"O best of the Ikshvakus, considering Your powerful divine and human capabilities, please strive for the destruction of Your enemies." (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.20)
It’s not so easy to persuade an adult to do something. A child may be willing to take instruction, but the same person as an adult will likely put up more resistance. A mature adult realizes their independence and thus is more skeptical about being instructed. But as we experience with our own lives, the learning process never stops. No matter how old we get, there are still many things that we are unaware of. Thus we require the help of someone in the know, someone who has realized the Truth, to set us straight. Since adults are not as accepting of advice and counsel, the knowers of the Truth have to find different ways to get their message across. Encouragement and flattery are two of the techniques employed by those trying to impart the highest form of knowledge. These techniques prove to be very effective in teaching love and devotion to the Divine.
Most of us know how the basic life cycle works. You are born, play around for a few years, go to school, get married, have kids, and then die. We may know how the system works, but how many of us actually stop to think of why the cycle is the way that it is? For example, why do we have to go to school in our childhood? Most of us hate being trapped in a prison-like environment all day. School proprietors even realize this fact; thus elementary school children are allowed a recess period during the day where they can go out and run around to let out all their pent up energy.
The most obvious justification for our attending school in our younger years is that we are completely ignorant at the time of birth. A baby comes out of the mother’s womb and immediately starts crying. The Vedas tell us that each of us has been on this earth many times before through the process of reincarnation. This is actually not very difficult to understand. We all at one time lived in the tiniest of bodies which was no larger than the size of a pea. We certainly don’t remember having this body, but it is undoubtedly true that we survived through such a form in the womb of our mother. Our current body is the result of the maturation of that small pea-like form. In the same way that our current body evolves and changes, prior to our current birth we had a different body which had its own properties. Though the soul remains intact, the coverings constantly change. Thus when we come out of the womb of the mother, we are settling into our new body and surroundings. Essentially we have to get reacquainted with the environment that we have forgotten. Human life is especially beneficial because the potential for acquiring knowledge is great. At the time of birth, an infant is no smarter than a dog, cat, or other animal, yet the difference is that through proper training and guidance, the infant can gradually acquire knowledge that far surpasses that of any animal.
Proper training and guidance are the two key points. We must be taught how to read, write, and do arithmetic. But we see that it is the nature of the child to play all day. If we examine the typical day of an average four year old, we’ll see that almost every waking hour is spent playing, watching television, or eating. So there is no natural desire to acquire knowledge in a formal setting, as there is say in the adult. Many adults often crave learning and being able to take in new information and remember it. Thus they try for advanced degrees and doctorates. But for children, this desire isn’t really there.
If we don’t want to go to school, how do we end up there for twelve consecutive years? Moreover, how do we wake up early every day and spend hours locked up in a classroom? The answer is that we are forced to. In America anyways, school is compulsory for children up until around the age of sixteen. This means that we have to go to school. But what if we say “no”? What if we flat out refuse to go to school? Obviously this situation will occur with some of us, but very quickly we realize that this is a losing battle. This is because, as children, we have no control. We are under the care and guidance of our parents. They are benevolent dictators in a sense; their word is final, though they may be lenient every now and then.
A common saying states that it is a shame that youth is wasted on the young. The meaning behind this is that youthfulness is such a wonderful thing because with it comes innocence, ambition, and lots of energy. The youngsters will always have more energy, stamina, and speed than the older generation. We see evidence of this in the world of sports. In tennis for example, it is not uncommon to see players retiring before they even hit the age of thirty. This is because as a player ages, their agility, stamina, and speed diminish. Moreover, new players arrive on the scene, many of whom are still teenagers. Though they may not have the composure, experience, and strategic intelligence possessed by the older generation, they have something equally as valuable: youth. The younger generation will slowly but surely take over the older generation. For the elderly, there is nothing they can do to stem the tide. “Ah, if only I was nineteen again”, they’ll think.
Attending school in our youth is certainly important due to the energy issue. It is much easier to get up early in the morning, stay in school for hours, and then come home and do homework when we are young than when we are older. But probably more important than the energy issue is the control issue. As youngsters, our parents and teachers can control us, so it is crucially important that this authority be used in the proper way. The Vedas tell us that the purpose of human life is to inquire about the Absolute Truth, Brahman. Brahman is just a fancy name for God that describes His feature as the all-encompassing spiritual energy.
Since the potential of human life can only be reached after one is properly educated, it is important for parents to force us to go to school. But what happens when we get older? As youngsters, if a parent or teacher forces us to do something, we really have no choice in the matter. We have to listen to them. If they tell us to do our homework or study for a test, we can’t really say “no”. With adults, however, the issue is different. In order to convince an adult to do something, an authority figure must use different tactics. Simply yelling and punishing won’t do anything because eventually the adult will fight back. Once the fighting starts, respect is lost, as the authority figure loses their position of dominance. In order for adults to be guided, a teacher must appeal to the student’s attributes, propping up and highlighting the good qualities. This was the technique employed by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, many thousands of years ago.
Lord Rama is one of the primary incarnations of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God reigns supreme over all; He is every person’s dearmost friend. Due to His causeless mercy, He kindly appears on earth from time to time to enact pastimes, give pleasure to His devotees, and punish the miscreants. To increase the enjoyment felt by the devotees, the Lord usually assumes the guise of an ordinary human, one who possesses extraordinary capabilities. This was the case with Lord Rama, who was a prince belonging to the famous Raghu dynasty. Rama’s unique capabilities were His tremendous fighting ability, chivalry, and compassionate nature towards all.
