Monday, March 5, 2012

Bon Voyage

People of Ayodhya“The king, queens and all the citizens of the city gave their minds to Rama. ‘Return home quickly, doing Your work successfully, O delight of the Raghu dynasty.’” (Janaki Mangala, 28)

purabāsī nṛp rāninha sanga diye mana |
begi phireu kari kāju kusala raghunandana ||

For Rama to return home, He’d have to be successful in His work. The king, queens and townspeople knew this, so they wished Him the best as He departed from their vision. The delight of the Raghu dynasty, the bright full moon to dissipate the darkness of ignorance and despair that envelops the material world, was departing with the sage Vishvamitra. This was no camping trip or pleasure vacation. Rama, though only a young child, had the most difficult responsibility put on His shoulders. But just as He had previously bore the burden of the world as the boar incarnation Varaha, Rama would dutifully accept the responsibility of protecting the sages.

One can only imagine what the people in the town were thinking. Rama was their cherished prince, the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. Though there was variety in classes, with not every person belonging to the royal order, everyone felt as though Rama was part of their family. This occurs when there is good government and the king is respected for his implementation of justice. As Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana would note several years later, Rama was so respected that even those He punished couldn’t find anything bad to say about Him.

“I have not seen any person in this world, be they an enemy or one punished for heinous sins, speak ill of Rama, even in His absence.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.5)

Rama and LakshmanaPolice and other authority figures are not liked because of the power they wield. Does every student like the teacher of the classroom? Do workers not despise their bosses for their position? Rama had to deliver justice on behalf of the people, but even those He punished respected Him. As a beautiful child not yet twelve years of age, Rama was taken away from His home, bringing Lakshmana with Him. Vishvamitra insisted on this protection, though, so what could anyone say? Dasharatha was ready to send the royal army into the forest to act as protection, but the muni insisted that the only person he required was Rama.

It is interesting to note that the onlookers seeing Rama off did not curse the muni or hold any grudge against him. Vishvamitra was equally as exalted as Dasharatha, and the people understood that he was in significant danger. He was a brahmana after all, so by nature, quality and work he lived in the mode of goodness, the highest of the three modes of material nature.

“O son of Pritha, that understanding by which one knows what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, what is to be feared and what is not to be feared, what is binding and what is liberating, that understanding is established in the mode of goodness.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.30)

Goodness equates to knowledge, sort of like following the instruction manual for an appliance that you just bought. In the mode of goodness one accepts the proper guidelines to attain a beneficial end. In the mode of passion, you are driven by the desire to get a reward, so you end up expending so much effort to reach an eventual neutral position. The mode of ignorance is bereft of both knowledge and a worthy fruit to enjoy. While there may be so many varieties of activity that include combinations of the three modes of nature, thus making it difficult to decide what is good and what isn’t, any behavior that gradually increases one’s real knowledge can be considered part of the mode of goodness.

What is real knowledge as opposed to fake? Real knowledge pertains to the self, the essence of identity. There is a larger collection of energy pervading nature, but at the core we are individuals. We are tiny sparks of that giant energy, so we have the same properties as the sum collection and also its origin. The sun is a gigantic body of fire and heat, and its many rays are tiny samples of that body. At the same time, just because the sunshine leaves the sun doesn’t mean that the sun is altered in any way.

We living entities are tiny samples of God, who is known as Brahman to those unaware of His transcendental features. The mode of goodness allows for the realization of Brahman, wherein we see ourselves and every other living entity as individual sparks of pure spirit covered by temporary manifestations of matter. The mode of goodness is better than passion and ignorance, and one who wants to realize the true destination, the proper home for the spirit soul, should follow the advice of someone living in that highest mode, a person who is Brahman realized.

Vishvamitra and LakshmanaVishvamitra lived in the mode of goodness as a matter of procedure, but he had transcended all the modes of nature. He was devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead by occupation, so there was no question of ignorance with respect to the Lord’s features, a fact evident during his visit to Ayodhya to get Rama to be his escort. A band of night-rangers, those living in the mode of ignorance, was harassing the sages living in the forest at the time. On one side you had a ghoulish creature who can change their shape at will, sort of like a terrorist who dresses up in civilian clothes to avoid attack by the military. At the last second they reveal who they are to the unsuspecting target.

