Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Flying Like An Arrow

Shri Hanuman“Then, like a naracha arrow released from a bowstring, he flew quickly towards the garden of trees, which was surrounded by mango trees and had hundreds of creepers intertwined.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.4)

atha āmra vaṇa samcannām latā śata samāvṛtām |
jyā mukta iva nārācaḥ pupluve vṛkṣa vāṭikām ||

When there is tremendous excitement in an observed situation, it is difficult to accurately convey that level of enthusiasm to a third party. “Wow, they were really excited. They moved so fast, you wouldn’t believe it.” In the Vedic literatures, the poetic ability of the kind composers is so wonderful that they can find just the perfect comparison to get the right point across. There is symbolism wrapped into the imagery, but at the same time the event itself is forever real and the characterization used by the poet completely accurate.

“Faster than a speeding bullet”, is a phrase used to express unimaginable speed. The bullet released from a gun travel so fast that you can’t even see it, so in order to describe something else that goes just as fast, you compare its movement to the bullet’s. Similarly, the train, airplane and automobile are used as reference points to describe speed. A long time back such things weren’t around, so the poet describing the movements of a noble warrior inside of an enemy territory had to revert to objects known in nature already. Not surprisingly, he’d pick a comparison that had significant relevance to the task at hand, incorporating the mood of the worker at the same time.

Armed conflict during this particular time period, the Treta Yuga, took place with bows and arrows. The recent blockbuster Hollywood movie, The Hunger Games, showed what you can do with a simple bow and arrow set, and how valuable a weapon it can be. In ancient times, the efficacy of the arrows was augmented by sacred chants, mantras repeated to perfection by the warriors releasing the arrows. The mantras were passed on since time immemorial by the origin of sound vibrations, the Supreme Lord. The mantras had to be recited perfectly in order for the desired effect to manifest. In addition, the secret combination of words wasn’t known to everyone. You had to get it from a spiritual master, a grand teacher who himself wasn’t involved in armed conflict.

Lord Rama aiming His arrowIf the teachers didn’t fight, why did they know the mantras? Just because someone teaches doesn’t mean that they actually do. The proprietor of the business establishment knows the duties of the workers in the various departments, but this doesn’t mean that they know how to do everyone’s job. For instance, if suddenly the boss were to be placed in front of the reception desk, he may not know how to answer the phones, how to figure out which buttons to press to put people on hold, transfer calls, and so forth. At the same time, he still knows the occupational duties of every worker because that knowledge is necessary for the establishment to function smoothly.

The spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition are similar in this respect, except they can teach any person on their occupational duties, which are determined by gunas, or material qualities. Just as we see that a newborn child has a certain set of eyes, ears, and other facial features which are reminiscent of those belonging to various family members, every living being has inherent characteristics they take on at the time of birth. In Sanskrit these features are known as gunas. Depending on your exact makeup of material qualities, you will be best suited for a specific type of work. Generally the categories of work are four: 1) priestly duties, which involve acquiring high knowledge 2) administration and defense 3) business and food production, and 4) general service.

The spiritual master belongs to the first division, which is the equivalent of an intelligentsia. You can think of the guru as the single teacher in the school who is capable of teaching any subject. The warrior caste would take care of defense, but they would still approach a member of the priestly class to learn how to fight. Thus the mantras were known to the guru and if he was pleased with the behavior of the disciple, he would pass them on.

There was a world class fighter during this time who appeared in King Dasharatha’s family, whose ancestry dated back to King Ikshvaku. Named Rama, this child was a divine incarnation, the Supreme Lord in a visible manifestation, where His spiritual attributes could be noticed even by the limited vision of the human being. Despite His divine nature, Rama assumed the outward role of a warrior, accepting instruction from Vishvamitra.

“Rama showed His tremendous knowledge of fighting by killing the demon Tataka. The muni then gave to Him knowledge of secret mantras to be used in fighting.” (Janaki Mangala, 36)

Lord RamaRama and His younger brother Lakshmana showed how to please the guru by following his advice and killing a wicked female Rakshasa named Tataka. She had been a plague on the society of peaceful ascetics living in the forests, and so they were glad that Rama with His brother eliminated her influence. Pleased with the two youths, the guru Vishvamitra gave them secret mantras to be used while fighting with the bow and arrow.

