Thursday, January 19, 2012

Domino Effect

Brother worshiping Rama and Sita“Hearing that his brothers are dead, Bharata will indeed die as well. And seeing Bharata dead, Shatrughna will also no longer be. And seeing their sons dead, there is no doubt that the mothers - Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi - will then no longer be as well.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.26-27)

vinaṣṭau bhrātarau śrutvā bharato api mariṣyati ||

bharatam ca mṛtam dṛṣṭvā śatrughno na bhaviṣyati |

putrān mṛtān samīkṣya atha na bhaviṣyanti mātaraḥ ||

kausalyā ca sumitrā ca kaikeyī ca na samśayaḥ |

When you water the roots of a plant, the different branches and their leaves get nourished at the same time. This approach is more efficient than jumping from one branch to another to ensure that they each get enough water to stay alive. When comparing religious practices, the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in exclusive love is considered the foremost because the Lord is the root of everything. He is especially the life and soul of His intimate associates. Just as the husband who earns a decent living can then support his many family members, the direct satisfaction of the Supreme Lord automatically pleases others tied to Him. It also takes care of the responsibility put on the worshiper to repay debts incurred at the time of birth.

In the Vedic tradition, it is said that a man is burdened with three debts as soon as he appears from the womb. One obligation is to the forefathers, without whom one could not come to this world under the circumstances that they do. The forefathers set the table; they did the hard work so that wherever we took birth we were able to survive to the point that we matured into adults. Even if the circumstances weren’t to our liking, there is still a debt to be paid for having been brought into the world.

Another debt is to the demigods. Once life starts, it needs to be sustained. This requires food, which is dependent on the nourishment provided to the fertile fields. Without rain, heat and light the crops could never emerge from the earth. If there were no sun, the earth would likely last less than a day. Even if one just eats other animals, eventually there won’t be any creatures left if there are no fruits and vegetables available to eat. The cows supply milk freely to their owners, and they take some grass to eat for sustenance. Without the intervention of the heavenly figures, there is no chance of vegetation existing.

Shrila PrabhupadaThen there is the debt to the sages, those wise seers who passed down Vedic wisdom through the generations. The human being emerging from the womb can survive in the early years through the help of the parents and the food growing in the ground, but to receive the real fruit of their existence, they require a second birth, one granted by the spiritual master, or guru. This birth is considered more important because it begins the life of enlightenment. Birth is a new beginning after all, so with entry into the study of the differences between spirit and matter, the cause behind the existence of the cosmos, and the position of the individual spirit soul relative to the Supreme Soul, the proper course of action can be followed for the rest of one’s time in a particular life form.

Each of the aforementioned entities can be propitiated in specific ways. The forefathers are repaid by having a son. In Sanskrit the word for son is “putra”, which means one who delivers another from the hellish realm known as “put”. In a formal ceremony, the son can offer pinda on the anniversary of the father’s passing. This offering then gets eaten by the forefathers should their souls have unfortunately made it to a hellish condition. In addition, should the son be very pious, he can deliver countless previous generations in his family from suffering for their past sins.

“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Vishnu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things.’” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.10)

Lord KrishnaThe demigods are pleased by sacrifice. You hold a formal gathering, invite an officiating priest and create a sacrificial fire into which oblations of ghee [clarified butter] are poured. The demigods each take their portion of these offerings and thus feel satisfied. When they are pleased, they provide heaps of rain to the human species. Since you need it to rain at regular intervals, these sacrifices need to be performed in a timely manner; otherwise there could be trouble.

The debt to the rishis is paid by studying scripture. There are so many volumes of Vedic literature available that one couldn’t read every single work in just one lifetime, let alone fully understand any of them. Typically just one work is focused on, read from every day, and then discussed in a council of other sincere spiritual leaders and seekers. They say that the Shrimad Bhagavatam is the crown jewel of Vedic literature because it bypasses the need for worrying about material affairs, the future fortunes of the soul with respect to a body that constantly changes. Just studying the Bhagavatam every day does so much for furthering one’s spiritual aspirations.

