“Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
This is quite a brilliant statement from Shri Hanuman, an expert on devotional service, scholarship, Sanskrit, virtue, and every other noteworthy field of activity. It is not surprising to hear such words of wisdom emanating from the lotus mouth of Shri Rama’s greatest servant. This one passage can be studied daily, as it serves as a reminder, a jolt to the brain so to speak, of the futility of lamentation and grief. This reminder is helpful because man is generally prone to hankering and lamenting. It is a common practice to lament the plight of others, viewing them as pitiable. From Shri Hanuman’s statement, we see that any individual remaining within a body which is like a bubble is not justified in pitying any other person who is in a similar condition.
“While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)
In the Vedic tradition, God’s ultimate feature is taken to be a transcendental form, a body which provides sweetness and unmatched pleasure to those qualified to see it. Why are there eligibility requirements in seeing God? By default, most people don’t want to see the Supreme Lord. If they saw Him they would have no desire to remain in a world that provides fleeting happiness, a place where misery is the end result of all activity. In order to see God in His original form, that of Lord Krishna, the beautiful lotus-eyed controller of the universe, one has to have a sincere desire to associate with the Supreme Spirit. This purified longing is only acquired after other secondary desires are eliminated. What is the nature of these inferior demands? There are attractions for argument, debate, philosophy, and scientific research. These activities whet the appetite of the inquisitive mind belonging to the conditioned soul, he who wants to figure everything out in this world without approaching God. For such persons, the possibilities for acquiring knowledge are endless, for the Lord kindly provides new information piecemeal as a way of satisfying their desire. How nice is Krishna? He even satisfies those who outwardly neglect Him.
Since argument and philosophy can only take the mind so far, they eventually need to be renounced. When associated with study of spiritual matters, dry philosophy and mental speculation can lead to the conclusion that the ultimate feature of the Absolute Truth is voidness. The impersonal energy, technically known as Brahman in Vedic parlance, is void of any enjoyment, pleasure, and interaction. When one attains the platform of Brahman understanding, their ultimate destination is the impersonal energy that is situated at the outskirts of material existence. As the great acharya Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states, when there is a merging into Brahman, there is no benefit to either party. The soul is not benefitted because its consumption by Brahman only results in the end of individuality, the loss of feeling, sensation, pleasure, etc. Brahman is not benefitted either, for if something is unmanifested, it cannot have any stimulation, enjoyment, or happiness.
For those desiring transcendental pleasure, which is a hankering that always remains with the soul as its eternal characteristic, there is the original form of the Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, who has wonderful attributes of sweetness. These features carry over to His limitless personal expansions. One such form appeared on earth many thousands of years ago to give pleasure to the residents of the town of Ayodhya. As the courageous and pious prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama took aim at the miscreants of the world, especially the Rakshasas who were harassing the innocent sages of the tapo-vanas, or forests conducive to the performance of austerities. While routing the Rakshasas out of the woods, Rama made His way to the forest of Kishkindha, which at the time was inhabited by a group of monkeys headed by their king Sugriva. Rama was with His younger brother Lakshmana at the time, and the two were searching for Rama’s missing wife, Sita Devi. After a meeting was brokered by Sugriva’s chief agent, Hanuman, Rama and the monkey-king formed an alliance, with Rama agreeing to help Sugriva regain his lost kingdom and Sugriva agreeing to help Rama find Sita.
The first order of business was Sugriva’s feud with his brother Vali. Sugriva was previously driven out of his kingdom by Vali, and in order to gain it back, he would need to fight him in battle. Since Vali was too strong for him, Sugriva wanted Rama to kill Vali for him. The Lord obliged by shooting Vali in the back while he was fighting with Sugriva, and as a result, Vali’s wife Tara became a widow. Upon seeing Vali’s body lying on the ground, Tara gave way to lamentation, feeling pity for her departed husband. In the above referenced statement, Hanuman is offering some cogent words of advice aimed at alleviating Tara’s suffering. While these words were directed to a grieving widow, they serve as some of the most profound teachings known to mankind. One can study the components of Hanuman’s statement over and over again, day after day, and find new applications to their meanings.
Hanuman starts out by asking a rhetorical question. “Why are you pitying someone else, when you are yourself worthy of pity?” Regardless of age, intelligence, financial disposition, or comfort level in life, there is always a tendency to pity others. We look at someone in a troubled situation and think, “Oh I feel so bad for that person. It’s such a shame what they have to go through. I can’t imagine how hard life must be for them.” This lamentation can be directed at a person who has just lost a loved one, gone through a messy divorce, is suffering through poverty, or has been embarrassed in front of others. When we see a public speaker start to stutter, stammer, sweat, and get nervous, we tend to cringe inside. “Oh boy, this is tough to watch”. These sentiments are evoked even from watching similar behavior depicted in fictional movies and television shows.
