Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vinoda Pramoda

Lord Rama's lotus feet“Seeing the children playing happily Vishvamitra’s heart fills up with love. Wherever they go the clouds hover above to give shade and the demigods drop flowers from the sky.” (Janaki Mangala, 35)

dekhi binoda pramoda prema kausika ura |
karata jāhiṃ ghana chānha sumana baraṣahiṃ sura ||

Seeing children play happily, as if there are no other worries in the world, brings delight to the caretakers. What more can the guardian ask for than to have their dependents naturally jubilant and playing innocently without a care? Many thousands of years ago a famous muni received two young children as an escort through the forest. Though they were in childhood forms, they were the best fighters in the world, capable of protecting anyone who surrendered to them in a mood of affection. To delight the onlookers and to show their happiness in interacting with their creation, the two young brothers joyfully played about. This vision gave the muni so much delight that his heart filled up with love.

Who were these youths? Why were they escorting a muni at such a young age? Rama and Lakshmana were sons of King Dasharatha. Rama was the eldest son and Lakshmana was His dearest friend, the closest to Him of the three younger brothers. Vishvamitra, the son of Gadhi, was residing in the forests to seek spiritual enlightenment. Sobriety of mind is a prerequisite for understanding the highest truths of life. If we are constantly distracted by where to find employment, how to make our paramours happy, or what kinds of food to eat for dinner, how will our mind be able to notice that the influence of time is guaranteed and that everything around us is temporary?

Vishvamitra with Lakshmana and RamaTraditionally, those seriously seeking spiritual enlightenment take to the renounced order, minimizing their interaction with nature and reducing their attachments and dependencies. In times past, the renounced order was tied to life in the forest. If you live in the forest, your biggest concern each day is how to eat. With the berries that fall off the trees and the roots found in the ground, you’re forced to live off of nothing and enjoy it. Your water is taken care of by the neighboring rivers, and your shelter can be found in a cave or through erecting a thatched hut. The fires provide the heat, and the holy names of the Lord provide the delight to the mind. Just sitting quietly and regularly chanting mantras from the Vedas are enough to bring about a spiritual awakening.

The wise know that the higher authorities are in charge of distributing the rewards we see in front of us. Just because there is meat on the shelves of the grocery stores for purchase doesn’t mean that an animal wasn’t previously killed. Just because the produce section is always fully stocked doesn’t mean that there aren’t farms to produce that food. At the root of all fuel is the earth, which is sustained through the higher forces of nature. We can maybe try to shop at different stores to get the type of food we prefer, but were it not for the rain we couldn’t eat at all.

The Vedic seers honor the benefactors of the living creatures on earth by regularly performing yajnas, or sacrifices. These sacrifices typically include an offering of clarified butter into a fire. The worshiped deities then take their share of the offerings and enjoy them. From being pleased they agree to provide good fortune and conditions auspicious for continuing the pursuit towards full enlightenment, which is the ideal mission of the human being.

Vishvamitra ran into some problems, though. A band of night-rangers concentrated in Lanka was harassing the ascetics during their times of sacrifice. The goons would change their shapes at will, destroy the sacrificial arenas, and then try to kill the sages. The night-rangers were Rakshasas, or man-eaters, so they wouldn’t stop at just killing. Vishvamitra, a powerful brahmana, could have retaliated with curses, but that would have involved losing some of his spiritual merits. Moreover, it wasn’t his duty to fight enemies. That responsibility fell on the royal order.

Lord RamaBearing this in mind, it was not an extraordinary request for Vishvamitra to go to Ayodhya and ask for protection. What was strange, however, was that he asked specifically for Dasharatha’s eldest son Rama. The Supreme Lord Vishnu, the leader of the gods, the person from whom the entire creation has emanated, had appeared in the Raghu dynasty to reestablish the principles of religion and give protection to the innocent. As God, Rama could not fully mask His amazing abilities. Though He was less than twelve years of age, it was known to everyone that Dasharatha’s eldest son was the best fighter.

