Monday, March 12, 2012

Gift Giver

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama“Defeating the Rakshasas, I will give the queen, the delight of the Ikshvaku family, to Rama, just as a perfection is bestowed upon an ascetic.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.57)

jitvā tu rākṣasān devīm ikṣvāku kula nandinīm ||
sampradāsyāmi rāmāyā yathā siddhim tapasvine |

There are constant struggles for success, as nothing comes easily in life. If you want material prosperity, success in your ventures, peace of mind, or so many other rewards, you have to really work hard for it. As they say, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, so even those things handed to us don’t necessarily represent a successful completion. The spirit soul wandering the world in different forms has desires that burst forth, irrespective of whatever successes were encountered in the past. For the observing loved ones, seeing their beloved struggle is difficult. The desire is to be able to help the struggling person reach their end, to deliver them their goal. Shri Hanuman, in carrying out the mission assigned to him, had a similar desire. He had seen his beloved Rama suffer so much on account of separation from His wife, a separation which was by no means deserved. Therefore Hanuman not only worked hard to follow the orders given to him to find Rama’s wife, but he personally dreamt of being able to deliver Rama success, such is the kindness of Hanuman.

The exact sentiment felt by Hanuman in this instance is a little difficult to explain, as the emotion is rooted in a very strong love. Try to imagine one of your loved ones studying very hard to pass a very difficult examination. If you could somehow be on the examination board and grant them a passing grade, how much joy would that bring you? To know that you could deliver the fruit of the results to the person working so hard, the person you care about so much, would bring you immense satisfaction. The person being helped doesn’t even have to know that you played a role in their triumph. Just knowing yourself that you did something to ease their troubles, to put a smile on their face, is enough to make the task worth it.

Radha and KrishnaWhen studying the lives of famous saints and personalities of the Vedic tradition, it is natural to wish that you could go back in time and have had played a role in helping them through personal struggles. For instance, some five thousand years ago, Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended to earth and had intimate dealings with the gopis of Vrindavana, of whom Shrimati Radharani was the chief. Radha and Krishna represent the union of God’s energy and God. In one sense they are equal, as they both play their role in the relationship, but there is still a difference. They are distinct entities with different qualities; there is a uniqueness to their individualities.

Studying Radha and Krishna in the proper mood is important because their dealings illustrate the ideal relationship one can have with God. In the constitutional position, the spirit souls, the living entities wandering through various life forms, are devotees of God. God is the energetic and His expansions represent His energy. Since they are both of the same spiritual qualities, they are inherently linked. The expansions can, however, forget about their constitutional position and their relationship with Krishna. Once forgetfulness is introduced, all sorts of other divergences take place.

What does this mean exactly? To use a crude example, let’s say that we build a baseball field, perfectly suited for playing games on a regular basis. The field is populated with players who, not surprisingly, play baseball. Therefore the rules on this field all relate to America’s pastime, where the ideal objective is the competing in the game of baseball and winning. Now let’s say that one of the players deviates from their position as a baseball player. Not identifying with the game at all anymore, they decide to use their portion of the field to play lacrosse, which is another game. They then get others to follow suit. Now you have a baseball field used partially for lacrosse.

Obviously, you can’t fit both games on the same field, as the lacrosse field is shaped differently and requires a lot of space, of which there is not much to go around. Now let’s say that some of the other players decide to use a portion of the field for farming, something not even related to sports. Another person erects a house on the land, while another sits in a corner and sings all day. Obviously none of these engagements follow the makeup of the field, the reason for its existence. Therefore there will be constant struggle, with each faction declaring that their system of regulation is the right one. They will write books on how to succeed in their specific ventures, and since none of the engagements are related to the field, nothing tangible can happen from following any of the recommended procedures properly.

baseball-diamondTake this same example and expand it to the largest scope possible and you get the situation in the material world. The soul is meant to be a lover of God, but as soon as that fact is forgotten, the individual pretends that life is meant to further personal sense gratification. In this area there are many different avenues of enjoyment, with the massive playing field that is the material creation divided up to accommodate the different desires. New law codes are written with respect to each venture; thus resulting in a plethora of religious systems which don’t tackle the issues of the soul, its position transcendental to matter, and its inherent link to the spiritual world, the place where God in His personal form resides.

Radha and Krishna are the embodiment of religion, as their dealings illustrate how divine love operates. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is the constitutional engagement resulting from the soul’s position as lover of God. The gopis of Vrindavana are the best practitioners of bhakti-yoga. To get evidence to this claim, we can go back and revisit Krishna’s time on this earth some five thousand years ago. The gopis also descended to earth to give the world a glimpse of what goes on in Goloka Vrindavana, which is considered the highest spiritual planet in the transcendental realm of Vaikuntha.

What does personal and impersonal refer to? God is also present in the material world, but His presence is impersonal. This means that He is not directly involved in the day-to-day dealings of the living beings, and also His presence is difficult to realize. Brahman, the all-pervading spirit, is like the effusion of light coming off of God’s gigantic transcendental body. Just as we can tell the sun exists by the sunshine, we know that there is a God based on the presence of spirit, which is the essence of identity in every life form.

The personal presence is more important because this is where transcendental mellows can be exchanged, a taste in interaction. The dealings between Krishna and the gopis show us these interactions in their purest form. During their time on earth, the gopis were cowherd women, many of whom were married and attentive to their duties in the home. Krishna chose to be raised in the farm community of Vrindavana because this is where His purest devotees resided.

