“You know that living entities are always coming and going, and thus their lives are temporary. Therefore, the learned people of this world take to performing prescribed worldly duties which yield auspicious results.” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.5)
A pandita is a learned person, a wise man. The word is now part of the English vocabulary in the form of “pundit”. Though the spelling is a little different, the meaning of the word is pretty much the same. While there are pundits for just about every area of interest, such as sports, politics, and financials, the original Sanskrit word refers to one who knows the highest truth. A learned man understands the meaning of life and how to achieve it. A pandita is considered wise not only because of his empirical knowledge, but also because of how he chooses to act based on that knowledge. Following the behavior of a true pandita, we can decipher the proper path to take.
Wisdom usually comes from experience. There are two ways of acquiring knowledge: the ascending process and the descending process. Through the ascending process, small hypotheses are formed and then tested. As more and more information is gathered from the test results, the scope of the experiments starts to expand, eventually leading to a more detailed, all-encompassing conclusion. The descending process is easier because the same truths which were discovered by careful past observers can be passed down to future generations.
Learning of the heat properties of fire can illustrate the difference between the two processes quite clearly. A young child can discover that fire is hot by touching it. Certainly this will cause a little pain, but that comes with the territory when acquiring knowledge. Yet just because a single instance of fire is hot, it doesn’t mean that all fire is hot. Therefore the same child can go on repeating the same tests over and over again, continually burning themselves, until they realize that all fire is hot. This is knowledge acquired through the ascending process. The descending process would have provided the same information to the child without any of the painful burns. A wise person could tell a young child that fire is hot and to avoid touching it. Simply accepting this wisdom, the child can gain a perfect understanding of the properties of fire without much endeavor.
While the descending process is superior, individuals still prefer to learn things on their own. Therefore, much knowledge is acquired through the ascending process. For those who adopt this method, one fact slowly learned as time goes by is that the life of the living entity is temporary in nature. Birth and death are always part of the consciousness. Friends, family members, and countrymen die all the time, while mothers give birth to new children every day. Eventually, through enough experience and vision, a wise person realizes that they too will die some day. Not only will they die, but the date of this death is unknown to them.
In the Vedic tradition, the wise person is known as a pandita because they not only understand this truth about life and death, but they take the necessary steps to improve their condition. What does this mean exactly? The body is indeed temporary, as birth and death simply represent the changing of bodies. The central object of interest, therefore, is the future fortune of the soul. The soul is the life force, the essence of individuality. Where the soul ends up is what really matters. The wise person realizes that it is important to pay attention to the plight of the soul immediately, for there is no knowing when death will come.
So what does the pandita do? What activities does he take to? How are these activities any different from the ones performed by those who aren’t panditas? For the answer, we can tap into the storehouse of information provided by the great spiritual leaders of the past. Using the descending process to our advantage, we can find out how to achieve perfection in life simply by following the authorized instructions provided by acharyas, or those who lead by example. One such wise person is Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama.
The Vedas, the scriptures emanating from India, are not unique in their belief of God. Many spiritual traditions around the world believe in an all-powerful entity, for that is the essence of religion. The Vedas stand out in that they tell us that this Absolute Truth has an eternal form which acts as a vehicle for loving exchanges with the individual souls of the world. The original spiritual form full of bliss and knowledge is that of Shri Krishna, who is also known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yet God’s sweetness isn’t limited to His original form of Krishna. Rather, due to His kind mercy, He appears on earth in the guises of various personal expansions. These incarnations perform wonderful activities for the protection of the pious, all the while giving pleasure to the surrendered soul. One such incarnation is Lord Rama, the chivalrous prince of Ayodhya who roamed this earth many thousands of years ago.
While Krishna is the reservoir of all pleasure and sweetness and other aspects of the Divine are typically viewed in a reverential mood, Lord Rama is somewhere in between. He certainly can be revered for His great power and dedication to piety, but at the same time, He can exchange heartfelt affection with the purified souls, the great devotees. Arguably Rama’s greatest devotee is Lord Hanuman, a liberated soul who takes the form of an enchanting monkey. During Rama’s time on earth, Hanuman got to personally offer his service to Rama, exchanging love in the moods of friendship and servitude.
