Monday, April 9, 2012

Honor From The Most Honorable

Hanuman praying“May the glorious Brahma, the self-create, and the deities - including Agni, Vayu, and Indra, who is the wielder of the thunderbolt and who is addressed by many names - grant me success.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.65)

brahmā svayambhūr bhagavān devāḥ caiva diśantu me |
siddhim agniḥ ca vāyuḥ ca puru hūtaḥ ca vajradhṛt ||

Though a deva is a divine figure, they are still considered an embodied being, so they must live within a specific form for a set period of time. While this may seem like a good thing, just imagine staying within your present state for billions of years. Oh, by the way, after these billions of years have passed, you have lived just one day. This is the case with Lord Brahma, the self-create. He is described as such because he does not have a normal set of parents. He took birth from the stem coming from the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord, the lord of all creatures. The devas are in a tough position because they are allowed to grant material benedictions, but in order to remain in their post, they have to step down from the platform of pure devotion, where one has no care other than to worship the Supreme Lord and think of His glories. Yet in certain circumstances, the devas get special favor. If the most exalted of personalities come to ask you for something, though you are granting benedictions to them, the benefit is actually to you, for you have the pleasure of accepting honor from the most honorable.

Shri HanumanSeems like a play on words, but the prayer of Shri Hanuman quoted above gives an example of the concept. Demigod worship wasn’t required for Hanuman. Not that he was above anyone else in his mind, but Hanuman was working directly for the lord of all creatures, the source of all men, Narayana. The person known as God has many different names in the Vedic tradition. We can refer to the Supreme Lord as God, offer up a prayer, and hope that He hears us, or we can take the option of knowing His many forms and names, contemplating upon them, and thus adjusting our activities so that those visions always stay within the mind.

The latter option is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and it is the summit of existence. The activity is considered the highest because what can be better than connecting with God through consciousness? Consciousness reveals the presence of the soul, and its proper conditioning unlocks the door to happiness that can be instantiated anywhere. Think of the portable video game system or the special features on your smartphone. These come in handy when you are in situations where you can’t have fun. Say, for instance, you’re in a doctor’s office waiting for your appointment. Rather than sit in the waiting room bored watching some television program that you can’t stand, you can take out your cell phone and start doing a variety of things. Perhaps read a book, check your email, play a game, watch a movie, or talk to your friends. With the advanced technology, pretty much anything you could do in more pleasurable situations can be done within even the most boring room.

The consciousness is the friend that follows us wherever we go. The downside is that if we are not properly situated in thought, we can be miserable at every second. Imagine being in the company of your friends and family and all you’re thinking about is that one task that has kept you up late at night. Worries and fears can be so debilitating that there are so many phobias identified by psychologists. If the fear rules the consciousness, then no matter what the external circumstances, the individual will be unhappy.

Lord RamaBhakti-yoga is meant for conditioning the consciousness to bring pleasure to the individual at any place and at any stage in life. If you’re feeling sad, just tap into the divine consciousness by regularly chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Find your Vishnu form of choice and remember His features. For Shri Hanuman, he got the opportunity to directly serve Vishnu’s warrior incarnation of Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, the husband of Sita Devi and the elder brother of Lakshmana. Rama was the delight of Mother Kausalya and King Dasharatha, the cherished treasure for the attentive eyes of the innocent residents of Ayodhya, and the savior of fallen souls. His name is even more powerful than His personal self, as the name has liberated countless ascetics since time immemorial. The name is so powerful that it can turn a drug-like plant into a sacred tulasi plant. The name can turn the crow-like living entity accustomed to rummaging through garbage into a swan-like saint who only accepts the pleasurable lotus flowers for association.

“There is a proverb in Sanskrit which says, ‘Disappointment gives rise to the greatest satisfaction.’ In other words, when one’s sentiment or ambition becomes too great and is not fulfilled until after seemingly hopeless tribulation, that is taken as the greatest satisfaction.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 31)

It is said that the sweetness of victory is enhanced when there was failure previously, when it looked like things weren’t going to work out. This also applies to the bhakti realm, for if we can remember God after having forgotten him temporarily or after having been attacked by outside forces, the sweetness of that vision and the delightfulness of that sound vibrating within the mind can be relished so much that we’ll look back at the life-changing moment fondly.

Hanuman found himself in a distressful situation in Lanka, the home of the Rakshasa king named Ravana. Lord Rama, the same Narayana but in a seemingly ordinary human form, descended to earth to do away with this ruler, for he had been harassing the saintly class for too long. By harass we mean kill and then eat. Ravana took the bait in the form of Sita, Rama’s wife. He took her away from Rama’s side and tried to win her over. This gave Rama the excuse He desired to take on Ravana in a fair fight. Ravana could never win Sita over nor could he defeat Rama in battle. Therefore his fate was sealed as soon as he took Sita away from the Dandaka forest through a backhanded plot.

Shri HanumanTo increase Hanuman’s glory, to allow countless generations to bask in the wonderful vision of a powerful monkey lovingly engaged in devotion, through Sugriva Rama sent the king’s chief minister to scour the earth for Sita’s whereabouts. Sugriva was the king of monkeys in Kishkindha, and he had thousands of monkeys working under him. They were all sent to look for Sita, but it was thought that only Hanuman would be capable of success.

