“Here is a large grove of gigantic Ashoka trees. I will explore it, as it has not yet been searched by me.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.55)
aśoka vanikā ca api mahatī iyam mahā drumā ||
imām abhigamiṣyāmi na hi iyam vicitā mayā |
Large and expansive trees, just perfect for hiding someone who shouldn’t be found. Erect a high barricade to prevent the defenders of justice from locating the innocent princess, who was ever worthy of being by the side of her husband. Though the tall trees provide enough of a cloak for the eyes, for extra precaution surround the damsel with hideous creatures ordered to torture her at every second. Even the most capable warrior, the person who is undeterred in his undying love and affection for his beloved, who is unwavering in his commitment to seek out success in the mission of all missions, almost didn’t locate the missing princess of Videha. Finally spotting his eyes on this expansive grove, the warrior in a monkey form seized upon the opportunity to continue his search, to remain dedicated to the service he promised to provide.
Was this person a hired gun? Was there a bounty waiting for him at the end? Was there a cash reward for success in the mission? Up until this point, he was known only as an emissary, a sort of diplomatic head of a small community residing in the forest. The members of this group were monkey-like, but they had many human features as well. Therefore they could organize their affairs and follow some basic codes of a civilized society. There was a head of state, whose name was Sugriva. His chief minister was Hanuman, who was as loyal as they come. Loyalty as a concept can be modeled after Hanuman, for there is not a hint of duplicity in him. When he’s carrying out a mission, he does whatever it takes to meet the interests of the party he’s representing.
As kings are known to do, Sugriva formed an alliance with a person who had a similar interest. Though Sugriva and his monkey community were living in fear on the top of the mountain called Rishyamukha, their home was the entire forest of Kishkindha. Sugriva, however, had been driven away by his more powerful brother, who also happened to be his mortal enemy. Through the diplomatic efforts of Hanuman, Sugriva formed an alliance with a prince named Rama, who was roaming the forests with His younger brother Lakshmana. Rama was looking for His wife, Sita, who had just gone missing. In this way both Sugriva and Rama were looking to regain something they had lost.
Hanuman thought it wise to pair the two together, to create an alliance to meet both ends. As an expert bow warrior, Rama first helped Sugriva gain back his kingdom. To return the favor, Sugriva dispatched his massive monkey army around the world to look for Sita. Hanuman was in one of the search parties. Though he was only one out of thousands of monkeys, it was known to both Rama and Sugriva that if anyone was going to find Sita, it would be Hanuman. Many times prior the hero had measured up to his standing, proving his capability to succeed in a task assigned to him.
Not only would their faith in him be tested, but the exercise of Hanuman’s abilities, both mental and physical, would be stretched to the limit as well. Rama and Sugriva had faith in Hanuman’s ability to find Sita, but they didn’t necessarily consider all of the obstacles he would have to face. Moreover, no one can predict the workings of the most difficult enemy of all: the mind. Hanuman did make it to Lanka, the island where Sita had been taken. As the only monkey capable of reaching the island in a single leap, he found himself resuming the search with no one around to help him. Add to the fact that the inhabitants of this island were enemies, we can see what a daunting task lay ahead of the hero.
Yet the strategic difficulties weren’t what would get to Hanuman. Marshalling his abilities in yoga and intelligence, Hanuman found a way to search through the entire majestic city without being noticed. So in this sense there were no difficulties presented by the Rakshasas. What did cause him trouble, however, was faith in the successful outcome. As more time passed by, it looked more and more likely that Sita would not be found.
When a television show gets cancelled, if it is popular enough with fans the producers will try to shop the show to other networks, hoping one of them will pick up the show. The likelihood of that happening is quite slim, and as the more time passes, the chances of success further evaporate. Hanuman was in a similar situation, as the more of Lanka he searched without finding Sita, the less likely it was that she wasn’t there. Who could have ever predicted this mental hurdle? At worst, perhaps the initial concern was that Hanuman couldn’t handle the onslaught of ghoulish creatures residing on the island. Sita was taken to Lanka by a Rakshasa king named Ravana. Rakshasas are a human-like species given to black magic, drinking, animal killing, and all sorts of other sinful behavior. Hanuman, on the other hand, is completely pure; hence the two didn’t mix well.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman is turning his mental outlook around, deciding to continue the search. He notices an Ashoka grove, a wooded area filled with many large trees. It would be a strange place to search for a missing princess, but since he had not looked in there yet, he might as well give it a shot. Human beings naturally reside in civilized parts of town, such as in the palaces and residential buildings. That Hanuman hadn’t searched this wooded area yet was understandable.
Though the many tall trees were hiding Sita, Ravana never would have thought that a monkey would come to find Rama’s beloved wife. Indeed, the wooded area was actually more conducive to Hanuman, since he was accustomed to living in the forest and climbing trees. He would be able to jump from tree to tree and not be seen by anyone. Moreover, he could use the strategic perch to gaze upon the situation down below, to map out a strategy on how to meet Sita. While the primary objective of his mission was to find Sita and then report back on her location to Sugriva and Rama, Hanuman also had to deliver to the princess Rama’s ring. This would give Sita validation that Rama was insistent on rescuing her and that Hanuman was His representative.
An ordinary garden full of trees isn’t that remarkable, but when it holds the goddess of fortune, the most beautiful woman to have ever graced this earth, it becomes a subject of interest. Because of this characteristic, any person who would search through the area looking for this princess would similarly become glorious. The image of Hanuman deciding to search through the Ashoka garden brings pleasure to the hearts of devotees, those whose primary business in life is to follow bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. All kinds of service take place during the living entity’s many trips through the material universe, but only one service stands far above the others. Loving God as a way of life is the best way to describe bhakti-yoga. If we should acknowledge the existence of a supreme ruler, an original creator, shouldn’t we try to connect with Him all the time? This is the aim of real yoga.
Since bhakti is the highest discipline in life, any person who practices it wonderfully, without any personal motivation, and provides an example for others to follow, also becomes worshipable, as is the case with Hanuman. He doesn’t know that he’s following a yoga system; he just wants to please Rama. This attitude extends to Rama’s wife Sita, His younger brother Lakshmana, and all His servants. Lord Rama is the very same person the rest of the world addresses as God, so in this sense there is no sectarian designation. We already suffer so much by ignoring God and service to Him. Yet the offer to take up His service is always open to accept, as is the story of Hanuman and his dedication. Though Hanuman is only concerned with pleasing Rama, His deeds also serve to ignite the flame of devotion resting within the hearts of all living entities. Hanuman shines bright with his unmatched love for Rama, and this love is so effusive that it can be distributed to others, to those who are pure at heart and who love Rama and His devotees.
Standing tall and many are the garden’s trees,
Making it difficult for Sita to be seen.
This wooded grove Hanuman had yet to search,
As monkey could climb trees and use as perch.
Ravana thought that kidnapped Sita couldn’t be found,
Ashoka trees the divine princess did surround.
For Rama’s sincere servant no obstacle too great,
To meet goddess of fortune was his destined fate.
Hanuman to finish his search and succeed,
No match for his will were the many trees.