Monday, May 23, 2011

Entering Lanka

Hanuman“Entering the auspicious city, which is under a curse and protected by the king of Rakshasas, O Lord of monkeys, do you freely roam about everywhere and search for the chaste daughter of King Janaka at your pleasure.” (Lanka speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, 3.51)

praviśya śāpopahatām harīśvara |

śubhām purīm rākśasarājapālitām |

yadṛcchayā tvam janakātmajām satīm |

vimārga sarvatra gato yathāsukham ||

The faithful servant of Lord Rama, Shri Hanuman, who is one of the most glorious figures to have ever set foot on this earth, was all prepared to begin the most difficult part of his mission, that of entering the enemy city of Lanka and finding the missing princess who was ever deserving of being by the side of her husband. There could be no sin found in Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama and the most precious daughter of the King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. Sita’s father was himself known as Videha, which means “without a body”. He was aloof from all material pains and pleasures, yet upon finding the child Sita one day while ploughing a field, an exhilarating thrill coursed through his body. This feeling would only be matched when he would later meet the two princes of the Ikshvaku dynasty, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana. When Sita married Rama, the meeting of the goddess of fortune and the Supreme Lord was complete, but due to the workings of a nefarious character, the king of Lanka named Ravana, the divine couple would be separated. To Hanuman would be handed the task of finding Sita and allaying her fears. Realizing that she was in Lanka, Hanuman had a plan of action mapped out and was prepared to enter the city. As we know from our experiences that things in life rarely go according to plan, Hanuman’s immediate transition into the city would not take place without opposition. Faced with a precarious situation, Hanuman would take shelter of his sharp intellect, a benefit acquired through his strong link to the Supreme Consciousness. Armed with all the divine capabilities, Hanuman was able to turn an obstacle into a launching pad towards success.

HanumanWhat was so difficult about finding Sita? Why was Hanuman sent to find her instead of Rama? These issues are all addressed in the Ramayana of Valmiki, one of the oldest books ever written. More than just an ordinary story about heroes and villains, the Ramayana details the life and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama. Lest we think of the Ramayana as a book of only sectarian importance, the qualities exhibited by Shri Rama, the work’s main character, give full indication of His divine nature and His ability to provide supreme pleasure to others. God can be defined as the ultimate order supplier, the one entity who can meet any and all demands. He may also be taken as the original proprietor of everything, as the universe sprung forth from His glance. Yet God’s most potent feature and position is that of the Supreme Loveable Object, the one person from whom all happiness can be derived. Love is a powerful emotion because, in its pure form, the actions taken to maintain the sweet feelings never exhaust, and neither do the actors ever lose their enthusiasm for service. In every endeavor except pure love, there exists both a motivation for the work undertaken and an ideal final state, wherein action ceases. Yet since love is all about pleasure, whatever steps are taken to see to the happiness of the loveable object are always fully repeatable.

Lord RamaWith mundane love, the work undertaken is limited by time and the reactions of the lover. Since the Supreme Lord is the one entity who remains eternally within His original body and those of His non-different expansions, only love of the divine variety can continue perpetually. Therefore, the only eternal occupation, that one form of religion that applies universally, is known as bhagavata-dharma. This term is translated to mean devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, because only in devotion can the service propensity inherent to individual spirit be purified and properly utilized. More than just a theoretical idea put forth by select philosophers, the truth of God’s position as the eternally served manifests in the activities performed during the divine descents, of which Rama’s coming to earth was one.

Hanuman, though in a monkey form, was tasked with finding Sita because the mission was an act of love, something that would please Rama. The Lord, as the all-powerful order supplier and chief proprietor, easily could have willed Sita back to His side or at least told everyone where she was. But this sort of exhibition of knowledge would have reduced the opportunities for service by other sincere well-wishers. One may argue that if Sita were found and rescued directly by Rama, the monkeys of the Kishkindha forest then could have taken to sitting quietly and regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting this mantra is the most effective religious practice, as it allows the loving propensity to be acted upon in the highest number of unique situations. Yet these Vanaras, or forest dwellers, were very anxious and eager for action, as is common for the monkey species. The Vanaras wanted to serve with their thoughts, words and deeds. Rama was in their direct company, so what better way to serve Him than by using their natural gifts, their skills in agility, courage and fighting prowess, to help find Sita and deal with her captors?

HanumanOf all the Vanaras in Rama’s company, Hanuman was the most eager. It’s interesting that Rama’s greatest devotee takes on the shape of a monkey, especially since that species is considered prone to overindulgence in sex life and intoxication. If we see a child that is too hyper or an adult who acts uncontrollably, we’ll compare their behavior to a monkey’s. Hanuman and the other Vanaras would sometimes point to the defects known to their race when a mistake would be made or failure was encountered. Though Hanuman was in the form of a forest dweller, his love for Rama was unmatched. As such, he was not limited in any abilities, either physical or mental. He had full possession of all the yogic siddhis, or mystic perfections. He would make use of these powers on his trek to the island of Lanka where Sita was. To reach the distant island, Hanuman assumed a massive form and leaped across the vast ocean.

