Monday, March 28, 2011

The Cloak of Darkness

Hanuman “All the Rakshasas, who have extraordinary energy, great prowess and also much strength, must be deceived by me while I look for Janaki.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.34)

ugraujaso mahāvīryā balavantaśca rākśasāḥ |

vañcanīyā mayā sarve jānakīṃ parimārgatā

Sometimes it’s just better to perform your tasks in secret, without anyone knowing about them. When engaged in a particularly difficult job, or even one that is considered laudable, others finding out about it can lead to impediments. Rather than jeopardize the success of the activity, the wise will sometimes hide their true nature and intentions. Though deceit is generally viewed in a negative light, it is sometimes required. Such was the case with a particular aspect of the daunting mission of finding an abducted princess presented to Shri Hanuman, a Vanara warrior who was more than up to the challenge.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaThe movie The Shawshank Redemption has a sort of cult-like following, with many fans watching the film over and over again to repeatedly delight at the ending. The appeal of the film comes from the fact that the main character has to struggle through the worst kind of adversity, being imprisoned for a crime he never committed. After being sent to jail, rather than sulk and bemoan his plight, he subsequently takes action to remedy the situation. The steps he follows remain hidden from everyone, including his closest friends. The lesson taken away is that if you want something badly enough, you have to go after it. Even if there are impediments put in the way, the worker has to be resourceful enough to know how to get past them. The end-goal is to achieve success and nothing more. Performing one’s activities in the open is surely the easier option, but if the notoriety and attention get in the way of achieving the final objective, then the behavior certainly isn’t ideal.

Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is today very well known for his bravery, great strength, dedication, and knowledge of all things right and wrong. Yet when he had to perform his most difficult tasks, he had no concern for any fame or fortune. Hanuman is never preoccupied with what anyone else thinks about him; he only acts to further the Lord’s interests at all times. Even when separated from Rama, His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana, Hanuman still doesn’t perform any activity for his own pleasure. The constant chanting and reading of the accounts of Rama’s life that Hanuman performs on a daily basis are done to bring a smile on the faces of Sita and Rama. In this way Hanuman exudes the highest level of transcendental love and firmly establishes himself as a pious soul whose character is unmatched in the three worlds.

What sorts of tasks did Hanuman perform for the Lord that made him so famous? The most difficult assignment involved a reconnaissance mission, where Hanuman had to locate the whereabouts of Rama’s abducted wife, Sita. Finding out where she was and who had taken her were certainly difficult enough, but once armed with that knowledge, the real difficulties began. Sita had been taken by a powerful Rakshasa, or ogre, named Ravana. He lived on an island kingdom which was exquisite in every way. Just as how a wealthy man will live on a heavily fortified estate, complete with security cameras and gated fences, Ravana’s kingdom was fully protected on all sides by his various henchmen. Hanuman, upon landing on the outskirts of Lanka, noticed the city’s grandeur and its insulation. Being taken aback at first, Hanuman nevertheless forged ahead with the mission assigned to him.

In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman assessing the situation prior to entering Lanka. At the forefront of his mind is the search for Sita; everything else is ancillary. In fact, he is ready, willing and able to discard any impediments in his way. Whether or not these ogre inhabitants, who are merely obstacles in his mission, will take kindly to his actions or not are of no concern. Rather, Hanuman is only thinking of how to get rid of these enemies with the least possible damage inflicted to the final objective. He ultimately decides upon deceit, wherein he will trick the Rakshasas into not being able to recognize him.

Even in the Bhagavad-gita, the sacred scripture of the Vedic tradition spoken by Lord Krishna, who is non-different from Shri Rama, there is much credence given to virtue and honesty. In any civilized society dishonesty and deceit are not recommended practices, for they cast a negative light on the individual who takes to them. Hanuman’s mission, however, was to please the Supreme Lord, whose wife had been taken away from Him through an evil plot hatched up by Ravana. The rules and regulations prescribed to transcendentalists are aimed at elevating them to the platform of consciousness that Hanuman was already on. Shri Krishna is known as the enjoyer of all religious sacrifice, Yajneshvara. In one sense, Hanuman’s brave entry into Lanka can be thought of as a sacrifice, one of body, mind and speech. He sacrificed his body by putting it on the line against attacking forces. Ravana and his Rakshasa associates were very powerful fighters, and Hanuman was just a one-man army. Surely there was great risk involved in such a struggle. Hanuman sacrificed his mind by always remaining focused on the desires of Rama and His beautiful wife Sita. From this one passage alone we see how deeply devoted to Rama’s interests Hanuman was. His thoughts never deviated for even a moment from the foremost mission. Hanuman’s speech was dedicated to Rama because wherever he would go, he would simply speak of the mission he was undertaking and the worthiness of it. Even while in Lanka, Hanuman would only speak what was necessary to accomplish the Lord’s task.

