“Thus seeing Sita at that time, the son of the wind God, in great delight, approached Rama in his mind and offered praise unto the Lord.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 15.54)
evam sītām tadā dṛṣṭvā hṛṣṭaḥ pavana sambhavaḥ |
jagāma manasā rāmam praśaśamsa ca tam prabhum ||
When is a good time to approach God? How about when things are good? Or maybe when you have just landed a new job? When your first child is born? How about when times are bad, like when you specifically want something? “Oh please God, give me this one thing. I will never ask for anything ever again. If You grant me this one favor, I will be eternally indebted to You. I promise to pray to You and never forget You going forward.” From the actions of a notable warrior a long time ago, we see that any time is good for approaching the Lord, as through the combination of the right mechanism and the worthwhile target, benefits are sure to abound.
Can there be an improper mechanism? Surely there can. If you want to get an oil change for your car, do you drive up to the supermarket? Or if you’re looking to buy milk and bread, do you drive up to the car repair shop? There are specific areas to get the things that you want. The river has the water and the land the crops, so to go to the wrong places means to not get essential items necessary for the continuation of life.
There are proper mechanisms with worship of the Supreme Lord as well. You can’t just go up to a tree and think that you’re talking to God. You can’t make a statue on a whim, bow down before it, and think that you have found the Almighty. It is practices such as these which degrade real religion, which is defined as sanatana-dharma in the Vedic tradition. Sanatana means without beginning and without end and dharma means an occupational duty. Never at any time does the soul’s inherent duty change.
And what is that occupation? It is service. Service is offered already to so many different entities, and thus we see so many improper mechanisms for practicing dharma. It is not that it is wrong to hold affection for our loved ones, but there is a limitation with such affection. Interaction with paramours and friends can only take us so far, whereas service to the right entity can bring a purified consciousness, which in turn automatically leads to better treatment towards every person that we encounter.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
Consciousness is the proper mechanism, as it stays with us all the time. To have a consciousness means to live, and since consciousness never leaves us, we never cease to be. At the time of death, the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego travel with us to a new collection of gross elements, meaning that consciousness travels, like the aromas in the air. It is through consciousness that we can offer service to the Divine, though initially the mechanisms may seem like they have nothing to do with consciousness.
We can take the example of Hanuman to see how this works. A divine warrior in the form of a monkey during an ancient time, Hanuman was tasked with finding the missing princess of Videha. She was stolen away from the side of her husband through a backhanded plot executed by the king of Lanka, Ravana. Hanuman’s service thus comprised physical activity, travelling across the earth to look for someone he had never met. His service was to Shri Rama, the prince of the Raghu dynasty. According to the Vedas Rama is the very same God, a qualified form, an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the person we generally refer to as God, except His features are more clearly drawn out. From His lila, or divine sport, we get an idea of His tendencies and what pleases Him.
From Hanuman’s behavior, we see that dharma involves two parties. The occupational duty is carried out by the individual, but the beneficiary is the Supreme Lord. Though Hanuman carried out physical work in the beginning, we see from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana that it is indeed the mind which is the determining factor in divine service. If it is connected to God, if the work we apply brings about this connection, then the service and its mechanisms are legitimate.
In this particular instance, Hanuman has just spotted Sita from afar. At first he wasn’t sure that it was her, but through careful mental deliberation and review of her features, he reached a confident conclusion that this woman was indeed Rama’s missing wife. Rather than celebrate his amazing achievement, which he was more than justified in doing, Hanuman happily approached Rama in mind. This means that through his service he knew to remain connected to God in consciousness.
What is the significance of this? Is Hanuman specifically asking for something? Is he thanking God for a benefit? Is he praying for success? Such requests are always worth making when approaching the Supreme Lord directly, but in this case Hanuman is just praising Rama. The Lord had such a virtuous and beautiful wife and somehow He was able to survive in her absence. Only a person possessing the utmost renunciation, who kept his wife in his thoughts but didn’t let the separation change his course, could pull off such a feat.
In any task, in whatever condition we find ourselves, approaching God to praise Him is always beneficial. The connection to the divine is known as yoga, and when it exists at the time of death, the full potential of the human birth is realized. To be able to think about God is the main benefit of the human birth. The influence of the senses is too strong in the other species; thus the issues of eating, sleeping, mating and defending take paramount importance. In the human being these behaviors are so commonplace that they get to be boring after a while. Every person is looking for more, a higher taste, and Shri Rama and His divine qualities are it. Shri Hanuman knows this very well, so he always thinks of his Lord. And as Rama is antaryami, or the all-pervading witness, He recognizes Hanuman’s thoughts and reciprocates by creating conditions for that yoga to flourish. Hanuman is so powerful that anyone who thinks of him regularly can learn how to create that connection to God and keep it active until the time of death.
Approach God when times are good?
When difficult concepts understood?
How about when conditions are bad?
When tragic loss has made me sad?
Soul’s dharma means that any time,
Is good for approaching God in mind.
Rama’s wife in Ashoka grove found,
Hanuman’s mind then in happiness abound.
In auspiciousness Rama appreciated,
On Him Hanuman’s mind concentrated.