Sunday, February 27, 2011

Within Earshot

Lakshmana “If you sway from the mission, Lakshmana’s exceedingly violent, vehement, ghastly and sharp arrows, travelling very fast and being difficult to even look at, will make you their target for destruction.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.19)

ati ugra vegā niśitā ghorā lakṣmaṇa sāyakāḥ |

apavṛttam jighāṃsanto mahāvegā durāsadāḥ

This is Shri Hanuman’s last attempt at getting the monkeys to remain steadfast on their assigned mission, that of finding an abducted princess. The task presented was difficult enough, as it had a time limit for completion attached, but now the monkeys were at a crossroad, facing the greatest obstacle towards success: lack of resolve. The time allotted for their mission having elapsed, the warriors in the lead party decided to either sit down and starve to death or take shelter in a beautiful cave. With both options, they would seemingly be protected from the wrath of their master, Sugriva, the Vanara king. Hanuman, by accurately pointing out the insurmountable fighting power of Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, hoped to get the monkeys to change their mind, but his efforts did not work. On top of trying to instill fear in the monkeys by reminding them that they wouldn’t be safe if they quit, Hanuman also tried to convince Angada, the leader of the monkey party, that Sugriva wouldn’t punish them should they return unsuccessful. But sadly, this tactic didn’t change anyone’s mind either, as Angada decided on the option of starving to death and the monkeys then followed his lead. Ironically enough, they were eventually saved by their inability to think of anyone else except Shri Rama, even while remaining in a somewhat peaceful condition.  Always keeping God on their minds, they could do nothing but talk of Rama’s exploits and discuss past events pertaining to His life. This remembrance of the Supreme Lord during the most difficult of times would end up saving them, allowing their mission to continue to its fruition.

Sita and RamaMany thousands of years ago, during the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Lord descended to earth in human form as a prince named Rama. While residing in the forest of Dandaka, His beautiful and kind wife Sita Devi was kidnapped from the couple’s cottage. Not knowing her whereabouts, Shri Rama roamed the forests along with Lakshmana to look for the beautiful princess. Coming upon a forest called Kishkindha, which was inhabited by a race of human-like monkeys known as Vanaras, Rama forged an alliance with their leader, Sugriva, who had set up camp on the mountain called Rishyamukha. The now famous alliance was forged through the help of Sugriva’s chief minister and lead warrior, Lord Hanuman. After an agreement was reached as to what would be required from each side, Lord Rama went about helping Sugriva regain his kingdom from the powerful monkey Vali, who happened to also be Sugriva’s brother.

Rama having performed His part, it was now Sugriva’s turn to meet his obligation. He then dispatched his massive monkey army around the world to look for Sita. Though there were numerous search parties, only one group was deemed to have any chance at success. Not surprisingly, this group included Hanuman and Angada, who was Vali’s son and thus Sugriva’s nephew. Yet when the term for their mission expired, the monkeys became fearful of returning to Sugriva having been unsuccessful in locating Sita. Angada wanted to sit down quietly on the seashore and simply starve to death. This option would spare the monkeys the wrath which would surely come from Sugriva. Angada also thought the suicide option was the kinder one, as it would save Sugriva the potential sin of having to kill his dependents. Another monkey suggested that the group take refuge in a beautiful cave that was nearby. The monkeys as a whole asked Angada to come up with an option that would spare them punishment. But in any case, the decision to quit was already made.

HanumanShri Hanuman did not like what he was hearing at all. He wanted to continue with the search or at the very least, return to Sugriva and let him know what had happened. Hanuman was not concerned about his own welfare, but only Sita’s and Rama’s. Even if the monkeys were not able to find Sita, they should at least tell Rama so that He would know what had happened. He could then make an informed decision as to what to do next.

Since Hanuman’s task of convincing all the monkeys to continue their efforts was quite difficult, the highly intelligent Vanara decided to employ the age-old tactic of dissension, something which is taught to aspiring leaders in the Vedic tradition. Along with pacification, donation of gifts and high posts, and punishment, bheda, or divide-and-conquer, is a legitimate and effective way of dealing with a detractor or an enemy. The key to dissension is doubt, especially when dealing with a large group. Hanuman planted the seeds of doubt by first praising Angada’s extraordinary strength, but then reminding all the monkeys of the immense power of Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. In addition, Hanuman reminded Angada of the fickle-mindedness of monkeys, especially when they are separated from their loved ones. Since the monkeys would miss their wives and children, Angada should not expect any loyalty from them once the situation became dire. Just as blood is thicker than water, the attachment to family and home is much stronger than the will to starve oneself to death, especially when the species involved is naturally prone to sense gratification.

LakshmanaIn the above referenced quote, Hanuman is accurately pointing out Lakshmana’s terrific fighting abilities. This statement is the conclusion of a nice hypothetical situation played out by Hanuman, wherein all the monkeys have abandoned Angada due to anxiety caused by separation from their loved ones. At the bottom of this slippery slope, after all preceding events have fired as planned, Angada would be so afraid and on edge that he would become scared at even the sound of the grass moving, thinking that it was Sugriva or Rama coming to attack him. Hanuman is increasing the anxiety of the scene by pointing out that Lakshmana’s arrows are powerful, swift and never miss their mark, so whoever is in their path will not be spared punishment. Simply by hearing of the decision to spurn Sugriva, Lakshmana would be forced to attack Angada.

