Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Who Else But Hanuman

Hanuman's club“To please Rama I have searched Lanka in so many ways, yet I still do not see the daughter of Videha, Sita, whose every limb is beautiful.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.3)

bhūyiṣṭham loḍitā lankā rāmasya caratā priyam |
na hi paśyāmi vaidehīm sītām sarva anga śobhanām ||

Shri Hanuman, Lord Rama’s most faithful servant, a person who has no idea what it’s like to intentionally make others angry or disappoint them in any way, is here once again thinking matters over after hitting a figurative wall in the enemy territory of Lanka. Because of his divine qualities, his immense physical and mental strength, and his unmatched devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hanuman is worthy of receiving every comfort in life, of being pampered, spoiled and fully taken care of. Yet the Supreme Lord knows better. Having keen insight into the properties of the soul, the Supreme Soul, the Paramatma, understands that the determining factor in happiness is consciousness, which requires a steady stream of blissful thoughts to remain focused on. Thus the greatest gift anyone can receive is the ability to have their consciousness fixed on God’s interests. Sometimes this mental focus is strengthened through troublesome situations, as it was for Hanuman.

HanumanThink about those people you love the most. Perhaps this group includes your spouse, children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends and even your pets. Now think of how you go about showering your love on them. Most probably the methods employed involve providing comfort. For dealing with the spouse, the mindset may be something like: “I will cook a nice dinner for them so that when they come home they can eat nicely. I will arrange a comfortable sitting place, where they can relax and not have anything to worry about.” Indeed, this is the treatment shown to guests by good hosts.

In the Vedic tradition, the treatment of guests is actually covered as part of both social etiquette and religious life. The householders, married couples in the grihastha ashrama, or second stage of spiritual life, are meant to act as providers for the rest of society. The householders work for a living, so they have fruits of labor that can be shared. Since the aim of human life is to become purely God conscious by the time death rolls around, every practice of spiritual life is meant to further that purpose. The householders, who are more prone than anyone else to becoming attached to the objects of the senses, require constant dedication to sacrifice to stay fixed on the righteous path.

In the Mahabharata and other Vedic texts, the importance of properly receiving guests is stressed. The etiquette is that before any food is taken in the home, one should see if any guests are available to feed. Among the guests, the children and the elderly are to be fed first. After this, whatever food is left over can be taken by the home’s occupants. This isn’t that novel a concept, as people who host parties understand the importance of sumptuously feeding their guests. The etiquette codified in the Vedas reveals that the householders, through following this system of sacrifice, earn tremendous spiritual merits.

The foundation of the hospitality and resulting benefits is the initial offering made to the Lord. There isn’t much difference in the spiritual traditions of India and those followed around the world. The only real distinction is the level of detail presented and the amount of dedication recommended. As an example, the church environment is very helpful. You get dressed up, gather your family together, enter a house of worship and think about God for an hour or so. You maybe even sing a few songs of glorification while you are there. As God doesn’t live exclusively in the church, a more effective practice is to take the church environment and replicate it in as many other places as possible, especially in the home. As eating is a strong way to remain focused on the body, which is a perishable covering not related to the soul, an important practice recommended by the Vedas is yajna.

Yajna means sacrifice, and in order for there to be sacrifice, there must be the actor and the object. For religious rituals, the identification of the two should be fairly obvious. The person who is acquiring wealth, who has things to sacrifice, naturally will perform the ritual. The Supreme Lord, the person from whom all things emanate, is the enjoyer, or object, of that sacrifice. To this end, devoted followers of the personal form of the Supreme Lord, Vaishnavas, offer up their prepared food items to God in sacrifice prior to eating. This purifies the consciousness of the fruitive worker and sanctifies the food items.

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.13)

Krishna eating butterIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord in His two-handed, original form, states that devotees eat remnants of sacrifice and are thus absolved of sin. Sin brings the continuation of a consciousness not focused on God. With sin there must be a negative reaction, which in this case is the increased likelihood of continuing the cycle of birth and death. Any activity that decreases the chances of the samsara-chakra spinning is thereby not sinful. Once the food has been offered in sacrifice to Krishna, the remnants are known as prasadam. If this prasadam gets widely distributed to guests by householders, the benefits received are increased even more.

Providing sanctified food to loved ones falls in line with the general idea of offering love through providing comforts. Adults provide for their parents by buying them expensive gifts and taking them to nice places. The children don’t really know any other way to offer service to the mature parents. There is a humorous episode in the famous television sitcom Seinfeld where a son purchases a Cadillac automobile for his father as a gift. Instead of pleasing the father, the gift turns out to be a cause of great distress. The father worries over how the son could afford such an expensive car to be given away as a gift, and at the same time he feels insulted that his son would think he’d need to be taken care of in such a way.

The Supreme Lord understands the nature of the soul perfectly, so His offering of love is a little different. In fact, in many cases, the treatment is the polar opposite of what we’d think it should be. Instead of providing creature comforts and the removal of distress, the Supreme Lord sometimes puts His servants into the most difficult situations. This facilitates Krishna consciousness, or constant thoughts fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and those closely tied to Him. This is precisely what occurred with Shri Hanuman, who is famous around the world as a powerful warrior and dedicated servant of the Lord. Yet as powerful as he is, when he was carrying out one of the most famous missions in history, he found much trouble and frustration.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is thinking matters over after once again searching exhaustively. The original Personality of Godhead had descended to earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama during the Treta Yuga. Rather than just kill the evil elements Himself and ensure everyone’s material satisfaction, Lord Rama arranged things so that the help of others was needed. Imagine if we just gave our children everything and never made them do any work. What would happen? They would obviously become restless, spoiled and generally unhappy. Children are bursting with potential for activity. They will take up many tasks just because they love feeling important, to do what the adults are doing. You could tell a child to sleep on the bare ground after working hard all day and they wouldn’t have a problem. But adults, after having lived through so many years and possessing a better ability to exercise freedom, would have trouble following the same austerities.

