Friday, February 10, 2012

Rock and a Hard Place

Lord Rama's hand“When the lord of munis told the king the reason for his visit, the king became caught between love and truth and thus couldn’t come up with a response.” (Janaki Mangala, 24)

jabahiṃ munīsa mahīsahi kāju sunāyau |
bhayau saneha satya basa utarū na āyau ||

There was a rock and a hard place, and in between was the king of Ayodhya, dumbfounded as to what to say to a stunning request, one he wasn’t expecting. As the mind is capable of working tremendously fast, within an instant the stunned king remembered both his love for Rama and his dedication to the truth. As the age-old problem between what to follow, your heart or your mind, rose to the surface, the king couldn’t settle upon a proper response. The lord of munis, Vishvamitra, had really stumped him with his request, but due to the all-pervading nature of the person whose association was desired, all parties involved would be satisfied in the end.

What was the dilemma facing King Dasharatha? Let’s look at the truth angle first. Kings in those days, the Treta Yuga, were dedicated to piety. Their guidebook for governance of the innocent citizens was the Vedas, especially the truths pertaining to the laws of man, which were handed down by Manu. The origin of life is God, who has more defined features in the Vedic tradition. Though there are many pictures of God and different realizations of Him, the lack of detail in one spiritual tradition doesn’t mean that the attributes are absent in the original person Himself. A child may not know that the sun rises and sets every day, but their lack of understanding has no influence on the operations of the sun itself.

the sunIn the same way the living entity’s ignorance of spiritual matters, of the transmigration of the soul, of the source of identity being the individual spirit located within the heart, of the paltriness of rewards pertaining to material sense gratification, of the need for following law codes of spirituality to reach a better end, and of the need to ultimately think of the Supreme Personality of Godhead at the time of death, has no bearing on the effectiveness of the teachings of the Vedas. Every living being is born ignorant after all, and since the duration of life is so short, it is impossible to acquire perfect knowledge. Nevertheless, the Vedas make sure that man is not left totally in the dark. The caretakers are provided instruction on how to guide the human being from the time of birth all the way up until death. At every step there is instruction, and for every type of person there is an occupational duty.

The administrators, known as kshatriyas, are responsible for government. As the primary duty of government is to protect life and property, the kshatriyas must be skilled at fighting. An aggressor has no concern for another’s life or their property, so in order to combat the aggressive forces, a more powerful fighter is required. The key to a successful government is applying justice equally. Not that one person’s protection is more important than another’s. Even the life of a cow is to be considered on a level equal to that of the wealthiest citizen of the state. A cow can provide some milk to be used for food, while a wealthy businessman can account for a large portion of the treasury through tax revenue, but the ruler is not supposed to see a distinction between the two. Every spirit soul is equal constitutionally, and thus every innocent being living within a particular jurisdiction is to be protected by the heads of state.

King Dasharatha upheld his dedication to the truth very well. He accepted that responsibility from his predecessors, who belonged to the line of kings started by Maharaja Ikshvaku, who was actually the son of Manu. Hence the rulers in Dasharatha’s family were known as Ikshvakus. King Raghu was another famous king in the line, so the princes were sometimes addressed as Raghava. As a kshatriya is expert at fighting, he is not required to be supremely intelligent on matters of spirituality. If there is a question on how to administer justice, he consults the royal priests, who belong to the brahmana community. The deference to the brahmanas is unconditional. This means that whatever a bona fide brahmana asks for, the king obliges. This usually isn’t a problem, because their requests turn out to be beneficial to everyone involved. The brahmana not only knows the duties of his own order, he is familiar with the occupational duties of every single person as well. Hence he can guide any person on the proper path in life. Think of it like a high school teacher who can teach pretty much any class perfectly.

Dasharatha's sacrificeNot surprisingly, love is what got in the way of Dasharatha’s commitment to the truth. He was childless for a long time. Though in the grand scheme this doesn’t matter, as the spirit soul is the essence of identity, still to uphold the family name, to keep the line of kings going, Dasharatha wanted a son. He would be granted that wish after performing a sacrifice at the insistence of brahmanas. The king would be blessed with four sons, with the eldest being his favorite. A parent usually doesn’t play favorites, even if their behavior indicates otherwise. A father may be closer with one son than another but it usually doesn’t mean that he loves any of his children more.

