Sunday, February 17, 2013

Questioning the Muni

Vishvamitra Muni“O best of munis, your words can shake the mountains and the earth, but this situation requires the right behavior that will be for the good of the people.” (Janaki Mangala, 91)

munibara tumhareṃ bacana merū mahi ḍolahin |
tadapi ucita ācarata pānca bhala bolahin ||


In traditional Vedic culture, the order of the parents is never to be defied. If they tell you to do something, you do it. They are the first authority figures, after all. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Even if one or both of our parents weren’t around during our upbringing, someone was, and they are thus automatically afforded respect. The same respect should be offered to the guru, or spiritual guide. Yet on some occasions we think we know better and thus doubt their words. All works out in the end only if we eventually follow through on their advice, despite our misgivings.

A famous example that illustrates this fact is the first meeting between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. The guru is the representative of God. Since he is godly and treated on the same level as God, he is known as gurudeva. He is not God, but he is offered treatment as if he were. There is a reason for this. The respected guru unlocks the door to the spiritual kingdom, a place free of birth, old age, disease and death. The only requirement for winning the guru’s favor is humility. If you are humble and sincere in wanting to learn from them, they will open up to you. And if they are part of an authorized chain of teachers originating from the Supreme Lord, the information they offer will help you reach the ultimate destination.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta SarasvatiThe acharyas are the notable gurus who lead by example. Both Shrila Prabhupada and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati are known as acharyas today, and so they are not ordinary people. They are specifically empowered by the Supreme Lord to descend to earth to rescue scores of fallen souls. Nevertheless, they go through typical life cycles, where it appears that in their youth they are ignorant, to distribute their mercy more freely to others.

In his youth Shrila Prabhupada was not yet a recognized acharya, and his fateful meeting with his future spiritual master took place when he was in his early twenties. In this first meeting, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati asked the young Prabhupada to preach about the glories of bhakti-yoga, devotional service to God, to the English speaking world. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was a recognized guru, and so his words carried tremendous weight. Basic etiquette called for following his advice. Yet the young Prabhupada was a little challenging during that first meeting, saying that the issue of India’s independence needed to be solved first. Despite his stubbornness, that initial meeting eventually led to Prabhupada taking up the cause seriously. He protested a little at first, but later on the original advice was taken so seriously that today the name of Krishna is known throughout the world.

A long time before that, during an ancient time period, a notable spiritual master named Vishvamitra gave a suggestion to a king who was hosting a contest. The contest was related to a bow. Whoever could lift it first would win the hand of the king’s daughter, Sita, in marriage. The contest saw royal families from around the world arrive in Janakpur. They wanted to win Sita and bring her into their family.

The problem, of course, was that the bow was impossible to lift. None of the powerful princes could even move it. The king, Janaka, became sad over this. To him, it looked like a forest of lotus flowers had been destroyed by a frost. Vishvamitra, who was there with two youths, Rama and Lakshmana, asked the king to give permission for the elder Rama to try to lift the bow. Vishvamitra wasn’t Janaka’s guru, but he was respected enough as a brahmana, or one in the priestly order. Rama and Lakshmana listened to his words. Those brothers had just protected Vishvamitra and other brahmanas from attacking night-rangers in the forest. If Vishvamitra had such wonderful and obedient disciples, princes from the Raghu dynasty, serving him, he must have been someone special.

Despite Vishvamitra’s position, Janaka was a little hesitant to agree to his request. In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, we see that Janaka acknowledges the power of Vishvamitra’s words. He says that those words can shake mountains and the earth. Brahmanas during those times could curse someone just by declaring it out loud. They could have fought back against the Rakshasas attacking them in the forest by casting spells, but that would have decreased their accrued spiritual merits. That is why Vishvamitra approached the king of Ayodhya to allow Rama to come to the forest. Rama and Lakshmana were of the royal order, so they were warriors by occupation.

“By the powers gained through our performance of religious austerities, we are certainly capable of killing these Rakshasa demons. But at the same time we don’t want to waste our ascetic merits, which took such a long time to achieve, on these demons. Oh Raghava [Rama], these demons are always putting obstacles in the way, making it impossible for us to concentrate on our performance of austerity and penance. Therefore, even though we are being eaten away by the Rakshasas, we do not curse them.” (Sages speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.13-14)

Lord RamaWhile acknowledging the power of Vishvamitra’s words, Janaka also says that the words should speak of the proper behavior for the situation at hand. That behavior should be for the benefit of all the people. Essentially, Janaka thought that Vishvamitra’s advice was improper. “How was the youthful Rama going to lift an extremely heavy bow that none of the other competitors could even move? How was Rama’s failure going to please the people, who all wanted Him to win?”

This hesitancy was understandable on Janaka’s part, but eventually Vishvamitra would win out. Those words would be followed, and they would benefit everyone, as Rama is the best well-wishing friend of every living entity. As the Vedas proclaim, He is the Supreme Lord in His personal incarnation as a warrior prince. He is the worshipable deity of the brahmanas, brahmanya-devaya, so they know what He is capable of. Vishvamitra gave the right advice to Janaka, and the doubtful yet respectful king eventually followed through, and the world was better off for it.

In Closing:

With a bold declaration a saint to make,

Strong is their word, mountains can shake.

 

This fact Janaka did acknowledge,

But still hesitant to give Rama the privilege,

Of trying to lift the heavy bow of Shiva,

Princes’ failure caused doubt of Vishvamitra.

 

Understandable to question words of guru,

But success only to come when following through.

 

King to acquiesce, Rama given the chance,

Lifted bow, faith in muni to enhance.

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