Thursday, June 20, 2019

Selflessness - the recurring theme of Ramayana


            From time immemorial, the Ramayana has been the guiding beacon to the Indian civilization. It has strongly influenced for millennia not merely the cultural ethos, but the spiritual fabric of the Indian existence. It is not a mere history, story or legend as the perceiver’s eye limits. As one refines one’s vision, by bringing these ideas to life in their own, it radically transforms the imbiber of the esoteric subtleties into a veritable reflection of Rama himself.

            Today, we have a committed band of rabid, infected minds with ulterior motives, spreading some imported faiths or merely to pave way for them or break India by attacking the very fabric of its existence that spread falsities and lies by twisting our scriptures. Every day somewhere in Indian social media one gets messages like they will rather have Ravana as their son and say how bad Rama is. They spend hours discussing the lesser understood ideas in Ramayana by adding color of their own dark minds.

            It is imperative that we not only study these scriptures in correct light but also start living it to appreciate it better. The Ramayana has many hues of insights, yet there are some broad strokes that dominate. Today we will discard the esoteric ones for the more mundane practical application. Selflessness is one of the most recurring themes throughout Ramayana

            Only by correct understanding and by living these ideals one will be able to achieve the fruits of these scriptures.

Background:

            There are only two ways in life. The one we are all familiar, we perceive ourselves as the individual. This is referred as Jiva or Jivatman. This is limited, restrictive and exclusive. The vision in this path feels like “I” and the rest of the universe. In short, this is understood as EGO, I-ness, ahamkara.  If we understand the cosmic mind, the entire known and unknown Universe is the summum bonum of all beings and more, the Paramatman. This is expansive, unlimited and inclusive.

            Irrespective of the school of philosophy one subscribes to, the very purpose of life of a Jiva is to reach the exalted state of Paramatman. Depending on the understanding, Acharyas have explained what happens to the Jiva differently, resulting in various schools of thoughts. If we cast aside these, one can find lots of commonalities in their methods and applications. One such idea is of Selflessness.

            All of spirituality is to aid in bridging this chasm of misguided wrong perception of the Jiva by incorporating small doses of ideas that can be perceived as the Paramatman. Selflessness is a simple, practical first step in this inner journey that can give us great dividends.

Storytime: Ramayana

            Kaikeyi’s dormant dark desires are awakened by Manthara, her housemaid from her Kekeya Kingdom. After successfully poisoning Kaikeyi’s mind, Manthara gives a firm plan to execute it. Using Dasaratha’s two promised boons from the past, Kaikeyi feigns rage to trap Dasaratha, who was intoxicated by his love for Kaikeyi, whom he loved next to Rama. Despite his repeated pleas and fainting sessions, Dasaratha realizes his dharma sankata of unable to go back on his words and the horrible boons Kaikeyi was cashing it for – To make Bharata as the next King instead of Rama and to have Rama sent to the forest for 14 years as a forest dwelling hermit. Kaikeyi capitalizes Dasaratha’s mental state and his losing consciousness thinking about separation from Rama to fetch him.

            What we see is a perfect preamble to how Selfishness blinds the very source. Despite the best plans, Kaikeyi never thought she will lose Dasaratha or anticipated him from disowning her as his wife and Bharata as his son. (Read more about this crucial connection in Understanding Agnipariksha) Just like the foolish woodcutter chopping the branch on which he is sitting, Selfishness hurls the very source into deep peril.  

            In a complete contrast, Rama who was always intent on doing his father’s desires and mother’s directive (Rama saw no difference between Kausalya and Kaikeyi) saw the picture completely as he operated only from Selflessness. He was able to see Dasaratha’s dharma sankata through Kaikeyi’s selfish desires. Yet he had neither dejection nor sorrow on being booted out on the day of his coronation nor anger on the situation or its creators. Because HE remained above the limiting factors of the self (read as ego), he operated not just on pure vairagya (dispassion) but also purely out of compassion.

