Thursday, April 19, 2012

All Things To All People

Rama and Lakshmana fighting off Tataka“The people observing received auspicious fruits for their eyes and mind. Rama accompanied Vishvamitra to his ashrama, with the fears of the sages removed.” (Janaki Mangala, 37)

mana loganha ke karata suphala mana locana |
gae kausika āśramanihaṃ bipra bhaya mocana ||

There is the saying that you can’t be all things to all people. This means that whatever behavior you adopt, you’re not going to give everyone a favorable result. For instance, if you should decide to dedicate more time to your job, you may make the coworkers and boss happy, but at the same time you’ll spend less time with your family. Perhaps the wife and kids will be upset with your decision, so you’re essentially caught in the middle of competing interests. With one person, however, whatever He does satisfies the desires of all the people He affects, even if those people belong to separate communities and keep different goals in mind.

Is the person we speak of God? Isn’t that too broad a generalization? God is everything, sure, but what does that really mean? Ah, the Vedas and their many branches of literature exist precisely to expand upon this concept, to give it some meaning. The above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, fulfilling many purposes, also sheds light on this issue. The scene at hand is the forests of India many thousands of years ago. At the time, there was no such thing as India, but we refer to the modern day country for geographical purposes. The entire land was known as Bharatavarsha, or the area ruled by King Bharata and his descendants. There were different states and provinces but everyone lived under the recognized authority of one king, though the rogue states sometimes tried to usurp control.

At the time, the island city of Lanka, which was ruled by a fiendish character by the name of Ravana, had become a state where sinful life thrived. On the complete opposite end, there were the forests that were inhabited by the animals and the ascetics given to piety. The forests were under the jurisdiction of the pious kings, and since the rogues in Lanka were against dharma as it was meant to be practiced, there were clashes. Rather than fight the kings outright, Ravana and his band of Rakshasas would head straight for the lifeblood of society, the vipras.

Vishvamitra MuniA vipra is a kind of high-thinker, someone who avoids material association. Think of playing video games as a child and then giving them up in favor of more important obligations when you grow older. With increased maturity comes a reassignment of priorities, realigning which things are more important in life and which things can be relegated to the category of entertainment. For the enlightened vipra, the true purpose in life is to find the Supreme Absolute Truth, that one energy which is beyond duality, and then stay immersed in thoughts of Him.

What is duality? Think of a pendulum that swings back and forth. On one side is acceptance and on the other is rejection. The living being constantly swings on this pendulum, all the way through to the time of death. One activity is accepted with anticipation and eagerness only to be rejected later on in favor of something else. The cycle of birth and death represents the largest swing of acceptance and rejection. Take on a form, have it develop, leave some byproducts, and then exit that same form.

There has to be a higher purpose to fulfill. At least this is what the vipras think. In order to even ponder this issue one must be very sober. So many other outlets are tried first, before the final approach towards learning the truth in earnest is made. “Perhaps if I try my hand at increased sense gratification, I will be happier. My current lifestyle isn’t cutting it, so maybe I should get a more expensive car or take up a new hobby. Or maybe renunciation is the answer. Live a minimalist life and try to stay peaceful in mind.”

The vipras of the Vedic tradition take the route of austerity and penance, but with a purpose. The Absolute Truth is known as Brahman, which is formless. It does not have a visible manifestation, but we can sort of see it through the autonomous functions of the living beings. You can’t really see the wind, but you know it’s there if flags are blowing or trees are shaking. Similarly, you can tell that the life force of Brahman is present when living creatures are moving around and operating on their own.

The formless Brahman is not tainted by duality, so one who can realize it is highly enlightened. The flawless properties of Brahman stay with the living being even while they are encased within a material covering. For Brahman realization to take place, association with Brahman’s covering, known as maya, must be limited. Therefore traditionally the vipras would take to austerity and penance in the forest, to realize Brahman and make the most of their human birth.

