Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Rescuing Hand

Sita Devi's hand“Afraid of a bad outcome, she was drowning in a pain of hopelessness while looking at Rama. Then she felt twitching in the eyes and left side, which acted like a rescuing hand.” (Janaki Mangala, 101)

hota biraha sara magana dekhi raghunāthahiṃ |
pharaki bāma bhuja nayana deta janu hāthahi ||

“God, I’ve been so faithful to You for so long. If You really cared about me, You would give me some kind of indication. I’m so worried about the outcome to this particular event that I can’t even think straight. I need something to reassure me that everything will be alright. Yes, I realize that in the past I worried over such things and that later on they amounted to nothing, but for some reason I can’t think beyond the present. I need some kind of sign from You that everything will be alright.”

This sort of request is understandable, especially if we have been faithful to the “man upstairs” for a long time. Not that we offered Him our attention with a specific benefit in mind, but there is the implied understanding that if you do things the right way you won’t fall into the depths of despair. In the Vedas such depression is considered a product of the mode of ignorance, which is the lowest of the three modes of nature.

Bhagavad-gita, 14.8“O son of Bharata, the mode of ignorance causes the delusion of all living entities. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.8)

depressionDepression is often tied to laziness or long periods of inactivity, both of which are also in the mode of ignorance. While the three modes of nature are discussed at length in Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita, we can understand them very quickly using the context of doing things the right way versus the wrong way. The right way is the mode of goodness, the wrong way is the mode of ignorance. Somewhere in between, with a little right and a little wrong, is the mode of passion. When we see murders, rapes, robberies and the like reported on television, those can be likened to the mode of ignorance. This is the stuff we would consider stupid. When we see worship of a higher power, kindness to strangers, charity to those who are in need, humility, and study of the meaning of life the behaviors fall into the mode of goodness. The mode of passion is anything in between, like say for instance starting a business, playing a sport, or chasing after members of the opposite sex.

It is important to rise to the mode of goodness because goodness equates to knowledge. And isn’t it always better to be in knowledge than in ignorance? If I know how to drive a car, isn’t that better than not knowing? Perhaps there is the detriment due to the increased attention that arises from other potential passengers looking for a ride, but this in itself doesn’t make the knowledge of operating a motor vehicle harmful. The parent is superior to the child because they know what it is like to be a child and what it is like to be a parent. The teacher in the classroom is in a similar position, and therefore they are superior.

schoolTo reach the mode of goodness and stay there is not easy. Charity, sacrifice and knowledge can all fall into the three different modes. Just because I’m charitable doesn’t mean that I’m charitable in the right way. I could give guns away to criminals, condoms to promiscuous children, and cash to drunkards to buy alcohol. None of these charitable donations are good in the long run. To follow sacrifice, charity, and knowledge gathering in the mode of goodness requires attention and guidance from an authority figure. For this reason the brahmanas are considered the brains of society. A brahmana by quality is someone who lives in the mode of goodness and who can therefore guide all other members of society.

In the scene from the verse quoted above, you have a woman who lived in the mode of goodness her whole life. She never did anything the wrong way. By the book she followed the code of conduct assigned to her, and her father was the same way. But now she was in a desperate situation, feeling as if she were sinking in an ocean of despair. On this particular day her husband was to be determined. From the many princes that came to her father’s kingdom, one would be chosen as her future partner for life.

If such a thing were to happen today, a woman would understandably be upset prior to the ceremony even taking place. If you grow up with the hope of finding true love in an amorous relationship that is voluntarily entered into, the arranged marriage seems like a punishment. In Sita’s case, the culture was such that she knew her husband would be chosen for her. She was fine with that aspect of it, but now that she was in the assembly, she was able to have a look at some of the candidates.

One in particular caught her eye. It is the general belief that in a society where men and women freely intermingle, the women who are more lusty prefer male companions who are expert at seducing women. In essence, they want someone who knows what they are doing in the romance department. On the flip side, the chaste women prefer someone who is more honorable in character, someone who will protect them for a long time. No one is more chaste than Sita, who is an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, the eternal consort of the Supreme Lord. Therefore she is only attracted to pure goodness, which exists in the highest degree in Shri Rama.

Lord RamaHe was there as a participant in the contest to determine Sita’s husband. King Janaka made the vow that whoever would first lift Lord Shiva’s bow would win Sita’s hand. This meant that even though Sita now had eyes for Rama, it wasn’t guaranteed that He would marry her. He had to lift the bow, a bow which none of the other princes could even move thus far. The situation on appearance looks like ordinary lust, but in fact Sita wanted Rama as a husband. Based on her culture, she wanted to serve Him for the rest of her life. Since Rama is the same Supreme Lord that every tradition worships to some extent, her desire was above even the mode of goodness. She wanted to serve Rama not just for virtue’s sake. She would serve Him no matter what the codes of conduct called for.

When she saw the bow, she knew that it would be difficult to lift. Therefore she started to worry very much. Fearing that Rama wouldn’t win the contest, she fell into an ocean of despair. At this moment of trouble, however, a sign from above came to her in the form of involuntary movement in her eyes and left side [the word “bama” here can refer to arm or hand]. You can call this superstition if you like, but in the Vedic tradition there are specifics given as to which signs are ominous and which are auspicious. This twitching  was auspicious and it gave her hope; it acted like a hand to rescue her from the pool of despair she was drowning in.

For those who are constantly tossed around by the forces of the dark age of Kali, by regularly hearing the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” fortunate circumstances can be created rather than hoped for. This is a subtle rescuing hand that was passed on by Lord Chaitanya and His followers, and it is so wonderful because it can be created at any time, whenever one is in despair. The names reference the same Sita and Rama, the energy of God and the energetic, and so the good omens are sure to arrive.

In Closing:

“Lord, not sure if you’ve heard these prayers of mine,

Show me that You hear, give me a sign.


All this time in worship I have spent,

Let me know that for good it went.”


Some type of benefit from worship you expect,

So not strange when these sentiments to detect.


In Sita, desire only to offer her love unending,

Twitching eyes auspicious sign to her sending.