Singing the Glories

Lord Rama“Shri Rama personally gave liberation to Shabari, the vulture Jatayu and those who performed wonderful devotional service, whereas the holy name has liberated countless wretches; a fact well-established in the Vedas, which sing of its glories.” (Dohavali, 32)

sabarī gīdha susevakani sugati dīnhi raghunātha |
nāma udhāre amita khala beda bidita guna gātha ||

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, have many branches of information, fruits of knowledge which illuminate the path to success in various ventures. Look in one direction and you’ll find information on how to maintain a successful business, what it takes to earn a profit and produce a steady output of the good or service that you are trying to sell. Look in another direction and you’ll find information on how to stand up to enemies, how to remain firm in the face of fear and trepidation. Any type of enjoyment you covet is covered by this wonderful set of guidelines for mankind, information which emanates from the original person. Despite the comprehensiveness of the information contained, at their core the Vedas are a collection of songs. These songs don’t speak of pain, misery, or scorned love. Rather, they simply glorify one person, whose good qualities can never be fully enumerated. This still doesn’t stop the Vedas from trying. In this effort the key ingredient is the holy name, a sound vibration which has liberated countless individuals, including some of the worst people.

train tracksHow is liberation secured? Moreover, what is the difference between saving someone who is a wretch and someone who is pious? Liberation in the spiritual sense refers to the future destination, the place someone is going. Think of boarding a train headed for a specific place. The passenger being kind, envious, or foolish has no bearing on whether or not the train will reach its target. In this respect, no one is above anyone else; all the passengers are in the same boat. Where there is a difference, however, is with discrimination, the ability to think critically and decide which train to board.

A wise person may know a lot about the nature around them and how to manipulate things in their favor, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will know where to go in life. For instance, I may know what it takes to succeed in politics. I can look at the current political landscape and figure out what it takes to get elected to office. This pursuit requires creating a contrast between myself and the opposing politicians. If the present conditions in society are favorable, the best course of action is to resist change. Double down on the current policies and say that I will do them even better. If things aren’t going so well at the moment, the best choice is to offer change, a different approach. I will say that I’ll do things differently and that I won’t repeat the same mistakes.

electionsOne who can figure out how to continually get elected to office using these techniques certainly will be considered intelligent, but what about actually governing? What if the intelligent campaigner doesn’t know where to steer the country, where to direct the citizens that kindly offered their votes? In this sense the intelligence used to gain personal favor really has no lasting benefit. Any person can find their own temporary happiness, for in many instances just the absence of distress brings a positive condition. If the sun is shining brightly on a particular day, scorching its rays upon the ground, a way to gain relief is to find shade. But does this represent a permanent positive condition? If we sit all day in a tiny corner that is shaded, will we be happy?

The wretched person is one who flaunts the laws of society and pays no concern for even their own temporary wellbeing. Thus they are considered worse off, for they don’t even have the ability to assess whether or not a particular path will lead them to the proper destination. The intelligent person finding temporary comfort can at least make the proper assessment if they are presented with enough information. The wretched person mired in ignorance will not accept any sound advice offered to them, no matter how sincere the person who is offering it is.

Goswami TulsidasThe Vedas, which emanate from the wisest person, whose home is the proper destination for every single soul, are relevant to every type of person. This means that even the wretches can be sent to the sugati, or supreme destination, provided they take hold of one particular aspect of spirituality. When this aspect is ignored or wholly rejected, then the requirements for finding the ultimate destination are much stricter. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas nicely illustrates the difference.

In the first section of this verse, the Vaishnava poet mentions Shabari, the vulture Jatayu and others who performed wonderful devotional service. They each found the supreme destination directly through the personal influence of Shri Raghunatha, who is also known as Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. The Supreme Lord, the person from whom the Vedas emanate, has a spiritual form. Though He is described as formless and attributeless, these descriptions are meant to show that He is never limited in His abilities in the way human beings are. To give a glimpse into His spiritual bliss and the completeness of His qualities, He appears on earth every now and then in wonderful forms. His appearances are not like those of the spirit souls, who assume material elements and then discard them through the laws of karma. Reincarnation only acts upon us living entities looking for the right train in life. For the Supreme Lord, He is never beholden to karma, for He is the conductor of every train operating within the material existence.

