Saturday, December 1, 2012

Believe What I Say

Lord Rama“O Devi, leave aside your doubts and bring happiness to your heart. Have faith in these words: Rama will string the bow.” (Janaki Mangala, 76)

The foundation of the Ramayana is the idea of investing full faith and confidence in the ability of God to deliver the proper outcome. This faith requires the release of worries, the removal of doubts, believing that the higher authority will make everything right. At the same time, this isn’t a sanction for abandoning activity, as sitting like a stone will not accomplish much. Prescribed duties are set into place for the benefit of the worker, with the manager ultimately responsible for delivering the proper outcome. In this particular time of worry for the queen of Mithila, her attendants tried to assure her of the proper outcome, telling her to have faith in their counsel, which said that Rama would indeed string Lord Shiva’s bow.

“But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.40)

It’s difficult to have full faith in God because the natural inclination is to think of ourselves as the doers. “I decide to get up in the morning, and bam, the next second I am out of bed. I made that happen. I had the seed of desire in the mind, and then my body parts made that desire a reality through work. If I want to graduate from school, I do the necessary work, which includes studying and completing assignments, to pass my classes. In adulthood, I have so much control over my actions that others are willing to pay me for my abilities. This then means that I get responsibilities placed upon me. I can’t just pray to God to get this work done. I have to take action myself, so why shouldn’t I assume that other outcomes are dependent on personal work as well?”

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.27)

BGCOf course lost in this narrow outlook is the higher scheme, which is influenced by so many aspects of life that are completely out of our control. With the example of working for a company, I may be capable of getting the job done, but this doesn’t mean that I am guaranteed to get to work on time. My car could stall during the trip to the office. I could get into a car accident that is not my fault. There could be traffic on the road or a weather event could get in my way. Do I have any control over these factors? To say that I can control the traffic is ridiculous. The same holds true with the weather. Yet all of these factors have to be aligned just right on the days when I get a successful outcome to my work. This means that I am not the supreme controller. I have control over how my body works, and even that to a small degree, but nothing else.

Religious life begins with the acceptance of a higher authority. To know more about that authority is what drives the subsequent work. To be inquisitive is the human nature, and when that curiosity leads to the realm of spirituality, the benefits can be long lasting. In the Vedic tradition, the human birth marks the need for inquiry into the Absolute Truth. And the first fact to realize is that we are not our body. We are Brahman, or pure spirit, and the resultant actions that take place with the body are due to the laws of nature and also the Supreme Spirit, who is both all-pervading and localized within each individual.

A higher realization is to know Bhagavan, who is the entity that best equates to the term “God”. He creates the giant system of cause and effect which is so amazing that it bewilders us into thinking that we have complete control over outcomes. As He is in charge, He can make any outcome possible. Sometimes He doesn’t give us what we want, for He knows what is best for us. He only personally intervenes for His devotees, as the non-devoted ignore His presence. In this sense, they too are given what they want, namely continued forgetfulness of God.

“God has given independence to everyone; therefore, if a person desires to have material enjoyment and wants very sincerely to have such facilities from the material demigods, the Supreme Lord, as Supersoul in everyone's heart, understands and gives facilities to such persons. As the supreme father of all living entities, He does not interfere with their independence, but gives all facilities so that they can fulfill their material desires.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 7.21 Purport)

The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit poem that is a gift from above, as through its accounts of historical incidents it provides us a practical application of the proper mood of surrender and when it is required. The poem begins with the dilemma of King Dasharatha, who is a pious ruler of the town of Ayodhya. He is missing one very important thing: a son. He approaches his counselors, religious guides who understand Brahman, to see how to solve the problem. In response, God Himself descends to earth in a human form to give Dasharatha a son. The original Supreme Lord also expands into three other forms to give Dasharatha three additional sons.

Later on, the sage Vishvamitra requires help in practicing his austerities in the forest. A band of evil-night rangers was attacking the sages who sought refuge in the pristine forest. Rather than cast spells in return, they simply surrendered to God, who is known as brahmanya-devaya, or the worshipable deity of the priestly class. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana make the forest safe again, successfully terminating the reign of terror of the wicked night-rangers.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, which is a Hindi poem that describes a portion of the same events found in the Ramayana, we are given another instance of God’s rescuing hand. King Janaka of Mithila wants to find the perfect husband for his precious daughter Sita. He decides to hold a bow-lifting contest, and everything seems to be going okay until Dasharatha’s eldest son enters the arena accompanied by Lakshmana and Vishvamitra.

