Saturday, February 18, 2012

Door Number Two

Vishvamitra“Hearing Vashishtha’s words with patience, folding his hands the protector of Koshala said: ‘My lord, you are an ocean of kindness and knower of everything, thus it is not proper for me to request anything from you.’” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 3.2)

dhīraja dhareu sura bacana suni kara jori kaha kosala dhanī ||
karūnā nidhāna sujāna prabhu so ucita nahiṃ binatī ghanī |

In the classic television game show, “Let’s Make a Deal”, the contestants’ curiosity was piqued by first giving them a certain prize that they could have immediately. There would be no doubt as to what they could take home, but then there was another prize, which was unknown, suddenly introduced into the equation. If the contestant should be so willing, they could change their mind and trade for what was behind a curtain. It was a gamble, for if something worthless was behind the curtain they would lose the initial prize that they were previously guaranteed to have.

In a retail outlet, sometimes the same game is played by the salespeople to the customers, except the intent is to sell something that needs to be moved. What the customer actually wants is not important to the salesperson. Instead, what the salesperson wants to get rid of takes precedent. The person holding something of value will not want to part with it, but the knowledgeable customer will not be taken off track. Their intelligence is insulted by the pitch of the salesperson looking to push something else. Many thousands of years ago, a sort of similar situation occurred in the kingdom of Ayodhya. Since all the participants were pure of heart, their small exchange turned out to be celebrated for many years into the future. No wrong was committed by either party, for through their efforts their knowledge and dedication to virtue shined through for everyone to see.

The buyer in this scenario was a venerable muni named Vishvamitra. The son of the king named Gadhi, Vishvamitra was famous during his time for having converted from a warrior to a priest. Though during his initial period of austerity and penance Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, failed to recognize him as a brahmana, Vishvamitra still reached such an exalted position that when he one day visited the king of Ayodhya, everyone stopped what they were doing and offered him the utmost hospitality.

Valmiki writing the RamayanaThe brahmanas are to be protected by the head of the state. The teachers in an education establishment earn a living and they provide instruction only upon payment. Why should they act otherwise? You need money to survive in a world where the majority of the population isn’t self-sufficient through farming. Why should not the person accepting valuable information pay for the teacher’s time? Only a miser would think that others owe them something, that they should work without compensation.

Under ideal circumstances, however, the priestly class does not charge money for what they do. They receive plenty of charity from those who are in positions to give it, but the purpose for the brahmana is to remain enlightened and on the path of dharma, or religiosity. The wise know that material dispositions change constantly, like a rollercoaster that goes up and down. The person with few material possessions and attachments weighing them down can focus more on studying the nature around them, performing sacrifices, teaching others about the difference between matter and spirit and, most importantly, worshiping God.

Your worship is more effective when you don’t get sidetracked by fears over maintaining your possessions. Who can blame the person sitting in church praying to God to maintain their livelihood and ensure that food gets put on the table? As the material land is a place full of miseries, there is constant uncertainty with respect to the future. You work so hard to pay your bills and keep your family happy, but you know that one small wrinkle in the equation can cause the entire system to collapse. Thus it is not surprising that the fearful worker would look to the Almighty to save them from peril.

But when you have no possessions to maintain, your worship can be more pure. You don’t need anything from God; instead you look to offer Him your time and attention. In any loving relationship the key ingredient is the quality time spent in each other’s company. This relevant fact is easily forgotten through the many responsibilities that require attention each day, but the more the quality association is present, the more pleasure will be derived from the relationship.

The brahmanas on the highest platform of understanding have an intimate relationship with God, who is all-pervading. Simply by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the devoted soul can see God, remember His activities, become anxious for His personal association, and steer clear of behavior that will jeopardize that future meeting from happening. The brahmanas devoted to the Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu, swim in an ocean of transcendental nectar. They offer their services to society for little to no money because they don’t require much to live. Their goal in life is not to be wealthy or to have material comforts provided to them. They only look for circumstances favorable for bhagavata-dharma, or the system of religiosity in devotion, connection to Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord who is endowed with every opulence.

Vishvamitra visited Ayodhya’s king because his ideal circumstances were being threatened. Was Vishvamitra bugged by his wife to find a better house? Were his children asking for money? Was he worried about how to get nice food to eat? On the contrary, these worries were absent in his life. What was threatening his pious activity, however, was the influence of night-rangers. One fiend in particular, Maricha, loved to harass the brahmanas living in the forests. The sages had abandoned material life, they weren’t looking to surpass anyone in stature, and they didn’t have any possessions of value. Just based on this we can see how fiendish Maricha and his Rakshasa associates were.

