Monday, May 22, 2006

The Rains

After Rama defeated Vali and restored Sugriva’s wife and kingdom to him, Sugriva said, “For what you have done, my life is in your service; my people and I will fight in your cause to restore your wife to you, as you have restored mine to me. I will fight under your banner and with you as Lord. We will defeat Ravana. Do not doubt this!”

Rama thanked Sugriva, but said, “I have restored righteousness to you and your people and I will lead you in war against Ravana that righteousness will be restored to the world and that I may ascend my throne. But the season is late. Winter is upon us and the rains will fall without pause. I will not lead you to fight Ravana on muddy roads and swamps. But when the rains have stopped, come to me in the forest and I will again appear before you and we shall then find Ravana and destroy him.”

Sugriva said, “I will obey exactly as you command. I am your servant and, when the rains have stopped and the trees and flowers green and blossom again, I will return to your home in the forests and put my treasures, my armies, my very life at your disposal.”

Months of rain passed while Rama awaited the end of the winter. At last, the rains ceased and the creatures of the forest reappeared. Cranes and swans returned to the waters. Fish spawned and flowers bloomed. Day and night, which had been silent for months except for the steady fall of rain, now filled with the sounds of spring. Rama awaited the fulfillment of Sugriva’s promise, but Sugriva did not return, nor did he send his army, nor even a single messenger.

Lakshmana was indignant and angrily accused Sugriva of impiety. He said to Rama, “He was ever grateful when you killed Vali, but this gratitude was only a show. Restored to wife and kingdom, he has forgotten you, though only through you was his kingship possible. He bowed so sincerely, his monkey hands clasped together, but like a monkey, he has busied himself with other things, forgetting his benefactor, his friend, his God. I will seek Ravana’s kingdom myself and you and I will destroy him and his supporters and rescue Sita. This is within your power, O Rama. But I promise that once this is accomplished, I alone will return to Kishkinda and cut the throat of that ungrateful monkey, slaughter his army, and burn his kingdom to ash for his insult to you.”

Rama said, “All of these things you say are within my power. But what you propose is not pleasing. Lakshmana, I know Sugriva has erred; that he has failed to keep faith with me and has forgotten his promise to me. Go to Kishkinda and remind him of his promise; if he repents, I am forgiving and he will keep my friendship. If he is obstinate, repenting only his promise, then return to me immediately that I will know he has become my enemy.”

Lakshmana’s anger was not cooled, but he obeyed his brother and journeyed from the forest to Kishkinda, the city that Sugriva ruled. At the gates of the city, Lakshmana found Hanuman, the best of monkeys. Lakshmana demanded from Hanuman an explanation. Hanuman said, “I remember Sugriva’s promise to you, and the monkeys of Kishkinda have kept faith with Rama. But I have not been permitted in Sugriva’s presence for many months. He does not leave his bedchamber, but keeps company with women who serve him day and night. He is fat with food; his lusts and whims are satisfied; he drinks only the wine of forgetfulness and indolence. But let me try again to speak with him; I will announce that you have arrived and that you are at the gates of his city, acting as Rama’s emissary, awaiting the fulfillment of that forgotten promise.”

Lakshmana was satisfied with Hanuman’s apology for himself and for the monkeys of Kishkinda, but, hearing the reason Sugriva had not fulfilled his promise, he became even angrier at the monkey king of Kishkinda.

Hanuman would not be barred from Sugriva’s bed chamber and, throwing Sugriva’s guards aside, he boldly approached Sugriva who lay upon his bed, the women around him scattering before Hanuman as leaves before a great wind. Hanuman scolded him, saying, “You are tardy, king of monkeys. It is spring and Rama wonders where you are and what has become of you. Lakshmana awaits at the gate of the city for you to present yourself, welcome him, and to tell him why you have not fulfilled the promise you made to Rama.”

For a moment, Sugriva did not respond. But a look of horror dawned upon his face. He leapt from his bed and took Hanuman by the shoulders. He said, “Rama forgive me! What have I done?” At once Sugriva, with a guard of honor trailing behind him, rushed to the city gate and, seeing Lakshmana, burst into tears and fell to the feet of Rama’s brother. He said, “Faithful Hanuman has waked me from a long dream. Forgive me for my error. I have no excuses to bring before you. Lead me to Rama, and let him do with me as I deserve.”

Lakshmana’s heart was moved by Sugriva’s words; his anger slipped from him as rainwater from a leaf. He said gently, “Rama will surely forgive you; he has told me himself that if you will keep your promise to him, he remains your true friend and your supporter.”

Sugriva, immediately gave orders for the disposition of his army, and sent his finest soldiers as scouts to find Ravana’s kingdom. Then, he threw off his kingly robes and dressed as an ascetic and, with only Hanuman in attendance, followed Lakshmana back into the forests to face Rama.

