Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cannot Do It Alone

Shri Hanuman“I have contracted this body of mine for Rama's interest and for avoiding Ravana. May all the devas along with the rishis confer success upon me.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.64)

samkṣipto ayam mayā ātmā ca rāma arthe rāvaṇasya ca |
siddhim me samvidhāsyanti devāḥ sarṣi gaṇāḥ tv iha ||

Only the person with a poor fund of knowledge thinks that there is no God, from whom the entire material existence has sprung. The same person who thinks that they just emerged out of the womb of their mother through random action takes the belief in God to be childish play, like putting faith in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. The gifts of nature are meant to be exploited in a manner seen fit by the person who has developed their system of regulation from their own whims, through their own personal observations. But since the universe has been in existence for billions of years, what can any one person ever experience that could be of significant enough value to be used as a valid system of maintenance? The wise understand that there is a God, and they also know how to please Him. Since His existence is real, the saintly class follows pious behavior aimed at pleasing the fountainhead of all energies. Though they encounter many successes and develop glorious features, they never forget God. They also remember to invoke the names and seek the blessings of those who are similarly engaged, who stay connected with God through consciousness.

$(KGrHqUOKpQE6RpghmWBBOufhSHfbw~~60_3What is the difference between behaving piously with regard to the standards of spiritual life and following a system of maintenance crafted through your own mind? The mentally concocted system is limited. Use the recipe to see how this works. One person created a particular food dish through experiment, and they liked what the outcome was. To repeat the same outcome in the future, and to also show others how to create the same dish, a recipe is written and passed on. By following the recipe in your cooking, you are essentially following a system of maintenance. A scriptural work may be thousands of years old and contain information vital for the soul’s future well being, but in the end it is just a series of law codes, guidelines for behavior that aim to further a position.

Following the recipe can bring success, but the scope of the affected outcome is very limited. Food is just there to keep the vital force within the body after all, so how much can we really gain from a recipe? Expand the same principle out to a larger scale, like to a governing document for a nation, and you’re still limited in your scope of applicability. This is because the human being cannot possibly see all that there is to see. Moreover, automatically he is limited in his brain power due to the fact that he has no memory of past lives. Where the individual spirit soul was prior to attaining consciousness in this life is a giant mystery that cannot be deciphered with certainty, for there are no documented sense perceptions linking the individual in their previous lives to their current form.

Notice that the limitation comes from the time that consciousness is somewhat developed in the present life and not from the time of birth. This is because we have no memory of all of our experiences during this lifetime, though we know they took place based on the authority of our parents, the people who did have a developed consciousness at a time when we lacked one. Again, we know with almost certainty that we took birth from a womb, for that is how everyone else seems to enter this world. Sense perceptions are never one hundred percent accurate after all. Do we remember what we wore to school or work one year ago to the date? As things are easily forgotten, even personal experience is not perfect as an authority source.

Systems of maintenance that come from only sense perceptions will thus be limited in their effectiveness. Also, what if someone is not interested in the particular area that the guidelines cover? A recipe used to create a fancy dish is applicable to a person who likes to cook or to someone who likes to eat that dish, but if I am satisfied by eating fruits that fall off of trees, I have no use for that recipe. This isn’t even a deficiency on my part, as I will never require such recipes. I will have nothing to gain by reading those guidelines.

Bhagavad-gita, As It IsThe Vedic scriptures are not limited like this because they come directly from God. Therefore they have applicability to every single person, even if they don’t know it. I may be familiar with the Constitution of the United States of America, but this doesn’t mean that I can gain anything tangible from it. Depending on my goals and desires, I will focus on guidelines specific to my field of interest. As the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, deal with the soul, its position with respect to the material and spiritual energies, how it travels through different bodies in what is known as reincarnation, how it is related to the Supreme Soul, or God, and how it can gain release from the cycle of birth and death, the information presented is applicable to every living entity.

With the Vedas, a person may be unfamiliar with the specific tenets, the purposes behind the guidelines, and why they even exist, but they can still derive a benefit from following the instructions. It’s similar to how children are benefitted by begrudgingly going along with the wishes of the parents. “Go to sleep on time. Eat your dinner. Do your homework. Clear the table. Take out the garbage.” These commands are followed reluctantly, but they deliver future benefits to the child.

The adult human being is infinitely less mature than the Supreme Lord, who never suffers degradation of consciousness. Not only is He fully alert to His own dealings, but as the all-pervading Supersoul, He witnesses every activity past, present and future. Along with witnessing, He is an expert journalist, capable of recalling every single event within a second. Past, present and future are relative concepts to the living entity travelling through different body types. In addition, each person’s past, present and future don’t correspond with another person’s. My son’s past involved my future life at one point. My son will think of his birth as part of his distant past, but to me his birth was a future event eagerly anticipated. The afterlife will also one day become the past life for every individual soul. The present birth was the future life for the soul that left its previous body.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

Lord KrishnaWith such limitations inherited at the time of birth, only a fool would think that he is the sole commander of his fortunes. Yet this is precisely what happens when one suffers from the fever of material existence. As more success is achieved, the tendency is for the false ego to further inflate. Yet from following the example of one notable personality, just by studying his behavior, his activities and his thought processes, we can see that no matter how successful we are, the final goal, the mission in life, must always be kept in front as the target. In addition, the successes we achieve are due to the favor of the Supreme Person and those who propitiate Him.

The personality we speak of is Shri Hanuman, who was a long time ago tasked with finding a missing princess within an enemy territory. In a typical reconnaissance mission, you have some intelligence about where the person is being held and how to infiltrate the area. You also have people helping you out, backing you up in case there are attacks made. Hanuman had no such luxuries. He did acquire the information that this princess was staying on a remote island called Lanka, which was ruled over by the vilest creatures in the world, those who had no understanding of a Supreme Controller.

