Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Makings of a Good Friend

Hanuman holding Lakshmana's feet“Hearing those terrible, harsh, cruel, very sharp, and foul words, which cause pain to the senses, about Sita, He [Rama] will certainly no longer exist. Seeing Him suffering so much and having a mind resolved to dying, the strongly devoted and intelligent Lakshmana will also no longer exist.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.24-25)

paruṣam dāruṇam krūram tīkṣṇam indriya tāpanam ||
sītā nimittam durvākyam śrutvā sa na bhaviṣyati |
tam tu kṛccra gatam dṛṣṭvā pancatva gata mānasam ||
bhṛśa anurakto medhāvī na bhaviṣyati lakṣmaṇaḥ |

What makes a good friend? What are the criteria to determine whether one particular friend is better than another? Can we go by who brings us more gifts? What role do kind words and flattery play? Rather than try to guess through our own experiences or hear the many opinions found in a particular forum on the topic, we can rely on an authority figure unmatched in his brilliance, scholarship, dedication, honor, glory, social standing, and intimate familiarity with the proper codes of conduct called for in every type of situation. Since his qualities are so splendid, just hearing about his exploits and his exercise of good judgment can do so much good for the mind.

“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.6)

Bhagavad-gita As It IsIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna spends a brief time discussing the workings of the mind and how this powerful material element needs to be controlled. The soul is the identifiable aspect within any life form. Since the different spirit souls are the same qualitatively, they are known as Brahman, or the Absolute Truth. Krishna, being the instructor to Arjuna in the Gita and also the original spiritual master for the world, is Parabrahman. His qualitative makeup is superior to Brahman’s. The spirit souls can never become Parabrahman, though in their constitutional positions they are meant to be intimately related to Him.

The material elements get in the way of the natural engagement taking place. In addition to the gross elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, there are the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego that surround the soul when it is placed inside of a dwelling that is not Brahman. How can anything be false, or not the Truth? For Parabrahman there is never a difference between the different elements, but since Brahman is inferior in this respect, it can be placed inside of dwellings that cause a clouding of consciousness. The mind is the coconspirator in this case, igniting the sense demands that lead to delusion.

That the mind can be agitated to the point that sinful activities take place seemingly involuntarily shouldn’t be difficult to understand. Anyone who has ever spent more than five minutes gambling knows the waves of pressure the mind inflicts on the individual to persuade them to take just one more hand at the card table or make just one more bet on a particular game. During periods of sobriety, the mind knows that addiction to gambling is not very good, but when in the heat of the moment, the desires that crop up are so strong that they cause a loss of rational judgment.

In the Gita, Shri Krishna says that wherever the mind gets drawn to, it should be withdrawn, put back in place like a horse that is reeled in after it has gone astray. A focused mind better follows the course of action agreed upon when there is no influence of the material senses desiring forgetfulness of the relationship with Parabrahman. A step further is to keep the mind satisfied in an area of endeavor that will further facilitate thoughts of Parabrahman, His nature, and what it takes to please Him. Just like a restless child is best pacified by giving them an active engagement to keep their mind off of the prohibited behavior, the conditioned soul itching for sense gratification that it knows will cause harm in the future is best kept away from sinful acts by having a tangible outlet for the longing for activity in service.

According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the most valuable usage of time is hearing of the proper subject matter. “Lend your ears to talks about Lord Hari, the Supreme Lord who removes the distresses of His devotees. You don’t have to process the information right away or take a test. Just listen to what others who love Him have to say about His pastimes, qualities, and innermost desires.” God has hankerings, but as He is completely spiritual, His desires are never debilitating. One who taps into this stream of consciousness and works to meet the desires of the original Divine Being soon finds themselves armed with supreme wisdom and the ability to proceed properly in even the toughest situations.

HanumanCase in point Shri Hanuman, one of the most worshiped figures of the Vedic tradition. Just as hearing about God is beneficial for the mind distracted by hankerings for sense gratification, becoming familiar with the heroic feats of Hanuman, who is forever devoted to God in His form as Lord Rama, has only a positive influence on the mind. What’s interesting to note, however, is that Hanuman is not always definitive in his decisions. Just because he is attached to Rama, engaged in His service, and endowed with both physical and mental strength doesn’t mean that he is above deliberation. His devotion to Rama makes him use his judgment more, especially in critical situations where the right course of action isn’t always obvious.

During one notable time in his life, Hanuman was drowning in a sea of doubt and fear as to the future. Rama roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince, and as any noble royal man belonging to a famous family would do, He married a most beautiful princess. In the spiritual world, the Supreme Lord enjoys the company of His eternal consort, who is the ideal representation of how the energy sparks emanating from God should behave. When the Lord descends to the phenomenal realm, the eternal consorts often come along. With Sita Devi, Rama married the goddess of fortune herself, Lakshmi Devi.

Lord Rama could easily make everything better for everyone, remove all distress, and allow everyone to sit on the couch with their feet up without having anything to do. As this wouldn’t bring lasting happiness to anyone, Rama makes sure that there are ample tasks available to the individual hankering for service to the divine, a way to tap into the soul’s active propensity. It is seen that health experts recommend some type of exercise for a few days a week to break free of the sedentary lifestyle. Exercise keeps the body active, and the benefits redound to other areas of life as well.

