“(Hanuman did not see Sita) who was firmly situated on the eternal path of devotion to her husband, had her gaze always fixed on Rama, was always possessed by love for Rama, had entered the glorious mind of her husband, and was always the most exceptional of women.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.24)
sanātane vartmāni samniviṣṭām |
rāmekśaṇāṃ tāṃ madanābhiviṣṭām |
bharturmanaḥ śrīmadanupraviṣṭām |
strībhyo varābhyaśca sadā viśiṣṭām ||
When about to pull off an amazing feat of strength, making the impossible look easy, the masters of their craft will give the disclaimer to their audience saying, “Don’t try this at home.” The implication is that the layperson can’t repeat the same activities and expect to receive the intended outcome. The great ones make it look easy, as if no effort is required at all. “Oh, I can do that”, thinks the onlooker, but when they actually try it, they can end up harming themselves pretty severely, for the seemingly effortless ability exhibited by the expert comes about through hard work, training and a special mindset not present within the neophyte. With Vedic instruction, one of the central tenets is that one should avoid the lowest level of activity, the mode of darkness. Going beyond just avoidance, we shouldn’t even see others who are acting in this mode, for their behavior might influence us towards following them. One person in particular, the expert of experts, a dedicated servant whose feats of strength have yet to be matched on this earth, found himself in the heart of the densest darkness, a forest of hedonism and sinful activities, but he didn’t lose his cool. On the contrary, his dedication to the divine path only further increased, for he had one powerful weapon at his disposal: his mind fully enveloped by God consciousness. The sword of knowledge cuts away ignorance, and similarly, the weapon of the divine consciousness dissipates the dense fog of darkness, regardless of how thick it may be.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are unique because they not only provide details about God and why man should worship Him, but they also provide the reason for the varieties in body types and activities. Every one of us is the same, as we are all spirit souls, part and parcel of God. There is no difference in the qualitative makeup from soul to soul, but we see variety nonetheless in outward appearance. A person born in Africa presents a visual different from a person born in India. The people in China look and speak differently than many of the people in America. Not all life forms are human beings either; some are moving and some are nonmoving. The trees are even living entities; they just remain stationary for hundreds of years and accept whatever punishment or delight comes their way. Therefore it is said that no one is more tolerant than the tree.
Within the human species, which is considered the most advanced because of its unmatched potential for knowledge acquisition, there is variety even with activity. Some people prefer to be religious and devote their lives to discipline and regulation. They keep the needs like eating, sleeping, mating and defending to a minimum, while maintaining regulation in terms of worshiping the Supreme Lord, adhering to piety, and not causing needless harm to others in society. Then there are those driven by passions for acquiring money, advancing in intelligence, emerging victorious in competition, or a host of other regulated pursuits aimed at finding temporary successes.
As freedom brings with it the potential for every outcome occurring, there are even those who pay no consideration to regulation or future profit whatsoever. Rather, they are simply interested in satisfying the senses, and as soon as possible. If they are hungry; they will eat. They won’t be particular about their fare either; whatever the tongue desires will be consumed. Animal flesh is considered the most sumptuous, so the person driven by the senses will not limit their consumption of this type of food. No thought is given to how the food is obtained, that an innocent life form had to be killed in order for this enjoyment to take place. Aside from sense gratification, there is the false relief provided by intoxication, which is the quickest way to gain a temporary release from the effects of the senses. But intoxication doesn’t last forever, so activities like drinking alcohol must be repeatedly patronized; otherwise the buzz wears off.
“Material nature consists of the three modes-goodness, passion and ignorance. When the living entity comes in contact with nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.5)
The variety in activity is available for anyone to notice and categorize, but the Vedas are so kind that they have already enumerated the different types. The conditioned soul bewildered as to their purpose in life can make better light of the complex nature around them by grouping activities into categories. For instance, if one person prefers to play baseball, while another prefers soccer, we can abstract the activities by saying that both persons enjoy playing sports, which is an activity driven by passion. If we were to group every type of activity using such abstraction methods, we would get the three modes of nature: goodness, passion and ignorance.
Thankfully for us, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of all Vedic wisdom, already reveals to us these three modes. In this way we don’t have to waste our time documenting every activity and figuring out which mode they belong to. More than just the need for categorization, there is something tangible that can be gained from knowing the three modes, a benefit which can best come about when the purpose of life is known as well.
Philosophers, scientists and the generally inquisitive have pondered the reason for man’s existence since the beginning of time. “Why am I here? Why do I even exist? I know that everything will be finished at the end of life, so what is the difference if I enjoy myself or not. If I am miserable now or extremely happy, what will it matter in the end? In a hundred years or so, none of these present events of my life will matter at all.” The Vedanta-sutras, a wonderful collection of aphorisms describing the Absolute Truth and the living entity’s relationship to Him, open by saying that “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or pure spirit”. This means that the human being is given their particular body type for a reason. In any other species, the inquiry into real Truth, one that transcends the bounds of time and space and the temporary nature of happiness and distress, cannot be made.
