Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Parting Is Sweet Sorrow

Shri Rama's lotus feet“Walking along, all the townspeople are so fearful of separation that they have lost consciousness. Bharata, along with his younger brother, with love approaches Rama’s feet to offer respects.” (Janaki Mangala, 30)

calata sakala pura loga biyoga bikala bhaye |
sānuja bharata saprema rāma pāyanha nae ||

It is much easier to leave a place as the guest than it is to be the host and watch your guests depart. When you’re leaving, you have the upcoming journey to keep your mind preoccupied. If you arrived with a band of people, that same group follows you during egress. In addition, you’re the one instigating the separation, so you don’t feel abandoned. The hosts, on the other hand, enjoyed having you around, so when you leave their place feels a little more empty. The residents of a sacred town a long time ago felt tremendous sadness when their most honorable family member left them, though it was only for a brief period. Their attachment to this young child was not based on ignorance of the difference between matter and spirit, for any attachment to the Supreme Spirit is worthwhile.

Normally, attachment and sadness over the separation from someone’s association is not considered wise by those who know the true nature of the soul. At the time of birth the newborn child has no possessions and no attachments. Every attachment that is formed throughout the journey of life starts from a blank slate. This means that the people we are so afraid of losing were once not a major part of our lives. A new work environment may not seem inviting to us, but the place at which we currently work was once that way too. Through familiarity that comes with the repetition of days the mind loses sight of the fact that everything will be relinquished at the time of death.

changing bodiesHow cruel it is that those things we cherish the most are destined to be removed from our vision. The body, the vehicle for action, itself will gradually diminish in abilities. The elderly person has poorer vision, hearing, and energy. Eventually, the life force is forced to exit the dwelling it was so comfortable in. The wise who study the difference between spirit and matter through instruction from a bona fide spiritual teacher are taught to transcend the dichotomy of acceptance and rejection. Don’t dwell too much on the body, for it is a kind of illusion. You think matter is one thing, but it is really something different.

In addition to the influence of matter, the ways of time can trick us as well. Just because certain events take place day after day, for year after year, doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed to continue in the future. For the parents of young children, a day will come when their help is no longer required. The children may even leave home to start their own families, for this is part of the parents’ objectives. A mature adult is someone who can take care of themselves. If an adult is self-sufficient, what need do they have to live under the protection of the parents?

In Ayodhya a long time ago, the king’s four sons were trained to be expert military men. In those times the military consisted of warriors skilled in using the bow and arrow. In addition to fighting, they were tasked with administering justice fairly. They also had to be up to the call of duty. They were never to shy away from a battle and they would always protect the most innocent members of society, the priestly class. The issue with King Dasharatha’s four sons was that they were so loveable. Starting with the eldest, Lord Rama, down to the youngest, Shatrughna, the boys were a delight for everyone in the town. Though they were the king’s sons, everyone accepted them to be their own children. Such practices are commonplace in small communities where everyone feels like they are neighbors and part of an extended family.

The upside to that attachment was that they got to see Rama and His brothers every day. The residents got to see the most beautiful person in the world and love Him unconditionally. Though He was learning the art of the trade from His spiritual masters, Rama was still adorable and kind. The residents, unaware of His divine nature, would pray for His welfare, not wanting even a hair on His head to fall while taking a bath. But as fate would have it, Rama’s dexterity with the bow and arrow would bring Him to the forests, where the sages were being harassed.

Lord RamaIt is one thing to feel sadness when a guest who stayed only for a short while leaves, but Rama had lived in Ayodhya for almost twelve years. That He would be called to the forest did not sit well with the citizens. Yet they knew it was His duty to keep the venerable Vishvamitra safe from the attacks of the night-rangers. Therefore they prayed primarily for Rama to be successful. Only with that condition met would they wish for Him to return home. For a kshatriya, or one in the royal order, nothing is more honorable than fighting valiantly against an enemy. Regardless of the nature of the war, whether you’re fighting for the good guys or the bad, you automatically go to the heavenly planets should you lay down your life on the battlefield.

“O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.32)

In the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, it is recommended that to get spiritual merits one should perform yajnas, or sacrifices. In the typical fire sacrifice, oblations of clarified butter are poured into the fire for the enjoyment of the celestials. The spirit soul is eternal in its existence, but based on work and desire it can be placed into different bodies which have varying durations of manifestation. In the heavenly planets, the spirit soul gets placed into bodies which live for a long time and get to enjoy tremendous material opulence. To reach that realm one must be pious, adhere to the regulations of their order, and perform sacrifices regularly.