Lord RamaRama was not an unruly guest. On the contrary, He was quite well-behaved. The problem was that His beauty was captivating. It had the effect of creating a transcendental attachment in the pure-hearted onlookers. Sita’s mother was one of these spectators, and her love for Rama was so great that she could think of nothing else besides His potential for marrying Sita. She wanted Him to win the contest very badly, but oh yes, that issue of the contest got in the way. What if Rama couldn’t lift the bow? He was too beautiful to be strong enough to lift something that required hundreds of men just to move.

We see that the queen’s friends decided to step in and reassure her. They proclaimed that Rama would indeed raise and string the bow. He had a divine presence. God’s potencies can never be fully masked, no matter what personal form He takes. He is enchanting whether in the body of a youth or an adult. On this occasion, the queen’s sakhis were essentially telling her to trust in God, as Rama was God Himself. No other recourse was available, as Janaka could not cancel the competition after the rules had been announced. With nowhere else to turn, they relied on the strong hand of Rama, which has rescued the devotees from fear since time immemorial.

In Closing:

Faith means to remove all doubt,

Fear over outcomes to live without.


To trust in Rama queen’s friends told,

Know that Shiva’s bow in His hand to hold.


Outcome to events not totally in control mine,

More powerful forces required to properly align.


Shri Rama the greatest controller of them all,

To protect devotees upon His strong hand He calls.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What Are Friends For

Sita and Rama“Now in confusion, no words are coming to the queen. Seeing her worried and in thought, her friends are trying to make her understand.” (Janaki Mangala, 75)

You’re too invested in the outcome to think straight. Desire strengthens to the point that the mind no longer can think clearly. The telltale sign that you have temporarily lost your “marbles” is the crippling fear over a potential outcome. This is an unwise course because there were many outcomes in the past that you fretted over, and either way you came out okay. Whether you got what you wanted or didn’t, you still managed to survive. The tiny, pressing issue of the time didn’t mean the end of the world to you, though at the time you thought otherwise. In these instances, your friends are a good support system. They are more distanced from the situation, so they can lend a helping hand.

In the biggest picture, the best friend is the spiritual master, someone we may not have even met yet. The genuine spiritual master, or guru, lives devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. This service is a full-time engagement relying on the always available instrument known as the mind. In the morning while trying to get up out of bed, the mind engages in serving by thinking of God. During the morning hours, the tongue is used to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and offer prayers to the deity in the home or temple. The ears are simultaneously utilized to hear the sounds of the holy name produced by the tongue. The eyes gaze upon the deity and the legs travel to places where the holy names are either heard or distributed.

“Although the Lord was present in Vaikuntha, He was present also in the heart of the brahmana when he was meditating on the worshiping process. Thus, we can understand that things offered by the devotees even in meditation are accepted by the Lord, and they help one achieve the desired result.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 10)

The Nectar of DevotionIf the guru should find a situation that is not ideal for the outward display of devotion, within the mind they still chant the holy names, think of God, or plan some type of future service. In The Nectar of Devotion, which is a summary study of Shrila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, it is said that once a brahmana simply desired to offer service to God by taking sacred waters and other paraphernalia for worship, and in that mental state the offering was as good as made. The sincerity of purpose is what counts most in the highest discipline of divine love, so just by planning out some type of service to God, the act is as good as done.

With respect to friendship, the guru is the well-wisher of everyone. Having studied the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, two of the most important texts of the Vedic tradition, he can relate to pretty much any situation. Even if he hasn’t been married, he can understand what it’s like to have affection for someone else. The issues of dealing with someone else’s desires, getting along with another person on a day-to-day basis, and figuring out where to steer the relationship are not foreign to the guru, who through his service to God acquires the requisite knowledge pertinent to practically any situation.

In Mithila a long time ago, the friends of the queen weren’t necessarily spiritual masters, but since they had the same guiding sentiment, love for God, they could provide good counsel when needed. At one time the queen was swooning over the fear of losing the ideal match for her daughter Sita. The good mother wanted to give away her eldest daughter to an eligible suitor, who would be ideal in the categories of ancestry, appearance, strength and behavior.

The queen’s husband knew the task wasn’t easy, so he settled upon a contest. Whoever could lift an enormously heavy bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. So many princes arrived, but none of them could so much as move the bow. Now here was this youth that was captivating everyone, including Sita’s mother. Named Rama, He was the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Rama’s trusted younger brother Lakshmana was with Him, as was the venerable Vishvamitra Muni. Sita’s mother worried that Rama might not be able to win the contest because of His delicate features. He was so beautiful in every way, looking like the perfect youth to wed the young and beautiful Sita.

