“Then, after seeing the newly risen sun in the great forest when you were a boy, taking it to be fruit and wanting to catch it, you jumped up and flew towards the sky.” (Jambavan speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 66.21)
abhyutthitam tataḥ sūryam bālo dṛṣṭvā mahā vane ।
phalam ca iti jighṛkṣuḥ tvam utplutya abhiutpato divam
Shri Hanuman, the powerful Vanara warrior and faithful servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is one of the most celebrated divine figures in the world. The regular adulation and worship directed his way has gone on for thousands of years, dating back to the time of his initial advent on earth, when he aided the victorious side in one of the greatest battles this world has ever seen. Since the entire universe goes through many cycles of creation and destruction, the circumstances surrounding Hanuman’s birth are a little different each time around. The most often referenced account is provided in the sacred Ramayana of Maharishi Valmiki, which actually describes Hanuman’s early life in two different sections; such is the greatness of the fearless devotee. Hearing of his birth and his tremendous courage shown in battles against the enemies of the Lord is enough to secure transcendental bliss for a lifetime. Such figures are put on this earth at just the right time and place to allow current and future generations of conditioned souls a chance at understanding true greatness, courage, strength, perseverance, and most importantly, devotion to the Lord.
Pure love for God, or bhakti, is the constitutional position of the soul. Though we tend to identify with our outward features, it is the spirit soul inside which forms the basis of identity. “I” and “Mine” really refer to the soul and not the body. We may have the form of a human being in the present life, but in a future one we may be born as a demigod, a plant, or even an animal. The soul can never be discarded, burned up, dried, or cut into pieces. No matter the trials and tribulations it endures, the soul can never change in properties. Part and parcel of the soul’s makeup is a deep and unadulterated love for God. When the individual spiritual spark is placed in a temporary realm, wherein birth, old age, disease and death constantly repeat, knowledge of the loving propensity gets forgotten. Therefore the aim of human life is to rekindle the pure connection with God through activities in divine love. Unlike conditioned activities, acts of devotion lead to liberation. Just as in an elementary school classroom there are two paths, one which leads to knowledge and subsequent elevation to the next grade, and another which forces the student to retake the same class in the following year, in the material world the living entities have a choice as to which type of engagement they will adopt, as free-will and independence are also characteristics of the soul.
“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.9)
Material activities, those actions that aim to satisfy the senses of the temporary body, are deemed conditioned and thus leading to bondage. The binding aspect shouldn’t be difficult to understand, as the body is temporary and subject for destruction, so any activity which aims to satisfy it will also end in destruction. Since such engagements also do nothing to purify consciousness, the soul remains bound to the cycle of birth and death. The Supreme Lord, the one and only God for all of humanity, is very kind. Through His separated energies, He gives those who do not worship Him personally what they want, even if their desires won’t lead to eternal freedom. If the individual wants to remain tied to the repetitious activities of sense gratification based off false identification, they are free to do so.
There is another class of activity which has the opposite effect; it slowly but surely breaks the bonds of attachment to the phenomenal world, thus leading to liberation, or the cessation to the cycle of birth and death. These activities, which are collectively known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, spark a change in consciousness. While the body is temporary and ultimately discarded, consciousness travels alongside the soul from life to life. It is the consciousness that determines the type of body the individual receives in the next life. As is readily perceptible, young children are born with certain qualities. One child will naturally be very peaceful and quiet, while another will be antsy and very talkative. These natures are determined by the previous consciousness of the soul. When one’s mindset is completely purified by remaining transcendentally situated at the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a spiritual body is given in the next life. A spiritual form is a permanent one that is of the same quality as the soul. While the temporary outer covering composed of material elements has a spiritually inhibiting effect, the transcendentally situated form lacks any propensity for illusion or activities leading to bondage. Thus the Krishna conscious soul is free to associate with the Supreme Lord in their specific mood of choice.
