“Even a plan destined for success will be vanquished if it contradicts with time and place when reaching the hands of a confused messenger, like darkness at sunrise.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 30.37)
bhūtāḥ ca arthā vinaśyanti deśa kāla virodhitāḥ ||
viklavam dūtam āsādya tamaḥ sūrya udaye yathā |
The darkness looks very strong. You can’t see anything outside without using external lighting. In times past when visiting a friend or relative you had to sleep in a dark room. When you awoke in the middle of the night, you had no idea where you were. You kept your hands along the wall to feel your way towards the light switch. Those incidents remind you of how powerful the darkness is. Yet as strong as it may seem, at sunrise it goes away. The time and place are no longer favorable for the darkness. Shri Hanuman here worries that by taking the wrong action due to confusion, he too will go against time and place and thus foil a mission which was otherwise destined for success.
There is the famous saying, “If you want things done right, do it yourself.” The sentiment is very common, arising typically after someone has done something the right way. Think of a time in the past when you asked someone to do something for you. It could have been something complex or something very simple. Regardless, you put trust in them. You thought they could handle it.
For some reason or other, they ended up failing. Perhaps they went to the wrong airport to pick up someone very important. Perhaps they arrived two hours after they were supposed to. Perhaps they stopped by an area they shouldn’t have on their way back home. Perhaps they thought what you were asking for wasn’t worthwhile, so they decided to do something else instead. They thought you would be pleased by their change in plans; when in fact you had good reason to ask for the thing you did.
The truth stated here by Shri Hanuman doesn’t fit his situation exactly. In all his humility, Hanuman considered his very dangerous mission of a very uncertain outcome to be a lot easier than it was. He also considered himself to be confused, someone who was careless. This was far from the truth. The fact that this cogent truth came to mind shows that Hanuman is very diligent. He does not act carelessly. He is not confused, though he sometimes does deliberate on what to do. There is a world of difference between not knowing what to do and carefully considering different options, weighing pros and cons.
Hanuman mentions this truth right after considering the negatives that may come from approaching Sita Devi and talking to her. She is in the Ashoka grove in Lanka, kept there against her will by the king, Ravana. Hanuman’s mission was to find her. That part had succeeded, but the key was to return back to home base with the information of her whereabouts. At the same time, he wanted to console Sita, to let her know that her husband Rama was indeed searching for her and would come to rescue her.
The only way to let her know would be to speak with her. But if she became startled at his presence, that could foil everything. As he was in a monkey form, Hanuman would look strange to Sita, especially if he spoke in Sanskrit. Sita might mistake him for an enemy. Being thus startled, Hanuman’s presence in Lanka would get revealed, leading to conflict with the ogre inhabitants. The outcome to conflict is never assured, and so all the hard work it took to find Sita would go for naught.
Shri Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and so He chose wisely with Hanuman. Rama could have done the job Himself. He can do everything, in fact. He doesn’t require a single helper. And yet He has so many of them, for those souls are eager to please Him in any way possible. They have eschewed the dreaded life of material sense gratification, where there is always sadness, despair, chaos, and eventual embarrassment. They take thrills only from seeing a smile on Rama’s face, and so Rama duly rewards them with important tasks to complete.
Hanuman accepted the vital mission of finding Sita, and though he had to figure out some of the finer points on his own, he was never confused as to the purpose of his mission. He was not careless and he was not selfish. Keeping Sita and Rama in his heart, he made all the right decisions, thereby pleasing both of them. In the same way one who always chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and keeps the interests of Sita and Rama at the forefront will please them in the end.
With diligence proceeding he went,
Careful not to act time and place against.
After difficult journey now on Lanka’s soil,
Worried that mistaken judgment mission to foil.
Since heart situated in right place,
His work to give Rama a smiling face.
On chance to serve Sita and Rama seized,
By his work always they’re pleased.