“To accomplish this great task, the proper time for me to enter the city of Lanka is at night in a form which is not visible but still capable of meeting the target.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.35)
lakśyālakśyeṇa rūpeṇa rātrau laṅkā purī mayā |
praveṣṭuṃ prāptakālaṃ me kṛtyaṃ sādhayituṃ mahat
Outward appearance is only so important after all, so anyone whose top priority in life is how they appear to others certainly can’t be considered very intelligent. The truly wise are those who remain steadfast on their march towards meeting the ultimate purpose, all the while not caring for what they look like on the outside. This isn’t to say that the saintly class is slovenly or careless in their maintenance, but rather they are not concerned with what others will say about their appearance, positive or otherwise. The task at hand is always at the forefront of the mind for the spiritually conscious, a fact kindly validated in the thought processes of Shri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior.
The above referenced quote is from the Ramayana, and it is a continuation of the mental deliberation of Hanuman prior to his entry into Lanka. In modern terms, we can think of Hanuman’s business in Lanka as that of a reconnaissance mission, one where intelligence needed to be gathered from within the depths of the enemy’s territory, or hostile ground. The leader of the opposing party was no ordinary miscreant either; he was the most powerful of Rakshasas, or ghoulish figures given to sinful activity and expert in the use of black magic. Known by the name of Ravana for his terrorizing capabilities, this nefarious character had taken hold of a married woman named Sita Devi, the princess of Videha and eternal consort of Lord Rama. Since these events took place in the Treta Yuga, it was not uncommon for victorious kings to claim ownership of the wives of defeated parties, but in Ravana’s case, there was no open battle. He stole Sita from behind Rama’s back and then fled the scene before a fair fight could ensue.
The demoniac are so fallen that they will tear down anyone who comes in their path, regardless of how noble and innocent the advice given by the people stopping them is. When Ravana escaped with Sita from the forest of Dandaka, his aerial path was disturbed by a celestial bird named Jatayu. Obviously a bird is limited in powers, and it is incapable of using any sophisticated weaponry. Jatayu simply asked that Ravana desist from his dubious plan of taking another’s wife. But Ravana wouldn’t listen, and his stubbornness led to a quarrel with Jatayu. The end result was Jatayu’s death and Ravana’s safe return to Lanka.
Lord Rama was no ordinary prince however. He is an eternally existing, divine incarnation of the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky. Thus after Ravana had fled, Rama was more than capable of finding Sita and punishing her captor. Just as a good parent will allow their children to offer kind service to them, the Supreme Lord gives an opportunity to the love-starved pious entities, those souls who have been unwillingly sitting on the bench of spiritual life for too long, to offer their most heartfelt service. The eager devotees can be compared to upstarts who just want to be given a chance at success. “Put me in, coach” is their repeated plea. As they have abandoned all hope for happiness in the material world, they spend all their time thinking about God, chanting His glories and remembering His sportive exploits.
“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.14)
Of all the creatures roaming the earth during Rama’s time, none was more eager to serve Him than Shri Hanuman, the faithful emissary of the monkey-king Sugriva. Using the outward excuse of needing help finding Sita, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana finally met Hanuman face-to-face in the forest of Kishkindha. An alliance with Sugriva was then formed, and a plan for Sita’s rescue was struck. The first phase of the operation involved locating the beloved princess, as no one knew where she had been taken or if she was even still alive. After Sita was found, her whereabouts would have to be relayed to Sugriva and Rama. To this end, Sugriva dispatched a massive search party of monkeys to scour the globe. But only one group, the one blessed with Hanuman’s presence, had any real chance of finding Sita, for Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka was situated across a massive ocean on an island. Therefore anyone who wanted to reach the enemy city needed a way to cross over the ocean. Hanuman, marshaling his perfections of mystic yoga, assumed a massive stature and catapulted himself into the air from atop a mountain. By flying through the sky and overcoming the obstacles that were placed in front of him, Hanuman successfully made it to the outskirts of Lanka.
Prior to infiltrating the enemy city, Hanuman took some time to ponder over potential issues and concerns relating to his mission. One who acts without consideration to time and circumstance certainly isn’t very intelligent. Hanuman was wholly capable of destroying the Rakshasa forces and bringing back Sita all by himself, but that wasn’t the mission assigned. Moreover, from the outside the city looked quite formidable, as it was well-guarded and opulently ornamented. Just as one can be taken aback by viewing the grandeur and beauty of an ancient palace or landmark site, Hanuman was awestruck with the opulence of Lanka. He initially thought that there was no chance for success in the mission, but he carried on anyway, taking his fears and doubts to be of secondary concern.
