“There are many faults associated with ending my life, and if I remain alive I can find all-auspiciousness. Therefore, I will keep my life-breath, for by living success is assured.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.47)
vināśe bahavo doṣā jīvan prāpnoti bhadrakam ||
tasmāt prāṇān dhariṣyāmi dhruvo jīvati samgamaḥ |
Here the valiant warrior, Shri Hanuman, lays down a vital piece of information that is applicable to every single human being, irrespective of the time period of their existence and their mental state of mind. Who hasn’t been so dejected that they thought of ending their life, fleeing from the relentless pressures applied by material existence? The family, friends, work, school, and so many other forces constantly ask us to perform at peak levels, to maintain our obligations, to deliver when times are tough. With death, there is no such pressure, nor does one have to witness the unpleasant aftermath that follows failure.
What was Hanuman so down about? The completion of a seemingly impossible task rested in his hands. A beautiful princess had gone missing several months back and it was up to a band of warriors to find her. The person who took her obviously didn’t want to be found, and he didn’t really leave any clues as to his location. Through scouring the globe, one of the search parties eventually came upon some valuable intelligence. Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka, was being held on the island of Lanka, the home of the powerful king Ravana.
One slight problem though. The members who came upon this information could not reach Lanka, as the island was so far away from the mainland. They could try to construct a boat, but that would take a long time, and time was of the essence. Hanuman, the most powerful of the members in the party, was the only one capable of leaping across the ocean. He took his perch on top of a mountain and then thrust himself into the air. Coursing through the skies, he looked so beautiful. The source of his beauty was not only his outward appearance but also the mission he was undertaking. The dastardly Ravana had a ghoulish figure which matched the nature of his activities. He had flown in an aerial car with Sita to Lanka, but now Hanuman was launching himself through the very same skies.
Hanuman was exhilarated upon reaching Lanka. He then found a way to infiltrate the city without being noticed. Yet after searching for so long, he still couldn’t find Sita. This is where dejection set in. The pressures applied to him were mounting more now that he was so close to victory. It is one thing to lose at the outset, knowing that you didn’t have a chance. It is more heartbreaking to fail just when you think you have overcome all the obstacles placed in front of you.
To make matters worse, Hanuman mentally reviewed what might happen should he return to his group a failure. The warriors in his group were forest-dwellers, or Vanaras. They lived in the Kishkindha forest, where ruled the king of Vanaras, Sugriva. Waiting with Sugriva were Rama and Lakshmana, two famous princes of the Ikshvaku dynasty. Sita was Rama’s wife, so Hanuman was essentially acting on Rama’s behalf. Just imagine a group of individuals staying at home and waiting to hear news on the mission. It is similar to being in the waiting room of a hospital to hear how a difficult surgical operation has gone for an ailing friend or family member.
Hanuman did not want to return to Kishkindha with bad news. He had settled in his mind that everyone would die if he told them that he had failed. Rama would quit His body, then Lakshmana, then the whole royal family living in Ayodhya. With Rama gone, Sugriva would soon follow, and then all the monkeys and their wives after that. In this way Hanuman ruled out returning home.
The next option was suicide. Not the kind where one jumps off of a ledge or overdoses on drugs, but rather the voluntary quitting of the body through yoga. The soul is the identifiable aspect within a particular life form, and since it is separate from the body, whenever the soul exits, the living being goes from being alive to being dead. The soul continues its existence, and where it ends up next is determined by the consciousness at the precise moment that the previous life ended.
In ancient times men could choose when they were going to die by sitting in meditation and liberating the self from the body. This was the method considered by Hanuman, for he had mastery over every siddhi of yoga. A siddhi is a perfection, so when practicing yoga properly, the fruit is an ability to do something amazing. A real yogi can become lighter than air, become large or small in stature, or quit his body whenever he chooses. These events took place in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, so it was not out of the ordinary for people to practice yoga properly.
Hanuman figured he’d either sit in trance and end his life or just dive into the ocean. Living off nothing but the fruits falling off trees, he wouldn’t enjoy his remaining time on earth. He didn’t want to take the option of quitting to enjoy life instead, for how could he be happy knowing that others were waiting to hear from him? Ah, but this would be the key factor that would eventually keep him going. Not that he was worried about his own stature or what would bring him fame. No, Hanuman was always concerned with the welfare of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and all of his other beloved friends and well-wishers.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman makes a wonderful observation that everyone can take to heart. By ending his life prematurely, there would be so many bad things that would result. For starters, he would have abandoned the mission. A soldier must fight until the very end, not being concerned with victory or defeat. This level of detachment should be the goal for every person who is engaged in fruitive activity or just carrying out their occupational duties. If we get too elated over victory, we will have a difficult time dealing with trouble. If we become too dejected over defeat, how will we ever succeed? The house takes a long time to build, as each component must be layered upon one another, with eventually a full housing structure resulting. If there is dejection over a small setback, a day where things don’t go your way, how could the final piece ever be built?
In addition to the black mark of having abandoned the mission, Hanuman would have to face the fact that others would lose their hope of finding Sita and thus happiness in life. He would quit and give up his body, but what would happen to everyone else? They would just sit there and hope for no reason? They would wonder, “What has happened to Hanuman? Did he find Sita? Did he fail in his mission? How can Hanuman fail? No one is more powerful than him. What could be taking him so long?”
