Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Indescribably Endeared

Hanuman with Rama and Lakshmana “Based on what you have heard [from Tara], you regard this cave as being capable of providing protection, but tearing it apart will be easy work for Lakshmana’s arrows.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.13)

yām ca imām manyase dhātrīm etat bilam iti śrutam |

etat lakṣmaṇa bāṇānām īṣat kāryam vidāraṇe

When someone is convinced of a particular way of thinking or is overly confident of a certain ability, an effective way to debunk their viewpoint and shake their resolve is to make a comparison to an entity of secondary or tertiary authority. Every person, regardless of their cognizance of the fact, has a belief in an ultimate controller, a supreme power. Those who are not devout to the original dharma of the soul will take the supreme authority to be nature, a series of chemicals, or an elevated personality. When arguing in support of a particular doctrine or philosophy and against another, it is not ideal to invoke the powers of established supreme entities because the capabilities are inherently implied in their names and anointed titles. Rather, to stress the severity of the error prescribed by a competing viewpoint, the debate counterpart will make comparisons to objects which aren’t obviously deemed to be the most powerful or the most capable. In this way the dissenter can very emphatically get their point across and hopefully make an impression on the person they are trying to convince. This was a tactic employed by Shri Hanuman many thousands of years ago when he found himself in an uncomfortable position, with his close associates having fallen victim to a faulty viewpoint espoused by one of the leaders of the group.

HanumanTo help us understand the effectiveness and proper use of this particular weapon of argument, let’s break down a simple example. Say we have one person who is boastful of their powers in a particular field. Say they are a great basketball player who is well skilled at scoring, defending and rebounding. This player is quite confident of their own prowess and not afraid to share their viewpoint with others. A dissenter, one who disagrees strongly with the opinion of the self-anointed star, will have to carefully craft their arguments so as to convince the other party of their errors. Indeed, if anyone else is privy to the argument, they too can be convinced of the dissenter’s point of view through the use of this nice tactic. In basketball, the consensus opinion is that Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time. In fact, every new star player that comes along invariably gets compared to Jordan. Analysts will compare height, reach, speed, and dribbling and shooting abilities of the two players. Since Jordan is considered the greatest player, every new star thus becomes a candidate to surpass his legendary stature.

The Jordan comparisons get old very quickly though, with the reason being that Jordan set such a high standard for excellence that it is nearly impossible for anyone to ever equal his records and influence on the game of basketball. Continuing with the example, if the dissenter were to invoke Jordan’s name as a means of supporting their viewpoint, the argument wouldn’t hold that much significance. By saying, “You’re not that good of a player. Michael Jordan could run rings around you on a basketball court”, the person making the claims of greatness wouldn’t be that phased. After all, Jordan is widely considered the greatest of all time, so there really is no argument as to what would happen on the basketball court if Jordan were there to compete.

Pippen and Jordan A better way for the dissenter to get their point across is to make a comparison to a player that is close to Jordan in abilities but not as widely talked about or hyped up. For example, say the dissenter were to invoke the name of Scottie Pippen, another legend of the game and teammate of Jordan’s. By saying, “Scottie Pippen could easily take you down. You wouldn’t even stand a chance against him in a game”, the dissenter is establishing the fact that even someone who isn’t deemed as superior as Jordan would be able to surpass the player’s abilities. This line of argument serves as praise for Pippen and also augments Jordan’s stature at the same time. If the player making the claims of greatness could easily be defeated by Pippen, then surely Jordan’s abilities must be all that much greater.

A similar technique was invoked in an argument by one of the most intelligent divine figures, Shri Hanuman. Lord Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, a non-different form of the original Personality of Godhead, didn’t employ this style of argument as a mere mental exercise, but rather as a part of a crafty game of psychology aimed at achieving the highest end. Many thousands of years ago, Shri Rama roamed the earth in the guise of a warrior prince. When His wife, Sita Devi, was taken away from Him through underhanded methods, He joined forces with a band of Vanaras to help locate the beloved princess. The Vanaras were headed by their king Sugriva, whose lead warrior was Hanuman. Those familiar with Vedic traditions surely know who Hanuman is, but for those who don’t, he is widely recognized as the greatest servitor of God, someone who possesses every noteworthy attribute to the highest degree. He is loved and adored so much that he is the principle object of worship for millions around the world.

Hanuman with Lakshmana and RamaHanuman achieved his legendary status not only by dint of his qualities described by others, but also through activities performed under the greatest duress. One such troublesome time was when his band of Vanaras, which were deputed to find Sita, decided to abandon the mission in favor of either starving to death or taking refuge in a pleasant-looking cave. The de facto leader of the group, Angada, was advised by a commander named Tara that it would be better to give up the mission rather than risk impending death at the hands of Sugriva. The monkey-king had given strict orders to his warriors to not return to Kishkindha without information of Sita’s whereabouts. He gave them one month to find her, and after the time period had elapsed, the monkeys in Angada’s group were at a crossroad. They could either forge ahead by continuing the search for Sita, or they could return to Kishkindha and face Sugriva’s wrath. Angada chose a third option, that of giving up completely. His plan was to starve to death on the shore of an ocean, while the plan recommended by Tara called for taking refuge in a cave guarded by a very thick wall, a place the monkeys had just escaped from to reach the shore.