On one occasion, Rama was asked to kill the monkey-king Vali, who was Sugriva’s brother who had driven Sugriva out of his kingdom. Lord Rama came through for his friend Sugriva by shooting Vali in the back and killing him. Vali’s wife, Tara, didn’t handle this tragic event very well, as would be expected for a woman had just become a widow. Seeing her dead husband lying on the ground, she gave way to grief and lamentation, and she bemoaned her situation and also that of her husband’s. Seeing her pitiable condition, Hanuman stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. In the above referenced statement, Hanuman reminds Tara of the temporary nature of the living entities and how they are always coming and going. He also tells her that the wise, the panditas, use their knowledge of the temporary nature of life to take to prescribed activities of this world which lead to auspicious results.
This point is quite interesting. Normally, when faced with the idea of certain death, the tendency is to take to the opposite of prescribed duties. The saying, “You only live once”, is often invoked by those who take to a carefree lifestyle, not worrying about their death that may come at any minute. The logic behind such behavior is that if death is going to come, why not enjoy as much as possible before then? From Hanuman’s statement, we see that the wise take the exact opposite approach. Since human beings are always coming and going, it must mean that death is not the end for them. After all, where do these new births come from? These souls must have been alive before to have taken birth again. This may seem like a dogmatic belief of reincarnation subscribed to by the Hindus, but it is not so. The soul certainly remains intact throughout the changes of the current body, so why wouldn’t it remain unchanged after it leaves the body at the time of death?
“Those with the vision of eternity can see that the soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.32)
From Shri Hanuman’s statement, we see that if the time of death is uncertain, one should immediately take the necessary steps to better their future condition. This is how most of us act already, except with a different goal in mind. Plans pertaining to future fortunes are always made, be they in relation to going to school or working hard at the office. The idea behind these plans is to have some enjoyment in the future. If these activities aren’t adopted, the enjoyable condition will never be met. By the same token, prescribed duties, those passed down from the great saints of the past, are meant to provide a future enjoyable condition for the soul. If these activities aren’t taken up, the pleasant spiritual condition can never be met. Moreover, if death should come, the chance for performing these activities is lost. The soul then has to wait until the next birth to again take up these activities. Where and when this birth will take place are unknown, hence the added emphasis on the here and now.
Okay, so we have to take to prescribed duties, but what does that mean? What are some of these duties? In the case of Tara, the prescribed duties involved performing the funeral rites for the husband. These rites help the future plight of the departed soul, and also help the performer to understand the meaning of life and the importance of focusing the mind on spirituality. While the funeral rites are one small aspect of prescribed duties, there is a bigger picture, an ultimate goal which is to be attained. All prescribed rules and regulations are aimed at realizing this goal.
For the people living in this age, the Kali Yuga, adherence to all the rules and regulations is not possible. Life is very hectic, with so many things begging for our attention and taking up our time. Therefore, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Pure, has recommended that the topmost prescribed duty for the people of this age is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name of God is the key; it alone can deliver a person. This name is the mother, the father, the guru, the support system, the savior. This name is non-different from the Lord, so those who hang on to this name as their life and soul will certainly be performing the highest duty.
If this highest occupation, the chanting of God’s names, is taken up, then naturally the performer will be rewarded with the greatest benediction. And what exactly is that reward? The individual soul transmigrates through different bodies based on the activities it performs in each lifetime. While this process is continuous, it doesn’t have to be. The God conscious soul, he who keeps his mind fixed on any direct aspect of the transcendent Lord at the time of death, never has to suffer through birth and death. The comings and goings stop, thus the root cause of the temporary nature of life is eliminated. If the soul isn’t thrown around in the clothes dryer known as the material world, where does it go? There is a spiritual sky where the original Personality of Godhead and His non-different expansions reside. It is in this spiritual realm that the devoted soul enjoys the sweetness of association with the Supreme Lord in His original transcendental form.
A person may be considered wise based on their mastery of a particular field. Great souls like Hanuman, however, are true panditas, the most learned among us, due to their transcendental knowledge and the activities taken up as a result of possessing that information. The panditas have laid the groundwork for us, so we simply have to accept the knowledge descending from their lotus mouths and act accordingly. The highest prescribed duty for the people of any age is to engage in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to God. Through the chanting process, any person can become a perfect yogi, one who reaps the highest benefit in the afterlife.