Thursday, April 14, 2011

Three Questions

Shri Rama in Hanuman's heart “How can I ensure that the purpose of my task does not get destroyed? How shall I avoid mental disparity, and how do I ensure that my crossing of the ocean does not go for naught?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.41)

na vinaśyetkathaṃ kāryaṃ vaiklabyam na kathaṃ bhavet |

laṅghanaṃ ca samudrasya kathaṃ nu na vṛthā bhavet

The Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana is named as such because of the beauty of the sound vibrations contained within this most wonderful section. More than just music or lyrical poetry, the sounds of this specific portion of one of India’s most sacred and revered texts describe the exploits, thoughts and graceful nature of one of the most celebrated divine figures in history: Shri Hanuman. The beauty of this chapter can be, in fact, attributed entirely to Hanuman’s prominent role in it, his substantial presence in the true story of a lifetime. With the above referenced passage the higher authorities have kindly allowed us to be privy to Hanuman’s thoughts just prior to his commencement of the most difficult task in his mission, a job which no ordinary human being, or celestial for that matter, would be up to. Despite the difficulty of the mission, success would surely come, as that is the destiny for the Lord’s beautiful and beloved friends.

HanumanLord Hanuman, though in the outward form of a monkey, first appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago for a specific purpose. The Supreme Lord of humanity, the entity we all know as God, personally descended from His spiritual abode to enact wonderful pastimes on the earthly planet, allowing the illusioned human beings and animals a chance to get a glimpse of the form of the original Divine Being. God is always with us, even if we may be in the dark about His presence and His position as the all-pervading witness, antaryami. Through His expansion as the Supersoul, a manifestation that is often considered unmanifest or without visible qualities [nirguna], God resides within the heart of each life form. Through the remembering process that is at the core of the discipline of yoga, one can try to connect with the Supersoul and feel His presence. But as is evident from most engagements, interaction with an outward appearance always proves more helpful, as that is how we identify everything else in life. A meditational yogi may be very attracted by things that are invisible, or alakshya, but he nevertheless still identifies with his body and the bodies of others. If ordinary individuals have outward forms that are visible, why can’t the Supreme Lord?

When such a visible form appears on earth, it comes solely for the benefit of the eyes. Indeed, there is no purpose to having the power of sight other than to gaze at the Supreme Lord’s form, understand His true nature, and then subsequently view everything in life with the proper vision. The manifested form of the Supreme Lord is always transcendental, and thus it is not subject to the laws of nature. God created nature and all its intricate and complex workings, so how could He be subject to the influences of natural forces? In the outward dress of a warrior prince, Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord, roamed the earth alongside His younger brother Lakshmana, wife Sita Devi and many other associates. It is said that the blissful energy which empowered the exalted demigods Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva through a single drop could be found in such abundance in the town of Ayodhya, the place where Rama first appeared and then later ruled over, that the land and the residents were swelling over with blissful delight, such is the power of pure devotion to God. Yet the purpose of the Lord’s appearance wasn’t strictly to mesmerize others, though this certainly occurred, as was evident during Rama’s visit to the kingdom of Videha in His youth. The king of the town, Maharaja Janaka, was known as Videha due to his expertise of meditational yoga. “Deha” refers to the body, and Videha is one who has transcended the effects of the senses brought on by the body. Janaka was thus known as one incapable of being swayed by emotion, good or bad.

Rama and LakshmanaKing Janaka had a beautiful daughter whom he needed to get married off. A pious king will reap great scorn and ridicule from others should he keep his daughter unprotected in her adult years. For his daughter Sita’s nuptials, Janaka decided on holding a bow-lifting contest, wherein the winner would get Sita’s hand in marriage. Rama and Lakshmana, though young at the time, were roaming the neighboring forests with the venerable Vishvamitra Muni, protecting his sacrifices from the attacks of demons. At the behest of Vishvamitra, the two brothers entered the kingdom of Videha and met Janaka. The residents of the town were totally mesmerized by seeing Rama and Lakshmana. They would talk amongst themselves of how even Lord Brahma, the progenitor of all life on earth and the first created living entity, couldn’t ever dream of creating two such beautiful human beings. This speaks to the high knowledge possessed by the town’s residents. The soul is the driving force to the movements of matter, so the body is simply a constructed dwelling for the soul, a structure which is created, maintained and then ultimately destroyed. Seeing Rama and Lakshmana’s beauty, the residents couldn’t imagine anyone creating such wonderful forms. It is said that even the townspeople became “Videha” by seeing Rama and Lakshmana, for they had “out of body” experiences through their transcendental bliss. This is indeed the behavior exhibited by those who see God personally and harbor great affection for Him. It is said that Janaka even couldn’t understand who the two brothers were, for he thought maybe they were the same impersonal energy called Brahman he had meditated on. “Perhaps they are the same Brahman appearing in two beautiful forms”, he thought, thus proving that the bliss and delight that comes from the divine vision is higher than even the understanding of the all-pervading nature of the Absolute Truth, which itself is simply a light emanating from the Lord’s original transcendental body.

