Thursday, June 14, 2012

Friends of the Demigods

Rama and Lakshmana fighting Tataka“These two are the sons of King Dasharatha, are jewels of their family line, are named Rama and Lakshmana, and are here to vanquish the enemies of the demigods.” (Janaki Mangala, 47)

pūṣana baṃsa bibhūṣana dasaratha nandana |
nāma rāma arū lakhana surāri nikandana ||

The enemies of the saintly class are tagged as demons in the Vedic tradition. There has been a constant clash between the forces of good and the forces of evil since time immemorial. The good want to follow the dictates of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whereas the miscreants want to disobey every legitimate law code ever instituted. In a localized area, defiance of the established rules perhaps doesn’t amount to much of a negative consequence, but in the larger scheme the influence of demonic behavior can be quite strong. The most lasting influence is the effect had on thwarting God consciousness, which is the ultimate aim for every living being.

“How can we say that any specific aim is universally ideal? Isn’t everyone different? We are born into different circumstances, have different inherent characteristics, and thus develop varieties in tendencies. Therefore what is good for one person may not be for another.” But when it comes to law codes, especially those instituted by the higher authorities, there is no need for attention to variety. For instance, the red light in the traffic intersection applies to all travellers on the road, not just those who feel like getting to their intended destination. One side of traffic is stopped by the red light, but the restriction is in place to prevent an accident for everyone, as the traffic crossing on the other side is provided the right of way. Once they get a red light, the other traffic that was previously stopped is allowed to continue.

traffic lightThe laws of God can be likened to a set of instructions meant to allow every person to direct their natural tendency in action to the proper channels. The “good” therefore at least pay deference to these laws, though they may not understand the purpose to them. As the material world operates on duality, not everyone is forced to abide by the laws guiding conduct. Just as in our smaller communities the lawbreakers are punished with sentence to jail, in the larger scheme those who violate the laws of God are punished through nature’s influence. Birth itself is a punishment, as accompanying it is death. Whatever you accept in life, you must eventually renounce later on. How can such a ride ever be considered a pleasurable experience?

The conduct of the lawbreakers is another punishing aspect of birth in the material world. The person who runs the red light not only puts their own life in jeopardy, but they also cause damage and pain to those who had faith in the ability of the stoplights to prevent other traffic from entering the intersection at the wrong time. In this way the pious turn out to be innocent and victims of the misjudgments of the impious. Therefore the governing bodies must be unflinching and impartial in their administration of justice. The lawbreakers should have the fear of punishment within them, for otherwise the pious will have to live without trusting anyone.

During the Treta Yuga, the saintly class was concentrated in the forests, where they found peace and quiet. The priests who were devoted to God and understanding Him sought shelter in the holy name and austerity and penance. The devotees are referred to as suras in Sanskrit, and their counterparts are the asuras. “Ari” refers to enemies, so the worst miscreants are known as surari. The king is generally responsible for protecting the suras residing on earth, and in the heavenly realm the Supreme Lord Himself is petitioned for help to defend against the attacks of the most powerful suraris, or the asuras.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Rama and LakshmanaWhenever there is a decline in religious practice and a predominant rise of irreligion, the Supreme Personality of Godhead personally descends to earth. In the Treta Yuga, He appeared as Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha. A partial expansion of the Supreme Lord Vishnu appeared as Rama’s younger brother named Lakshmana. These two youths were jewels of the Raghu-vamsha, the dynasty of King Raghu. Because of their family relation to the famous king, both Rama and Lakshmana were often addressed as Raghava.

Aside from their divine beauty, the brothers were expert bow-warriors, capable of defending the suras from attack. Rama and Lakshmana’s position with respect to this defense was explained to King Janaka, who hosted a famous ceremony one time. The king’s daughter, Sita Devi, was going to marry whoever could lift the extremely heavy bow handed down to Janaka from Lord Shiva. Rama and Lakshmana weren’t specifically there to take part in the contest, for they were away from home when the news went out. They were escorting Vishvamitra Muni in the forests, protecting him from the attacks of the Rakshasas, the night-rangers who were the greatest enemies of the suras on earth.