            The standard set by Rama was so high that the closest to him in his thoughts, Sita and Lakshmana too were operating on the same lines. Sita argues vehemently to convince Rama to let her accompany him.  Again one must note her idea was not based on fantasizing the vanvas as an extended honeymoon as she was well aware of the dangers, yet her focus was to fulfill her dharma. Lakshmana stayed steadfast in his desire to serve Rama and Sita, setting the highest exemplar role for seshatvam (Servitude). On the other hand we see the same Selflessness can get expressed in different ways. Urmila, Lakshmana’s wife resolved to follow her husband’s directive to stay back and serve her in-Laws. 

            Bharata when he has the kingdom at his feet, chose to kick it off very much to the chagrin of his mother’s desires. This was possible as Bharata identified himself with Rama whom he saw as his sole Universe. This gives us a clear clue. When a high ideal is chosen as the self, it makes us immune to possibilities of being selfish. The agony of the world cursing him for usurping Rama’s throne was insignificant in Bharata’s heart in front of the pain of seeing Rama go through this grave injustice. A simple good man without Selflessness would be more consumed why me, why I should suffer or look at all the negatives this will unfold. Instead Selflessness launches the person’s mind more deep in dharma, compassion and nishkamya karma. Doesn’t that fit Bharata’s fourteen years of penance, waiting for Rama’s darshan.

Bharata demonstrates highest obedience for Rama’s words by staying back. Yet as a representation of his Selflessness, he lives 14 years in a similar austere way, staying outside the city borders. The first thing he does on Rama’s return is to update on how much the people were prospering and it was all due to the grace of Rama’s paduka. Selflessness allows an impartial, yet compassionate focus in leading a dharmic life.

            Perhaps, in this mega competition to outwit each other’s Selflessness, Shatrugna outshines them all. While Rama being Maryadapurushottama is no surprise, Lakshmana his constant shadow wanting to do life long service is no shock. Bharata’s ability to transmute his desire to serve Rama by focusing on only doing what Rama desires takes this to a higher realm. Shatrugna goes one step further by curbing his desire to serve Rama, the very embodiment of Paramatma, by using his Selflessness to serve those who have dedicated themselves at the feet of Rama, namely Bharata. Of course, the wives of Bharata and Shatrugna, namely Mandavi and Shrutakirti are also unsung heroes of Selflessness.

            Ramayana is a repetition of putting the lower self in its place by a larger mindset of Selflessness. This expansive outlook appears in the form of following dharma, obeying elders, respecting others or sacrifice (Read Tyaga – the quintessential message of Sri Krishna’s life). We see the best example of sacrifice in Jatayu. When Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, being overpowered and helpless, Jatayu wants to impede Ravana. Attacking with all its might, knowing pretty well being outclassed, the intent was above the self. There was no what is in it for me calculation. Selflessness rooted in righteousness gave the ferocity to Jatayu that Ravana had to use a very special sword, Chandrahasa, obtained from Shiva. Though Jatayu’s actions were Selfless, Rama rewards the bird by cremating it with Vedic rituals and treated it like his father. One must hasten to understand, if rewards are the motivation for thinking larger, then it actually makes it even more selfish. We later see Sampaati, Jatayu’s elder brother, got hurt and wingless during a selfless act of protecting his younger sibling.

            Though one may interpret Hanuman’s or Sabhari’s bhakti, they are also inherently an expression of Selflessness. The very essence of Bhakti is to dissolve the smaller individual self into the Universal SELF. One may interpret Hanuman’s acts as purely driven by Bhakti, when in reality; he has transmuted his individual self into Rama. Hence all his acts were Selfless.

            Ravana provides a complete contrast to Selflessness through his petty, selfish behavior. UttaraKanda catalogs how despite his powers and reach, how shallow they were. The four directional guardians – Varuna, Kubera, Yama and Indra were constrained due to the powers of his boons and conditions. Ravana had lost very badly to Kartaviryarjuna and Vaali, yet goes back to Lanka and acts as if he had the best day of his life. Selfishness makes him so blind that he abuses women. He is so intoxicated by selfishness that he asks Indrajit, his son, to stop his yagna, which would make Indrajit, almost invincible. When Shoorpanaka laments about her situation, finding Ravana stunned, she coaxes him by appealing to his selfish side that her mission was all about getting Sita to marry Ravana. This contrast cannot be more glaring.

