“O Devi, I made this effort and arrived here on behalf of Rama for your sake. Know me to be the minister to Sugriva and the son of the wind.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.73)
tvam mām rāma kṛta udyogam tvan nimittam iha āgatam |
sugrīva sacivam devi budhyasva pavana ātmajam ||
“Where do you want to eat? I don’t really care. I’m open to anything. No, please don’t press me. Imagine I wasn’t here. Then where would you go? I will agree to whichever place you pick. Your happiness is my happiness.”
Vedic philosophy teaches that even altruism is materially motivated. The idea is that I think I’m doing something for another person’s benefit, but actually I’m looking for a personal gain. The Bhagavad-gita touches on something similar, describing the three kinds of charity.
Not all charitable giving is equal. In the mode of ignorance, I give indiscriminately and to the wrong people. Think of offering money to a homeless person, who eventually uses the gift to purchase alcohol and cigarettes. There is no benefit accrued to either party.
yat tu pratyupakārārthaṁ
phalam uddiśya vā punaḥ
dīyate ca parikliṣṭaṁ
tad dānaṁ rājasaṁ smṛtam
“But charity performed with the expectation of some return, or with a desire for fruitive results, or in a grudging mood, is said to be charity in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.21)
Charity in the mode of passion is with the intent of receiving a specific benefit. A famous politician of recent times spent many years in the business world, where he generously donated to politicians of both major parties. The reason was obvious: to gain favor. A politician is more likely to listen to a donor than to a common man. In the mode of passion, I give to a charity so that I will get some benefit later on.
Even charity in the mode of goodness has some selfishness built in. When given to the proper recipient, at the proper time, and with no expectation of reciprocation, the giving qualifies as goodness. There is the material benefit of ascension to the heavenly realm that comes later on. The miser lives a hellish present life, always thinking about their wealth and protecting it. Due to their miserliness, they go to hell after death.
na sukhāya kadācana
mṛtasya narakāya ca
“Generally, the wealth of misers never allows them any happiness. In this life it causes their self-torment, and when they die it sends them to hell.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.23.15)
To find true unselfishness, we have to look to examples like the one referenced above. Here Shri Hanuman is describing his journey to Lanka, in the search for Sita Devi. He has found her, and now he needs to convince her that he is indeed a friend. He has done the amazing deed of crossing the expansive ocean, all for Sita’s sake. His actions were authorized by Rama, since Hanuman works for Rama directly. Rama is Sita’s husband.
Hanuman is the minister to the Vanara-king Sugriva. He is also the son of the wind. Vedic culture describes that different elements of nature have a presiding deity. Whether we accept this information initially isn’t very important. The material elements are beyond our control. Despite modern advancements in technology, there are still problems with drought and the like. This means that the water supply is out of the control of the human being.
The deity in charge of the wind is named Vayu, and one of his offspring is Hanuman. This wonderful messenger works selflessly. His journey to Lanka is not in the mode of ignorance, since there is intelligence involved. It is not in the mode of passion, since he is not looking for a personal benefit. It is not in the mode of goodness even, since Hanuman is not following some prescribed ritual meant to bring good karma. It is not that every person draws the assignment to travel to the dangerous land of Lanka, filled with Rakshasas, at a certain time each year.
Hanuman’s service is bhakti, which is pure love. We know that this must be the case since Hanuman risked his life for someone he had never met. Military men do this also, and they guarantee themselves a spot in the heavenly realm should they perish on the battlefield. Hanuman was working directly for Rama, who is God. Rama is not the only manifestation of the Divine, but He is the Supreme Lord Himself.
True selflessness is only found in bhakti-yoga. Every other activity has some hint of material desire, which leads to the development of a future material body. Only devotees like Hanuman are akama, which means “without desire.” He works for Shri Rama’s pleasure, and any attention on success is rooted in that objective. Such a dedicated servant is always dear to both Rama and His wife.
Since Hanuman moving without fear,
To Sita and Rama always dear.
Truly having desires none,
Since focus on bhakti one.
With intelligence to activities going,
Not for personal benefit siddhis showing.
Work for God and happiness yours forever,
To fall into binding material body again never.