The soldier giving up his life on the battlefield is compared to the ghee poured into the fire sacrifice. The specific life is offered up for a higher cause, so there is spiritual merit accrued as a result. Therefore, for a kshatriya, nothing is more honorable than laying down your life on the battlefield. Despite knowing that Rama was capable in fighting, the citizens couldn’t help but feel the pain of separation. They were so attached to Dasharatha’s eldest son that they started to faint when they saw Him walking away with Vishvamitra and Lakshmana. As Rama’s closest younger brother, Lakshmana refused to allow Rama to go anywhere unprotected. It was two-for-one with either brother. With Rama you always get Lakshmana, and vice versa.

Rama and Lakshmana with VishvamitraFrom the strict textbook point of view, the attachment of the residents of Ayodhya was based on ignorance. Rama was just a child after all, and it was also His duty to protect the innocent. Why should anyone have such a strong attachment to a family member? The ways of Providence are such that people come together and separate all the time. Many thousands of years later, in the kingdom of Hastinapura the elderly aunt and uncle of King Yudhishthira would one day suddenly leave home and go to the mountains to practice austerity. The king didn’t know where they were, and he was afraid that they had left on his account. The couple’s one hundred sons had just died in a bloody war where Yudhishthira’s side emerged victorious.

“As a player sets up and disperses his playthings according to his own sweet will, so the supreme will of the Lord brings men together and separates them.”  (Narada Muni speaking to King Yudhishthira, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.43)

Narada Muni would later arrive on the scene and explain to the king what had happened. In explaining the situation, the muni said that the ways of the Supreme Lord are such that people are constantly coming together and separating. The purport of the message is that the way the dice rolls is not in our control. Life is packed with unexpected ups and downs, starting with the time of birth. We had no control over when and where we took birth, though through our past actions we were able to indicate to the higher authorities what type of body we wished to receive. Nevertheless, the time of birth is determined by higher powers, as is the time of death.

Knowing the ways of Providence, the residents had no reason to overly lament. Yet since Rama was the Supreme Lord in the form of a human being, the loss of consciousness on the part of the residents was actually beneficial. There is no such thing as harmful illusion when it comes to Rama and His association. Attachment and aversion are only two extremes not worth paying attention to when there is the issue of illusion, something taken to be something that it is not. With Rama, what you see is what you get. If you are attached to Him, you are attached to something permanent, something which is linked to your true identity.

The spirit soul is eternal, and in its constitutional position it is a servant of God. This type of service is entered into voluntarily, and it provides lasting happiness. The residents of Ayodhya were not forced to love Rama. Their emotions flowed naturally, and they were so sincere that upon seeing the Lord walk away they lost consciousness. They couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing Dasharatha’s beloved son.

Rama with His brothersRama’s two other younger brothers felt the same way. As Rama was leaving, Bharata, along with Shatrughna, approached Rama with love and paid respects to His feet. The three younger brothers are all expansions of the Supreme Lord, so it is not surprising that they would be so close during their time on earth. The brothers all looked out for each other, and their common link was the love they felt for the eldest Rama. The citizens and the brothers would not have to wait too long, as Rama and Lakshmana would glorify their family by protecting Vishvamitra from the hideous night-rangers attacking the innocent. And as a bonus, they would return home with beautiful wives received in the kingdom of Videha. First there was sadness at Rama’s leaving and then there was rejoicing upon His return with His new wife, Sita Devi, who is the goddess of fortune. The sweet sorrow of parting from the Lord thus indicated the high standing of Ayodhya and its residents. The Supreme Lord is non-different from His land, and so today the area of Ayodhya remains holy, a place where devotional affection took over the pious residents a long time ago.

In Closing:

With Rama leaving parting such sweet sorrow,

Along with Lakshmana and sage, there went tomorrow.

 

Younger brothers came forward for Rama to meet,

Paid respects to His lotus feet.

 

Residents wanted Rama at home to stay,

So that with brothers daily He could play.

 

But warrior must the innocent protect,

Call of duty he can never deflect.

 

Not knowing His return the exact day,

Consciousness lost seeing Rama walk away.