            As we dealt in detail in the three part series to understand Agnipariksha (Part-1, Part-2 and Concludin Analysis), the entire blame of the drama played by Rama was with the sole purpose of freeing Kaikeyi and Bharata from the words of Dasaratha. Sitting on a serious time crunch, reaching Ayodhya on time to save Bharata from entering the Agni was not an issue thanks to the Pushpakavimana. With the mission of his avatara successful at the elimination of Ravana, Rama was out of choices.  His prior experience to pray Sagara took days and a threat of evaporating the seas. This was when he had a clear mission ahead. So he deftly uses the situation, knowing pretty well Sita will be able to perceive his heart. His pretense rudeness shocks the Universe. Brahma, Shiva, Devas come with Dasaratha. To this day complete certified morons and mischievous readers do not see this wondrous act of Selflessness. Rama subjected Sita not to abuse, but to spotlight on her greatness, yet the primary purpose was to do justice to Bharata and Kaikeyi. One must purify one’s mind with Selflessness, even at the risk of the world misinterpreting it.

            Selflessness makes Rama to weigh in the citizen’s rumor and growing distrust in Sita. In this dharma sankata, he sacrifices his own pregnant wife by sending her off to an ashram. Though Rama never doubts Sita ever, his harsh actions are still hard for us to digest. Interestingly Sita never holds any grudge against Rama, as she also is able to understand the reasoning behind Rama’s predicament. This is not possible if she did place Rama above her individual self.

Applying in our lives

            All Ramayana will be useless if we fail to translate this subtle, yet deep wisdom in our daily lives. Selfishness makes things worse not only for the Self, but all around as in the case of Manthara, Kaikeyi and Ravana. On the other hand, Selflessness helps one heal the oddities in the situation.  Rama gives an easy way out for Dasaratha from his Dharma sankata created by Kaikeyi. Selflessness increases his empathy to impartially analyze the situation, yet compassionately approach everyone. Because there is no constant urge for self aggrandizement or self importance, it becomes very easy to stay rooted in Dharma.

            Krishna gives us the actual process in Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, Sloka 5. We are stuck at a lower level of thought process which is basically I-ness or me or its projection as mine. We may be limited to our body or mind, yet we try to expand the limits of this I-ness through artificially connecting with others as relations. Since both the entities are having similar assertions, no wonder we find there is a power struggle, even amongst couples or parents and kids. We may further expand this assertion through other constructs like country, race, language or religion. In short all the problems in the world as observed are a mere expansion of this willful arrogation.
 
            As our vision opens up, so does our mind. Krishna’s simple assertion is as one is rooted in dharma, the vision expands, providing a bigger field of choices. This allows one to act selflessly. As actions become selfless, they lose the ability to cause bondage. Our Karmas themselves become liberating. The easiest way to expand this vision is to focus on the biggest and only ideal – Paramatman. Once we lift ourselves to place it at the feet of the highest ideal, it automatically starts this self-cleaning, healing process and lifts our thoughts, words and deeds to operate from an elevated plane.

            Selflessness can act as a simple causeway to slowly expanding one’s mind. Whether one does a simple chore or a grand action, as long as we cleave the desires, wants and vasanas from the Karma, they act itself can release us from the bondage of I-ness.

            Ramayana continues to constantly flood our bosom with this highest wisdom if we choose to overcome the little Tamas of not reading or understanding or merely aping some ignoramuses rants. As we make consistent effort to correct our thinking and applying, the more we learn and the positive cycle expands and cleanses one’s mind.

