tatastau prītisaṃpannau hari īśvara nara īśvarau |
paraspara kṛta āśvāsau kathayā pūrva vṛttayā ||
According to the Shrimad Bhagavatam, real transcendence is known through three distinct features. In reality, these merely represent perspectives of outside observers. Transcendence is everywhere and it is singular. It looks divided, but it is actually one. There is intelligence to it, since everything in the world operates off of intelligence. There is no such thing as randomness or chance, as karma influences every outcome seen.
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
bhagavān iti śabdyate
“Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.11)
Brahman is the undivided spiritual energy. This is where a person notices the presence of spirit in every sphere. Spirit is what animates matter. Every living thing is a spark of Brahman. Paramatma is the localized spirit. This is different from the individual spirit. Paramatma says that the Supreme Transcendence lives inside of me and you and everyone else. Though it is inside of each creature, it is the same person. The individual soul is not all-pervading in this way.
Bhagavan is where the individual understands the source of spirit and matter to be a person with distinguishable features. Notably, those features are full and complete beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation. Bhagavan has these features all the time, though in some instances He makes certain of them more prominent than others.
Irrespective of the particular religious tradition we follow, we’ve likely come across some variation of the following advice:
“Become friends with the Lord. Invite Him into your life. Don’t keep Him away from you. Don’t be angry. Learn to love your fellow man by keeping the light of the Divine within you. Let it shine bright. Today, at this very moment, enter the kingdom of God. Welcome to peace on earth through your relationship with Him.”
If the Supreme Lord is Bhagavan, then how can any person actually be friends with Him? After all, friendship takes place through mutual interest. As an example, if a person suddenly becomes rich, they will have a difficult time relating to their old friends. When those friends bring up issues relating to saving money by using coupons or discounts, the now rich friend can’t relate to the issue. They have their own problems.
The above referenced verse from the Ramayana gives an idea on how the friendship to the Divine does happen. Additionally, it shows how the Supreme Lord does not make distinctions based on class, external features, or species. Here He is described as nara-ishvara. This means the Lord among men. He is in the rupa, or form, of a human being. God can never be ordinary or fit into any species, but it is His mercy upon others to take specific visible manifestations to perform activities that both instruct and protect.
Rama is nara-ishvara, and He made friends with Sugriva, who is hari-ishvara. The Sanskrit word hari has several meanings. It can refer to a lion, the Supreme Lord, or one who takes away. In this case it refers to a Vanara, which is like a monkey. Indeed, the Supreme Lord, the original thing, the greatest at everything, superior to every species, made friends with a monkey.
The friendship was real, too. Rama shared stories from the past to establish a mutual interest with Sugriva. They both had lost their kingdom. They both were separated from their significant other. Sugriva really felt that Rama was his friend, and Rama completely treated Sugriva as such. There was no looking down at Sugriva based on his species. Rama did not think any lesser of him for having lost in a conflict with his brother Vali. Rama did not judge Sugriva for wanting to reunite with his wife.
The reason the friendship was established was because of Sugriva’s attitude. He was not inimical to Rama. He was not trying to compete with the prince from Ayodhya. A similar attitude is there in Arjuna, the famous bow warrior who spoke with Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Krishna is the same Rama; God appearing in a different way at a different time. During the conversation between Rama and Sugriva, Shri Hanuman was also there. Just as he was there in the meeting between Sugriva and Rama, he was present at the speaking of the Bhagavad-gita through his image on the flag of Arjuna’s chariot.
idaṁ tu te guhyatamaṁ
yaj jñātvā mokṣyase 'śubhāt
“The Supreme Lord said: My dear Arjuna, because you are never envious of Me, I shall impart to you this most secret wisdom, knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence.” (Bhagavad-gita, 9.1)
Krishna gave Arjuna wise instructions in part due to Arjuna being non-envious, anasuyave. Though Rama didn’t necessarily instruct Sugriva on matters of high philosophy, He gave something just as valuable: His friendship. From this one incident we see that everyone is eligible for the Divine mercy. No person is automatically disqualified based on their standing in life. Whether a person is full of desires or free of them, they can still become friends with the Supreme Lord, whose association is the great agent of purification.
Whether in business world standing tall,
Or without anything feeling small.
Whether as human being in intelligence to ascend,
Or into lesser form of monkey to descend.
Eligible for the Divine mercy is all,
See how even Sugriva a friend to call.
By Shri Rama, through Hanuman arranged,
From non-enviousness fortunes changed.