Sita's svayamvaraIn the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, the queen’s friends are trying to make her understand that everything is going to be alright. For the mother it was difficult to think clearly when so much was at stake, but the wise sakhis knew that this youth had just come from the forest where He and His younger brother fought off the vilest creatures in the world. This wasn’t a training exercise in military combat either; the stakes were real. The peaceful sages living in the forests had been harassed for too long by these night-rangers, who were enemies of religion. Vishvamitra knew of Rama’s fighting prowess, and that’s why he specifically asked for Him from King Dasharatha.

In the minds of the sakhis, if Rama, this youth who was so beautiful that He gave everyone the fruit of their eyes upon sight, was trusted by the sage for protection, He could surely lift Shiva’s bow. The queen thus had very good friends, who knew just what to say to her at the right time. Also, like the queen they were obviously devotees of God, as they had an appreciation for Rama and Lakshmana. Amazingly, their understanding of Rama’s features came from only seeing and hearing about them for a brief period of time. Know that the best friend in this world is the person who has the same love for the Supreme Lord and who kindly speaks of His glories to us. They provide the most valuable information, allowing us to think clearly in situations where we otherwise can’t.

In Closing:

Because in outcome so much invested,

By fears rational thought is bested.


Rama to win contest the queen desired,

But fear in her His youthful form inspired.


Friends of the queen then explained,

That from Rama Vishvamitra protection gained.


Such devotees the best counsel to us give,

In comfort of devotion they allow us to live.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Blaming the Creator

Janaka and his wife watching the contest“If the Creator had not given our eyes the gift of the guest Rama, then no one would have blamed the king for the result.” (Janaki Mangala, 74)

It’s natural to lament when you’re caught in an unfavorable situation. You didn’t ask for this difficult circumstance; it just happened. If you are wise and understand that the Creator is ultimately responsible for distributing the outcomes to action, you can rightfully blame him for the circumstance, though in reality every individual has free will in their decisions. We can blame the law of gravity for the pain we feel from falling to the ground, but it is our choice to take steps, and with each step there is the potential for a misstep, which then causes a fall. The fall referenced here relates to the missed opportunity of finding the perfect match for your daughter, who is deserving of the most chivalrous prince in the world.

In the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, King Janaka was famous throughout the world. Just as the day is divided into different portions, such as morning, afternoon and evening, the duration of the creation gets split up into yugas, which not only indicate the amount of time elapsed since the initial birth of the universe but also point to the qualitative makeup of society specific to each time period. The Treta Yuga is like the afternoon; it is just after the initial moments of the creation. The people are still very pure; dharma, or virtue, stands on three of its initial four legs.

King Janaka was exemplary in his practice of dharma. A beautiful daughter belonged to the ideal king, and he did not want to let go of her. But protocol called for a marriage when she reached the suitable age. With the advice of his counselors, Janaka decided on a bow-lifting contest. The first prince to lift this heavy bow originally belonging to Lord Shiva would be garlanded the victor by Sita, Janaka’s daughter. The oath was made in front of others, which meant that everyone would know if King Janaka went against his word later on. For a king in those times nothing was worse than being untrustworthy. If you couldn’t stay true to your word, how could you expect anyone else to be truthful? And without truth what kind of a society will you have?

Janaka’s dedication to virtue made his wife very nervous towards the end of the contest. A handsome youth who was perfect in every way for Sita had arrived at the assembly. The queen would have handed Sita over to Him immediately were it not for the oath taken by her husband. The main problem was that this prince was so youthful in appearance. He had delicate features, and beautiful and soft skin. He was accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana and the sage Vishvamitra.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Janaka’s wife is lamenting over the situation and blaming the Creator for it. If Rama had never come to the scene, there wouldn’t have been an issue. Either someone would have lifted the bow or no one would have, in which case there would have been no blame. “I tried my best”, Janaka could say. “There is obviously no prince on earth worthy of Sita’s hand.” The exact sequence of events pertaining to this famous incident vary depending on the creation. In the original Ramayana of Valmiki it is described that Rama finally steps up to lift the bow after Janaka describes the bow’s history. In the Ramacharitamanasa, which incorporates versions told in other Vedic texts like the Puranas, after seeing many princes fail Janaka proclaims that there is no suitable match for Sita, at which point Lakshmana angrily intervenes to proclaim that his elder brother can most certainly lift the bow.

The queen thought that since Rama was now here, people would blame Janaka for the oath if the outcome wasn’t ideal. The lament is similar to meeting a person of the opposite sex, developing a strong affection for them, and not being able to marry them. If they had never come into your life, you wouldn’t have felt the pain of rejection, the sting over the loss of a cherished object. But for some reason the Creator destined for you to meet that person, form an attachment to them, and then be forever separated from them.

