Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pattern Recognition

Hanuman“One looks for a being amongst those of its own kind. One does not look for a lost woman amongst female deer.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 11.43)

yasya sattvasya yā yoniḥ tasyām tat parimārgyate ||
na śakyam pramadā naṣṭā mṛgīṣu parimārgitum |

Shri Hanuman here unknowingly provides further evidence of his kindness, compassion and dedication to virtue. Though he never needs to justify his behavior to anyone, he nevertheless feels remorse for having gazed upon the beautiful wives of another man while they were sleeping and in an intimate setting. Normally, such behavior would constitute sin, as the act would have a negative impact on the mind. The results of a sinful activity must bear fruit; otherwise there is no purpose to categorizing behavior as sinful or pious. But since Hanuman’s mind is never diverted from his self-assigned mission of pleasing the Supreme Lord, there is no chance of any sinful reaction coming upon him. Nevertheless, to let future generations know exactly why he was able to transcend the punishing influences of prohibited activities, Hanuman reveals some of his thoughts, his reasons for searching through the inner apartments of the Rakshasa king Ravana. Though in his thoughts he is referencing the search for Sita Devi, the princess of Videha and wife of Lord Rama, the instruction he provides also applies to other kinds of searches, such as looking for a spiritual master, a person to dispel the illusion and doubt that eventually arise for the bewildered soul trapped in a cycle of enjoyment and renunciation, happiness and sadness, and birth and death.

HanumanHow was Hanuman able to travel through the enemy territory of Lanka unscathed, both physically and mentally? Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead who had descended to earth in the guise of a warrior prince, was living peacefully in the forest of Dandaka. This famous forest, which is located in the section of land today known as India, was quiet, peaceful and conducive to the performance of sacrifices and rituals. A long time back, one of the first kings to appear on earth, Maharaja Ikshvaku, had a son named Danda, which is a Sanskrit word that means “rod” or “punishment”. A king is required to administer justice to those who violate the laws of the state. Therefore they periodically must use “danda” as a means of ensuring law and order in society.

Danda was given charge of a territory of land, which after a sequence of events instigated by a transgression on his part was entirely burned up. After the area was vacated, it became a hotspot for ascetics looking for peace and quiet from the city life. Since it was previously ruled over by the king Danda, the area became known as Dandaka. While on earth, Shri Rama was living in Dandaka for a brief period of time with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana. Who would ever think of bothering such nice people not doing harm to anyone?

In another part of the world, the Rakshasa king Ravana was consumed by passion, as his life revolved around meat-eating, intoxication and illicit sex. Hearing of a beautiful princess residing in the Dandaka forest, Ravana had to have her. Though he couldn’t defeat Rama in a one-on-one battle, Ravana was not deterred. He hatched up a scheme whereby Rama and Lakshmana were temporarily lured away from their cottage, allowing Sita to be taken without a fight. To find Sita afterwards, Rama enlisted the help of a band of forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. Their most capable and devoted warrior was Shri Hanuman, who eventually made his way into Ravana’s home in Lanka.

There were some issues for Hanuman, though. It was not as if he was given a map with the treasure distinctly marked. Rather, all he had to go by was that Sita was Rama’s wife. From this information, from her link to the Supreme Lord, Hanuman could understand that she was the most beautiful princess in the world. Her family lineage was also brilliant. Though she had no biological father or mother, Sita was raised by the famous King Janaka of Mithila. His city of Janakpur is so respected and revered that it’s considered a tilaka, or sacred mark, on the earth. For the Vaishnava, a devotee of God in His personal form, the tilaka mark on the head serves as a reminder that they are a servant of the Supreme Lord. The tilaka is a paste that is typically made out of some type of sacred powder, sandalwood pulp from an important area relating to Vishnu. For Janaka’s kingdom to be described as a tilaka shows just how sacred the land ruled over by the famous king was.

Sita DeviHanuman knew that Sita had to be the most beautiful woman in the world; otherwise how could she be worthy of having Rama as a husband? Shri Rama and Sita Devi live forever in each other’s company in the spiritual world, so why should they not be married while journeying through the manifested world? Hanuman also knew that she would not be in a very good situation in Lanka. Anyone who devotes their life and soul to God’s interests feels the separation from Him at every moment. What then to speak of someone as kind and sweet as Sita, who had spent many years directly serving the Lord as His wife?

To find Sita inside of a city filled with opulence and beautiful women, Hanuman had to search everywhere. This included the inner apartments of the ruler of the land, Ravana. What Hanuman saw in the royal palace cannot really be compared to anything seen today. Perhaps the night clubs and bars are similar, but the level of beauty of Ravana’s wives and the opulence found within the rooms are not seen today. These women were exquisite in every way; they looked like they had descended from the heavenly realm.

