Thursday, February 2, 2012

What To Give

Shri Rama's lotus feet“O Prabhu, you fulfill all desires and give the four fruits of existence. Understanding that, I am fearful of what I could possibly give to you.” (Janaki Mangala, 22)

tumha prabhu pūrana kāma cāri phaladāyaka |
tehiṃ teṃ būjhata kāju ḍarau munidāyaka ||

Just imagine being the wealthiest person in the world, capable of going into any area and taking property because of your ability. Then picture coming up to someone else and telling them that you can’t give them anything valuable. Your statement isn’t one based on sentiment and it is not rooted in a deficiency in ability. Rather, the person you’re speaking to is the one who can give you anything that you really desire, anything important to you. Though they outwardly have nothing, their wealth is more valuable than anything else, so it is impossible to repay them when they are kind enough to bestow benedictions upon you. Such a scene was present in the city of Ayodhya many thousands of years ago, but the acknowledged wealthy party in this scenario, the king Dasharatha, was able to provide the exalted sage Vishvamitra something invaluable. That gift is the most cherished item for every single person, and the fact that Dasharatha would voluntarily part with it for a moment only enhances his wonderful stature.

Who is Maharaja Dasharatha? The ancient kings of the world were concentrated in the area today known as India. Not that their influence was confined locally; they were addressed by such names as Mahipati and Bhupati, which mean “lord of earth”. The names weren’t assigned out of sentiment either. The kings had control over the entire earth, through either personal supervision or the influence of their many proxies. There were other kingdoms headed by other leaders, but the main king would have a recognized supremacy.

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)

Bhagavad-gitaWith that firm authority came great responsibility. King Dasharatha and those rulers appearing before him in the family upheld virtue. Maharaja Ikshvaku set the standard for good governance, having heard the truths of the Bhagavad-gita from his father Manu. Manu heard it from Vivasvan, who heard it from Shri Krishna, the original speaker of the Gita. The Bhagavad-gita is a song containing the essence of Vedic teachings, the true meaning of life and the ultimate philosophy to guide mankind’s behavior.

How can we make qualitative comparisons between philosophies? How do we determine if one philosophy is better than another? The more the philosophy tackles the root issue of life, especially with respect to identity, the more valuable it will be. For instance, if we read a book on how to succeed in business, it will only benefit us if we identify with businessmen. The same goes for cookbooks, marriage counseling, and instruction on how to be a good life partner.

Sometimes even philosophies that seem larger in scope get mistaken to be guiding philosophies on life. The Constitution of the United States of America is a nice example in this regard. A document formed off of compromise and aimed to rebuke the perceived harsh treatment from the past government, the Constitution serves as the foundation of the American government. Some revere the Constitution and its principles so much that they refer to the document as their “Bible”, which is a stunning admission. For something other than the original Bible to be considered the guiding philosophy on life indicates that the Bible is either misunderstood or deficient in its ability to guide behavior.

Religion in the true definition is not based merely on sentiment. It is a science which has laws that cannot be denied. Just as it would be silly to say that we believe or don’t believe in the law of gravity, to deny the existence of spirit and its position transcendental to the material nature can only be a sign of ignorance. Documents like the Constitution negate behavior that is considered harmful from governing bodies, championing the concept of freedom and its benefit to society. At the same time, tyranny, oppression and those acts of government which are shunned by the founders of the United States are the very result of freedom. Without an exercise of freedom, we cannot get any outcome in behavior. Therefore freedom itself cannot be the answer to life’s problems.

The Bhagavad-gita addresses all of these issues, as it puts forth the ultimate philosophy on life, the primary guiding principle. It is said that the Vedas, the system of spirituality instituted by Shri Krishna, are the root of the tree of material existence. This means that every philosophy, existing past, present or future, is derived from the Vedas. Lord Krishna is the head of Vedic philosophy, and since He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, His original system of religion is meant for connecting the living entities with their most preferred destination. Thus every rule presented by Vedic philosophy, including the recommendations given to kings, is intended to carry the living entity further along towards the ideal destination of the Supreme Lord’s company.

King DasharathaA king like Dasharatha knew the governing principles, how to guide human behavior properly. Freedom is wonderful, but if it is misused you get chaos and misery. A document only limiting the actions of government will not provide man the guidance that he so desperately wants. History is filled with tyrannical regimes who killed millions of people to meet the demands of their brutal leaders. This could only occur because of the soul’s inclination to serve. Even with full freedom, with no restrictions on action, the living being will have a desire to offer some service.

