Sunday, February 13, 2011

Only the Strong Survive

Hanuman “It is said that it is possible for a stronger party to live if they develop enmity with a weaker party. Therefore a weaker man desiring self-preservation should not develop enmity with one who is stronger.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.12)

vigṛhya āsanam api āhuḥ durbalena balīyasā |

ātma rakṣā karaḥ tasmāt na vigṛhṇīta durbalaḥ

The bullies on the playground are able to get away with their tactics because they are the stronger party. If a stronger attacks a weaker, it is possible for the aggressor to survive. On the other hand, a weaker party tries to avoid direct conflict because they know it will lead to trouble. This basic tenet of self-preservation strategy, one that every good government and military employs, was reiterated by Shri Hanuman, the faithful, loving and eternal servant of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As part of his psychological operation to foment dissension amongst a hesitant clan of soldiers, Hanuman spoke sound words of advice to Angada, the leader of the group, in front of all the other soldiers. By so doing, Hanuman revealed a glimpse of his vast storehouse of knowledge and his willingness to tap into his bountiful resources to further the cause of the Supreme Lord. If we combine the truths presented by Hanuman in the statement above and the fact that no one is stronger than God, we can logically conclude that no one can survive after raising the Supreme Lord’s ire, a point that Angada and the monkeys needed reminding of.

HanumanThe above referenced incident is documented in the Ramayana, the ancient poem penned by Maharishi Valmiki. Lord Rama, a non-different incarnation of the Supreme Lord, appeared on earth to grant His darshana to those fortunate individuals who were eligible for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Just as every day signals a new beginning in a sense, every instance of birth represents a new type of body that the spirit soul can occupy. Since we are born into ignorance, it is difficult to see the subtle changes of the body and the temporary nature of life around us. It takes a keen observer to perceive the presence of the energetic spark inside of the body which serves as the basis for action. The internal spark never dies, nor does its power diminish. When the outer covering is discarded at the time of death, the minute in size spiritual entity immediately travels to a new body and once again begins development. The actions and reactions seen pertaining to the outer covering can only continue while the spark remains within.

“The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, identify the occupant of the temporary body as the atma, or soul. The soul never takes birth, never dies, and never changes in constitutional makeup; just the outer covering changes. In the conditioned state, the uninformed living entity is unable to decipher the cause and nature of these changes, or at least there is no firm belief in the presence of the soul, even if told otherwise. It takes a trained eye with a basic understanding of outward symptoms to realize the existence of the soul and subsequently take to activities guided by the highest knowledge. The movements of the hands, legs and heart signal the presence of life; they serve as symptoms of occupancy by a spiritual entity. Life can stop within a particular body, but the movements of the external world never cease because spirit always exists and never diminishes in power.

Lord Rama There is a Supreme Spirit from which the individual sparks emanate. Since the giant spirit is the reservoir of all energy, He is known as the Supreme Energetic. The individual spirit souls are meant to always be in the company of the original, self-illuminating energetic storehouse. In the material world, the souls occupy a temporary outer covering and thus become forgetful of their original surroundings and life partner. To aid the sincere souls desiring liberation from the cycle of birth and death, the Supreme Soul comes to earth periodically in forms which appear similar to those of outer coverings already possessed by the common man. Lord Rama was one such form. Though He gives off the appearance of possessing material attributes, or saguna, the Lord is always free of defects. He is never conditioned by any coverings of matter, nor is He under the stringent laws of karma. Rather, He takes on the ordinary appearance to facilitate loving association with the conditioned souls.

Lord Rama played the role of a kshatriya prince. God is the most powerful person, so if He comes to earth, He could easily just will everybody into serving Him. Yet such behavior would go against the free will nature of the individual souls. Therefore the Lord creates opportunities for service. One such instance of this benevolence came when Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita Devi, was taken from Him to the island kingdom of Lanka, an event which normally wouldn’t represent good fortune for any pious individual. To find Sita’s whereabouts, the Lord enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras, or monkey-like animals, who were living in the forest of Kishkindha. Their leader was Sugriva, who dispatched his large monkey army around the world to look for Sita.

Hanuman and the monkeysSugriva’s main brigade, the force he had the most confidence in, included Angada [Sugriva’s nephew] and Hanuman, the most powerful and perseverant monkey in the group. The monkeys had trouble finding Sita, and upon making their way to a sea shore after exiting a mysterious cave, Angada thought it would be best to abandon the search. Since the allotted time for their mission had expired, Angada considered sitting quietly and starving to death to be the best way to spend their remaining days. Another option bandied about was reentry into the cave they had just left, a place full of material opulences. If they would return to Kishkindha, Sugriva and Rama would certainly be angry with them for not successfully finding Sita.