Since the Lord was kind and sweet, He didn’t like to create enmity with anyone, especially His dependents and family members. On one occasion, Rama was asked to spend fourteen years in the forest, living as an exile from His hometown of Ayodhya. Rama was a married adult at the time, so He easily could have objected to the order, but since it was given by His father, Rama took it as His most important duty. Lord Rama never wanted His father to be considered a liar, thus when He was asked to do something, He listened right away. Taking His younger brother Lakshmana and His wife Sita Devi with Him, the Lord embarked for His fourteen year journey through the wilderness.
Unfortunately, while in the forest, Sita would be kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. When Rama came to know that Sita was missing, He gave way to lamentation and grief. He started walking around the woods and asking the trees and flowers if they had seen His beautiful and kind wife. Sensing that his brother was falling off the righteous path, Lakshmana stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. He reminded Rama that, as living entities, they were subject to happiness and distress from time to time. Moreover, even the heavenly beings and saints have to suffer losses from time to time, thus there was no reason to lament. Human life is meant for adhering to dharma, or one’s occupational duty.
In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is wrapping up his statements. Here we see that Rama is being reminded of His extraordinary power, which was both human and divine. Though Rama was in the guise of a human being, in reality He is the Divine Supreme Lord, so His fighting ability is unmatched in the world. Whoever had taken Sita would surely not live for very long if Rama were to find them. This indeed would be the case as Rama would heed Lakshmana’s advice, resume His search for Sita, and eventually defeat and kill Ravana in battle. All would end well.
Yet the happy ending may not have ever happened were it not for the words of wisdom spoken by Lakshmana. Lord Rama was certainly God Himself, so He obviously didn’t need any of this advice. The source of Lakshmana’s wisdom was actually Rama, for the Lord had instructed His younger brothers on the same subject matter on many previous occasions. Even though Rama was God, we see that the Lord likes to elevate the stature of His devotees, so He creates situations where they can shine. This was one of those situations. Lakshmana was a perfect devotee and highly learned soul, even though He belonged to the kshatriya [warrior] class. In this instance, Lakshmana was given the distinct honor of acting as a spiritual guide to Rama.
So which teaching techniques did Lakshmana employ? We see that he didn’t force Rama to do anything. He didn’t threaten his elder brother. These tactics wouldn’t have worked, for Rama was a full-fledged adult. Instead, Lakshmana kindly reminded Rama of His true nature, highlighting the Lord’s great qualities. He advised Rama to use this information to remove any hesitation or trepidation He had in relation to what should be done next. Thus we see that Lakshmana acted as a perfect guru, understanding the nature of his student and using that knowledge to employ the proper teaching technique.
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
So what can we learn from this incident? In today’s day and age, the youth often don’t receive the proper kind of education. Children are most certainly forced to go to school and persuaded to graduate from high school, but this doesn’t mean that they acquire the king of all knowledge, raja-vidya. As mentioned previously, the ultimate objective in human life is to know and understand God. No one can truly understand His complete set of potencies, but through study and aural reception, we can gain a slight understanding. Yet simply acquiring theoretical knowledge is not enough. We have to know what to do with this education. Perfection in life is achieved when we use our spiritual knowledge to take up service to the Lord. This service must be performed voluntarily and with unmotivated love in order to be effective.
In our youth, most of us learn about technology, literature, science, social studies, etc. We don’t learn about the constitutional position of the soul and its eternal nature. We don’t learn about what happens to us after we die or why we die in the first place. Theories are posited and religion is taken as a blind faith adopted by various sectarian groups, but there are no discussions about the soul and the differences between matter and spirit. Does this mean that our chances for success in life are dashed? Hope is never lost in the area of spirituality, but there are certain hurdles we must overcome. The great saints of the past, the non-sectarian Vaishnavas, have written voluminous literature expounding the supremacy of devotional service over any other religious process. We simply have to consult one of these great works or hear from a devotee who follows the bona fide principles of religion.
At the same time, it’s difficult for adults to take instruction from others. A devotee of Krishna may ask us to kindly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstain from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication, but we won’t want to listen to them. “Who is this person teaching me? I’m an adult now; I have complete autonomy over my activities. I don’t have to listen to anybody.” Thus the task becomes a little more difficult for the supreme welfare worker, the devotee.
From Lakshmana’s example, however, we can see how even independent adults can be nudged in the proper direction. Though we are not God, we have some of His qualities. The Gosvamis of Vrindavana have analyzed the qualities of the Supreme Lord and have declared that we living entities possess seventy-eight percent of the qualities of God. Thus we too have great potencies, especially in the area of acquiring knowledge and intelligence. This means that every single person is a candidate for understanding this supreme science of devotional service. Whether a person is a man, woman, child, high born, or low born, it doesn’t matter. Each of us has some capability to perform some type of work. If we perform this work for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord, our activities will be perfect. Therefore it is incumbent upon the knowledgeable spiritual teachers to try to remind people of their great abilities and how those qualities can be used for the right purposes. When the energy meets the energetic, the resulting synergy is a thing of beauty. As living entities, we are meant to be the pleasure giving energy of the Lord. If we take up devotional service, we can turn that potential into a reality.
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