Lord KrishnaSince everyone in Vrindavana got Krishna’s direct association, one would think that all the inhabitants were yogis. If you’re with Krishna all the time, you must be practicing religion perfectly. This must mean that you renounced worldly life and sat in meditation all day. Just the opposite occurred actually. The residents of Vrindavana were dedicated to protecting their cows and raising them properly. Everyone was supremely God conscious, and they performed their daily work as a matter of obligation. They were more attached to dharma, or religious principles, than the results of their actions.

Even the women worked. The gopis used to take care of the house and the children and still find time to churn milk products. Shrimati Radharani and her gopi friends would regularly travel to the neighboring town of Mathura to sell their yogurt and cream. Radha is the goddess of fortune, which means that she bestows benedictions upon Krishna’s devotees so that they can continue their service. The devotee doesn’t require much; just enough to remain alive and continually chant the glorious maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Despite the fact that Radha gives out benedictions, just hearing about how she used to sell milk products to others stirs some longings in the hearts of devotees. “If only I could have been there to buy some of the yogurt that she and the gopis were selling. I would have bought so much. In fact, I would have spent my life savings to buy as much of their yogurt and cream as possible. In this way she would be pleased, which would in turn make me happy.” These thoughts are a little irrational, as no one can go back in time. Moreover, Radha and the gopis have Krishna’s association, so they don’t require any help in selling their products.

Nevertheless, the sentiments are rooted in a good place. If we love someone and we see them struggling, we wish that we could find some way to help them. This was the feeling of Shri Hanuman as well. The same Lord Krishna had descended to earth many thousands of years prior in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. This time He abided more by the established law codes of religion, or dharma. He also had the specific task of ridding the world of the plague that was the Rakshasa king of Lanka, Ravana. To fight Ravana, Rama needed an excuse, something which would come when Ravana would take away Rama’s wife Sita Devi behind the Lord’s back.

HanumanBefore He could fight Ravana, Rama needed to find Sita. For this He enlisted the help of Vanaras living in the forest of Kishkindha. Hanuman was one of those Vanaras, and he had the distinction of being the most eager servant, even though he had not known Rama for very long. For the divine figures endowed with superexcellent qualities, it’s not difficult to spot God’s presence. Hanuman recognized Rama’s divine nature soon after meeting Him. Hanuman took the mission of finding Sita as his life and soul.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman pumping himself up before the most difficult struggle in his search for Sita. Up until this point he had braved all obstacles thrown his way except one, the prospect of not succeeding. He made it into Lanka unnoticed, searched every inch of space, and still didn’t find Sita. The mental demons started to creep in, tempting Hanuman to give up.

What would keep the Vanara warrior going? His love for Rama of course. In the above referenced verse we see Hanuman declaring that he will continue the search for Sita and battle any Rakshasas that try to stop him. He will find Sita and deliver her to Rama, just as an ascetic is rewarded with the fruit of his austerity.

An ascetic is known by his austere lifestyle. He doesn’t do this just to punish himself. There is a siddhi, or perfection, that arrives at some point. Think of an investment bond that matures after a set amount of time. The ascetic dedicated to austerity and penance eventually reaches a point where they get their reward. Hanuman uses this analogy because Shri Rama was in the austere position of having to be separated from His wife. Imagine having the most wonderful wife in the world, someone who loved you more than any person could love anyone else. Then imagine them being taken away from you, not knowing if they are in a safe position or not. This is what Rama endured for the rest of humanity, to show that He was a human being just like everyone else, even though He wasn’t.

Sita and RamaIt might have actually bothered Hanuman more to see Rama suffering in this way. Therefore he put his existence on the line to see to it that Sita and Rama were reunited. Lord Rama is God, so what can we ever give to Him? He owns everything, so nothing that we offer to Him can actually come from us. Nevertheless, the devotional attitude is one that constantly follows service to the Supreme Lord. Hanuman didn’t care whether or not Rama was God. He saw his master in pain, so he was willing to do anything to remove that suffering. Indeed, it was not his assigned mission to bring Sita home. He was told just to find her, for Rama had to rescue her to maintain the high standing of the Ikshvaku dynasty, the family of kings He was born into. Hanuman’s attitude is wonderful nonetheless, as his passion in life is to keep a smile on Rama’s face.

This attitude is all he needs for success. Life in Lanka was no picnic. He had no friends to call, and no one to rely on for advice. He had his love for Rama and the details of his mission. That’s all he would need, as he would end up being a major contributor in Sita’s rescue and Ravana’s eventual demise. His eagerness to please Rama is so wonderful that Sita and her husband make sure that Hanuman always has what he needs to perform his service. Just as he is eager to deliver the fruits of success to Rama, Sita is always eager to bestow gifts upon Hanuman. Sita is the very same goddess of fortune, so no one can stop her from delivering rewards to her intended recipients.

In Closing:

For austerity ascetic goes to the forest,

Eats very little and wears bark for dress.

 

So that their time in difficulty not for waste,

Wait for the perfection of sacrifice to taste.

 

Shri Rama found Himself in similar position,

Separated from wife, unpleasant was condition.

 

Hanuman desired that displeasure to end,

The Rakshasas of Lanka to Yamaraja to send.

 

Wanted to deliver wife to Rama, but no need,

With his sincerity, success for Hanuman guaranteed.