Sita and RamaIn the same way, one who is constantly active in their service to Rama will see mental felicity as a nice side effect. To Hanuman, Rama gave the daunting task of finding Sita after she had been secretly taken away from the couple’s cottage in the forest of Dandaka. Hanuman started brilliantly by singlehandedly crossing over the mighty ocean to reach the shores of Lanka, the island where Sita had been taken by the king of Rakshasas, Ravana.

Getting to Lanka wasn’t easy. The celestials in the sky were watching with amazement as Hanuman overcame every obstacle thrown his way. Then in Lanka the dedicated messenger had to mask his figure, for the Rakshasas would notice a monkey-form in their town. Hanuman seems to have an odd exterior, but for practicing devotion to the Lord, there is no requirement that one belong to a certain family or race. Every living being is attached to the Lord, so if He decides that a monkey-type person is worthy of engaging in service, nothing will stop them in their march towards spiritual perfection.

Hanuman couldn’t find Sita though. He really wanted to see her, even though he had never met her before. Being in Lanka was no picnic either, as the town’s residents were accustomed to a lifestyle dedicated to maya, or illusion. There was tremendous opulence, so much so that the floors of the buildings had crystals in them. The women were very beautiful and everyone spent their time intoxicated and enjoying each other’s company. “Eat, drink and be merry”. What could be wrong with that? Ah, but the illusion only masked the sinfulness of the king Ravana, who had more wives than could be counted. Despite his playboy lifestyle, he had to steal the wife of another man, revealing that his senses weren’t satisfied in the least. He had advisors warning him against taking Rama’s wife, but since his mind couldn’t be directed towards the proper channels, he walked straight into ultimate doom, like a moth going to a flame.

Not finding Sita, Hanuman began to entertain the possibility that she wasn’t alive. Aside from the pain that idea would cause him just by thinking of it, Hanuman thought over what might happen should he return to Kishkindha, where the monkeys headed by Sugriva were along with Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman knows that Rama will be saddened if He heard that Sita wasn’t found. The Vanara also knows that Lakshmana would be distraught upon seeing his brother unhappy.

This verse shows just how wonderful a friend Hanuman is. In addition to having so much concern for the welfare of Rama and Lakshmana, he also knows their desires perfectly. A friend can tell us whether or not we’ll like a movie, a television show, or a particular restaurant. Without having to ask us, they know what makes us happy and what doesn’t. They have gained this familiarity through personal interaction and overall concern for our welfare. Though Hanuman technically wasn’t a friend on an equal level, he loved Rama and Lakshmana so much, as if they were his only reason for living. Just through a brief period of personal interaction, he became fully aware of their qualities.

Hanuman with Lakshmana and RamaRama was the Supreme Lord who came to earth to do away with Ravana, but His predominant quality was His devotion to His friends, especially those who dedicated their lives to making Him happy. Sita’s presence in the forest was not required, but she insisted on accompanying her husband to make Him happy. Such a kind act can never be repaid by Rama. Therefore if He heard that she could not be found, when all hope was invested in Hanuman, the Lord would outwardly be devastated.

Lakshmana, for his part, only lived for Rama’s welfare. In their youth Lakshmana would not eat or sleep unless Rama did so first. Though he was younger, Lakshmana didn’t look to get anything from the elder Rama. He only looked to see what he could give. Therefore Rama’s happiness was his, and the Lord’s sadness would be the only cause of his distress. That Hanuman knew this so well is certainly remarkable; and even more commendable was his ability to incorporate it into his decision making.

“I am His younger brother, Lakshmana by name. Due to His transcendental qualities, I have taken up service to Him, as He is grateful and very knowledgeable.” (Lakshmana speaking to Hanuman about Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.12)

Another mark of a good friend is someone who puts your interests over their own. Nowhere in Hanuman’s review of what should be done did he consider what impact his actions would have on his own welfare. He was living to please Rama, so what would Hanuman care if he got fame or ignominy? If Rama and Lakshmana were saddened and his words were the cause of that, how could Hanuman live with himself? Therefore Hanuman decided to fight ahead to see if he just might find Sita yet. Returning to Lanka with news of failure was never a viable option. Hanuman would rather die trying than deliver news to Rama that would cause Him distress.

Rama is the Supreme Lord because the Vedas say so and because of His exhibition of divine talents. As if we needed any more proof of His worthiness of worship, the nature of His friends reveals what kind of a person He is. Anyone who has Hanuman as their dearmost friend and servant cannot be of this world. From Hanuman’s authority alone we can see that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are divine figures whom the mind should constantly contemplate. And to find even more pleasure, the mind can remember Hanuman and his devotion daily. These four personalities are the best friends of those looking for release from the cycle of birth and death and ascension to the realm where the company of the Lord and His massive army of well-wishers is enjoyed without stop.

In Closing:

A real friend knows what you like and don't,

Purposefully cause you harm they won't.

To ask you first best friend doesn't need,

For always your innermost thoughts they can read.

Though knowing Rama and Lakshmana for a few,

Hanuman’s knowledge perfect of the two.

That Rama would be sad over news of Sita bad,

And that Lakshmana would ache from Rama being sad.

The best friend Hanuman thus search did continue,

That he would succeed Shri Rama surely knew.