Sunday, September 30, 2012

Good Embarrassment

Lord Rama“Those sweet forms melt your heart and steal your mind, so why don’t you respect it? Without accomplishing your work you come to this royal assembly, and renouncing shame you seek to ruin yourself.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 8.1)

manasija manohara madhura mūrati kasa na sādara jovahū |
binu kāja rāja samāja mahum̐ taji lāja āpu bigovahū ||

Embarrassment is obviously something we look to avoid, as who wants to feel small in front of others? Our false ego inflates our pride even if we have no reason to feel proud. The pauper has just as much pride in what they do as the wealthy celebrity, so whichever path supports that pride is the one generally taken. Therefore, when it is rhetorically asked, “Have you no shame?”, the implication is that shame exists for a reason, and when you abandon it, you are doing so for a reason that is not justifiable, or at least not understandable. A similar kind of question was put forth many thousands of years ago in relation to a famous royal assembly.

The kings were gathered to participate in a contest. They wanted to be the first one to lift up an extremely heavy bow. The bow was not to be used as a weapon, as it could hardly be moved. Getting it to the middle of the sacrificial arena must have been difficult enough, so trying to string it and shoot arrows off of it were not in the cards. Instead, any prince just had to lift it up. The bow was magical in a sense, as it originally came from Lord Shiva, the deity of the Vedic tradition who is charged with various tasks. He came from the forehead of Lord Brahma, the creator, but he is actually not an ordinary living entity. Lord Shiva is very easily pleased, as he would rather spend his time in meditation than on paying attention to requests for benedictions. A simple leaf offered to his deity form can make a person very wealthy quickly.

But Lord Shiva has a higher wealth, which he attains through his meditation. The object of his affection always stays with him, at least in consciousness. When objects relating to Lord Shiva are placed anywhere, there is still some relation to Mahadeva’s worshipable figure. Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that this bow in Janaka’s kingdom would act as a sort of magnet to bring the delight of Raghu’s clan. The bow had a destiny, to be lifted by Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His avatara as a warrior prince.

The kings assembled in Janakpur obviously didn’t know this, but they did get to see Rama in a youthful form, looking charming as ever. Though this wasn’t an official state visit, Rama was there nonetheless, escorting the exalted sage Vishvamitra. The muni was a forest-dweller in a sense, for he lived in the wilderness as a way to practice his penance and austerity. So many powers come through regulation, through controlling the senses and focusing the mind. The consciousness that sees clearly sees only God, and that divine vision provides the spiritual food necessary to remain alive. In a place where delights entice the senses at every moment, that vision can get blurry very quickly, so renunciation is a good way to go for a spiritualist looking to advance in consciousness.

Vishvamitra’s reward for his penance was the personal protection of Shri Rama, who was accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana. Lakshmana was like a twin to Rama, except He had a fair complexion, while Rama was dark. The muni took his twin protectors with him to Janakpur, where the group received a warm welcome from the host of the ceremony, King Janaka. The boys and their preceptor were given royal thrones to sit on to watch the ceremony, and it was during this time that others started to notice them.

The kings looked to size up their competition, to see what they were up against. The different sentiments of the kings are reviewed in the Janaki Mangala, a poem authored by Goswami Tulsidas that glorifies the event . In the above referenced verse, we get one style of sentiment, wherein kings who have not changed their hearts after looking at the beautiful boys are being admonished.

The vision was so sweet that it stole the mind and melted the heart. This reaction was instant, and it can only take place when one sees God. But seeing Him is not enough. From that beautiful vision should come a change in consciousness, and thus a different way of thinking. The kings who did appreciate the vision of Rama and Lakshmana admonished the kings who didn’t. In their estimation, the people who weren’t instantly devoted to those beautiful forms were wasting their time. They had come to Janakpur for no reason, as they would never win the contest. In addition, they were abandoning shame by not having respect for God, and they were ruining themselves in the process.

Lord RamaSeems like a rather harsh assessment for a single moment’s transgression, no? Actually, our existence is meant for tasting the sweet fruit of the Supreme Lord’s association. If after seeing Rama, who would surely win the contest, the other kings still thought they were better, why were they living? They wouldn’t win because, as other kings noted, where there is fame, good family heritage, and beauty, strength will surely exist as well. So many princes had already tried to lift the bow, but none of them could even move it. If you know you’re going to lose, and you see that the person who will defeat you is so enchanting and wears a sweet and innocent smile, why wouldn’t you surrender and give up your competitive attitude?

In this situation, shame would have been a good thing. The embarrassment over the transgression of not appreciating Rama would lead to devotion to God. That is always a good thing, for if we can be defeated in our attempts to surpass the Supreme Lord’s strength, we will gain a better understanding of our actual position. As knowing is half the battle, if we know where we really stand, we will be better informed when making future decisions. These kings were renouncing their shame and continuing with their obstinance, which in turn would ruin them.

The sweet association of Shri Rama is available in so many different ways, but the stipulation is that one must desire to appreciate it. I can show someone the most beautiful painting in the world, but if their vision is clouded by hatred, jealousy, intoxication, or some other strong negative influence, they will never appreciate what is in front of them. Despite the most ardent persuasion, they will not budge from their position of defiance.

Sadly, everything will be ruined if this willful defiance continues with respect to devotional service, which is man’s real occupational duty. The objects of the senses are only temporarily manifest, and in the next life the cycle repeats itself. On the other hand, the Supreme Lord and His beauty and splendor never dissipate. Truth of this fact is seen in the Janaki Mangala itself, which continues to celebrate that wonderful day in King Janaka’s court, where Shri Rama lifted up Shiva’s bow and won the hand of the king’s daughter, Sita Devi. That mind-stealing vision of Rama and Lakshmana manifests before the eyes of the devoted soul who listens to the pastimes of the Supreme Lord with a guileless heart, showing respect for the sages who follow in the mood of devotion shown by Vishvamitra Muni.

In Closing:

Devotion to Supreme Lord keep,

For greatest reward to reap.

 

Wanted to win contest did every king,

But from Shiva’s bow all to feel defeat’s sting.

 

Vision of Rama and Lakshmana to appreciate,

Saintly kings having respect appropriate.

 

Rivals who stayed obstinate then admonished,

Abandoning shame, their lives needlessly finished.

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