Hanuman then stepped in to try to change the hearts and minds of the individual members of the group. Using the diplomatic tactic of bheda, or division, Hanuman spoke directly to Angada in the presence of all the other monkeys. Though he first praised Angada for his tremendous fighting abilities, Hanuman then also took to praising the other monkeys. He told Angada that the other monkeys, including Jambavan and Nila, were very powerful and that once their minds would change they would never remain under Angada’s control. In this way he praised both Angada and the monkey warriors, while essentially pitting them against one another at the same time. Hanuman kindly reminded Angada that monkeys, by nature, are fickle-minded. They may agree to one plan on a particular day but then completely change their minds the next. Therefore there was no safety in Angada’s plan of remaining idle.

In the above referenced statement, a continuation of the divide-and-conquer strategy, Hanuman is invoking a common-sense, yet often overlooked, aspect of diplomacy and warfare. Hanuman states that a stronger party can certainly survive by creating hostilities with a weaker party but that the reverse situation doesn’t hold true. By strategically inserting this principle of warfare, a concept that should be understood and incorporated into diplomatic dealings by all world leaders, into his psychological game, Hanuman is telling Angada that he is weaker than Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and Sugriva. Hanuman is also complimenting the other monkeys for being extremely strong. If Angada were to raise hostilities with Rama, Lakshmana, Sugriva, or the other monkeys, as the weaker entity, he would not be able to survive; hence the proposed path of least resistance would end up being the most detrimental.

Lord Rama Though this cogent truth presented by Hanuman pertaining to warfare isn’t commonly known or taught, its implementation can be seen all around us. The practices of the modern-day terrorists are built solely around this principle. Countries and religious groups only take to terrorism - a system of warfare where innocent women, children and civilians are killed through suicide bombings and the like - because they are the weaker party. If these groups were powerful and possessed large armies and stockpiles of weapons, surely they would have no reason to take to underhanded methods that really serve no other purpose except fomenting constant apprehension in the innocent population. Terrorism works because it doesn’t directly raise the ire of the stronger party. Instead, acts of terrorism are hard to trace out; it’s difficult to actually prove that a tiny, insignificant force directly called for a specific terrorist attack.

A weaker party, keeping in mind the inability to survive when raising hostilities with a stronger party, also is better served by taking to peace negotiations. If the weak were to openly declare war on the strong, the strong would win very easily. Therefore the weak take to other tactics which don’t involve direct conflict. In this particular instance, Angada’s plan to quit wasn’t going to get the monkeys anywhere. They were given a job to do, and they should see it to its completion. Lord Rama was God Himself, so surely he would find them wherever they were hiding. Hanuman, for his part, had no desire to abandon the mission. As an eternally knowledgeable and beautiful individual, Hanuman takes Rama’s instructions to be his life and soul, so he would never want to let the Lord down. He would rather die trying than give up.

“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)

Surely man is susceptible to maya’s influences every now and then, but the objective is to remain strong and dedicated to the mission at hand. Our aim in life is to be God conscious at the time of death so that we’ll receive a spiritual body in the next life. Does this mean that Rama and Lakshmana are vengeful towards those who disobey the orders of the Lord kindly passed down by the Vedas? Actually, just succumbing to maya, or material nature, is punishment enough. Hanuman is actually using the monkeys’ momentary lapse in judgment as an opportunity to praise Rama and Lakshmana’s strength. As part of his strategy to create division amongst the ranks, Hanuman’s goal is to scare Angada into continuing to fight. Angada was thinking that by quitting he would avoid punishment, but in fact just the opposite would hold true. There is no safe haven in this world. There is no place that we can go to hide from the effects of birth, old age, disease and death. Faced with guaranteed obstacles, it is better to forge ahead with our prescribed duties.

Hanuman What are our duties in this day and age? Who are we fighting and what is the mission? Though we take on different responsibilities based on our qualities and surroundings, the ultimate occupation for every individual is bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Devotion to God can be practiced easily by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Wherever there is Hanuman, there will be victory against the impeding forces of material nature. Being blessed with Hanuman’s company and the intelligence later provided by the bird Sampati, the monkeys would forge ahead and eventually succeed in finding Sita and then help Rama and Lakshmana kill her captor and his army; brave acts which would secure the rescue of the beautiful princess. The monkeys of Sugriva’s army are forever dear to Lord Rama; His affection for them is as strong as it is for anyone else, as they selflessly acted in His favor. Angada’s temporary deviation from virtue and the situation it created simply served as a reminder of Hanuman’s unique qualifications and attributes. He is the gate-keeper to the celestial kingdom where Sita, Rama and Lakshmana eternally reside. Those who are fortunate enough to say the name of Hanuman every day and regularly remember his glorious nature will surely succeed in life’s ultimate mission and defeat the strong enemy of maya.