Hanuman didn’t like either of the two new plans. He always takes God’s interests to heart, as he would rather die than not act out divine orders personally delivered to him. Sita was taken away by a Rakshasa demon after all, so obviously she couldn’t have been in a pleasant situation. Rama was probably feeling even worse, for He had no idea where Sita was; she could have been dead for all He knew. All of Sita and Rama’s hopes lay with the monkeys dispatched by Sugriva. In actuality, the Supreme Lord can never be subject to the ups and downs of material life, but in this instance He was simply carrying out His desire to imitate the regular activities of ordinary men. This wonderful display of mercy allowed service to be offered from Rama’s most sincere servants, those who had abandoned all desires and hopes for happiness through association with maya, or that which is not God. The Absolute Truth is everything, for His influence is seen even in the atom, but in the conditioned state man tends to forget Him. Maya is material nature, or the illusory enjoyments that we see before us. When the sneaky influences of maya are realized, inquiries about the Absolute Truth and how one can go about associating with it are made. Upon realizing that the only Truth is God, the wise take to acts of devotion, or bhakti-yoga. We can think of bhakti-yoga as the religion of love, where every action is performed for the benefit of the Supreme Lord.

Hanuman chanting Shri Hanuman is an eternal adherent to bhakti-yoga. The monkeys in Sugriva’s army were similarly devotees, but on this occasion they were victims of maya’s influence. Thinking that they would be more happy and peaceful remaining in the cave or starving to death, they decided to abandon the mission. Hanuman knew he couldn’t convince them of the folly of their ways simply by force or by lecturing, so he tried his hand at the age old tactic of division.

To foment dissension amongst the ranks, Hanuman directly addressed Angada in front of the other Vanaras. Hanuman first praised his great fighting abilities, for Angada was the son of Vali, Sugriva’s late brother and an extremely powerful warrior in his own right. After complimenting Angada, Hanuman then praised the other monkeys and warned Angada that they were all independent thinkers who had their own interests to worry about. If things should turn sour, they would all turn on Angada in a second.

LakshmanaIn the above referenced statement, Hanuman is continuing his psyops campaign by tearing down the argument of security being found in the cave. Due to the influence of an unintelligent advisor named Tara, Angada was considering that the monkeys would be safe in the cave they had settled upon. Hanuman easily could have invoked Rama’s name and reminded Angada that God is capable of finding and destroying anyone. But that comparison would have been too obvious and maybe would have initially missed the mark. Instead, Hanuman first invoked the name of Shri Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother. This earth, and the universe for that matter, has never seen a brother like Lakshmana, and it won’t ever again until the time of the next creation when Rama will return to reenact His pastimes. Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother, but He was the most faithful servant. As a member of the warrior caste, Lakshmana was equally as powerful as Rama, but since he loved Rama so much, Lakshmana made sure that Rama got all the attention and glory. These are the ways of devotional service. There is always give and take, back and forth as it relates to the praising and extolling of virtues between the object of pleasure and those providing loving service. Lakshmana was actually a partial incarnation of the Supreme Divine Being, so the supremacy of his powers was never in doubt.

“Rama's younger brother, Lakshmana, has reddish eyes and a voice that resounds like a kettledrum. His strength matches that of Rama's, and his face shines like a full moon. Just as wind gives aid to a raging fire, Lakshmana has joined forces with his brother. It is that best of kings, Shriman Rama, who has brought down the Rakshasas fighting in Janasthana.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.16-17)

By invoking Lakshmana’s name and prowess, the argument presented was that even the perceived second greatest fighter in the world would easily be able to root the monkeys out of their hideaway. Lakshmana’s arrows were very powerful due to His divine nature and His expert knowledge of the proper mantras used in warfare. Therefore if the monkeys were to seek refuge in the cave, Lakshmana would surely become angry and look for them. Lakshmana never took well to any ill-treatment directed at Rama. Hanuman, Lakshmana’s dear friend, well-wisher and representative, is kindly reminding Angada that Rama’s beloved younger brother could defeat and kill all of them if he decided to.

Hanuman Hanuman’s dissension tactic wouldn’t work immediately, but it would further endear him to the monkeys as well as to future generations of admirers, our humble self included. When the monkeys eventually decided to resume their search after receiving information from the bird Sampati, they still found themselves stopped on a shore and unable to make their way across the giant ocean to Lanka, where Sita’s captor Ravana lived. Fear not, as Hanuman would end up leaping his way to the majestic island, where he would find Sita and give her the news of Rama’s impending attack. All would end well, in no small part due to Hanuman’s efforts. This incident relating to Angada and the Vanaras contemplating abandoning their mission illustrates the pure love that Hanuman has for all of Rama’s family, including the dear Vanaras. The relationship between Shri Hanuman and Rama’s family can never be accurately described in words. He is their beloved friend, servant and well-wisher. Wherever there is Hanuman, there is Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Wherever Hanuman is present, effort, perseverance and confidence in the discharge of devotional duties is well represented. By remembering Shri Hanuman every day, we will never fail to act in accordance with the Lord’s wishes.