Sunday, February 12, 2012

From Suicide to Redemption

Hanuman“Or I will kill the ten-headed Ravana of great strength. Whatever has happened to Sita, at least her abduction will be avenged.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.49)

rāvaṇam vā vadhiṣyāmi daśagrīvam mahā balam ||
kāmam astu hṛtā sītā pratyācīrṇam bhaviṣyati |

The supporters of Hanuman will rejoice at the mere mention of this verse. Screams of joy, adulation, victory, triumph, hope, and good feelings abound when those who love Hanuman hear the words of this verse, which is found in the sacred Ramayana, the wonderful poem describing the pleasant and heroic acts of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama. Yet, ironically enough, this verse touches on the victory over mental demons of a seemingly ordinary monkey, a being not belonging to an advanced species. Hanuman is no ordinary figure, though, as his victory over the debilitating forces of evil concentrated on the island of Lanka are well documented in the Ramayana, with special attention given in its Sundara-kanda, or book of beauty. The Ramayana is about Rama, and since Hanuman is always tied to the Lord in consciousness, hearing about him is as good as having the Lord’s company.

HanumanWho hasn’t suffered from the effects of mental demons every now and then? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, account for every type of misery encountered in this world by grouping them into three categories. Adhyatmika miseries are those which arise from the body and mind. These pains would seemingly be the easiest to fix. For example, if we’re plagued by bad thoughts, just turn the situation around and think of good things. If we’re feeling sick, take some medicine. If we’re not getting enough sleep, just sleep more.

Obviously the practical application of the solutions isn’t so easy. The mental demons are especially the toughest to get over, for as soon as negative thoughts creep in, a sea of sorrow starts to rise and fill up the mind until a large ocean has been created. The despondent individual, the owner of the mind, is stuck on one side of the ocean and the length and breadth of the water seem too vast to overcome. Finding your way into this helpless situation is not very difficult. You just need a few setbacks, grouped together, one after another. Then you need to start fearing what will happen if you never succeed, if you never find your way out.

Think this way long enough and pretty soon you’ll find yourself in a situation where you want out. “O poor twisted me. I’m drowning in my sorrows and I have nothing to rescue me. Life has treated me poorly, as it seems that wherever I go, a black rain cloud constantly drenches me. No one else is wet; just me. In fact, because of my failures, so many other people are going to suffer. Therefore it is better if I just end it all, escape from the tumultuous life that I never figured out how to survive in anyway.”

In this way the mind can go from a peaceful existence to the brink of suicide in a few short steps. The material existence is very conducive to this type of defeatist attitude. After all, the land is created with this defeat in mind. The jivas, the individual spirit souls basking in the company of the Supreme Person in His imperishable realm, have no need to leave their engagement, devotional service. Only when there is a desire to compete with God, to surpass His abilities in creation, maintenance and destruction, can there result a negative condition.

The threefold miseries of life only exist in a temporary world devoid of God’s personal association. What is the difference between personal and impersonal? The proprietor starts a business and sets the wheels in motion for its operation, but this doesn’t mean that he’s always at the jobsite. There is generally a stark difference in behavior between the days the boss is in the office and the days he isn’t. When the company owner shows up to work, everyone has to be on their best behavior, as they have to show him that they are working hard. Yet as soon as the boss leaves, it’s party time, provided that another strong hand of authority is not there to watch over everyone. If someone like this is present, their influence likely isn’t as great as the boss’s.

Despite the differences in behavior, the presence of the owner is still perpetually there, as his proxies and energies keep the business running. Similarly, even if we deny the existence of God or just forget about Him because of being distracted with other work, it doesn’t mean that the Lord’s influence is not present. It is said that not a blade of grass can move without God’s hand. He created the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether and the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and false ego. He controls the heat and the rain, and He is responsible for the creation and destruction of the universe in repeating cycles. All of this information is there in the Vedas, and it shouldn’t be surprising to hear. In practically every spiritual tradition the same information is presented, except maybe not with as much detail.

“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)

Lord Krishna's lotus feetThe material world introduced miseries because the boss, the Supreme Lord, is not personally present. He has expansions and different manifestations that reside within every atom, but this influence doesn’t necessarily direct anyone towards anything. For example, in the living entity there reside two souls. One soul is the essence of identity and the other represents the Supreme Lord. Though God’s expansion, the Paramatma, is responsible for all the visible results we see, it is the individual atma, the soul, that takes responsibility for driving the ship, deciding where to go and what to do. The Supersoul has no say in this, as He is an impartial witness, simply watching everything going on and waiting until the day when the individual soul will turn its mind towards spiritual life.

In the imperishable land, there is no distinction between personal and impersonal. God’s features, pastimes, names and other things directly relating to Him are not hidden. Nor is anyone there aloof to His presence. Rather, everyone engages in working for His pleasure. Even if He is not directly in front of them, they think of Him nonetheless. With the Supreme Lord thinking about Him is as good as being with Him. In this way even if one is trapped in a material realm and suffering from the threefold miseries of life, they can turn their area into a replica of the spiritual world by acting in the Lord’s interest.

How do we do this exactly? Moreover, how do the effects manifest? We can take the wonderful Shri Hanuman as an example to learn from, though his behavior should not be directly imitated. The great ones make it look easy, but if anyone were to try to repeat their feats of strength and bravery, they would come up short. Hanuman was purposefully put into the situations he found himself in by the hand of God, because the Lord knew that Hanuman was up to the challenge.

