“…If the Supreme Lord gives one protection, even though one has no protector and is in the jungle, one remains alive, whereas a person well protected at home by relatives and others sometimes dies, no one being able to protect him.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.2.40)
According to the Bhagavad-gita, those who are conscious of God and believe in His power, initially approach Him for one of four different reasons. Some are interested in acquiring wealth, some are inquisitive to learn about the soul and the transient nature of things in the material world, some want to learn about the Absolute Truth, and there are others who are distressed and are looking for relief from their pains. Anything that can bring one closer to God is certainly a good thing, but the pure devotee is one who appreciates God and loves Him without any motive.
“Pure devotional service should be free from the desire for any material benefit or for sense gratification, as these desires are cultivated through fruitive activities and philosophical speculation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Introduction)
Viewing God as an order supplier is quite normal. Frustrated in our attempts at finding happiness, it’s not difficult to realize that there must be a higher power who controls everything. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures emanating from India, tell us that the higher power is Lord Shri Krishna. He is known as Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is described as such because there can be many forms of Godhead, but only one original. There are millions of universes and planets, and even millions more living entities. Management of these affairs requires God to expand Himself directly into a multitude of forms. Yet at the same time, Lord Krishna is still the original.
“Krishna who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.1)
Since God is the original creator, He passes down certain law codes that one is recommended to follow. These codes are known as the shastras, or scriptures. They provide information on how society should be run, including how governments should be formed and operated. The living entity is the same in quality with God, but much different quantitatively. For example, we have knowledge of our current life’s experiences, but we have no clue about other people. This is because our soul, jivatma, only resides in our body. God, on the other hand, is so powerful that He has expanded Himself into the bodies of every living entity as the Supresoul, or Paramatma. He resides side-by-side with the jivatma inside everything living entity, meaning He is conscious of all of our activities and desires.
Since God is great, one of His primary roles is that of protector. Since His power is unlimited, He can provide protection to anyone that asks Him for it. In fact, this protection is actually guaranteed for a certain group of people, regardless of whether they ask for it or not. This is part of the laws of nature relating to spiritual life. For example, in the material world it is the duty of a government to provide protection. In fact, that is its primary role, though it is hardly viewed that way today. Since the modern age is so technologically and economically advanced, governments around the world are now viewed as god-like, sort of like order suppliers. Since democracy is the popular style of government today, any group of people can vote themselves money by backing candidates who promise to provide handouts. In essence, the government is viewed as a large wish-fulfilling cow, and the debate is only about who will get what.
Applying a little logic, one can see that this view of government is severely flawed. For example, every person living in a country is equally a citizen. Therefore no person has a right to someone else’s money. In fact, everyone has an equal right to protection from the government, for that is the reason government was created in the first place. The Declaration of Independence of the United States says that man is endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This means that man is free to act how he chooses, as long as he doesn’t violate the rights of others. In this regard, each person has a right to defend their property and their life. Government represents the collective right to self-defense of a large community or group of people.
The protection offered by the government is available to every citizen, even without them asking. If a crime is committed, the police will come and do their job without solicitation from anyone. Police officers, firefighters, and military men are duty-bound to uphold their responsibilities to society at large. They take great pride in their work, for they perform their duties without much fanfare. Many times, their brave work goes unappreciated. This is because the protection they offer is automatic and expected by the population they serve.
From time to time, the police or other emergency responders may not be present in a crisis, so one is required to specifically call for help. In America, the 911 telephone hotline specifically serves this purpose. By calling that number, an operator can quickly get a hold of an ambulance or a police officer and have them come and deal with the situation. In a similar manner, even though God’s protection is automatic, sometimes the need arises to specifically ask for His help. This was the case many thousands of years ago in the Dandaka forest.
During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, many great sages took to forest life to execute their prescribed duties. The sages, or brahmanas, were essentially priests by occupation. We tend to view priests today as people who live a similar lifestyle as average folk, except for the fact that they may live in churches. Under Vedic guidelines, the brahmanas are to voluntarily take up a meager lifestyle. The motto is “simple living, high thinking”. By limiting one’s wealth and possessions, a person can better concentrate on studying religion, performing sacrifices, and helping others in society to do the same. When comparing society to the body of a human being, the brahmanas are considered to be the brain. If the brain is distracted with sinful activities such as drinking, smoking, or gambling, it will be very hard for it to concentrate on more important subjects like religion.
The brahmanas took to forest life because it was more conducive to performing sacrifices and study of the Vedas. Urban life can be very noisy and distracting. The other advantage of life in the forest is that one who lives there must accept austere conditions by default. Many people today like to take camping trips as a way of roughing it and getting in touch with nature. Yet there is a big difference between sleeping in a tent for a few days versus actually making the forest your permanent abode. So these brahmanas were very advanced yogis, and also great devotees of Krishna.