            May Rama’s actions continue to inspire our minds to soar into lofty thinking. May our minds shed this false little self of ego at the feet of Rama’s grace, his naama and his persona. May we continue to read, understand and follow Ramayana in our daily lives.  Jai Shri Ram.

Om Tat Sat    

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Gopi Vastraharana - Facts from Bhagavatam


            Today is Sri Rama Navami. Let us invoke HIS blessings to purify our mind, so we can grasp Dharma, for holding on to it we can definitely get Self-realization. In today’s India, abusing even Rama and Krishna for getting cheap political mileage or for easing the conversion to the imported Abrahamic ideas is more than the norm. We studied this trend that is being infected under the garb of Secularism – a potent Hinduphobic tool. 

Krishna must be booked for eve teasing, mocks a well known strong hinduphobic politician, Veeramani. Many Hindus register protest, but the secular educated masses devoid of bhakti or personal study of Bhagavatam secretly wonders, maybe such characters maligning may know more than all the great sages of Sanatana Dharma. To set right these and other subtle questions, we are going to dive into a synopsis of Bhagavatam episode and analyze it.

Storytime – The stealing of the Gopi’s clothes

            The tenth skandha deals with the leelas of Krishnavarata. This episode occurs when Krishna is around 6-8 years. It must be noted that there were Gopis of all ages from six to eighty, not only diverse in age, but also their spiritual progress. Amongst them this episode recounts the youngest of Gopis. During the first month of Hemantha season (winter), the Kumarikas amongst the Gopis indulge in the worship of Devi Katyayani. At sunrise, they took bathe in cold river Kalindhi, subsist only on vrata food with the sole prayer of having Nanda’s son, Krishna as their husband. This is a practice that has parallels in the south, where Andal follows similar procedure.

            This devout prayerful worship went on every dawn for a month; the girls would march to the river, singing songs on Krishna loudly. One day after depositing their clothes on the bank, they continued singing even as they sported in the river. It may be noteworthy to remember these Kumarikas were naked in the river.  Krishna, eager to bestow the fruits of the rites, collected all the clothes and deposited on a nearby Kadamba tree. He spoke loudly to these maidens to come out of the river collect their clothes. At first the girls thought it was in jest. As weeks of fasting and cold made them shiver in the river, they started pleading. They wondered if such a behavior was in accordance with Nanda’s son. They praised Krishna’s beauty even as they highlighted their pitiable situation. The girls declared they were HIS handmaidens. As a person of propriety, they declared Krishna must return the clothes or else, they will report to his father, who was also the village chieftain. Their repeated pleas produced no impact.

            Seeing Krishna’s resolve and smile, the girls came out covering their private parts with their palms. The pleased Krishna smilingly reminded that according to Dharma shastra, bathing naked is a violation of their vow and a transgression of varuna devta. (Na Nagnah Snanam Aachareth). To atone for this, He suggests the girls place their hands in salutation on the heads and prostrate the ground and then get their clothes. It must be constantly in the backdrop that Krishna is the sole provider of fruits.  Once they understood their mistake, they immediately followed his instructions and Krishna graciously returned their clothes. Though it appears that Krishna seems to have abused and used as toys, the Bhagavatam further records the girls felt no resentment and were not ready to move from the place. They stood there stealing bashful glances at Shyamasundara, their minds enthralled by HIS presence and proximity.

            The Gopis wanted to merge with Krishna, something any deep lover would feel, to lose the identity. In the worldly plane, this can be maximum felt for few seconds in communion. He advises them communing with Paramatma is rising above the body-mind-intellect identity. Krishna mindful of the deep desires of the Gopis assures their emotions will fructify in due course of time. He addresses them as Sati, virtuous women. 

            In the Rasa Lila episode, one can clearly understand the bursting of emotions that surge through the hearts of Gopis gradually elevating them to the highest possible human perception of Krishna. As a prerequisite, one has to give up body consciousness, which is exactly what we learn in this episode.