Sita and RamaEverything does happen for a reason, and on this occasion Rama’s delicate features painted a nice contrast to the extremely heavy bow that was central to the contest. In certain situations it looks like the preferred outcome is just impossible. Perhaps the two parties in a romantic affair are too incompatible to make things last. In amorous relations, one party may be attracted to the other, but the other side may not feel the same way. If you want to hire a top notch employee, they might not be willing to come to your firm. You may want to eat at a certain restaurant on a specific night, but the establishment might not be open.

Here it looked like things weren’t going to work out. Rama was too youthful in appearance. He didn’t look as strong as the other princes, all of whom couldn’t even move the bow. Ah, but with God the impossible is not only possible, but it can be made to look easy. With a single exhalation the Supreme Lord as Vishnu creates this and many other universes, and so even within the youthful figure of the prince of the Raghu dynasty He can easily lift a bow that takes hundreds of ordinary men to move. On that day He would live up to His stature as the rescuer of the surrendered souls. With nowhere else to turn, the queen and her friends left the outcome up to the higher authorities. No one is a higher authority than Rama, so He would swiftly deliver the desired outcome.

In Closing:

To the devotees He is a deliverer swift,

Of their desires, their sought after gift.


For the queen it was the husband for her daughter,

She wanted Rama to win and no prince other.


But the Lord of features belonging to a youth,

The weight of Lord Shiva’s bow this did not suit.


Even in youthful form God can amaze,

And so to this day Sita with Rama stays.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two Worlds Colliding

Lord Rama“The queen lovingly said to her friends in amazement, ‘How heavy is Shiva’s bow and how soft and gentle is the form of this prince.’” (Janaki Mangala, 73)

A youth is not expected to be strong. When the child first emerges from the womb, they are so helpless that you have to hold their head up and watch over them at all times to make sure they don’t find danger. They can’t feed themselves and neither can they move to any place on their own. The mother who nurtured the child while in the womb thus has an automatic tie of affection. No matter how mature the child later becomes, she always remembers the helpless infant that required constant supervision.

How was a young prince who had just arrived in the assembly going to lift a bow of a massive weight? The queen was amazed beyond belief at the dichotomy. Her daughter Sita was to wed the first prince to lift the bow, which belonged to Lord Shiva, a famous deity of the Vedic tradition. He is the god of the mode of ignorance, which means that the ghosts, goblins, and evil-doers worship him for benefits. Every person is provided religion by God; no one is shut out. Depending on their level of intelligence, they may not be open to the idea of worship in the mode of goodness, wherein one follows duty for the sake of virtue, not expecting a personal result for their dedication.

“Of sacrifices, that sacrifice performed according to duty and to scriptural rules, and with no expectation of reward, is of the nature of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.11)

The three modes of material nature are goodness, passion and ignorance. The bodies assumed by the living entities are composed of these modes, as are their activities. Worship is a kind of activity, as is charity, sacrifice, penance, etc. All acts that fall under the umbrella of religion fall into these three modes. In ignorance one pays no attention to proper time and circumstance. They desire their cherished boon right away, and for this they can approach Lord Shiva, who is known as Ashutosha because he is easily pleased.

Lord Shiva spends his time worshiping God. He doesn’t like to have his meditation broken, so he quickly whisks away his worshipers, giving them whatever they want. The hope is that the worshiper will eventually be purified through their association with Shiva, who lives in complete renunciation, not requiring any of the opulence that he gives to others. His item of focus is the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.

Those feet once roamed the earth. They belonged to the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. Sita’s mother saw Rama enter her kingdom alongside His younger brother Lakshmana and the sage Vishvamitra. The occasion was the svayamvara contest, and so all the princes were assessed by the spectators.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Sita’s mother is remarking to her friends the difference between the youth, Rama, and the bow, which belonged to Shiva. She is speaking to her friends with affection and amazement. There is an automatic affection for Rama, as this is the effect the Supreme Lord has on the eyes that are not tainted by material attachment. The queen was qualified to receive that spontaneous emotion based on her affection for her daughter. Sita is God’s eternal consort, His wife for all intents and purposes. To love her in devotion is to love God, and so it was not surprising that the queen was enamored by Rama.

That affection then led to worry, as the bow was very heavy. The child is not expected to move large appliances within the house, nor can they drive the much larger automobile. How was the youth Rama supposed to lift a bow that required hundreds of men just to bring in to the assembly? Rama is described as soft and gentle, while the bow is hard as steel and very heavy.

