Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Enhancing Stature

Hanuman“He [Hanuman] entered the famous city, which had rows of white interlaced buildings and valuable golden archways, and was ruled by the arms of Ravana and fully guarded by ogres of terrible might.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.56)

sa pāṇḍurodviddhavimānamālinīṃ

mahārhajāmbūnadajālatoraṇām |

yaśasvināṃ rāvaṇabāhupālitāṃ

kṣapācarairbhīmabalaiḥ samāvṛtām

Hanuman is glorious enough as he is, for he is full of dedication, courage, tenacity, strength, intelligence, and most of all, devotion to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is all-pervading, so His energies are distributed everywhere. Simply by enjoying the taste from drinking water one can immediately remember the Supreme Lord and His blissful nature. From the influence the many worldly objects around us have on our psyche, we tend to forget the supremacy and merciful nature of that one entity who is capable of providing the soul a sufficient level of happiness. Because of this deviation in thought, to connect with God we require visible objects, transcendental forms which evoke memories of the pastimes of the Lord and which give us glimpses into His blissful nature. More pleasure evoking than the Lord Himself are His various connected aspects, of which the feet are one. Nothing is more humble and dedicated in providing service than the feet; hence the lotus feet of the Lord are meditated upon first. But the living entities who provide direct service to these feet can be even more pleasurable to hear about. And among the divine servants, you would be hard pressed to find one more beautiful and kind than Shri Hanuman. The descriptions of the opulence of his enemy provided in the famous Ramayana only serve to enhance the appreciation and attachment one feels to Hanuman’s lotus feet, sentiments which lead to the greatest benefits.

The soul is naturally disposed towards harboring a deep and strong affection for God. Any person, at any age, and at any place can take to devotional service by simply persuading the mind to focus on the Supreme Lord and His names, forms, qualities and pastimes. Though the concept of divine service is very straightforward, its practical application is not. The first stumbling block is being able to properly determine who is God and who isn’t. One religious group claims their spiritual figurehead and subsequent method of worship are authorized, while another group claims that their way of life is the correct one. What’s missing in most of these presentations is substantive information about the qualities of the entity we are supposed to worship: the Supreme Lord. When concrete knowledge about God’s names and His places of residence is lacking, the initially innocent living entity becomes prone to directing their service propensity towards worldly objects, which include their own senses. As such, a simple and straightforward process of real religion, that of remembering, gets ignored in favor of practices which only bring misery.

Chanting is the most powerful method of the discipline that returns a lost soul to their constitutional position of always thinking about the Supreme Lord and His original personal form. Again, an issue arises as to what exactly should be chanted. If we don’t know who God is, how can we know what words to use to express our heartfelt feelings for Him? Though there is no shortage of known religious systems, this diversity doesn’t invalidate the ability to properly decipher God’s names. If the Supreme Lord is fixed in His position, His powers must apply universally. Just because one person takes birth in a certain country to a specific set of parents doesn’t mean that they are any more worthy of worshiping God than anyone else. Based on this fact alone, we see that not only does God’s presence pervade through every space, but so do the names used to address and worship Him. If He is everyone’s Lord, God must be the most attractive entity in the world. Therefore the Sanskrit word “Krishna” appropriately applies to Him. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending may provide temporary gratification to the senses, but it would be safe to assume that God provides pleasure that transcends all the effects of the material world, a land which is governed by all-devouring time and nature. Hence the Sanskrit word “Rama” would also be an appropriate appellation for the original Divine Being.

Lord RamaIf mortal human beings enjoy the company of friends and associates, we’d have to assume that the Supreme Lord’s enjoyment would at least be on an equal level. In order to enjoy, He surely must have transcendental associates. In this sense, the Sanskrit word “Hara” would be an appropriate term to use to address God’s energy manifestations, those entities who are meant to provide pleasure to the Lord. We’d also have to assume that the energy manifestations which actually do engage in worship all the time without being swayed by the various religious systems would be equally as worthy of worship. If someone gives pleasure to God, and we want to make God happy, it couldn’t hurt to be friends with that person who pleases the Lord. Therefore, addressing God and His energy would be a tangible method of worship. In this way, chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, becomes a very appropriate and effective method of self-realization, something that can be practiced anywhere and at any time.

Chanting the name is certainly nice, but our thoughts still might get misdirected towards worldly objects, those things which are more clearly defined and manifest before us. Worship through recitation of a name or thoughts on an impersonal void don’t necessarily solidify our attachment to the Supreme Lord right away. “What does God look like? How does He behave? What does He want us to do?” To answer these questions, the Divine makes various appearances on earth and enacts pastimes, the accounts of which are found in the sacred texts of the Vedic tradition. The Ramayana, arguably the oldest book in existence, details the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead who descended to earth in human form as a pious prince. Just hearing about Rama is enough to bring tremendous pleasure to the soul, but the enjoyment is further enhanced by observing the behavior of those who are wholly dedicated to Him. In this select group of individuals, no one is more dear to Rama than Shri Hanuman, the most capable Vanara warrior residing in Kishkindha.