Capturing the hearts and minds of the sincere souls by giving His darshana is certainly nice, but the Lord knows an even higher transcendental emotion is evoked when direct service is offered to Him. This was the opportunity given to Hanuman and a select few others. After Rama would win the bow contest, Sita would be married to Him, and twelve years into their marriage the couple would have to roam the forests as exiles. Of course Lakshmana came with them, as he refused to live without Rama. Lakshmana, though a warrior prince just like his brothers, had only one dharma, or occupational duty in life, that of serving Rama.

Sita and Rama marriageWhile in the forest, Sita would be taken away by the powerful Rakshasa named Ravana through a backhanded plot. This incident served two purposes. It gave Rama an outward excuse to go after the enemy king, and it also served as an opportunity for others to enlist in the service of the transcendent Lord. Forming an alliance with the monkey-king Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana were assured of finding Sita through the help of the army of monkeys. This eager pack of forest dwellers was led by Hanuman, an individual who is as dear to Rama as anyone. Hanuman, though formally a minister in Sugriva’s kingdom, was a pure soul from the time of his birth, a dedicated devotee of God in every thought, word and deed.

This dedication would be proved on many occasions, including during Hanuman’s entry into Lanka. Ravana lived on an island far away from any mainland, so it was very difficult, if not impossible, for any ordinary person to reach its shores. But Hanuman was no ordinary person. He assumed a massive form and jumped across the ocean to reach the island. Yet getting to Lanka was only half the battle. Now he had to figure out a way to infiltrate the enemy territory without being noticed. The last thing Hanuman wanted to do was fail, for he took Rama’s orders to be his life and soul.

Hanuman crossing the oceanIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see evidence of Hanuman’s conscientious nature. He is asking himself three simple questions that, if answered properly, will always lead to success in a mission. He first asks himself how he can continue on without foiling the purpose of his work. This speaks to the workings of passionate activity. We may start an endeavor with a specific goal in mind, but there are many distractions that come along the way, allurements of every kind. For example, we may take up the task of building a house, and halfway through it we think that it’d be nice to change some of the plans. “Maybe I should install another bathroom. Ooh, it would be great to have a nice garden in the backyard, with maybe a deck right next to it. Let me get started on building the deck.” Obviously worrying about ancillary items will only divert attention away from the task at hand, that of building the house. In Hanuman’s case, he easily could have gotten distracted by wanting to fight the Rakshasas guarding the outskirts of Lanka. After all, they were partners to one of the worst crimes perpetrated in history. Ravana and anyone who served him was worthy of the harshest punishment. Hanuman, as a most powerful fighter, easily could have destroyed all of these enemies, but this wasn’t the mission. From his thoughts we see that he didn’t want to get distracted from the task at hand, that of finding Sita.

Hanuman’s next question is sort of humorous. He asks himself what can be done to avoid mental disparity, which can also mean recklessness or thoughtlessness. The Vanaras are a type of human-like monkey race, with the monkey traits dominating the human-like abilities. A human being is unique in its potential for intelligence, so in this case Hanuman is trying to avoid letting his monkey side take over. A monkey is known for being uncontrolled in its eating, drinking and mating habits. Those who have visited India are well aware of the fact that monkeys roaming the villages have no problem coming up to you and stealing your food. This is their nature after all. Hanuman was always worried about letting his monkey tendencies take over. This thought process only further enhances his stature, for it is a well-known fact that Hanuman is a completely transcendental figure, not subject to any of the deficiencies borne of his body-type.

HanumanHanuman wanted to avoid recklessness because acting without thinking is the quickest way to foil a mission. Going back to the house-building example, if we neglected to be thoughtful while building a certain portion of the house, the entire foundation could be destroyed. Say one day we showed up to the job intoxicated and decided to work on putting in a certain beam or other foundational piece. In the intoxicated state, there is less attention paid to detail, so the chances of making a mistake are increased. If the beam is erected improperly, or if some other piece vital to the foundation is destroyed through careless use of power tools, the hard work previously performed can go for naught. In Hanuman’s case, thoughtlessness could jeopardize Sita’s safety and Rama’s chances of ever seeing her again. Thoughtlessness can also come from mental disparity, or anxiety. Say we are building our house and working towards its completion. If we start lamenting that the work is too difficult or that we’ll never finish, obviously our chances for success will be hampered. Similarly, Hanuman did not want any temporary setbacks or potential roadblocks dampening his enthusiasm for finishing the mission.

