Thursday, August 30, 2012

Egg On Their Faces

Rama lifting the bow“It’s assured that when Rama gets up, He will break the bow. Embarrassed by that, all the assembled kings will leave here with their noses broken.” (Janaki Mangala, 61)

avasi rāma ke uṭhata sarāsana ṭūṭihi |
gavanahiṃ rājasamāja nāka asa phūṭihiṃ ||

“Egg on your face; tail between your legs, sheepish feeling”, these are some of the expressions used to describe embarrassment. The specific terms are referenced in the hopes of more accurately quantifying the emotion. If we just say that we’re embarrassed, the statement doesn’t say much. We could feel shame over having forgotten an appointment or having used the wrong translated word in a foreign country. These are simple mistakes that you shouldn’t really feel bad about. The aforementioned expressions are used when the pride of the individual has been humbled, when they thought they were better than they were. A Hindi equivalent of the same emotion is invoked in the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, and it was an appropriate way to describe how the assembled kings would feel.

You get egg on your face when you’re sure about something happening and then it doesn’t pan out. Say, for instance, that you predicted a specific outcome to an upcoming election. Beyond just speculating on how the votes would align, you went on television on a daily basis and argued against the competing viewpoints, calling them silly. You pointed to your own polling research and knowledge of election trends to emphatically support your contention.

On election day, however, the votes go just the opposite way. If you had just made a guess as to how the election would pan out, you might not feel so embarrassed now. People make incorrect predictions all the time. If this weren’t the case, the bookmakers in Las Vegas would have been out of money a long time ago. Indeed, the point spreads for professional sporting events are determined by finding a number where the person taking the bets will have an equal distribution of people wagering. The aim is to have just as many people betting on one outcome as there are on the other side. This way, the house will not run out of money if a specific outcome occurs.

The person who invested so much in the wrong outcome to the election feels like they have egg on their face, that they have a food substance smearing their otherwise beautiful countenance. A noted political strategist actually went on a nationally syndicated Sunday morning talk show several years back and broke a raw egg on his face after he was incorrect about a particular outcome. His wife, who happened to be a guest on the show with him, couldn’t believe what he was doing, but the act was done to make a point, to show that he knew he had made a gross miscalculation of the sentiment of the voting public.

In Tirahuta many thousands of years ago, there was a huge throng of warriors full of pride. They couldn’t be blamed, for if you are in charge of a government and not confident of your ability to protect the innocent, how will you do your job well? If you have confidence in the task ahead of you, it will be a lot easier to work. If you’re constantly doubting yourself, at the first sign of trouble your resolve will crack.

The kings were assembled on this day to try to lift an extremely heavy bow which originally belonged to Lord Shiva, the deity in charge of the mode of ignorance. The ghosts, goblins and those into black magic have a deity they can worship. The Vedic tradition provides every type of person with a system of religion, a way to curb harmful behavior in the hopes of purifying consciousness. Restraint is a negation on an active tendency, but it has the underlying purpose of shaping behavior for the better. As eating animal flesh that is the result of unnecessary violence is a tendency that should be curbed, for those who are addicted to such behavior there are worshipable deities to whom they can offer obeisances. Through this method, a gradual purification can occur.

Lord Shiva is devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but he still takes care of other functions. He is the worshipable figure of the human beings mired in the mode of ignorance, which is noted by any activity bereft of both knowledge and passion. The mode of ignorance brings you down to the hellish planets and to the lower species, both of which are destinations the sober and rationally thinking adult would want to avoid. Since only someone who doesn’t know any better would purposefully take steps that lead towards the wrong direction, the behavior in that category is described by terms such as ignorance and darkness.

On this occasion, Mahadeva’s bow was to play a pivotal role in an event of pure goodness. The Supreme Lord had descended to earth to enact wonderful pastimes, one of which was about to take place. King Janaka had gathered famous princes from around the world together to take part in this contest. It wasn’t known who, if anyone, was going to lift the bow. The princes understandably felt good about their chances, for they had proven their strength by administering their own governments.

There was one slight problem, though. A handsome young prince and His younger brother arrived on the scene with a renounced brahmana. The brahmana had a beard and had not come to participate in the contest. He was accompanied by the two brothers, who had protected him from attacking night-rangers in the forest. Those ghoulish creatures were steeped in the mode of ignorance, so they thought they could continue attacking the innocent sages and get away with it. Shri Rama and Lakshmana, the brothers in question, showed them the error of their ways.

Following the sage Vishvamitra, the brothers made it to Tirahuta, where they were received very well by King Janaka. He seated them in nice thrones, which gave everyone a chance to see them. You couldn’t glance at Rama and Lakshmana and miss their transcendental features. They both sparkled, and the attention shifted especially towards Rama because He was older. He would be the one to try to lift the bow. The prize was the hand in marriage of the king’s daughter. Neither one of the brothers was married yet, so it would have to be Rama to go first.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see some advice given to the assembled kings. It is said that Rama is sure to break the bow when He gets up from the throne. It should be noted that the contest did not stipulate that one break the bow after lifting it. Up until this time, so many princes had approached the sacrificial arena, tried to lift the bow, and then sat back down after having failed. There was no guarantee that anyone was going to lift it.

Rama lifting Shiva's bowIn this instance Rama’s strength is deduced from His other transcendental features. As when there is smoke there is fire, when there is beauty, fame and a pious nature, there is likely strength as well. Rama appeared to have delicate features, but it was known that He and His younger brother had just defeated so many of the fiercest creatures on earth. Though they were youthful in appearance they didn’t lack anything in skill. Therefore it was assumed that they would have immense strength as well.

It is surmised here that when Rama will break the bow, the kings will have their noses broken. This references the pride of the kings, as through the symbolically broken nose they will have to go home in shame. For a fighter beaming with hubris, to be bested by a youth is shameful. This was a contest after all, and for a youth who was travelling through the forest to lift and break the bow would be quite amazing.

If Rama is the Supreme Lord, why would He symbolically break other people’s noses? Actually, to be humbled by Rama is a tremendous blessing. The phrase, “If you can’t beat em, join em”, has some relevance here. God can never be beaten. You can try to ignore His existence and chart out your own territory through applying techniques you had to acquire through your many days in the present life, but nothing is stable. The more powerful forces of nature will check you in the end, despite your best attempts.

The Supreme Lord is more powerful than that nature, so He can never be defeated. For this reason one of His many names in the Vedas is Ajita, which means one who is unconquerable. Rama would not fail on this occasion, as He would fulfill the destiny He previously created. He would lift Lord Shiva’s bow and win the contest, marrying Sita Devi. That divine couple is the savior of the surrendered souls, who in humility bask in their brilliance and celebrate their triumphs.

In Closing:

When your pride with shame displaced,

Like having raw egg on your face.

 

The bow contest kings’ pride to take,

In embarrassment their noses to break.

 

Shiva’s bow in Rama’s hands to shatter,

This to finally settle the contest matter.

 

To be embarrassed by God is good,

Individual’s subordinate position understood.

 

Join God, giving up your opposing voice,

Be His devotee and over His triumphs rejoice.

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