Friday, February 24, 2012

A Potent Combination

Rama with Hanuman“If, based on Sampati’s words, I bring Rama here, Raghava, not seeing His wife, will burn all of the monkeys.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.53)

sampāti vacanāc ca api rāmam yadi ānayāmi aham ||
apaśyan rāghavo bhāryām nirdahet sarva vānarān |

Hanuman’s consideration for his friends and well-wishers is amazing. Sometimes it is annoying if someone else keeps being nice to us for no reason, not wanting to offend or upset us in any way. After a while you feel like saying, “Just be real with me. Stop treating me like I’m so special.” In Hanuman’s case, the beneficiaries of his kindness cannot be smothered with love. The dog or cat will eventually leave your side after you give them too much. They are animals after all, so their instincts dictate where they will go. The spouse similarly cannot accept too much affection because they will start to feel smothered. With every gift accepted they start incurring debts, the burden of which can be too much to bear. Only the Supreme Lord, the fountainhead of all energies, appreciates even the smallest kind gesture made towards Him. Whether they are delivered just once during a lifetime or one after another like a conveyor belt manufacturing products in a timely manner, these gestures are accepted regardless. With Hanuman, his kindness never goes in vain, as every time he thinks of his beloved Lord, his resolve strengthens, allowing him to continue on his mission, no matter how difficult the obstacles placed in front of him may be.

HanumanWho does Hanuman view as God? And who is Hanuman? Is he a monkey god of the Hindu tradition? We are introduced to Hanuman in the sacred Ramayana, which was composed by Maharishi Valmiki many thousands of years ago. The creation is divided into four time periods to make things easier to understand. Why would we need to understand the creation? Knowledge is power, so any time you can understand your position relative to others in society, and even to larger periods of time, it is to your advantage. Something is advantageous when it is used to positively affect an outcome. Knowledge of both the advantages and the right purpose to further is a wonderful combination, one of the most potent in fact. Bring these two pieces of information together and you get maturation of consciousness, which is the ultimate benediction.

It’s difficult to think beyond our current lifetime or prior to the time of our birth, but in reality our time on this mysterious land is like a small blip on a radar screen. In fact, it would take the most powerful microscope to see the point on a timeline that plotted each person’s duration of life since the beginning of creation. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide some details into the nature of creation and how man’s tendencies progress as further time elapses. This information is not meant to be a punishment, criticism, or a way of scaring someone into believing in a specific religious figure. Rather, the science is presented so that the inquisitive, those looking for real and lasting pleasure, can make an informed decision as to which path to take in life.

A path in Sanskrit is known as a marga. By default, the living entity takes the kama-marga, the path of sense gratification. Do whatever makes you happy. If you like to eat, eat. If you want to drink, then drink. Eat, drink, be merry and enjoy your time. Pay no attention to how you got here, what your purpose is, or where you will go in the future. Just live in the here and now. This path obviously brings short term happiness, but even a minimally developed consciousness of the human species understands that there are many perils with only following the impulses of the senses. Drug addiction, obesity, inability to cope with loss, and so many other debilitating issues arise from only looking to satisfy personal desires, or kama.

The kama-marga is automatically followed by the lower species, the animals and the like, because they don’t know any better. They don’t have the ability to recognize patterns in behavior and make alterations to further a better purpose. Maybe a dog can be trained to sit up, fetch a paper, and go to the bathroom outside, but this doesn’t put any controls on desire. Rather, the ability to think critically and to self-impose restrictions to further a higher goal belongs exclusively to the human species. This ability also exists for a reason.

The Vedas reveal that there is a science to account for the different species. Picture a laboratory where you have all sorts of raw elements. You get to pick and choose how you want to mix them up. The different combinations have different results. This sort of explains how the species are created. The higher authorities - which can be God, mother nature or just the elements depending on your angle of vision - take combinations of material substance and form a specific body type.

Yet just the material elements are not enough. We cannot grab a lump of dirt from the ground, add some blood, and create our own autonomous living being. We need the injection of spirit, a spark of life that ensures that the living being can grow, leave byproducts, and then diminish when needed. Though scientists have come a long way in their treatment of diseases, they are still baffled by how the individual comes and goes, how the bodies grow on their own and then decay once the person dies.

