Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Beyond Scientific Measurement

Sita and Rama in the forest“Satisfied with fruits and roots, faithfully serving her husband, she feels the same supreme happiness in the forest as in a palace.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.20)

samtuṣṭā phala mūlena bhartṛ śuśrūṣaṇā parā |
yā parām bhajate prītim vane api bhavane yathā ||

This single verse from the Ramayana quoting Shri Hanuman exposes a means of measurement unknown to material science. It provides a barometer to gauge true happiness, and if we break down the components, we see that material opulence, exploitation of resources, victory over competing forces, and even long life are not the primary factors for determining superiority. “Survival of the fittest” is the key concept in the theory of evolution, but if the very definition of fitness is invalid, how can the rest of the theory hold water? True fitness is exhibited by saintly characters like Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama.

“The whole universe was in a very hot, dense state. Then suddenly chemicals collided and we got the planets, the stars, and the many varieties of life forms. Evolution thus began, eventually leading to the current state, where the human being is the most intelligent species.” This is the basic theory, and one is not supposed to question it. They are not supposed to ask, “Who created the hot, dense state? What made the chemicals collide? If that collision created life, why can’t the whole thing be replicated? Why can’t we create even a miniature replica of the sun? Your theory doesn’t touch on the infiniteness of time and space, so how can your assertions be considered beyond fault?”

If these issues are brought up, the common response is that visible evidence exists to show the evolution of the species. But in actuality, this is more or less describing what occurs externally, after the fact. It is akin to watching a football game, analyzing what happened, and then making predictions based on that information. The predictions are not always correct. If they were, the world would be full of wealthy gamblers. The predictions are just guesses based on information that was gathered and then studied. You can make educated guesses going forward, but you don’t really know why certain things happen. You don’t know why such and such player made such and such mistake at a critical time in the game. You don’t know what went into the player’s psychological makeup and you don’t know what the many independent participants in the game were thinking. Do we even know exactly what we were thinking prior to every past decision we made?

The atheist theory is very appealing. If a bunch of chemicals collided to create the universe, should someone somehow figure out how to manipulate those chemicals in the right way, they could essentially become God. The more intelligent, i.e. those who have this valuable knowledge of exploitation, could thus become the dominant species. Again, there are several factors overlooked here. First, longevity doesn’t automatically mean fitness. A tree can live for thousands of years. Does that make it superior to the human being? And what about old age and disease? Is the pinnacle of achievement the ability to transcend disease, live without food and water, and remain generally safe for one hundred years?

Forest of treesIn the Vedas not much importance is given to visual evidence gathered after the fact. Perfect information is provided at the outset of the creation, which goes through cycles of manifestation and dissolution. The real business, that of knowing the Supreme Absolute Truth, is undertaken by the wise souls. In this endeavor material opulence is not important, and neither is full knowledge of the history of the creation. We know that today there are millions of organisms on the earth doing a variety of things. In one hundred years’ time, the same situation will exist. One hundred years ago the situation was also the same. In any time period, there are people being born, people living, and people dying.

Fitness of a species comes down to its overall level of happiness. And if that happiness is not dependent on external conditions, if it can be experienced in any situation, then the living entity has really achieved the fittest condition. Therefore the common benchmarks of a long life and material opulence have no bearing here. The measurement for real fitness is based on the way one lives with respect to consciousness.

Shri Hanuman touches upon the secret to success in life in this verse describing the history of Sita Devi. Hanuman is a historical personality and also a divine figure of the Vedic tradition. The same goes for Sita. Hanuman’s review took place many thousands of years ago in a grove of Ashoka trees, where he was perched on one of the trees looking at Sita from a distance. He had been searching for her for quite a long time, so he was pleased to have finally found her. He noticed that she was in distress, however, held captive here against her will. He remembered some of the hardships she previously endured and how they didn’t really have an effect on her.

It’s sort of like saying that a person has a disease, but they are not feeling the effects of it. Think of it like having a cold but not feeling any of the symptoms. Here it is said that Sita was satisfied with fruits and roots and was as happy in the forest as she was in a palace. She was in a royal family since birth, and in adulthood she married into royalty as well. So her whole life was spent living in palaces. She lived in the forest when her husband Rama was exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya. He wasn’t allowed back for fourteen years, so it wasn’t like a weekend camping trip. She had to rough it fulltime, and based on Hanuman’s accounts, she managed to survive just fine.

“I shall happily reside in the forest, considering it to be just like my paternal home, paying no attention to the three worlds and only thinking of my husband's vow.”  (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.12)

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana in the forestSita had predicted how she would feel. Prior to leaving, Rama told Sita to stay at home, but she argued with Him, saying that she would be happier by His side. The source of her happiness is also given by Hanuman. She was faithfully engaged in the service of her husband. This is what enabled her to turn hardships into auspiciousness. This isn’t common. If we’re forced to go on a diet for a week, we have trouble. Imagine if your diet every day for fourteen years consisted of fruits and roots. Would you not be unhappy?

In Sita’s case, the pleasure of serving her husband minimized any and all pains. The universal relevance of this verse comes from the fact that her husband is the origin of the creation. He is the Supreme Lord, a non-different expansion of the original Personality of Godhead who roamed the earth to provide sacred pastimes to be cherished by devotees like Hanuman in the subsequent years.

The living entity can also please Rama and thereby feel pleasure whether living in opulence or squalor. The famous saints of the past have proved this with their behavior. Vaishnavas like Ramanuja, Chaitanya, Tulsidas, Rupa Gosvami and others were very renounced according to material estimation. They lived on practically nothing, and they didn’t feel discomfort because they were one hundred percent engaged in service to Rama, who is also addressed by other names such as Krishna and Vishnu.

The best way that service takes place in the current age is through chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” The person who chants this mantra in full humility and dependence is the fittest person, because they survive in practically any condition. Hanuman noticed this feature in Sita, and to this day he follows in the same line by always chanting the glories of the divine couple. He doesn’t need much to survive, and in that survival he shows what the good life is really like.

In Closing:

“One thing my husband you should know,

Happy I will be if to forest we go.


Just as if I were in a palace at my home,

To be in full comfort from serving You alone.”


Hanuman remembered Sita’s commitment,

His analysis for society’s betterment.


From her behavior to witness,

He gave real assessment on fitness.