“Thus I have with a pure mind searched the entire inside of Ravana's apartment. Yet I still do not see Sita.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.44)
tad idam mārgitam tāvat śuddhena manasā mayā ||
rāvaṇa antaḥ puram sarvam dṛśyate na ca jānakī |
A new life starts with tremendous potential, as it is a fresh chance to seek out daily pleasures. No knowledge of death, sadness, temporary manifestations of matter, or even what a birth is; just a clean slate. Gradually, however, through maturation, the pile of stale and old, “been there-done that” experiences increases. Thus new engagements have to be found. Yet no matter how many new experiences are uncovered, there is failure and dejection at every step, as nothing seems to last forever. The person knowing the ultimate objective in life, however, is perseverant and sticks with the proper course no matter what. Despite the effort they have put in already and the troubles they have overcome, should they remain unsuccessful they don’t abandon hope and deem the mission unworthy of completion. On the contrary, the nature of the reward is so sublime that there is no choice but to fight on.
In the typical stint within a particular form of body, where enjoyments are sought through contact with matter, the perceived pinnacle achievement is to reach a point where there is a steady supply of material amenities. This usually comes about during adulthood, when a steady occupation is landed. All past effort is meant to culminate in this achievement, which then allows for family life to slowly solidify. Yet we know from the behavior of adults that finding material comforts is actually not the crowning accomplishment, the end to effort being expended. The spirit soul, the energetic spark within the body, must continually act; it never stops functioning for even a moment.
How do we know this? We can look to sleep as an example. Rest and relaxation are the antithesis of compulsory action. We sleep so that we can gain relief from the daily pressures and find a state of being where we don’t have to do anything. Yet the mind continues to operate during periods of rest, so much so that the dreams we have at night can cause intense emotions. If not even a sleeping state can stop desire and the pursuit of happiness, how will any amount of sense gratification?
When we speak of sense gratification we refer to the stimulation of the sense organs, such as the tongue, genitals, eyes, ears, etc. An astute observer may question how any activity can be beyond such distinctions. If we use the senses to interact with nature, how can any activities exist which don’t involve such interaction? As the soul is the spark for action, each individual is beyond the sense organs and the objects with which they interact. We know that our desires change drastically over the course of a lifetime, as how we view different objects of the phenomenal world also changes. During youth, there is no thought given to sexual relations, but in adulthood these urges are so strong that they can lead to misery and heartache.
Despite the changing viewpoints, the individual’s identity remains the same. Therefore we can conclude that the soul transcends whatever sense perceptions are made. As the soul’s satisfaction is what really matters, it is not surprising therefore to see people who are approaching the middle part of their material existence get depressed, dejected and bewildered by the monotonous routine of everyday life. “Is this all there is? You grow up, get a job, start a family, and then just wait for death?“ This attitude helps explain the impulse purchases of muscle cars and motorcycles, and risky behavior like climbing a mountain and jumping out of an airplane. Something needs to be done to break the routine, to inject a spark into life.
On the opposite side of material existence is the pursuit for higher knowledge, wisdom that alters activities so that the soul can find satisfaction. As there is no such thing as a utopia, there is sometimes frustration, dejection, monotony, defeat, sadness, pain, misery and despair in even the highest pursuit known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Though this sounds bad, it actually isn’t. The more one encounters these pains in their pursuit for true enlightenment, the greater the reward they will see at the end. And unlike the rewards previously sought after, this gift will keep on giving, like a wish-fulfilling tree that never runs out of fruits.
Shri Hanuman, a divine figure of the Vedic tradition, was tasked with finding Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman are worshiped by millions around the world in the Rama Darbar picture. In short, Rama is God and Hanuman is His dear servant. Rama is not a Hindu God. He is the same Supreme Lord that everyone worships, ignores, or strongly envies. During Rama’s time on earth, Hanuman was not involved in sensual pursuits. His kind lived in the forest of Kishkindha, so there was no need to worry about finding lodging, clothing, or food. The monkeys during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, were more civilized than they are today. They were humanoids in a sense, but they were still less civilized than ordinary human beings.
Since Hanuman had every necessity of life, what need did he have to take up service to Rama? This is often the question pondered by the wealthy and those who don’t understand the purpose to spiritual life. “They must worship God because they have nothing. Otherwise, what is the point to religion? I never worshiped anyone and I’m doing just fine.” The pains encountered by the materially successful are the most glaring indication of the paltriness of the rewards available to those who are not God conscious. Hanuman too had everything he needed in life, but the wise never mistake the ability to remain complacent for the panacea of existence.
Hanuman was eager to serve Rama. Any task the Lord would give him, Hanuman would do. As if to correspond with his eagerness and supreme skill set, Hanuman was given the task of locating Sita, Rama’s wife who had gone missing. In his subsequent search, Hanuman would not have anything come easily. Nothing would be handed to him. If we feel pity for someone who is struggling in life or having a difficult time achieving their objectives, we may lend them assistance as a way to make ourselves feel better. With Hanuman, the situation seemed almost reversed. His mission was the most important, and yet no one was really helping him. He was only meeting obstacles at every turn.
