How To Serve
Posted by krishnasmercy on January 6, 2011
“Sugriva, the lord of all the forest inhabitants, being greatly pleased, spoke to Hanuman, the powerful son of the wind, as follows:” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.2)
An aspiring transcendentalist, one who is learning the art of practicing spirituality to perfection, will often wonder exactly what specific service is required in their spiritual pursuits and what the nature of their activities should be. As with any engagement involving passionate individuals, there is the desire to effect change, to make a difference. For followers of the bhakti school, the religion of love, the path to take is not always clearly laid out. By yourself, it’s not easy to practice bhakti, let alone induce others to take up the sublime engagement. Yet by studying wonderful examples from the past, where exalted personalities were able to discover their own path to success, we too can find our calling and be engaged in pursuing our passion of pleasing the Supreme Lord.
The desire to effect change is seen in almost every area of life. Mothers, and sometimes fathers, join together to form the PTA [Parent Teacher Association] to address any problems and issues that come up at the school that their children attend. Friends and neighbors form Neighborhood Watch Committees to deal with issues of crime and vandalism in their community. There are so many activist groups and causes in existence, with each focusing on a particular area of interest.
The most common arena where change is sought is politics, or government. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe the material world as a temporary place that is full of miseries. This seems like a bleak outlook, but there is a reason for the honest, but albeit unpleasant to hear, assessment put forth by the Vedic seers. The material world is considered a flawed replica of the spiritual world. In the transcendental realm where God, in His original form of Lord Krishna, resides, there is peace and harmony amongst all the liberated souls. Each individual knows their role; they are working towards satisfying the Supreme. They view Krishna as the ultimate enjoyer; therefore there are no issues or conflicts pertaining to their own satisfaction. When Krishna enjoys as a result of actions taken by His loving servants, the persons doing the serving are also benefitted. There is surely competition, but since it relates to Krishna’s pleasure, even one-upmanship becomes beneficial. There is no such thing as competition in the material sense because no one is trying to become God.
In the land we currently inhabit, the same spirit souls who were once in Krishna’s company now take on a material dress known as a body. In this dress, the individual soul is the master, or at least it thinks it is. The soul indeed serves as the impetus for activities, but none of the results, visible or invisible, can be realized without divine intervention as it manifests through the laws of nature. Just as the soul provides the life spark to a dull body, the grand spiritual spark, the Supreme Spirit, provides life to nature. Not even a blade of grass moves without Krishna’s influence.
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
In the material world, the individual sees himself as God, and thus seeks out personal enjoyment. Problems arise, however, when other individual souls, who are equally as autonomous in the management of their bodies, decide to act out their own desires for becoming the Supreme Controller and Supreme Enjoyer. Hence collisions arise. Since it is impossible for anyone to actually become God, the end result is always misery. Faced with this predicament, any government system that neglects the position of Bhagavan, the Supreme Person who possesses every opulence imaginable simultaneously and to the fullest extent, as the supreme enjoyer will lead to misery.
Taking a quick glance at the prominent governments of the world today, we see that they indeed do neglect the superiority of spirit. As is natural for any public official, the instinct is to look to fulfill the desires and necessities of their constituents. In less intrusive forms of government, the individual is seen as the proprietor and thus free to go about pursuing their passionate activities aimed at pleasing the senses. In either case – strong government control or passive government oversight – the end result is misery. Hence citizens will perpetually be complaining about the government and what it needs to do to fix the present unpalatable situation.
So, what are some of the actions taken to bring about this change? In reality, the individual is powerless. Change in public policy requires the masses of people to agree that the current situation is not favorable and that a newer style of government, represented by different candidates holding office, will be able to turn things around. The individual surely has a role in this system. They can take to a propaganda campaign, wherein they try to persuade the hearts and minds of others to look in a new direction. This sort of activism is certainly nice for the individual since it allows them to be engaged in the cause they care so deeply about. Yet, due to the makeup of the electoral system, this work is guaranteed to be fruitless for half the parties involved. Since success can only be achieved when other autonomous entities become equally as passionate about the issue, the activist is faced with the sad reality of likely defeat.
Spiritual life, however, does not suffer from this defect. Surely, if we are trying to save the world, i.e. trying to bring everyone to the highest platform of knowledge, Krishna consciousness, success will be difficult to achieve. But spiritual life is more focused on the individual and their relationship with their best friend in the spiritual sky. While in the material world the individual soul is separated from Krishna, this parting is only in the area of consciousness. The Supreme Lord is Ishvara, which means the Supreme Controller. As Ishvara, Krishna is able to appear everywhere; He is omnipresent. As such, He also resides within us, side-by-side with the individual soul in the heart.
“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.15)
If Krishna is already with us, then what’s the problem? The issue pertains to memory; we are forgetful of the presence of the Lord in our body. His spiritual presence is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. The aim of life is to achieve yoga; the union of our identity with Krishna. In this way, we see that perfection, the ultimate palatable condition, is first achieved at the individual level. Though spiritual life can involve congregational worship, such as the collective chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and formalized deity worship, at the end of the day the quintessential functional unit of devotion is the personal relationship established between the individual and its Supreme Object of Worship, Krishna.
As a cause, bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is nice in that it only requires action by the individual. There is no requirement to change the hearts and minds of others, though this would certainly be a great benefit to society if it could be accomplished. Even if the entire world is against Krishna, if we are able to successfully change our own consciousness to the point where we are always thinking of Bhagavan and His satisfaction, we will have achieved perfection in life.
