Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Discerning Eye

Hanuman reading“As Sita was not decorated, with difficulty Hanuman could recognize her, like understanding a text which has gotten a different meaning due to a lack of purity.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.39)

duhkhena bubudhe sītām hanumān analamkṛtām |
samskāreṇa yathā hīnām vācam artha antaram gatām ||

The task of finding Sita, the princess of Videha and wife of Lord Rama, was quite difficult. It was not known where she was, nor was it known if she was still alive. Sugriva, the leader of the Vanaras in Kishkindha, put his faith in Hanuman, who was the chief minister. That same Hanuman had previously brokered the deal between Rama and Sugriva, two parties who were separated from their wives and could use each other’s help. Hanuman’s discerning eye and attention to detail earned him the trust of Rama and His brother Lakshmana upon the first meeting with them, and through many past incidents Hanuman had earned the top standing with Sugriva. Initially, Sugriva was anxious when he saw the two princes of the Raghu dynasty approaching their forest. Thinking that they might be warriors sent to kill him, the king asked Hanuman to descend the mountain and decipher the purpose of their visit.

“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)

Carrying out a simple order shouldn’t be too difficult. You get your assignment, know what the objective is, and then understand when to report back your findings. Aside from the obvious issue of being able to carry out the slated tasks, the greatest difficulty in accepting someone else’s work is that you don’t have their mindset. Say, for instance, someone tells you to call up a specific provider of a good or service that your company needs. The boss is in charge of the establishment and he knows what it takes to earn a profit, or at the very least his intention is to earn a profit. He keeps the entire business in mind when making decisions. If he were to call up this service provider, he would hassle them to get the price reduced. This is a standard practice in business dealings, for if you can negotiate your way to a better price, what is the harm?

But delegation to the worker might not produce the same result. The servant may not have the same ability to negotiate, for there is not the same passion to bargain. Each person has specific inherent qualities, and the natural tendency is to think that others are just like us. “What is the big deal? Just negotiate a little. I do it all the time, and it’s no sweat off my back. Why then should it be so difficult for them to do?” But if the worker has no experience negotiating, if they make all of their purchases without any personal interaction and without any desire to bargain, the verbal confrontation and the constant back and forth will not sit well with them. Thus the assigned task may not be completed to the satisfaction of the leader.

“All the worlds - which consist of asuras, Gandharvas, Nagas, human beings, devatas, oceans, earth, and mountains - are known to you.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.4)

In Hanuman’s case, there were nuances that one couldn’t even think of beforehand. Though Sugriva and Rama reviewed all the obstacles they anticipated he would face, Hanuman’s most difficult challenge would be in recognizing Sita. He had not spent any time with her, nor was he familiar with her appearance. The information of her facial features he received from Rama Himself, i.e. he gathered knowledge through hearing. Hanuman was familiar with the many creatures of the world, and he had the ability to use mysticism to mask his shape. These abilities would indeed come in handy during his journey to Lanka, where it was later learned that Sita was.

Fighting off mental demons that arose due to the pressures of time and the fear of failure, Hanuman finally made it into the Ashoka grove next to the head palace in Lanka. Ravana, the city’s leader, was the fiend who had taken Sita away from the side of her religiously wedded husband. He was afraid to fight Rama, so he took Sita in secret, then practically begging her to become his wife. She refused, and so Ravana placed her in this Ashoka grove. Hanuman wasn’t sure she was in this park of wonderful trees, but he had a hunch that she might fit in with the pristine environment.

After looking around, from a distance Hanuman could spot a woman who was beautiful. The problem was that her beauty was masked by so many inauspicious external conditions. There were no ornaments on her body. She was worn thin from fasting. She was sighing repeatedly due to mental distress. There were female ogres surrounding her, taunting her to give in to Ravana. She looked like the radiant full moon covered by clouds. She looked like a blazing fire surrounded by a cloud of smoke.

Thus Hanuman couldn’t be sure that the woman was Sita. He was really hoping that it was her, but how could he know? In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, it is said that Hanuman could make her out with great difficulty. The comparison is made to understanding a text that has undergone a change of meaning due to a lack of purification, or samskara. The comparison is quite appropriate in this regard. It also speaks to how the classic Vedic texts can be so misinterpreted to this day by those who lack any culture in the Vedas.

Think of a personal conversation between two parties. One party is describing a specific truth or incident to someone else. If an outsider were to eavesdrop, they might not understand what is going on. They don’t know the parties in question, nor do they know the underlying context to the words. Yet if the words of the conversation were noted down and then shown to others to read, you could get so many different meanings. This is what occurs with famous Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Ramayana today. The Bhagavad-gita was sung on a battlefield to a hesitant warrior by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The conversation was meant for the ears of the cultured, those who understood Krishna to be God. The conversation was later documented in the Mahabharata, often considered the fifth Veda, so that other pure souls could hear it in an assembly of like-minded devotees of God.

Bhagavad-gitaThe same applies to the Ramayana, which is an ancient Sanskrit work authored by Maharishi Valmiki. These Vedic texts weren’t published for general consumption like the books that line the shelves of bookstores today. They were safely kept aside with the saintly class, who would pass them down to their disciples. To be a disciple, you had to have discipline and a submissive attitude. The topics discussed in these works were confidential, and if someone with a polluted mind were to hear them they would misunderstand the meaning. Hence today we see that so many bogus interpretations of the Vedas are presented. Some say that the Ramayana is a work of mythology, while others say that the Bhagavad-gita should be understood as a symbolic work that discusses the need to go for what you want in life without fear.

Of course these works have so many lessons packed into the succinct yet brilliant verses, but the string that holds the many pearls of wisdom together is the Supreme Lord. Without His presence, the Ramayana would not be noteworthy. Hanuman is worshiped and honored to this day because of his relationship to God. Indeed, it was his devotion that gave him the purification necessary to distinguish Sita, though she was barely discernible. Of all his qualities, it was this purification that made him most worthy of Rama’s trust. The Supreme Lord gave Hanuman His ring inscribed with His name on it because He knew that Hanuman would succeed. The devoted servant would surely hand over that ring to Sita as a token of remembrance.

Hanuman was a Sanskrit scholar and highly intelligent as well, but it was his devotion to God that proved to be the determining factor in spotting Sita. Ravana was a high scholar of the Vedas as well but since he lacked devotion to God, he took Sita to be a means of enjoyment, a beautiful collection of matter to be kept for himself. Thus even though he saw her up close and personal several times, he couldn’t understand who she was. On the other hand, even with great difficulty and from a distance Hanuman could spot Sita and know that he was on the right path. Know that the devoted servant with the discerning eye never fails in pleasing his master, Shri Rama, whose orders he takes to be his life and soul.

In Closing:

Of Sita’s qualities from Shri Rama learning,

Hanuman could then use his eyes discerning.


In Lanka Supreme Lord’s wife to be found,

By ticking clock of time Hanuman was bound.


Soon Rama’s missing wife he had to find,

Fear of failure Hanuman thus kept in his mind.


With lack of culture Vedic texts are then misused,

To distort meanings of verses the ignorant choose.


Bhagavad-gita and Ramayana meant for devotee’s ears,

Confidential topics originally kept safely with Vedic seers.


Through devotion Hanuman hardest obstacle overcame,

Spotted Sita from afar to earn himself eternal fame.