A living being, a spirit soul, part and parcel of Brahman, is placed into a specific body type to live out their life. As the spirit souls have different desires, not all body types are the same. The different species are influenced by past karma, or fruitive work, and desire. In this sense, birth in a lower species is only considered a punishment if you have an aim higher than sense gratification. As the pursuit of pure sense enjoyment proves to be quite harmful, leading to a neutral state in the best case and utter misery in other instances, the human being has a much higher business to fulfill.

The sad thing is that as more time elapses from the beginning of creation, knowledge of that purpose becomes more hidden to society. This should make sense because if the first piece of information is missing, that of the position relative to other species, how will the proper destination be known? If I am playing for one sports team but I identify with the opponents, how will I help my team achieve victory? Similarly, if the human being imitates the animals, thinking that sense gratification is the ultimate aim of life, how will it know the proper path to follow?

The four time periods of creation represent the four manifestations of dharma, or religiosity. Dharma is also an essential characteristic. When it applies to the soul, it refers to individual spirit’s tendency to serve. The highest pleasure is found through service, irrespective of what anyone’s opinions or experiences say. Even the most selfish person is simply serving themselves. The soul’s characteristic can never be removed, but it can be misdirected depending on the development of consciousness or lack thereof.

In the first time period, dharma stands on all four legs. This means that man is generally pious and knows of the spirit soul’s position superior to matter. Spirit is described as Brahman because it is truth. Material existence is full of dualities because what may be favorable for one person may not be for another. “One man’s food is another man’s poison”, as the famous saying goes. For Brahman, there is no such double-sidedness. Spirit is above the duality of life and death. Hence a spirit soul never takes birth or dies. The grief that comes with death is due only to temporary ignorance, which is fostered by visual evidence that doesn’t penetrate deep enough to see the presence of the spiritual spark within the bodies. Different body types are continually accepted through what is known as reincarnation. Brahman is transcendental to this cycle.

Valmiki composing the RamayanaWith each successive time period, dharma loses one leg. In the Treta Yuga, the second period, man was still very pious, as dharma had three legs to stand on. It was in this period of time that the sweetheart sage Valmiki composed his Ramayana poem, which describes the glorious acts of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God. While Brahman indicates that all spirit souls are equal, there is a higher entity known as Parabrahman. As more information is revealed about Parabrahman, His features are better known. With enough education and practice the knowledgeable living entity eventually receives the fruit of their existence: full God consciousness. The tendency to serve within the individual spirit has an ideal beneficiary. Not surprisingly that target is God.

Thus we have the two vital pieces of information: our position relative to nature and other living entities and our ultimate purpose in life. As we see it can be very difficult to acquire either set of information. Combine that difficulty with the fact that the Supreme Lord’s glories can never be properly enumerated and you get the vast collection of works that comprise Vedic literature. The Ramayana describes Parabrahman’s spiritual manifestation as a warrior prince. Though Rama roamed the earth like other human beings, He was not subject to the influence of material nature, karma, or kama. There is no difference between God’s body and spirit, irrespective of how that body appears to us.

Shri Hanuman is Rama’s greatest servant. Imagine someone who knows their constitutional position and the meaning of life. Now take that same person and put them in the company of their beloved, the ideal beneficiary of everyone’s service. That combination gives us Hanuman and Shri Rama. For service to take place, there must be specific tasks that need to be accomplished. God has everything, so what can any of us do for Him? Knowing that our constitutional position is to serve Him, the Lord creates opportunities for service. The opportunities are paired up with the individual’s ability and level of enthusiasm.

With Hanuman these two features were in the highest supply. No one is more eager to serve God than Hanuman. Also, no one is more capable of action, both physical and mental, than Hanuman. Therefore Rama gave him the daunting task of finding His wife, Sita Devi. She had gone missing while the Lord and His younger brother Lakshmana were roaming the forests. Hanuman belonged to a monkey race known as Vanaras, but since this was the Treta Yuga, even the monkeys were rather civilized. Rama and Lakshmana aligned with the Vanaras residing on Mount Rishyamukha in the Kishkindha forest. Their leader was Sugriva, and he had a massive army of monkeys just ready to help Rama. Hanuman was part of that army.

