“By this symbol, O best of the monkeys, the daughter of Janaka will be able, without any fear, to properly understand that you have come from My presence.” (Lord Rama speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.13)
anena tvām hariśreṣṭha cihnena janakāatmajā |
mat sakāśāt anuprāptam anudvignā anupaśyati
Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka, found herself in a very troubling situation, forced to live as a prisoner in the kingdom of Lanka. Ravana, a ghastly demon and king of the city at the time, had forcibly taken the beautiful and chaste princess away from her husband and brought her back to his kingdom to become his chief queen. Sita, however, had different plans. No amount of sweet words, wealth, exhibitions of strength or threats could divert her attention from the lotus feet of her dear husband, Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To alleviate the princess’ distresses and give her hope and belief in an eventual rescue, Rama sent His greatest servant, dearmost friend and ever well-wisher, Shri Hanuman, to find Sita and give her a message. Knowing that His wife would be suspicious of anyone who approached her due to her precarious situation, Rama gave Hanuman a ring with His name inscribed on it. This way Sita would be able to tell that Hanuman was indeed the Lord’s messenger and that he came in peace. From this one kind act, which was facilitated through Rama’s pure devotee, we can find the way out of the troublesome situation we currently find ourselves in. The name of the Lord carried by the pure devotee is our only means of salvation.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
Why do we need saving? Contrary to the “you only get one life” opinion posited by spiritual leaders and mental speculators, the soul, the basic functional unit of life, is eternal. The individual spiritual spark inherits its qualities from the Supreme Lord. Since God is undying and unborn, so are His tiny fragmental sparks. As individuals emanating from the gigantic powerhouse of spiritual energy, we have never taken birth, nor will we ever die. What we currently refer to as birth and death are simply the events of taking on and discarding outward forms. The body is actually changing and being replaced all the time. The form we had as a child is completely different from the body we possess as adults. Yet throughout this change, which is so subtle that it goes unnoticed by the occupant, identity does not change. The truth of the soul’s eternality is substantiated simply by our own observations. Reincarnation has an aura of mysticism attached to it, but it is actually a very simple concept to understand. Even amongst those who believe that man only gets one life on earth, there is still the belief in the afterlife. Thus such followers are essentially validating the idea of the soul never dying. If the soul never dies, then it certainly never takes birth. If there are present and future lives, there certainly must be previous ones as well.
“That which does not take birth does not die; death is meant for that which has been created, and that which is not created has no death.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 23)
The Vedas, the ancient system of spiritual wisdom emanating from India, state that a soul’s previous lives involved different bodies. Based on the work we performed and the desires we had at the time of our previous death, our present body was crafted. The cycle continues perpetually until desires change from the material realm to the spiritual realm. “You get what you want” is the simplest way to describe how the plight of the soul takes shape. If we desire enjoyment, there is no reason for our leaving the material world. The so-called enjoyment that takes place while in a material body continues life after life. If one behaves piously but still has an attachment to their senses, they ascend to various heavenly planets in the afterlife, where they reside for a set number of years. Upon expiry of their pious credits, the same individuals return to the material world and continue in the system of karma. Similarly, the sinful go to the hellish planets for a fixed duration and then return again to the material world.
Those with a little intelligence, those who understand the differences between body and soul, will eventually realize that the repetitious cycle of birth and death represents misery rather than enjoyment. If something is destined to be destroyed, the associated experiences cannot be considered superior. Due to the impending destruction of the outer covering of the soul, the activities of material life cannot be considered the highest engagement. Since the soul is ever-existing, in order for it to enjoy eternally, it must assume a body which is undying and not subject to decay. Those who realize this fact and are fortunate enough to have the association of the saintly class then take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The spiritual realm is the one place where birth and death do not take place. Therefore, anyone who ascends to the transcendental realm never has to worry about falling back down to the material world.
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)
Due to our conditioned state, we can’t just come up with the path that will lead us to the spiritual world on our own. Rather, we need someone to help us, someone who knows the Truth themselves. Since the soul is tied at the hip to the Supreme Lord, the only viable spiritual discipline is that which involves service to Him. Though there are different names for the Supreme Object of Pleasure, the Vedas provide the most complete and inclusive name: Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means all-attractive. Krishna is also known by the name of Rama, which means one who gives transcendental pleasure. Since God is flawless and absolute, His names inherit the same qualities. Therefore the path to salvation, the quintessential act of bhakti, is the regular chanting of the Supreme Divine Entity’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
In order to chant the transcendental names properly and understand the bona fide religious practices recommended for the current time and circumstance, guidance is required from one who is a friend of Krishna’s; a feature that automatically makes such an individual a well-wishing friend to the world. Yet it is often difficult to recognize who is a friend and who isn’t in terms of their relation to helping us achieve ultimate liberation from the cycle of birth and death. There are the karmis; those who take to cause and effect activities aimed at achieving a favorable material condition. Most everyone is a karmi by default; they take to certain activities, with a general adherence to socially acceptable forms of piety and virtue, in the hopes of having enough wealth and sense enjoyment, or bhukti. Under strict adherence to karma, there is really no spirituality involved or any worship of a god. Seeing the immediately visible results of cause and effect, fruitive workers take complete shelter of the laws of karma, thinking them to be unrelated to spirituality.
