Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Thing Coming

Sita and Rama“Thus worrying over not being able to see Sita, with a mind seized with lamentation the Vanara began to consider: ‘As long as I have not found Rama’s illustrious wife Sita, I will explore the city of Lanka again and again.’”   (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.51-52)

iti cintā samāpannaḥ sītām anadhigamya tām ||
dhyāna śokā parīta ātmā cintayām āsa vānaraḥ |
yāvat sītām na paśyāmi rāma patnīm yaśasvinīm ||
tāvad etām purīm lankām vicinomi punaḥ punaḥ |

If you thought Hanuman was just going to sit down and wallow in self-pity while the enemy continued to get away with their horrific deed, you thought wrong. Today was not the day that fear over failure was going to win over. While self-doubt, the fear of failing miserably, and the feelings of sadness over disappointing others may prevail on other days, Shri Hanuman was not going to be yet another victim. So much had been invested in him; so many hopes and dreams about the future, about the reunion of Sita and Rama, the divine couple whose match seemed like it was made in heaven, rested in the abilities of Shri Hanuman. The Rakshasas of Lanka counted on Rama to never find Sita; they counted on Rama not having the ability to find her. They counted wrong.

HanumanOh sure, Hanuman almost did give up. He was on the brink of failure, trapped on the other side of the ocean of distress without a life-raft to save him. The situation was perhaps worse than being stranded on a deserted island. At least on an island there is the chance of doing some work to find rescue. You can construct a raft, figure out how to live happily, or just sit and wait to be rescued. The sea of mental distress, however, is more agonizing. The fear of failure and knowing that you let countless other people down cause so much pain within the mind that you don’t want to live anymore. This was how Hanuman felt.

Why was he so dejected? Just imagine if everyone else had faith in you, had openly declared so, and had told you that you were their only hope. Imagine then that you took these words to heart and did everything you could to succeed in your mission, to prove that the faith invested in you wasn’t a mistake. Imagine that you beat the odds, overcame obstacles that were impossible for any ordinary person to beat, only to have failure look you square in the face at the very end.

Shri Hanuman is celebrated around the world for his devotion to the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yet this doesn’t mean that everything just falls into place for Hanuman, that he doesn’t have to struggle with the fear of failing or that he doesn’t suffer sadness from time to time. The difference between Hanuman’s sadness and the ordinary variety, however, is that his despondency only strengthens his resolve to remain connected with God through consciousness. As this result is the ultimate goal in life, he is never a failure. Even his sadness is wonderful, glorious to hear about, and worthy of honor.

How can we honor someone for contemplating suicide, which is what happened with Hanuman? Why would we want that example to be heard about, especially many thousands of years after the fact? Hanuman’s glorious deeds in favor of Shri Rama’s primary mission took place many thousands of years ago, during the Treta Yuga, but they are still talked about to this day. Ordinarily, the suicide option is seen as the easy way out, something regrettable. “If only I could have talked them out of it. If only I knew of a way to get through to them.” So unfortunate is the taking of one’s life, for we know that the struggle through material existence involves constant ups and downs. If only the down periods could have been tolerated a little longer.

It is in this respect that Hanuman’s temporary bout with despondency is celebrated. He did tolerate it a little longer. Not only did he wait to see the final outcome, he took assertive action to make a difference. He did this not for his own benefit. In his youth, Hanuman was granted the boon of being able to quit his body at the time of his choosing. This means that if he wanted to die, all he had to do was desire it. As the son of the deity of wind, Hanuman was blessed with all sorts of benedictions by those associated with his father, people who grant boons.

“Shri Rama’s name is greater than Brahman, and it grants boons to even those who are capable of giving boons. Lord Shiva knowingly selected it out of the one hundred crore verses describing Rama’s acts.” (Dohavali, 31)

Lord RamaYet as wonderful as these gifts were, Rama granted Hanuman an even greater boon. It is said that the holy name of the Lord is more powerful than His impersonal aspect known as Brahman. It has also proven to give boons to those who are themselves capable of giving boons to others. Brahman is spirit, truth, the all-pervading spiritual energy. Every living entity is Brahman. Even the material substance is part of Brahman, the mahat-tattva, but generally Brahman is equated with the living entities. Understanding Brahman is very difficult; it takes many lifetimes for one to be fortunate enough to learn what it is, and then following procedures and guidelines aimed at realizing it is even more difficult.

The Brahman realized person knows that every single life form is valuable. The most powerful human being and the insignificant ant are the same constitutionally. They may have different external features, and they may exhibit different qualities and work, but at their core they are the same. Hence Brahman realization follows the real definition of equality, not one that is limited. Nationalism, racism, affiliation with community, gender, or any other group is limited in its scope of vision. Therefore none of these affiliations leads to the peace that they purportedly seek to achieve.

The Vedas give us the definition of Brahman very nicely through so many works. If only the whole world could be given this education, so many issues would be taken care of. In a world where horrible violence is committed against innocent animals, there must be constant strife. After all, if I don’t see a problem with killing a mother who has fed her children nicely, how will I have any moral standing in my affairs? What will then stop me from killing a child in the womb, taking someone else’s property, or lying when I get into trouble? These are the activities endorsed by politicians, and therefore the entire human society is full of unhappiness, though there is seemingly no reason to feel this way.

