Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beautifying Ornaments

Sita Devi“Whatever ornaments Rama previously spoke of Hanuman saw on Vaidehi’s body, beautifying her limbs.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.41)

vaidehyā yāni ca angeṣu tadā rāmo anvakīrtayat |
tāni ābharaṇa jālāni gātra śobhīni alakṣayat ||

The innocent princess of Videha did not deserve her present condition. After all, what woman is actually worthy of staying prisoner in an enemy territory, where a vile creature accustomed to eating human flesh tries to force you to become his wife? No woman deserves this, especially not one so kind to the world as Sita. She is the goddess of fortune, the administrator of the measureless riches belonging to her husband, Narayana, the source of all men. The origin of matter and spirit is one way to describe God, and since He is the original owner, no one can lay full claim to any property. Everything originally belongs to Him, and through the kindness of His wife Lakshmi segments of that property are temporarily apportioned accordingly.

Is there a pecking order, a chain of hierarchy one must ascend to be graced with wealth? There is actually plenty available already, and the wealth doesn’t have to relate to large collections. For instance, to a person insistent on a simple lifestyle, just having a roof over the head is wealth enough, whereas to the business mogul looking to stay on top of their field, owning only one home with many rooms is a kind of poverty. Everything is relative, as duality pervades the world we inhabit. The mind is also forgetful, so just because we receive one reward today doesn’t mean that our desires will cease. More desires will arise, and if they are not satisfied, the result is unhappiness.

The idea is that you are given whatever you need to get your work done. For instance, the trees can’t move around because of the body type they accept at the time of birth. They need sunlight and water, and that’s pretty much it. They are provided these by the higher authorities, the controllers of nature. Human beings think they require more than basic necessities only due to ignorance, but nevertheless they are given sufficient materials to continue their play. It is the nature of the play that determines the type of rewards sought and whether or not they are worthwhile in the long run.

The gift grantor is not to blame for the resultant effects. A family member may lend us money to help us get through a tough financial stretch, but if we use that money to go on a weekend vacation trip to Las Vegas to gamble and drink alcohol, the blame lies with us. The family member had the best of intentions; they truly wanted to help us. In innocence they were kind enough to give us a gift. We made the wrong choice with the materials gifted to us, and thus the end result was not positive.

We can take the same concept and apply it to every situation to see the two-sidedness of the fortune bestowed by Goddess Lakshmi. She is always innocent, regardless of the choice made by the recipient. She has no attachment to this immense fortune because her wealth is the love she holds for her husband. No material opulence can sway her in the other direction. In fact, she can live in total renunciation provided she can continue to think of her husband. His features are splendid, and they are unlimited. His ability to create is unimaginable, as is His ability to destroy. His beauty is a reservoir of pleasure for the eyes, and His kindness will melt any heart. And yet Sita’s innocence is even greater, as she is devoted to Him in full sincerity.

The evil king of Lanka tried to take away that innocence, to change Sita into something she could never be. He would rue the day, however, as someone who knows how to properly use the gifts of the goddess of fortune came to the scene and spotted her at a time when it would be otherwise difficult to make her out. She was not in the company of her husband Rama while trapped in Lanka. Sita is Lakshmi’s incarnation and Rama is Narayana’s. That the Supreme Lord and His consort could descend to earth to grace the eyes of the devotees with their divine vision shouldn’t be too surprising. If you create the playing field you are more than open to tread its ground. You make the rules after all, so nothing can direct your conduct. Lakshmi and Narayana can go wherever they please.

And so also the actions of the vile creatures cannot change Sita and Rama’s inherent natures. Rama is always in the dominant position and His devotees are always in the mood of service. Ravana ignored God’s influence, thinking that with his own strength acquired through austerity he could impress the most beautiful woman in the world. But Sita was impressed only by her husband, who was renounced enough to give up the throne of Ayodhya to uphold the promise of His pious father. Ravana, on the other hand, tried to take away a married woman without fighting for her hand.

The situation for Hanuman in Lanka was very difficult, as he could see Sita from afar and not discern her with confidence. This was because Sita was in a distressed condition, having gone thin from fasting. She was sighing heavily in despair, and her clothes were sullied by the earth she was sitting on. Nevertheless, from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman noticed some ornaments on Sita that Rama had previously explained. That he remembered all of these details in such a troubling time is quite remarkable.

In modern reality television shows, there are sometimes contests that relate to a similar exercise. Teams compete in an obstacle course that can have several checkpoints. At some checkpoints, there is a game to complete before moving on to the rest of the race. One of the games involves memory, where the team sees a completed picture, puzzle, or arrangement of objects. They must memorize where the various pieces go, and then move to another area to recreate the scene. The same pieces are there in this second scene, but they are oriented differently. Hence it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle but with larger objects, using your memory as the reference point for completion.

Shri HanumanHanuman had a similar task to complete, except it wasn’t a game and he wasn’t given a valid picture to use as a reference point. Instead, he only had the information he heard from Rama. Yet this actually proves a much larger point. In the Vedic tradition more stress is placed on hearing than seeing. If you just hear someone talking about God and how to implement devotion to Him, that can have a lasting effect. If you just see God for a few seconds, that may not impact you as much, as vision is more susceptible to illusion. Sight appeals to emotion, whereas sound can tackle the intellect. Thus it is not surprising that one of the primary tools of the charlatans who pose to be God is a visual display of mystic ability. Light your hair on fire, float in the air, or disappear from a room and suddenly other people will think that you are God.

But hearing is more important. If you just hear the famous Bhagavad-gita spoken by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, you can get complete information on life. The sudden passing of a loved one, especially if they are young and have children of their own, is devastating to the affected friends and family. There is no way to explain such a tragic loss without consulting the words of God. In the Bhagavad-gita, issues like these are addressed right at the outset by the ultimate teacher, Shri Krishna, who is the very same Narayana. The hesitant warrior Arjuna was afraid to kill his friends and family fighting for the opposing side, and to dispel his doubts Krishna did not resort to vision. Instead, He taught through sound, providing instructions that Arjuna could use to follow the righteous path.

In a similar manner, Hanuman was painted a mental picture based on Rama’s words, and he would rely on that to make the proper pattern recognition. He too had some doubts in Lanka, especially over whether or not to continue. He had searched very long without finding Sita, so he started to wonder if he’d ever find Rama’s beloved. He continued on anyway, as the reward of pleasing God far outweighs whatever relief quitting brings. To taste the sweetness of devotional service is the reason for our existence, and Hanuman shows that through proper hearing the mind stays sharp and can recognize the divine presence even in situations that are not conducive to it. Rama’s instructions represent Him and so do His names, so by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can regularly hear God and follow the proper path with confidence.

In Closing:

To mortals higher authorities gifts give,

Specific to circumstance so they can live.

 

Trees and plants sunlight they need,

And also on water they feed.

 

Human beings think they always need more,

Thus accept difficult and strenuous chores.

 

All depends on what with gifts you make,

Ravana thought another’s wife he could take.

 

Hanuman used nature’s gifts for divine service,

Able to please Rama even when of failure nervous.

 

The right ornaments on woman in distance found,

Knew that Sita was there sitting on the ground.

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