HanumanJust as the feet are the dedicated servants of the body, the Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest, who were headed by the monkey-king Sugriva, are the most exalted servants of Shri Rama. God doesn’t require anything; He is self-satisfied. It is in the nature of the soul to crave individuality, a tendency which manifests through activity. There is a famous philosophical saying, “I think therefore I am”, and in the spiritual realm the corrected assertion is, “I love therefore I exist.” Without divine love, the soul loses its identity. Though there may be temporary periods of dormancy, the loving propensity never leaves the soul. When the loving force is allowed to be acted out in an uninhibited manner, the resulting behavior is a thing of beauty, as was so nicely illustrated by Hanuman

Though in the form of a monkey, or forest-dweller, Hanuman was beaming with eagerness to serve the Supreme Lord when He roamed the earth. Simple thoughts weren’t enough for Hanuman; he wanted tangible engagements, activities he could undertake to show Rama just how much he loved Him. The Lord isn’t stingy at all in this regard. If He sees an eagerness to serve, He will go out of His way to present opportunities to the humble servant to shine. Moreover, He will take the necessary steps to ensure that they are successful in the prosecution of their tasks. Going even one step further, the success that results from the service offered by the servant elevates them to a supreme stature, sometimes even surpassing the level of adoration and fame owned by the Supreme Lord. This is all due to God’s grace, as the servant who properly serves the master actually exceeds him in stature. We are kindly reminded of this truth by Goswami Tulsidas, another faithful servant of Lord Rama and great devotee of Hanuman.

Hanuman crossing the oceanThough Hanuman’s eventual success in the mission assigned to him was guaranteed, his future glory would be enhanced by the seemingly insurmountable opposing forces he faced. Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, had been taken to the island kingdom of Lanka by the very powerful Ravana, who was a master of illusion. Rather than rescue her Himself right away, Rama, abiding by a punishment handed down to Him by His father, enlisted the help of the Vanaras residing in Kishkindha. Though Sugriva’s massive monkey army was dispatched to look for Sita, only Hanuman was actually capable of finding her. This was due to the formidable strength of the Rakshasa force and the strategic location of their hideaway. Lanka was situated far across a massive ocean which was not easily crossable by even the most powerful monkeys in Sugriva’s army. Nevertheless, Hanuman, by assuming a massive stature, was able to leap his way across the ocean and successfully reach the outskirts of Ravana’s majestic city.

This was just the beginning of Hanuman’s quest; the real difficulties lay before him. It is seen that in a tournament of any major professional sport, the pressure really mounts towards the later rounds. In tennis, the Wimbledon Final carries a lot more pressure than a first round match in the tournament. The Super Bowl is the most important game of the football season; not the opening week. As one advances towards their achieved aim, the fear of losing everything that has been gained along the way gets introduced. The loser in the final round of a tournament can feel like all of their previous effort went to waste, as the ultimate goal was not attained. Hanuman had performed a miraculous feat that would firmly establish him in the annals of history as one of the greatest and most powerful divine warriors. But if he failed to find Sita, which was his stated objective, his other efforts would essentially become meaningless.

In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, a description of the outskirts of Lanka is provided just prior to Hanuman’s entry. The monkey warrior had decided to assume a small stature, one having the dimensions of a cat. Hanuman’s figure was described as adbhuta, or wonderful to behold. The details of the opulent decorations inside Lanka are provided nonetheless to increase the listener’s appreciation of Hanuman’s bravery and dedication to service. The gateways of the city were interlaced with beautiful ornaments, thus giving off a heavenly feel. If even something simple as a gateway is bedecked beautifully, the implied understanding is that the rest of the city is extremely wealthy. If there is no shortage of opulence on even the walls and the building windows, there must not be anything second or third class in the city. For Hanuman this meant that he would not find anything in Lanka that would be easy to destroy or cheap in value.

Sita DeviThe edifices were joined together, thus indicating that the powerful demon force was united in their dedication to sinful activity. Ravana was a Rakshasa, so he was naturally prone to meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and perpetrating violence on the innocent. Though he thought himself to be very pious and a knower of the Vedas, his intelligence was no greater than that of an ass. He thought he could have Sita Devi, the religiously wedded wife of another man, for himself. It is impossible for Sita to be divorced from Rama’s association at any time. No aspect of material nature can ever touch her. Indeed, she is the very donor of all the wealth and fortune that we see in the world. Those who misuse her kindly donated gifts are destined for destruction in the same way that Ravana was bound to lose all that he had worked so hard to amass.

It is also stated that Lanka was protected by Ravana’s arms and the Rakshasas of great might. Up to this point, Hanuman’s immense strength and intelligence were already well established, but these statements are meant to convey just how formidable a force Hanuman was up against. He didn’t have to deal with just beautifully adorned mansions to search through; there was also an opposing army that was on the lookout for intruders. They were wholly capable of defeating even the most powerful fighters. Hanuman was all by himself, so for him to succeed in this type of mission would be no small feat. If he could successfully find Sita and return information of her whereabouts to Rama, his triumph would go down as one of the greatest exhibitions of craftiness, dedication and perseverance in history.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and DeviAs mentioned before, when the desire is pure and the eagerness for service genuine, the Supreme Lord will Himself guarantee the success of the mission. Thus it was not surprising to see Hanuman succeed in finding Sita and thwarting the attacks of the Rakshasas. The massive monkey-army would later march to Lanka with Rama, and Ravana would eventually be destroyed, with Sita’s safe rescue following. The opulence of the city and the strength of its protectors only further increase Hanuman’s glory. If Shri Rama has someone as wonderful, pure, kind-hearted and dedicated as Hanuman worshiping Him on a daily basis, He must be the original Supreme Lord that we are all meant to worship. Sita and Rama’s divine qualities are enhanced by the wonderful attributes of their greatest servant, Shri Hanuman. Just as Hanuman’s glories know no end, so our appreciation for him will never wane.