Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weapon of Prema

Lord Rama“On His forehead, situated between the eyebrows, there is the beautiful tilaka which looks like an arrow from Kamadeva’s bow. His earrings are so beautiful that when looking at them the mind becomes very happy.” (Janaki Mangala, 51)

tilaku lalita sara bhrukuṭī kāma kamānai |
śravana bibhūṣana rūcira dekhi mana mānai ||

When the warrior releases his weapon, the intent is usually to cause pain to someone else. Though the release of the weapon defeats an enemy of the innocent, and thereby does an overall good, the act itself still belongs to the category of violence. With the god of love, the weapon released from his bow causes the target to develop amorous feelings, which are enhanced by the onset of the spring season. The same type of weapon exists on the forehead of the Supreme Lord, except what is instilled is loving devotion furthered by a captivating beauty that one never wants to forget.

In the Vedic tradition the god of love, or desire, is known as Kamadeva. He is the equivalent to the commonly known cupid. It should be noted that though cupid can be called the matchmaker in love, the word kama itself is not exactly related to love. In Sanskrit prema is the closest equivalent to love, but it has a specific connotation. The affection in prema must be directed in a pure mood, where there is no expectation of reciprocation. Moreover, it must not be hinged upon some benefit to be received later on.

Kama is different in this regard. Kama can be translated to mean desire, sense gratification, or lust. Thus the conjugal affairs between members of the various species are based strictly on personal sense gratification. What satisfies us today may not do the trick in the future. Today I may crave a few slices of pizza from my favorite shop, but were I to eat that same food day after day, after a while I’d probably want something else.

pizzaTaste changes with maturation as well. In childhood perhaps we liked sugar drinks and junk food. As you get older, you have different tastes and concerns. Through the experiences accumulated in life, you get a new way of thinking, and your priorities shift as well. Dieting is introduced in adulthood because there is concern paid to the intake of food. The pleasure aspect of eating expands to incorporate the effect had on energy and the level of comfort within the stomach.

The same principle of changing tastes applies to amorous relationships. Therefore it is not surprising that there are common “break ups” and divorces. You may love someone today, but if they anger you enough, show you enough disrespect, you will want to break that relationship off. Divorce should be a rare occurrence, as the relationship was previously codified through marriage, where vows were made to honor, protect, defend, and serve until death did part you. The definition of death gets humorously broadened when the relationship can be severed many years before you actually depart this earth.

The break ups are difficult to deal with, as there are even feature length movies made about them. But despite the relationship ending, the same desire for conjugal affairs continues. The spirit of kama does not abate; it just shifts its target. Kamadeva, as the deity presiding over sense gratification, can shoot his arrows and arouse those strong feelings within people. When the lusty desires strengthen, one can go about trying to satisfy them with whatever is in close proximity. Thus Kama’s influence is quite strong.

It takes a dedicated renunciate to defeat Kama. Lord Shiva, the deity in charge of the mode of ignorance, once had an encounter with Kama’s shafts. Cupid tried to instill passion in Lord Shiva so that a child could be born, as this was the request of the demigods. Though a deity who can grant benedictions to others, Lord Shiva is not interested in kama or artha, which is economic development. His pleasure comes from hearing the name of Rama, so He regularly chants that name, over and over again as if his life depended on it.

From that chanting a deep meditational trance develops. If you’re secured in a “happy zone”, will you not be angered if someone tries to break you out of it? This is what happened with Lord Shiva when he was attacked by Kamadeva. In retaliation, Lord Shiva glanced at cupid and burned him instantly with his look. As he was only doing the bidding of the demigods, Kamadeva was granted reprieve by being allowed to take birth in the future as Pradyumna, the son of Lord Krishna. Krishna is the same Rama that Shankara Bhagavan cherishes. The Lord appeared on earth many years after Rama did, and with Pradyumna, Kamadeva’s wife Rati was reunited with her husband. The story of Pradyumna’s birth and his reunion with Rati is nicely described in the tenth canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, with a highly readable version of the entire canto presented in the book, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead,  by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Krishna bookPrema is different from kama, but the comparison to Kamadeva is made by Goswami Tulsidas in the above quoted verse from the Janaki Mangala to show the effect Rama has on people. The Supreme Lord is with a form, though there is polymorphism with His avataras. The incarnations are expansions from the original personality, so they retain the same divine qualities, but their visible manifestations and functions may vary. As Rama, the Supreme Lord is in the beautiful form of a warrior prince, whose vision enchants the devoted souls.