One person owns many yachts and has more money than they need, while another person is starving, but what’s ironic, though, is that even the people who aren’t starving think they are poor. This is the result of competition in a field of play where the positions of the players remain unknown. An innocent cow is a living entity like the rest of us. She provides milk to her newborn children. Is it civilized, then, to send her to a slaughterhouse after she has given both her young children and the human society milk products to use? Is it not barbaric to use her milk to make cheese and then add enzymes from the intestines of her slaughtered body to the cheese?

Brahman understanding addresses all of this. That’s why in the Vedic tradition, aham brahmasmi is the first instruction taught to new students. “I am Brahman”, is worth knowing because it guides other activities. A person who knows their true position as spirit soul will not harbor envy or resentment towards other creatures. Brahman removes the doubt as to the nature of our existence and the flickering position of material happiness.

Brahman understanding is only part of the larger picture, though. Once we know who we are we have to figure out what to do with ourselves. If we are all equal, doesn’t this mean that we can just do whatever we want? If we’re all spirit souls that are transcendental to material nature, what does it matter what anyone does? It won’t have any effect on the position as spirit soul, so why the need for following a certain set of activities? Superior to Brahman is God, who is known as Parabrahman. God is a personality, a figure with form, attributes and a penchant for activity just like the rest of us. The difference is that His activities and features are vastly superior in quantitative output than ours are. Therefore He is worshipable and we are meant to provide that worship.

Lord RamaFor the sparks of Brahman travelling on the train of reincarnation, there are several non-different aspects of the Lord which can be used to gain exit from the world filled with illusion. The holy name is considered the best rescue vehicle, because it is the same as the Supreme Personality it addresses. The holy name is always superior to Brahman, because association with other liberated souls, Brahman realized persons, doesn’t necessarily bring God’s association. Only life in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, carries with it the potential to see the Personality of Godhead. Bhakti is best facilitated through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

Just below God are numerous elevated living entities, who are also sparks of Brahman, that are in charge of distributing various rewards. These figures are known as devas, or gods, and they can provide things like nourishing rain, material opulence, beauty, and the ability to communicate very well. The holy name, however, is above these wonderful personalities. In the case of Hanuman, the holy name, which rested comfortably within his heart, gave him the perseverance and intelligence to continue in his mission. The love for the holy name superseded all of the boons previously bestowed upon Hanuman, for without it, Hanuman could not have carried on.

Why exactly was he dejected in the first place? When the Personality of Godhead in His form of Lord Rama roamed the earth, He created scenarios for others to engage in loving devotion. Hanuman was the most eager to serve, and since his qualities were suited for fighting and taking on many enemies at a single time, Rama gave him the most difficult task of finding His wife Sita Devi, who had been taken away from behind His back. Hanuman braved his way to the enemy territory of Lanka where Sita was, but after searching the entire city, he could not find her.

Hanuman had settled in his mind that his failure would lead to everyone else’s demise. The sadness resulting from his inability to find Sita would push everyone over the edge. At least this is the conclusion he reached in his mind. Therefore he had two options. He could return home and tell everyone that he couldn’t find Sita. This wasn’t preferred because of the aforementioned effect it would have. The other option was to just quit. Starve yourself to death and never face the burden of being the cause of tremendous pain to others.

Though Hanuman entertained these ideas, he settled against selfishness. Instead, he correctly asserted that as long as he remained alive, he had a chance of pleasing Rama and everyone back home, his other monkey friends who were aligned with Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Hanuman decided that if he wasn’t going to succeed, he would then at least punish Sita’s captor, Ravana. Hanuman was determined to bring back the enemy with him, sort of like how an animal is sacrificed before Lord Shiva, the deity in charge of the mode of ignorance. Material activities fall into one of three modes, each of which has a presiding deity.

HanumanIf this mission were related to his personal business, Hanuman might have quit. But since he was acting in Rama’s favor, he would not give up. Anyone who was rooting for Hanuman to fail would be disappointed in the end. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman laying down the new ground rules for himself. As long as he didn’t find Sita, he would not leave Lanka. He would keep searching and searching, no matter what.

Hanuman would of course succeed, as no one ever fails in pleasing the Supreme Lord when their motives are pure and their determination strong. As long as we remain in this world and have the ability to hear, we can find happiness by being just as determined to remain connected with Hanuman, for he is the gatekeeper of the imperishable kingdom that Shri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana call home. We may fail over and over again in our attempt to find the meaning of life and make the most out of our existence, but if we keep Hanuman in our thoughts, success will come eventually. Even if we repeatedly try to follow devotional service, taking to heart the principles imbibed in us by the Vaishnava acharyas, the true saints of the world, and don’t find happiness, the dedication should not waver. The path of devotional service is not the path of least resistance. Therefore there will be bumps along the road, but when the connection to God through His holy name is there, repeated endeavors will eventually prove fruitful, a fact validated by Shri Hanuman.

In Closing:

What else from Hanuman did you expect?

Could possibly perseverance he reject?

As long as not found Rama’s wife Sita Devi,

Not at all happy would he be.

For her in Lanka he’d search again and again,

Spirits of devoted soul his example to enliven.

Brahman only half the story, know soul’s real place,

Follow devotion, with knowledge ignorance replace.

In sincere bhakti devotee has no chance to fail,

Like Hanuman, whose glory Ramayana hails.