In spiritual life, it is much better to have the innocence of children than to follow the mindset of an adult having full discrimination. With discrimination there is an increased likelihood of choosing against devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. As understanding God in full consciousness is the aim of human life, the yoga of transcendental love is the steady engagement that can make that dream a reality. Without a guiding plan, a source of transcendental activities, the chances of succeeding in life are greatly diminished.

Sita Devi holding lotus flowerFor the sincere soul looking for any chance they can find to please the Lord, their wishes are fulfilled by the Personality of Godhead Himself. Shri Rama created many opportunities for service during His time on earth. One important task called for the finding of His missing wife, Sita Devi. As this task was supremely difficult, it required the most capable servant. Physical and mental strength, academic degrees, and recommendations from others are not the determining factors for candidacy in devotional service. Rather, capability is linearly related to eagerness to serve. In service to Rama, no one is more eager than Hanuman.

As soon as eagerness is there, the rest of the pieces fall into place. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna reveals that He is the ability in man. This means that anytime we see someone exhibit tremendous skill, dexterity or fortitude, it is to be understood that their talent is on loan from God. We marvel at the ability of athletes to exhibit excellence in their sport, but the real source of their strength is God, who resides within all of us as the Supersoul. Since Hanuman was assigned a difficult mission, Shri Rama ensured that he had all the necessary tools, both physical and mental, to get the job done.

The physical would be exercised first. Hanuman would leap across a massive ocean separating the mainland from the island of Lanka, where it was learned that Sita had been taken by a Rakshasa king named Ravana. Then Hanuman had to search through the different palaces of Lanka without being noticed. Several times frustration arose within Hanuman. He searched seemingly every inch of space in the wonderful city, yet the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi, he did not find.

HanumanIn the scene of the above referenced verse, Hanuman has just searched Ravana’s apartment again. He leaped up and down, became incredibly small in stature, and searched everywhere possible. Hanuman did not deserve defeat; his eagerness to serve and his pure love for Rama should have provided him Sita’s location right away. Why was God torturing Him? In addition, the thought referenced above was just the first of many doubts that arose in Hanuman’s mind. Previously he was a little worried that he might not find Sita, but as more time went by and the number of places searched increased, the worries gathered strength.

Every one of Sita’s limbs is endowed with loveliness. This shouldn’t surprise us, as to be Rama’s eternal consort one must be as worthy of divine association as Hanuman is. Sita is forever Rama’s wife, as her thoughts never deviate from Rama’s lotus feet. She too was in a distressing situation, forced to be separated from her husband, not knowing if she would ever see Him again. Hanuman knew just how beautiful she was, even though he had never seen her. His anxiousness related not only to pleasing Rama, but also to seeing such a splendid person. The saintly class are always humbled by others following bhakti-yoga. In fact, nothing can be more beneficial for a person striving for success in transcendental life than seeing someone else innocently engaged in lovingly serving the Supreme Lord. If we see someone successful materially, the initial emotion may be jealousy. Seeing bad things happen to the successful brings some comfort to the mind. “Good. Now they know what it feels like to fail.”

But in devotional life, seeing someone engaged in loving God is tremendously humbling. “Oh, they are so much better than me. I am so proud of my accomplishments, but this person serves the Lord so much better than I do. I will honor them with my thoughts and words.” Hanuman was eager to meet Sita, so why should he have had to face the mental turmoil that he did? For starters, Hanuman’s review of the situation, his dedication to Rama, and his mental anguish only further enhance his stature as Rama’s most wonderful devotee. His troubles also further endear him to readers interested in the Ramayana and the story of Lord Rama’s life. By first approaching Hanuman, appreciating his dedication, and rooting for his success, the sincere soul can have the Vanara’s full blessings in trying to understand and love God.

Hanuman's heartWould Hanuman succeed? Should there be any doubt as to the outcome? The mental struggles he faced only made the final reward of success that much sweeter. He is not worshiped and adored by millions around the world today for no reason. Shri Rama didn’t just tell us to worship Hanuman and expect us to follow His order without question. As mature adults, we have discrimination, so we require a little more convincing when it comes to accepting a spiritual path. Hanuman’s level of dedication and his undying love for Shri Rama and His wife Sita Devi are all we need to understand his divine nature. In fact, Hanuman’s exhibition of love and sadness felt over potentially failing only further validate Shri Rama’s standing as the Supreme Lord. Who else but God could have someone like Hanuman working for Him? Who else but Hanuman could serve Rama perfectly? Indeed, who else should we think about during times of trouble? May Hanuman forever remain in our hearts.

In Closing:

Who else but Hanuman for an example,

Of devotion to God, in Ramayana get a sample.

Who else but Hanuman to serve as our guide,

In him your sincere desire to love God confide.

Who else but Hanuman for Sita to look,

On shoulders burden of success he took.

Who else but Hanuman to conquer fear,

Of failure in this life, to Rama he is most dear.

Who else but Hanuman to be given the chance,

To find Sita, Shri Rama’s glory to enhance.