Without a life dedicated to the mode of passion, where one pursues enjoyable fruits through hard work and competition, there is no reason to commit violence on anyone else. Hence the brahmanas live by the general principle of nonviolence. The attacks by the night-rangers presented a problem, so Vishvamitra approached the king, whose responsibility it was to protect the innocent. Dasharatha was thrilled to see the son of Gadhi, but he was a little hesitant at the same time. He knew Vishvamitra had a purpose for his visit. The king also knew that Vishvamitra could give him anything, including the four rewards of life: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. If someone can provide you anything through their counsel and association, when they should ask for something in return, the benefactor can’t possibly deny the request, lest he feel like the greatest miser.

“…There is no one else in this world who has the power to resist the Rakshasas except your son Rama. O king, you are undoubtedly a great protector of the demigods, and your exploits performed during past wars are well-known throughout the three worlds. O annihilator of the enemy, even though your son is merely a boy, He is very powerful and capable of controlling the enemy. Therefore, O destroyer of foes, let your great army remain here and please allow Rama to accompany me. May there be all good fortune for you.”(Vishvamitra speaking to Maharaja Dasharatha, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.8-11)

Lord RamaDasharatha’s concerns were validated when Vishvamitra asked for Rama to protect him. Dasharatha lived in opulence as a king, but he was not attached to material life. He lived by dharma, or virtue. He had no desire to enjoy the senses, but he acted as a good king in order to maintain the society. He did have one weakness, though. His attachment for Rama could not be broken. Lord Rama, Vishnu Himself appearing in the form of an ordinary human being with extraordinary capabilities, was Dasharatha’s eldest and most favorite son. Dasharatha would sooner die than part with Rama’s company.

In hindsight, Dasharatha’s initial thoughts were not something he was proud of. He wanted Vishvamitra to take the entire royal army led by the king himself instead of Rama. The king knew that Rama was capable, though He was still under the age of twelve. Using that age as an excuse, Dasharatha tried to convince the knowledgeable Vishvamitra to “buy” something else, to look at another product on the shelf, all the while knowing that what Vishvamitra wanted was the most valuable item in the store that was the kingdom of Ayodhya.

Since the king remained in silence after seeing Vishvamitra’s insistence, the royal priest Vashishtha stepped in and tried to make the king understand. He reminded Dasharatha that Vishvamitra was powerful through his austerity and that he knew what he was doing. He told Dasharatha that Vishvamitra’s assessment of Rama being the most capable was accurate. The king needn’t worry about Rama’s welfare in the forest, for the Lord was expert at fighting already.

Deep down Dasharatha knew that his priest was correct. In the humblest way possible, Dasharatha responded to Vishvamitra by praising his kindness and knowledge. He said that it wasn’t proper for him to try to ask him to take someone else, for the brahmana’s request was one based on knowledge. Dasharatha certainly can’t be blamed for trying to change the sage’s mind. If you had the most beautiful prince as a son, who was so affectionate to you that you wondered what you had done to deserve such association, wouldn’t you fight your hardest to try to keep that son with you all the time?

Dasharatha’s eventual confidence in Vishvamitra would prove correct, as Rama would protect the sage from the attacks of the Rakshasas, including one intrusion by Maricha himself. The night-ranger was so impressed by Rama’s ability to protect that he later recounted his experience to his leader Ravana in the hopes of dissuading him from perpetrating an iniquitous deed.

“I am your dear friend and ask you again to desist from this plan. If you should aggressively take Sita away by force, you and your relatives will lose your life and be taken to the abode of Yamaraja, being destroyed by Rama's arrows.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.33)

Lakshmana and Rama fighting TatakaVishvamitra would borrow Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana to be escorts for a brief period of time in the forest. Rama had barely any signs of manhood on His face, yet when the group was attacked, the Lord would string His bow without a problem. During Maricha’s attempted attack, the force of Rama’s arrow that struck the demon in return was so great that it launched the night-ranger over eight hundred miles away into the sea.

The knowledgeable brahmana knew what he was asking for and the king of Ayodhya knew what he was holding on to. Therefore neither party could be blamed for their behavior in that famous meeting in Ayodhya. Through Vishvamitra, Rama would visit the kingdom of Videha and marry Janaka’s daughter Sita. Thus the son of Gadhi, through his request, would bring the goddess of fortune back to Ayodhya, which allowed the city to flourish even more.

In Closing:

The pressure of losing son he did feel,

Thus king decided to play let’s make a deal.

“Instead take me and my massive army,

Through our protection pleased you will be.”

To keep Shri Rama at home king wanted,

Therefore other offer to sage presented.

From Vashishtha’s counsel king knew he was wrong,

Supreme wisdom to Vishvamitra did belong.

Rama and Lakshmana to go, king to acquiesce,

Valuable lesson upon night-rangers to impress.