To make the task even more difficult and to further enhance Hanuman’s glory at the same time, no one in Hanuman’s party of Vanaras was capable of reaching this island except Hanuman. This meant that the eager warrior would have to go it alone, fight the giant fight, persevere without anyone there to support him. Fight on he would, and eventually he would search through all of Lanka for the princess, who couldn’t be found. This search was by no means easy. Hanuman had to rely on his physical strength, mental sharpness, mastery of yoga, and keen insight with respect to time and circumstance in order to continue his search without being noticed by anyone.

HanumanDespite his amazing efforts, Hanuman thought that he hadn’t done anything. Lord Rama, the incarnation of Godhead as a warrior prince, was the interested party in this scenario. It was His wife, Sita Devi, whom Hanuman was looking for. Hanuman was not concerned with padding his résumé, looking good to others, or pumping himself up over his feats of strength. He thought that he was the biggest failure, so much so that he seriously contemplated ending his life and not returning to Kishkindha, where Rama and the leader of monkeys, Sugriva, were anxiously awaiting news on the search.

Only because of his love for Rama did Hanuman forge ahead. There was one area where he had yet to search, a grove of Ashoka trees. He first mentally entered this area to survey the scene, to measure what he would be up against. A wise military commander forms an initial strategy by becoming familiar with the field of battle. He will later shift gears if he needs to, but going in unprepared is not an option. Hanuman similarly wanted to know what he would face inside this garden, which was guarded by many Rakshasas.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman stating the obvious fact that he had contracted his size for Rama’s interest and for staying unrecognized by the Rakshasas, who were headed by Ravana. This Ravana was the one who had taken Sita away from Rama’s side in a most cowardly way. These events took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Therefore the fighting class was very chivalrous; they typically did not flee from battle nor did they take anyone away without winning a fight first. Ravana, however, was so afraid of Rama that he took Sita away by creating a distraction that temporarily diverted Rama away from Sita’s side. Hanuman knew all of this, so he was not expecting any decency from Ravana or his counterparts.

By clandestinely contracting his size, the spy is essentially following duplicity. They are entering someone else’s land illegally and not putting up a fair fight. But Hanuman’s task was to please Rama by finding Sita, therefore he would do whatever it took to get that job done. Contracting his size was in line with dharma, though it is not mentioned anywhere in the scriptures. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the highest occupational duty because it corresponds directly with the soul’s loving propensity, which is its foremost characteristic. Bhakti is meant for God, as love’s ideal exercise occurs when the target beneficiary of action is the Supreme Lord in His personal form. The atheists also worship God, but they indirectly worship Him by giving allegiance to dull matter and the senses. Therefore the result of their worship, further association with matter, is substandard.

HanumanHanuman also humbly prays that the devas and the rishis be favorable to him. This is a little strange because Hanuman was in the middle of doing something the gods and the saints would glorify for all of time. He was their role model, for rare it is to get the chance to serve God directly, especially in the heroic manner that Hanuman had. Nevertheless, Hanuman was never puffed up. He never considered himself the source of his extraordinary abilities or the results that followed from their exercise. The devas, or demigods, are in charge of the material creation, where they deliver rewards to their worshipers. The devas are the worshipable objects for those who are somewhat pious but still not interested in bhakti, or connecting with God in His original form of Bhagavan. The rishis, or saints, are those who worship God through their thoughts, words and deeds.

Hanuman was acting in Rama’s interests, so the devas and the rishis had to be favorable upon him. The gods and the saints are the Supreme Lord’s glorifiers, so if they see someone else acting in the Lord’s interests, they do whatever they can to help them succeed, especially when asked to do so. The demigods grant benedictions to even the most sinful people, such as Ravana, when their motives have nothing to do with bhakti. If someone as kind and pure-hearted as Hanuman were to ask for help, how could they not help him? He wasn’t asking for a personal benediction either. He just wanted Rama to be pleased, which would come through success in the mission.

In this way Hanuman showed the proper way to respect and honor the demigods and saints. They are very powerful personalities, and their true potency lies in their ability to help the struggling soul succeed in their devotional efforts. Goswami Tulsidas, a famous Vaishnava poet who followed the mood of devotion shown by Hanuman, followed similar behavior by beseeching the gods and the saints for their favor when writing his poems glorifying Lord Rama. Tulsidas made sure to honor Lord Ganesha at the start of his works, for that is the standard etiquette in Vedic rituals. Yet he never asked Lord Ganesha for personal benedictions, just the ability to have Sita and Rama always reside in his heart. Just as the gods and the saints had no choice but to favor Hanuman in his work in Lanka, they are compelled to help any sincere soul looking for success in the path of bhakti.

Not surprisingly, Hanuman would succeed. The difficulties he encountered and the natural humility he possessed didn’t stop him from fighting with full force. His mental sharpness was as amazing as his physical strength, for they were both dovetailed with the mission of pleasing Rama. Just as he always acts to put a smile on the face of Sita and Rama, they are always thrilled at just thinking of Hanuman and remembering his bravery. All would end well, with Sita being rescued and Ravana being defeated, due in no small part to Ramadutta, Shri Hanuman, the Supreme Lord’s most capable messenger.

In Closing:

Through practice your skills do you hone,

But never think that results come on their own.


For outcomes higher powers must play a hand,

They control elements, bring rain to the land.


But Hanuman from others help doesn’t need,

For Shri Rama’s direct commands he does heed.


Nevertheless, Hanuman saints he does honor,

In carrying out devotion, asks for their favor.


For avoiding Ravana and meeting Rama’s interest,

He contracted his form, would pass the toughest test.