Saturday, January 21, 2017

Practical lessons from Hanuman's dilemmas in Lanka - Part 1

            The great characters that appear in the puranas and itihasas have inspired countless generations to rise up to their true potential. But with the mythification of these scriptures due to a very motivated western prism, half baked mythologists who equate Upanishads with Greek mythology, the lack of reading amongst the masses and a mindless shift towards a western consumeristic outlook to life have robbed us of these wonderful treasures. This self depravation mode can be broken the minute we crack open the scriptures and even start studying or listen to lectures by traditional scholars. One such attempt is being made here to translate Hanuman’s dilemmas in Lanka and map them on to our daily lives. This will get magnified with svadhyaya of Valmiki Ramayana.
Traditionally Sundara Kanda is prescribed for people who lack hope in life or in their own actions. I never could fathom it, till it started getting clearer when Hanuman took me on this journey. I encourage all to read Sundara Kanda. On the same token Mahabharata also has Vana Parva which is prescribed for a mind in turmoil, to give hope. This article is to merely shine the light into the mine entrance that is studded with diamonds and gems. Every miner can unearth much bigger treasure than what is described in this article.

Hanuman had to surmount innumerable obstacles to reach Lanka. But we realize that his dilemmas and landmine ridden options had only begun. It appears that he jumped from a level 1 of a video game straight onto level 20, in terms of complexity. He successfully navigated not only the task given on hand, but went far beyond the literal objective of finding Sita. It is no wonder why he was the one chosen to receive Rama’s signet ring.

Valmiki has blessed us all with intricate details of not only Hanuman’s actions, but also his subtle thoughts and deep doubts. This is a real blessing as one can follow Hanuman’s footsteps not only in our spiritual journey, but also in day to day mundane life.

Hanuman’s dilemmas and how he solved

            Perhaps the beauty behind all these subtleties is why Valmiki got inspired and named this as Sundara Kanda. The sad part behind the modern narration is only on the plot. Hanuman lands in Lanka, searches and finds Sita and fights Ravana in a more cartoonish or TV soap style. The emotions, thoughts and actions of Hanuman are worth studying for every student of life. Most of us live, eat, breed and die like animals as we do not take time to study life. Hanuman can be a very easy bridge to charter into this territory.
Dilemma 1:  As Hanuman approached Lanka aerially, he was constantly soaking up all the information, at the same time studying every angle. The city was dazzling and seemed impregnable to even Devas, not to mention vanaras. Lanka was the erstwhile the capital for Kubera, Ravana's half-brother, from whom he snatched it.

Hanuman, based on the geography, opined that only four vanaras - Angada, Nila, Sugriva and himself as fit to clear the distance. Even if he transported Rama and Lakshmana, he wondered if they can even make a dent into the fortress of Lanka, guarded by millions of mighty rakshasas.

Hanuman reined in his thoughts by focusing on the task on hand - finding Sita's status, if she is alive or not and then turn his attention to other questions on his mind.

Lesson: Do not get distracted from the task on hand, no matter how critical that aspect can be. This wasting of energy and attention can mess up even the simplest things we are doing.

Dilemma 2: Hanuman now pondered what will be the best way to enter Lanka undetected. In his natural or his enlarged form, it was bound to get attraction. Once he is detected, his mission will not only be in jeopardy but also become a risk for Sita's life. He also was constantly pondering on how to meet Sita alone, undetected, so he can impart Sri Rama's message to her.

अर्थानर्थान्तरे बुद्धिर्निश्चितापि न शोभते |
घातयन्ति हि कार्याणि दूताः पण्डितमानिनः || ५-२-४०

न विनश्येत्कथं कार्यं वैक्लब्यम् न कथं भवेत् |
लङ्घनं च समुद्रस्य कथं नु न वृथा भवेत् || ५-२-४१
            Hanuman ponders in these two verses how he can overcome his mental gloom, how the task on hand will not be messed up, how the ocean crossing will not be futile. He reminds himself that even a decided mind will not shine if not taking into account artha and anartha, what is possible and not, what is reasonable or not. In other words do assessments before you take the next step.
Hanuman decided against changing his form as a rakshasa as Rakshasas were much superior to him in deception and hence he will be caught in no time. He decided that a smaller form, akin to the size of a cat and the cover of darkness at night will be the best option to search Lanka undetected by the teeming Rakshasas.