The king reluctantly agreed, and Rama took Lakshmana with Him. During the initial days of the journey in the forest, Rama and Lakshmana played the parts of young boys perfectly. They would chase after deer and birds and make garlands out of plucked flowers, leaves and fruits. If they would get a little too wild in their play, they would look back at Vishvamitra and calm down a bit. This is a wonderfully endearing behavior shown by young children. They might try to test the parents’ authority, but if deep down they know that they shouldn’t be doing something, they won’t do it. For instance, if you tell a child not to touch a particular object, they might, in defiance, run up to that object and threaten to touch it. But right before they are about to break the restriction, they look back at the parents and realize that they are being watched. Through this behavior the children show the elders that they respect them and that they are cognizant of their authority.

Thus Rama and Lakshmana showed Vishvamitra that he was the authority figure of the situation, the guru who shouldn’t be dishonored. Vishvamitra was so overjoyed by the vinoda-pramoda, or delightful play, of the children that happiness filled his heart. The cynic may raise the objection that in the Ramayana of Valmiki accounts of this incident are absent. Thus Goswami Tulsidas may be using poetic license here in his Janaki Mangala. Yet knowing the inherent characteristics of the Supreme Lord, can there be any doubting that this incident occurred? As Shri Krishna, the same Rama would regularly sneak into the homes of the neighbors and steal their butter. It is also described in the Ramayana that Lakshmana never ate or slept unless Rama had done so first. Thus it is known that the two brothers always played together as children.

Rama and LakshmanaThe Supreme Lord loves to interact with His devotees, giving them delight through the personal attention. The deer and birds in the forest were Rama’s adherents after all, so why shouldn’t they get the pleasure of having Rama chase after them? Typically, the situation is reversed. Every living entity is searching after God, even if they don’t know it. The atheist searches for the Lord through surrender to sense gratification, the mystic through meditation, the philosopher through study, and the worker through fruitive engagement. But the bhaktas, or devotees, are held in such high esteem by their object of service that He sometimes comes to earth and playfully chases after them.

In the above referenced verse it is also stated that wherever Rama and Lakshmana went, clouds followed them to provide shade. The demigods also showered flowers from the sky. Again, these descriptions aren’t found in the original Ramayana, but we know that in many other instances similar things were seen. The celestials often shower flowers on the Lord when there is an occasion of victory. There are many references to such happenings in the Vedic literature. The clouds providing shade also isn’t that surprising, as even the Mainaka mountain arose from the ocean to lend service to Shri Hanuman when he was leaping to Lanka. That incident is mentioned in the Ramayana, for the ocean was indebted to the Ikshvaku dynasty, the family in which Rama appeared. Wanting to offer some service to that dynasty, the ocean asked the mountain to rise up and give aid to Shri Rama’s dearest servant, Hanuman.

“O Sita, see the golden lord of mountains [Mainaka], which is golden-peaked and which rose up, piercing the ocean, to provide rest to Hanuman.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 123.18)

Lord RamaVishvamitra’s joy from seeing Rama and Lakshmana play is meant to fill every heart. The kind poet included this verse in his Janaki Mangala precisely to allow the mind to remember that incident, to focus on it and to marvel at the divine sport of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His brother. Those two sons of the king would go on to protect Vishvamitra and enhance the fame of the Raghu dynasty. The director of the clouds would gain immeasurable spiritual merits by providing shade and the demigods to this day are still under the Lord’s protection. Thus there is never any effort wasted in devotional practices, which can take place under any circumstance.

The refuge of the forest is not a viable option today. Left to live in a world full of chaos, turmoil and uncertainty, the mind still has the sanctuary of the descriptions of the Supreme Lord’s pastimes found in the Vedic texts. The appreciation of those topics increases all the more through regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Let the childish play of Rama and Lakshmana delight your heart every day and fill it with love that never exhausts.

In Closing:

Childish play of innocent children adults like,

Youthful exuberance so much a pleasing sight.

 

More endearing when adult’s authority children know,

And the attention to rules at last minute they show.

 

To the forest went Vishvamitra the ascetic devout,

With Rama and Lakshmana, watched them run about.

 

Clouds hovered above wherever they went,

Shower of flowers too by demigods were sent.

 

Thus the sage’s heart with love became full,

Seeing Rama’s kind attention so pleasurable.