Thursday, March 17, 2011


Hanuman with Surasa “I offer my obeisances unto you, O daughter of Daksha. Indeed, I have entered your mouth, and the truth of the boon granted to you has been maintained. I shall now go to where Vaidehi is.” (Hanuman speaking to Surasa, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.169)

praviṣṭo'smi hi te vaktraṃ dākśāyaṇi namo'stu te |

gamiṣye yatra vaidehī satyaṃ cāsīdvarastava

Resourcefulness is seen when tasks are accomplished using items and skills that are already available. On the flip side, the requiring of extra expenditures for new tools that may or may not increase the chances for success is not considered resourceful. One divine figure in particular proved his great skill and ability to make do with what God gave him many thousands of years ago. Not only was this hero able to accomplish the task assigned to him using his own abilities, but he was also able to maintain respect for other entities. Rather than unnecessarily stir up trouble, this divine figure remained on the straightened path as he made his way towards his desired destination, where he would relay a message of grave importance.

If we witness a wrong or an injustice, the inherent reaction is to protest. After all, if something is done unlawfully, the act is performed in violation of the established guidelines found in the shastras, or scriptures. No religious text is more authentic than the Vedas due to its age and tradition. In fact, no one can accurately date the origin of the Vedas, for since Vedic wisdom was instituted by God at the beginning of creation, there is no accurate time period for its inception. Though the original scriptures for mankind give us the circumstances pertaining to their origin, since there are divine figures involved in both the maintaining of the authenticity and the subsequent bequeathing of information, non-believers and those who think they are overly intelligent will not take the words of the Vedas at face value. Instead, they will surmise their own final conclusions and take shelter of the beliefs that follow.

“All purposes that are served by the small pond can at once be served by the great reservoirs of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.46)

Lord KrishnaSometimes traditions are borne out of such mental speculation, and they then remain in the same form without interruption for many years. If a challenge were to be mounted against a tradition not based on authority, a common defense would be a claim of validity based on family. “Well, this is how my father did this, and his father before him. I’m simply following the tradition.” For those who are in the know, those who actually follow the correct spiritual practices and understand the purpose to them, bogus systems of worship are not easy to deal with. There are essentially two options available, with the most obvious one being to challenge. “Stand up for what’s right; buck the trend; go against authority.” These simple phrases are very appealing to those who are firmly convinced of the proper way to do something. Yet from studying historical examples, we see that sometimes it is much better to allow the ignorant practices to continue, while finding other alternatives for getting your mission accomplished.

A celebrated saint named Haridasa Thakura, along with the help of his dear friend, showed wonderful restraint, courage and perseverance in this regard; thereby teaching others that there is more than one way to reach your stated objective. During the medieval period in India a spiritual boom took place. Since the seemingly new revolution in spiritual practice focused on deep love and devotion to God, the groundswell became known as the bhakti movement. Though bhakti is the constitutional position of the soul, the actual practice of pure loving devotion to God as a religion didn’t become formalized until Shri Krishna Chaitanya, a saint, preacher, brahmana and incarnation of the Supreme Lord, appeared on earth around five hundred years ago. He especially popularized the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Reciting the transcendental sound vibration representations of Supreme Spirit forms the central component of the collection of activities classified as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Lord ChaitanyaThe difference between bhakti and any other system of religiosity is that it is not dependent on specific practice or regulation. Rules, sacrifices, rituals and adherence to vows certainly can carry one further down the road in their religious pursuits, but the end-goal of harboring a pure and loving attachment to the Supreme Lord is not dependent on any specific activity. Even though the Vedas, or any spiritual discipline for that matter, recommend many different practices, the final objective is still the same: God consciousness. To that end, if a practice that is believed to be authorized according to a specific scripture is taken up, and at the same time the dormant love of God does not awaken, the activity should be either abandoned or purified. One of Lord Chaitanya’s celebrated disciples, Shrila Rupa Gosvami, accurately notes that whatever is favorable towards the cultivation of spiritual attachment should be accepted and whatever is unfavorable should be rejected.