“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bg. 8.3)
How do the three modes relate to this inquiry? Why do we need to understand Brahman? As the astute observer realizes, life on earth is temporary, especially within a particular form of body. But Brahman is not prone to these defects; it exists eternally. Moreover, we are all Brahman; so this means that our present body and the temporary attributes and activities tied to it do not represent our real identity. The soul inside is what counts, but because it is autonomous in its choice of association, it can develop attachments to temporary coverings existing in temporary lands. The purpose of understanding Brahman is to realize that our natural business is not related to the body or anything in this world. Rather, Brahman comes from God, so one who understands their position in relation to Him can know the right path in life.
Realizing Brahman is difficult enough. If we see someone dying, are we not going to mourn? Will we not be dejected upon seeing worldwide destruction or tragic loss? Moreover, the body we currently occupy drives our activities, so how are we to understand that this body is just temporary and that the soul will survive into the next life? In this respect, the three modes of material nature and their corresponding activities fill in the missing puzzle pieces. The mode of goodness, wherein activities are driven by the highest knowledge, is considered the most beneficial in terms of helping one to understand Brahman. By studying Vedic literature, teaching others about Brahman, performing sacrifices, helping others to develop a routine of performing the same sacrifices, and showing an overall adherence to piety, one can gradually shed their false identification adopted at the time of birth.
The mode of passion is below goodness, and it is adopted by default by the human being. The mode of passion leads to an overall neutral condition, while in the short term the mind thinks it will attain a benefit. For instance, working hard at the office to maintain a steady income and peaceful family life is in the mode of passion. At the beginning there is a desire to perform some work to get an intended benefit. The work itself leads to the fruit, but then the same actions must be repeated later on. Therefore there is only a neutral position established. The mode of passion is considered superior to the mode of ignorance, however, because degradation of consciousness does not occur.
“O son of Kuru, when there is an increase in the mode of ignorance madness, illusion, inertia and darkness are manifested.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.13)
How does the mode of ignorance operate? If someone has a house and a family and suddenly takes part in activities that jeopardize those things, will they not be in a worse off position in the future? This is what the mode of ignorance does; it does not have any basis in sound knowledge, nor does it bring a desired fruit that is even temporary in its manifestation. The mode of ignorance is characterized by things like laziness, heavy intoxication, and abominable activities. The behavior is not driven by any sound judgment. As an example, who among us hasn’t dreamt of sleeping all day when the alarm clock goes off in the morning. “If only I could sleep in; wake up on the weekend, oh what a dream that would be”, as a famous song says. But we know that sleeping the day away is not beneficial. For starters, nothing will get done. The bills won’t get paid, our body will not be fed, and there will not be any interaction with our friends. Secondly, more sleep equates to more laziness, lending credence to the principle of “a body at rest will stay at rest.”
The mode of ignorance is also known as the mode of darkness, for there is no light of knowledge present within its activities. Because of this, the wise emphatically advise us to avoid this mode, as the precious value of human life will be spoiled. At least with the mode of passion there is the opportunity to start from the same position again, but rebuilding your life after being mired in debauchery and irrational thought is very difficult. For the intelligent, those who understand the real purpose in life and the need for realizing Brahman, just seeing someone in the mode of darkness, being in their company for any extended period of time, is detrimental.
This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. Adult movies have ratings on them to signal to elders that young children should not be allowed to view them. Youngsters are very impressionable, as they have yet to see most of what the world has to offer. If they are exposed to violence and sexual behavior at a young age, the images will be burned into their mind. The chances for following the mode of darkness later on in life will increase as result. In a similar manner, for the sincere spiritualist, he who is following the practices recommended for finding enlightenment, just being in the company of one who is living in darkness can cause great harm to the psyche.
As an example, if a person is dedicated to regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, avoiding the four pillars of sinful life [meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex], and following principles of cleanliness, they can suffer great harm by even being exposed to the mode of darkness or people who have different ultimate conclusions in life. In fact, chanting the names of the Supreme Lord, who is actually above Brahman, transcends even the mode of goodness. The real position of the soul is to be forever engaged in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. If categorized into activities, bhakti falls into the shudda-sattva mode, or pure goodness. This is above the mode of material goodness because there is an untainted desire to love God with all heart and soul. Therefore knowledge of Brahman, the primary benefit of following the mode of goodness, is already received in bhakti.
One who follows the bhakti path has essentially dedicated their life to God, even if there is no outward declaration or announcement made to others. A good mother doesn’t necessarily tell anyone else that her life is dedicated to her kids; her mindset is revealed in the activities she follows and the level of sincerity shown in her behavior. Similarly, the devotee who regularly chants the Lord’s names, glorifies both Him and His devotees, and suffers tremendous boredom and depression when not able to perform such activities for extended periods of time has completely turned their life over to God.