First, there was the geographic hurdle to overcome. The place where Sita had been taken, the island kingdom of Lanka, was situated far away from any mainland. The monkeys in Hanuman’s search party were strong, powerful and intelligent, but none of them could leap over the ocean and reach Lanka. Only Hanuman could make the leap. Thus at the most critical stage of the mission, Hanuman had to go it alone. His aerial path was then impeded several times. The material nature acts in this way. If someone abandons their pursuit of increasing sense gratification, the wardens of the state, the entities in charge of providing every illusory enjoyment, ask, “Where are you going my dear friend? Don’t you want to continue enjoying all that material life has to offer?”
In Hanuman’s case, the opposition was a little more fierce. He was flat out told that he could not cross certain boundaries. If he did, he would die. Attachment to the swinging pendulum of acceptance and rejection is destroyed by one who takes to bhakti-yoga, and since no one is stronger than Hanuman, these impeding forces did not stand a chance against him. He finally made it to the shores of Lanka after much effort.
The hard part was over then, right? He did the unthinkable by leaping across the ocean, now he could just find Sita and declare victory? Actually, his difficulties were only beginning. Now that he was in Lanka, he had to rummage through a city which did not welcome his presence. Lanka was ruled by Rakshasas, who are human-like creatures given to sinful behavior. More than just meat eaters, they are human eaters. In Lanka their king Ravana could consume unthinkable amounts of wine with his ten heads. His ten sets of arms could fill his many mouths with loads of cooked meats as well.
Such a pure and devoted soul as Hanuman did not belong in Lanka, especially since he was Rama’s messenger. Imagine going to some place where everyone hates you and wants to kill you upon first sight. Who would want to enter such an area? But Hanuman was given the task for a reason; he was capable of handling the thwarting elements. Taking on a diminutive stature, Hanuman carefully coursed through the extremely opulent city. Yet Sita he found not.
Hanuman’s hope was renewed when he stumbled upon Ravana’s palace, the most important of the many well-built structures in Lanka. There were beautiful women inside this palace, so Hanuman was excited that perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world, Sita Devi, would be among them. Sadly, she was not, though in the process Hanuman laid his eyes upon scenes that shouldn’t be viewed. Some women were drunk, some sleeping, and others not wearing very much clothing.
At this point, even the most adamant fighter would give way to frustration and dejection. After working so hard, after overcoming the greatest obstacles known to man, there still wasn’t success. To make matters worse, Hanuman was fearful that he had just committed a sin by gazing upon the wives of another man. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see him rationally assessing the situation and rightly concluding that he had no other choice but to search in this way. After all, one searches for women amongst other women, not in a group of deer. There was no sin because Hanuman’s thoughts did not deviate. He was only concerned with finding Sita and making Rama happy.
With material life there will be frustration at every step, as the very meaning of maya is “that which is not.” When objects are divorced of their relationship to the Supreme Lord, they can never provide full satisfaction. On the other hand, someone as divine and pure as Sita Devi can keep one’s fire of devotion well lit when remembered on a regular basis. The difficulties faced by Hanuman in his search for Sita have never been encountered by anyone on this earth. He did not deserve any of the resulting frustration, for if life were fair, Sita’s location would have been revealed to him right away.
But Hanuman’s perseverance would pay off, as he would finally find Sita. Unlike with rewards not related to God, the fruit of the eyes that was the vision of Sita only led to more benefits afterwards for Hanuman. His devotion to Rama increased with every success, including his finding of Sita. Though the obstacles encountered would not cease after this triumph, the eventual victory of Rama and the rescue of Sita would occur nonetheless. To this day Hanuman’s level of devotion only increases. Lest we think he is poor or lacking in enjoyment, Sita Devi has vowed to meet all of Hanuman’s basic necessities in life for all of time. Therefore he is never in need of anything. As his main business is to regularly chant Rama’s names and think of His glorious activities now documented in the famous Ramayana, whatever resources are required to make that business profitable are kindly provided by the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi.
The mature human being immersed in material life is on a search similar to Hanuman’s except that the temporary triumphs aren’t really victories at all. On the other hand, even the distresses and failures in devotional life end up being beneficial. Therefore when presented with the choice as to whether to continue material pursuits or turn towards God, the correct decision shouldn’t be very difficult to decipher. By regularly chanting the Lord’s names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the search for God can be undertaken in earnest, with steady progress made with each successive day. With the passing of time, the Supreme Lord reveals Himself more and more, making every day better than the previous one.
In material life struggle under duress,
So that eventually you’ll find success.
To have amenities in steady supply,
Is reason why hard in work we try.
Yet no happiness in remaining complacent,
Must find joy of which there is no equivalent.
No utopia, even in bhakti pain,
Fear of failure, that happiness will wane.
Divine vision keeps the proper goal in mind,
So that the ultimate reward spirit soul can find.
In Lanka, Hanuman looked and he looked,
For Sita, vision of Ravana’s queens he took.
Yet failure only made him in mission stronger,
Reaching ashoka grove, search he had to no longer.