Most Hindus do not read itihasas and puranas. Amongst the majority who read or who are aware, few leverage these inexhaustible mine of gems. The rishis appear to have adopted a series of layering technique. As our mind (d)evolves, it can extract different levels of understanding, just as the different cuts of a diamond add to its sparkle. The saddest moment is, today our contact with these are either through a motivated western indologist or brain dead mythologist or a non practitioner desirous of interpreting his/her view for pushing their agenda. There was a practice amongst most Hindu communities of daily reading little bit of Ramayana and Mahabharata daily. The day we ignored this practice, not only has our ethos changed but also given space to weird interpretations of our texts. This is a layman's attempt at sifting and extracting some gems left at this mine entrance.
Hanuman is not a mere hero of the epic Ramayana, but is a central figure that transcends the subtle variations within Sanatana Dharma. Even polar opposites within Hindu philosophy – Saivites and Vaishanvites, both worship him. Hanuman exemplifies being a great bhakta, yet it is the examples he sets at times of duress that act like a beacon for all the troubled atmas amongst us.
It is usually said that Bhagawan, the Supreme Self, lived a life of example in Ramayana prior to preaching it as Gita through Krishna in Mahabharata. The message is to lead by example before talking about one. Rama is seen as confronting dharmasankata, a choice between two dharmas, when he kills vaali (Read more thoughts on the hyperlink), when his words make Sita jump in fire and when he lets her to be taken to Valimiki ashram. Rama’s situations are extreme as we normally do not even get to fantacize such extreme situations and leave alone being confronted.
Hanuman, on the other hand, despite being a vanara and a scholar is often seen undergoing many humanly challenges. Hanuman excels even Rama’s example in the practicality of the obstacles he overcame and the lessons we can learn from it. If we can be little astute, we can use Hanuman as an entry point into this portal of Knowledge and Wisdom.
The largest batch of Vanara sena, searching South, reaches the sea shore in search of Sita Mata. The team was headed by Angada and was populated with the biggest names in the vanara sena like Nala, Neela, Jambavan and Hanuman. Though buoyed by the information of Sampati, Jatayu’s brother, that Sita is in Lanka, the vanaras had given up hope of reaching owing to the gaping distance parting it. Jambavan shares the secret behind Hanuman’s birth to revive Hanuman’s spirits. The dejected vanaras are rejuvenated by listening to this awe inspiring history.
Hanuman at the end of Jambavan’s narration enlarges his size in preparation to leap to Lanka. He soothes the minds of the vanara sena with his kind words. He promises to search Lanka thoroughly. In case Sita Mata is not found he promises to search in Devaloka and if she is absent even there, he thunders that he will imprison Ravana.
- The most popular version of Hanuman being forgetful or doubtful of his true self is wrong in my opinion. Here is the proof:
Hanuman was seated alone comfortably when the vanara sena was sinking in despair. Hanuman definitely had enough faith in himself, else why would he be seated comfortably. Hanuman also had been given Rama’s personal ring with his name embossed on it. Hanuman was confident that the ring alone is enough to confer him all the strength to accomplish a successful mission, not to forget his bhakti or potential. It appears to me that he was contemplating if the mission will be as a part of a team or alone.
- When confronted with tough choices, when the near and dear do not rise up to the challenge, a real leader rises up to the challenge. There is a calm confidence not only in the self, but in something that is behind the self. When one is connected to the Supreme Self, even the biggest strengths based on the ego will wither away. We see very powerful vanara sena warriors tuck their tail as they were merely debating based on their individual strengths. Hanuman chose to connect with the real source of the strength.
- Hanuman knows that his team was looking up to him. But he could not merely fly away without leaving them inspired. Hanuman having no idea of the obstacles ahead, speaks words of inspiration to keep others motivated during his absence. A true leader ensures that their team or dependants are highly motivated to the task and remains committed.
- Hanuman not only lays a roadmap, though fully aware of the uncertainties being the only certainty ahead. He invokes a series of prayers for the successful fulfillment of the mission. All the senior vanaras bless him, whilst the junior ones cheer for him. Today we see this technique in almost any field of competition. Boxers or critically pitted athletes cheer themselves up with positive upbeat notes or talks. New Age mantra is Self Talk. But Hanuman shows the way eons ago. Despite all these, there is a conspicuous absence of pride. Hanuman’s only tinge of pride is being Ramadhoota which Sita morphs into RamaDasa on the way back.
As Hanuman ascends, he is confronted with three major obstacles along his path to Lanka. He is challenged by Mainaka, Surasa and Simhika. These obstacles and how Hanuman handles are the crux of our study.