Rama lifting Shiva's bowThere was no need to worry, though, as the same youth had just protected Vishvamitra. Rama and Lakshmana defeated the enemies of the saints living in the forest, and so they were well-equipped for fighting, though still very young. This bow was destined to be lifted by Rama, and in this case the paradoxical vision made the outcome that much more delightful.

One of the Supreme Lord’s names is Ajita, which means unconquerable. He is undefeated in the true sense of the word. Sometimes when He plays as a young child, He allows His friends to win, but this doesn’t equate to defeat, as a loss is only meaningful when there is something on the line, when there is the desire for victory in competition. The desire in this case related to the queen, her attendants, Sita, Lakshmana, Vishvamitra, Janaka, and countless other pious souls anxiously awaiting the conclusion to the contest. Rama comes through in the clutch, delivering to His devotees their cherished desires, which always relate to His happiness.

In Closing:

In youth not expected to find strength,

Infant can’t move any significant length.


Mother holds young child’s head,

And makes sure they don’t fall from bed.


A youth slightly more mature to arena came,

Hailed from Ayodhya, Rama was His name.


To lift the bow of Shiva was the expectation,

But it was heavy beyond imagination.


Her fears to friends the queen revealed,

By lifting bow their worries Rama healed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Wrong Outcome

Lord Rama“Staring at Rama’s divine beauty made Sita’s mother so happy in the heart. She says, ‘This bow is heavy and this youth is tender, so the Creator desires the wrong outcome.’” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 9.2)

siya mātu haraṣī nirakhi suṣamā ati alaukika rāmakī |
hiya kahati kaham̐ dhanu kunara kaham̐ biparīta gati bidhi bāma kī ||

Though in this scene the laments of a woman give the impression that she is more simple-minded than most, her expressions of unhappiness actually reveal her high level of intelligence. Only a fool would think that the innumerable outcomes that occur every second are due solely to the individual’s will. We may make the choice to act in a certain way, but the outcome is never guaranteed. There are other forces of nature, autonomous beings at that, and also the laws within the nature that one must abide by. Gravity is a simple force that is taken for granted, but the living being must operate according to its direction. Gravity is but one small example to prove the fact that there is a Creator who is responsible for outcomes. Sita’s mother was well aware of this, and since the situation looked dire, she was not happy with the outcome the Creator had given.

“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Vishnu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things.’” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.10)

In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that at the beginning of time, the Lord of creatures set in place the system of sacrifice. Along with the items to be sacrificed were the honored personalities, the entities to enjoy the offerings. If God created the system, why would He appoint others to act as the enjoyers? Why not just have a single destination for all offerings? Why not create a single pathway for sacrifice?

The intent is to gradually build a high level of intelligence. In the immediate vicinity we see outcomes that seem to be affected by actions at the local level. For instance, I decide that I will lift my hand, and voila, my hand moves up. I decide to get up, and the next moment I arise. There is an illusion to this stream of cause-and-effect, as what is not seen is the initial cause. I am in my body right now, but my form was not always this large. At one point in time I was inside of my mother’s womb, which meant that I required a smaller body in order to fit into that tiny space. Prior to that I was in another body, at a time and a place that remain a mystery.

To help us break away from the illusion, to understand that there are higher forces responsible for the results to action, the system of sacrifice was put into place. Sacrifice already exists in society to some degree or another. The electricity in the house doesn’t appear by magic. One must pay tribute to the electric company in order to receive electricity. The same goes for the cable and internet services. In the community at large, there are the taxes paid to the government. The system of sacrifice instituted by Lord Krishna is the way to pay honor to the highest governing authority.

The government exists to carry out specific functions. They are not to enjoy the tax revenue for themselves. The money is supposed to be used for roads, bridges, schools, and most importantly, defense. In a similar manner, the demigods who accept the sacrificial offerings made by the living entities on earth are in charge of various departments. The topmost demigod is Lord Brahma, who is referred to as the Creator in the Vedas. He is the creator in that he is charged with populating the earth. He is not the original Personality of Godhead, nor is he immortal in his present form, but nevertheless all creatures on earth can trace their ancestry back to him.

As a painter has their palette of colors, so Lord Brahma has the three modes of material nature to use in creating. Depending on the species that is desired, more or less of certain ingredients are used. The animals are mostly in the mode of ignorance, while the human beings are mostly in the mode of passion. The governing officials, the demigods, are mostly in the mode of goodness. Thus the wise souls, who understand that God exists and that He delegates responsibilities to authority figures, know that every creature and every outcome is ultimately due to the will of the Creator.