When Kamadeva shoots his arrows, unless one is as strong as Lord Shiva in dedication to devotional service, they will be instilled with amorous feelings and ready to act upon them. Shri Rama, through His facial features, shoots similar types of arrows, but the poison these weapons carry is prema. Once infected, you cannot be cured, as you belong to God for the rest of your life. You can’t help but be enchanted by His beautiful figure, His activities, and His names. The disease of prema is the best one to have because it doesn’t lead you astray. Instead, it brings you the happiness you have been searching after for many lifetimes.

“Let Krishna tightly embrace this maidservant who has fallen at His lotus feet, or let Him trample Me or break My heart by never being visible to Me. He is a debauchee, after all, and can do whatever He likes, but still He alone, and no one else, is the worshipable Lord of My heart.”  (Lord Chaitanya quoting Shrimati Radharani, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.47)

Even if you should forget about Rama after being shot by His arrows, you will never be totally away from Him. Prema works unconditionally, so whether Bhagavan reciprocates on the affection shown to Him is of no concern. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the preacher incarnation of Godhead, offered a nice set of prayers once in the mood of Krishna’s consort Radharani, where she stated that Krishna, her cherished Lord, could do with her what He wanted. Mahaprabhu’s only desire was to continue in His service, similar to how Lord Shiva continues to mutter the sacred syllables that make up Rama’s holy name.

What kinds of arrows does Rama shoot at His devotees? In the above referenced verse, Tulsidas compares the tilaka mark on the Lord’s forehead to an arrow. The curved eyebrows give the appearance of a bow that has just released the tilaka arrow. Since these features are on the face of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the effect they have is the spreading of prema. Only the devoted soul can pick up on these comparisons, as they take supreme delight in the divine vision.

Lord RamaRama’s earrings are beautiful as well. One who looks at them becomes so happy within the mind. Though the earrings are ornaments, their beauty is enhanced by Rama, and not the other way around. Typically we dress something nicely to increase its outward beauty. You put on a nice suit and people will notice you more than if you were to wear a sweatshirt and shorts. With Rama, when you put ornaments on His body, the ornaments become more beautiful. A similar description was given in the Shrimad Bhagavatam with respect to Lord Krishna’s body.

“My dear sir, Krishna's form was most wonderful when He appeared on this planet and exhibited the potency of His internal energy. His wonderfully attractive form was present during His pastimes on this planet, and by His internal potency He exhibited His opulences, which are striking to everyone. His personal beauty was so great that there was no necessity for His wearing ornaments on His body. In fact, instead of the ornaments' beautifying Krishna, Krishna's beauty enhanced the ornaments.” (Uddhava speaking to Vidura, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.12)

The arrow that was the tilaka was shot at the pure hearted onlookers in King Janaka’s assembly. Kings from around the world were gathered in Janaka’s city to attempt to lift Lord Shiva’s bow. Whoever was first to lift it would win Sita’s hand in marriage. Sita Devi was Janaka’s beloved daughter, the goddess of fortune herself. Through their interest in seeing who Sita was going to marry, so many people were infused with prema. Rama, a youth at the time, stood out amidst all the other princes. Rama was there with His younger brother Lakshmana and their preceptor Vishvamitra. It was Vishvamitra who had brought them there, so he deserved some of the credit for so many people rekindling the bhakti spirit through the vision of Rama and Lakshmana.

Just by imagining Rama’s tilaka and thinking of it as an arrow of prema shot from the bow of the enchanter of cupid, one can receive the same effect. If you see that your friend is sick with a cold and that his mother is tending to him nicely with hearty food preparations and a comfortable resting place, you almost wish that you were sick yourself, so that you could get the same treatment. In the same way, by hearing of the fortune of the residents of Janakpur one almost hopes to find dire circumstances so that the Supreme Lord, as He promises to do in the Bhagavad-gita, will come to the scene and protect the innocent who are being harassed.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)

Whether we know it or not, that helpless condition already exists, and so does the soothing presence of the delight of Maharaja Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya. The vision of Rama’s tilaka is needed because without such spiritual nectar, the mind is left vulnerable to the attacks of Kamadeva and his arrows. Lord Shiva showed the way by constantly chanting the holy names, and Lord Chaitanya taught the world the proper mood in which to chant those names. Thus by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, repeatedly and in a humble state, Rama’s arrows of love will surely come to our rescue.

In Closing:

Eyebrows combined with sacred mark,

Looked like arrow from bow ready to dart.

 

This symbolic shaft on Rama’s head,

Not like kama, to shoot prema instead.

 

Good it is by this arrow to be hit,

Disease of unending devotion it inflicts.

 

This vision seen by all who were present,

In Janaka’s court, well-wishing residents.

 

Same Rama can come to the rescue today,

Think of Him and His names always say.

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