Hanuman’s beauty of the flight is so enchanting that Valmiki describes it for almost the first half of the first Sarga in SundaraKanda. As Devas, Rishis and others are in awe of Hanuman’s wondrous leap, Sagara, the ocean, reminisces the past help of Ikshavaku dynasty. His name itself was Sagara after the 60,000 Sagara brothers who dug the land to make it a sea. Owing to Indra’s fear, aided by Vayu, Mainaka mountain takes refuge in sagara(ocean). Sagara reminds him that it will be a great opportunity to payback the kindness by becoming a resting point for Hanuman during this mission.
Mainaka mountain started growing in its stature with an intent to serve Hanuman and Rama, which obviously posed as an insurmountable obstacle to Hanuman, who was ignorant of its aim. Hanuman bumps the peak with his chest. Mainaka reveals his intent of serving Rama dynasty and his gratitude to Vayu’s assistance in the past. He repeatedly pleads Hanuman to take some rest.
Hanuman listened carefully, but refuses to yield as his mind is fixated on Rama Seva. He touched Mainaka and comforted him that he was duty bound and cannot afford to while his time when he was on a time critical mission.
The third obstacle comes in the form of Surasa, the mother of Nagas. The Devas, Siddhas and Gandharvas request her to appear in a horrible form and challenge Hanuman. They intended to test if he will succeed in the task through his strength or his courage and intelligence or will obtain sorrow. Accordingly assuming an ugly demoness form confronts Hanuman and informs him that he has been given as her food by Brahma. Hanuman narrates the urgency of his mission which falls in her deaf ears. Hanuman realized that he cannot move without entering her mouth, due to the power of her boon and also due to fact she started to open her mouth to match his size in anticipation of swallowing him.
Hanuman increased his size to outwit Surasa. She kept outmatching his size on account of her boon. After a few iterations, Hanuman instantly reduced his size to that of a thumb and promptly went inside her huge gaping mouth. Hanuman sought her consent as he had successfully fulfilled her wish and boon. Surasa assuming her real form praised and blessed Hanuman to have a successful mission.
Simhika, a demoness capable of assuming any form and one who could control an object with its shadow, was the next obstacle. She was delighted about a large meal prospect and started tugging Hanuman by his shadow. Hanuman was already aware of this creature thanks to Sugriva. Recognizing the challenge and strength of the opponent, Hanuman grew his size and Simhika opened her mouth accordingly. Having sighted her internal vital organs, he quickly contracted his form and entered her body. Ripping her organs with his sharp nails and killing her, Hanuman exited her body through extraordinary courage and intelligence.
Hanuman then proceeds unhindered and sights Lanka on his mission to locate Sita.
Hanuman overcomes the different types of Obstacles along his flight path. His resolve and astute, ingenious approach in solving each obstacle is very insightful for all his bhaktas and students of Ramayana. Owing to the interpretation of the first obstacle, we actually have five obstacles and their possible solutions. Hanuman is actually joyous of encountering obstacles as he is now confident of being on the right track, according to Valmiki.
Obstacle 1 – Unable to find a solution or realize your potential: The traditional narration is that Hanuman was sitting alone wondering what needs to be done. Jambavan dons the role of a GURU and shares not only his past, but also his potential. He spotlights the need to dig deeper and connect with our TRUE SELF and then the ATMIC SHAKTI will flow dynamically into our live.
There are aspects in our life which others can see in us, yet we are having a blindspot. Guru is the one who can shine light on this. GURU means one who chases the darkness. New Age pandits have realized this huge potential and have spun many businesses of training, coaching and motivating. They all may play similar role, yet the role of a GURU is not providing material comforts but aiding in the spiritual journey.
Jambavan’s retelling of Hanuman’s birth immediately made him realize the proximity of Lord Rama’s feet, his mission and the ring given by Rama. Hanuman’s bhakti gave him the strength as he was connected to Rama’s energy. This strategy is very useful that we can draw energy from a higher source and what can be higher and closer than Paramatma.
Solution: Tap into a higher energy source. Instead of saying God I have a big problem, tell the problem, you have a BIGGER PARAMATMA behind. Leverage a Guru’s guidance.
Obstacle 2 – No one believes around you: Hanuman was surrounded by great vanaras. Either due to lack of potential or due to fear of Ravana, no one believed that they can undertake such an awe inspiring task. Sometimes the task on hand can be so daunting with no probable solution. Despite a dire need to get it done, we tend to revolve around our deficiencies. Our mind can hardly focus on the possibilities or our strengths.
