Friday, February 25, 2011

Sleep With One Eye Open

Hanuman “Bereft of your friends, well-wishers and relatives, you will be terribly afraid at even the movement of a blade of grass.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 54.18)

sa tvam hīnaḥ suhṛdbhiḥ ca hita kāmaiḥ ca bandhubhiḥ |

tṛṇāt api bhṛśa udvignaḥ spandamānāt bhaviṣyasi

Though this kind warning offered by Hanuman is aimed at changing an opinion, it also brings a smile to the faces of those who love the dear servant of Shri Rama. Religious life, including the attached scriptures, rules and regulations, are typically taken very seriously. This is justifiable because spirituality deals with the highest truths, issues pertaining to life and death and the future well-being of the soul. Yet there are also many humorous incidents described in the Vedic texts, with this interaction between Hanuman and Angada being one of them.

HanumanHanuman’s statement illustrates his uncanny ability to pin his debate opponent into a logical corner. By presenting statements derived from accepted truths in such a perfect way, Angada really had no other option but to rethink his stated objective. The context of Hanuman’s statement is his attempt to raise dissension in a particular battalion of warriors who were tasked with finding the whereabouts of a missing princess. Many thousands of years ago, the goddess of fortune, the mother of the universe, appeared on earth in human form as a beautiful princess named Sita. When she reached an appropriate age, she was married, not surprisingly, to Lord Rama, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead.

“God” is too generic a term to sufficiently describe the Supreme Divine Entity who possesses a transcendental form that is eternally full of bliss and knowledge. To provide more information and enjoyment to the attentive listener, the same supreme entity can be referred to as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses every fortune, or estimable attribute. Since the size and scope of His presence are not limited, He kindly appears on earth at different times of His choosing. One such descent took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. A yuga is a measurement of time representing a division of the entire span of creation. The earth is not created just once; it goes through cycles of creation and destruction. As time and space are infinite, so is the number of life cycles of the innumerable universes and their many planets.

Sita and Rama marriageIn the Treta Yuga, an epoch where man was still generally pious, the Lord appeared as a handsome and pious prince named Rama. For the title of king to have meaning, there must be a kingdom to rule over. In a similar manner, a divine prince must have an accompanying princess to enjoy life with. Thus Rama was married to none other than Sita, His life partner both on earth and in the imperishable sky. The two enjoyed married life for a long time, but they had to face separation on a few occasions. The nefarious activities of a very powerful demon named Ravana caused the most troublesome and fearful time of separation from Rama for Sita. This lusty individual, who was accustomed to eating animal flesh and drinking wine, created a ruse which allowed him to take Sita away from Rama behind the Lord’s back.

In His subsequent search for Sita, Rama, accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana, made His way to the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited at the time by a race of monkeys known as Vanaras. A Vanara is usually taken to be a monkey, but we can think of them more as a simian species possessing human-like characteristics. They were forest dwellers, so they had a monkey form and animalistic tendencies, but they could still talk and behave in a somewhat civilized manner.

Hanuman meeting RamaThe leader of the monkeys was Sugriva, who forged an alliance with Rama through the help of Hanuman. Shri Hanuman is a celebrated figure in the Vedic tradition, and his worshipable status came into being with his initial meeting with Rama and Lakshmana. Through Hanuman’s efforts, Sugriva was able to befriend Rama and subsequently regain his kingdom from his brother Vali. In return for Rama’s help, Sugriva agreed to help find Sita. The monkey-king dispatched his massive army across the globe to look for the beautiful princess. Though many search parties were sent out, Hanuman’s group was understood to be the most capable, and thus all hopes for success were invested in them.

After a month, Hanuman’s party, which was led by Angada, Sugriva’s nephew, had yet to make any progress. Fearing the wrath of Sugriva, Angada decided to abandon the mission and starve to death. Angada, as a sweet and kind-hearted servant, thought it would be better to spare Sugriva the potential sin of having to severely punish the monkeys for failing in the mission. Yet another commander named Tara thought maybe the monkeys should take refuge in a beautiful cave that was adjacent to the seashore the monkeys found themselves on. Faced with all these options, the monkey host asked Angada for a solution to be crafted where they could remain alive. The logic behind the quitting option presented by the monkeys seemed pretty sound. “If we go back to Sugriva, he will surely be angry with us for not having found Sita. Plus Rama and Lakshmana surely won’t be happy either. Thus it is better to live out our days in this beautiful cave crafted by the demon Maya. Here no one will find us, so we will be able to live in peace.”

Hanuman did not like this new course of action at all. To him, personal comfort was not of any concern. Shri Rama was back at the camp waiting for information about Sita. If the monkeys were to give up and not tell anyone about it, Rama would be left waiting indefinitely. The longer He would have to wait, the more the chances of rescuing Sita would diminish. Even if Sugriva and Rama were to get angry, Hanuman wasn’t afraid to take the punishment, for then at least Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, would be informed of the present situation.

