“She had a beautiful splendor that was barely discernible, like a flame of a fire enveloped in smoke.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.20)
manda prakhyāyamānena rūpeṇa rucira prabhām |
pinaddhām dhūma jālena śikhām iva vibhāvasoḥ ||
Such is the nature of the world we live in that the immaculate radiance indicative of the divine presence is purposefully clouded in order to further the flawed notion of the individual being supreme, ignoring the spotless opulence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His closest associates. Yet despite the best efforts of the most crafty cheaters, who will even resort to using the Lord’s scriptures to prove their fatally flawed theories, the blissful association with God that is every soul’s birthright can be had. Using his vision in a manner akin to the supreme swan separating milk from a mixture of milk and water, Shri Hanuman spotted Lord Rama’s beautiful wife in the Ashoka garden. The female Rakshasas nobly tried to mask her beautiful radiance, but to Shri Hanuman the divine presence never goes unnoticed.
Why would anyone purposefully try to cover the influence of the Supreme Lord? The default position is actually one based in ignorance, so there is an uphill climb starting from the time the individual emerges from the womb. We know that there is ignorance with regards to moving, walking, talking, and reading and writing as well. These abilities have to be learned through experience and explicit instruction. In the absence of that training, the individual will not reach their true potential for intelligence.
The instruction typically relates to surviving in the world, being able to provide for basic necessities. You go to school to get an education to get a good job later on in life, which will enable you to put food on the table, have a roof over your head, and enjoy with your friends and family. But instruction is supposed to go one step further. The truly wise person questions the purpose of their birth, the reason they have to follow the pattern of education and work. Why should we have to work so hard to eat, sleep, mate and defend when the lower animals do the same things but don’t work nearly as hard? They don’t go to school and they don’t have to worry about marriage. For them children are loved automatically and housing is found in the wilderness. That being the case, why should the human being be burdened with so much?
Through asking enough questions, one eventually reaches the defining issue: identity. “Who am I? Did my existence start at birth and will it cease at death? Why do I have to die? Where do people go after death?” These questions and more are answered in the Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of India. There is information about divine figures and rituals and regulations in the Vedic texts, as is quite common in any tradition of spirituality. But there is also an in-depth presentation on the identity of the individual and the reason for the various shifts. The many species are also accounted for, as the pure spirit soul, the jiva, accepts different combinations of matter based on past desires and work.
We know that there is a soul because we see that the hands, legs and other body parts move at the direction of the owner of the body. The different parts can stop working, but the living entity continues to exist. Therefore identity cannot be sourced in the body parts. There is also the ability to act unintelligently, i.e. do stupid things. Thus there is also some reliance on intelligence, which must come from a superior being. We get knowledge from our teachers, but there is a higher force that resides within that has more influence than we do. He is known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma, and it is through His sanction that results manifest.
“Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.23)
More complete and powerful than Paramatma is Bhagavan, who is the original controller. Everything comes from Bhagavan, including Paramatma and Brahman, the sum collection of spirit that pervades the many universes. The living entities are sparks of Brahman, so they are all constitutionally equal. This is a lot to digest in one sitting, so in the Vedic tradition the principles are learned through steady practice that ideally begins at a young age. The life of a student is known as brahmacharya because the realization of Brahman is supposed to result from the instructional period.
These truths seem logical enough and they are presented nicely in the Vedic texts, with the most thorough discussion found in the Bhagavad-gita, which happens to be spoken by Bhagavan Himself, Shri Krishna. He is the same God that everyone else worships, except since He is all-attractive, He is described as such by the people who love Him. Despite the availability of this information, the tendency is to ignore God, to eliminate His influence from life. Indeed, without education on the nature of spirit and its position above matter, the living entity will take himself to be God. Seems rather silly just based on the fact that man is mortal, but knowledge of danger doesn’t always prevent someone from following a particular path. The drunkard knows that intoxication leads to negative consequences, but they follow through with their drinking nonetheless. The temptations for illicit sex are known to produce illegitimate children - which can be an unwelcome responsibility for those who aren’t ready for it - but the forbidden conjugal relations take place anyway.
