Thursday, January 5, 2012

Joyful Respect

Dasharatha's queens“Possessing love, fortune, good luck, humility, beauty and wearing so many ornaments, with happiness in their hearts the queens, along with their sons, all came and offered their obeisances to the feet of the rishi.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 2.2)

anurāga bhāga sohāga sīla sarūpa bahu bhūṣana bharīṃ |
hiya haraṣi sutanha sameta rānīṃ āi riṣi pāyanaha parīṃ ||

How should you welcome a guest? What if they’re an important member of the family who you haven’t seen in a while? How do you properly pay respect to someone who is most deserving of it? In the Vedic tradition, such issues are handled through a simple gesture, which is easy enough to follow, but may not be presented wholeheartedly. When the practice is adopted by those with the proper attitude in their hearts, with eagerness for the task, and who also have every good virtue and quality, the worthiness of the recipient is further augmented, as is the joyousness of the situation.

VishvamitraVishvamitra Muni was full of good qualities, as he was dedicated to serving the Supreme Lord through following the occupational duties assigned to him. It’s one thing to possess extraordinary qualities, but it’s another to use them on a daily basis even if you don’t feel up to the task. The brahmana class is considered very fortunate because they have the knowledge capacity to take to righteous activities. Without guidance, the human species is really no different than the animals. In many respects, the ignorant human being lives a life of difficulty which even the animals don’t face.

In higher circles of society, the ideal value system handed down to young children relates to the idea that they should become educated and thus earn a good living in adulthood. From that steady income, food, clothing and shelter will not be a problem. Getting that education is neither easy nor inexpensive. In addition to the twelve years of schooling, there is the specialized training given in college and beyond. This is all done to ensure that the young adult can manage on their own and not have a problem staying married and supporting their family.

Yet it is seen in the animal community that the same essentials can be procured without any education or training. Some animals are so amazing that they can walk and look for food immediately after exiting the womb of their mother. The human infant can hardly do anything at the time of birth except cry, but many animals have God-given abilities made specifically for their body type that surpass the young human being’s abilities. The animals work too, to get their food and stay under shelter, but they don’t have to work nearly as hard as the adult human being does. We essentially go to school to learn how to work to eat, but the same goal can be achieved by owning some land and producing food. Harvest the crops once a year, take care of some cows, and you’re pretty much set for a comfortable existence.

The intelligence of the human species is meant to fulfill a higher purpose, something with which the brahmanas are familiar. They know that there is an all-pervading energy known as Brahman, which is the spark of life. From Brahman realization comes the understanding that spirit is the essence of identity and that it exists beyond the current form, which is ever-changing. There is birth and death and everything that happens in between, but the spirit spark of Brahman is there to stay. The Supreme Lord states in the Bhagavad-gita that He impregnates the total material energy, known as the mahat-tattva, which is also part of Brahman, and thus generates the many life forms.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.3)

Krishna holding fluteThe source of birth is an injection of spiritual energy, which then remains localized within each individual. From the higher knowledge acquired one can follow the right set of activities, which will lead to full enlightenment. From enlightenment comes confidence and continued determination in the auspicious path, which brings the highest gain. Because the brahmanas know all of these things they are given respect in society.

Vishvamitra lived like a brahmana, though he wasn’t necessarily born as one. Though he could have stayed on the path of fruitive activity and not trod the difficult road of an ascetic, he chose to stay true to his calling. Without people taking the risk to become a priest to teach others with their example, who would be there to guide society? Therefore simply through his occupation and his dedication to remaining true to it the sage was worthy of so much praise.

On the other side, a king lives a very opulent lifestyle, as that is the reward for providing protection to the innocent. When there was a meeting between Vishvamitra and the pious King Dasharatha, the two parties were coming from opposite ends of the spectrum of material life. Vishvamitra called the minimalist surroundings of the forest his home, while Dasharatha lived in an elegant palace in Ayodhya. Nevertheless, when the meeting took place, it was Vishvamitra who was greeted with attention and honor, as if he were royalty.

The king declared that he had the most auspicious merits for having received a visit from Vishvamitra, and the sage in turn felt very pleased. When a guest comes to the house, it is standard etiquette to ask how they are doing, to give them a nice seat and offer them something to eat and drink. When the guest is worshipable, someone who gives sublime wisdom to others, a person who makes the sacrifice to both understand God and spread His glories to others, the need for paying honor is increased.

In Vishvamitra’s case, he received honor from those who were themselves endowed with every good quality. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, it is said that after King Dasharatha honored Vishvamitra, his queens and their sons came and did the same. The queens were full of love, fortune and good luck. Wearing the most beautiful ornaments they arrived in front of the sage with hearts full of happiness. Rather than give Vishvamitra a hug or say “hello” from afar, they came up to him and bowed to his feet. They brought their sons with them, young men who would one day take charge of the kingdom. From an early age the boys were taught how to respect their elders and members of the priestly class.