After seeing these women, Hanuman felt bad. If a woman is married, her beauty and attractive glances are meant solely for her husband’s enjoyment. If another man looks at such women, their lusty desires will increase. This is what happened with Ravana, who didn’t even have to see Sita to have his desires fired up. But what could Hanuman do? Finding Sita was more important for him than abiding by rules and dictates of religion. He noticed that his mind had not deviated from the task at hand even after seeing such beautiful women. Therefore there was not any sin involved, as his consciousness remained completely pure.

HanumanIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see a nice comparison made by Hanuman that gives further evidence that his behavior in Lanka was indeed pious. If we are looking for a particular type of living entity, we look for them amongst members of the same species. No one looks for a woman amidst a pack of female deer. Therefore, for Hanuman to find Sita, he had to look at other women as well. With every object he was gazing upon in Lanka, Hanuman had to make the quickest mental assessment to see whether or not the object in question was Sita. His eyes were the equivalent of a scanning system that had to do pattern recognition in an instant. There are many scanning machines today that can be fed documents with text in them, with the machine deciphering the actual characters on the page. For this optical character recognition to work, the machine must look for different words and letters and then compare them to the known alphabet. The scanning system is not interested in those things which are not words, such as images, drawings and color markings. For Hanuman to find Sita, he had to look at women and then make the comparison. What would the use be in searching in other areas where the objects in question were already known to not be women?

To take a further lesson from the incident, when looking for spiritual enlightenment, the proper areas must be searched. If I am having trouble dealing with death, the temporary nature of happiness and enjoyment, and the repetition of the days and weeks, will I find what I’m looking for in a bottle of whiskey? Will the night club have the answers to life’s questions? What about the sporting venue or the gambling table? Does one go looking for spiritualists, transcendentalists and teachers of supreme knowledge in such areas?

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)

To find the eternal truths of life, one must approach someone who is practicing the principles of real religion. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the same Shri Rama appearing on earth many thousands of years later, advises His cousin and friend Arjuna to approach a spiritual master, or guru, and learn the truth from him. What’s ironic is that this instruction was part of a series of instructions given to Arjuna by Krishna. The Lord was in essence acting as Arjuna’s spiritual master. Despite His personal presence, approaching a bona fide guru in some way or another is so important that Krishna made sure to mention it to Arjuna.

Krishna and ArjunaBut how do we know where to find a spiritual master? How do we decipher who is legitimate and who is a pretender? Just as Sita had to be found by searching amongst women, the guru must be located amongst those practicing religion. The mind is incapable of deciphering the highest truths of life on its own. This should make sense after all, for the mind cannot get its arms around the concepts of time and space. Just sit down for a minute and try to comprehend the infinite nature of time, how it has no beginning and no end. Religion in the Vedic definition is known as sanatana-dharma, or the occupational duty of man which has no beginning and no end. Again, try to think about the bounds of space. At what point do you reach the end of space? Our rooms may be marked off by the position of the walls, but we know that these have no bearing on space itself. The total space of the universe is incomprehensible.

Though Hanuman never openly seeks the role of someone’s teacher on high subject matters, he is as bona fide an authority figure on spirituality as you can get. Just as one of the signs Hanuman would use to recognize Sita was her devotion to Rama, the surefire way to know whether a spiritualist is a bona fide guru is to see if their behavior follows Hanuman’s? Do they spend all of their time thinking about how to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead? Do they always sing His glories and chant His names, such as those found in the famous maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”? Are they concerned about whether or not they are behaving piously, even though they are actually above having to abide by the rules and dictates of religion? Are they dejected when they feel they have failed the Supreme Lord and do they feel elated when they think they have made Him happy? Have they surrendered body, mind and speech to God and His interests?

HanumanThese symptoms are all present in Hanuman, and they are found in other devotees to some degree or another as well. Though the world may seem to be filled with many Ravanas today, by using the knowledge we have of Hanuman and other celebrated personalities very dear to Shri Rama, we can search amongst spiritualists and run our internal pattern recognition program. Though it may take a while, the link to the spiritual world, the boatman who can carry us across the ocean of nescience to the spiritual land, will eventually be found. Sita would be located by Hanuman, and he would be forever glorified for his perseverance and dedication in serving the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. Those who follow Hanuman’s example and dedicate their lives to serving the servant of the servant of the servant of God, up to even ten times removed in terms of servants, can teach others the valuable information they are looking for.

In Closing:

For particular entity trying to find,

Will look amongst species of the same kind.

Looking for woman amongst does,

Foolishness of seeker it shows.

These things to Hanuman were known,

But felt bad after Ravana's wives shown.

Yet lesson from his thoughts can be taken away,

On how to find guru we're shown the way.

Look for devotee amongst other practitioners,

Where can be found of the holy name chanters.

To find teacher who relishes bhakti's taste,

To look in bars and night clubs a waste.

Hanuman shows the behavior that we need to see,

Those following his mood bona fide will be.