Vedic philosophy does not overlook the service issue. Rather, the tendency towards service is completely embraced, with every member of society given an object of service that matches their body’s inherent qualities. The pious ruler implements these matches to keep safe what is known as the varnashrama-dharma system. Because of their fidelity to the Vedas and the nature of the work they had to perform, the pious kings like Dasharatha were in possession of so much wealth. They distributed charity, but only to the brahmanas, the priestly class of men who were voluntarily living by austerity.

One such austere brahmana was Vishvamitra, who visited King Dasharatha’s palace one time. The king could give away in charity pretty much anything valuable to a brahmana, even if they didn’t specifically ask. All special occasions were marked by the donation of such things as gold, cows and jewelry to brahmanas, who thus didn’t have a hard time surviving despite not specifically working for a living. The priests engaged in sacrifice, penance, austerity, learning the Vedas, teaching the Vedas, and giving instruction to society and its leaders. Since they were so busy providing valuable instruction, they didn’t have time to earn a living through fruitive activity.

King Dasharatha was so pleased to have Vishvamitra visit him and bless his family that he offered the above referenced sincere words of praise. The sage could grant any desire, including the four fruits of a human existence: religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and ultimate salvation. As this combination of rewards is difficult to come by, one is considered very fortunate to get all of them. If Vishvamitra, who had no possessions, could provide this to the king, what could Dasharatha possibly give in return? This imbalance instilled some trepidation in the king, for perhaps the brahmana would ask for something that he couldn’t give. If that were the case, it would be a shameful stain on the Ikshvaku line that Dasharatha belonged to. The king must always give the bona fide brahmanas whatever they want, for why else do they rule the earth? If the most intelligent and munificent members of society are not pleased and protected, how can the king say that he is doing a good job?

Fortunately for the king, Vishvamitra would ask for something that he could give. Nevertheless, the request tore at the heart of the pious ruler. Vishvamitra wanted protection while living in the forests. Some night-rangers were causing a disturbance, and rather than exhaust his spiritual merits by casting curses on them, Vishvamitra thought it would be better to have expert fighters guarding him for a while.

Did the sage ask for the most experienced fighter in Ayodhya? Did he ask Dasharatha for his most capable man who had proven his fighting ability in the past? Oddly enough, Vishvamitra asked for the king’s eldest son Rama to be his escort. This was strange because Rama was still a young boy, who barely had signs of maturity on His face. We know this from the accounts of one of the attacking night-rangers.

“At the time, there were not yet visible any signs of manhood on the boy’s beautiful face, which was dark-blue in complexion and had an all-auspicious gaze. Rama had a gold chain round His neck, a small tuft of hair on His head, wore only one piece of clothing, and held a bow in His hands.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.14)

Lakshmana and Rama protecting VishvamitraRama was Dasharatha’s most prized possession, his favorite person in the world. The king would have to agree to the sage’s request though, so Rama went with Vishvamitra, with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana following along. Lakshmana would never do anything without Rama, so strong was the love he had for his elder brother. While in the forest, Vishvamitra would get attacked by a night-ranger named Maricha during a time of sacrifice. Though Rama was so young, Vishvamitra’s intuition would prove correct, as Dasharatha’s eldest son would unhesitatingly string His bow and pierce Maricha with an arrow. The blow was so fierce that the night-ranger was thrown many miles away into an ocean.

Shri Rama was none other than the Supreme Lord, appearing on earth to enact pastimes and rid the world of the influence of Maricha’s clan, which was concentrated on the island of Lanka at the time. Dasharatha sacrificed his most beloved son, and for that kindness his stature as the most wonderful king would increase even more. Through Vishvamitra, Rama and Lakshmana would make it to the famous bow sacrifice held in the kingdom of Videha. There Rama would win the hand of Sita Devi, King Janaka’s daughter, in marriage. Thus it can be said that Dasharatha’s love for the brahmanas acted as a catalyst for the eventual meeting of the divine couple, Sita and Rama, the savior of the fallen souls.

In Closing:

Picture a person who has everything,

For no wealth is he at all longing.

Then to another admits that nothing can give,

For how to repay knowledge on how to live?

This situation long time ago occurred for real,

Vishvamitra king’s son for a moment wanted to steal.

To brahmanas Dasharatha never could say no,

So with Vishvamitra eldest son Rama did go.

Lakshmana, devoted brother took with Him,

In Janakpur hand of Sita Devi to win.