

Yet bhakti is so nice that one who practices it doesn’t have to wait until the distant future to see results. They can place the soul in a happy place right away, just by accepting the need to serve God. He is a singular entity, the Supreme Lord, but based on time and circumstance He can be viewed differently. Bhakti is considered the highest practice because only in this discipline is the Supreme Personality taken for who He is, the best friend of the living entities. God is most certainly the original proprietor of everything and the ultimate enjoyer, but His inherent friendship to everyone makes the spirit soul a candidate to act in the Lord’s interests at all times, to enjoy His company. As God is not limited to a single residence or personal form, He can accompany the lonely soul in its travels just by appearing in a sound vibration. The devotees practicing bhakti thus always chant sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, to keep their beloved’s company close by.

Hanuman, though using deceit and risking sinful behavior, was completely immersed in bhakti. Since Hanuman had Lord Rama’s image within his mind and was acting to please his beloved Rama, his actions in Lanka were not sinful at all. Moreover, he turned a playing field considered the “sin city” of its time into his sacrificial arena. Just as a church is a building turned place of worship, any area can be used to formally adore the Supreme Lord if it is sanctified properly. In the Vedic tradition, the sacrificial arena is where the relevant parties sit down together, chant sacred hymns, and offer oblations into a fire to please the Lord of sacrifice, Yajneshvara. The Vedas tag God with thousands of names to describe His limitless features and to give the devoted souls more ways to address Him.

The land of Lanka, an island hosting thousands of ghoulish creatures given to the worst kind of sinful behavior, was Hanuman’s sacrificial arena, where he would pour oblations into the fire to please Shri Rama. Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, had been taken to Lanka against her will by Ravana, the king of the island. Hanuman’s duty was to find where Sita was and return that information to Rama, who was stationed back at the camp in Kishkindha. Hanuman was part of a monkey race known as Vanaras who lived in the forests. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were there looking for Sita, and through Hanuman’s efforts they formed an alliance with the king of Vanaras, Sugriva.

HanumanThough on a reconnaissance mission, Hanuman remained in the bhakti spirit. Because of this he didn’t have to worry about sin. Though different actions carry small and large consequences relating to future fortunes, if one has the image of the Supreme Lord firmly etched within their mind, how can any temporary consequence be considered beneficial or negative? Hanuman already had Rama, so he didn’t need to worry about where his soul would end up next or what type of situation he would enjoy or suffer in the future.

Normally, if we were to reach such a state of mind, the obvious effect would be to become callous to the welfare of our friends, family, and community. I have God in my mind, after all, so what do I care whether someone else is happy or not? With the other kinds of yoga the aim is to find some level of detachment. If we work hard and renounce the fruits of our labor, we aren’t bound by the concern for loss or gain. If we study Vedanta and learn that we are spirit soul not attached to the body, we will not have concern over happiness or failure. By steady meditation in specific asanas, the effects of the senses will be mitigated, thus allowing for the mind to ease its attachment to friends and family.

As bhakti is the culmination of every kind of yoga practice, it would make sense if Hanuman didn’t care about anyone except Rama. But God is the source of everything, as the Vedanta-sutras so nicely state, janmady asya yatah. From one comes everything; from God has sprung forth the entire creation. One who knows this understands that every creature has an inherent link to the Supreme Lord, even if they are unaware of it. By serving God in a mood of pure love, the compassionate attitude derived from devotion will automatically extend to others. The topmost transcendentalist is referred to as a paramahamsa, or supreme swan. He can extract the good from any situation. Even if he sees a world full of sinners, since he knows they are linked to the Supreme Lord, he thinks of how best he can bring about their salvation.

Conversely, if the devotee should feel they are letting down the Supreme Lord, they automatically think of how that failure will affect others. This is what Hanuman faced in the situation in the above referenced verse. After having braved every obstacle and searched far and wide, Hanuman had yet to find Sita. Not surprisingly, he started pondering over what might happen if he did actually fail in his mission. He had convinced himself that Rama would renounce his life, Lakshmana right after, and then all of Rama’s family in Ayodhya following them. Hanuman knew that Sugriva was also hoping for Sita to be found, so if Hanuman returned to Kishkindha and announced failure, the monkey king would surely give up his body. The king’s wife Ruma would then have nothing to live for, so she would also give up her body.

HanumanIn this way Hanuman essentially made himself responsible for the deaths of everyone he loved and adored. Yet he had done nothing wrong up to this point. He hadn’t taken Sita away, nor had he hidden her in a distant island. Hanuman tried everything in his power to find Sita, so why should he feel bad? Love is impossible to explain, especially when talking about those who practice bhakti at the highest levels. Hanuman would not settle for anything less than Rama’s complete satisfaction. The pressure was already great on Hanuman, as he had no friends or family with him while in a hostile territory. Rather, everyone in the immediate vicinity was rooting for his failure, even though they didn’t know he was there. Now that he made himself believe that everyone back home would die from disappointment should he fail, Hanuman put even more emphasis on his bhakti practices.

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.8)

With this kind of devotion, how could Hanuman ever fail? Shri Rama is the ability in man, as He so nicely points out as Krishna in the Gita while discussing matters of life and death and the properties of spirit with His disciple and cousin Arjuna. Hanuman’s bhakti would lead to happiness not only for Rama, but also for all of the Lord’s friends and family. Hanuman was keenly aware of this, and he took the responsibility assigned to him very seriously. Therefore it should be known without a doubt that bhakti only increases our love for our fellow man, something no other kind of yoga can claim to do. As everyone’s constitutional position is to be engaged in God’s service, the bhakta isn’t shy about sharing their wisdom about the meaning of life with others. This is the kindest welfare work, as no temporary reward or sweet speech can provide lasting benefits to the soul looking to match their loving propensity with the proper beneficiary.

Just as Hanuman could survive in enemy territory by remembering Rama, so we can manage our way through the rough waters of the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy by remembering Hanuman and his dedication. Time after time, in situation after situation, Hanuman stepped up to the plate and delivered a top notch performance. When he faced doubt and worried over what might happen to his loved ones, he still didn’t give up. He kept fighting and eventually succeeded. Not giving up remembering Hanuman will similarly bring success in bhakti.

In Closing:

When on Supreme Lord only you depend,

Compassion for all humanity does extend.

For Hanuman, sea of doubt his mind did engulf,

But still only cared about others, not himself.

Shri Rama’s sadness Sugriva also would affect,

Then his wife Ruma too, body to reject.

This chain reaction Shri Hanuman saw,

Making himself ruination’s sole cause.

No matter, fight on with mission instead,

In finding Sita full speed ahead.