God is so kind and sweet, that many people take to worshiping Him in times of trouble. The four reasons for approaching God mentioned above apply to those who have some belief in the existence of a higher power. Sadly, there is also a group of people who not only don’t believe in God, but who also despise those who are religious. The Vedas have many names for these people, but the primary ones are duskritinah and asura. Sometimes we see someone committing abominable acts or purposefully acting against the standard principles of decency, and we wonder how someone could act in such a way. The Vedas tell us that this sort of activity has actually been going on since the beginning of time. The suras, or devotees, and the asuras have always had clashes. The brahmanas living in the Dandaka forest were suras and, by nature, they had no care for anything or anyone except God. It’s not that they didn’t care about other people; it’s just that their primary concern was worship of Lord Vishnu, Krishna’s four-handed expansion. A pandita, or a learned person, views all living entities equally.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
The asuras are just the opposite. They identify only with their gross material body, which is subject to destruction at the time of death. They don’t have any knowledge of the equality of all living entities. For this reason they take their current life to be the beginning and end of everything. This sort of mindset leads to a sinful way of life, where one wants simply to satisfy the sense demands of the body. For these reasons the asuras view the suras as their biggest enemies. The devotees aren’t bothering anyone, but the asuras know that if the devotees please God, the demigods, and other devotees, then society at large will become pure and committed to dharma. This is bad news for the asuras because that means they will be the outcastes. Thus the asuras take to attacking the saintly people.
This is precisely what happened when the sages took to forest life. At the time, a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana was ascending to power, seeking world domination as his life’s mission. Ravana had pleased several demigods and received powers of invincibility from them. As a typical asura, he was not grateful for these boons, but rather used them to attack other demigods, including his own brother. Ravana was so powerful that he conquered many great demigods in battle, yet he still took to attacking the defenseless brahmanas living in the Dandaka forest. Ravana and his band of Rakshasas knew that if the brahmanas could be terrorized into ceasing their religious activities, that there would be no one left to stop them.
“Oh Vaidehi (Sita), it is my duty to protect the sages, even without being asked. But these sages have explicitly asked for My help and I have agreed to protect them. How then can I ignore them?” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.19)
Lord Vishnu, at the behest of the demigods, took birth on earth as the prince named Rama. An expert kshatriya warrior, Rama was banished from His kingdom and ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years by His father. This was all part of the master plan, as the Lord needed an excuse to go to the forest and protect the brahmanas. His brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita Devi, both accompanied Rama during the exile. In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is explaining to Sita that His protection of the brahmanas was implied since He was a kshatriya. Moreover, Rama also had promised to protect the brahmanas after they asked Him for help. Thus Rama was duty-bound to fight off the Rakshasas.
Though Lord Rama is specifically referencing the fact that He was required to protect the sages as part of His kshatriya duties, what He really means is that God always protect the devotees. When we act on the platform of karma, good and bad things happen to us automatically based on our actions. God has nothing to do with this. Material gains and losses are similar to those seen on the world’s stock markets. Each trader and investor has different goals, desires, and ideas of risk. Therefore we sometimes see people make millions, while others lose their life savings. The stock market itself can’t be blamed for any of these events, for it acts as a neutral observer. In a similar manner, karmic activity works on its own, though it is a system instituted by God.
The Lord makes an exception, however, for those who rise above karma and take to the process of devotional service, also known as bhagavata-dharma. Devotees don’t work for any fruitive engagement, even though we may sometimes see them take part in the activities of karmis.
“One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge. Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.19-20)
Since the ultimate purpose of all their activities is to serve God and to make Him happy, the devotees get God’s attention and the Lord, in turn, automatically provides them protection even if they don’t ask for it. The famous Bhakta Prahlada, the five year old son of the demon Hiranyakashipu, suffered through many attempts made on his life, but he survived them all by thinking of Lord Krishna. He did not necessarily ask for protection, but He just simply thought of the Lord, and that was enough to get God’s attention.
Prayers should definitely be offered to God, but the best prayers are those done in loving service. Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Rama, offered a famous prayer that serves as a great example in this regard:
“My dear Lord, if You like You can give me salvation from this material existence, or the privilege of merging into Your existence, but I do not wish any of these things. I do not want anything which diminishes my relationship with You as master and servant, even after liberation."
The lesson here is that if we take up devotional service, we have no need to worry about attacks from the asuras. In fact, chanting the Lord’s name, offering Him prayers, distributing prasadam, and visiting temples is the best way to thwart the attacks from atheists. Rama and Lakshmana would go on to kill many Rakshasas, culminating with the killing of Ravana. The material world is a very dangerous place, especially if we remain exposed to the effects of our karma and the karma of others. In times of trouble, we need only look to the beautiful, magnanimous, and all-merciful Lord Rama. He will provide us the protection we need to continue our adherence to bhagavata-dharma.
Categories: protecting the saints