Friday, January 27, 2012

Bearing The Burden

Hanuman“I think that a terrible wail will be released upon my return, causing the destruction of the Ikshvaku family and the Vanaras.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.37)

ghoram ārodanam manye gate mayi bhaviṣyati ||
ikṣvāku kula nāśaḥ ca nāśaḥ caiva vana okasām |

Why is Hanuman thinking so negatively? So what if he failed? How could any of this be blamed on him? He hadn’t committed the atrocious sin of stealing another’s wife and hiding her hundreds of miles away. He wasn’t related to the parties in question; he was just a messenger after all. Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, would never think of shooting the messenger, and Hanuman was well acquainted with Rama’s qualities. Therefore he had to know that simply putting forth an effort was good enough, that there needn’t be any worrying over failure in the mission of finding Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka. But Hanuman doesn’t operate this way. Because he thinks through every situation thoroughly, he knows the burden placed upon his shoulders. He carries that responsibility well, for no one in history ever faced that much pressure.

HanumanIf we wanted to compare what Hanuman was feeling like, we could perhaps look to the airline pilot, whose job it is to carry hundreds of passengers safely across the sky to their intended destination. To become a pilot requires extensive training, and you’re usually not flying your missions solo. In addition, there are communications channels available to assist you, as well as computers. Nevertheless, just knowing that so many people’s lives depend on your decisions can be a little too much to handle.

Hanuman, through careful consideration, felt that two entire communities were depending on his success in Lanka, the enemy territory ruled over by the demon king named Ravana. A demon in this sense doesn’t just refer to someone who has a ghoulish figure and tries to kill people. Since the beginning of time the good and the evil have clashed. In Sanskrit the good are generally referred to as suras, or devotees, and the evil as asuras, or demons. Those who believe in the Supreme Lord and the worthiness of worshiping Him are the good guys, and they will always be harassed by the side that wants nothing to do with spiritual life.

In Lanka were found Rakshasas, who are worse than typical asuras. A person may just be given to atheism and not necessarily desirous of squashing anyone’s belief system. Thus they are asuras by definition, but their influence isn’t very strong. The Rakshasas live in total ignorance; they will eat the flesh of any animal, killing human beings if they have to. Ravana’s clan lived off of terrorizing innocent sages residing in the forests. Just imagine attacking a homeless person on a regular basis while they are eating. That gives a slight idea of how horrible the crimes were that the Rakshasas committed. The sages had nothing; they chose an austere lifestyle so they could devote themselves to God. Rather than leave them be, the Rakshasas assume false guises and then attack at just the right times, when sacrifices to propitiate the lord of sacrifice, Yajneshvara, are going on.

Yajna is a Sanskrit word for sacrifice, and it is also a synonym for Vishnu. The entity we have an abstract concept of is more clearly defined in the Vedic tradition. Rather than be referred to as God or the Almighty, the same person is addressed through His different features and pastimes. Since the human being advances in their consciousness by taking up sacrifice, there must be a beneficiary. Typically the suras residing in the heavenly realm take their portion of the offerings poured into the fire. The clarified butter produced by the innocent cow is used as an oblation that goes into the fire sacrifice. Each pour is accompanied by the chanting of specific hymns and mantras. The idea is that the demigods eat the butter every time it comes into the fire. When they eat, they are satisfied and can thus provide the earth the rain it needs.

Lord VishnuGod is the lord of sacrifice, so He is known as Yajneshvara. Vishnu is another name for the Lord because He is all-pervading. There are also spiritual manifestations, or forms, to go along with these features. Vishnu also addresses God’s four-handed form that resides in the spiritual sky of Vaikuntha. Krishna refers to the Lord’s all-attractiveness and His form as the two-armed Shyamasundara, the beautiful youth with a blackish complexion. Rama is also Vishnu, but in the form of a warrior prince. Aside from their homes in the spiritual land, these manifestations make appearances on earth every now and then. In this way anyone can worship any of the Vishnu forms and be directly in touch with God.

The airline pilot, in addition to receiving direct help from others, is not necessarily in hostile territory. The elements of Mother Nature are neutral. To some the rain is annoying and causes discomfort, while to others it nourishes the crops and maintains life. The falling rain plays no favorites; that it is viewed differently by people is due to the specific viewpoints and dispositions. The rain is not purposefully trying to make anyone happy or sad. Hence there really isn’t an inhibiting force actively engaged in trying to stop the person transporting many people from arriving safely at their destination.

Hanuman’s position was quite unique. Sita had been taken by Ravana to Lanka against her will and behind Rama’s back. If you’re willing to kill innocent sages and eat them, you’re obviously not going to have the courtesy to ask a woman if she wants to be with you or even have the courage to fight her powerful husband in battle. Ravana was consumed by his desires for illicit sex, and he was willing to do whatever it took to satisfy them. “Act now and think later. No one is watching anyway, so if you can get away with the crime everything will be alright.”

But Ravana’s punishment would come soon enough. Hanuman would deal the first blow, a mighty one at that. Yet from the neutral observer’s perspective it seemed like victory wasn’t going to happen, that Ravana was going to win. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, after Sita went missing, travelled to the forest of Kishkindha and formed an alliance with a group of enthusiastic monkeys, who were headed by their king Sugriva. Like a good ruler, Sugriva divided up his army into strategic search parties and ordered them to scour the earth to look for Sita. Hanuman was Sugriva’s chief minister who had actually arranged for the initial meeting between Rama and Sugriva. It was an open secret that Hanuman was the most capable and dependable of the monkeys. Therefore it was understood that if Sita were to be found, Hanuman would be the one to find her.