"Anyone who has taken shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, the giver of liberation, giving up all kinds of obligation, and has taken to the path in all seriousness, owes neither duties nor obligations to the demigods, sages, general living entities, family members, humankind or forefathers." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.41)

Though the three primary debts arrive at the time of birth, there is one simple way to avoid having to worry about them. The Supreme Lord, the primary subject matter of the Bhagavatam and any other work focusing on bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the fountainhead of all energies and every manifestation. The concern over rain, progeny and knowledge focuses on aspects the soul accepts while travelling through the cycle of reincarnation. In its constitutional position, however, the soul is a lover of God. Therefore if it can remain fixed in trance on the divine form, pastimes and names of the Supreme Lord, the other concerns automatically take care of themselves.

This method is likened to watering the root of a tree. The Vedas have many branches of knowledge aimed at providing specific kinds of fruit. By following a particular recommendation, one type of fruit can be enjoyed. When the roots of the tree are watered, however, fruits abound everywhere. The ripened fruit is devotion to God, which can only come through direct service offered in the proper mood. How do we find out what the proper mood should be? Also, what kind of attitude results from that service? To find the answers, we can look to none other than Shri Hanuman, Lord Rama’s most faithful and trusted servant.

Shri HanumanHanuman once found himself in a very tough situation. He was in the enemy territory of Lanka looking for Rama’s missing wife Sita Devi. She had been taken there through a nefarious plot hatched by the king of Lanka, Ravana. After bravely making his way into the city unnoticed and searching everywhere, Hanuman still couldn’t find Sita. Not concerned over his own fortunes or the debts he owed to different people, Hanuman was only worried about how his failure would affect everyone else. After all, Rama was counting on him, and since he hadn’t found Sita, Hanuman seemingly let the Lord down.

Since Rama is the root of the tree of existence, He is intimately tied to so many other people. Hanuman, being properly situated in the divine consciousness, knew this very well. When pondering over what might happen should he return to Kishkindha where Rama was, Hanuman went through a chain of potential actions in his mind to see just what effect his failure would have. He knew that in Kishkindha Rama was waiting with His younger brother Lakshmana. Rama was originally from the royal kingdom of Ayodhya, where He was the beloved eldest son of King Dasharatha. Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother and figuratively attached to the Lord at the hip. If Rama suffered pain, so did Lakshmana. If Rama received good news, Lakshmana took it as the source of the greatest pleasure.

Lord Rama had been banished from Ayodhya for fourteen years through a series of unfortunate events. Lakshmana refused to allow his brother to suffer alone, so he accompanied Rama in His fourteen year sojourn through the woods. Sita felt the same way, so that is how she ended up in the forest as well. In most circumstances this is unheard of. When soldiers get called off to war, do they take their wives with them? If there is an emergency situation calling for a police officer on the scene, does the notified cop tell his wife to get ready to come along?

Obviously such emergency situations are dangerous and the wives in these instances are trained to deal with them on their own. They surely love their husbands very much, but they would never think of coming along and being put at risk. With Sita, her love was so strong that she didn’t care what the standard protocol was. Never mind that she was a beautiful princess accustomed to living an elegant lifestyle. Her husband was sent away and she refused to allow Him to live alone, bereft of comfort. Not caring about herself, she was only worried about Rama’s welfare.

Sita and RamaOf course Rama wanted Sita to stay home for a reason. The impious elements are always looking for new avenues for illicit sex life, ways to enjoy their senses more. Ravana had many beautiful wives, but just by hearing of Sita’s beauty he had to have her. He paid no attention to the fact that she was married to someone else. He didn’t even worry about winning her honorably through a fair fight against Rama. He hatched a plot to take Sita away behind Rama’s back; revealing himself to be a coward.

