Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sea of Sorrow

Hanuman worshiping“Having thus considered many kinds of troubling thoughts within his mind again and again, that elephant among monkeys could not cross over his despair.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.48)

evam bahu vidham duhkham manasā dhārayan muhuḥ ||
na adhyagacchat tadā pāram śokasya kapi kunjaraḥ |

If you have a strong affection driving you towards your intended destination, no amount of mental anguish caused by temporary setbacks will stop you in your progression. The intense love means that you don’t need to remember every single slogan fed to the mind through its many travels in life. Strong attachment for meeting another’s interests can help the distressed cross over the sea of sorrow and reach the land of victory. Even if you are unsuccessful, there is no cause for concern, because the dedication will continue nonetheless. It was through this dedication that Shri Hanuman carried forward in his most difficult mission of finding a missing princess.

Hanuman“Slow and steady wins the race.” This is a famous proverb that is helpful to those who are impatient. “I want it right now. Why can’t I just get it already? How much longer will it take?” These laments are understandable, as the desired outcome is considered so favorable that you just can’t wait until that moment comes when you don’t have to worry about working so hard. This helps to explain how nostalgia operates and why taking the mind into the past can be so comforting. After the fact, the trepidation over the fear of failing is absent. The outcomes of the past are already known, so the experiences can be relished, as opposed to having the mind constantly worry about whether or not a particular set of procedures will produce tangible fruits. Remaining calm also helps to prevent exhaustion, keeping the worker steadily motivated.

“Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” This is a famous proverb that is taught to young children, who are forced to fall asleep earlier than adults. The parents know that their children will not follow any regulation unless it is imposed. Regulation in activity is important to follow at a young age, for it prepares the individual for what they have to face in the real world, when they will have to support themselves. “If my child grows up spoiled, they will expect others to meet their demands. They won’t value hard work and money, and instead they will look to just have fun without paying heed to the consequences of shirking responsibility.”

If the children are taught discipline, to go to sleep at a reasonable time and to wake up early, they will be better suited for accepting instruction, showing up on time to school, and remaining awake and alert throughout the day. An alert child is one that can think more clearly and act more rationally. On the other hand, a child who perpetually falls asleep late at night, has no discipline, and does whatever they want will have tremendous difficulty assimilating to circumstances that are unpleasant. The need for regulation continues into adulthood, as drinking and partying all night are not good if one wants to perform well at work the next day.

“Never give up”. This is a rallying cry that can apply to pretty much every person. This saying is needed because giving up is quite common, as it is the easy way out of any situation. Why keep trying, when you can just quit? Pressure goes away, and with it also the work required to meet the desired end. The safety of inactivity awaits the quitter, thus making the path of least resistance appealing. But afterwards, the reality sets in that the wished for objective could not be attained. Moreover, the quitter doesn’t know if they would have been successful or not, because they didn’t put forth a full effort. They gave up before they knew what their action could potentially bring.

These different slogans are fed into the mind over the course of a lifetime, but they are very easy to forget. If they weren’t, there would be no need to try to conjure them up or have them repeated to us. But why do we forget? If we know that the person who is slow and steady eventually wins whatever race they are running, why do we give way to lamentation when we suffer bumps along the road? If we know that eating in moderation will maintain our physical appearance and help us to avoid bodily discomfort, why do we pig out and eat junk food? If we know that we should never give up, why do we still have a strong attachment, an almost magnetic-like one at that, to the comfortable position on the sidelines of life?

The “why” questions can be asked over and over again until you eventually reach a point where answers are no longer possible, but with respect to the need for the mind to be constantly reminded of cogent facts, the issue is rooted in desire. In a world conducive to forgetfulness of life’s real mission, the satisfaction that results from endeavors is temporary. In more simple terms, whatever we are doing is not making us happy. Since one thing doesn’t give us full satisfaction, we jump to another. As soon as the seed of desire is watered, immediately there is the chance of another desire sprouting. A small fire is much easier to control than a raging one. Similarly, the mind is easier to control when desires are not running about. But as soon as the senses start to constantly seek satisfaction, the thoughts of the mind run rampant.

So how do we control the mind? How do we get the mind to remember the clever slogans that were given to us many times in the past? Though desire constantly arises and thus causes the mind to run around like a pack of horses let loose, desire itself doesn’t have to be renounced. Rather, if it is purified, if it is directed in the proper area, the resulting effects go from being detrimental to beneficial. How does this work exactly? We can take one of the most celebrated divine figures in history and his difficult time in an enemy territory many thousands of years ago to get an idea.

