“Having mentally entered the all-auspicious Ashoka wood, that monkey, the son of the wind-god, pondered what he should do next.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.61)
sa gatvā manasā pūrvam aśoka vanikām śubhām |
uttaram cintayām āsa vānaro māruta ātmajaḥ ||
It’s time to start the task that you put off for long enough. The procrastination related to the difficulty of the job. If you do a cursory review of previously completed tasks, you’ll notice that successful outcomes require a lot of work, some of which is not easy to perform. The entire collection of tasks necessary for completion thus presents a challenging obstacle for both the body and the mind. Therefore prior to the commencement of the latest project, a little thought is given on how to succeed, how to find the outcome that you desire. If your heart is situated in the right place, if you seek the benedictions of the right people, and if you are following an authorized system of activity, then no matter how difficult the task, your initial sincerity will take you across the finish line. This was the case with Shri Hanuman prior to entry into the Ashoka wood, a place he had yet to search.
Hanuman was wise enough to recollect past experiences and use that information to feed his mental computer, which in turn would spit out a possible course of action to follow. He had searched through an entire city unnoticed. Could we ever imagine such a thing? A surveyor’s job is to, not surprisingly, survey. To be effective at this job, the spotlight from the eyes must shine on practically everything. “Hey, don’t look now, but that guy is looking at you.”, is likely what our friend would tell us if one of these surveyors should happen to be in our range, if they are looking at us to find what they are searching after. Indeed, the more people and things you can look at, the better your chances are of finding what you’re looking for.
Yet Hanuman made his observations without being noticed. His natural form didn’t blend in well with the area either. In fact, just the opposite was the case. The area he was searching was populated by ogres, vile creatures given to the worst type of activity. They took after their leader, whose name was Ravana, meaning one with a terrorizing roar. This name was kindly bestowed upon him by Lord Shiva, the destroyer of creation, one of the principle deities of the Vedic tradition. When granted benedictions by Lord Brahma, the creator, the vile creature with ten heads took a tour of the world and fought any person he thought was a threat. Known as Dashagriva for his strange figure, he tried to bother Mahadeva during his meditation. Lord Shiva is always meditating on the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, who is the maintainer and also the fountainhead of all forms of Godhead, the Supreme Lord who has four arms and is opulently adorned. Vishnu is the face to the abstract concept of God, a real person from whom all men emanate; hence one of His many names is Narayana.
Narayana has many other forms, of which Lord Rama is one. Lord Shiva meditates on Vishnu’s form of Rama by repeating the name over and over again. Krishna, the all-attractive youth with two hands holding a flute and wearing a peacock feather in His hair is the same Rama but in a different form, thus anyone who chants the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, follows a system of religious practice authorized by Lord Shiva himself. If the name of Rama, which is non-different from the Lord and His wonderful form that holds a bow and arrow in His hands and is always smiling, is good enough for Mahadeva, then it should be good enough for anyone else. The holy name is the secret ingredient in fruitful worship; its recitation simultaneously brings cognizance of God’s other features.
In an immature state, the worshiper thinks that God is formless, or nirguna Brahman, the all-pervading spirit that lacks personal features. Brahman understanding is the equivalent of abstracting everything. To see how this works, let’s take something as simple as a party. At a party you have guests, entertainment, food and a location, a place where the event is held. Within the festive gathering there is so much variety. There are different conversations, food items, activities, visions, etc. As you abstract one piece after another, you eventually have the entire concept of a party. For instance, if you see two people talking to one another, they are having a conversation. Then the same concept of a conversation can be applied to other people talking to one another at the party. If one person is eating pizza and another ice cream, both activities can be abstracted to the singular concept of eating. Keep zooming out in this way and you eventually get the full concept of a party, which incorporates all of the variety.
In a similar exercise, if you were to abstract every aspect of creation, including both the material and the spiritual, you would get Brahman. Through this method the neophyte thinks that everything is God, including themselves. “God is just a definition, not something with any personal features; God is the complete whole.” While the definition of God certainly includes everything, this doesn’t mean that we can just pick up a rock off the ground and say that we have found God. Our arms and legs are part of the definition of our current existence, but they do not identify us. The all-pervading presence of the Supreme Lord is just one aspect of His inconceivable self.
Then there are the incarnations, the personal aspects of the Lord possessing variety. These personalities have visually identifiable attributes, and they also perform specific activities through interaction with fortunate living entities. The Supreme Lord is known as Bhagavan because He is the most fortunate. Anyone who gets to interact with Bhagavan through a transcendental mellow, or rasa, is similarly fortunate. Bhagavan, in His different avataras, and also in His original form, for others draws out the transcendental features that are otherwise difficult to notice. Bhagavan is the same Brahman but in a more complete definition, one that is distinct and identifiable.
The holy name is so powerful that it brings cognizance of both the impersonal and personal features of the Lord. Chanting the names of Krishna and Rama over and over again can give a vision of the form that is otherwise taken to be impersonal. At the same time, the holy name can liberate even those who never get to personally meet the avataras or the original Bhagavan. For instance, Rama roamed the earth during the Treta Yuga, an ancient time period, and interacted with a select few individuals, of which Hanuman was one. Similarly, Lord Krishna gave certain members of society a chance to see His beautiful face and take comfort in His unflinching protection. Yet the powerful holy name can also deliver anyone today, a time when the Lord’s personal presence is seemingly absent from the world. Therefore the holy name is the most superior aspect of the Lord, as it automatically allows for interaction with the other features. Lord Shiva knows this very well. That is why he constantly chants Rama’s name.