Hanuman felt that if he told Rama that he had failed in finding Sita, the Lord would give up His life. As soon as Rama would leave this world, so would Lakshmana. Hanuman’s knowledge of Rama’s inner circle and the nature of His closest devotees was not limited to that acquired through direct perception. He had personally dealt with Rama and Lakshmana but not with anyone else in Rama’s family. Yet from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana we see that Hanuman felt that with Rama and Lakshmana gone, Bharata would also quit his body. Bharata was another younger brother of Rama’s, and he had been handed the kingdom at the time of Rama’s banishment. Utterly disgusted by the turn of events, he refused to rule over the kingdom that rightfully belonged to his elder brother. He would have renounced his life immediately, but Rama asked him to stay in Ayodhya. A compromise was reached, where Bharata would worship Rama’s sandals every day until the Lord came back. Rama’s brothers are so wonderful that one can go back and forth arguing over who is the most devoted and never reach a firm conclusion.

Hanuman knew of Bharata and his devotion. If the devoted brother couldn’t see Rama and Lakshmana again, he wouldn’t live. Similarly, Shatrughna was ever devoted to Bharata. When King Dasharatha’s four sons appeared in this world, they essentially broke out into pairs. Though they all loved Rama like a father, behaviorally Lakshmana and Rama paired together and Bharata and Shatrughna were very close. It is revealed in the scriptures that Rama is the very same Supreme Personality of Godhead, descending to earth in the guise of a human being. His three brothers are also partial expansions of Lord Vishnu, God’s four-handed form residing in the spiritual land. Thus all four brothers can be considered worshipable.

Rama and His brothers with their guruHanuman’s knowledge of Rama’s inner circle didn’t stop with the brothers. Without any of their sons, the mothers who gave birth to the four brothers would also cease to exist. King Dasharatha had already passed on after Rama left for the forest, so the mothers held on to the hope of seeing their four sons together again; that was their reason for living.

In one sense, Hanuman’s thinking is a little humorous. Through his disappointment over not having found Sita, Hanuman has essentially compared his “failure” to the first piece of a row of dominoes falling. When domino pieces are particularly aligned, once the first piece is knocked down, all the others will follow suit. Thus Hanuman is essentially blaming himself for the deaths of so many important personalities, people he worshiped.

By serving Lord Rama first, by giving his devotion to the Lord exclusively, Hanuman immediately harbored great love for the Lord’s associates. He had never met Sita before, yet he was so anxious to find her location that he felt extreme sadness over not succeeding right away. This is an indication of his devotion to Rama and also his enthusiasm in the mission. Aside from outward displays of emotion in the beginning, a great way to tell if someone is enthusiastically engaged in a particular task is to see how dejected they get if they should face the possibility of failing. If they really care about the task, they will be devastated should they be unable to complete it.

“One who works in devotion, who is a pure soul, and who controls his mind and senses, is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. Though always working, such a man is never entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.7)

HanumanNo one in this world has ever been more enthusiastic to succeed in a mission than Hanuman was in his search for Sita in Lanka. He proved this not only by being extremely dejected about not having found the princess, but also by continuing on with the mission. It was so important to him to please Rama and those associated with the Lord that he’d rather die trying than live failing. Such perseverance is both inspiring and touching to the heart. It is thus no wonder that Hanuman is held in such high regard today by so many important people, not the least of whom are Sita, Lakshmana and Rama. He is their favorite person in the world, and they think of him and his welfare all the time. Anyone who pleases Hanuman pleases Rama as well, because Hanuman is forever tied to devotional service and victory in life’s mission, that of becoming God conscious by the time of death. Hanuman waters the root of the tree to find all auspiciousness in life. Whoever has the good luck to say his name, think about him and remember his activities will be supremely benefitted as well, for the perseverant Vanara shows how to practice bhakti all the time and bring satisfaction to the whole world.

In Closing:

Intimately tied to Him are Rama’s brothers,

And standing by waiting are loving mothers.

If of the Lord hearing the worst kind of news,

To maintain their lives what would be the use?

On association with Supreme Lord they depend,

Prayers and well-wishes to Him they always send.

Hanuman knew that Shri Rama is the root,

Of the devotee’s welfare, their happiness to boot.

Remember Hanuman and about three debts don’t care,

Devotion only to God, who with family pleasure shares.