The virtue of the queens is important to mention because the more honorable and respectable someone is, the more likely it is that others will follow their example. A similar fact is brought up in the Bhagavad-gita, where it is stated that whatever a great man does, others will follow. King Janaka, whom King Dasharatha would meet shortly after at a marriage ceremony, is mentioned in the Gita to show that even a king who has no duties to perform takes to working so that others can know the proper course in life. We accept obligations so that we can meet a specific end, but for someone who knows the eternality of the spirit soul and how it is transcendental to the shifts in matter, there is no work to perform.

“One who is, however, taking pleasure in the self, who is illumined in the self, who rejoices in and is satisfied with the self only, fully satiated—for him there is no duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.17)

Krishna's lotus feetDespite their high knowledge, such worshipable personalities, which include the Supreme Lord Himself, accept obligations externally to teach others the need to behave piously. Lord Rama, the same speaker of the Gita, the Supreme Lord in the guise of a warrior prince, was one of the sons that came and honored Vishvamitra. Rama was Dasharatha’s eldest son and He was, ironically enough, the reason for Vishvamitra’s visit. Since the queens were the most respectable and beautiful in every way, by their paying honor to Vishvamitra, the example was set for all people on how to treat those deserving of worship.

It is also said that the queens and their sons arrived with happiness in their hearts. This means that they didn’t honor Vishvamitra just as a formality. They were naturally so happy to see the sage, for he always brings good news. Even if the bona fide spiritual leader should criticize errant behavior, the result is good, for the correction serves to fulfill a higher purpose. Since the end result is good, the original presence and criticism turn out to be auspicious. In addition, if the priestly class is satisfied and honored, then they will kindly bestow heaps of good counsel, ensuring that everyone can live life happily.

The king’s avowed dedication to honor the brahmanas would be tested on this occasion by the request coming from Vishvamitra. The muni wouldn’t criticize the king, for what could Dasharatha ever do wrong? The Supreme Lord had appeared in his family for a reason, for the result of many past pious deeds, treading the righteous path with firm faith and determination, brings the audience of the Supreme Lord. It is said that in his previous life King Dasharatha regularly performed the Satyanarayana Puja, which is a worship typically performed by householders desirous of a fruitive result. Unlike the worship of divine personalities charged with providing welfare of the material variety, worship of Shri Satyanarayana keeps one in touch with the Personality of Godhead, even though the initial motive may not be pure. Pure devotion is marked by the absence of a desire for material rewards, knowledge, or perfections in mysticism. In pure devotion, the only desire is to be able to connect with God and continue that devotion into the future.

Lord Rama's lotus feetThe reason pure devotion trumps all other kinds of worship is that the person who adopts it in earnest is considered to have already performed every other kind of sacrifice. Dasharatha proved this point to be valid, for he received Rama as a son after having performed pious deeds in his previous life. Since he had already followed the other methods of religion, the king was free to love his beloved son without impediment. There is no higher benefit in life than to be able to release the natural loving spirit within the heart without interruption and without motivation. As the only person who can accept the full release of spiritual love is the Supreme Lord, the ability to love Him, to show Him prema, is the highest benefit in life. This is what Dasharatha received by gaining Rama as a son.

Despite the fact that he had no dharma to tend to besides loving Rama, Dasharatha still agreed to let Vishvamitra take Rama as an escort in the forest. Though Rama was a young boy, Vishvamitra knew that the Lord’s fighting abilities were brilliant, that He could protect the saints in the forest who were being attacked by the night-rangers of the time. By allowing Rama to go, Dasharatha proved that the praise he offered to the rishi was not just empty words. It is one thing to say that you trust someone, but it is another to accept their requests that you may not like. The queens and their sons loved Vishvamitra, and that love would be tested when Dasharatha’s two sons, Rama and Lakshmana, would leave with the sage to travel through the forest. The trust invested in Vishvamitra would pay off, as the decision would bring back the goddess of fortune to Ayodhya. The decision to extend faith to Vishvamitra would also give countless future generations the opportunity to sing of the marriage of Sita and Rama and remember the divine couple and honor them daily in thoughts, words and deeds.

In Closing:

Queens of King Dasharatha so very beautiful,

Full of auspicious traits and jewels bountiful.

The news of Vishvamitra’s visit to palace hearing,

Queens their sons to the sage’s feet with them bringing.

No need to cajole, pleased to see muni from the start,

Arrived at his lotus feet with happy hearts.

King’s vow is the wise brahmanas to always protect,

Because of their wisdom their wise words can’t reject.

With Vishvamitra’s request king’s vow would be tested,

But auspiciousness to come from what muni suggested.