All of this speaks to the natural propensity for lamentation. From Hanuman’s statement, however, we see that if we were to accurately apply this mindset to ourselves, we’d see that even we would be worthy of pity. For example, let’s say that we feel bad for someone who is going through a messy divorce. The divorced person will now have to be alone, split time with their children, and fork over monthly payments to their former spouse that they now loathe. If we look at our own situations, many of us are also alone, forced to divide up the time we spend with our loved ones, and obliged financially to so many different things. We may or may not be married or have ever suffered through a divorce, but the feelings of distress will always be there, in one form or another. Therefore, if we are lamenting the condition of others, we should also lament our own predicament.
Hanuman next asks Tara why she is lamenting for the poor, when she herself has now been made poor? This is a very interesting question. Tara is feeling sad over her husband’s death, so she feels that her husband is poor now that he has lost his life. Hanuman’s point is that Tara is the one who has been made poor, for she is now a widow. Tara was a very faithful and chaste wife, so she viewed her husband as her foremost deity. Now that her worshipable object was gone, her life and soul had left her company. In this way, she was much poorer than Vali, whose soul continued to survive. Vedic information states that the soul never dies and that death is merely the changing of bodies. One set of clothes gets old and worn out, and a new set gets put on. The nature of the clothes is determined by karma, or the activities performed during one’s lifetime.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.13)
The last part of Hanuman’s question is the kicker. This really gets to the heart of the point he’s trying to convey. The body is compared to a bubble, and since everyone lives in the same type of bubble, no one person is more worthy of lamentation than another. The bubble is a great analogy because it speaks to the temporary nature of the material body. By living for so many years, we may get fooled into thinking that the body is indestructible, or at the very least, that it is difficult to destroy. But in the grand scheme of things, the duration of life for the human being is nothing. It is paltry, pathetic, puny, and tiny compared to the duration of existence for the earth and other planets. When a bubble rises from the surface of water or is generated from soap, it is understood that it doesn’t have long to live. Indeed, the bubble can also be very easily broken. Simply swatting at the bubble or blowing air on it will disintegrate it within a second. When compared to the stability of larger land masses found in the material universe, the body of the human being is considered to be just as fragile as the bubble.
The point to understand is that we all live in one of these bubbles. This means that if we see someone else die prematurely, there is no reason for great lamentation because the same thing will happen to us eventually. One bubble may survive longer than another, but the final outcome is still the same: destruction. Since everyone is residing in one of these fragile establishments, how can any person pity another? According to the advanced transcendentalist’s angle of vision, such sentiments are silly and not based on sound logic and reasoning.
This theoretical knowledge seems all well and good, but for people who are in the eye of the storm, those who are suffering through the untimely death of a loved one, it’s difficult to maintain rationality. We may have daily studied the facts relating to the body and how no one is worthy of pity, but during times of difficulty, the feelings of attachment and loss outweigh those borne of logic and understanding. So what can we do? How do we reach the point where we can truly realize the truths that Shri Hanuman so eloquently describes?
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
Since the body is just a bubble, the soul residing within it is certainly not worthy of lamentation. At the same time, if the body is just a bubble, what is the meaning to life? Why are we forced to live in such a fragile shell? Is there another type of body that we can occupy, something more sturdy and damage-resistant? To find the answer, we must revisit the issue of the personal form of God. Lord Shri Krishna, the ultimate feature of the Absolute Truth who is also known as Bhagavan, has an eternal body which is full of transcendental bliss and knowledge. Krishna’s beauty, knowledge, and bliss are not exclusively for His own benefit. Rather, others are meant to associate with this feature of the Lord, basking in the glory of the transcendental sweetness of Shri Shyamasundara.
While remaining in a bubble-like body, one cannot associate with Krishna’s original feature without being subject to the influence of time. There may be temporary association, but the final destination of the bubble will still be the same. The key is to develop an attachment to God, a change in consciousness. One who thinks of Krishna at the time of death certainly does discard their shell-like body, but instead of assuming a new covering, they get sent directly to the spiritual world. In that realm, the liberated soul is allowed to enjoy Krishna’s association in the mood of their choosing. Moreover, the soul is given a spiritual body, similar to that of Krishna’s. In this way, not only does the individual permanently remove their fragile material body, but they assume an indestructible and imperishable spiritual body; a form which provides all the pleasure and bliss that one could ever hope for.
So how is God consciousness secured? For those who associated with Lord Rama during His time on earth, this consciousness was automatically adopted. The citizens of Ayodhya, Sugriva’s monkey army, and countless others were able to offer service to Rama directly, so their minds were always fixed on Him. The people of this age can associate with the same Lord Rama, and His original form of Krishna as well, by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This style of worship, which is the most effective at delivering liberation, is open to anyone to follow. A conditioned soul, one who is trapped in a bubble-like body, has no reason to pity another conditioned soul. The liberated souls, however, are so kind and compassionate that they desire to turn all the conditioned souls into liberated ones. Their lamentation, which is caused by a voluntary descension from the topmost platform of spiritual understanding, for the spiritually poor serves as the impetus for spreading God’s glories and fame throughout the world. Shri Hanuman is the leading exponent of the virtues of God, and through the instructions he provides, such as those offered to Tara, we can learn how to break free of the temporary material body.