"O hero, many times in the past You had spoken the same words of instruction to me. Of course how can anyone, be they even Brihaspati himself, be capable of instructing You?" (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.18)
Charges of hypocrisy and dishonesty are often leveled by politicians hoping to gain an advantage. Political parties usually don’t have much to stand on with their own ideas, so they take to discrediting their opposition as a way of advancing their agenda. This game is played by dredging up old quotes which contradict a certain personality’s current position on an issue. The idea is that if a person is confronted with their own previous words, they will be forced to either admit they previously lied or that their current position is invalid. While this type of chess match goes on all the time in politics, nothing really substantive results from it. When we apply these same techniques to spiritual practice, however, it can yield tremendous results.
Debating is an art form. There are classes in high school and college which teach the ins and outs of public speaking to students. On the surface, this seems odd because one would think that a debate focuses on the substance of the arguments rather than the delivery of speech. Each person is either right or wrong in their arguments; the correctness being determined by authority. This is how Vedic truths are discovered anyways, for no serious follower of Vedic traditions would ever think of just making up new arguments without substantiating them with scriptural evidence. But things are a little different in the material world. Opinions are formed based on whims, so in order to back up their positions a person needs excellent debating skills. A good debater looks to not only defend their own position, but also discredit their opponents and their arguments. It is additionally beneficial if you can use your opponent’s statements to support your own arguments.
The arena of politics serves as a great example in showing how debates are won and lost in the modern age. Most politicians today are lawyers by trade, so they make their livelihoods on argument, debate, contradiction, and cross-examination. Politics is a volatile game, something which can immediately cause divisions amongst large groups of people. As soon as a person takes a stand on any issue, they are sure to alienate half of the voting public. In order to win over people who are against their stance of an issue, a politician will try to pick apart their opponent’s beliefs. In addition, politicians will try to support their own positions by pointing to prior incidents where their opponents stood for the same issue. This technique is actually known as the tu-quoque fallacy, meaning “you too”, but it is not easily recognized. This fallacy is typically seen in the situation where person A makes a negative claim about person B’s behavior. Person B, instead of trying to defend the merit of their behavior, decides to use the tu-quoque fallacy whereby they note that Person A had previously engaged in the same behavior. Person B is essentially saying, “Well, you did this same thing in the past, so how can you complain now?” This is obviously a fallacy because Person B has not discussed the merits of Person A’s claim.
These types of arguments go on constantly. We can turn on the news tonight and be sure to see countless examples of this kind of debating technique. While it may be nice to expose a high office holder’s hypocrisy, what is the end-result? Do people end up changing their behavior? Most often they don’t. What people do learn is that politicians lie and say whatever is necessary to get elected. But this isn’t really shocking news to anyone. Yet if we apply these same debate techniques to spiritual life, it can pay real dividends. This is because the rules of engagement for spiritual life are set by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Unlike self-interested politicians, God is the supreme pure, so He is someone we can count on to be honorable and fair.
An example of this chivalry was seen many thousands of years ago when Krishna incarnated on earth as Lord Rama. Each of Krishna’s incarnations on earth has specific attributes suited for the time and circumstance. During Lord Rama’s time, man was still generally spiritually inclined, so the Lord suited His demeanor to match this characteristic. Rama was a pious soul, dharma-atma, who took birth in the Raghu-vamsha, or the dynasty of King Raghu. All the kings in this line were noble and chivalrous, for they had to be since their duty was to provide protection to the citizens. Rama was the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. As the eldest son, it was Rama’s duty to not only attend to state affairs, but also to give instruction to His three younger brothers. Rama’s brothers viewed Him as a father-figure, and they listened very attentively whenever He spoke.
How do we know that Rama’s brothers listened to Him? We get evidence of this from a few notable incidents. On one particular occasion, Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and Sita were travelling the forests of India for fourteen years as a result of an exile punishment handed down by Dasharatha. Sita was protected whenever Rama and Lakshmana were around, but Ravana devised a plan which led the two brothers away from their ashrama. Ravana then used this opportunity to take Sita away by force. Upon returning to their cottage, Rama saw that Sita was gone. He immediately gave way to lamentation and despair. Rama loved Sita very much, and He was also playing the part of an ordinary human being. What man wouldn’t be distraught upon learning that his wife had gone missing?