In the circumstance in question, the wife of King Janaka was awaiting the outcome to a bow-lifting contest. The bow was very heavy. It took hundreds of men just to move it into the assembly. The winner would have to lift the bow. The first one to do this would win the prize of Sita’s hand in marriage. Sita was Janaka’s beloved daughter, and her qualities are so splendid that there are prayers offered to her in the same way that they are offered to God.

In the Vedic tradition, there are thousands of names assigned to God by the devotees. The devotees do this as a way to remember and honor Him. To remember God is the best activity, and so to create more avenues for remembrance, the pious souls give so many names to the Supreme Lord. Each name references an attribute or a specific activity performed by God. The attributes relate to features that we already know of, such as beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation. As attributes can be used in limitless ways, there are limitless names for God.

Sita is considered on an equal level with God because she is His eternal consort. She loves Him purely, without any personal motive. God is the energetic, and Sita is the energy. Krishna is God, and He has many expansions and incarnations, and in the same way, there are different forms of Sita, such as Goddess Lakshmi and Shrimati Radharani. There are limitless attributes in Sita that are referenced by the devotees when they offer prayers to her.

Lord RamaIn this particular situation, Sita was on earth enacting pastimes to coincide with her husband Rama’s. Rama was to be the future husband, as no one had lifted the bow yet. Janaka’s wife saw the presently unmarried Rama in the assembly in Janakpur. He was a beautiful youth at the time, so the queen started to worry over the outcome. We don’t expect young children to lift heavy objects. If anything, we worry over their safety when they are in front of something heavy. And now here was Rama ready to try to lift the bow that no prince had even moved an inch. How was He not going to get hurt?

The queen lamented the hand of fate, how the Creator had left them and desired an outcome opposite to what should have been. She was correct in remembering the Creator and how he is responsible for outcomes, but what she didn’t realize was that Rama was the Supreme Lord, the destined husband for her daughter Sita. He and His younger brother Lakshmana had already defeated the most powerful ogres in the world when the innocent sages in the forest were attacked. The same Rama was ready to lift Shiva’s bow to the amazement of the onlookers. The simple-minded queen would be wonderfully elated at the outcome she never thought was possible.

In Closing:

Queen of Janaka was simple in mind,

But in her high intelligence to find.


That Creator responsible for outcomes she knew,

That vegetables and trees not by magic grew.


Heavy was that bow that in arena did sit,

How was youth Rama with arms going to lift?


Looked like Creator desired outcome wrong,

Which would then bring sadness’ song.


Rama creator of even Brahman the Creator,

In lifting bow proved to be supreme fate maker.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Friends of the Queen

Rama, Lakshmana and Vishvamitra“Their faces shining like lightning are so beautiful that they defeat the pride of Rati. The queen and her friends are looking at the two princes with the muni, a picture that enchants the mind.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 9.1)

janu damaka dāmini rūpa rati mada nidari saṃudari sohavīṃ |
muni ḍhiga dekhāe sakhinha kum̐vara biloki chabi mana mohahīṃ ||

There are distinct ways to pass time depending on situation. Say, for instance, you are in a doctor’s office waiting for an appointment. Waiting is invariably the case, as the doctor is almost always full with patients, accepting more people than they can handle. Thus the waiting room becomes your resting area for a certain period of time. While there you might watch what is on the television, read the magazines that are on the table, or talk to other people waiting for the doctor. Yet these activities aren’t the primary focus, and once the situation is changed, you probably don’t miss your previous experience. In a ceremony to determine a marriage a long time ago, there was much to look at to pass the time, but one vision was so wonderful that it would stay with the attendees for the rest of their lives.

We can think of it another way. Say that you work in an office with people who like to go out to eat lunch. You work hard during the morning, so you look forward to getting out and just relaxing in the afternoon. The problem, of course, is in choosing where to eat. Some people have dietary restrictions, while others refuse to go to certain restaurants based on their opinion of them. Perhaps you then settle on a compromise area, a place everyone can agree on. No one would consider this their favorite place, and they likely wouldn’t eat there if the circumstances were different, but for the time being it will do.

The visit to the restaurant is a kind of interest, and these sorts of compromise interests exist in so many different situations. In Janakpur a long time ago it may have appeared that the interested women of the royal court were just passing the time staring at two handsome youths who were escorts to a respected muni, but it was more than that. The event was to determine the husband of the king’s daughter. The king was named Janaka and his daughter Sita. Royal families from around the world arrived due to the unique way in which the marriage would be determined. The typical method of using horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom was not used. The family ancestries were not compared, and neither were the qualities of the princes taken into account. Rather, the eligibility for marriage relied solely on one thing: the ability to lift an extremely heavy bow.