Dashagriva, on the other hand, had no interest in pleasing Vishnu, chanting His name, or worshiping Him. With his new powers he tried to disrupt Mahadeva’s meditation, but this failed. Lord Shiva responded by putting Dashagriva into so much pain by crushing his fingers that the Rakshasa started screaming for mercy. Seeing his contrition and also hearing the ridiculously awful sound, Lord Shiva then named him Ravana. Since Ravana didn’t interact with Lord Shiva in the proper way, this meeting and subsequent devotion offered did not alter his consciousness for the better. Rather, he decided to take Rama’s wife Sita Devi and try to enjoy her for himself.
It was to find Sita that Hanuman was in Lanka, for no one was really sure where she was or if she was still alive. As boastful of his prowess as Ravana was, he didn’t dare fight Rama one-on-one for Sita’s hand. Instead, he took her away while Rama temporarily wasn’t by her side. Hanuman was so eager to offer service to God that he was given the benediction of finding Sita. He thus found himself in Lanka all alone, with no one to help him. He amazingly took on a diminutive stature and looked through the different palaces, roads, bridges, and city streets for a bewailing princess. His failure in this regard almost got the better of him, as he seriously contemplated quitting and just ending his life.
Remembering Rama and his love for Him, Hanuman chose to fight on. Now he had this nearby grove that he hadn’t looked through yet. Prior to going in, he thought of saluting the principle deities of the material creation, and then he actually invoked the names of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, who is Rama’s younger brother. Then Hanuman prayed to the other gods, as if to show everyone else the proper way to worship. The demigods, or devas, operate under the direction of the Supreme Lord, so they can never be considered equal to Bhagavan. When the gifts distributed by the demigods are used to please Bhagavan, the worship is fruitful. Hanuman was only interested in finding Sita, so he was not after a personal reward. He was hoping that every higher authority would be favorable upon him and allow him to succeed in putting a smile on Rama’s face.
Hanuman first mentally entered the Ashoka wood because he needed to think things over. What a daunting task lay ahead of him. There were so many trees that the wind hardly blew there. This presented a disadvantage. Hanuman had used the aid of the wind, which is managed by his father Vayu, to leap across the massive ocean that separated land from the island of Lanka. Not only would the trees inhibit his ability to swiftly course through the area, there would be many Rakshasas guarding the place as well. He thus knew that this would likely be the most difficult place in Lanka to search. His intuition was correct, for Sita was being held in this area. She was the real jewel of Lanka, but since Ravana did not have a rightful claim to her, she had to be kept hidden, remaining a secret to everyone. She refused to give in to Ravana, so she was kept in an isolated area.
The daunting tasks that we take on are completed by first focusing on smaller issues, taking one day at a time and one step at a time. Lay down each brick until you finally get the housing structure that you want. For a computer programmer, write down each algorithm and function and work on each individual module until you have all the code necessary to run your program. For the student, follow along with each homework assignment, studying gradually the entire scope of the course until you are familiar with the material that will be presented on the exams.
Hanuman was ready to follow this same tact, but he still prayed for good fortune from those who manage the outcomes to events. The human being is a god in the sense that he has control over his actions, but the results are certainly out of his hands. The ability in man is God, a fact so nicely pointed out by Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. The choice in the exercise of that ability is up to the individual. Hanuman was choosing in favor of serving Sita and Rama, so they would never let him down. Such a humble soul, Hanuman was never proud of his abilities. Instead, he always thought that he wasn’t doing enough and that he couldn’t complete what was assigned to him. Because of this attitude, his faith in Sita and Rama, and his request for kindness from the higher authorities, his difficult task in the Ashoka garden would be completed successfully, with Sita being rescued later on by Rama and the massive monkey army headed by Sugriva, whose minister was Hanuman.
In the most difficult mission facing the human being, to realize the potential for the purification of consciousness, the collection of tasks may be difficult to complete, but by taking one day at a time, following a routine in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, one can steadily make progress towards full God consciousness, which is required at the time of death in order to secure liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Just as Sita, Rama and Lakshmana were favorable to Hanuman during his devotional acts, Hanuman is kind to those who request his help in maintaining their link to the spiritual world. Just thinking of Hanuman is an auspicious activity, one that brings so many spiritual merits. He is the hero of the Ramayana’s Sundara Kanda, the book of beauty. Though he is in a monkey form, the love he has for God runs through every fiber of his being, making his vision one pleasing to the eye.
Hanuman, endowed with so many skills,
Beautiful devotion his heart fills.
To search for Sita he and his monkeys were sent,
At last stage, mentally into Ashoka wood he went.
If he’d find success he did previously wonder,
Now his next move in wooded area he pondered.
Hanuman’s success guaranteed by higher authority,
For though fully capable, unmatched was his humility.
In daunting task, in mind Hanuman always see,
He’ll help you, from shackles of fear be free.