“And wonderful golden archways belonging to the Rakshasas everywhere illuminated the well-decorated city of Lanka.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.54)
kāñcanāni ca citrāṇi toraṇāni ca rakśasām |
laṅkāmuddyotayāmāsuḥ sarvataḥ samalaṃkṛtām
It’s ironic that the entryway into a city filled with some of the most ghoulish and hellish creatures was lined with gold. The archways to the majestic city welcomed the guest by providing a sense of happiness, peace, prosperity, and overall enjoyment. Sadly, these allurements were simply illusion, with a built-in clause accompanying entry; every guest had to check their tendencies towards spiritual life at the door. The pious and spiritually inclined were not allowed to enter this particular kingdom. If they did happen to infiltrate the sturdy fortress protecting the city of gold, they would have to hide their natural tendencies or face constant harassment. Indeed, the one entity from whom all wealth and fortune emanate, the goddess of fortune, was a prisoner in this city. Despite her exalted status, the surroundings forced upon her were anything but golden. Refusing to cavort with the sinful ruler of such a feverish land, that supreme goddess, who had assumed the spiritual form of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, was forced to remain by herself in a garden, with the ultimatum of impending death looming over her should she not change her unwavering devotion to her husband.
To the rescue came the celestial figure who was made of pure spiritual gold on the inside. Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, was tasked with finding Sita’s whereabouts and returning the information of her location to Rama’s camp, where a party including the powerful ruler of the monkey tribe in Kishkindha, Sugriva, was waiting. Upon entering the enemy city of Lanka where Sita was staying, Hanuman not surprisingly noticed the lavish set up, the beautiful surroundings that indicated the tremendous material opulence that filled the city. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that beautiful gateways had been erected that were made of gold, as if to serve notice of the tremendous opulence of the kingdom to those desiring to enter. Hanuman was nevertheless not deterred by this illusory aspect of the external decoration of the city ruled by the vilest of creatures. Being truly golden himself, Hanuman was on the prowl looking for the source of all fortune in every land, Sita Devi. In this mission, he would not be defeated.
“The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)
One who is ignorant of both their impending death and the eternal nature of the soul takes objects of illusion, which are known as maya, to be reality. Ravana, the king of Lanka, figured that if he amassed enough gold, material opulence, female companionship, animal flesh for eating and wine for beverage he would never be without discomfort. In one sense, he can’t be blamed for crafting this priority system, for it is the nature of the animal to seek out the engagements of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Ignorance envelops the pure spiritual entity, the spark of life, at the time of birth. Without a proper education on spiritual matters provided by a bona fide guru, one who knows the Truth and how to approach Him, the animalistic tendencies will reign supreme. Ravana knew of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, through and through, but he nevertheless could not overcome the illusory aspect of material nature. Therefore he was always in the heat of passion looking for the next opportunity for sense enjoyment.
Since the spirit soul is a unique entity that is full of vim, vigor, and life, there is always the tendency for ego to become inflated. The ego is based on identification, so when ignorance envelops the consciousness, the source of one’s pride and ego will be their association with external objects of the phenomenal world. For this reason, Ravana, who had performed many austerities to please several key divine figures, took his pride from his tremendous fighting abilities and the lavish set up of his kingdom. Just as we will feel some happiness and superiority if we buy an expensive car or home, Ravana wanted everyone to see just how magnificent his kingdom was. Even the floors of his palaces were lined with gold; such was the level of extravagance he demanded. The rock star lifestyle, which is more or less hedonism, touches on these extremes very often, with celebrities doing outlandish things just because they are able to. Ravana had a huge supply of gold and crystal, so why not line every object with these precious commodities, even if such decorations weren’t required?
When allured by the forces of maya, the individual driven by an animalistic mindset essentially takes himself to be God. “Look at what I have. Look at all my palaces. Look at how many beautiful queens I have. Who out there is greater than me?” One who has achieved great things surely will have justification for feeling pride, but the more valid approach is to acknowledge the original owner of everything, the proprietor who has the rightful claim to every piece of property, developed or otherwise, in all the universes. Not surprisingly, only one person holds this position, and His abilities never diminish, nor does He ever cease to be the Supreme Master.
In the Vedic tradition, this wonderful entity is described as having an eternal body which is full of knowledge and bliss. This sach-chid-ananda-vigraha is addressed by thousands of names, but Krishna is considered the foremost appellation, as it speaks to the Supreme’s all-attractive nature. Even those who are forgetful of Krishna and illusioned by maya are linked to the Lord. Maya is created by Krishna after all, so those who are slaves to its forces can be considered indirect worshipers of God. In this way, Ravana was the greatest devotee of the illusory energy governing the temporary world. Though everything comes from Krishna, not all types of worship are the same. For instance, the hands and legs are part and parcel of the body, which is considered a living being for as long as the life force remains intact. But in order to feed the body, food must eventually reach the stomach. The stomach then kindly distributes the nutrients efficiently and fairly to the rest of the body parts. If we decide that since the feet are the same as the body we should offer food to it, there would be no tangible effect. Though the feet are part of the body, they don’t have the ability to accept and deliver any offerings of food to the individual controlling the body.
Similarly, simply worshiping matter will bring no spiritual benefit. Since matter is a separated energy of the Supreme Divine Entity, those who are attached to it will remain apart from the all-blissful Personality of Godhead. The original form of the Lord or one of His non-different expansions - which include the deity manifestations - serve as the authorized objects of worship, those spiritual entities that can provide direct contact with God and thus also bring unmatched bliss and excitement. One such non-different form of Godhead descended to earth during the Treta Yuga. He was known by the name of Rama because of His ability to provide transcendental pleasure to others. He was also known as Raghunandana for being a descendant of King Raghu and one who gave pleasure to those in the family line. This divine prince was also known as Dasharathi, for He was the son of Maharaja Dasharatha, the ever pious and kind king of Ayodhya.