In addition to regularly chanting Hare Krishna on His japa beads and in public performances known as sankirtana, Lord Chaitanya would regularly visit temples, with His favorite house of worship being situated in Jagannatha Puri. Though the outward display of reverence offered to a personal form of Godhead is prohibited in many religious circles, the genesis of the restriction is not based on any rational thought. The aim of spiritual practice is to always be thinking about God. Who could argue against this? Thinking involves remembering, and remembering entails visualizing some form. In this way the quintessential aspect of religion, or worship, requires ascribing a form to the beneficiary of the devotion. If the form is already worshiped within the mind, what is the harm in the outward offering of obeisances facilitated through the construction of a deity? The Vedas, recognizing the incomparable benefits brought on by explicit worship, strongly recommend service and obeisance to the deity. The worshipable images aren’t carved out based on mental concoction, but rather off of careful study of the descriptions found in the sacred texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana. By taking earthly elements and shaping them to match the eternal, all-blissful forms of the Lord, the conditioned living entities on earth are afforded a wonderful opportunity for rapidly developing their love for God through an authorized style of worship.

Lord Chaitanya dancing for JagannathaDuring medieval times the proprietors of the Jagannatha temple would not allow anyone not born a Hindu to enter and see the deity. Lord Chaitanya especially loved visiting this house of worship, as He would faint every time he would walk in and see the deity. Lord Jagannatha is another manifestation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By seeing the wonderfully carved image representing the Supreme Truth, Lord Chaitanya felt as if He was directly in the presence of God; hence He would lose outward consciousness from the spiritual stimulation. Members of outside spiritual traditions were not allowed in because they were deemed unworthy of worshiping Lord Jagannatha. If one is not trained in the traditions of Vedic culture, which centers around Krishna worship, they will not be able to properly understand the potency of the deity and the importance of worshiping Him.

The original caste system, which calls for society to be divided into four varnas, or categories, based on the inherent qualities of each individual and the work ascribed to them, is certainly valid and doesn’t need to be apologized for. Yet, as mentioned before sometimes traditions take on a life of their own through the behavior of one or two sets of powerful, yet ignorant, people. Such was the case with the caste system, as it became degraded to the point where members were claiming to belong to a particular group simply off birthright. Being born into the highest caste, the brahmana, certainly presents a wonderful opportunity, but for one to be considered a first class person, they must exhibit the requisite qualities. Along the same lines, one who is not born in an exalted family but still shows the proper qualifications should most certainly be considered a member of the class that corresponds to those attributes.

“Since he was born in a Muslim family, Shrila Haridasa Thakura could not enter the temple of Jagannatha due to temple restrictions. Nonetheless, he was recognized by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as Namacharya Haridasa Thakura. Haridasa Thakura, however, considered himself unfit to enter the Jagannatha temple.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 11.195 Purport)

Lord Chaitanya’s dear friend, Haridasa Thakura, though a Vaishnava, or devotee of Lord Vishnu, in behavior and quality, was born a Muslim and thus not allowed into the temple to see the Jagannatha deity. Lord Chaitanya was an incarnation of Godhead, and He held tremendous clout in the community. He easily could have raised a stir and demanded that Haridasa be allowed in. Instead, Shri Gauranga did one better. Rather than insult the members of the temple and force them to break their tradition based on ignorance, Lord Chaitanya decided to make the best use of the situation. He instead took to personally visiting Haridasa regularly and ensuring that prasadam was delivered to him daily. Aside from allowing those with a clouded vision a chance to see God, the deity also facilitates the offering of food by the humble devotees. The Lord can most certainly eat anything offered to Him with love and devotion, so the food presented before the deity in the proper manner turns into prasadam, which means “the Lord’s mercy.” There is great potency in this spiritually infused food, so anyone who partakes of prasadam is considered very fortunate. Even though he wasn’t allowed into the temple, Haridasa Thakura received prasadam through the arrangement of the very same Jagannatha in human form, . In this way Chaitanya Mahaprabhu gave Haridasa a benediction even greater than that of entering the temple. The resourcefulness exhibited in the situation allowed the humble servant Haridasa to remain in pure Krishna consciousness all the way up until the time of death.

Sita and RamaShri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, was faced with a similar quandary. His mission was a difficult one involving evil elements the likes of which had never been seen before on earth. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the same original Bhagavan, Shri Krishna, descended to earth in the guise of a warrior prince. His wife was, not surprisingly, the most beautiful princess in the world, Shrimati Sita Devi, the daughter of the King of Mithila. While residing in the forest with her husband, Sita was taken against her will to the island kingdom of Lanka by a Rakshasa named Ravana. Since He is antaryami, Rama can find any person very easily, but rather than look for Sita Himself, Rama called upon a band of monkey-like living beings known as Vanaras. Their king was Sugriva, and his most powerful and trusted warrior was Hanuman.

