“Now happy in the heart, the king compliments the good qualities of the ocean of material existence: ‘The creator is very smart, for such gems like this grow here’.” (Janaki Mangala, 42)
pramudita hṛdayan sarāhata bhala bhavasāgara|
jahan upajahiṃ asa mānika bidhi baḍa nāgara ||
While superbly informative, this verse from the Janaki Mangala is also quite humorous. Through a pronounced shift in emotion that happens suddenly the audience can’t help but question the reason for the change. If it occurs abruptly due to an unexpected reversal of fortune the new sentiment from the actor evokes laughter from the audience members. In this particular instance, the king had gone from staying strictly detached from a world deemed false and full of ignorance to all of a sudden praising it. A gem is something beautiful and worth having. Without connection to the Supreme Lord, the many objects floating in the ocean of material existence are temporary, a cause of misery and pain, and detrimental towards one’s spiritual advancement. Once that connection is made, however, that same ocean becomes pleasurable, where the person who originally placed everything into it is praised for their cleverness.
As a pious king well versed in the philosophy of Vedanta, Janaka knew that the material creation operates off of an energy known as maya. At the root meaning of the word, maya is “that which is not”. Just like the magician performing his tricks which rely on illusion, the material nature has an influence that causes us to take things to be one thing when they are really something else. The magician’s assistant on the stage isn’t really sawed in half and neither can a rabbit emerge from a hat from out of nowhere. In the same way, the material bodies that we take to be our identities are actually just temporary coverings that will vanish at some point in the future; they are guaranteed to vanish like a bubble coming off the water that eventually bursts.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
The illusion is so strong that even after we see others lose their temporary forms, we still think that the same fate doesn’t await us. In the off chance that we are aware of the reality of impending death, we will take every step possible to forget about it. The audience member doesn’t view the television show or movie as a scripted performance, for that would take the fun out of viewing. In the same way, why should I worry about the inevitable end to my life if my desire is to enjoy right now?
Ah, but there is a purpose to knowing what maya is and why her influence exists. Taking things for what they aren’t may help children to enjoy their make-believe play in the sandbox, but adults can’t follow the same behavior. If they did, they couldn’t care for anyone else, let alone themselves. The spirit soul is the identifying agent within every form of body, and since it has the potential for action it has a say in where it will end up in the future.
Does this mean that we chose the womb that we emerged from in the present life? The choice is made between association in the material ocean and life in the spiritual planets. Once that “yes” or “no” vote is tallied at the time of death, a suitable home is prepared for the next life. At the same time, there are millions of other creatures who are making the same choice; they also have results due to arrive based on their past actions. Thus living entities are placed into just the right circumstances to fulfill so many other rightfully planned occurrences.
King Janaka knew that maya is the cause of bondage, for it ensures that rebirth occurs at the end of life. Rebirth is guaranteed for every living entity that is not God conscious at the time of death. As only the human being has the opportunity to know what death is and how consciousness influences the future, they have the most auspicious form of body. The aim of the human form is thus quite obvious: tailor your activities in such a way that you’ll always remember God. Remembering God today will help you remember Him at the end of life, which will in turn grant you an auspicious residence.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
If my objective is to think about God all the time, anything that I see in front of me that will put that goal in jeopardy will be rejected. Hence it is quite common for a serious spiritualist to renounce much of material existence, choosing a life of austerity and penance instead of the fast-paced world of fruitive activity centered on sense gratification. King Janaka had larger responsibilities, so he couldn’t just give up the throne and move to the forest. Nevertheless, his mental attitude was such that he might as well have been living in a thatched hut with no connections to the outside world.
The pious king showed the way, how to find transcendental enlightenment while not abruptly giving up occupational duties. Yet there is more to life than just rejecting everything in the ocean of material existence. The land where maya rules is likened to an ocean because it is very difficult to cross over. The length of the ocean is quite large, and the current flows in the direction opposite of where you want to go. If you don’t believe this, ask yourself why it is so difficult to wake up in the morning? Why is it easier to quit than continue trying? Why is procrastination easier than perseverance and why are negative thoughts more commonplace than positive ones?
The conditions in maya’s land are such that just endeavoring for spiritual emancipation is difficult. It is thus rarer to find someone out of that group who succeeds. With the odds stacked in maya’s favor, the more you can renounce things and the more detached you can become, the better off you’ll be. Ah, but there is a catch, which is so nicely pointed out in this pleasant verse from the Janaki Mangala. Maya has a boss, someone from whom she receives orders. Her influence only applies to the living entities desirous of residence in the material existence. When the Supreme Lord descends to earth or when He sends a representative who acts above the influence of maya, there is no question of suffering or receiving harmful effects on the consciousness on the part of the affected parties.
