sa śrutvā vānara indraḥ tu lakṣmaṇena īritam vacaḥ |
tadā āsīn niṣprabho atyartham graha grasta iva aṃśumān ||
The ever-wise Shri Hanuman here makes a subtle reference to the true nature of the king of Vanaras in Kishkindha. Sugriva is no ordinary personality, as proven by his association with the Supreme Lord Rama. Sugriva appeared on earth as the son of the sun-god. As the sun is full of luster, so was Sugriva. That changed briefly when he heard about Shri Rama’s grief, which was due to separation from Sita Devi, the goddess of fortune.
How can God be in grief? If Shri Rama is indeed an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, shouldn’t it mean that He is above sadness? The strongest force to cause grief is the loss of association of something or someone cherished. Sadly, that is the guaranteed outcome for every person appearing in this world. The wise know that everything will go away eventually. I can’t take my favorite pen with me to the other world. More importantly, I survived long before I came in contact with that pen. I can actually live without any specific object. Surely God Himself must be aware of all of this.
Rama is actually an avatara, which means “one who descends.” He does not necessarily incarnate, as there is no interaction with the material elements. His actions are like those of an expert actor on a stage. Kunti Devi once remarked on this fact when addressing Shri Krishna, who is the same Rama but appearing on earth in a different time.
“Being beyond the range of limited sense perception [adhokshaja], You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.19)
When Rama is in grief over separation from His wife Sita Devi, it is a display of affection. Pure love is equivalent with God. Pure love is bhakti, which is the same as the Supreme Lord since it brings His association. Rama loves those who are devoted to Him. One way to show affection is to be grief-stricken upon separation.
That show of grief also serves another purpose. It ignites the flame of devotion which is found in every single being. Indeed, pity for someone dear is often what leads to strong support. You may say bad things about me and I won’t mind. If you speak ill of my dog, however, I will get angry. The harsh words don’t even have to be directed at someone I know personally. Fans of sports teams argue in support of their players after hearing negative remarks. The fans have likely never met these players, yet they feel compelled to stand up to what they consider to be unfair treatment.
Sugriva saw Rama’s grief firsthand. Through the work of Hanuman, Rama became a friend to Sugriva. Thus the leader of the Vanaras in Kishkindha became very gloomy, like the sun being overpowered by an inauspicious star. This happens during an eclipse, which is noteworthy considering how potent the sun is. Sugriva was just as potent, coming from the sun-god himself. Yet hearing about something bad happening to Rama made him extremely upset.
One may criticize the Supreme Lord for manipulating emotions in this way, but the end result is beneficial. My parents may have to trick me into taking medicine or going to school, but whatever the means there is ultimately a benefit to me. In the same way, the material nature tricks me all the time into indulging in things that are bad for me. I have been in illusion since before I can remember.
How kind, then, is the Supreme Lord to come to the rescue and make the best use of my innocence? Knowing the devotional nature in Sugriva, Rama created circumstances for dedicated service. The same applied to Hanuman, as Rama knew that a capable warrior would be necessary to find Sita. The warrior had to be smart and perseverant as well. In this way we see that the devoted souls have no reason to fear idleness in devotion. There is no such thing as retirement in bhakti, as Shri Rama will provide endless opportunities for service that is both invigorating and rewarding.
Having opulences beyond belief,
How for Supreme ever can be grief?
For benefit of devotees showing,
Since their inner desires knowing.
Change in mood of Sugriva stark,
Like bright sun suddenly turning dark.
By Rama’s position in service inspired,
Paving the way for future transpired.