“O king of the Vanaras, he who possesses all these four qualities of courage, vision, intellect and skill as you do never fails in the performance of his actions.” (Celestials praising Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.198)
yasya tvetāni catvāri vānarendra yathā tava ||
dhṛtirdṛṣṭirmatirdākśyaṃ sa karmasu na sīdati |
If the worker tasked with a particularly important duty happens to possess courage, proper vision, necessary intelligence and sufficient skill, the likelihood of defeat greatly decreases. One who knows how to marshal these potent attributes can achieve any desired end. A particularly notable historical personality was given a task which seemed almost impossible to complete successfully. Not even the most powerful accompanying forces could even attempt what this person was trying to do; yet due to his possession of the four notable qualities, and more importantly his proper utilization of them, he was able to accomplish his end. For performing such a mighty task, this wonderfully kind and heroic figure’s exploits have been recorded in the annals of history, and he is today considered one of the greatest saints, teachers, servants and divine figures in the world. By carefully studying his nature, activities and mindset, we can learn how to use our own inherent qualities to attain the only goal worth reaching, that of returning to the spiritual sky.
When we speak of going back to God or Godhead, the inherent implication is that we were once in such a purified land. Though we have no memory of being there, based on the statements of authority figures, those in the know, we learn that, as spirit souls, our natural home is in the imperishable sky where the one entity who never succumbs to the influences of the temporary and miserable world reigns as king for all of eternity. That entity is known as God to most, but in the Vedic tradition He is tagged with thousands of names, each of which speaks to His different activities and features. The more descriptive names provide increased pleasure to those wise enough to invoke them, for the sound vibrations immediately bring to mind the Lord’s form and nature.
Why is it important to remember specific aspects of the beneficiary of all religious practice? Most of us have prayed to God at some point in our lives. The devotees, those who believe in God and take service to Him to be the primary mission in life, think of and see the Lord all the time. Yet even the non-believers, the atheists, get to see that Supreme Person, the existence of whom they refuse to acknowledge. Both pious and impious persons see Supreme Spirit, with the difference being that the devotees see Him every day, whereas the atheists see the Lord at the time of death. There are certainly various ways to perceive of the presence of the original Divine Being, for He is all pervading. His original form is described as nirguna, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “without material qualities”. A spirit soul is a powerful individual unit of energy, yet its presence is only perceived through outward symptoms. Similar to how we can tell which way the wind is blowing by observing the movements of a flag, we can tell the presence of the soul by the movements of its outer covering. The exact makeup of the external dress can vary, but the commonality shared amongst all body types is that they are all constituted of material elements. For example, a person may grow hair on their body, but when this hair is cut or falls out, the identity of the individual doesn’t change. The hair is simply a part of the external covering. The entire collection of material elements for a specific individual is thus known as their body. The soul inside is what counts.
With the Supreme Lord, there is no such distinction between body and soul. He is completely spiritual; hence the term “nirguna”. The issue introduced with this property is that it becomes difficult for the individual souls, the jivatmas, to understand what God looks like and where He resides. Though the Lord is without a material form, His spiritual form is both present and inconceivable. His body is so large that one cannot even fathom its size. The reach of His hands, legs and arms is infinite, a measurement that is incomprehensible to the human mind, which is the most advanced in terms of intellect. Not only is God’s form so gigantic, but He can also become infinitesimally small, as is the case with His Supersoul expansion. Though each body type has an individual soul residing within that forms the basis of identity, there is another spiritual entity that resides right next to it within the heart. This soul belongs to God, and it is a non-different expansion coming from His original form. The Supersoul is also often referred to as the nirguna form, as it is unmanifest. The Supersoul is non-different from the original person it represents, but since it is subtle in appearance, it is difficult to perceive.
To aid the fallen individuals, those whose intelligence levels are limited by the properties of their specific body type, in their understanding, the Supersoul, the expansion of the original form of Godhead, takes an outward form from time to time. This isn’t to say that God appears with material qualities, even though these forms are referred to as saguna. The guna aspect is only from the perspective of the flawed vision belonging to the resident of the material world. Since the Supersoul is so difficult to perceive, the same Lord descends to earth in forms which are perceptible to the human eye. Where there is a form, there are activities. So when God appears in an outward dress, He takes to activities aimed at pleasing those who are looking for the highest pleasure. Every individual is looking for some type of happiness; that is the foundation for all action. Even the behavior of one who is simply looking for the removal of distresses can be considered to be driven by the desire for pleasure.
