“If even the respectable Sita, who is dear to Lakshmana’s elder brother, who was trained well by His superiors, can be struck by distress, then the influence of time is indeed insurmountable.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.3)
mānyā guru vinītasya lakṣmaṇasya guru priyā |
yadi sītā api duhkha ārtā kālo hi duratikramaḥ ||
The material world is such that what you see is not always what it is. Like the magician who uses slight of hand and illusion to fool the audience, our immediate perception does not always tell us the way things really are. The most obvious indication of this is the false identity taken from the body. We know that bodies change, and that the form we had as a youth no longer exists, yet we nevertheless identify with the body we currently occupy. This illusion helps to keep us away from God, but from the behavior of Shri Hanuman we see that with the devotional consciousness even external illusions can’t successfully attack our intelligence.
You see the wreckage from a natural disaster on television and you start to think. “How could God allow this to happen? Isn’t He supposed to love all of us? Why would He allow for such devastation to people who are helpless? And what about the innocent women who get raped and the children that are killed in the womb? Why do we suffer from horrible diseases like cancer? God must not exist. If He did, no way would such things be allowed.”
To one who is in the know, however, such disasters are merely shifts to the external surroundings. The changes are the influence of kalah, which can translate to destiny, time, or death. Whichever translation we choose, the effect is the same. Time is the great equalizer. No matter how high we may be, eventually we will have to fall down. The complete descent occurs at the time of death, where the present body is renounced in favor of another one. This transmigration is commonly known as reincarnation.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
A student of the Vedas learns to see these changes even when they are difficult to perceive. Shri Hanuman is a learned scholar of the Vedas, and we see evidence of his wisdom from many incidents. One time, the wife of the Vanara warrior Vali was sad over the death of her husband. Tara saw her husband’s corpse on the ground and thought that he was still there. This is only natural, as the same body just moments earlier had a life in it. Now that life force is gone, but the body remains, so it’s understandable to feel sad.
"Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?" (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
Shri Hanuman counseled Tara on this occasion by rhetorically asking why she was lamenting for someone when she herself was poor. He also said that the body is like a bubble, which means that it can burst at any moment. Mature human beings know this, yet it is difficult to realize. Hanuman also remembered the same fact, that the influence of destiny is inevitable, when he saw the plight of Sita Devi in the Ashoka grove.
Sita is Rama’s wife. She is dear to Rama, and Rama is dear to Lakshmana. Rama is also respectful of His elders, all of which makes Sita that much more respectable. Since she is sinless, she does not deserve pain and discomfort. The criminals get sent to jail, while the pious get to live in freedom. The thieves live in constant agony of getting caught while the charitable are always satisfied with whatever they have got. In the bigger picture, the pious are not supposed to suffer pain because they do everything the right way. Yet here was Sita in a very distressful situation, forced to remain in a foreign territory against her will. She was surrounded by female ogres who harassed her day and night. She did not know if her husband Rama was going to come to save her, and she did not know if she would live another day.
Hanuman, who was sent by Rama to look for Sita, saw her from a distance. He easily could have lost his cool. He could have cursed God for having done such a thing or he could have concluded that God mustn’t exist. Yet the reality is that Rama is God Himself, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord as stipulated by the Vedas and the Ramayana itself. Here was God’s wife in deep trouble, in more distress than any person could imagine.
Hanuman rightfully concluded that destiny’s influence applies to all. This is one of the principles taught by the Supreme Lord during His descents to the earth. Rama is not under the sway of maya, or the illusory material energy, and neither is Sita. Yet they go through the cycle of birth to death to show how to live peacefully and to let others know what to expect in a material existence. If even the sinless Sita has to outwardly suffer distress, it means that every person should know that their time in the material world will be filled with both pain and pleasure.
The external vision is like a discouraging lie, as the temporary changes and the pitiable situations give the appearance that there is no God. This is the point to maya after all, for we are illusioned into thinking that there is no God because that is our flawed desire. Persons like Hanuman are pure in their desires, as they only want to serve God, so the external nature does not have the same influence on them. Know that through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, no vision can deter one from the ultimate mission of pleasing God. To chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the highest occupation for man in the present age of Kali. Hearing is believing in the Vedas, so to hear about Hanuman and Sita is to know that through devotion one can transcend the effects of the temporary world that is full of misery.
Maya works off of illusion,
Throws mind into confusion.
This body I think is mine,
But to be destroyed in time.
Both will come, good and bad,
Sometimes happy and sometimes sad.
Yet against devotees illusion to lose,
For devotion to God they happily choose.
Sita’s condition almost a lie discouraging,
To saints Hanuman’s perseverance encouraging.