Having reached Lanka, Hanuman decided to assume a diminutive form so that no one could recognize him. Ready to enter the city at night, Hanuman was exhilarated in thought. The opulence of Lanka, with its high walls, palatial buildings and decorations of gold everywhere, could only be compared to the city of the demigods, Amaravati. Though there were wonderful fortresses and other protective dwellings well represented throughout the city, Hanuman surveyed the situation and rightly concluded that his monkey associates, including Sugriva and the various military commanders, would be able to succeed in penetrating the city. He also remembered the fighting prowess exhibited by Rama and Lakshmana and thus felt greatly satisfied within the mind. In addition to looking for Sita, Hanuman was planning out the strategy for attack for the monkeys’ impending march to the city. Never thinking about himself, Hanuman was always concerned with how to make his friends happy, including Rama and Lakshmana, who were his life and soul.

HanumanPutting ourselves in the same situation, we can just imagine how exhilarated Hanuman was, how excited he was to have the opportunity to serve Rama. Surely his mind was drowned in an ocean of bliss. Yet immediately after becoming thrilled with the prospect of victory, the mundane world, so as to break his meditation, brought forth an obstacle. The personified city of Lanka, which was a woman in a Rakshasa form, came before Hanuman and asked him what he wanted. She wanted to know who he was, where he came from and what he was doing in the city ruled by ogres. Hanuman, as a brilliant statesman fully versed in the art of diplomacy, kindly agreed to answer all her questions in full, but only after she would identify herself. Hanuman basically said, “Sure, I’ll answer you, but you tell me who you are first.”

Lanka did not like this at all. She was not a well-wisher by any stretch of the imagination, and her patience was wearing thin. She again asked Hanuman to identify himself, and this time Hanuman responded by saying that he had come from the forest desiring to see the wonderful city and its interior. From Hanuman’s perspective, the demon had no need to know about the Supreme Personality of Godhead or the mission of His divine servant, especially since such admissions wouldn’t serve any purpose. Lanka, in the form of a female Rakshasa guard, had failed to protect the most innocent person within her confines, Sita Devi. Therefore the ogress was immediately deserving of the stiffest punishment. Yet Hanuman kindly tried to assuage her by lying about his intentions, not letting her know his real reason for being there.

Hanuman striking LankaThe city of Lanka, having lost all patience, then struck Hanuman. Knowing that she was a woman, Hanuman still struck her back, but not with full force. From that powerful blow, Lanka fell to the ground, but Hanuman was merciful to her after that, as he felt bad for having struck a woman. After falling to the ground, the lady’s demeanor and outlook completely changed. She immediately dropped her opposition and became a friend. She told Hanuman that previously the self-create, Lord Brahma, had informed her that when a monkey would come to the outskirts of the city and strike her that the end was near for Ravana and the Rakshasas. Meeting Hanuman, the city of Lanka remembered Brahma’s words and rightfully concluded that the Rakshasas would meet defeat due to the offense made against Sita.

Lanka then told Hanuman to freely enter the city and search about wherever he pleased for Sita. This sudden turnabout wasn’t surprising, as the Ramadutta Hanuman has a tremendous effect on those who meet him. Whoever he comes into contact with automatically becomes benefitted. Even the enemies Hanuman defeats meet an auspicious end because of the role they play in glorifying the most wonderful servant of God. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would go on to find Sita and safely return back to Rama with information of her whereabouts. Hanuman’s entry into Lanka, which started with his striking of the female guarding the city, did indeed signal the end for Ravana and his Rakshasa associates. Anyone who remembers the great Vanara’s craftiness, strength and intelligence displayed during his meeting with the city of Lanka will be benefitted as equally as those who got to personally interact with him. Wherever there is devotional service practiced to perfection, there are all signs of intelligence and strength. Hanuman displayed patience and perseverance by not getting frustrated over the thwarting attempts of the demons. Due to the nature of his mission, he should have been initially greeted with kindness and warmth. But since the Rakshasas were mired in a life of sin, they could not immediately appreciate Hanuman for who he was.

HanumanThough confronted by a violent woman, Hanuman did not hesitate to carry forward with his mission. For the conditioned souls looking to revive their dormant God consciousness, there will be all sorts of impediments placed in their path. Yet if the love is there from the beginning, if there is an undying desire to please the Supreme Lord at the outset, all necessary intelligence will come as well. Hanuman hadn’t prepared for dealing with a woman blocking his way into Lanka to find Sita, but he since remains connected with the Divine Consciousness at all times, he was able to get past the obstacle without damaging the mission. In a similar manner, by always remaining dedicated to the path of devotional service as laid down by Hanuman and all the Vaishnava authorities, we can figure our way out of any and all troublesome situations, while simultaneously keeping the chances of success alive. The greatest gift in life is to be able to hear about Hanuman and the wonderful interactions of the devotees with the Supreme Lord. Just as the glories of the bhaktas know no end, hearing of their sublime exploits never fails to deliver supreme transcendental pleasure.