A princess had gone missing. More accurately, she was taken away by force by a powerful king famous around the world for his fighting prowess. Lest we think he won this princess fair and square, this king was actually too afraid to fight the woman’s husband in a fair conflict. Knowing that he would lose to this seemingly ordinary human being roaming the forests after being kicked out of His hometown, the evil king set up a ruse so that he could take away the princess while her husband was not around.

Lord RamaThe prince in question was Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty and eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord’s four-armed form residing in the spiritual land of Vaikuntha. Rama had a purpose for roaming the earth: He was to take out Ravana, the demoniac king in question. Ravana had been harassing the innocent people of the world for too long, and because of the boons he had been previously given, he could not be defeated in battle by even the strongest heavenly figures.

But Ravana was not immune to the attacks of human beings. The problem was that no human being had the fighting prowess to stand against Ravana. Therefore Vishnu Himself, after being petitioned by the heavenly figures, decided to come to earth in the guise of a human being to do away with Ravana. With the kidnap of His beautiful wife Sita Devi, Rama had the excuse He needed to take on Ravana in battle. As He was especially dedicated to dharma, Rama did not want to attack the king without just cause.

But first things first. Rama, who was accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana during their travels in the forest, needed to find out where Sita had been taken. For this Hanuman, the faithful servant of King Sugriva, was required. As a wise member of the administrative class of men, Rama knew the importance of alliances. When looking for Sita, He formed a friendship with Sugriva, who had himself been kicked out of his kingdom and separated from his wife. After helping Sugriva regain his kingdom, Rama enlisted the help of the Vanaras ruled over by Sugriva to find Sita.

HanumanHanuman was the most capable of the Vanaras in Kishkindha, so he eventually made his way to Lanka, Ravana’s kingdom. As Lanka was an island situated far away from the mainland, no one else in Sugriva’s army could reach it. Hanuman was endowed with divine qualities, which included tremendous strength and the ability to increase his stature at will. Assuming a large form and leaping from a mountaintop, Hanuman flew through the air to reach Lanka.

As amazing as this feat was, he still wasn’t close to fulfilling his mission. Now he had to find Sita, whom he had never met. He had to do this without being noticed by the citizens of Lanka, who were loyal to Ravana. Yet Hanuman found a way through this, as he diminished his stature and crawled through the city unnoticed. Despite his ability to search every inch of space unseen, Hanuman still could not find Sita.

Finally, the violent waves from the sea of sorrow started rushing in. Hanuman now began to think of what would happen if he couldn’t find Sita. Pondering the matter over, he decided that if she wasn’t found, Rama and everyone back home would renounce their lives. This meant that Hanuman would be the cause of their deaths; that his failure would lead to a lot more than personal dejection. In this way, through his thoughts he put even more pressure on himself.

Deciding that going back home a failure wasn’t an option, Hanuman contemplated suicide. Rather than deliver the bad news to everyone, he would stay in Lanka and renounce his life. As his mind was frantically rushing through so many thoughts, he quickly realized that this wasn’t a viable option. If he killed himself, there would be many negative consequences, whereas if he remained alive, there was at least the chance of Sita being found.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that all of this thinking weighed heavily on his mind. So many different pieces of information, so many potential outcomes, and he had to decide right then what to do. It’s completely understandable that he would start to feel the pressure. In this troublesome time it was difficult for him to admire how he had just crossed over the ocean, which was an amazing feat. He brushed aside how he had searched through Lanka without being noticed. All the famous slogans were far away from the mind. All he could think about were the consequences and how he had to find Sita.

Hanuman meditatingIt was because of love that he eventually forged ahead. He loved Rama more than anything, so that is what kept him going. The sea of sorrow created in his mind was quite vast, but with devotional service to Rama, there is nothing that the devotee cannot cross. It was his devotion to Rama that enabled Hanuman to leap across the ocean, for he wasn’t normally known to exhibit such divine qualities. It was only when he needed them to please Rama, who is God, did he invoke them.

Similarly, when it seemed like his mental demons were going to get the best of him, he remembered his love for Rama and His wife Sita. He crossed over the sea of sorrow by remaining firmly committed to his devotional service. For the living entities struggling in the ocean of material suffering, Hanuman and his wonderful activities are the lifejacket to keep them afloat. His dedication to Rama is the example for everyone to follow, for life’s mission is to become fully devoted to God. There is no other business for the spirit soul, the essence of identity.

In Closing:

In difficult tasks follow the proper pace,

Because slow and steady does win the race.

Fall asleep early, early will you rise,

Makes you healthy, wealthy and wise.

These slogans very easy to forget,

Mind in fever at slight trouble’s onset.

Hanuman couldn’t cross sorrow’s sea,

Felt responsible for success did he.

Devotion to Sita and Rama to help in the end,

On his example let troubled mind always depend.