When the saguna forms, the fully potent avataras of the original Supreme Being, perform activities, they are given names by those who witness such remarkable feats. When Lord Krishna, the original form of Godhead, descended to earth some five thousand years ago, He performed many such wonderful, pleasing activities. Since He gave pleasure to the cows and to the senses, He became known as Govinda. Since He lifted a giant mountain at the age of five years, He was addressed as Girivaradhari. Since He killed the Keshi demon, He was known as Keshava. Similarly, in God’s appearance on earth as the prince of Ayodhya, Shri Rama, the Lord took on different qualities. As the son of King Dasharatha, Rama became known as Dasharathi. Since He was the Lord of the Raghu dynasty, Rama was also known as Raghupati.
These are just a few of the different appealing aspects of the Supreme Lord and His avataras. Since there are innumerable qualities and traits possessed by the Supreme Spirit, there are thousands of names with which to address Him. Those who are especially fond of invoking these names are known as bhaktas, or devotees. In the spiritual realm there are only bhaktas. Since there are not any other activities besides devotional service to the Lord, the terms “bhakti” and “bhakta” aren’t even known there. To use an example from worldly life, the terms “darkness” and “light” only apply due to the differences in illumination levels in a particular area. But if there was always light, there would be no such thing as darkness. In a similar manner, the term “bhakta” only comes into being in the temporary realm, where there are other activities that individual souls can take to. The bhaktas stand out because they mimic the behavior of the eternal residents of the spiritual realm. Hence anyone who remains a bhakta up until the time of death will certainly be granted a return trip back to the only place where happiness lives forever. Going back to that imperishable land, the individual soul never has to return to the material realm.
“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, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Trying to remain a devotee up until the time of death is difficult enough, especially considering that taking to devotional service is itself the most troublesome task in this world. After many lifetimes on earth, the soul becomes more and more averse to divine love that is facilitated through the sublime engagement of devotional service. As a result of this disposition, inducements from others to turn the eye towards God become less and less effective. In order to truly clear our vision and find the proper path in life, we must look to those great devotees of the past; those sincere servants who persevered through all obstacles and eventually triumphed in the end. Of all such figures, none is more celebrated and honorable than Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama.
As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed the forests of the land today known as India for fourteen years. When His wife Sita Devi was kidnapped, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana went looking for her. Enlisting the aid of a Vanara king named Sugriva, the Lord was hopeful that Sita would be found. Success in this mission rested on Sugriva’s most trusted aide, Shri Hanuman. The first part of the mission was to find Sita. The miscreant who had taken her, Ravana, lived on an island that was far away from any mainland. After Sita’s location was discovered, Hanuman was tasked with crossing the ocean and finding her. Due to his tremendous yogic powers, Hanuman could assume any shape at will. Thus after taking a very large size, Hanuman sprung into the air, using a mountaintop as his launching pad.
Yet his trip to Lanka wasn’t without disturbance. A giant female serpent named Surasa presented the first obstacle, followed by the efforts of a female Rakshasa named Simhikha. But these powerful forces were no match for Hanuman, so he was able to get past both impediments. In the above referenced statement, the celestials in the sky, those who were carefully observing Hanuman’s brave journey across the ocean, are praising him for his abilities. They remark that since he possessed courage, vision, intellect and skill, he would never meet defeat in any venture. Thus they weren’t surprised at his amazing feats of strength and dexterity.
How did Hanuman’s courage manifest? The task of travelling to Ravana’s island of Lanka certainly wasn’t easy. For starters, he was going alone, as his fellow monkey warriors weren’t capable of leaping far enough to make it across the ocean. In addition, the enemy king ruling the island had proved himself crafty enough to take away a beautiful princess from under the nose of the Supreme Lord. Certainly this isn’t a slight on Rama’s part, for the incident was preordained to facilitate the tasks Rama wanted to accomplish. Nevertheless, Ravana was certainly a capable fighter, one who was feared throughout the world. Not only would Hanuman have to brave against Ravana, but he would have to defeat all of Ravana’s Rakshasa associates as well. Only one who is truly courageous would even agree to take on such a task. When faced with obstacles during his flight, Hanuman didn’t buckle under the pressure. He didn’t even think of retreating once after seeing Surasa and Simhika.