In order to worship maya, a strong attachment to objects of the phenomenal world must develop. For this attachment to remain strong there must be activities adopted of the conditioned variety. Ravana remained a dedicated worshiper of matter through his activities of intoxication, illicit sex, meat eating, and determination in erecting golden palace after golden palace. Those dedicated to worshiping Rama, however, undertook activities of the transcendental nature. These actions appear similar to the conditioned acts taken up by those worshiping matter, but the end result is different. Matter leads to a further separation from Krishna that is facilitated through illusion. Acts of devotion to God, which are known as bhakti, bring one closer and closer to the Supreme Consciousness, a state of mind where all thoughts, words and deeds are dedicated to the Supreme Lord in a loving spirit.
Hanuman, the faithful warrior serving the king of monkeys, Sugriva, followed the path of bhakti. All of Hanuman’s actions were dedicated to serving Rama and His interests. To allow Hanuman to continue his service without interruption and to also secure his position as one of the greatest all-stars of the spiritual world, Rama created a situation that required the help of others. Rama’s wife Sita Devi was taken by Ravana seemingly in Rama’s absence. Acting out the part of an ordinary human being, Rama went searching for Sita with His younger brother Lakshmana. The two eventually made their way to Kishkindha, where they met up with Hanuman, who then brokered a deal between Rama and Sugriva. The agreement was that Rama would help Sugriva regain his lost kingdom, and the monkey-king would then help Rama find Sita.
When the time came for Sita’s rescue, Sugriva put the burden of success in the mission squarely on Hanuman’s shoulders. Though he was in the guise of an ordinary forest dweller, or Vanara, Hanuman had full capabilities in every yogic siddhi, or perfection. But this wasn’t his greatest strength. Even Ravana and his Rakshasas were supremely powerful. They could assume false guises and defeat powerful warriors in battle. Hanuman’s true potency rested in his firm commitment to the interests of Rama. Because of this dedication, he was given all the abilities necessary to find the beautiful princess of Videha, Sita Devi.
After putting his abilities to good use by assuming a massive size and flying through the air, Hanuman found himself on the outskirts of Lanka. He then used his unmatched intelligence to accurately note that entering the city of the Rakshasas while in his original form would not be a good idea. Just as a priest would stand out while walking through the streets of a gambling city like Las Vegas, Hanuman, as the most faithful servant of Shri Rama, would certainly get noticed right away in the land where illusion reigned supreme. For this reason, the intelligent monkey decided to assume a diminutive stature, one that would allow him to carefully survey every inch of space for Sita’s location while remaining unnoticed.
Though Hanuman was fully aware of Rama’s worthiness of service and His supreme capabilities, he was still a little taken aback by the exquisite opulence that beamed off the outskirts of Ravana’s city. The demoniac try their best to cloud the minds of the pure-hearted souls who are wholly dedicated to chanting the Lord’s names on a regular basis and singing His glories. Logic and reasoning alone won’t convince anyone of a philosophy based on ignorance. The news media are especially popular and well patronized because all they sell is illusion, with one alarm story after another aiming to allure the innocent public into paying attention to topics which are more or less meaningless. If these issues were actually presented as they are, with the illusion removed, no one would pay any attention to them. If Ravana didn’t have his ignorance and sinful nature masked by the exquisite opulence of his city, others would easily decipher that he was nothing more than a pretender, a figure not confident of any of his beliefs. The grossly foolish always live in fear, for they know that once their current life ends, so will their opulence, wealth and fame.
Hanuman noticed and appreciated the wonderful beauty of the city. Several times he thought of quitting, for the aura of opulence seemed too daunting for him to break. Though they sometimes suffer temporary setbacks in terms of thought processes, figures like Hanuman are considered eternally liberated because they never let anything get in the way of their service. Even with all of these allurements, including the gateways lined with gold, Hanuman wasn’t impressed enough to stop his mission. Fighting his way through the illusion, Hanuman would enter the city, eventually find Sita and then temporarily allay her fears.
His business complete, Hanuman set fire to Ravana’s city as a parting shot, giving the king a warning of what was to come when Rama and the entire army of monkeys headed by Sugriva would return. External objects in this world should not be rejected outright; everything should be assessed in terms of its ability to either further increase our God consciousness or hamper it. For Ravana, his gold and other items of opulence only served to further delude him into a hellish mindset. Hanuman, though he harbored no hatred for the wonderful opulence of the city of Lanka, saw no utility for it in his sublime mission.
While Hanuman wasn’t too impressed by the golden archways in Lanka, he was wholly humbled and almost brought to tears by the firm dedication and level of devotion shown by Sita Devi, who had found herself in the most perilous of conditions. When Hanuman returned to his monkey friends to tell them what he had seen in Lanka, he remarked that Sita remained alive by always thinking of the glories of her husband. Whenever we find ourselves in a troublesome situation, as we most certainly will due to the stranglehold maya has on this world, if we remember the glorious natures and activities of Sita Devi, Shri Hanuman, and their eternal object of worship, Lord Rama, we too will be able to weather the storm and eventually make our way towards a sublime position. Hanuman is always with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana in consciousness, and if we always stay with Hanuman by remembering his glorious activities, we will always be on the highest platform of thought and remain incapable of being affected by maya and her golden enticements.