Monday, December 24, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

Sugriva and Vali fighting“Sovereignty over the Vanara kingdom was difficult to obtain and was protected by Vali. It was for her sake that Sugriva obtained that kingdom, which is honored throughout the world.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.11)

aiśvaryam vānarāṇām ca durlabham vāli pālitam |
asyā nimitte sugrīvaḥ prāptavān loka satkṛtam ||

Here we get more information on what Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, will do for His devotees. He will go to any length, cross any bridge, and battle any enemy to maintain His promise to protect and defend those who are surrendered to Him. This fact is noted by Shri Hanuman, who is an extension of Rama’s mercy. Though a servant, Hanuman follows through with the same vigor, accepting Rama’s desires to be the most important. Rama aligned with forest dwellers to find His missing wife, and in that alliance He defeated one of the most powerful fighters in the world.

Applying brute force isn’t always the best tactic to get what you want. If I pull out a gun on someone else and threaten them with violence, I may get what I want today, but then in the future that same person can pull a gun on me. “Fight fire with fire” is the saying, so just because I have ammunition doesn’t mean that others don’t. It is therefore sometimes necessary to make alliances, to have people around who will support you in a struggle.

In order for that alliance to materialize, you have to compromise. You might have to do something for the other party. You might also have to join up with someone who isn’t always your friend. The famous world wars of the twentieth century made for strange bedfellows, countries which were allies during the period of military conflict, but who immediately returned to their respective corners once the conflict was resolved.

Shri Rama is a friend to all, but while playing His role as the warrior prince of Ayodhya, He had some enemies in the form of Rakshasas. These vile creatures were actually enemies to the world, especially the innocent priests seeking refuge in the quiet forests. Rama too lived in those forests for a brief period with His wife Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana. The Rakshasas, who were headed by the King of Lanka, could not leave well enough alone. They had to harass Rama as well, first attacking Him with an army of 14,000 strong. Rama defeated them singlehandedly, and so the opposition leader, Ravana, resorted to trickery to strike back. He took Sita away in secret, leaving Rama and Lakshmana to frantically search for her.

Shri HanumanFortunes turned their way when they ran into a minister to the Vanara-king Sugriva. Vanaras are mostly monkey-like, but in the earlier periods of the creation they have human-like features as well. We learn from the Vedas that the material bodies already exist; they don’t evolve. Each body is composed of a combination of elements in the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. These modes are present at the beginning of creation, so the different species are like different paintings, different ways to mix the three component qualities. The spirit soul, the occupier within the body, evolves through the different species, but the species themselves aren’t capable of evolving. Life comes from life; matter cannot do anything on its own.

The minister Hanuman met Rama and Lakshmana at Sugriva’s insistence. Hearing what had happened with Sita, Hanuman knew that Rama and Sugriva could help each other. Sugriva was kicked out of his kingdom by his brother Vali. Rama was exiled from His kingdom of Ayodhya for fourteen years, but the matter of pressing urgency related to finding Sita. Rama could help Sugriva and Sugriva could help Rama. Through Hanuman’s efforts an alliance was born.

From the above quoted verse from the Ramayana we see what the immediate result of that alliance was. Sugriva obtained his kingdom back. It was difficult to obtain and it was protected by Vali. Vali was actually more powerful than even Ravana. He was one of the strongest fighters in the world. Through a misunderstanding, he and Sugriva became enemies, and since Sugriva was physically weaker, he was forced out of his kingdom.

Under normal circumstances, Rama would have had no interest in the feud. Conflicts arise all the time, especially between siblings. But Rama took more than just an interest in this case. He directly intervened by shooting Vali in the back while the Vanara was fighting Sugriva. According to the standard code of ethics, this is sinful, but since Sugriva was a surrendered soul and a friend, Rama would do anything for him. Vali too protested Rama’s deed as his life breath was leaving him, but Rama correctly reminded him that as the prince of Ayodhya He had jurisdiction over the entire forest. There was no reason for Vali to have kicked Sugriva out. Therefore Rama actually gave the kingdom back to the rightful owner.

More importantly, we understand from Hanuman that all of this was done for Sita. As the Supreme Lord, Rama is self-satisfied. This means that He doesn’t need someone’s company to feel happy. If a man who has been married for many years suddenly has to sleep in an empty bed at night, he feels very lonely. If his wife leaves his side, he doesn’t know how to handle the separation. Rama is not like this. He can live by Himself if He has to.

He moves heaven and earth for Sita because she is completely devoted to Him. In many respects she has a higher stature than Him. There is no sin in her, and she has to suffer sometimes in separation from her beloved. For this Rama is criticized, but never Sita. Rama takes special attention to protect the honor of His devotee. In this instance, His trusted servant, who was also Sugriva’s minister, went to find Sita. Hanuman’s arduous journey to Lanka is documented in the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana. It was not an easy trip, and it was only after an exhaustive search that Sita was finally found.

When he saw her Hanuman knew that she was something special. Here he remembers the different things that Rama did for her as a way to further glorify her. If for Sita’s sake Sugriva could regain a kingdom that was so honored throughout the world, imagine how great Sita must be. And if Rama would do all that for Sita, He most certainly will do the same for anyone else who is devoted to Him. He doesn’t always do the work Himself. Sometimes He sends the fearless messenger Hanuman, whose association is just as good as Rama’s.

In Closing:

His kingdom back Sugriva did gain,

Guarded by Vali, was difficult to obtain.

 

The enemy brother was rid,

By Rama, for Sita this He did.

 

For His devotees God anything will do,

Sometimes even transgress moral codes too.

 

His messengers like Hanuman He’ll also send,

For worries in separation to mend.

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