Ravana talking to MarichaThe Rakshasas concentrated in Lanka not only didn’t care about Brahman, but they didn’t like anyone who went against the life dedicated to service to maya. To make sure that the influence of the brahmanas, the vipras who know Brahman, was limited, the Rakshasas would attack the sages in the forest. If your life is dedicated to spiritual pursuits, you’re obviously not much interested in violence. You don’t have a group of secret service agents around to protect you nor are you quick to pull the trigger when dealing with attacking enemies.

Vishvamitra, one of the more exalted vipras of the time, approached King Dasharatha of Ayodhya for protection from the Rakshasas. The vipras could have cast curses back on the demons, but this would have caused their accrued spiritual merits to decrease. Why have so much effort go to waste when it was already the duty of the king and his class to protect the innocent? Vishvamitra specifically asked for Dasharatha’s eldest son Rama to protect him. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana then left home and escorted the vipra for some time.

While Brahman is formless, it has a source that is full of spiritual form. Rama is that source. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the manifestation of a warrior prince. His association provides the delights of choice, cherished fruits, to every single person. For the vipras in the forest, the predominant desire was to be protected from the Rakshasas. They were living in fear, so there was no peace of mind. And without peace, how can there be happiness?

“One who is not in transcendental consciousness can have neither a controlled mind nor steady intelligence, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.66)

As an initial test of His strength, Rama had to defeat a powerful female Rakshasa named Tataka. He did not want to slay a female, and even though Vishvamitra advised Him to do so, the Lord was still resolved upon only hurting Tataka instead of killing her. Finally, when she started using her illusory tricks, appearing on the scene and then quickly vanishing, Vishvamitra pleaded more emphatically with Rama to give up His unnecessary kindness. The Lord obliged and slayed the wicked creature who had been harassing the sages.

Lakshmana and Rama fighting TatakaAs a result, Rama removed the fears of the vipras, including Vishvamitra. He made good on His promise that is found in many sections of the Vedas to protect the innocent, to make sure that the demon class cannot vanquish them. At the same time, the observers in the forest received the fruit of their eyes and mind. All of the onlookers, which included vipras, forest dwellers, and householders living innocently, watched the most beautiful form of Shri Rama, who was accompanied by His equally as beautiful younger brother Lakshmana.

God’s vision is more delightful when He is actively working on something for the good of the devotees. Rama was very young at the time, as was Lakshmana. When the two were fighting a very formidable enemy, the vision was something wonderful to behold. Imagine seeing two young boys able to pick up a car or run a marathon. While those feats are amazing, the sight of the two sons of Dasharatha ridding the forest of a wicked creature with just their bows and arrows was so splendid that the mind didn’t want to forget it.

The fruit of the eyes is the sight of the Supreme Lord. The same goes for the mind, as the external vision creates the image that can then be remembered over and over again within the mind. The young Rama and Lakshmana walked with Vishvamitra back to his hermitage, where they would continue to protect the vipras. Eventually, the trio would make its way to Tirahuta, where a marriage contest was taking place. The winner would win Sita Devi as a wife. There too, the residents had the desire to see Sita marry the beautiful Rama, and the Lord would oblige their request.

The slain enemies of Rama got the pleasure of liberation, which is achieved by seeing the Supreme Lord at the time of death. The atheists also take temporary pleasure in Rama’s external energy of maya, proving again that the Supreme Lord gives every person what they want.  When the innermost desires are shifted towards the transcendental realm, the true fruit of existence is tasted and relished.

In Closing:

To sages in forest Tataka was a pain,

Therefore they rejoiced when she was slain.

 

With her illusory powers, she came and went,

But finally killed by arrows from Rama’s bow sent.

 

The attacks on sages innocent to cease,

Because of Rama, they could now live in peace.

 

Eyes and mind to taste existence’s fruit,

By seeing Rama, whole creation’s root.

 

Dasharatha’s son, to all people He is all things,

Meaning to life His divine vision brings.