Deeper insights:

            To get a better grasp of this episode, let us pose some of the most popular wrong ideas and abuses, so we can destroy the deep Tamas that rises even in most cultural Hindus due to the shadows of characters like Veeramani. Before we proceed we must define who is a cultural Hindu – This makes up the majority of the Hindu masses, who neither have time to read scriptures or learn it by seeing wrong portrayals on TV or social media, who have no connection or pride about the roots nor do these people cleave themselves off the cultural practices that binds the nation. Read more about them in the Confused Modern Hindu.

How can we be sure he was around 6-8?

If we take Bhagavatam as the source to abuse Krishna, then isn’t it logical that the only source for these episodes is only Bhagavatam. One must not forget that after this episode, Krishna has many other pastimes like giving salvation to the women who fed him, obstructing Indra yajna followed by the lifting of the Govardhan, his morphing as Govinda besides the Rasa Lila. So we can be fairly certain of his rough age.

            For the self certified skeptics and with deep tamas, earlier in third skanda, Shuka records Vasudeva bringing Krishna to be raised in Vraja by Nanda as a covered fire for eleven years on account of Kamsa.

ततो नन्दव्रजमितः पित्रा कंसाद्विबिभ्यता एकादश समास्तत्र गूढार्चिः सबलोऽवसत् (Bhagavatam 3-2-26)
tato nanda-vrajam ita pitrā kasād vibibhyatā ekādaśa samās tatra gūhārci sa-balo 'vasat

It is not a logical leap to understand that Krishna left Vraja at eleven and had many pastimes after this episode, so one can comfortably arrive at the age as 6-8.

How can we be sure of the age of the girls?

The media for titillating the masses and also some of the medieval texts where the poets took  latitude to highlight that Rasa Lila was above the physical communion chose to portray the Gopis as perhaps older teens. It must be firmly noted that Bhagavatam repeatedly refers them as Kumarikas. From the choice of words and other descriptions given, it is obvious that these were pre-pubescent girls. It is obvious Ved Vyasa wanted to clearly distinguish Kanyas, who are much older and Balika, a word that refers to girl children. One important clue is in the fact; they were all naked in the river, ignorant of the shastras, yet displaying their childish side. It has been with deep Hindu culture that no girl after puberty goes out naked, be it with her friends or alone, giving firm credence to the idea that the girls were pre pubescent. Hence the popular portrayal of them as much older women is not only mischievous, but at the root of all deliberate defamation and abuse.
           
How do we know there was no sexual perversion like the ones who abuse?

As noted, the basis of this abuse is deep ignorance in the minds of the public. The issue is we try to understand Paramatma with a silly human construct, worse yet we want to impute the dirtiest vasanas of our mind. The colored prism of our understanding coupled with the lack of realization that Bhagawan is Pure Consciousness only forms the basis for even entertaining such questions. The ones who hurl choicest epithets like Veeramani are a different breed and have different motives.

            It is one thing to claim whatever we want, is there proof from the same scripture? Answer is a resounding yes. Krishna is highly pleased with the worship and devotion of the Gopis and grants their deepest desire to immerse themselves into HIS SUPREME SELF. He asks them to wait for a futuristic time. 

            Krishna clearly declares that DESRIE (Kama) directed towards HIM with the intention of being absorbed in HIM does not result in sensual enjoyment. Just as a boiled grain loses its germinating capacity, association with Krishna destroys all sensuous nature of Kama.


मय्यावेशितधियां कामः कामाय कल्पते भर्जिता क्वथिता धानाः प्रायो बीजाय नेशते (Bhagavatam 10-22)
na mayy āveśita-dhiyāṁ kāmaḥ kāmāya kalpate bharjitā kvathitā dhānāḥ prāyo bījāya neśate
           
Why is Krishna exploiting these innocent girls, is this not a classic case of eve teasing?