Under such trying circumstance, Hanuman as we noted in sloka 4.65.35, was contemplating on the mission – will it be solo or is it possible that some more vanaras will accompany. Angada talks of going and hiding somewhere to escape the wrath of Sugriva over the failed mission. Leaving the disillusioned vanaras in such a state was very unwise. Hence, as a leader, Hanuman takes a huge form, speaks words of affirmation to cheer the vanaras. He leverages Jambavan’s narration to inject optimism.
Building on existing strength is vital for any success. Hanuman, despite having only uncertainties ahead, demonstrates on the need for having RIGHTFUL thoughts, words and actions, all aligned. In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna calls this as YOGA. It is also important to maintain the morale of the ones dependant on us.
Hanuman draws his strength from his Rama Bhakti. He also remembers constantly that Rama chose amongst him all the vanaras as the one who can carry and deliver Rama’s signet ring. By constantly remembering that someone is having faith in our abilities, gives us the courage to face the obstacles.
Solution: Though it may appear no one around believes in you or themselves, remembering the greater purpose, duty and the people dependant on our performance can energize and compensate for the lack of enthusiasm around. Learn to kindle the fire within.
Obstacle 3 – Friendly Distractions: Hanuman’s perhaps toughest challenge was to pacify Mainaka. Initially Hanuman thought it was an obstacle to break through, but quickly understands that it was someone who is filled with love, respect and gratitude for the past kindness. Most of our distractions are in this category and it is easy to succumb and sacrifice the mission and bask in the great fun on hand. Hanuman was thinking of only one mission. He knew that the lives of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita were not the only ones at risk as he was aware of Bharata and Shatrugna.
Despite Mainaka's repeated pleading, he refused to rest even for a minute. At the same time, he puts his arm around Mainaka and displayed the best relationship skills. Hanuman assured that Mainaka’s offer itself was the best Rama Sewa. He wins his heart and affection even more by sticking to his urgent mission. Well-wishers always understand when we stick to our duties, if we treat them respectfully and explain our purpose.
Solution: One must learn to weave through friendly distractions by constantly remembering the larger purpose, the mission we are headed to.
Obstacle 4 – Tests, challenges: Hanuman was tested by the Devas through Surasa. At the outset it appeared like an insurmountable challenge. Yet applying very sharp intellect and always taking control of the situation on hand, Hanuman not only overcame the obstacles but got Surasa’s blessings for a successful mission.
Many times the perceived mountains of obstacles in our path are mere opportunities for us to navigate and increase our strengths. Unless we get forged and hammered in the fire of the situation, how can we even realize our own strengths?
The attitude we have while facing these challenges does matter. Hanuman was fixated on his mission and was willing to put all his calm, unperturbed intellect to task. He was able to outwit the opponent and situation only due to this.
Solution: Facing the obstacles with a sharp intellect and calm mind not only helps us resolve, but also increases our strengths to face even tougher challenges in future.
Obstacle 5 – Real opponent: Hanuman faced a real opponent in Simhika. Due to his vast listening attitude he was aware of her from his talks with Sugriva. Having been aware, he was ready to confront with all his might so he may not waste any time.
Being mission driven, kept Hanuman always alert and on the look out for any potential game changers in the equation. When one appears, the speed at which the problem is correctly identified gives one a leg up in resolving it. Firmness and decisiveness in tackling the problem helps in a quicker resolution.
Solution: Correctly identifying and firmly dealing with obstacles give us an advantage in solving it quickly and decisively. It also provides better choices to deal with.
Valmiki sums the following four qualities as indispensable for succeeding in a mission or task - fortitude/courage, vision, intelligence and dexterity/skills, with his sloka
यस्य त्वेतानि चत्वारि वानरेन्द्र यथा तव।।5.1.198।।
धृतिर्दृष्टिर्मतिर्दाक्ष्यं सः कर्मसु न सीदति।
धृतिर्दृष्टिर्मतिर्दाक्ष्यं सः कर्मसु न सीदति।
Through Hanuman we can not only see a splendid display of these qualities, but an inspiring figure who can transmute our thought process, if we care to emulate our elders who made it mandatory to read Ramayana daily.
Hanuman is so one-minded that he akins his mission and mindset to be like that of Rama’s arrow – being fast, focused and always on target. Trying to incorporate these qualities in our lives will not only go a long way in us overcoming obstacles but be successful beyond our wildest imagination.
May Hanuman bless all of us to evoke the ideal Maryada Purushottama, Rama, eternally in our minds and help us elevate our thoughts to HIM. May we follow the wondrous example of Hanuman in every aspect of our lives. May we strive our best to read Ramayana more frequently, mine these gems and practice in our daily life.
Om Tat Sat