Shabari greeting Rama and LakshmanaAs Lord Rama, God shows us His sweet smiling face and His dedication to dharma, or piety. The main benefit of seeing God is having the ability to serve Him. Service is what takes place in the supreme destination anyway, so those who are given the opportunity to follow the same path in their present home are thus granted tremendous favor. This opportunity is not exclusive to the human beings or even the most intelligent class of men. Shabari was a female sage who lived a life of austerity and penance at the guidance of her spiritual teachers. While Rama was roaming the forests, He and His younger brother Lakshmana met her and ate the kind berries she offered. As a reward for her austerities, Shabari got to meet Rama, who subsequently granted her liberation.

“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.21)

Final liberation, or mukti, is the release from the cycle of birth and death. This comes about by finding a home that never gets destroyed. If the area we reside in never goes away, the body types we assume also never change when we live there. In the material world, everything must change, as the land itself is ultimately destroyed after many millions of years. In the supreme destination, however, there is never destruction. This land is described as unmanifest because it is beyond the perception of the senses, just as the Supreme Lord’s spiritual form is described as adhokshaja, or incapable of being observed by ordinary sense perception.

Lakshmana and Rama with JatayuThe vulture Jatayu was given liberation when he died in Rama’s arms. Rama’s wife Sita Devi was taken against her will to the island of Lanka by a Rakshasa king named Ravana. Ravana perpetrated the iniquitous deed when Rama was not by Sita’s side to defend her. Almost getting away without any opposition, Ravana’s journey home was abruptly interrupted by Jatayu, who was a friend of Rama’s father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Though he tried his best to stop Ravana, Jatayu ultimately was mortally wounded in the battle. While taking his last breaths he met Rama and died in His arms. Seeing the Lord’s divine vision before him as he breathed his last, the vulture was given the reward of ascension to the supreme destination.

Others were similarly awarded liberation when they performed wonderful devotional service, susevakani, for the Lord when He roamed the earth. While it may seem like personal association with God is the only way to break free from the cycle of birth and death, it is not. The holy name has actually liberated countless wretches throughout history. This fact is well established in the Vedas, which constantly sing of the glories of the holy name. Rama’s name is not different from Him; we only see a difference because we don’t know any better. Just as we say that the sun is not in the sky on a particular day, while in fact it hasn’t gone anywhere, we perceive that the Lord has different aspects, such as His name, form, qualities and activities, when in fact none of these things are different from one another.

The holy name is especially potent because it can be invoked by any person. There are many mantras in the Vedas aimed at furthering specific purposes. If you want to bless your home with auspiciousness, you call a priest over and he performs a special sacrifice. During this ceremony, he must recite the specific mantras perfectly in order to get the intended effect. Just as someone is sworn into an office by reciting an oath, the sacrifice matures once the required words are uttered perfectly by a qualified priest.

Lord RamaWith the holy name the purpose is to increase attachment and love for God. Therefore it doesn’t even need to be recited in a formal setting or by someone who is trained in the process. Rather, simply by saying sacred formulas like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the mind can gradually be cleansed of all impurities. The worst wretch can be cured of his mental ailments, his sinful behavior and his tendency towards activities driven by ignorance. Most important of all, the sinner is placed on the train headed for the supreme destination.

This train doesn’t require any entry fee except love for God. Thus the wise and the unintelligent are both allowed entry, provided they have purified themselves through devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. While those who directly offered their service to Rama were blessed with the supreme destination, this doesn’t mean that the service and its benefits are kept from those who don’t have the luxury of meeting Rama face to face. The holy name facilitates the exchange of blissful emotions with the Supreme Spirit for any person, regardless of their particular spiritual tradition. Real religion is meant to bring one to the platform of loving God, so there can be no question of sectarian boundaries when dealing with divine love, which is best practiced through chanting the holy names.

The Vedas continue to sing the never-ending song, which is made up of the holy names and its glories. There are countless names for the Lord, with each one addressing a specific feature or pastime. Just reciting the name “Rama” over and over again brings the kind husband of Sita into our consciousness. As Rama is glorious, so are those who are intimately associated with him, the liberated souls who never give up His service. The holy name brings with it Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. With this spiritual family residing always in your consciousness, how can any destination except the supreme abode be in your future?

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