“Sita thus considered Hanuman a monkey and not otherwise. Then Hanuman spoke to her, who is dear to behold.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.87)
hanūmantam kapim vyaktam manyate na anyathā iti sā |
atha uvāca hanūmān tām uttaram priya darśanām ||
Religion shouldn’t be dry and boring. It is for the eternal welfare of the living spirit, after all. If you’re going to live somewhere for a very long time, the expectation is to have at least a little happiness there. Especially if the place of residence is by choice, the experience should be mostly blissful. Religion promises all happiness, all the time. The promise is attractive because the only experience in memory to date is of a mixed life. There is happiness mixed with sadness. Heat and cold. Light and dark.
Vedic philosophy describes this as duality. In the higher philosophical understanding, both good and bad are actually the same. How can this be? The time factor, which operates in conjunction with karma and the material nature, shows how everything eventually goes back to nothing. We start as nothing, bring in some objects of attachment, experience some miseries, and then eventually give everything up. Birth, old age, disease and death. This is the pattern for every living thing in the material world.
Good is defined as favorable, and bad as unfavorable. Yet the results of both remain only temporarily. Moreover, what is good for one person may not be so for another. The vote of a country to exit a larger union of countries leads to a massive selloff on the stock market on the subsequent day. This is bad for the stock holders. The value of their shares plummets. At the same time, there is potential buying opportunity. The bad for one became good for another.
The best “good” is ascension to the heavenly planets after death. If you do right by your fellow man, believe in a higher power, and avoid the most egregious sinful acts, you will get rewarded with life in heaven. The Vedas provide the most detail about that heaven. It is a place of increased material enjoyment. The trees are known as kalpatarus, which means that you can go up to one and ask for anything. It is a desire tree, so it will fulfill your desire immediately.
Residence in the material heaven is not permanent. Like purchasing time on a card, the pious credits eventually expire. Then there is a chance to fall back down to the material world. So at some point in time you end up back from where you started. The same cycle is there for sinful behavior; after doing your time in the hellish region you make your way back up.
Bhakti-yoga is eternal life, something beyond the good and bad of the material world. It is blissful for many reasons, the chief among them being the all-attractiveness of the object of service. Because of this feature, one of His many names is Krishna. He is also known as Rama. He is Hari because of His ability to take things away. That which belongs to Hari is Hare, which is the energy of God. These three names constitute the most potent of chants, the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Rama is also an individual, known as Shri Ramachandra who appears on this earth every now and then. He is also very attractive, full of transcendental goodness, or gunas. When He descends to earth, He brings His energy with Him. His better-half, so to speak, is known as Sita. As the above referenced verse from the Ramayana describes, she is also pleasant to behold, priya-darshana.
The reward for work in devotional service is a constant vision of this attractive couple. Shri Hanuman had to go through some amazing situations to please Shri Rama. He had to fight with ogres, battle the enthusiasm-dissuading time, and even overcome a doubting goddess of fortune. Sita Devi was not ready to extend full faith, or vishvasa, when she first met Hanuman. She was skeptical that a monkey could come to her with good news about her husband.
In this verse we see that Sita finally considered Hanuman to be a monkey, and not otherwise. The otherwise would be an ogre who could change their shape as desired, kama-rupa. The leader of Lanka, Ravana, had this ability, so Sita was wondering if maybe Ravana had come before her in the guise of a monkey. Sensing her mistrust, Hanuman prepared to speak to her. Despite being in so much distress due to separation from Rama, Sita was still priya-darshana. This means that at any point in devotional service there is a chance to enjoy the attractiveness of the object of service.
In no other endeavor is this true. You can’t live in the house until it is built. You can’t enjoy dinner until it is cooked. You can’t experience heaven until death arrives to take you there. The bliss from the surrender in devotion, sharanagati, can be experienced right away. Even while residing in a foreign land such as Lanka, filled with wicked characters, there is pleasantness to experience.
Darkness and ogres on one hand,
Filling the city of Rakshasas land.
Even with darkness some enjoyment to be,
Serving Sita, she who always pleasant to see.
Priya-darshana, to husband Rama dear,
After hearing got idea of Hanuman clear.
With bhakti-yoga no longer for heaven to wait,
With all-attractiveness right now bliss to taste.