Dasharatha definitely did love Rama, the eldest son, the most. You couldn’t blame him, as Rama was the Supreme Lord appearing in the guise of a human being. It is said in the stories recited during the Satyanarayana Puja that Dasharatha in his previous life was pious and regularly performed the puja. Hence through his good deeds he became qualified to have the Supreme Lord appear as his son. The benefit of this, of course, is that you get to share your love without impediment. If we worship a deity or chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we show our love through our actions, but having the same object of worship in front of you every day in the form of a child represents another level. The childhood form is the most effective at extracting the natural loving sentiments of the caregiving living entity.

The more attractive the child, the more endearing his visage and activities, the more that love will come out from others. No one is more attractive than God, so Rama thus enchanted everyone in Ayodhya. His younger brothers all loved Him, with Lakshmana especially attached to Him. It is said in the Ramayana that Lakshmana would not eat or sleep without Rama by his side. It is not uncommon for a younger sibling to latch onto an older one, but sometimes there are fights and rivalries. This was not the case with Rama and His brothers. All four thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

Rama and LakshmanaVishvamitra, who is described as the lord of munis because of his high standing and his dedication to austerity and penance, once visited Ayodhya. Dasharatha received him properly and felt ashamed in a sense. The king openly declared that Vishvamitra could fulfill any desire and easily provide the four fruits of existence: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and ultimate emancipation for the soul are the four rewards available to the individual who follows the system of religiosity passed down by the Vedas. The king was ashamed because he couldn’t think of anything he could give in return to Vishvamitra. Nevertheless, the king had vowed to give the brahmanas whatever they asked for, so he was a little fearful of what Vishvamitra wanted.

As if the muni knew exactly what to say to put the king in a bind, he asked for Rama to accompany him in the forest. A band of night-rangers had been causing a major disturbance in the forest, where other brahmanas lived. Can we ever imagine such a thing? Do thieves think of robbing homeless men? These brahmanas had nothing. They barely ate anything and they lived under trees or in conditions not seen in the poorest countries today. Yet they had tremendous wealth in their dedication to God, which these night-rangers despised. One ghoulish creature in particular was having a strong influence. His name was Maricha, and Vishvamitra specifically mentioned him when talking to the king.

“Please allow Rama to protect me during those times when I am observing religious functions and trying to keep my concentration. O chief of mankind, a terrible fear has befallen me on account of this Rakshasa Maricha.” (Vishvamitra speaking to Maharaja Dasharatha, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.4)

Dasharatha was in the toughest situation. For starters, why Rama? Why not any of the other royal fighters? Rama wasn’t mature in terms of years. Later on, when the same Maricha would try to attack Vishvamitra with Rama by his side, the night-ranger would notice that there weren’t yet any signs of manhood on Rama’s face. This meant that the Lord was quite young at the time. Dasharatha was bound by love to his eldest son, so how could he let Him go? At the same time, to deny a well-meaning brahmana is the most egregious violation of piety. What would happen to his standing as a pious king? He would likely destroy the good name of the Ikshvakus.

Rama holding His bowVery, very reluctantly, Dasharatha acquiesced. Lakshmana, true to his nature, followed Rama and the muni to the forest. The same Maricha would attack, but this time Rama would teach him a lesson never to be forgotten. Without hesitation, without blinking an eye, the young Rama would string His bow and then shoot an arrow at Maricha that had such force that the demon would be thrown hundreds of miles away into an ocean. Vishvamitra knew what he was asking for; he knew that Rama was the most capable bow warrior in the world. God assigns Himself the duty to defend the religious practices of the devotees who take shelter under no one else except Him.

Externally, Dasharatha followed his mind instead of his heart, but since thinking about Rama is as good as seeing Him, the king’s love for his son never dissipated. If anything, in separation the fondness grew stronger. The majority of us don’t have God as our son, so the option of worshiping in separation is all we have. Through a consciousness fixed on God, even following your mind ends up keeping your heart pure. Vishvamitra’s request and the king’s rightful acquiescence would enhance the glory of the Raghu dynasty, and it would give countless future generations more of Rama’s pastimes to remember and honor.

In Closing:

King of Ayodhya really stuck in a bind,

Way out of rock and hard place couldn’t find.

To protect the truth was his vow,

But part with son Rama could he how?

“I need Rama” lord of munis did say,

To drive the likes of Maricha away.

Dasharatha did not know what to do,

Agreed in end, love for Rama to stay true.

In bhakti no fault with following the mind,

Because even by thinking of God love to find.