            Even ahead of the Sri Krishna’s entry into the scene, it is very evident what the Kumarikas were after and the intention of HIS coming is declared even at the outset as to fulfill their desires and prayers. The girls were intent on having Krishna as their husband. Though the prayer is to Katyayani, Krishna declares in Bhagavad Gita that HE is the sole dispenser of the fruits of actions. He repeatedly declares HE is the dhaata, the dispenser. So in order to fulfill the Gopis sincere prayers, when HE HIMSELF is nearby, what special form HE needs to take. Also HE is the fruit the Gopis want, which only HE can provide. It makes logical sense.

            One must note that after Krishna returned the clothes, they were comfortable not only wearing them in his presence, but will not budge from the place. One of the highest forms of Bhakti, declared in the Shastras is Nayaka-nayika bhava. The Supreme is envisioned as Purusha, this is not the proverbial male in the human sense. This was the attitude of Andal, a great Tamil Vaishnavite saint, Mira Bai of the Rajputs and even many Saivite saints like Ramalinga Swami (Vallalar) of Tamil Nadu. To reduce this to mere sex and flesh level is not mere blasphemy but the perversion of the mind at its worst.

            Krishna’s approval of their prayers and a promise to give them a special experience at an appropriate time was the only thing that makes the Gopis return home reluctantly, yet with their hearts brimming with love and emotions for Krishna. The Bhagavatam doesn’t record one instance of any Gopi ever complaining against Krishna. It records numerous instances of complaints about HIS stealing of butter, but not of the hearts.

Is there a deeper significance of this episode?

            From Dharma shastra level, Krishna is eager to correct the mistake of HIS devotees, so that they can progress in the spiritual journey and attain HIM. He goes over and beyond to ensure they are taken care. We see innumerable instances in the Mahabharata, where HE bends so many practices, established dogmas to protect the Pandavas, especially Arjuna. Here HE merely makes sure the Gopis follow the established Principles.

            We already noted though the worship is carried out to the Devi form, HE being the fruit of their prayer and also the fact HE alone is the sole dispenser of the fruits, Krishna merely takes advantage of their prayer preparation time.

            From a Vedantic point of view, the body, the panchakoshas need to be relinquished for any spiritual aspirant to realize. It is well established in the science of Vedanta. To transcend the body, it takes a lot of Sadhana. To immerse completely with Paramatma, one must get rid of the name-form complex (nama rupa). For the highly evolved spiritual aspirants in Gopis, the spiritual master, yogeshwara, wants to aid in their journey by forcing them to be cognizant of this crucial milestone. Infact, HE holds their hands to cross this threshold.

            So whether we take it from an esoteric Vedantic or the deep bhakti views, one can only melt at the compassion of Krishna and HIS eagerness to raise each one of us. That is why HE aptly earned the epithet, Bhaktavatsala, the lover of HIS devotees.

What can we do against characters like Veermani?

            This purely depends on the individual capacity and to the level we grasp Dharma. But there is something we all can do. Get correct knowledge directly from the sources. Spend sometime erecting a fortress around yourself. Strengthen it with Sadhana and Shastras. Practice Kshatriyata to the extent our spiritual foundation supports. The worst we can do is being apathetic and indifferent or talk false Vedanta telling let us ignore such characters. Even Ravana or Hiranyakashipu or Duryodhana refused to accept even when Paramatma HIMSELF appeared to impart wisdom. This only implies if we do not raise ourselves be in as Bhakta, Jnani or even in Karma Yoga, we do not deserve to be rescued. Lies thrive only when there is no TRUTH, just like absence of light is darkness. It is upto us to dispel this darkness we have cast upon ourselves.

            Can we use the abundance of negative thinking all around us as an inflection point, one to ponder that we all have a huge role to play in the society, which we can never effectively do if we do not start from within.

            May on this auspicious day of Rama Navami, we fervently make a sankalpa to not only seek the TRUTH within, but also in our scriptures. Let us stop making the media and other perverted platforms as the source of our shastras. Let us take every effort to slowly, yet surely take some time off the busy lives, chasing ephemeral trinkets and spend few minutes at the lotus feet of Rama. It may be Krishna or Shiva or Devi. Still let us not forget that the divinity expressing in the different roles is the same.

Om Tat Sat