In this instance, King Janaka viewed the transcendental form of the Supreme Lord in His manifestation as the warrior prince of Ayodhya named Rama. It must be said that this wasn’t the first time that Janaka broke away from his position of videha, or bodiless. When he found a baby girl in the ground many years prior while ploughing a field, he felt attachment to her right away. He wanted to take her home and raise her as his daughter, but he was a little hesitant. For starters, a transcendentalist shouldn’t be overly attached to any living entity. At the same time, what if this girl belonged to someone else? A king lives off of piety, which includes respecting the property rights of others.
“Then a voice, sounding like a human being, was heard from the sky which said, ‘O king, this child is rightfully your daughter.’” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.31)
A voice from the sky appeared on the scene and told Janaka that the girl was his daughter in all righteousness. This hinted at the fact that the girl, to be named Sita, was not part of this world. Her form was transcendental as well. This meant that Sita’s body and spirit were identical. The same held true for Shri Rama, who arrived in Janakpur with His younger brother Lakshmana and the sage Vishvamitra. Janaka at the time was holding a bow-lifting contest to determine who would marry Sita.
Janaka’s reaction upon seeing Rama and Lakshmana, who was basically identical to Rama in appearance except for a lighter skin color, is quite interesting. In a material existence, a person constantly swings on the pendulum of acceptance and rejection. One day we like someone and the next day we hate them. One day we love a certain ice cream flavor and later on we think it is disgusting. If there is a slow period for sense gratification, we’ll binge on a certain activity. Then when we suffer the aftereffects, we’ll swear off that behavior and assure ourselves of renunciation in the future.
For the spiritualist trying to realize Brahman, or God’s impersonal effulgence, the material existence is viewed as being a place of only misery. Thus Janaka, as a full renunciate in mind, did not like anything in the world. He was not attracted by anything, with the notable exception of his daughter Sita. When he saw Rama and Lakshmana, however, their beauty was so out of this world that Janaka changed his tune. The ocean of material existence that was previously miserable and hard to cross over was now warm and inviting. It deserved to be praised, for in it were found gems like Rama and Lakshmana.
Since the divine brothers were gems to the eyes, Janaka praised the creator for his handiwork. In one sense maya was still acting on Janaka, but it was of a different nature. The Supreme Lord’s personal energy sometimes clouds the intelligence of the sincere souls in order to enhance the pleasure they feel through interaction. Janaka here is thinking that Rama and His brother are part of the material world, even though they aren’t. The king is presuming that the creator, Lord Brahma, was responsible for crafting their bodies, even though he wasn’t. The material bodies consist of combinations of the three modes of nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has a body which is completely in pure goodness, and His form never leaves Him. Hence He is always spiritual. The same goes for Lakshmana, as he is practically identical to the Supreme Lord, a part of Bhagavan.
This verse shows us that the transcendental touch can turn anything previously considered material into an object of spiritual value. Just by seeing Rama, Janaka changed his outlook on life, on how he viewed the objects of the world. In a similar manner, if we take ordinary things which were previously detrimental to our spiritual evolution and dovetail them with service to the same Shri Rama, the place we live in can be considered a storehouse of gems. The eyes that previously sunk into despair upon seeing another’s good fortune can delight in the wondrous beauty of Rama’s creation. The ears that used to get annoyed at the miserable sounds produced all around can hear the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and feel God’s presence. The tongue that previously tasted unpalatable foods that led to ignorance and laziness can now relish food first offered to Bhagavan. The prasadam, the Lord’s mercy, spiritualizes the eating process, which then positively influences other activity.
Renunciation in the true sense of the term means to have attachment to God. From that disposition, the illusory effect of maya vanishes, leading to a condition where nothing needs to be rejected outright. Rather, the same material ocean can be used for finding delights in the form of endless opportunities to serve God. Ordinary poems and books can lead the consciousness astray and thus be considered maya, but sacred works like the Janaki Mangala and Ramayana remind us that there are gems to be found in literature which can change our outlook on life for the better.
The objects of material world king did not like,
Knew that illusion only grew from their sight.
From attachment to maya the king to stay away,
This way avoid influence of ignorance’s sway.
Yet this all to change in just one instant,
Upon seeing beautiful forms for eyes so pleasant.
Now the creator had to be praised,
For these two lovely youths he had made.
Of course no one created Rama and Lakshmana,
But sublime lesson to take from incident’s fun.