This premonition would prove correct, but a few times it looked like success wouldn’t come. Hanuman made it to Lanka all by himself, and he managed to search through the city and palaces unnoticed. But he could not find Sita. Almost surrendering to the depression of failure, Hanuman picked himself up and decided to continue on. He would search the nearby Ashoka wood, a grove of trees that he had yet to look through. Prior to entering it, he mentally pictured what it would be like. He told himself that he would worship the many devas in charge of the material creation. When it came time to offer the prayers, he first paid obeisance to Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The primary benediction the trio offers is devotion, the ability to think of God and His closest energy expansions. Hanuman was engaged in a mission to please them, so he had no reason to explicitly ask for their favor, but he did so anyway because that is how he starts all of his difficult tasks.

“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)

After propitiating God, His wife and His younger brother, Hanuman offered prayers to the important demigods so that they would favor him. In the Bhagavad-gita, a treatise on spirituality delivered by the same Rama but in His form of Krishna, it is said that men of lesser intelligence worship the demigods. This is because if we had the choice of a consciousness permanently focused on God or a reward that was only temporarily manifest, only the unintelligent would choose in favor of the latter. Indeed, only those who don’t know about bhakti [devotion], the ability to condition consciousness properly, and the true fruit of existence will consider paltry rewards to be superior.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaSo does this incident say that Hanuman is unintelligent? What could he want from the demigods anyway? Ravana himself had received many of his boons from Lord Brahma, except he used them for evil instead of good. In this way we see that Hanuman’s offering of worship actually was for the benefit of the devas. To this day no one is more honored and celebrated than Shri Hanuman. He is not God, but in a lot of ways he is given better treatment, placed on a higher pedestal. This is Shri Rama’s mercy. The good leader takes the arrows, as the subordinates will complain about the conditions imposed by the head. The Supreme Lord is used to accepting both praise and ridicule, but for His dearest servants He takes extra steps to glorify them and elevate their stature.

Hanuman’s ability to fight with full dedication to meet someone he had never met shows that he was the purest of the pure. A servant in the form of a monkey, who is more humble than the grass, whose strength surpasses that of any fighter this world has ever known, was honoring the devas like Lord Brahma, Lord Indra, and other personalities regularly offered respect from both spiritualist and materialist alike. This was a great honor bestowed upon the devas, for they had Rama’s dearest servant showing them respect.

And what choice did the devas have? They grant benedictions to even the sinful, provided the worship is performed properly. How then could they deny Hanuman, a person acting in their favor? Rama is Vishnu, who is the savior of the demigods, the person who always favors the devoted when they are persecuted by the non-devoted. Ravana was the terror of the world, so powerful that he had immunity in battle against the devas.

The gods would be favorable upon Hanuman several times during both his search for Sita and his subsequent return to Kishkindha. Sita was in this grove, and after finding her Hanuman would have to battle many Rakshasas on his way out. Hanuman would show further honor to Lord Brahma when a specific weapon was shot at him. This weapon bound up its intended target and it was previously given to the perpetrator by Brahma himself. Hanuman had the ability to counteract the weapon, but then that would make Brahma a liar. Rather than dishonor Brahma, Hanuman allowed himself to be bound up. Ravana then took this opportunity to light Hanuman’s tail on fire and parade him around the city to humiliate him.

Hanuman burning LankaSita Devi, having just met Hanuman, saw what was going on and became very distressed. The wife of Rama, the goddess of fortune, the person who needs nothing in life because of her association with God, asked the god of fire, Agni, to not burn Hanuman’s tail, to allow the fire to feel as cool as ice for Rama’s servant. Though Sita asked nicely, this was more or less a command, as the devas have such high esteem for her that whatever she wants she gets. Thus the fire immediately became cool, and Hanuman knew that it must have been the work of Rama’s wife. Taking advantage of the benediction, he freed himself, expanded his size, and then used his massive burning tail to devastate Ravana’s city.

Going into the nearby ocean to put out the fire on his tail, Hanuman then used the wind to leap back to where he had come from. In this way the devas were always favorable upon Hanuman, and they were honored by him in so many ways. One who follows bhakti understands the big picture, where the different grades of living entities fit in. Hanuman honored the demigods out of respect for them, and they were thus obliged to grant his requests. How can Hanuman ever fail in pleasing the Supreme Lord? His efforts are sincere, he is never haughty, and he never fails to show respect to those who are deserving of it. In a similar manner, those who show respect to Hanuman, who ask him to remain in their thoughts so that his wonderful qualities and character can be remembered through any situation, will never be out of favor with the Supreme Lord.

In Closing:

Mission’s critical moment in front of him lay,

So for devas’ favor Hanuman did pray.

 

Material rewards to worshipers they grant,

Though life’s highest reward alone give they can’t.

 

Thus Lord says that worship do only the less intelligent,

For honor to demigods upon rewards contingent.

 

Hanuman to please Supreme Lord Rama aspired,

Thus attention to devas for him not required.

 

Still honor he did show, victory to achieve,

In his sterling example we can always believe.