Hanuman’s third question brings together the previous two. He wants to make sure that his now celebrated feat of leaping across the ocean doesn’t go to waste. As a living entity Hanuman is not ordinary in any way and neither are his exhibitions of strength and courage. Leaping across an expansive ocean is an unheard of task for a human being, let alone a monkey; hence the tendency for unintelligent scholars and non-devotees to label the events of the Ramayana as mythology. When extraordinary land masses such as planets can float on their own in outer space, what’s to stop an individual from leaping across an ocean? The only aspects of the Ramayana that can give the hint of mythology are the exalted characters and their level of devotion to Shri Rama. Hanuman’s dedication, love, kindness, thoughtfulness and pure devotion offered to Rama are qualities rarely found in any person. Thus it would be natural to think that Hanuman doesn’t exist or that he never roamed this earth. But from the behavior of the keepers of the faith, those who pass on the traditions of the Ramayana and other ancient Vedic texts, we can understand that pure devotees certainly do exist, and they roam the earth to this day. They are proof positive that, though rarely seen, wonderful, worshipable figures of the likes of Hanuman are real in every way.

Hanuman with Rama and LakshmanaIf Hanuman’s mission were to be foiled at such a late stage, the great feat of leaping across the ocean wouldn’t mean anything. It is similar to how an individual athlete may have a great performance in a particular game, but if their team doesn’t win, the effort goes for naught. If a baseball player hits three homeruns in a game but then makes an error in the ninth inning to cost his team victory, the homeruns turned out to be meaningless. Similarly, Hanuman, always desiring Rama’s interests, never wanted to waste all the efforts he had previously put in towards the ultimate victory.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)

So how did the events play out? Was Hanuman able to answer these questions and achieve success? Of course he was, as such a sincere servant of the Supreme Lord is never defeated. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the original form of the Personality of Godhead, states that He is the ability in man. As spirit souls, we make the choice as to how we want to interact with nature, but the results of our actions are distributed by higher authorities. Hanuman was engaged in the most sublime business of serving the Lord, so Shri Rama ensured his success in the venture. Unlike with material endeavors, acts of dedication and love that fall under the umbrella of devotional service never go in vain. There was no opportunity for Hanuman to fail, but the questions he posed to himself just served to further enhance his glory. Hanuman never thinks himself to be God, though he possesses all godly qualities. He never thinks himself to be the ultimate object of worship, though as Rama’s dear servant he is indeed worthy of eternal worship. Hanuman never thinks himself to be unbeatable in battle, though from his exploits we can understand that no one can stand against him in any fight. Hanuman is always worried about failing to please Shri Rama, but as we know from the famous Rama Darbar picture, Hanuman is always with Rama in thought, word and deed.

For us mere mortals roaming the earth in human form, the task at hand is quite simple: become God conscious by the end of life. One who thinks of the Lord at the time of death will automatically be granted liberation and thus return to the spiritual sky, where a permanent, transcendental and blissful body will be assumed. The path to achieving this shift in consciousness is laid down by the great acharyas of this age, started by Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the preacher incarnation of God. He has empowered one specific sequence of Sanskrit words with the ability to grant liberation to all persons, men and women alike. This string of words is known as the maha-mantra, and by regularly chanting it, all yogic perfections, all material opulence, and most importantly, all successes required in life will be achieved fairly quickly. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is Lord Chaitanya’s favorite formula, and He has specifically tasked all of us with chanting this mantra and kindly making it available to others.

Lord ChaitanyaFrom Hanuman’s example we see that even the most exalted divine figures remain conscientious at every step. We too should periodically ask the same three questions that Hanuman posed to himself prior to entering Lanka. Before taking on any important action, consideration should be made about the task at hand and the relation of the potential action to the final goal. The primary aim of life, becoming God conscious, should never suffer as the result of any action. In this way anything favorable towards the performance of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, should be accepted, and anything unfavorable should be rejected. Secondly, recklessness should always be avoided; hence the requirement for abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. These four activities are considered the most reckless because of the damage they inflict on the mission of life. Sinful activities solidify the wall of nescience enveloping the consciousness of the conditioned living entity, causing him to lament over even the most meaningless defeats. Finally, all the hard work that we put in, such as chanting, hearing and talking about God, should not go to waste through ill-conceived plans. Consciousness is a force that gets regularly fueled by activity. When conditioned activities are adopted, those actions which have no relation to the ultimate mission in life, the energy of spiritual consciousness gradually diminishes in the current life. Therefore care should be taken to avoid depleting the stock of spiritual energy gathered through activities in bhakti.

“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.40)

Hanuman Anyone who makes a sincere effort at connecting with the Supreme Spirit will never be a loser. If we are unfortunately not successful in perfecting God consciousness in this life, we get to resume our efforts in the next life from the same position that we left off. This speaks to the merciful and magnanimous nature of Hanuman’s Lord. Just as He ensured Hanuman’s success in every beautiful venture he took up, Shri Rama will make sure that we ultimately succeed in life’s mission, provided our motives are pure.