How does a change in consciousness come about? Though we are in a temporary body, the key is to take to acts of bhakti, one of the simplest and most effective of which is hearing. Though the Supreme Lord remains invisible to the soul deluded by the sense consciousness, He kindly makes appearances on earth to give the inquisitive and love-starved individuals a chance at liberation. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. During that time, the original personality of Godhead, who is known as Krishna or Vishnu in the Vedic tradition, descended as a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Just as there is a natural interest in the workings of the notable royal families of today, there was a great interest in the day-to-day dealings of the famous Ikshvaku dynasty, which ruled the world. Their king at the time was Maharaja Dasharatha, who was so pious and kind that everyone loved him. Lord Rama was the king’s eldest son and the heir to the throne that was missing for such a long time.
From the time of His birth, everyone was enamored by Rama’s activities and also those of His three younger brothers: Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. When one rises above the animalistic stage and gains a basic understanding of spirituality but still hasn’t achieved pure God consciousness, there are four rewards in life that are deemed most precious and worthy of attaining: dharma [religiosity], artha [economic development], kama [sense gratification] and moksha [liberation from birth and death]. They say that during Dasharatha’s time, these four rewards manifested in the forms of his four young children. In fact, these beautiful boys, who were all non-different forms of Vishnu, were rewards far greater than anything anyone could ever ask for. Devotion to the feet of these sweet children would bring the greatest gift of all: bhakti, which is an eternal flame of love that illuminates any form the soul happens to assume.
Those who lived in Ayodhya at the time certainly were transcendentally benefitted by seeing Rama and His brothers all the time, but in order to give future generations a chance to hear about the wonders experienced by the citizens of Ayodhya, the Lord took to transcendental activities performed outside of the town as He grew up. These actions were so blissful and beautiful that they were chronicled by Maharishi Valmiki in a wonderful poem called the Ramayana.
As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed the forests of India alongside His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi and Lakshmana. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped from the forest while not in Rama or Lakshmana’s presence. In their subsequent search for her whereabouts, Rama and Lakshmana forged an alliance with a Vanara king named Sugriva, who was living in the forest of Kishkindha. Vanaras are usually taken to be monkeys, but the Sanskrit word itself means “one of the forest”. Based on the descriptions of their activities and their notably strong penchant for intoxication and sex life, we can understand that the Vanaras were very monkey-like, but they still retained many human tendencies. Species themselves don’t evolve, for matter is incapable of doing anything on its own. However, the body types in which the souls are injected certainly can change over time. The Vedas cap the list of distinct species at 8,400,000, with the Vanaras being one of them.
Sugriva sent out search parties to scour the earth for Sita’s location. Though the monkeys were divided into groups, Sugriva knew that the party which included Shri Hanuman, his most faithful and dear servant, was the only one with any legitimate chance at success. Sure enough, Hanuman’s group, after much stress and turmoil, finally stumbled upon Sita’s location. Through the help of a bird named Sampati, Hanuman and his monkey friends were informed that Sita was taken to an island kingdom of Lanka. There was just one problem: getting to the island. The monkey party was on one side of the water, and Lanka was all the way on the other side of the ocean. Realizing their dilemma, the monkeys each asserted how far they could jump. Similar to the old game show Name That Tune, each monkey stepped forward and said they could jump a certain distance. Realizing that none of these distances were long enough to make it across the ocean, Jambavan, one of the elderly monkeys in the group, approached Hanuman and asked him why he was silent. Up to this point Hanuman had not even ventured a guess as to how far he could jump.
Jambavan took the opportunity to inform Hanuman of his tremendous prowess inherited from his father. Not knowing the circumstances of his birth, Hanuman was told the beautiful story about the early years of his life. There once was a celebrated celestial nymph who was exquisitely beautiful. Due to a curse imprecated by a sage, she was subsequently born as a monkey. Given the name of Anjana, she was later married to a monkey named Keshari. Though she was in the form of a Vanara, Anjana still retained some of her celestial powers, one of which included the ability to assume any shape at will. One day she decided to assume a human form and roam the top of a mountain which had a beautiful cloud amassed around it. The wind-god, Vayu, then saw her and became enamored.