Lesson: Think before you leap, says the adage. Here Hanuman leapt already into Lanka, but invests time to take stock of the situation. A smart person is one who has a feedback loop of what is happening on ground, which is used to take the next step. This does not mean be paralyzed by analyzing only. This makes sense before we undertake any endeavor. Be adaptable to the ever changing situations.

Dilemma 3: As Hanuman went about his search, Lankini, a demoness who was responsible for guarding Lanka, challenges him. Before Hanuman could assess her intentions, she smashes him with her palm quickly. Hanuman again resists his anger and uses mild force of his left fist to ground her. Immediately he talks to her politely, being considerate of her being a woman and also inferior in strength. Lankini blesses him and informs the doom time has begun for the rakshasas headed by Ravana, on account of Sita. Hanuman rejoiced as it was one more proof for him that Sita was in Lanka.

Lesson: Confront the ever changing challenges. Lankini went from talking to attacking. Be alert for course correction. Never be afraid to go after tough situations, as it builds your character. It also opens more doors which are not available without such an action. We saw a similar approach from Hanuman against Simhika, enroute to Lanka. Hanuman also demonstrates how to not let the emotions lead us astray. He used force, but didnot let his anger carry him away.

Dilemma 4:  Hanuman searched every building and having found no trace of Sita, decided to search Ravana's Palace. He found the mighty Ravana in deep sleep. All around him were rakshasa women filled with lust, asleep in different poses. The gynaeceum was not only a reflection of Ravana's splendour but also his amorous side. 
Hanuman saw a lady who was the most graceful, beautiful and youthful among them. It was Mandodari. Immediately he danced in joy as he thought he found Sita. Simultaneously he also thought with a calm, reasonable mind, Sita away from Rama will never be interested in anything but Rama.  

Lesson: Even in victory, retain calm. Never lose sight of your intellect. This happens usually when our victory turns to a mirage, like in Hanuman’s case. Sometimes we settle for whatever we get instead of the ideal. If the ideal is lofty, strive harder. Do not give up Great and settle for Good. Do not let reason leave you under any circumstances.

Dilemma 5: Although Hanuman had no intention to see other women, he ended up seeing scores and scores of women in all sorts of poses. Being a Brahmachari and a dharmic adherent, he was overwhelmed by a doubt, how these vistas of rakshasa women will hurt him. He focused long and hard on this serious problem and concluded firmly that it is the mind's condition and not the sensory inputs that matter. How the mind reacts to the senses determine their impact. Also in searching a woman, it is obvious the search includes where women reside.

            Lesson: Test your sincerity and morality. As long as one is grounded in Dharma, one is on the safe side. We see all great characters known to mankind, be it Yudhishtra or any dharmic raja, constantly re-evaluated themselves against this benchmark. This reassessment of measuring ourselves against Dharma is very essential for not every spiritual seeker, but every human being. We must note Dharma is not just morality or our conscience as it is normally mistranslated.

            Many a time, a thinking person confronts a question - “Am I doing the right thing?”, “Am I doing enough of the right thing?” The answer lies simply in mapping our thoughts, words and actions against the map of DHARMA. When someone is striving hard to do this and only then their conscience can be said to be active.

Dilemma 6: Hanuman was overcome by a sense of deep depression having searched all the buildings and palaces for the missing Sita. He opined that since she could not be found out despite a thorough search, Sita must have been killed by Ravana as she would never forsake her chastity and traditions. Sugriva will not be patient to this failed mission and all the vanaras life seemed to be at stake. He wondered what his response can be to the waiting vanaras who firmly believed in him. 
Lesson: It is harder to grasp the essence without reviewing the words of Hanuman, captured by Valmiki. Despite the serious depression clouding Hanuman’s mind, his wisdom shone brightly to guide him.