This very scenario went through Hanuman’s mind, thus leading him to the conclusion that the quitting option was fraught with peril. On the other hand, staying alive at least gave him a shot at success. He wasn’t guaranteed of victory by remaining alive, but ending his life ensured that there would be no chance. It is similar to how athletes playing in an important tournament will say that they can’t win the tournament in the first week, but they can lose it. This means that if they don’t take the early opponents seriously, they will have no chance for the prize at the end. As long as they can stay in the tournament, they have a chance to win.
While these points may seem obvious to the sober observer, to the person in the heat of battle fighting the mission the rules and principles to live by don’t always remain at the forefront of consciousness. With remaining alive and trying, Hanuman had a chance to find Sita and return the information of her location to the party back home in Kishkindha. This is exactly what he would do. His courage and bravery know no limits; he is the dearmost friend of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuman’s feats are so legendary that they are still talked about to this day, and he is celebrated and honored by so many around the world.
If his mission were ordinary, Hanuman would still be worthy of praise based on his heroic feats. But since he was working to please the Supreme Lord, Shri Rama, and His pleasure potency, Sita Devi, Hanuman’s heroic acts were part of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. As mentioned before, yoga has to do with detaching the soul from the body and keeping it fixed in trance. But this doesn’t mean that one has to sit quietly and meditate all the time. There is another soul residing within the body known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. This entity is non-different from God; it is His kind expansion accompanying the individual soul, or atma, wherever it goes. The first step in yoga is detaching from the senses, and the culmination is linking the individual soul to the Supersoul.
The best way to create this link is through a bond of love, which is bhakti-yoga’s aim. In this sense, quiet meditation, chanting sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, reading Vedic texts, attending temple gatherings, and other devotional activities can constitute yoga. Even fighting and frantically searching through an enemy territory can be considered yoga. God is a singular entity, but to please those who follow bhakti He kindly appears on earth every now and then in different forms. As Lord Rama, God created scenarios where others could take up service to Him, for this would bring them tremendous happiness.
As we saw with Hanuman, service to God can actually increase the pressure for finding success. Hanuman’s mission is the same one given to all living entities, though they may not necessarily have to follow the same course of action. Conditioned life, which is marked by the soul accepting a temporary body that it has nothing to do with, continues for only as long as permanent yoga is not established. Does this mean that Hanuman had periods in his life where he wasn’t attached to God in a mood of pure love? For the eternally liberated souls, there is never a chance for falling out of the mood of bhakti. But this doesn’t mean that they stay safely tucked away somewhere, hidden from society. The divine descents mark the beginning act of a wonderful drama to be played out in a carefully choreographed sequence of events. The Lord fills the roles with the most capable actors, people who are fully immersed in God consciousness.
Hanuman’s role in the Ramayana gives a real-life example of how to overcome obstacles and find success in life. Attaining perfect yoga in one lifetime is very difficult. Lord Krishna, the same Shri Rama but in a different visible form, states in the Bhagavad-gita that it takes many lifetimes for a person to even endeavor for self-realization, and then to find success from there is equally as rare. Yet the unsuccessful yogi does not waste any effort. If he has not succeeded in purifying his consciousness by the time of death, he gets to resume his chase in the next life from the same point where he left off. This benefit is exclusive to bhakti. If we fail to complete a building we were working on, we don’t get to start over in the next life. Everything is erased at the time of death except for consciousness, the soul’s innermost desires.
Quitting life prematurely is not the answer because it removes the potential for success. There is no way to predict what type of body the soul will receive next, especially if a person is driven by lamentations over material failures. On the other hand, as long as the vital force is within the body, there is a chance to please the Supreme Lord. This can be the rallying cry that gets us out of bed each morning. “Let me get up so that I can at least try to please God today. This is not possible, as I am the most fallen person, but since I’m alive I might as well make the attempt. Let me chant the glorious names of my beloved Lord, sound vibrations which are equal to Him. No other person is as kind to give everyone the chance to love Him without fail. There is no way to smother God with too much love. He will accept whatever I offer Him, so why should I not take full advantage of that? We human beings are brimming with potential for the outpouring of so much affection that no one will believe that any person could love that much. In our material service we are checked by the beneficiary’s ability to accept our love and also by the effect that behavior will have on the relationship. With Shri Rama, however, the more love we offer, the more endeared to Him we become, like the mother cow that produces heaps of milk when she sees her dear children crying for attention. Therefore let me arise today and give my love to God in a mood of bhakti.”
By thinking in this way, the devotees give themselves a chance at remaining vibrant, day after day. Surely there will be bumps along the road, but that comes with the territory, as there are many Ravanas in the world trying to bring unhappiness to the innocent. They don’t want to worship the Supreme Lord; they would rather everyone worship them. But while there are many evil creatures, there are also people who follow in Hanuman’s line, taking devotional service to be life’s mission. To them Hanuman is a teacher, an honorable personality, and a beloved figure who should be remembered every day. He is loved by Rama so much because of the great concern he takes into every action and his desire to remain alive to please God and His family. By harboring the same love for Hanuman, Shri Rama and His beautiful wife Sita Devi will bestow all fortune upon us, ensuring that success in bhakti will come.
A grave mistake I will commit,
If prematurely my body I quit.
My chances for success to ground to fall,
So the path of quitting riddled with faults.
If you remain alive there is still the chance,
To please God, stature of bhakti to enhance.
Thus Hanuman chose to continue to be,
Guaranteed that Sita he would finally see.
His example is the one for all to follow,
Practice bhakti, in misery don’t wallow.