Every person’s ultimate conclusion in life is shown through their behavior. Even a movie or television show has these finer points revealed. Through the plotlines, the writers expose their true feelings about life, what they consider to be pious and impious, and how they think activities should be prioritized. If a devotee should be exposed to films which glorify unregulated sense gratification, rampant violence, woman hunting, flaunting of the standards of decency, or any other activity that corresponds with the mode of darkness, there will be a high chance of consciousness being negatively affected. “If everyone else is not devoted to bhakti, maybe I am wasting my time? Maybe I am the one who has it wrong?” Therefore, the spiritual masters, the bona fide gurus who teach those sincerely interested in connecting with God, strongly recommend that their students avoid intimate association with those who are not interested in the same thing, namely that of serving the Lord. Otherwise, through bad association the progress made in consciousness can be ruined. Just as pure milk can become spoiled once a serpent’s tongue touches it, so the kind-hearted soul dedicated to pure goodness can be shaken from the divine consciousness if touched by the fangs of the mode of darkness.
Being exposed to the mode of darkness on television or in film is one thing, but seeing it in real life is even more dangerous. Shri Hanuman, while executing a search mission aimed at pleasing the Supreme Lord in His form of Lord Rama, saw some of the worst images one could imagine. Rama’s wife Sita Devi was being held captive in the majestic city of Lanka, which was ruled over by the Rakshasa king Ravana. His land was replete with opulence, with numerous elegant palaces, occupied by the most beautiful queens, lined up together in a network. Hanuman is forever devoted to Rama, so he takes great pleasure whenever he can exercise his abilities to show off that love. Tasked with going to Lanka to find Sita, Hanuman was very eager to meet the princess. The one problem was that he had never met her before. He had only known Rama for a few short months, but he was already won over by the Lord’s sweetness and divine qualities. Hanuman was on the platform of pure goodness, but by going to Lanka, he would place himself in the heart of darkness.
Most of Lanka’s residents had the same qualities as their leader. They essentially lived a life of hedonism. Wine was flowing regularly, succulent animal flesh was ready to be eaten at all hours of the night, and sex life was the tie that held everything together. Hanuman, though naturally having a monkey form, took on a diminutive size to enter Lanka. He was looking for Sita, so he had to search through the different streets and palaces. The moon shone brightly, so Hanuman was able to see everything that was going on in the city. All types of men and women, searching for every type of material sense gratification, were seen by Hanuman. He saw the extremes of the life of unregulated enjoyment, similar to what one would see today on the streets at night in a major city on a weekend. Hanuman saw both the good and bad, but since he didn’t see Sita, the visions were not what his mind needed.
Now, for the normal person, the negative images of the Rakshasas would be disturbing, especially if such a person were trying to concentrate on performing a mission. But Hanuman is no ordinary person. In fact, seeing debauchery only increased his resolve. Based on the behavior of the women, he knew that none of them could be Sita. The princess of Videha was the most dedicated to the path of chastity, so there was no way she would cavort with any other man except Rama. She was also always thinking of her Lord, so unless and until Hanuman saw a woman steeped in meditation, he knew that Sita had not been found. She was the most exalted of women, so her radiance and transcendental glow would also stand out.
The inhibiting influence that the mode of darkness has on the sober individual only serves to further enhance Hanuman’s wonderful stature. Not even the darkest of the dark could take him off of his sublime path. His dedication to Sita and Rama is unmatched, and because of this attribute alone he was fully qualified and deserving of finding the princess. Not surprisingly, he would eventually find Sita, and everything would end well. As no amount of darkness can ever taint Hanuman, no one who approaches him in all sincerity and admires his wonderful devotion to Rama can ever forget the ultimate mission in life, that of thinking of the Lord at the time of death. The purely God conscious soul gets the benefit of God’s association for all of time. Hanuman was steady as a rock in his march towards finding Sita. Therefore anyone who remembers him and his dedication will similarly have a much better chance of remaining in pure goodness.
Material nature operates in modes numbering three,
From goodness, passion and ignorance one must break free.
Because of good acts, mode of goodness is the highest,
From knowing Brahman you’ll become the wisest.
Mode of passion leads to many a victory and defeat,
Leaves you in neutral state, activity you must repeat.
Mode of ignorance finds pleasure at any cost,
Mired in darkness, value of human life is lost.
For those following bhakti, God’s name do they chant,
Feel displeasure when practice devotion they can’t.
For them avoiding mode of darkness is a must,
In philosophy of sinful you must never trust.
Yet Hanuman found himself in darkness’ heart,
In Lanka saw all kinds of sin right from the start,
From his mission to find Sita he would not be distracted,
Saw many negative images, but he would not be affected.
Don’t try Hanuman’s behavior, him we cannot imitate,
For his triumph, servant of Rama we forever appreciate.
Remember Hanuman, beloved of Rama and Sita,
Who found triumph in heart of darkness of Lanka.
Categories: searching for sita