Thus it was quite natural for the people watching the contest to size up the participants. “Oh, look at this person. They appear very strong. Oh, look at that person. They don’t appear as strong, but see how beautiful they are. Oh, that person belongs to a wonderful family, so they would be an ideal match for Sita.” Much fanfare surrounded the event, as so many royal entourages arrived in King Janaka’s capital city. Yet it was the group that lacked any fanfare in arrival that garnered the most attention.

And from where were they coming? Did they bring a caravan? Was this like an official state visit? On the contrary, this group was led by a muni who called the forest his home. The peaceful setting of the wilderness is conducive to spiritual life, especially activity in the mode of goodness. The three modes of nature govern all material activity. In simple terms we can think of goodness as that which leads to true knowledge, passion to a neutral state, and ignorance to a degradation of the consciousness. As no one intentionally prefers to become less intelligent, the mode of goodness is always the preferred route. Ignorance and passion get in the way of cognizance of this fact, and so to be able to practice methods belonging to the mode of goodness is considered a boon.

“The mode of goodness conditions one to happiness, passion conditions him to the fruits of action, and ignorance to madness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.9)

The muni in question, Vishvamitra, had a problem with man-eaters mired in the mode of ignorance who were disrupting his religious observances. The same went for the other munis who called the forest their home. Vishvamitra asked to have two sons of King Dasharatha as his bodyguards. They were quite young at the time, so they could be considered his disciples as well. To please the spiritual master is the quickest way to make progress in developing consciousness, and these boys never failed to follow Vishvamitra’s requests. They actually didn’t need to progress in anything since the elder was the Supreme Lord Himself and the younger the servitor God, the origin of all spiritual masters.

Rama and Lakshmana by name, the brothers came to Janakpur by following Vishvamitra. This was after they successfully removed the fears of the munis in the forest. They had to defeat and kill the man-eaters, and this was a noteworthy task. Rama and Lakshmana were up to it because they were expert bow warriors. When they arrived in Janakpur, people couldn’t take their eyes off of them. The vision was a paradox. You had the innocence of youth, with delicate and beautiful features all across the body. And these boys were also fighters; so how were they able to protect the sages? And they had not a hint of pride or sin in them. They were protectors of dharma, or religiosity, so they never did anything that went against the standard moral codes.

In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, it is said that the females of the royal court were so beautiful that their faces shone like lightning. In the Vedic tradition, Madana, or Cupid, is said to be very beautiful. He can arouse amorous feelings in others through the arrows that he shoots, and the spring season is his most potent weapon to aid him in this task. Madana’s wife is known as Rati, and she is also amazingly beautiful. Yet here it is said that the women of the royal court could defeat the pride of Rati with their beauty. Their shining faces added a nice touch to the scene.

Sita and Rama's marriageThey, along with Sita’s mother and her attendants [sakhis], intently stared at the two princes from Ayodhya, who were with Vishvamitra. It is said that what they were looking at enchanted the mind. This vision wasn’t merely a way to pass the time, to fill the void until the contest actually took place. Rather, in this oddest of settings, the people of Janakpur tasted the fruit of their existence. To see God and hold affection for Him is a wonderful boon, fulfilling life’s ultimate aim. The human being can use discrimination, so when they see something that is divine, they can alter their behavior going forward to keep that vision in front of them. The necessary tool in this endeavor is the mind, which can conjure up any image, from any time period, at any time.

That we can go back to that famous day and bring to mind Rama and Lakshmana proves this fact. The saints write devotional literature to help facilitate this. The incident of Sita’s wedding became famous throughout the world, and accounts of it are found in the ancient Sanskrit poem called the Ramayana. Tulsidas wrote the Janaki Mangala anyway as an exercise in remembrance of God. He painted a wonderful scene that could be used to both pass the time and derive pleasure at any moment. The Supreme Lord’s beauty has a lasting influence, and to remember Him is the most worthwhile activity.

In Closing:

Madana, Cupid, instigator of amorous life,

So beautiful also is Rati his wife.


Wives of the royal court even her pride defeated,

Their eyes on balcony’s perch were seated.


Queen and her friends a glance also took,

Enchanted were their minds with just one look.


Gift of the two brothers and the sage,

Divine vision with all of them then stayed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shining Like Lightning

Sita's svayamvara“From their window perch, the wives of the royal court are peeking out. While talking, their shiny teeth look like lightning.” (Janaki Mangala, 72)

lāgi jharokhanha jhānkahiṃ bhūpati bhāmini |
kahata bacana rada lasahiṃ damaka janu dāmini ||

In this scene the handsome youth of a dark complexion has captured the attention of the many people gathered in King Janaka’s court. The boy, who is the eldest son of King Dasharatha and the elder brother of the fair-skinned Lakshmana, hasn’t specifically done anything noteworthy yet. He is not even here for the contest; He was accompanying the exalted sage Vishvamitra in the forest. Yet His subdued nature combined with His amazing beauty has given birth to many a conversation within the audience, which includes the wives of the royal court. They can’t help but peek out to see what is going on.

