Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Series of Distresses

Sita Devi's hand“Having lost her splendor like the lotus flower struck with frost, tormented by a succession of distresses, the daughter of Janaka has been reduced to a helpless state, like a female crane separated from her companion.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.30)

hima hata nalinī iva naṣṭa śobhā |
vyasana paramparayā nipīḍyamānā |
saha cara rahitā iva cakra vākī |
janaka sutā kṛpaṇām daśām prapannā ||


A parampara is commonly known as a chain of disciplic succession. In this verse, the parampara refers to a chain of unfortunate events, calamities that arrived one after another. They struck a person who never deserved them, and seeing this stoked the ire of Shri Hanuman, a heroic warrior sent to find said person. While in a situation worse than anything you could imagine, the distressed person carried on, although looking like a beautiful female crane who was previously with her companion and now separated from him.

“This is too much to take. First I lost my job. The economy is really bad. I understand that. And so I couldn’t catch a break when it came time for layoffs at my firm. I was one of the first people given the pink slip. Then I lost my home. I couldn’t pay for it anymore. I just didn’t have the money. Then I lost my spouse. They left me for someone else. And then I landed in jail, over something I never did. I was just trying to do the right thing, protecting someone I care about. But that person didn’t care as much about me, so they got me caught up in something illegal, and now I’m in jail. It’s cold in this cell, and the guards are very mean. I have no idea what time it is or if anyone is coming to rescue me. How can all of this be happening to me?”

As horrible as this hypothetical scenario sounds, Sita’s situation was worse. If such things were to happen to us, we would feel pretty bad. If we knew that we had done everything right, that we hadn’t committed any sin, the sting of the pain would be even sharper. Such was the case with Sita, as she had never done anything against the rules of propriety in her life. She only cared about others, and her husband was the same way. He never told a lie and always gave in charity. He never took charity, as it was His duty to protect the citizens.

“Rama always gives in charity but never takes any. He always speaks the truth and never tells a lie. O brahmana, this is Rama’s highest vow and He is incapable of deviating from it.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.17)

Sita DeviIf Rama never told a lie, and Sita always did everything right, why did a series of calamities befall her? First she was kicked out of her home. The eviction order was actually given to her husband Rama. It came from a jealous step-mother. So strong is envy that it makes a person commit crimes against the most innocent. Queen Kaikeyi wanted her own son Bharata to ascend the throne after King Dasharatha. Rama was the eldest son and thus the rightful heir. Consumed with envy through the trickery of her servant, Kaikeyi demanded that Rama not only not get the crown, but that He also leave the kingdom for fourteen years. Dasharatha was in a bind, as he had previously promised Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing. Rama made the decision easy; He left without objection.

Sita insisted on coming along with Him, and while in the forest with Him she would be separated from Rama. This was due to the influence of the evil king of Lanka, Ravana. Again, losing your home and being separated from your wonderful husband are bad enough, but things got even worse. Sita refused to give in to Ravana, so he left her in a grove of Ashoka trees, where she was surrounded by grim-visaged ogres ordered to harass her day and night.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman, a messenger sent to look for Sita at Rama’s behest, sees the beautiful princess in this grove of Ashoka trees and very poetically describes her situation. In the verses that follow in the Ramayana, we get more details about how ghoulish the creatures surrounding Sita were. They had disfigured faces, looked plenty scary, and had blood around their mouths from eating animal flesh. They were also heavily intoxicated from drinking wine. Think of the prison cell filled with the worst characters in the world. With that picture in mind, know that it isn’t nearly as bad as what Sita faced.

Sita was naturally beautiful, but because of her predicament, to Hanuman she looked like a lotus flower destroyed by the frost. Usually, the winter chill is too much for the flowers to bear. They can only be revived by the onset of the spring season. In this case, Hanuman actually looked like the spring personified, as he was perched on a tree and covered by flowers. When he had first found that perch, birds flew away and clipped the flowers on the trees with their wings. Those flowers then fell on the heroic Hanuman.

“Seeing that monkey going in all directions through the collection of trees, all the creatures there took him to be Spring personified.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.12)

Shri HanumanSita’s situation is just another reminder that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes even very bad things happen to very good people, the extreme opposite of what we think should hold true. The material land is temporary and full of miseries. Therefore conditions are never permanent. And due to ignorance others are always envious. Ravana’s envy and lust led to this horrible situation, but the harsh conditions still weren’t enough to break the daughter of King Janaka. She remained firm by thinking of Rama, and as a reward for that stream of consciousness she got the gift of Rama’s messenger. He braved his way into Lanka to deliver life-giving words from Rama.

That same Shri Hanuman revives us from our stupor caused by the bewildering material energy. He reminds us that the meaning of life is to be devoted to God. There is no other purpose to work. The potential for action exists solely for pleasing the Supreme Lord, who looks more at sincerity than ability. Hanuman’s desire to please Rama was genuine, and so the Lord of all creatures, the origin of matter and spirit, made sure that his ability was sufficient as well. No one would believe the things Hanuman did, but the people who know Rama aren’t surprised by them. Similarly, they are not surprised in the ability of Rama’s messengers to deliver the fallen souls.

In Closing:

“Why such calamities come to me?

No more paycheck or home to see.

 

Company of friends and family bereft,

To rot in jail in innocence I’m left.”

 

Situation for Sita in Lanka much more bad,

In distress looked like crane so sad.

 

Female ogres made sure that with peace she was without,

Had horrible faces, blood dripping from each mouth.

 

Hanuman came to meet with Rama’s wife,

Delivering message to give her hope and life.

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