“O Vaidehi, there is a mountain named Malyavan, which is the best among mountains. From there, a monkey named Kesari went to the mountain called Gokarna. As directed by the gods and sages, my father, the great monkey, killed a demon named Shambasadana at the holy place on the seashore. Through the grace of the wind-god I took birth in the wife of that monkey, O Maithili. I am Hanuman and am well known throughout the world because of my own actions.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.80-82)Download this episode (right click and save)
kaurajo nāma vaidehi girīṇām uttamo giriḥ |
tato gacchati go karṇam parvatam kesarī hariḥ ||
sa ca deva ṛṣibhiḥ dṛṣṭaḥ pitā mama mahākapiḥ |
tīrthe nadī pateḥ puṇye śamba sādanam uddharat ||
tasya aham hariṇaḥ kṣetre jāto vātena maithili |
hanūmān iti vikhyāto loke svena eva karmaṇā ||
A topic of discussion in the news in recent times in America is the admissions process at colleges. Since they accept federal funds to help students pay for tuition, the academic institutions are under government regulations. One of those regulations is that a certain portion of their students should come from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The debate is over the criteria for entry. Certain students are automatically granted admission due to family ties. This is known as legacy. Perhaps a father or grandfather went to the school. After graduating, they gave substantial contributions to the college. The issue is that those with the proper merits are automatically discriminated against. After all, a college can only admit a certain number of students each year. Shouldn’t merit be given greater weight than legacy? Is race a more important factor than someone’s link to a past alum?The people coming before did increase the prestige and value of the institution. Shouldn’t they get rewarded by keeping the family tradition going?
In the above referenced verses from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman gives his qualification to Sita Devi, and it is based on both legacy and merit. In times past, it was quite common to identify oneself based on family. “I am the son of so and so. My mother is such and such person.” In the modern world, these distinctions don’t hold as much value. In a country like America, which grants freedom through the Constitution, a person from any background can make it big. They can make a name for themselves on merits alone.
Shri Hanuman came from a good family. His father was a kapi, or monkey, but not of the kind with which we’re familiar. The Vedas divide the time in between population and destruction into four periods. In the beginning stages, the species are more advanced. The species are nothing more than a combination of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. There is an intelligent designer, who goes by names such as Brahma and Chaturanana. He takes the three ingredients and uses them on his canvas known as the material world. The species come to life when a living spark, also known as a soul, is placed inside of the resultant piece of art.
In times past the human beings were larger and more adept. Memory was so sharp that a person could remember a lengthy work in Sanskrit after hearing it just one time. The monkeys in the forest, known as Vanaras, could speak and follow some aspects of civilized life. The kapi named Kesari did some work for the devas and the rishis. These are the demigods and the saints. Kesari killed a bad character and earned pious credits as a result. Through the union with his wife Anjana, he begot a son. That union took place through the aid of both the wind-god, Vayu, and the destroyer, Lord Shiva.
Hanuman came from a good family, but he references his merits as well. He says that he is well-known for his own deeds, karmana. He wasn’t claiming privilege based on his family. That would mean honor descends, which it doesn’t. Honor from past generations gives an opportunity for reaching a high stature, but the deeds are the determining factor. When there is good character and high achievements, the honor ascends, i.e. it goes back up the chain of ancestry.
Identifying himself as such was important because in the particular situation a monkey was out of place. Sita Devi was held in Lanka against her will, and the place was inhabited by Rakshasas. These are man-eating ogres. They were categorized as such based both on their ancestry and their qualities. The leader of the Rakshasas, Ravana, actually had a saintly character for a father. Vishrava united with a female Rakshasa, and since Ravana had all bad qualities shown through his deeds, he was not considered a brahmana.
Hanuman, despite being a monkey, is highly exalted. He was well known prior to meeting Shri Rama. He acted as the chief minister to the monkey-king Sugriva. His stature increased infinitely after engaging in devotional service directly for Rama, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead appearing on earth in an incarnation form, or avatara. From Hanuman we see that legacy or species isn’t even so important. A lack of good family heritage can be overcome through the grace of the Supreme Lord, as can all impediments to success in life.
From good family stock coming,
And through merit respected becoming.
Thus credible on sides both,
Hanuman of good qualities a host.
Despite in Lanka being out of place,
There to help Sita of lovely face.
Means that even in body of monkey can see,
The glorious Supreme Lord, Shri Rama is He.