“Having reflected for a moment and entered the Ashoka garden mentally, the highly powerful Hanuman jumped off of the ramparts of that palace.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.1)
sa muhūrtam iva dhyatvā manasā ca adhigamya tām |
avapluto mahā tejāḥ prākāram tasya veśmanaḥ ||
The time was now to spring into action. The moment to reflect on what lay ahead had passed, and now the crucial step of moving one foot forward was upon him. We may know what task is in front of us, and if it is daunting, we may be hesitant to move forward, sort of like laying awake in bed in the morning when we know we have something important to do once we get up. But fight on Hanuman would, and the successful end to his efforts was awaiting him.
Ravana’s palace was so exquisite that even the exterior walls were nicely decked out. It was along these walls that Hanuman stopped for a brief moment to decide what to do next. There was this park of Ashoka trees situated next to him that he had yet to search. It was likely very well guarded by Rakshasas, and the network of trees was arrayed in such a way that the wind didn’t travel there. Seemed like the perfect place to hide someone, to keep her away from others.
The details of Hanuman’s journey are provided in the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana for a reason. Just as Hanuman had mentally entered the Ashoka wood prior to leaping off of Ravana’s palace, the sincere listener is given a chance to see the entire scene facing Hanuman, to know what he was thinking and how he conducted himself. The life lessons to take away are many, but the association itself is most valuable. Maharishi Valmiki envisioned these events before they occurred, and he noted down the relevant details because his mind obviously enjoyed staying with Hanuman throughout his daunting mission.
The task was difficult because Hanuman had to look for a missing princess with very little information to go off of. His group of monkeys, which came from the Kishkindha forest, was ordered to scour the earth to look for the missing wife of the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama. Just when his group was about to quit, Hanuman and his friends received valuable intelligence. Sita was staying on an island called Lanka, for that was where the wicked king Ravana had taken her.
Hanuman made it to Lanka alone because no one else in his group was capable of leaping across the massive ocean. That aerial journey was only the first hurdle, and within Lanka so many other obstacles appeared. The Ashoka wood presented a formidable challenge, as Hanuman had to enter it unnoticed. He had a monkey form by nature, so that image certainly would stand out in Lanka, a city ruled by ogres.
These vile creatures could change their shapes at will, but taking the monkey shape was not in their general practices. Moreover, they would strategically shift shapes, so as to achieve their desired end. For instance, if they wanted to strike a group of innocent sages, they would likely first assume the ascetic garb, thereby creating a false sense of security. Taking the ascetics in disguise to be benign, the innocent sages would make themselves prime targets for attack. The ghoulish night-rangers would then assume their natural, wicked forms and attack the sages, killing them and then feasting on their flesh.
Though not a Rakshasa, Hanuman was also capable of changing shapes. He assumed the garb of an ascetic when he first met Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, who approached the Kishkindha forest while first looking for Sita. Ravana had taken Sita by using the false guise of a brahmana as well. Rama and Lakshmana were temporarily lured away from the couple’s cottage by Ravana’s diversion, and seizing the opportunity the king of Lanka tricked Sita into being welcoming at first, taking her by force on his chariot after that.
“Sent by the great soul Sugriva, the king of Vanaras, I have arrived here. My name is Hanuman and I am a Vanara.” (Hanuman speaking to Rama and Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.21)
Hanuman’s false guise was used to fulfill the request of the king of Vanaras, Sugriva. That deceptive dress didn’t stay on for long, as seeing Rama and Lakshmana’s beauty, Hanuman eventually revealed his true purpose. A friendship then immediately formed, and fast forward a few months, Hanuman was risking his life in a foreign city to look for Rama’s wife. Is it any wonder that the dedicated warrior is so endeared to Sita and Rama today?
In Lanka Hanuman would have to change his shape again, this time taking a diminutive size to avoid the eyes of the residents. If the lone hope for Sita’s rescue were to be captured, what would happen back home? So many people were counting on Hanuman, so he could neither increase the chances of being caught nor remain stationary for too long. The time for thinking had expired, so it was now time to search the one place in Lanka he had yet to see.
Monkeys are familiar with climbing trees and jumping between them, so this portion of the mission was not difficult for Hanuman. He had to try his best to remain unnoticed, however, so he also had to hide his enthusiasm. Working for Rama is the spirit soul’s occupational duty, and as soon as that fact is recognized, a whole new burst of excitement takes over the individual. Staying in a deep slumber from many previous lives, the conditioned living being uses every excuse in the book for not accepting the bona fide path of divine love. Sectarianism, the pursuit for temporary rewards, atheism, sadness, despair, chaos, tumult, and so many other issues get in the way of that eternal engagement taking hold within the individual.
But use the example of Hanuman to know that devotional service is always rewarding, provided one is willing to act. In his mind, Hanuman had plenty to lose, many excuses he could have invoked for not trying. But each one of those options ended with failure in the mission, which would mean disappointing the sweetheart son of mother Kausalya. Hanuman was dedicated to Rama at that time, and that dedication only increases with each passing day. With each successive obstacle thrown his way, Hanuman’s overall determination strengthened, to the point that he was ready to jump from tree to tree to see the beloved princess, who was surely aggrieved over separation from her husband.
Hanuman would succeed because Sita and Rama are the mother and father of the universe. Shri Rama helps those who try to connect with Him. As an all-powerful being, Rama could will every person into submission, forcing them to surrender. And it wouldn’t matter what anyone would say. You can protest all you want, but if the person dominating you is without any flaws and has superior strength, complaining will only force you to waste more valuable effort in a futile attempt at victory.
With the Supreme Lord there is no reason to put up such a fight, for He doesn’t force anyone to love Him. His benevolence is so great that He creates a temporary land for souls who want to vie with Him for supremacy. They are granted free will, but must subordinate to the external energy of maya, which serves as the commissioner of the playing field. And oh by the way, everyone else is given an equal chance to compete for ruler of the temporary land, so there is constant competition. Each person’s pursuit ends with a loss at the time of death, so there is no winning when separated from God’s company.
The divine servants, on the other hand, are aided in their efforts, given personal support by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The path of devotional service is so nice that victory comes at every step, and the benefits continue to pour in even after the present life ends. Though in a land filled with vile creatures, Hanuman stayed pure in consciousness by keeping Rama in His mind. Through that connection, the person who was supposedly situated thousands of miles away actually guided him from within, leading the noble warrior to Sita’s location.
That same Supreme Lord rests within all of us as the Supersoul, and He gives direction to the humble soul who first kindly propitiates the representative of Rama, the spiritual master. The Vaishnava guru begs everyone to regularly chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and most importantly think of God all the time. That mental effort alone will reawaken the dormant devotional spirit, springing the devotee into repeated meaningful action.
Having gotten over the mental hump,
From palace walls Hanuman ready to jump.
The Ashoka wood he was ready to enter,
So to Sita hopefully sacred ring to confer.
Details of Hanuman’s journey Valmiki included,
Because divine servant’s consciousness never deluded.
His dedication to Rama something at which saint marvels,
Follow him while to Sita’s location he travels.
God to help those who want to please Him,
Chant His names, take guidance from within.