One of the common problem areas for aspiring devotees is gauging progress. We may sincerely take up the process of chanting the Lord’s names and follow other principles, but the issues pertaining to activism and effecting change remain. “How do I know that I’m on the right course? I have all this passion to serve the Lord. I want to do more, but I don’t know what that more is. How can I figure out what to do?” To find the answers to these questions, we need look no further than to the example set by one of God’s best friends. Not only is this entity a devotee, but he is also a celebrated divine figure, someone worshiped by millions around the world on a daily basis. This figure is Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama.
It should be noted that Krishna is not a sectarian figure. Even in other spiritual disciplines, where Krishna specifically is not mentioned, the concept of a God is still there. The information lacking in other traditions of spirituality pertains to God’s form and His attributes. God may be described as great or formless, but this doesn’t really speak to His true nature. For God to be God, He must be a personality. In order to be a personality, He must have a form. Therefore, the Vedas kindly give us information as to the forms, attributes, activities, and names for the Supreme Personal Absolute Truth. In this way, Krishna is merely the more complete definition for God, the man behind the mask created by those with a limited understanding. Anyone who is honestly worshiping God is actually worshiping Krishna. There is no truth to the concept of “My God” versus “Your God”.
While Krishna is the original form of Godhead, He kindly expands Himself into non-different forms, one of which is His warrior prince incarnation known as Shri Ramachandra, or just Rama. There is often debate amongst Vaishnavas, devotees of Vishnu, as to who is greater, Krishna or Rama. The lovers of Krishna will point to the fact that He is more complete in His features and attributes, and that while Rama is non-different from Krishna, He is not equally as capable of providing bliss and pleasure to the devotees. As with any other argument, the truths can be considered relative. For example, a devotee of Lord Rama derives all the bliss and pleasure in the world simply by thinking of His smiling face. In this way, how can the bhakta be lacking in anything? Actually, these debates as to which non-different form of Godhead is superior are a good thing. They allow devotees to stand up for their guy, their beloved. Anytime this love can be exhibited in a peaceful manner through kind words of praise, it only serves to solidify the lover’s spiritual consciousness.
Shri Hanuman is one such devotee who thinks of God as Rama and no other. He really has no interest in worshiping any other form. Not only does Hanuman have a strong belief in Rama’s supremacy, he was also able to personally meet the Lord and offer Him service. These events took place many thousands of years ago when the Lord roamed the earth. During one period in His life, Rama, as a pious and noble prince, was forced to travel the forests of India for fourteen years. Taking His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana with Him, Rama was happily engaged in serving His exile term. Unfortunately, one day Sita would be kidnapped through a sinister plot hatched by a demon named Ravana. Unable to find Sita’s whereabouts, Rama and Lakshmana made their way to the forest of Kishkindha, which at the time was inhabited by a race of forest dwellers headed by their king Sugriva.
These inhabitants of the forest, who were known as Vanaras, had features very similar to those of monkeys. For this reason, they are often referred to as monkeys, but it should be noted that their intelligence levels closely resembled those of human beings. Lord Rama forged an alliance with Sugriva through the kind efforts of Hanuman. Sugriva was looking to regain his lost kingdom from his brother Vali, and Rama was looking to rescue Sita. Thus there was potential for both parties to help each other out. Rama took the first step by killing Vali, allowing Sugriva to regain his kingdom.
Then it was Sugriva’s turn to repay the favor. The monkeys were aware that Sita was taken away by a demon, but they didn’t know where he lived. Thankfully, Sugriva had an army consisting of thousands of monkeys. He divided them up into groups and dispatched them to search the various corners of the world. Though all the monkeys were engaged in the search, Sugriva looked especially to Hanuman for success. Shri Hanuman was the best man for the job, someone who proved himself in the past. After all, it was through Hanuman’s efforts that Sugriva was able to meet Rama and Lakshmana.
In the above referenced passage, we see that Sugriva is very pleased with Hanuman and about to give him the task of finding Sita and relaying information about Rama to her. This is an important incident because it shows just how any devotee, if they are properly qualified, can be engaged in the Lord’s service. Hanuman started off with a pure heart. He had a sincere desire to serve the Lord. Because he was sincere and possessed all good qualities, the opportunity for service eventually presented itself. Hanuman would indeed go on to find Sita after overcoming many obstacles. Through his service to Rama, Sita would eventually be found and rescued. To this day, Hanuman is one of the most important figures of the Vedic tradition, someone who possesses all auspicious attributes. His name is forever linked with Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. Hanuman didn’t have to lead a movement or cause a change in society to please the Supreme Lord. Rather, his individual acts of devotion were enough to make him famous for eternity.
One should be perseverant and committed to the cause of changing their consciousness first. If we regularly chant Hare Krishna and abide by the four basic principles of abstention from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication, our opportunity for service will surely come. The Supreme Lord never ignores the pleas of His adherents. If He sees that someone is passionate about pleasing Him, He will certainly provide every opportunity to them to act out their transcendental desires. May we always remember this glorious incident where Shri Hanuman, the faithful devotee of Lord Rama, was given the herculean task of finding Mother Sita. May we always be as eager, confident, and courageous in our service to the Lord and His devotees.