The topic of their conversation is King Janaka’s daughter’s marriage. This is a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony. The wife gets to marry a prince from amongst a group. The marriage arrangement was not settled beforehand; so there was a choice to be made. During these times, princesses sometimes would get to pick the husband just based on looks. This is what occurred once with a svayamvara arranged by Shri Hari, God Himself.

Narada Muni, who can be likened to a mendicant space traveller, was once swelling with pride over having conquered lust. To defeat kama, or material desire, is very difficult, but it is possible with focus in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Narada is so accomplished in the yoga of divine love that he is an authority on its practice; he teaches others how to follow the same line of work. He carries around his vina and always sings the glories of Narayana, which is another name for God.

Narada with a monkey faceOn this occasion, Narada’s pride was a little much, so to bring him down a peg, Shri Hari used His energy to create a majestic city that was hosting a self-choice ceremony. The bride to be was so beautiful that she caught Narada’s attention. He immediately forgot his previous triumph over kama and decided that he must have her. Despite the temporary fall from grace, Narada was always faithful to his occupational duty, devotional service. Though he knew he shouldn’t desire the hand of this beautiful woman, he prayed to Hari for favor. He asked that the woman pick him from among the princes assembled. Hari, in a clever play on words, agreed to Narada’s request, saying that He would do what was best for the sage.

What was best for Narada was to lose the contest, so when the princess saw him, she saw that his face was like a monkey. Immediately she turned away and chose another prince, who was Hari Himself. Narada later found out about the deception and became very angry. Only many years later would he find out the reason for Hari’s intervention and how it was all done for his own benefit.

In Sita’s svayamvara, the winner would be determined through a test of strength. King Janaka vowed that Sita would wed whoever could first lift Lord Shiva’s bow. This was no ordinary bow; it took many men just to move it to the sacrificial arena. Sort of like pregame talk before the Super Bowl, the people gathered to watch the contest started to size up the many participants. They were interested to see who could lift the bow and who Sita would spend the rest of her life with. She was Janaka’s pride and joy, his most valued possession. He didn’t want to give her away, as he felt like a rich man about to lose his fortune. Nevertheless, his attention to dharma guided him in the proper direction.

The royal wives were watching from above, perched on the balconies with the windows open. They were especially taken by Rama, as they could tell He was something special. Depending on the mental disposition of a woman, she will find particular qualities attractive in a man. As these were pious women devoted to their husbands, they took chivalry, bravery and overall goodness to be very attractive. In Rama they found these qualities to exist at the highest level, so they couldn’t stop talking about Him.

From that talk their mouths were open, and their shiny teeth aligned together to look like streaks of lightning from afar. The lightning is notable because its brightness contrasts with the darkness of the storm cloud. In the same way, this kind of lightning stood out, meaning that people could tell from afar that the women were talking. Based solely on His external features they wanted Rama to win the contest. Rama is God Himself, an incarnation of the Divine as pointed out by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India.

Lord RamaThe attention on Rama also gave birth to some apprehension. What if Rama couldn’t win? What if He couldn’t lift the bow? He had proven His fighting ability previously in the forest, defending Vishvamitra from the attacks of the night-rangers, vile creatures who could change their shapes at will to fatally wound the most innocent members of society, the priests. But fighting was one thing; this contest relied completely on the strength of the arms. How was this beautiful youth going to lift the bow and win Sita’s hand?

The teeth of the women that shone like lightning would remain visible to all when Rama would lift the bow and wed Sita. These gabbing women would have plenty to talk about for the rest of their lives. And so would all the people present on that day, as saints never tire of hearing of the Supreme Lord’s triumphs, especially when they occur in unlikely situations. Goswami Tulsidas immortalized that chatter in his famous poems, and so we are fortunate to be able to go back in time whenever we want, to a moment when the eyes of the world were focused on God in a shining moment of glory.

In Closing:

Svayamvara of beloved Sita about to take place,

Out come many a royal wife of beautiful face.


Talking with each other like clucking hens,

Discussing who with Sita rest of their life to spend.


Mouths wide open shining were their teeth,

Like in dark raincloud bright lightning streak.


To look at youth from Ayodhya sent,

To peek from ledge wives went.


Victory of Shri Rama they saw from there,

His dark complexion to meet with Sita so fair.