The tendency for ignoring God is so strong that even amongst so-called followers of the Vedas there is every attempt made to deny the Supreme Lord’s influence. The last snare of the material energy known as maya is the philosophy of Mayavada, which takes everything in the world to be false. This includes the bodies of the incarnations of Bhagavan, who are known as avataras. Under the Mayavada philosophy, Brahman is the highest realization and since everyone is a part of Brahman, every person is God. The whole collection just broke up to make the different individuals, and through merging back together everything will be okay again.
There is no doubting that every one of us is part of Brahman, but there is still a higher being. Bhagavan’s advaita property reveals that He is non-different from His energies, but at the same time we can never be God. We are part of His definition, but never are we the supreme controllers. The Mayavada philosophy and its imitators tragically rob their followers of the chance to associate with Bhagavan and His devotees. Such an association brings the bliss, or ananda, that every spirit soul is looking for. Indeed, true oneness with the Absolute Truth means merging into an ocean transcendental nectar created through divine service, wherein both parties assume their ideal roles.
And what are those roles? Bhagavan is to be served and the fragmental sparks emanating from Him are meant to provide the service. Whether we like it or not, this is the ideal situation and the further one deviates from the constitutional position, the more pain and misery they will find. To show how the ideal service manifests, the pleasure potency expansions and the most beloved servants take up that service in front of the eyes of the souls conditioned by material nature. Their implementation of service is kindly noted down by pure-hearted onlookers, who then pass that information down in the scriptures.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.7)
Shri Hanuman is such a wonderful servant that in many ways he is honored more than God. The same is true with Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama. Hanuman was tasked with finding Sita by Rama Himself. The courageous Vanara made it into the enemy territory of Lanka, but he still couldn’t find Rama’s wife. She was taken away from her husband’s side against her will by the ogre-king of Lanka, Ravana. Hanuman anticipated Sita not being in a pleasant state of mind, but he did not expect her to be so withered.
He finally spotted her in a beautiful park of trees situated next to Ravana’s palace. She was in bad shape, but through the external distractions Hanuman could find divine beauty. And from what he could see, he could tell that the woman was Sita. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we get further information on what Sita looked like at the time. Her clothes were soiled, she was sighing repeatedly, and she was surrounded by female ogres ordered to intimidate her. They were acting at Ravana’s command, as the king was upset that Sita refused to give in to him.
It is said that Sita did have a beautiful radiance, but it was barely discernible, like the flame of a fire surrounded by thick smoke. The smoke in this case refers to the soiled garment worn by the princess, along with her withered body due to fasting and, of course, the hideous looking flesh-eating female ogres that surrounded her. In this picture, everything was trying to cloud the beauty of Rama’s wife. The situation at hand was conducive to forgetting God, to moving on to another area to continue in the search.
But Hanuman is a paramahamsa, which is the word used to describe the highest transcendentalist. The word translates to “supreme swan”, and it references the swan’s ability to extract what it needs from a mixture. In this case the mixture was the combination of the unpleasant conditions and the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi. From that mixture, Hanuman could extract the splendorous daughter of King Janaka, so accurate was his vision. Everything else about the park made it conducive for Sita’s residence there, as she loved to live in the pristine forest. It was because of this that Hanuman was certain he’d finally find her. He did, but he would have to cut through the thick smoke surrounding her first.
Know that despite the tendency towards forgetting God and the undesirable influence of the cheating spiritualists, God’s presence can be felt and taken full advantage of within this very lifetime. Just the fact that we can hear about Hanuman and Sita means that there is supreme nectar to be tasted within this world full of polluted mixtures. To keep the company of the saints and their cherished objects of worship, the real paramahamsas of today chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Know that through hearing and chanting, which serve as the bedrock of bhakti-yoga, Bhagavan can be realized and the eternal occupational duty of the soul reinstated.
Water and milk together are mixed,
But the swan has the problem fixed.
The milky portion it can take,
The unwanted water to forsake.
With life Paramahamsa does the same thing,
Can see the divine presence in everything.
Inauspicious signs all around,
For Sita sitting on bare ground.
But through the smoke Hanuman to see,
Rama’s wife, like beautiful fire was she.