If Hanuman were to enter Lanka in his original form, the Rakshasas would surely recognize him. The Vanara species of the Treta Yuga are usually taken to be monkeys, but they are actually more forest dwellers than anything else, a sort of elevated simian race. Lanka wasn’t situated anywhere near a forest, so Hanuman’s presence would look conspicuous. In addition, Hanuman was a dear servant of Rama’s, and we already saw what happened the last time a faithful devotee in the form of an animal tried to help Sita escape from Ravana’s clutches. Jatayu was killed by Ravana for simply trying to stop a horrible crime. Hanuman didn’t want to instigate a similar attack, so he pondered over the matter in his mind.
From the above referenced passage we see that Hanuman wants to enter the city at night, in a form that is invisible to the enemy. At the same time, he needs to survey the situation, searching all corners for Sita’s whereabouts. Hanuman was carrying out one of the most important missions in history, yet he had no false pride whatsoever. He didn’t care if not even a single person were to see him carrying out Rama’s orders. Hanuman wasn’t concerned with what others thought of him; whether they took him to be a monkey, a human being, or celestial figure was all the same to him. As a pure devotee of God, Hanuman is naturally beautiful. His entire body is beaming with spiritual energy. Just as love takes over the thoughts and desires of one who bears strong affection for their significant other, the spiritual energy, which is pure and unmatched in potency, completely permeates Hanuman’s body due to his unbreakable link in consciousness with Rama. Normally there is a difference between body and spirit for the living entities in the material world, with the body viewed as an inhibiting force, an instrument that further clouds the sincere soul into ignorance. The spirit soul, due to its inherent properties, is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal. These properties are inherited from its superior spiritual counterpart, the Supreme Soul, God residing in the imperishable sky.
When the soul falls down to the material world, it gets placed into a temporary container composed of material elements. One who gives priority to the needs of the container in lieu of the vital force within is thus considered ignorant. This fact is actually known on some level to even those who are unaware of the differences between matter and spirit. Vanity is not considered a laudable trait because it focuses on the outward appearance of the face and body, both of which don’t reveal information pertaining to the qualities of the individual. For one who is armed with Vedic knowledge, the sublime information passed down from the great seers of India, giving importance to the outer dress of the soul becomes an even more degraded practice. Ignorance of the changing nature of the outer covering of the soul indicates a level of intelligence that is on par with the animals.
“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)
Hanuman, though possessing a spiritual body, still wasn’t overly concerned with his outward appearance. The end-goal was to find Sita without raising a stir in Lanka. He didn’t want anyone bothering him in his performance of devotional service. Whether there were hundreds of people praising his efforts or thousands voicing their opposition, Hanuman didn’t care. His mind is always focused on the interests of Shri Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would figure out just the right form to assume prior to entering Lanka. He would successfully find Sita and allay her fears by informing her of Rama’s dedication to rescuing her. In fact, Sita would compliment Hanuman by telling him that after being in distress for so long, to her, seeing him was almost as good as seeing Rama.
What’s interesting to note is that both Hanuman and Ravana were capable of assuming different forms. Ravana, for his part, had taken the guise of a mendicant to trick Sita into behaving kindly towards him during their initial meeting in the forest of Dandaka. Ravana essentially transformed himself from a ghoulish and fiendish figure into a more innocent one in order to carry out a despicable act. Hanuman, on the other hand, transformed himself from a beautiful and powerful figure into a diminutive and clandestine one in order to successfully carry out Shri Rama’s mission. When one is in love with the only entity capable of reciprocating any amount of pure affection to the fullest degree, the exclusive concern remains the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. If Shri Rama wanted Hanuman to always remain in his beautiful Vanara form, the faithful elephant among monkeys most certainly would have obliged. But the noble warrior was tasked with finding Sita and using his intelligence to figure out a way to succeed in the mission.
Just as Sita’s spirits were uplifted by seeing Hanuman, so our thoughts and desires can be purified by always remembering and seeing the beautiful form of the most enchanting, pious, courageous, thoughtful and perseverant Vanara the world has ever known. Whether in a tiny form, such as the one used to enter Lanka, or in a large body, such as the one assumed to cross the ocean and carry a giant mountain containing medicinal herbs for Lakshmana’s rescue during the final battle with Ravana, Hanuman is always beautiful. Anyone who remembers his example and his firm faith and determination towards meeting Rama’s interests will never fall prey to the body consciousness adopted by the animal species and the human beings at the time of birth. The spirit soul is what counts; it forms the basis of identity. When this spiritual spark is always engaged in devotional service through the regular chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the undesirable influences of the outer covering, the body which is ultimately subject to destruction, will immediately be halted.