“Even my mind is afflicted knowing that this lady of black-ended hair, having eyes that resemble lotuses with a hundred petals, who is deserving of happiness, is in distress.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.28)
imām asita keśa antām śata patra nibha īkṣaṇām |
sukha arhām duḥkhitām jnātvā mama api vyathitam manaḥ ||
“I’m safe. I have a secure job, which pays me more than enough money to maintain my meager lifestyle. Every day I get to do things that are fun. Since I am not tied down by a spouse, no one tells me what to do. I go wherever I want to go. I do whatever I want to do. I know that there are others in distress, but that is not my problem. I can only do so much, right? I’m not God, so I can’t save the world even if I tried. Shouldn’t I just stay happy doing what I’m doing? Why should I concern myself so much with others?”
Though this wasn’t the exact attitude of a notable warrior a long time back, he was indeed comfortable where he was in the forest of Kishkindha. Though he was a creature that is similar to a monkey, he and his other monkey-like friends in the forest had some semblance of civilized life. This meant that the warrior had an occupation as well. He was the chief minister to the king of this tribe of monkey-like creatures. Though technically he was an emissary, on one occasion he was called to duty that went way beyond basic diplomacy. He had to search for someone without being spotted himself. And if anyone should spot him, he would be in danger. For someone to be successful in this mission, they would have to really want to succeed. From the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see the emissary’s interest in the mission and how deeply affected he was by the conditions of someone else.
We can come up with so many excuses as to why we shouldn’t help others. “Look, it’s their fault. They made the wrong choices in life, and now they have to live with them. They have every opportunity to find a better way of life, but nevertheless they’re stuck where they are.” Even with someone who understands the teachings of the spiritual science, which go well beyond that which is directly perceptible to the eye, there are excuses made to refrain from offering help. “Oh, this is that person’s karma. They’ve done bad work in the past, and so that’s why they’re in trouble now. Who am I to get in the way of the reactions that nature dictates is due to arrive for them?”
The emissary mentioned above is Shri Hanuman. The difficult mission assigned to him was a reconnaissance one. He had to find a missing princess, who could have been anywhere in the world. Also, it was not known whether or not she was still alive. Her husband Rama was desperate to find her, as He felt responsible for her abduction. As the sworn protector of the princess Sita, Rama blamed Himself when He was suddenly drawn away from her side by a running deer that Sita asked to have caught for her, preferably alive. That deer was a diversion that allowed the fiend Ravana to swoop in and take Sita away against her will.
Hanuman and his monkey friends had no relation to this incident. They were living elsewhere at the time. They only came to know of it when Rama formed an alliance with their leader, Sugriva. Sugriva then ordered his massive monkey army to scour the globe in search of Sita. Only one person had any chance for success, however, and it was the chief minister Hanuman. He had both ability and desire. The desire was evident from his immediate affection for Rama upon their first meeting. Rama rewarded this affection by investing further responsibility in Hanuman. Though all the monkeys were assigned to the search mission, Rama specifically gave His ring to Hanuman, asking him to give it to Sita if and when he saw her.
“Thereafter, being very pleased, that chastiser of enemies [Rama] gave to him [Hanuman] a ring inscribed with His own name as a token of recognition for the king's daughter [Sita].” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.12)
After a lengthy search, Hanuman finally found Sita in a grove of Ashoka trees in Lanka. As would be expected, Sita was not in the best of emotional states. She was sighing uncontrollably, and her body was worn thin from not eating. A good worker is one who doesn’t let temporary failure get in the way of their march towards success. Diligence means to persevere through the rough patches, and this is beneficial because without diligence there is no chance for success. Thus in one sense it would be okay if the person sent to find Sita wasn’t so affected by her situation.
At the same time, if you’re not emotionally invested, how are you going to put in the necessary work? Hanuman wasn’t given specific instructions on what to do in each situation. No one assumed that he would have to enter an enemy territory like Lanka unseen. Hanuman couldn’t call home to find out what he should do. Rather, he had to rely on his natural talents, which were guided in this case by his love for Rama. Someone who was totally divested of interest in the outcome would not have gone to the great lengths that Hanuman did. He knew those measures were worth it once he finally found Sita.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman remarks that even he is affected in the mind by the distressful situation. Sita was Rama’s wife, so it would make sense for Rama to be affected by her absence. But Hanuman had never met Sita before. He only knew Rama for a brief while, so why should he be influenced by the external vision of a distressed Sita, who only stayed alive in the faint hope of reuniting with her husband?
Hanuman gives justification for his mind’s distress. He says that Sita has eyes that are like lotus flowers with a hundred petals. She has beautiful black locks of hair, and she is deserving of happiness. The fact that such a person is in distress makes Hanuman a little distressed as well. This is the mark of a saint. It is one thing to see someone else in distress when we know that they deserve it. It is entirely another thing to watch someone who doesn’t deserve anything bad find misfortune. This explains why there is such widespread sadness when young children are involved in a tragedy. The same incident involving adults doesn’t draw nearly the same attention. The children are considered innocent; they don’t deserve such bad things to happen to them.
Similarly, Sita didn’t deserve anything bad, and so people who were not part of her family, like Hanuman, also felt bad for her. Hanuman’s reaction shows that he has real affection for Sita. Ravana didn’t feel bad for her; he was actually responsible for her predicament. He was driven by kama, or lust, which he mistook for love. Real love was shown by Hanuman and his side. The brave warrior risked everything to find Sita, who was helpless and in need of rescue. This is the behavior of saints; they cast aside their own interest in favor of helping others. Through their work they set the right example for others to follow.
The rescue Hanuman offered to Sita was the sound of Rama’s message, which gave her hope that she would be reunited with Him. Rama is God, the person known in all the universes. The Vaishnavas of today carry the same flag hoisted by Hanuman. They look for all the innocent people of the world, those who have any sincere interest in reuniting with God, the original friend. The rescue they bring is the sound of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” which they carry to stranger and friend alike, feeling the utmost compassion for both.
Even when comfortable in home and fare,
The saint for plight of others will care.
To great lengths they will go,
For transcendental light to show.
In Hanuman’s case to Lanka he went,
Rama’s message with him to Sita was sent.
Comfortable at home and happy to be alive,
Nevertheless to please Rama was his drive.
When of troubled Sita he caught sight,
Distress even to him over her plight.
Conditions for her unpleasant and dark,
Distress in him showed true saint’s mark.