Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sage’s Favor

Rama and His brothers“Dear Sir, my children, relatives and citizens are protected by your blessings, either at home or in the jungle.” (Dasharatha speaking to Vishvamitra, Janaki Mangala, 25)

nātha mohi bālakanha sahita pura parijana |
rākhanihāra tumhāra anugraha dhara bana ||

It’s a tough fight. You’re not sure what the outcome is going to be. You’ve invested so much time and effort travelling throughout the region that will be governed. You have shaken so many hands, flipped numerous pancakes, and kissed about every baby there is in each town. Despite your best efforts, you’re still in danger of losing. The polls say that the race is neck and neck. What you really need to get you over the top is the endorsement of this one particular group. If they can favor you, you will get the necessary votes on election night to sweep into office. Once at the helm, you have all the power. You can do whatever you want and make a real difference in the lives of others.

electionNow the election is over. The group you wanted support from came through and pushed you across the finish line. Ah, but governing is a totally different story. The groups that supported you now want their favors returned. Thus you have to appoint connected people to important posts and pass legislation specifically targeted to their interests. The groups in question may be benefitted, and you may have been helped by getting elected, but the welfare of your family, children and most importantly, citizens, is not guaranteed through this practice.

Why is this the case? From a moral standpoint the interests of one particular faction shouldn’t automatically take precedent over others. For instance, if one group is in favor of passing a law to help their particular business, what about the group that doesn’t want the bill to pass? All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, despite the discrepancy in incomes. Perhaps the person who pays millions of dollars in taxes feels more entitled to government protection than the person who pays no tax, but a good head of state doesn’t take this difference into account. The government’s duty is to provide for the general welfare by first protecting life and property, and in this respect the property of the poorest man is equally as worthy of protection as the largest estate of the multi-millionaire.

By rule, focusing attention on specific parties, repaying them for favors granted in the past, is a losing proposition. Unless everyone is benefitted by what you do, you are not a good leader. King Dasharatha of Ayodhya knew this hidden gem of the Vedic teachings a long time ago. Though he had it all and could give favors to any specific group, he knew that the blessings of one particular class would be beneficial to everyone. He thus praised Vishvamitra Muni to no end, telling the sage that the family, children and citizens under the protection of the king were actually protected by the blessings of the saintly class.

Let’s say that I get favored by Vishvamitra, whose position in this case can correspond to that of a priest, or religious figure. Vishvamitra is a single person, so how is receiving his favor any different from getting the endorsement of a powerful lobbying group? The special interest organizations at least represent so many other people, but someone like Vishvamitra is a loner. He doesn’t have family to support or a business to run. In one sense you could say that he is selfish. He lives in the forest alone, and worships God through austerity and sacrifice. Why should the king or any man of prominence be interested in what the sage wants?

VishvamitraWell, Vishvamitra’s dedication to austerity is what makes him most eligible for being heard from. He doesn’t have any possessions. He calls the forest his home and the holy name of the Lord his wealth. Abandoning a life of sensual pursuits, exalted sages like Vishvamitra prefer the quiet surroundings of the forest, where they can worship God fully and thus remain enlightened. From connecting with God one acquires the knowledge necessary to survive in any situation. A special interest group looks for a benefit that temporarily aids their situation, but life has much more important things than mere bodily maintenance. The form accepted at the time of birth will eventually be renounced, but the spirit soul, the vital force within, is always there. Its needs take precedent over the body’s.

Someone like Vishvamitra accepts knowledge from the shrutis, or the scriptural tradition passed on through aural reception. From the shrutis one can impart wisdom to others, regardless of the target’s position in life. In this way Vishvamitra’s favor can mean acquiring knowledge on how to take care of children, relatives and citizens. Not everyone is in the same position or has the same desires, but through following the direction of the brahmana community, those who are by quality in the mode of goodness and dedicated to God, every person can advance spiritually, which is the real purpose of the human form of body.

The animals enjoy eating, sleeping, mating and defending, including bouts with intoxication and illicit sex. In fact, there is no such thing as marriage in the animal community. They don’t operate under piety and sin because they are not intelligent enough to understand these higher concepts. Right and wrong are introduced to the human being because soberly following guidelines allows a better end to be reached. The instruction manual accompanying the new appliance allows the owner to properly assemble and operate their purchased item. The instructions are rules in a sense, lines drawn between virtue and sin. Accepting virtue brings one closer to the desired end and sin brings about negative consequences.

The brahmana knows right and wrong, good and bad, favorable and unfavorable, for any person. Thus having their favor turns out to be the greatest blessing for a king. Dasharatha was hesitant to give up the company of His son Rama, whom Vishvamitra requested as a personal bodyguard. The sage was being harassed in the forest by night-rangers, a situation similar to terrorists going after priests while they are delivering a sermon. These vile creatures would attack the sages and then eat their flesh. Vishvamitra knew that Rama was the most capable bow warrior in the world, that He could defeat anyone though He was not yet twelve years of age.

Lord RamaDasharatha had fatherly affection for Rama, the eldest of his four sons. As a lesson to us all, Dasharatha showed that even attachment to family members can be renounced for a higher purpose. Vishvamitra’s desires and instruction were beneficial to everyone, regardless of where they were living. If Rama were in the forest or in the royal palace, the sage’s favor would protect Him nonetheless. The hidden secret was that Rama was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna Himself in the guise of a warrior prince. This made parting with Rama that much more difficult for Dasharatha and Rama’s protection in the forest more necessary for Vishvamitra.

The issue may be raised that if you invest so much trust in one person, if they lead you astray then so many other people will be negatively affected. This highlights one of the appealing aspects to democracy, the insulation from tyrannical rule gone wrong. If you have just one leader who messes things up, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. In a democracy, however, major change requires majority vote, so passing legislation that goes against the wishes of the general population is more difficult, but still not impossible. There was certainly a risk in assigning so much stock to Vishvamitra, but the sage’s qualities were what made him worthy of his position. He was not a spiritualist in name only. He was known for having only the welfare of the people in mind. He didn’t have much, so why would he act in a way that would harm Dasharatha? Vashishtha, Ayodhya’s royal priest, reminded Dasharatha of Vishvamitra’s lofty standing, how he knew very well what Rama was capable of.

The sage’s intuition would later prove to be correct. Lord Rama, accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana, would protect Vishvamitra from many attacking night-rangers. By pleasing the sage, the brothers would learn mantras applicable to the standard method of warfare of the time, bow and arrow. From uttering a specific mantra Rama could make one of His arrows equal in force to modern day nuclear weapons. Aside from benefitting Dasharatha with his blessings, the world would be better off as a result of Vishvamitra’s actions. The sage would bring Rama and Lakshmana to Tirahuta to attend a contest to determine the husband for King Janaka’s daughter Sita. Rama, the only Lord for the surrendered souls and the only husband for the goddess of fortune, would win Sita’s hand in marriage. Thus having Vishvamitra’s favor continues to bring benefits to the eager souls of today looking to connect with God by hearing about His glorious deeds.

In Closing:

The brahmana piety’s defender,

All good comes from their special favor.

 

With clever words and political spin,

And group’s endorsement candidate wins.

 

But favoritism not governing way legitimate,

Politician needs instruction for everyone’s benefit.

 

From sage like Vishvamitra piety learn,

So that highest reward in life to earn.

 

His favor does good to king that is humble,

His family too, whether at home or in jungle.