Sugriva hung his head, barely noticing the beauty of the trees and flowering plants. With every step, as they approached the mountains where Rama waited, Sugriva’s heart became heavier still. But Rama appeared suddenly from the thick forests at the foot of his mountain home. He was smiling, with his hands open. He embraced Sugriva, then Hanuman, and then Lakshmana, and said, “Welcome, king of monkeys.”

Sugriva opened his mouth to beg Rama’s forgiveness, but Rama interrupted him, saying, “Sugriva, the rainy season was longer than usual and has delayed our plans. But now you are here, and your promise to me completely fulfilled.”

Sugriva began to cry and said, “O Rama, you know the truth and how I failed you entirely.”

Rama said, “King of Kishkinda, do not abase yourself or be troubled now. What has passed has passed and I am and always have been and always will be your friend. You do not need to explain yourself, for I foresaw this moment before you ever made your promise to me, before you were even in your mother’s womb. Now you are here before me; your determination to assist me greater than ever, your loyalty to my cause complete, your friendship to me unassailable, your love for me beyond question. When I sided with you against Vali, did you think this moment was hidden from me? This is a joyous meeting and I welcome you with delight.”

Saying this, Sugriva’s heart was eased and joy and happiness filled him; he said, “All that time I spent, having forgotten you in my ignorance and hedonism, all the pleasures I enjoyed were nothing, not even a spark beside the sun of this moment.” When Hanuman heard these words, at that moment Rama entered his heart and the fresh green forest shone with the glow of Paradise.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Testimony of the Buddha

Aurangzeb said, “You say that Rama died and the world strayed. Then Krishna arose and restored religion. And Krishna died and the world strayed again until Buddha appeared. You have spoken of Rama and Krishna at length, but have said nearly nothing of the Buddha. Tell me, if you can, which stories and scriptures of the Buddha are authentic and how they are consistent with the journey of Rama and the teachings of Krishna.”

The boy said, “If you had listened to me, you would not ask this question. You would yourself know the truth of the Buddha and acknowledge his station. You would yourself cast away the accretions of tradition, the manipulations of monks, the dissimulation of doubters. You would see him emerge, calm, at peace, tolerant and wise from the thousand myths that have descended upon him like a black rain.

“Find the truth of Buddha in the stories of Krishna and Rama, for these are stories he told to his disciples. After the Buddha ascended, Ananda, his cousin and closest disciple, said, ‘He told us of Rama and Krishna that we may learn a little of him. He recounted their trials, their troubles and teachings that we might recognize them in him and him in them. They are the past lives of God among us; they are his past lives and his future lives; for he descends among men from time to time to renew dharma, to establish justice, and to show us the surest path to self-annihilation, which is union with God. As many times as he has appeared among men, so too will he appear in the future. Though he was my cousin, Siddhartha Gautama who walked among men and was a man like me, so too was he the Buddha who walks among us in every age. Seek him out in every world of his worlds. This is dharma.’”

Aurangzeb said, “Yet the Hindus and the Buddhist agree on little doctrine. Hindus worship a multitude of gods, neglecting God. And Buddhists worship no gods, neglecting God. How do you explain it?”

The boy answered, “I have explained it to you again and again. I will not deny that some Buddhists are godless, and others worship too many gods. But the essence of the Buddha’s teaching emphasized liberation from the fruits of action. There are many disciplines, hallowed by time and tradition, that are intended to shake off the vision of maya, like so much dust, from our earthly bodies. Yet consider how many the years, how hard the austerities, how painful the deprivations that men undergo, and yet men remain prisoners of samsara while those closest to God, motivated by a single desire to be near Him, who by this choose His will over their own and extinguish all other desire, they are in an instant transported to Him and are in union with him. Ascetics may see these devotees as children but playing. Consider the gopis, the women closest to Krishna. Laughing they have broken the wheel. Praising, singing, and loving Him, they become not his consorts, but his true friends and companions. They smile upon him, and he upon them. And for this smile, ascetics would offer up their lives and all pleasures, and yet even with this offering may not obtain that smile from him that the gopis attained through love. Love is often maya, yes. But love of God is the key to His treasury.

“As for the various scriptures belonging to the Buddhists, they do not know that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata themselves are his testimony. Ananda said of the Buddha, ‘The wise are right to say that the Vedas are best understood through the study of the actions and words of Rama and Krishna, for He is Rama and He is Krishna and He Himself is the Vedas. To seek Him is dharma. To find Him is to find within yourself the atman. To obey Him is to break the wheel of samsara. To love Him is to achieve union with Him.”