HanumanSo what was Hanuman to do? According to Vedic tenets, teachings which originate from the Lord and have been passed down from the beginning of time, there are three ways for an administrator to deal with opposing elements. One option is to take to flattery, i.e. compliment the enemy and offer gifts. Another option is brute force; take to fighting the enemy directly to compel them to adhere to the dictates of the state. Shri Hanuman chose the third option, that of fomenting dissension.

Being privy to Hanuman’s thought process and knowing which tactic he was employing, studying the subsequent words he directed at Angada surely can evoke laughter. Hanuman addressed Angada in front of all the monkeys to make sure they heard everything he was saying. First, he praised Angada for his great fighting ability and strength. But then Hanuman also praised the other monkeys and said that they wouldn’t be able to stand separation from their loved ones for very long. Monkeys are naturally fickle-minded, as is common for any animal lacking real intelligence. Hanuman also accurately pointed out that Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, would be able to rip apart their sanctuary cave by firing a single arrow from his bow. These arrows, which Lakshmana had a numerous supply of and were made of iron, would be so powerful that they would tear apart the cave like a leaf that is cut off from its bed by a sword. On top of the potential destruction, the monkeys would also remember the association of their wives and family members. Missing their company, the monkeys would indeed be prone to abandoning Angada’s course of action.

In the above referenced statement, Hanuman is warning Angada of what would happen once the monkeys would leave. Hanuman predicts that Angada, by living alone, would be so worried about outside attack that he would have to essentially sleep with one eye open. When a person knows they have done something wrong, they are usually quite fearful of getting caught. An innocent person has no reason to be afraid or nervous around people of authority, but a criminal has every reason to be. Since Angada knew he was doing something wrong by abandoning the mission, he would surely spend every minute of every day in trepidation.

Monkey army Through his diplomatic presentation, Hanuman carefully worked his way through a hypothetical situation that resulted in the worst possible predicament for Angada. Once the monkeys would abandon him, they would surely return to Sugriva and inform him of what happened. Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana would then search out Angada to punish him. They would know where he was because the other monkeys would reveal the location of the secret hideaway. Angada would thus have to be on the lookout for attackers coming to punish him for his transgression.

Hanuman tells Angada that he will be so afraid that even the movement of a blade of grass will scare him. Aside from those with allergies, grass is relatively harmless to all forms of life. Due to its humble position on the floor of the earth, it sways constantly from the blowing of the wind and the actions of others. Angada would be so nervous that the harmless movement of the grass would cause him great fear. In this way Hanuman has totally broken apart Angada’s stated objective of finding peace through renunciation. The premise of the courses of action presented by Angada and the monkeys was that no one would be able to find them in the cave or on the seashore. By informing Angada that the monkeys would eventually turn on him and reveal his location to Sugriva, the original premise was invalidated, thus also nullifying the conclusion of a peaceful condition.

“Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty; for by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.19)

Lord KrishnaDevotional service, or following the interests of the Supreme Lord, is always the better option. Upon hitting a fork in the road, the path which has the potential to lead to God’s satisfaction should be taken. When activities are adopted that strictly lead to personal interest, trouble lurks around every corner. Whatever pleasant condition one thinks they have accounted for can be picked apart in an instant, as it was with the monkeys in Angada’s party. The devotional path is always safer because it is directly tied to the Supreme Lord. He is the creator of every circumstance in this world, so if one takes to pleasing Him, Bhagavan will most certainly look out for the devotee.

More than just a lofty promise, the vow of Divine protection has played out time and time again. Angada and the other monkeys, after initially deciding upon the starvation option, would eventually continue their search for Sita. Yet their path was not easy in the least bit, with Hanuman meeting many obstacles along the way. But the Lord, as the supreme arranger, seeing that the monkeys were sincere in their service to Him, guaranteed their success. Even Sita Devi, the person whom the monkeys were searching for, granted benedictions to Hanuman after she met him in Lanka. The Lord is never alone; His wonderful and kind spiritual family is always there to offer a helping hand to the sincere soul.

Hanuman thinking of Rama The most important mission in life, the best way to satisfy the Supreme Lord, is to take the necessary steps to join Him in the spiritual world, a reunion which can only materialize through steady practice of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the Lord’s names. No sequence of words better incorporates Bhagavan’s names, potencies and kind nature than does the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Shri Hanuman, after serving Rama to the best of his abilities, received the benediction of remaining on earth for as long as the Lord’s story continued to be told. Thus Hanuman spends every minute of every day thinking about Rama, Sita and Lakshmana and chanting their holy names. He sleeps in peace because he knows that God is always with him. Following any course of action divorced of a relationship to the personal form of Supreme Spirit will lead to constant angst, where one must remain on the lookout at all times. But in spiritual life, the tables turn. When following the path of bhakti, instead of the individual always being on alert for potential enemy attack, it is the Supreme Lord who remains ever vigilant in His defense of His sincere devotee. As such, the latter option, the path of bhakti, is always superior.