The demigods were in great distress due to the influence of the leader of the suraris, Ravana. In order for Ravana to be defeated, a human being needed to fight him. Since no ordinary human being had the prowess necessary to defeat Ravana, God Himself appeared on earth in the guise of a human. Since Rama was part of the Raghu-vamsha, He made dedication to the governing law codes His way of life. Because of this deference to dharma, Rama needed an outward excuse to take on Ravana in battle. That excuse would come through Sita.

It was not uncommon for kings to fight openly with other kings and then take the defeated king’s princesses as a reward. In this sense Ravana’s desire to have Sita was not out of the ordinary, but since he knew that Rama couldn’t be beat, he set up a ruse whereby he was able to steal Sita in secret. This took place after Rama lifted Shiva’s bow and won Sita’s hand in marriage. Therefore the meeting between Vishvamitra and Janaka was very important.

Lord RamaIn the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we get some details of that meeting. Janaka couldn’t believe how beautiful Rama and Lakshmana were. They looked like they weren’t from this world, and in this regard Janaka’s intuition was correct. Vishvamitra informed the king that the two boys were ready to defend the suras from the attacks of the demons. If we know that a powerful figure is there to protect us from the worst kind of miscreants, we are a little comforted. Despite their powerful influence, the Rakshasas could not defeat Rama and Lakshmana, who would rid the earth of Ravana and his reign of terror.

Of course there are more than just the stated enemies of the saints to contend with. The material land is conducive to lethargy, impiety and general deviation from the righteous principles. Maintaining a high ethical standing with respect to general moral principles is difficult, and it’s even more difficult to follow the righteous path aimed at fostering God consciousness, which is the ultimate aim for every spirit soul. We may have different external conditions and attributes, but deep down every living entity is a spirit soul, part and parcel of God. The religious principles espoused by the saints are meant to bring the most favorable end for every single person, regardless of what they may or may not know about God.

If you think that God is formless and just an impersonal energy named Brahman, you can follow the brahminical principles of austerity, truthfulness, mercy and cleanliness for advancement. If you think that God is just material nature meant to be enjoyed by the senses, follow the recommended sacrifices and rituals in fruitive activity to reach a higher end. If you think that God exists within the heart to be used for attaining terrific abilities, do meditational yoga and see the lasting benefits.

If you are fortunate enough to know God’s true position as Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, regularly recite His names in a mood of love: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Think of Him always, remember His activities, and keep in mind His peerless vision. Just regularly hearing Vishvamitra’s words describing the attributes of Rama and Lakshmana fulfills the mission of life, of connecting with God and staying by His side.

Indeed, the purpose of every ritual and regulation, of every law code instituted and protected by the suras, is to taste the sweetness of the association of the Personality of Godhead. There is variety in this interaction, as Bhagavan is Shri Krishna, the two-handed youth who holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Krishna is the delight of the Yadu dynasty, and He too protects the suras from their enemies. He offers protection through both His physical action and His pearls of wisdom presented in the Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita.

Regardless of your worshipable figure of choice - Krishna, Vishnu, Rama, or the generic God - the aim of life is to connect with the Supreme Lord, knowing that His protection is flawless. That protection’s existence is proven by the ability to think of Him, to rely on His names, forms and attributes to get us through difficult times, where the enemies of the devotees try to assert their influence. The weight of Lord Shiva’s bow was no match for Rama, and the same went for the attacks of the night-rangers. Rama and Lakshmana saved the day many thousands of years ago, and their names continue to rescue the fallen souls today.

In Closing:

“Of King Dasharatha these sons are a delight,

Jewels of Raghu’s clan, enemies of saints they fight.

 

With their arrows the demons they will vanquish,

So that saints their daily trepidation can relinquish.”

 

With Vishvamitra to Janakpur they go,

So that Rama can lift Lord Shiva’s bow.

 

For everyone’s benefit are made the rules,

Pious path to help both the intelligent and the fools.

 

But must be punished the breakers of the law,

Otherwise no safety, system to exist with flaws.

 

Rama and Lakshmana thus to saints are friends,

Worthy punishment to their enemies they send.

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