HanumanIn the above referenced verse from the Ramayana Hanuman’s concluding thoughts during a particularly difficult time in his mission to find Sita are given. The monkeys divided into search parties, and the one Hanuman was in almost didn’t make it. Getting nowhere in their search, they were ready to pack it in, but at the last minute they got help from a bird named Sampati. He told them that Sita was on the island of Lanka being held captive by the king of Rakshasas, Ravana. A Rakshasa is like a human being but more prone to sinful activity. Through black magic and austerities performed for the wrong reasons, they get tremendous material powers, which are then used for nefarious purposes.

Only Hanuman was capable of reaching this distant island. Thus he left his friends behind and had to take up the search by himself. The difficulties of his journey are nicely described in the Ramayana’s Sundara-kanda. Yet whatever physical barriers there were, they couldn’t compare to the mental hurdles facing Hanuman. With love comes a strong desire to please the object of your affection. The negative side of this is that when you fail to properly offer service, you feel the worst kind of sadness. This is essentially what happened to Hanuman. He amazingly made it to Lanka and roamed around the city without being noticed. Yet he could not find Sita anywhere. He finally had to settle upon the horrible thought that maybe he wasn’t going to find her. Maybe she wasn’t there.

The strongest mental demons still can’t defeat Hanuman. Thinking the matter over, he decided that the proper course of action would be to continue searching. In the above referenced verse we see that he doesn’t want to bring Shri Rama to Lanka, for if the intelligence received by Sampati were incorrect, Rama would not be happy. Of course Rama would not slay the monkeys or be angry with Hanuman, for they had tried their best. Yet Hanuman thought along these lines because that is how angry he was at himself for having not found Sita.

Hanuman wouldn’t have minded punishment from Rama. The devotees love to be chastised by their spiritual master for faults. This seems like an odd trait, but the stern displeasure caused by disappointment on the superior’s part shows that they really care about you. Hanuman also is not concerned about his own wellbeing. Whether he is famous and worshiped by millions of people or completely unknown is the same to him. His happiness comes from knowing that Rama is happy. In this particular thought, Hanuman’s concern is also for the wellbeing of the monkeys. They were his friends and they didn’t deserve to be punished. Thus, rather than make everyone unhappy and put them into worse off positions, Hanuman would continue his search alone.

Hanuman meeting SitaShould there be any doubt as to what happened next? How can such a sincere divine worker ever fail? Hanuman is endowed with tremendous physical and mental strength, but where he really stands out is in his dedication and devotion to God. His mental struggles in Lanka and his eventual triumph are included in the Ramayana for a reason. They serve to glorify Hanuman eternally and to let future generations know that bhakti-marga, or the path of devotion, is not easy, but it yields the best results. If even Hanuman has to struggle, what then to speak of us lowly mortals trying to find our way through a time where dharma stands on only one leg. In the Kali Yuga, the current age and last time period of creation, dharma is conspicuous by its absence. Despite the impediments thrown our way, the example of Hanuman is still there to give guidance. He would eventually find Sita and help Rama and the monkeys defeat Ravana and rescue the beloved princess. In the process Hanuman found his way into the hearts of many sincere listeners.

Hanuman never wastes anyone’s time, though he thought he might be doing so by bringing Rama to Lanka without having found Sita. He succeeded in his mission all by himself, and he promises to help any soul interested in following the path of devotion back to the sugati, the supreme destination. Reincarnation does not have to continue. The fully God conscious departing soul quits their body for the last time and finds God’s personal association in the afterlife. The best tool for realizing that end is the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In Closing:

Know how to form proper identification,

Along with life’s aim, potent combination.

 

In beginning dharma with strength stands tall,

With each time period, from it one leg falls.

 

In Kali Yuga for dharma only one leg left,

Thus of proper knowledge mankind bereft.

 

Still Hanuman there to be beacon of light,

From pages of Ramayana get divine sight.

 

Search for Sita a toll on him started to exact,

Would win, for Rama’s pleasure only Hanuman acts.