Lord RamaThough God, who is known as Krishna in His original form, does not have a personal presence in the material land, He can choose to make appearances in it whenever He wants. Depending on the time and circumstance, He will take on different spiritual manifestations. In the Treta Yuga, Krishna appeared as the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. One way to tell if someone is God is by noticing their exquisite beauty. Rama was a warrior prince, and for an important period of time in His life He roamed the forests without any royal garb. In fact, the stipulation was that He had to roam around like a beggar, though He was allowed to take His weapons with Him, His bow and arrow set.

Yet even when roaming the forests, Rama looked more beautiful than anyone else. Accompanied by His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, Rama’s beauty increased all the more. When the different villagers would see Rama and Lakshmana walking by, they would remark that the creator must have first made them and then used whatever he had left over to populate the rest of the world. Those with a pure vision could become immediately liberated from the pangs of material existence by seeing Rama and Lakshmana.

Devotion to God as a practice is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There are specific tastes that come from this interaction, tastes only available to those who recognize, honor and cherish the personal forms of the Supreme Lord, understanding that He is a personality just like everyone else. In the abstract vision of God or in the impersonal mode of worship, the transcendental tastes are absent. Hence these other paths are always inferior to bhakti. Looking upon the Lord with amazement and feeling a thrill throughout the body is one method of worship, but service can also manifest through direct acts, work performed for the Lord’s satisfaction. This was the route taken by Hanuman. His work was no ordinary business either.

Playing out her role in the dramatic, real-life play that is the Ramayana, Sita was taken away from Rama’s side by a powerful king named Ravana. Rama was the greatest bow warrior in the world, so Ravana knew he couldn’t defeat Him in battle. Struck as he was by the impulse to have Sita, the most beautiful woman in the world, for his wife, Ravana devised a plan where he could take Sita away without anyone knowing. When it came time later to find His wife, Rama enlisted the help of a band of forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. They were mostly monkey-like, but they had many human features and tendencies as well.

Hanuman was the most capable of these warriors, so he was tasked by Sugriva, the king of these Vanaras, to look for Sita and return the information of her whereabouts to the camp. Though given the task by Sugriva, Hanuman was essentially performing devotional service for Rama. Long story short, Hanuman ended up in Lanka, Ravana’s remotely situated island. Hanuman was all by himself; no one was there to help him. No telephone to use to call home. No text message to send to get advice. He had to find Sita using his tremendous skills, which included an unmatched fighting prowess, a keen intellect, and mastery over every mystic perfection of the ancient system of yoga.

As endowed as he was in these areas, Hanuman’s greatest strength was his devotion to Rama. This is what initially enabled him to infiltrate Lanka without being noticed. He searched and searched, but he couldn’t find Sita. Lest we think devotion to God is all roses and lilies, Hanuman then quickly fell into a depressed state. His love for Rama coupled with his failure to find Sita made him sadder than ever. Though he had such wonderful abilities and had already exhibited tremendous feats of strength and heroism, he essentially hated himself for not having found Sita. Obviously, none of this was his fault, for what had he done wrong? He did everything asked of him. Ravana was the one who took Sita, so he was really to blame. Nevertheless, Hanuman decided that if he returned to Kishkindha a failure, everyone else would soon quit their bodies. Rather than be responsible for that, Hanuman thought it would be better to just starve himself to death. This way he would give himself the proper punishment.

He was on the brink of suicide. Then he thought to himself some more. He correctly decided that if he should quit, so many bad things would happen. If he continued to fight on, however, at least there would be a chance of succeeding. This is the rule to live by. The Paramatma is always residing within us, so as long as the life breath is there, there is an opportunity to connect with Him, to make the most of the human form of life. With death we have no idea where we will end up next. There is no guarantee that we will even get the opportunity to try to understand God and the need for worshiping Him.

Deciding that living was better, Hanuman still couldn’t get over his sadness. That Sita wasn’t found was really bothering him. In the above referenced verse, we see him change course, reawaken from his temporary slumber. Hanuman decided that if he was going to fail, he was going to take Ravana down with him. Hanuman is described as having tremendous fortitude and being an elephant among monkeys. One would have to be courageous to continue to fight, especially when they were just on the brink of suicide. Hanuman is the most powerful person, and he only uses his strength for good. If Sita were no longer living, Hanuman would get revenge by taking out Ravana. Who was Ravana to escape punishment? Why should Hanuman have to suffer while Ravana continued to live?

Hanuman's heartThrough this wonderful passage Hanuman once again reveals his unmatched level of devotion to Sita and Rama. His love for them is a thing of beauty. Though he roams the earth in the guise of a monkey, his portrait is flawless, bringing satisfaction to those who are dedicated to serving the Supreme Lord in thought, word and deed. Hanuman’s fortitude would enable him to emerge victorious, to find Sita and help in her eventual rescue. He showed us that even in devotional service there are severe ups and downs. But if our heart is situated in the right place, we will find the right course of action every time. Anyone who regularly remembers Hanuman and his devotion will be guaranteed to find redemption from the curse of material existence.

In Closing:

“Not finding her Sita may be gone,

Sadness mind constantly dwells on.

Ravana should escape, who is he?

By me punished with death will he be.”

From failure Hanuman first in sadness dove,

Then thinking of success from despair arose.

Ravana for his deed would not get away,

The powerful Hanuman the demon to slay.

In devotion Hanuman always to finish strong,

His deeds and qualities daily dwell upon.