tasya tat vacanam śrutvā sampāteḥ prīti vardhanam |
angada pramukhāḥ sarve tataḥ samprasthitā vayam ||
A monkey lives in the jungle. The Sanskrit word is Vanara, and the literal translation to this word is “forest-dweller.” In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana we hear of how forest dwellers one time became very happy. Their joy increased, priti vardhanam, and the cause wasn’t something you would typically expect.
Let’s say you have a dog in the home that you have great affection for. Whenever you come home from work, the dog is excited to see you. It jumps up and down and licks you all over. It eagerly anticipates when it is time to go outside for a walk. The dog does not hold a grudge over the fact that you came home late yesterday. It doesn’t remember that you yelled at it for muddying up the kitchen floor last week. The dog gives its unconditional affection.
It’s only natural that you would want to return the favor. Imagine that on this day you decide to make your dog happy by bringing it jewels and flowers. You have this really expensive necklace that you purchased. You found the best florist in town and had them arrange this beautiful bouquet. In addition, you’re giving the tastiest chocolates. You’re going all out.
For starters, the chocolates might poison the dog. It is not fit for consumption by that kind of animal. The necklace is meaningless to the dog; it doesn’t really know what gold is. The flowers are also the same. The dog has no idea that you’re trying to do something nice. It has its own habits, its likes and dislikes. You can’t expect it to be happy with objects whose value is only recognized by the more intelligent human being.
Similarly, for monkeys living in the forest you would expect them to get happy over receiving bananas to eat. If they get opportunities for sex enjoyment, that might also be cause for excitement. Yet in this verse from the Ramayana, the excitement is over news. Hanuman and his group have heard something very important. In fact, this news is what they had been searching after for a long time.
The news is the whereabouts of the princess of Videha, Sita Devi. Though she is the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi Devi, the Vanaras are not looking to get opulence from her. Their happiness is not due to knowing that she will bestow fortune upon them.
Rather, these monkeys are engaged in bhakti-yoga. Unlike jnana, vairagya, japa, dhyana, and ashtanga, bhakti-yoga can be practiced by any living being, even a monkey. It is a culture; not merely a means to an end. It is a way of life, not just blind sentiment aimed at bringing some boon that can only be enjoyed in the afterlife.
Bhakti-yoga is the eternal occupation for the spirit soul. That soul can be found in any species, and it is always the same in quality. The soul of a monkey and the soul of a human being are the same. Those who think otherwise are ignorant of the truth. The soul of the infant and the soul of the adult are not different. Yet ability is certainly not identical between the infant and the adult. In the same way, the limited intelligence of the animal species does not mean they are lacking an animating, spiritual spark inside.
Bhakti-yoga is the way to real happiness. Anything else is maya, or illusion. It is like placing the chocolate and necklace in front of the dog. The fish taken out of water cannot survive, no matter how much love you think you are offering it. The spirit soul thrives in devotional service, where it gets to serve the Supreme Lord without motivation and without interruption.
Hanuman was happy for this reason. He and the other Vanaras, headed by Angada, were on a mission to find Sita. Shri Rama, Sita’s husband, was aligned with Sugriva, the Vanara king in Kishkindha. Rama is non-different from the Supreme Lord Narayana, who is the husband of the goddess of fortune. Thus the monkeys were engaged in bhakti-yoga. They had fallen morose due to lack of success. They were ready to end their lives.
Then a bird by the name of Sampati overheard them talking. He asked what was going on. Then he informed the monkeys that Sita was in the city of Lanka, held there against her will by the king Ravana. Through a sincere desire to serve, the Supreme Lord arranged for the news to be delivered at the right time. It increased the joy of the monkeys, who to this day are very dear to Sita and Rama. Hanuman takes pleasure only in devotional service, which he engages in unceasingly.
Typical for monkey happy to be,
When abundance of bananas to see.
Or perhaps with consort to mate,
No longer then for pleasure to await.
Angada and Hanuman different so,
When in search for Sita Devi to go.
Pleasure from Sampati’s news hearing,
Path to further bhakti clearing.