Monday, February 11, 2013

Dumbfounded

Sita and Rama“That beautiful picture cannot be explained; it can only be felt. With nectar, a dumb person can only drink it, not explain its taste.” (Janaki Mangala, 87)

so chabi jāi na barani dekhi manu mānai |
sudhā pāna kari mūka ki svāda bakhānai ||


Herein we get a metaphor for how devotional service, bhakti-yoga, operates. In trying to describe the beauty, wonder, glory, fame, opulence, and power of the Supreme Lord and His energy, everyone is dumb. Being dumb is bad if there is someone else who is wiser than you, but if everyone is dumb in comparison to the highest being, then it’s not so bad. More importantly, those same glorious attributes can be experienced. Just because we can’t explain them doesn’t mean that we can’t use them for deriving pleasure.

Can a dumb person explain how nectar tastes? More importantly, would they even care about explaining it? The explanation is helpful in trying to give others an accurate assessment of the drinking experience, but the drink itself is meant to be experienced by the sense of taste. Being dumb in this context means not having the ability to communicate effectively with respect to an experience. Think of a child who tells you that what they’re eating is “yummy.” They don’t say that the salt mixes well with the sugar or that the perfect combination of spices adds an exotic flavor to the dish. They just eat and don’t worry too much about poetic ability.

The same tact is taken by the wise saints who follow bhakti-yoga as their occupational duty in life. The biggest questions in life are indeed impossible to answer. For starters, we can’t think beyond the bounds of time and space. Try to go back to the beginning of time. Now realize that there was a time before that, and a time before that. Keep going back and you’ll never reach an end, because time’s span is infinite. The same applies to space. Travel as far out as you can go, but where do you reach an end? Is there a barrier somewhere? Ah, but the barrier must have something on the other side, otherwise it wouldn’t be a barrier. Therefore space continues beyond the limits of vision.

If we can’t fully understand time and space, how can we explain them? How can we explain the Supreme Absolute Truth, that force which is beyond duality? No birth, death, old age or disease. No loss, no gain. No sadness, and no happiness. Just a fixture; a rock that is immune to the deficiencies that plague us. How are we to explain such a force? Is it a person or just an energy?

The Vedas say that the human birth is auspicious because it brings the potential for understanding these things, to some degree. This is key. We can only understand a little bit about that which is beyond our control. We can never have full knowledge. This should make sense because a force with full knowledge would never need to acquire it. If, at any point, I need to be taught something, it means that I am not perfect. If I am imperfect at any point in time, it means that I am not all-perfect.

Better it is to experience the Absolute Truth than to try to understand it esoterically. The highest experience is that which brings a transcendental taste, which means that there is enjoyment from connecting. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Goswami Tulsidas gives us an idea of what that taste is like and how it is impossible to explain.

But isn’t this verse an explanation? By describing an event from a long time ago, the poet uses words to convey a thought. Therefore he is explaining something, not just experiencing it.

Through instruction, one can lead others towards a taste. For instance, I may not be able to tell you how this nectar I’m holding tastes, but I can advise you to give it a try and see for yourself. The Vaishnava saints, the devotees of the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth, guide us towards this taste test. If we repeatedly indulge in that taste under ideal conditions, we’ll never want to give it up. And since it is the highest taste, it brings the highest pleasure.

Sita and RamaIn this instance, the taste is the vision of the Supreme Lord and His eternal consort. God is a singular entity, and so is His direct energy expansion which gives Him pleasure. Depending on the time and circumstance, they both appear on earth in different manifestations. In the Treta Yuga, God was the warrior prince Rama and His energy the princess of Videha, Sita. One time they were set to be married in King Janaka’s assembly where many princes from around the world had gathered.

The divine natures of the personalities in question were unknown to the people observing. They just drank up the visual nectar instead. They speculated about Rama and His qualities and how Sita was the perfect match for Him. They could tell that Sita and Rama had eyes for each other, and paired together the entire scene became auspicious.

The poet stops at this point, however. He can’t really explain anything more about the beauty. One has to just experience it. But how do we do that if we’re not there? This event took place thousands of years ago, so why explain it to us and then tell us that it can’t be fully explained? One of the many glorious features of the Supreme Lord is that His name carries His presence. He has many names assigned to Him based on His qualities. Rama is one such name, and Sita is a name for His energy. Hare also addresses the same Sita, and Krishna describes the same Rama in His original form of a beautiful youth with a blackish complexion, holding a flute in His hands. Thus by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” one can taste the nectar of the beauty for themselves.

One of the definitions of kirtana is “to describe.” By trying to describe the glories of God, one engages in kirtana, and through this method there is a taste as well. Though he couldn’t fully describe the beauty of the scene in question, just by trying Tulsidas tasted the nectar. He was by no means dumb; the works he authored showed his mastery over Sanskrit and various dialects of Hindi. Nevertheless, the humble souls always consider themselves dumb in relation to the Supreme Lord, and so in full humility they follow bhakti-yoga. They know that to taste transcendence is better than to try to understand it solely within the mind. Because of their attitude, the Supreme Lord guarantees that they never run out of the nectar they desire.

In Closing:

Intoxicating beverage given to the dumb,

To describe taste words come to him none.

 

With talking why on this time spent?

Nectar is for your thirst to quench.

 

Humble poet as dumb himself takes,

Accurate description of picture can’t make.

 

Sita and Rama, of beauty at which to marvel,

Through holy names back in time travel.

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