The brahmanas, on the other hand, have no weapons. Fighting is reserved for those in the mode of passion, for one can only fight when they see bodily distinctions. The brahmanas know the equality of spirit, so to the best of their ability they try to avoid conflict. Dasharatha had jurisdiction over the particular areas besieged by the Rakshasas hailing from Lanka, so Vishvamitra did the right thing by approaching the king.

The sage’s credentials were well known to the people, so they also indirectly prayed for his welfare by thinking of Rama. Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord in the form of a warrior prince, is never alone. His closest associates and those people He protects are intimately tied to Him. By praying that Rama would do His work successfully, it automatically meant that those who would be protected by Rama would get the full blessings of the Lord.

The strain on the mother and father was the hardest, for they lived with Rama every single day. They made the ultimate sacrifice by putting their son in the custody of a sage who was being attacked. Despite their willingness to part with Rama, they never stopped thinking about Him. In the highest form of spiritual practice known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, thinking is as good as doing. Hearing about the Lord is as good, if not better, than seeing Him face to face. With sight mental distractions can arise and the consciousness isn’t forced to focus as much. With hearing, attention is required, and as the focused thoughts stay in the mind, there is a stronger link formed to the object in question.

gopis dancing with KrishnaThinking of Rama in separation is the superior method of worship because the longing creates a strong attachment. The exalted yogis of the past all practiced this method of worship, and most of the time not on purpose. The Supreme Lord knows best on how others can worship Him, so He creates situations where the mood of separation can flourish. In His descent to earth as Lord Krishna, the same Rama created separation from the gopis of Vrindavana, who thought of the Lord so often that they are considered the topmost devotees by exalted spiritual masters and saints like Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shrila Sanatana Gosvami, and their teacher, Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself.

Worship in separation is not a theoretical exercise, for the object in question must be real for the effects to manifest. To know that Rama is real is to have some interaction with Him, even if for only a brief moment. The absolute nature of Rama’s names, forms, pastimes and attributes does not apply to His external energy of matter. For instance, we cannot worship a tree in separation, no matter how hard we try. Attempting to imitate the principles of bhakti-yoga practice - which are so nicely presented in sacred texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita through explicit instruction and in real-life stories documented in works like the Janaki Mangala and Ramayana - on objects not personally related to God does not work. Making up gods, inventing systems of religion, and denying the Lord’s existence outright are failing methods.

For those of us living in the present age, the worship in separation of the Supreme Lord can best take place through regularly reciting the holy names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. These names are not sectarian, nor are they powerful sound vibrations addressing a fictitious person. The strength in chanting this sacred mantra lies in the potency of the beneficiary, in His absolute ability to deliver the surrendered souls through the mind. The residents of Ayodhya felt the burn of separation from Rama’s departure, but they were soothed by the memory of His activities. The very mention of His name would cause joy, bringing to life His vision at a time when He was far away.

Lord RamaRaghunandana, the delight of the Raghu dynasty, would indeed return home successfully. He wouldn’t come back alone though. He would bring with Him a new wife, along with wives for His three younger brothers. Vishvamitra’s request for Rama’s company would serve many purposes. It would show that Dasharatha was a man true to his promise to protect the brahmanas. It would allow the citizens of Ayodhya to worship Rama in separation, and it would also remove the influence of the Rakshasas from the forests in question. Since the above referenced verse is from the Janaki Mangala written by Goswami Tulsidas, we know that the ultimate purpose served by Vishvamitra was to bring Rama to the sacrificial arena in Tirahuta, where the svayamvara of the daughter of King Janaka was taking place. The delight of the Raghu clan would soon delight the many onlookers by lifting Lord Shiva’s enormously heavy bow and winning the goddess of fortune’s hand in marriage. Thus Rama’s time in the forest was extremely fruitful.

In Closing:

Though seeing Rama leaving made them depressed,

Still the citizens prayed for the Lord’s success.

 

Hopes that along with Lakshmana Rama would return,

So His pleasurable sight to soothe separation’s burn.

 

The king, queens and citizens for departure came out,

To see off the one person they couldn’t live without.

 

In the forest of many issues Shri Rama would take care,

To marry Sita Devi after Rakshasas away He scared.

 

Vishvamitra Muni lived in pure goodness,

Thus able to bask in Supreme Lord’s sweetness.