Nimai Nitai sankirtanaAs the enjoyer of sacrifice, Shri Rama was the beneficiary of the noble behavior exhibited by Hanuman. The Vanara’s cunningness, acute sense of timing, scholarship, and dexterity in battle were all used to meet Rama’s objectives. Along the same lines, Shri Krishna Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of the Lord, has instituted a sacrifice that can be initiated by all the people of this age. This religious ritual is quite easy to perform, and just like Hanuman’s activities, its intended beneficiary is Yajneshvara. The sankirtana-yajna, which consists of chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the yuga-dharma, or the occupational duty for the people living in Kali Yuga, the last of the four time periods of creation.

The effectiveness of the chanting of the maha-mantra increases as more volume and more people are injected into the process. But sometimes finding other willing participants is not possible and neither is chanting very loudly. Just as there were Rakshasas impeding Hanuman’s path many thousands of years ago, there are many such miscreants who have no desire to allow others to freely recite the Lord’s holy names in a congregational way. But just as the strength of the Rakshasas didn’t deter Hanuman, the influence of the asuras shouldn’t discourage the sincere servant of the Lord interested in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Sometimes the cloak of darkness is required for a devotee to continue their chanting. If there are too many impediments to one’s devotional efforts, one can surely follow the example of Hanuman and do whatever is necessary to remain fixed in transcendental service. The holy names can always be recited in the mind while engaging in routine affairs relating to work, school or family. The ultimate objective in any devotional activity is the pleasure of the Lord of all sacrifice. Obviously it is better to perform such activity in front of as many onlookers as possible, as that will lure others into Krishna consciousness, but even when faced with obstacles, the enthusiasm and dedication towards satisfying Krishna should not wane.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

Krishna as YajneshvaraA simple example that illustrates the occasional need for secrecy and deceit can be seen with prasadam, which is sanctified food first offered to the deity representation of Supreme Spirit. One of the central practices of any bona fide religion is eating in a spiritually conscious way. For devotees of Lord Krishna, food in the mode of goodness - generally anything vegetarian without any hint of garlic or onion – is regularly offered to the archa-vigraha, or worshipable body form of the Lord in a temple or home. The resultant food has tremendous potency, for Krishna gives His transcendental glance over the food, thus sanctifying it. For those who are not accustomed to such a practice or don’t have any faith in the authorized words spoken by Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita pertaining to prasadam there will be no appeal to eating such food. What is the devotee to do? Should they stop offering food to Krishna since others will not be so willing to eat it? Should prasadam not be distributed simply because others are not eager to enjoy it? Devotees sometimes make common items like cookies and cakes, offer them to Krishna, and then take the prasadam. Since these food items are offered to Krishna, they are free of eggs, but the taste doesn’t get significantly altered. If anything, the cookies and cakes taste much better than anything found in the stores, for they are spiritually infused.

If someone were to offer us a common dish and say that they had replaced a key ingredient with something else, obviously we would feel some trepidation. “How is this going to taste? Why would they take out that ingredient? What are they trying to do?” It is also seen that if someone else prepares and distributes food, others may take it as a form of competition, a sort of affront to their own cooking skills. But if the same food is offered and distributed without any fanfare, it can be partaken of without any qualms. Obviously it is better for the devotee distributing prasadam to acknowledge the power of Krishna and His ability to spiritualize food, but the scenarios mentioned here highlight the larger issue that sometimes even the most innocent of devotional efforts are met with opposition. In these instances the eagerness to serve the Lord should not be diminished in any way; the humble soul should find a way to continue to please Krishna in spite of any outside opposition.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaNot surprisingly, Hanuman would come out successful. He would deceive the Rakshasas, find Sita, and then openly battle many of the demons on his way out of Lanka and back to Rama. Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord, accompanied by Lakshmana and a host of Vanaras would march to Lanka, defeat Ravana and rescue Sita. Hanuman, using his superior intelligence and strategic initiative, played no small role in this triumph. The Supreme Lord and His wife wholly acknowledged Hanuman’s integral contribution to the ultimate victory by granting him several benedictions. Of all the praises and commendations given to Hanuman, the one he cherishes the most is the ability to always think of the Supreme Lord and His family. Though Hanuman took part in several missions, his service to the Lord didn’t cease upon successful completion of them. Rather, his transcendental love for Rama only increases with each passing day. In a similar manner, if we remain committed to the principles of bhakti-yoga, which correspond to our natural loving propensity, something which is intrinsically part of the spirit soul’s makeup, we will slowly ascend the ladder of spiritual bliss. At the top stand the Supreme Lord and His spiritual kingdom. Upon reentry into this imperishable land, which is inhabited by the sweet, ever-blissful Bhagavan and His transcendental associates, one never has to return to the mundane world, a place where duality, duplicity and deceit are regularly employed towards furthering all of the wrong objectives.