At this time, Lakshmana stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. It wasn’t that Lakshmana viewed himself as superior to Rama. On the contrary, Lakshmana openly declared to everyone that he was Rama’s servant for life. Such a younger brother will never be found in this world; Lakshmana’s personal character and dedication to God was unmatched. Still, sometimes when we see our loved ones in trouble, we have to step in and offer counsel. After all, our family members help us out when we’re in trouble, so shouldn’t we try to do the same for them? This is what Lakshmana thought, so he didn’t hesitate to offer a helping hand. The gist of his statements was that Rama should not worry about loss or gain and that even if Sita were dead, He shouldn’t deviate from the righteous path. All of us have prescribed duties we must perform in life, and we should perform them without attachment to the results. These are some of the central teachings of Vedic philosophy, for statements almost identical to the ones given by Lakshmana are found in the famous Bhagavad-gita, which was delivered many thousands of years later by Krishna Himself.
“Do thou fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat—and, by so doing, you shall never incur sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.38)
After giving his advice, Lakshmana added one more piece of information which was of critical importance. Lakshmana made sure to remind Rama that he had, on many prior occasions, heard the same teachings delivered by Rama Himself. This is the proof that Lakshmana always listened attentively to the original spiritual master of the world, Shri Rama. Moreover, this one piece of information offered by Lakshmana actually put Rama in quite a bind. Lakshmana essentially told Rama, “You have to follow my advice, for these statements actually aren’t coming from me. All of this I learned from You originally. Thus if You don’t listen to what I’m saying now, You’re essentially going against Your own teachings. You wouldn’t want to do that, would You?”
“‘A woman, without her husband, cannot live’, this truth has been pointed out by You, O Rama, to me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 29.7)
This is the beauty of devotional service. Since the pure devotees hang on God’s every word, they make sure to keep everything in memory should they need to repeat the same information at a future time. Ironically enough, this wasn’t the first time one of Rama’s close associates used this technique. Just prior to going to the forest, Rama informed Sita of the exile punishment and insisted that she remain in the kingdom for the duration of the fourteen years. Sita, however, was also a good listener and made sure to remember everything Rama had taught her about the duties of a spouse in marriage. She immediately invoked many of the Vedic tenets relating to the fact that a wife must always remain with the husband and how the wife can never be happy living without the husband. At the end of her statements, she too reminded Rama that what she was speaking was originally told to her by Rama. Thus the Lord had no choice but to listen to Sita. In a similar manner, Rama was forced to accept Lakshmana’s advice.
Since Lord Rama is the Supreme Divine Entity, He is never required to listen to anyone, but for the devotees, He kindly creates circumstances where He is forced to listen to their words of advice. Lord Rama was very pleased with both Sita and Lakshmana, for their words of wisdom were offered out of pure love. Following Lakshmana’s advice, Rama would regain His senses and continue His search for Sita, eventually finding and rescuing her after defeating Ravana in battle.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
There are several important lessons we can take away from this. Since Krishna knows that our natural home is in the spiritual world with Him, He kindly gives us guidelines to follow in our journey through life. His most important teaching is that we should abandon all the so-called dharmas that we have created and simply surrender unto His lotus feet. Fully surrendering unto God will guarantee us a return ticket back to His spiritual abode after our current life is over. So how do we surrender? We simply have to take up devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. In this age, the easiest way to practice Krishna-bhakti is to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We should also avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex.
The beauty of this system is that if we fully surrender unto God, He will be compelled to make good on His promises. If we become pure devotees by always thinking of the Lord and spending all our time engaged in His service, He will have no choice but to abide by His own statements promising our salvation. If our hearts are pure, then just as with Lakshmana and Sita, we too can put the Lord into a checkmate situation, where He is forced to accept our service.
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