अनिर्वेदः श्रियो मूलम् अनिर्वेदः परम् सुखम् |
अनिर्वेदो हि सततम् सर्व अर्थेषु प्रवर्तकः || ५-१२-१०

"Non-depression is root of development. Absence of despondency is the greatest comfort. Self reliance always is indeed the promoter in all matters."

करोति सफलम् जन्तोः कर्म यच् करोति सः |
तस्माद् अनिर्वेद क्ऱ्तम् यत्नम् चेष्टे अहम् उत्तमम् || -१२-११
अदृष्टामः विचेष्यामि देशान् रावण पालितान् |

"Whatever action a human does that action of man is made to be successful by non-depression. For that reason I will perform a best effort together with non-depression. I will search all those regions ruled by Ravana not yet seen."

            Never Give Up. After assessing the path, mapping it to dharma, the only task remaining is to keep at it. Hanuman does take time to constantly reassess his bearings, but is very careful to use his buddhi, his clues on hand and the consequence of his inaction to keep himself motivated. Motivation is an inside job.
Dilemma 7: The mental anguish and turmoil of Hanuman's conflicting thoughts grew new bounds. He continued searching and felt that he had searched every four angulas of the land. His mind projected the possibilities of Sita dying from a range of possibilities that ranged from wriggling out of Ravana's hands into the ocean to being eaten by the Rakshasis or mere fright of looking at them killing her. As he firmly concluded that the entire mission had turned out to be wasteful, how could he face the vanaras, let alone Rama. If he ever communicated about Janaki's absence, Rama is bound to not live a minute longer. Seeing this Lakshmana, Bharata, Shatrugna, Dasaratha's wives, Sugriva and every single vanara will give up their lives. The lives of all these innocent ones seem to rest upon Hanuman and this made the situation even worse.

If he did not be the messenger of death, the vanaras and Rama-Lakshmana will live on hope. The thought of becoming a hermit or renouncing his life crossed his mind. He sought to kill Ravana to avenge the death of Sita or perhaps capture him and drag him in front of Rama. Again his mind went back and forth without a direction, burdened by a deep sense of desperation and dejection.

He glanced at the Ashoka vana in front and understood that he had not come across this place in his travails before. Hanuman now took time to pray the Vasus, Rudras, Adityas, Maruts and Aswinis. He saluted Rama with Lakshmana, Rudra, Indra, Yama and Vayu. He saluted his king, Sugriva. He prayed to them for a successful mission and to remain undetected by the teaming rakshasa warriors.

Lesson: Prayer or divine guidance is not a factor of dumping what we want to an idea of God and wanting our desires to be fulfilled. Hanuman demonstrates his willingness to comply with the cosmic direction. Prayer is not HOPE – Highly Optimistic Prayerful Expectation. Prayer is aligning our body, mind and buddhi along with the Cosmic intention. When this happens, it appears our prayers are answered.

If a terminal patient in death bed keeps on praying for good health, is he or she hopeful or prayerful? Many New Age and motivation speakers keep confusing us with useless prescriptions. If Prayer does not bring us PEACE within, then it means we are only chasing our desires. Such prayers are to anticipated outcomes disguised as our mental image of God. PEACE can happen only when we rise above the dichotomy of Good and Bad, desirable and undesirable, likes and dislikes.

Dilemma 8: Having searched all over the Ashoka vana, Hanuman finds a very auspicious pond and firmly believed that Sita will come to this pond to dissipate her grief. There was an exuberance of auspiciousness in that pond and the time was dawn and Sita must be pondering Rama over Sandhya rituals.

Lesson: Having exhausted relying on sensory inputs, manas and buddhi, Hanuman is now resorting to Intuition. This is an internal guidance system that works constantly in all of us, but due to the cacophony of the senses and mind, its voice gets drowned. We saw earlier that Hanuman has prepared his mind on prayer. He selects this Simshupa tree to watch the activities of Ashoka vana.

Om Tat Sat


  1. A must have guide for all. A must read for MBA students. Thxs

  2. Thanks Sanjayji for your kind thoughts.