“While searching for the highly qualified, very beautiful and irreproachable daughter of the king, that monkey awakened the birds that were sleeping peacefully.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.9)
mārgamāṇo vara ārohām rāja putrīm aninditām |
sukha prasuptān vihagān bodhayām āsa vānaraḥ ||
The birds were peacefully asleep in this wonderfully beautiful grove of Ashoka trees. The one area in Lanka where there was peace, quiet, and hints of the mode of goodness was this tucked away park, which was filled with creepers and many kinds of fruit-bearing trees. There were delectable mangos growing on some of these trees, and the flowers produced were quite beautiful as well. The scene didn’t match with the rest of Lanka, which was mired in the modes of passion and ignorance, following the lead of their king Ravana. But there was a reason for the goodness in the Ashoka garden, and that was what led a kind warrior, who himself was enveloped in the mode of pure goodness, to that area.
The three modes manifest in many ways, including lifestyles. The famous Vaishnava acharya, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, likened the modes of nature to different classes, such as first, second and third. We know of these classes on airline flights and other modes of paid transportation. The first class treatment usually equates to more spacious seating arrangements and better food to eat. There is also better service. The middle class fares get you a normal seat that is crammed next to other normal seats. The treatment is the same for everyone and there is nothing special about the class.
The lowest class is something most people wouldn’t want. Perhaps it’s a makeshift seating arrangement that comes to be at the last minute to accommodate an overbooked trip. When sending packages through the mail, the class delineated as “media mail” is very inexpensive, but at the same time it can take much longer to travel. There is no tracking on the package nor is there any guarantee that it will arrive at the intended destination in a set amount of time. The lowest class is an option not too appealing, but it is still available for those who want it.
“Those who are in the mode of ignorance are called rakshasas, those in the mode of passion are called asuras, and those in the mode of goodness are called suras, or demigods. Under the direction of the Supreme Lord, these three classes of men are created by material nature, but those who are in the mode of goodness have a greater chance to be elevated to the spiritual world, back home, back to Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)
When it comes to the modes of nature, the lowest class is extremely harmful because the person mired in it thinks that the bad is actually good. You may have a lower class ticket on an airline flight, but if you considered the arrangement to be superior to first class, you obviously wouldn’t be viewing things correctly. In the mode of ignorance, the effect on consciousness is deep, and in the wrong direction. What is pious you take to be sinful, and what is sinful becomes your way of life, something of which you are proud.
In the middle class, the mode of passion, there is a pursuit for temporary rewards. The chase involves tough labor and the reward itself doesn’t last very long, but you nevertheless follow through with your behavior, thinking that you have nothing else to do with your time. Games, sports and general fruitive pursuit fall into the mode of passion category. The game is pretty much meaningless, because whether you win or lose doesn’t matter that much. Even if you are a professional athlete and victory to you means more compensation, when your career is over you have to find something else to do. That money may buy you financial security but the issue of mental peace is not addressed.
The mode of goodness is conducive to the advancement of consciousness, being able to see things as they are. Thus quiet surroundings are generally equated with this mode, as fewer distractions and overall external pleasantness help in thinking rationally and properly understanding the point of life. In Lanka, an opulent city ruled by ogres a long time ago, the people were mostly in the mode of ignorance. Their leader was in passion long enough to request material benedictions from figures who could grant them, but then the use of those newfound abilities caused him to further descend in consciousness. The residents would regularly eat animal flesh, drink wine, and cavort with women into the wee hours of the night.
There’s a reason that such partying is these days typically reserved for young, college-aged students. It’s not a lifestyle that produces anything tangible. It is based on ignorance of the real aim, not knowing the purpose to having a brain that can think rationally. An adult going on a college-style Spring Break vacation is rare, for why would a mature person want to waste their time in that way? Yet this is how Ravana and his band enjoyed their days.
It would have been one thing if they kept this mode of ignorance locally confined. But the detriment to consciousness has far reaching effects. The polluted mind caused Ravana to forcibly take away a beautiful princess who was already married to a suitable husband. Ravana didn’t win this woman in a fair fight either; he took her away in secret. As she didn’t mix well with the mode of ignorance of Lanka, this princess was held in an Ashoka park, which was very beautiful and gave hints of the mode of goodness.
The princess’s husband set about to find her. He aligned with a band of Vanaras living in the Kishkindha forest. The Vanaras were monkey-like but at the same time had human tendencies. Their best fighter was Hanuman, who would make it to Lanka all by himself to look for Sita. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, he is entering the Ashoka garden after having surveyed the situation. He thought that Sita might be there, as she couldn’t be found anywhere else in Lanka.
The birds were sleeping peacefully in these trees. Nobody was there to bother them, and so they could rest without disruption. Then, all of a sudden, a huge jolt came to the branches, which broke the peaceful slumber of the birds. If we invoke projection, we can assume that the birds must not have been happy. Do we like it when someone wakes us up like that? It’s more distressful when the interruption comes during a period of deep sleep. The first few moments after waking up are a little strange, as we might not know where we are.
But in the end, we know that too much sleep is not good for us. In the Vedic definition, oversleeping is in the category of the mode of ignorance, as it is not conducive to any good. Even people in the mode of passion don’t oversleep, as you need to be awake to chase after your material desires. To break our sleep for the right cause is always beneficial. Though we may not like the interruption at first, it turns out to be to our benefit later on. If we just slept the day away, we wouldn’t be able to do what we needed.
These birds got the ultimate boon of seeing Hanuman when they woke up. If they had remained asleep, they would have missed that once in a lifetime opportunity. The spirit soul never glows brighter than when it is enthusiastically engaged in the service of the Supreme Lord. The princess whom Hanuman was searching for was the daughter of King Janaka. Named Sita, she was unimaginably beautiful and highly qualified. She was irreproachable, as she followed in her father’s footsteps with respect to character. Janaka was known for his high moral standing, and Sita took on all the good qualities of her father.
That made Ravana’s act all the more deplorable. But now Hanuman was there to fix things. Sita Devi is the goddess of fortune and her husband Rama is the Supreme Lord Narayana. Thus Hanuman was on a mission to directly please Narayana. The birds that were awakened got the chance to see Hanuman, so they were fortunate that their sleep was interrupted. Moving forward, they could sleep more peacefully by keeping the delightful vision of Rama’s messenger within the mind.
In the bed just a few minutes longer let me stay,
But I know I must get up, not waste away the day.
In Vedas in mode of ignorance is too much sleep,
Underdeveloped your consciousness it will keep.
Should rise to mode of goodness, the first class,
Hankerings for passionate rewards surpass.
Hanuman in pure goodness, so auspicious was his sight,
To the minds of awoken birds brought delight.
On his way to find Sita Devi, Hanuman to carry on,
Awakened mind always his deeds to contemplate upon.