The mission assigned to the monkeys involved finding Sita, relaying to her words of assurance from Rama, and returning the information of her location to Rama and Sugriva. The objectives seemed simple enough, but there was a huge hurdle to cross in the form of a geographical boundary. At the outset of the mission, no one knew where Sita was, so many search parties had to scatter about the earth. Not surprisingly, the group which included Hanuman was able to learn that Sita was taken to an island. Yet knowing Sita’s potential location was only one piece of the puzzle. The isolated land mass inhabited by her captor lay many miles across a vast ocean. None of the monkeys in the party were capable of crossing over the mighty expanse except for Hanuman, who assumed a massive form after learning of his terrific powers from the elderly monkey-leader Jambavan.

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.8)

Krishna and ArjunaWhen worshiping the Supreme Lord, the only required ingredient is the sincerity of the worshiper. Mundane powers and skills aren’t of any use unless they are tied to bhakti. In fact, when the sentiments of bhakti are pure enough, Rama will provide for whatever skill is required. As is so nicely pointed out in the Bhagavad-gita, Bhagavan is the ability in man. As such, anyone who is honored and given a high status in society for their extraordinary skill in a particular activity actually owes a debt of gratitude to the Supreme Lord, who so kindly allowed them to possess such an ability. Hanuman was charged with the most difficult of tasks, as Ravana and his Rakshasa associates were very capable in fighting. But since he was such a pure lover of God, Hanuman was blessed with extraordinary abilities given to him by His dearly beloved Rama.

In addition to being powerful, scholarly and pious, Hanuman was also able to assume any shape at will, a skill he would have to lean on during his travel to Lanka. Ascending a giant mountaintop, Hanuman, who had assumed a massive form, leaped high into the sky and travelled through the air at the speed of the wind. Yet the path to Lanka wouldn’t be without obstacles. The first impediment came in the form of a giant female serpent named Surasa. She was actually instigated by the demigods, the celestials in the sky, to put an obstacle in Hanuman’s path. The devas wanted to see just how powerful this determined servant of Rama’s was.

hanuman_CH52_lThe boon granted to Surasa was that no one could pass by her without first entering her mouth. The natural implication was that no one would get by her alive, as whoever would enter her mouth, which was the passage fair, or toll, would be eaten up. Informed of this boon, Hanuman first asked for a pardon. He kindly pointed out the objectives of his mission and the nature of the person who was being helped. Hanuman informed the serpent that his passing over the ocean was actually for Rama’s interest, something that should not be interfered with. One would think that the Lord’s desires would take precedent over any stipulation offered by any other entity, but Surasa would not budge. At this point Hanuman had several options available to him. Being extremely powerful, he easily could have killed Surasa. But instead, he decided to make use of his resourcefulness. He found a way to satisfy all parties.

Hanuman first cleverly asked Surasa to expand her size, for the serpent wouldn’t be able to contain him in his present form, one which was the result of a previous expansion in stature to ensure a leap capable of reaching Lanka. Surasa saw nothing wrong with Hanuman’s request, as he indeed was too large to fit into her mouth. So she kindly expanded her form by many miles into the sky. Hanuman, as a counter move, expanded his own frame. Surasa kindly obliged by increasing her size even more. In this way, the two traded expansions until they were both extremely large. Seeing that Surasa’s mouth was now this cavernous expanse, Hanuman decided to make use of the complementary yogic siddhi, that of being able to become extremely small. Hanuman immediately assumed a diminutive form, entered the mouth of the serpent, and then quickly exited. Through Hanuman’s craftiness, Surasa’s boon proved truthful, the demigods were not insulted, and the divine mission could continue.

Hanuman Not surprisingly, Surasa and the celestials were well pleased with Hanuman. He found a way to not ruffle any feathers, despite the fact that the demigods were technically in the wrong by obstructing the path of a faithful servant of God. Hanuman would go on to find Sita, return the information of her whereabouts to Rama, and then help the good guys in their victory over Ravana. No one is more resourceful than Hanuman, for he uses all his abilities to advance the cause of devotional service. In our spiritual endeavors we will likely encounter similar situations, but by always keeping Hanuman’s intelligence and dedication to Rama in our minds, we will surely find a way to succeed in our efforts with minimal damage inflicted.