Sure enough, eventually Hanuman would be left standing alone, as none of the other monkeys could make the giant leap across the ocean separating the mainland from Lanka, where it was learned that Sita had been taken. Launching yourself off of a mountain peak, flying through the air, and overcoming the obstacles thrown your way is not an easy sequence of events to complete successfully, yet Hanuman forged ahead. He reached the outskirts of the city. Now it was him against a city full of ghoulish creatures. Hanuman was a one-man army, yet he wasn’t intimidated. He clandestinely entered the city and searched practically every inch of space for Sita. He had never seen her before, but based on her qualities, he could understand that she would stand out amongst all the women there. This was indeed true, as Ravana’s many wives were fond of enjoying with their intoxicated husband into the wee hours of the night. Inside the palaces Hanuman saw a lot that he didn’t want to see, but he had no choice in the matter. To look for a beautiful woman, one has to search among other women. That he was risking sin in seeing the wives of another man in their bedroom did not matter to Hanuman.

HanumanAfter all this difficult work, Hanuman still hadn’t found Sita. This is where the pressure started to get to him a little bit. He started working through the scenarios of what would happen if he returned to Kishkindha without news of Sita’s whereabouts. Knowing full well everyone’s love for Rama, and the Lord’s love for Sita, Hanuman came to the conclusion that his failure would destroy the entire race of monkeys and the clan of Ikshvakus, Rama’s family. Rama loved Sita, so He wouldn’t live long knowing that she wasn’t found. That in turn would cause Lakshmana to quit his body. Then everyone back in Ayodhya, Rama’s hometown, would also follow suit. Seeing Rama gone, Sugriva would then cease to live. This would be followed by his family members ceasing to be, with the rest of the monkeys eventually suffering the same fate.

Can we imagine this kind of pressure, that our failure in a very difficult task would cause so much pain to others? Who would blame Hanuman anyway? Had he not tried his best? What did he do wrong? He wasn’t interested in moral victories or the fame that would accompany his accomplishments. Rather, being locked in devotional meditation, bhakti-yoga, Hanuman wouldn’t live with letting down his beloved Rama. By imagining the worst and adding even more pressure on himself, Hanuman’s resolve increased. He would go on to successfully find Sita and etch his mark in history as one of the greatest heroes.

One can’t help but be attracted by Hanuman’s kindness, concern, and resolve. Staying on the righteous path is very difficult, especially since it seems like no one else is interested in following it. How many people are eager to talk about devotional life, the pastimes of the Supreme Lord, and the meaning to an existence? How many people are willing to chant the glories of the Supreme Lord on a regular basis? If we do find someone like this we should consider it the greatest blessing, for just through an exhibition of sincere faith they keep us aligned with virtue.

The aim of this birth is to make it our last one in a material dress, which is a temporary dwelling where attachments are formed to objects we have no control over. Association with job, family, friends, and children is temporary, almost happenstance meetings that should never lead to attachment. Yet we always think of what will happen should we lose our association with these objects. That loss is guaranteed, however, as separation is concomitant with birth. Therefore the aim of life is to find an attachment that transcends birth and death.

This is where spirituality comes in. Not to be used to find a temporary condition that fosters attachment to something nonpermanent, the ideals of spiritual life are meant to create a purified consciousness that remains steady long after the soul exits the current body. The sound vibrations of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and full immersion in bhakti-yoga practices can help create the right attachment. Hearing about Hanuman, pondering over his thoughts and being floored by his unmatched level of devotion also greatly increase our chances of success in life. Since Hanuman and the wonderful servants of God show the way, their glories continue to increase with each passing day. They are true blessings in this life, and their association should be accepted without hesitation or fear.

HanumanHanuman bore the burden placed on him because he had no other choice. He was in a sort of Catch-22. Since he loved Sita and Rama so much, he couldn’t stop thinking about them no matter what he did. Therefore if he had quit and returned home, his consciousness would have been the same. He would have had to live with his failure for the rest of his life. On the other hand, he could continue searching and fail while fighting to the death. One path would bring him tremendous unhappiness and the other would at least maintain the hope that Rama could be pleased. Faced with these options, the correct choice was rather clear.

Our life breath similarly exists to allow us to follow the path of devotion. Even if there are temporary setbacks, infighting with other devotional communities, attempts to squash devotion by the asuras, and so many other impediments, the determination should never stop. For as long as the vital force remains in the body, the potential for putting a smile on Shri Rama’s face is there. If He is pleased then the whole world feels the benefit.

In Closing:

No one ever faced that kind of pressure

Like Hanuman, who of victory unsure.

Had to find Rama's wife who was missing,

In formidable land, fear instilling.

Hanuman knew that return would cause loud wail,

In Kishkindha upon news that he did fail.

Both Ikshvakus and Vanaras would cease to be,

When a non-triumphant Hanuman they would see.

But above all his love for Rama would prevail,

Hand of God ensures that devotee doesn't fail.