Hanuman’s acute vision was displayed in several ways. He was able to ascertain the proper aerial path to Lanka. He was able to accurately identify Surasa and carefully study her various features. Since she was a giant serpent, Hanuman had to survey her entire body in order to figure out how to get past her. Lord Brahma, the first created living being, had granted her the boon that no one would be able to cross her path without first entering her mouth. Normally this would mean instant death for the traveler, so Hanuman had to think of a way to get past her without losing his life. His sharpness of vision allowed him to see things as they were. Later on, when he encountered Simhika, he didn’t know who she was at first. All of a sudden his flight progress was stopped, so Hanuman had to figure out what was going on. He realized that his shadow had been caught in the ocean, something only the demon Simhika was capable of, as Sugriva, the chief of the monkeys in Kishkindha, had previously informed him.
Hanuman’s skill and intellect were both on full display during his encounters with the two obstacles put in his path. He first had to apply his intellect. With Surasa, Hanuman recognized the boon that she was given, and instead of deciding to dishonor the demigods, Hanuman thought it best to stay true to her boon and yet still make it past her. Realizing that he had to enter her mouth, Hanuman kindly asked her to increase her form, for otherwise she wouldn’t be able to swallow him up. Hanuman was already donning a massive stature, so by asking Surasa to open her mouth wider, he essentially tricked her into thinking that he was willing to agree to her demands. After Surasa expanded herself, Hanuman did the same. In this way, the two went back and forth increasing in size a few times. Finally, when Surasa had taken on a massive form, Hanuman showed off his tremendous skill by immediately becoming diminutive in form. With this now tiny body, he quickly entered and exited Surasa’s mouth, thus keeping her boon intact. She was then pleased with him and allowed him to continue.
With Simhikha, Hanuman employed similar tactics. This time, there was no respect to consider relating to any boon. Rather, Hanuman used his intellect to figure out a way to kill the female Rakshasa outright. Increasing his size again, Simhikha matched by increasing her own size. The subsequent steps followed a similar pattern, except this time Hanuman took his tiny form and attacked the demon from within her body. Showing his tremendous skill, Hanuman tore asunder the insides of Simhikha’s body, thus killing her. The demigods were greatly pleased by this, for they had wanted Hanuman to kill her.
Not surprisingly, Hanuman would go on to enact even more wonderful pastimes, all of which were intended for the honor and glory of Shri Rama. Hanuman never does anything for himself. Though he is the most praiseworthy person in this world, he takes the greatest pleasure in hearing the glories of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Due in no small part to Hanuman’s selfless efforts, the mission would be successful, and Sita would eventually be rescued. As far as our mission in life goes, we too possess the four qualities of courage, vision, intellect and skill. Though we may not exhibit these attributes on anywhere near a level as that shown by Hanuman, by following his sweet example, we can learn to use whatever tools and abilities we have at our disposal towards attaining the proper goal.
The outward appearance of acts of bhakti compared to any other activity is actually not that different. Everyone has to think; everyone has to eat; everyone likes to sing; and everyone likes to perform some activity for pleasure. Under the bhakti model, one should take to these engagements for the benefit of the Lord. Our courage should be used to bravely remain devoted to devotional service, the only path worth following. Our vision should be used to regularly view the deities and pictures of the Supreme Lord, whose face is so beautiful that His most potent form and name is Krishna, which means “one who is all-attractive”. Our intellect should be applied towards understanding the science of self-realization and our position as part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. In the absence of such a pursuit, our amassed intelligence goes untapped. Lastly, our skills should be used in the execution of the primary aim of devotional service, the altering of consciousness. Chanting and hearing are two skills that are easily utilized through regularly reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. For one who applies these four qualities towards the highest mission in life, there is no chance of being turned away from the gates of the spiritual land.