Eventually, things would work out for the monkeys, due in no small part to Hanuman’s efforts. Yet, immediately following Hanuman’s attempt at dissension, Angada remained firm to his position, fearing the worst from Sugriva. Rather than return to Sugriva and deal with the consequences, Angada felt the better option was to sit down and quit. Though Angada told the monkeys to go back to Kishkindha, they all agreed to follow his lead. Touching water, the monkeys all sat down on the sacred grass, waiting for death to come. Just then, a powerful, elderly bird named Sampati came flying by. Seeing the monkeys sitting on the grass, the bird became overjoyed, as he had plans to eat them all.

0189While the monkeys were huddled up, they saw the bird coming their way. Thinking that death had come to take them, they couldn’t help but speak of Lord Rama and His activities. Angada, though he was frightened of the future situation, nevertheless spoke to Hanuman about Rama’s activities, the incidents that led to the Lord’s roaming of the forests, and the bravery shown by the bird Jatayu. When Sita was taken by the demon Ravana from her cottage in Rama and Lakshmana’s absence, a bird named Jatayu tried his best to stop the demon’s path. A terrible fight ensued in the air, with the bird eventually being mortally wounded by Ravana’s sword. Later on, Shri Rama happened to find Jatayu on the ground just before he quit his body.

“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Angada was especially appreciative of Jatayu’s bravery and the fact that he attained the supreme destination after death. According to Vedic information, the person we refer to as “God” has an eternal, transcendental form which resides in the spiritual world. If one is able to concentrate the mind on this form at the time of death, they will be granted liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Any other consciousness while quitting the body leads to rebirth, a continuation of reincarnation. The effects of nature on the conditioned souls speak to the importance of the desires of the living entities; we always get what we want. If we want material enjoyment, wherein we make adjustments to the nature around us in hopes of sense gratification, we are allowed to remain in the material world.

!BoMk4E!B2k~$(KGrHqUH-CsEuZHwroHsBLmkB!uq5w~~_3Those who desire association with God are given spiritual bodies in the next life. Jatayu not only thought about God at the time of death, but he got to stare directly into His eyes as his life breath was leaving him. Overhearing the monkeys speaking of Jatayu, Sampati immediately changed his course. Jatayu was a hero and Sampati’s brother. Since he heard others speaking this way about his departed brother, Sampati decided to find out more information before making any attack.

As a result of their God consciousness, the monkeys were not only saved from being eaten, but they formed a friendship with Sampati, who subsequently gave them information about Sita’s whereabouts. Through the help offered by Sampati, the monkeys were able to learn that Sita was staying on the island kingdom of Lanka and their time was running short. Sampati remarked that since vultures like himself can fly at the highest altitudes, he was able to see all that was going on in Lanka. Due to his old age and injuries to his wings, he was unable to attack Ravana himself. Therefore he gave his blessings to the monkeys to go after Ravana and rescue Sita. Eventually, Shri Hanuman would be the only monkey able to leap across the ocean and reach the city. The rest was, as they say, history. Hanuman would find Sita, tell his monkey friends what he saw, and relay the information of Sita’s location back to Sugriva and Rama.  Then a massive fight ensued, and Sita would be safely rescued after Ravana’s defeat and death at the hands of Rama and the monkeys.

Though from this incident it appears that Angada was a bad character, he certainly was not. Just as Arjuna’s kind-heartedness caused him to temporarily deviate from the path of righteousness prior to the great Bharata War, Angada’s disappointment and lamentation led him to temporarily abandon the mission. Maya, the illusory energy pervading the phenomenal world, attacks every person, regardless of their physical and mental strength. What saved Angada and the monkeys was their total attachment and love for Rama and His associates. Though his unnecessary concern over trying to spare Sugriva the sin of punishing the monkeys caused a deviation from the righteous path, Angada, who was set on quitting his body through starvation, couldn’t help but talk about Sita, Jatayu and other people and events pertaining to Rama’s time on earth. The surrounding monkeys were not only benefitted in consciousness by hearing such transcendental talks, but the discourse also enabled them to achieve success in the mission. The monkeys struggle through adversity shows that talking about the Lord’s pastimes will always be beneficial. Even if we discuss the same transcendental topics over and over again, there are still new revelations to be discovered and fresh enjoyment to be found.

Hanuman In this day and age, even if we can’t rattle off the Lord’s limitless activities, qualities and teachings, we can still talk about Him by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the lion guru and famous Vaishnava saint, said that even if a person is alone in a room, they should still chant this mantra regularly and loudly, for even the walls would benefit. The Lord’s name is completely transcendental, so naturally anyone who hears it will acquire pious credits, sukriti, in some way or another. Hanuman, the ever well-wisher of Shri Rama and His family, never talks of anything unrelated to God’s interests. His devotional attitude exhibited in the presence of the monkeys was infectious, and it soon permeated the entire army. Thus it is not surprising to see that they ended up successful in performing devotional service to the Lord.