Fast forward several years into the future and we have Rama’s dearest servant inside of an enemy territory. He was in Lanka, the land of ogres at the time, looking for Rama’s missing wife Sita. At a crossroads in his journey, Hanuman spotted a grove of Ashoka trees nearby that he had yet to search. At the time he was on the outskirts of the palace of the king of Lanka, Ravana, so he was ready to leap into this network of trees.

He first surveyed the situation with tremendous excitement. He was thrilled at the prospect of having another chance to try to please Rama. Thus far Hanuman had not found Sita, and he began to worry that maybe he would fail in his assigned task. Seeing the beauty of the trees nearby, Hanuman was excited to move to the next part of his mission. Jumping from tree to tree would not be difficult for him, as he was in the form of a monkey since birth. Though Hanuman is capable of assuming any shape, it is through this monkey form that he best serves Rama, which in turn means that the Vanara guise is what Hanuman prefers.

You put on the clothes that make you feel the best, not necessarily those which will look good to others. For an important event you may have to wear a suit or a tuxedo, but unless you feel comfortable in these clothes, you will not be at your best in terms of performance. For the living entity, whichever form best enables them to serve the Supreme Lord without motivation and without interruption is considered the most auspicious. In general, the human form is the best fit because of the potential it carries for the purification of consciousness fostered through real intelligence, but for select exalted figures, sometimes other forms are preferred. Hanuman as a monkey shows that devotion to God is not bound to any body type, place of birth, or level of academic intelligence. It is the enthusiasm to serve which matters most.

Shri HanumanThat very enthusiasm is conveyed in the above quoted verse from the Ramayana. We see that Hanuman flew quickly into the park of trees, which had mango trees and creepers surrounding it. Mangoes are a delicacy in the world of fruits, so we can tell that this park adjacent to Ravana’s palace was auspicious. It was different from the rest of Lanka, as it had Rama’s beloved wife Sita Devi as a resident.

Hanuman’s withdrawal from the walls of Ravana’s palace to the trees is compared to the action of a naracha arrow being released from a bowstring. “Naracha” can refer to any arrow or to one made of iron. Rama and Lakshmana were known to shoot naracha arrows; a fact revealed by Hanuman himself in a conversation he previously had with the monkey-warrior Angada.

“Lakshmana has many naracha arrows that are just like the thunderbolt hurled by Indra and lightning in the potency of their impact, as they can even split mountains.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.15)

Thus the comparison made by Valmiki is both accurate and symbolic. Hanuman was Rama’s servant, so he was in a sense an arrow released from Rama’s bowstring. This arrow would penetrate deep into Lanka and find the whereabouts of Rama’s wife. Rama’s arrows were known to come back to His quiver, so the arrow that was Hanuman would return to Rama, laying to waste the city of Lanka with a devastating fire on its way out.

When Rama shoots an arrow, the weapon acts directly in the interest of the Supreme Lord, thus there is a tremendous velocity associated with its flight. It hits its intended target because that is the will of the son of Dasharatha. And His will can never be denied, as He is infallible, or Achyuta. In a similar manner, Hanuman eagerly sprung forth into action to please his beloved Rama, and he would move both quickly and accurately, eventually finding Sita and temporarily allaying her fears.

That beautiful arrow in the form of a divine monkey continues to this day to travel swiftly to do Rama’s business. He finds comfort in areas where the Supreme Lord’s glories are sung. Thus by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, Rama’s dearest servant becomes pleased and notes that a successful hit as been made.

In Closing:

Amazing fighting ability Rama has got,

Arrows made of iron from His bow are shot.


In ancient times bow and arrow warfare’s device,

As expert warrior, Rama never missed, aim is precise.


In Lanka, Shri Hanuman sprung forth like an arrow,

Sent there by Rama, like a shaft released from His bow.


The target was a missing princess, the Lord’s wife,

Sita Devi, hopefully in Lanka had maintained her life.


Finding Sita, Hanuman’s news to her a life giver.

Then returned to Rama, like arrow back to quiver.