The karmis can be ruled out as spiritually-enlightening friends since they will be forced to suffer through reincarnation. As mentioned before, anyone who desires a material body will be gladly given one by the higher authorities. What’s interesting to note, however, is that even spiritually inclined leaders and so-called religionists often fail to act as friends. Religion is often adopted to advance a personal cause or to receive some personal benediction. One person wants material opulence, another wants many disciples and a good reputation, another wants to achieve powers associated with yoga practice, while another is looking for the cessation of all undesirable conditions. While each of these spiritualists may be well-intentioned and sincere in their beliefs, their ultimate conclusions fall short of service to God. Service to Krishna is not merely a way out of distress, but rather a way towards Supreme Pleasure. Not only is this pleasure desirable, but it is constitutional. It is the inherent nature of the soul to be blissful, full of knowledge and in constant association with Krishna through various transcendental mellows, or rasas. Unless the religiously inclined take the ultimate conclusion to be service to the original personality of Godhead, any spiritual practices adopted can at best be considered second class.
The sincere souls who are looking to reconnect with Krishna surely find themselves in a precarious condition, as even spiritual leaders, those who seem like they would be friends, turn out to be interested in their own agendas divorced of devotional service. Such a precarious condition would seem to indicate that all hope is lost. Yet from studying a notable incident described in one of the oldest books in history, we can learn how to weed out the pretenders and accurately identify the best friends of humanity as it pertains to spiritual life. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Personality of Godhead descended to earth in His form of Lord Rama, the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya. On one occasion, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka by a demon named Ravana. Not knowing where she was, Rama enlisted the help of a band of monkeys living in the forest of Kishkindha. Their king was Sugriva and his chief assistant was Shri Hanuman, who is described as being the best of the monkeys, hari-shreshtha. The Sanskrit terms “vanara”, “hari”, and “kapi”, which all can translate to “monkey”, are used to describe these celestial figures who roamed the earth in monkey-like forms as Rama’s dear friends.
Sugriva had a massive army of monkeys, so he divided them up and dispatched them to the corners of the earth to search for Sita. After providing the marching orders, Sugriva turned to Hanuman and offered him nice praise. Sugriva knew that only Hanuman would be able to find Sita and live to tell about it. Sugriva’s direct address of Hanuman was important because the mission didn’t call for Sita’s rescue or the slaying of her captor. These tasks were reserved for Rama, her beloved husband. In order to take on her captor in a fair fight, Rama needed to know where she was first. In reality, Shri Rama knew everything, for He is the Supersoul residing within everyone’s heart. Yet to allow His sincere devotees a chance to serve Him, Rama feigned ignorance.
After hearing Sugriva’s words of praise describing Hanuman, Shri Rama Himself contemplated Hanuman’s attributes and abilities. Deciding that Hanuman would certainly be successful in the mission, Rama gave him a ring with His name inscribed in it. In the above referenced statement, Rama is handing the ring to Hanuman and explaining its significance. Rama’s alliance with Sugriva and the Vanaras came about after Sita’s kidnapping, so she would have no way of knowing who Hanuman was. Moreover, she was stuck in a city where all the citizens abided by the orders of the Rakshasa Ravana. Even if Hanuman were to approach Sita and inform her of Rama’s intentions, she would have no reason to believe his words were genuine. Rakshasas are the masters of illusion, so they will use whatever tricks they can to cheat others. This represents one of the harmful side effects of taking shelter of the material energy. If a person’s ultimate conclusion is that material enjoyment is the topmost engagement in life, they are in essence viewing themselves as God. If everyone adopts this mindset, the resulting condition is one where everyone is competing with each other to be the supreme ruler of the perishable realm. Since it is impossible for anyone to assume this title, one which rightfully belongs to God, collisions will naturally result. These collisions then result in natural disasters, fierce competition, wars, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. The Rakshasas were completely dedicated to maya, or the illusion of material nature, so they were regular victims of such negative side effects.
Because Hanuman would be carrying a ring inscribed with the name of Rama, Sita would know for certain that he was a friend. This is indeed what would happen, as Hanuman would find Sita, show her Rama’s ring, relay information to her, return to Rama and Sugriva with information of her location, and eventually help the Lord defeat Ravana. Due to Hanuman’s sincere and noble efforts, Sita was found and rescued and everyone was happy in the end. For the conditioned souls trapped in the world where fierce competition and chaos occur regularly, finding a true friend is difficult. Yet Sita’s behavior towards Hanuman shows how to make the proper judgment. If someone is carrying the name of Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, or any other non-different form of the Lord, we can identify them as a friend. The name can be carried not only in the form of an inscription on jewelry, but also in the most potent form of the transcendental sound vibration produced by the tongue. Children born of devotee parents are sometimes named after Krishna and Rama, but unless they take to chanting the Lord’s names on a regular basis, they cannot be considered messengers of the Lord. Shri Hanuman is the eternal servant of the Lord and a powerful rescuer of fallen souls. He only has one dharma: service to Rama. He was recognized as a friend by Sita, and his well-wishing nature extends to all of humanity. By humbly submitting ourselves before such a divine figure, we will surely find our way back to Rama, from whom this entire creation emanates.
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