Though this seems like a poetic trick of personification or a mythological tradition, the Vedas inform us that each of the material elements has a presiding deity. We can think of it in this way: As human beings, we can most certainly enter the water, but it is not our natural habitat. We could never survive in water because our specific body type is made to reside on land. Fish, on the other hand, can only survive in water. They would immediately die in any other environment. Just because we can’t survive in the water doesn’t mean that other living entities aren’t meant to live there. In the same way, each of the various planets of the universe has living entities with specific bodies residing on them. Even the sun is considered a deity, for it is presided over by a powerful living entity who possesses a body of fire.
manasā asmi gato yat tvām pariṣvajya yaśasvini |
vīryavān buddhi saṃpannaḥ putraḥ tava bhaviṣyati
mahāsāttvo mahāteja mahābala parākramaḥ |
langhane plavane caiva bhaviṣyati mayā samaḥ
“Since after embracing you I have entered you with my mind, O famous lady, a son who is powerful and endowed with intelligence will be born to you. He will be mighty, highly effulgent, very powerful, valorous, and my equal in flying and leaping abilities.” (Vayu speaking to Anjana, Valmiki Ramayana, 66.18-19)
Wind, along with earth, water, fire and sky, is one of the central elements of the material world. It has a presiding deity named Vayu who is responsible for its workings. The importance of this responsibility would be highlighted shortly after Vayu’s meeting with Anjana. Seeing the beautiful woman on the mountaintop, Vayu brought her close to his body, a gesture not appreciated by Anjana. She made a vow to only accept one husband, and now this strange person was seemingly violating her. Vayu allayed her fears by informing her that he had not had any intercourse with her, so her vow of chastity had not been broken. But due to the embrace, Vayu had impregnated her using his mind. Being with child, Anjana went to a nearby cave and gave birth to a Vanara son endowed with the celestial powers of his father.
When he was still a child, the young boy one day saw the sun in the sky and mistook it for a fruit. Wanting to grab the fruit and eat it, the child leaped into the sky and made his way closer and closer to the sun. His jumping ability and swiftness weren’t remarkable considering Vayu was the boy’s father. Even though the child was eventually repulsed by the massive splendor of the sun, he did not get discouraged in any way. Indra, the king of the heavenly planets, saw the child approaching his realm, and possessed by anger, he hurled a thunderbolt at the young boy. Being struck by Indra’s vajra, the child in the sky was throttled back and subsequently collided with a mountain. Since his jaw was broken by the impact with the mountain, the child was thenceforth known as Hanuman.
Seeing his son attacked and injured, Vayu was not happy at all. As revenge, he decided to cease functioning; so subsequently there was no wind anywhere on the earth. Obviously, this led to chaos and disaster, so the sages and demigods pleaded with Vayu to give up his anger. To pacify Vayu, Hanuman was granted the benediction from Lord Brahma of being invincible in battle. Indra, who was the cause of the whole mess, granted Hanuman the boon that he would never die unless he wanted to. When Jambavan finished his story, he also reminded Hanuman of his great powers borne of the ancestral link to the wind-god. Jambavan encouraged Hanuman to assume a massive form to cross over the ocean. The comparison was made to Trivikrama, the incarnation of Vishnu also known as Vamanadeva, who once shifted from a dwarf body to a massive form and covered the earth in just three steps. Jambavan also stated that Hanuman’s strength and speed were equal to that of Garuda, the celestial bird-carrier of Lord Vishnu.
These references to Vishnu were no accident, for the monkeys were involved in devotional service to Rama, a celebrated incarnation of Vishnu. Reminded of his sterling ancestry and prowess, Hanuman gladly abided by Jambavan’s words and assumed a massive form. Hanuman then boldly asserted that no one would be able to defeat him and that he would easily cross over the ocean. He assured the monkeys that Sita’s whereabouts in Lanka would be found. The rest, as they say, was history, as Hanuman would bravely leap across the ocean, find Sita, set fire to Lanka, return to Rama and Sugriva, and then play a major role in the final battle against Ravana. All would end well, as Ravana would be defeated by Rama, and Sita would be reunited safely with her dear husband. For his efforts, Hanuman was granted eternal devotion to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. To this day he remains always fixed in thoughts of love and devotion to them. Hanuman easily could have been granted liberation from the cycle of birth and death, but as a pure devotee and divine figure, he didn’t want any such reward, as bhakti is even greater than moksha. He only asked that he be able to remain on this earth for as long as Rama’s story continued to be told.
This means that anytime we say the name of Rama, or anytime we chant the glorious names of the Lord found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, Shri Hanuman hears us and is pleased at the heart. As the gate-keeper of the spiritual kingdom inhabited by the glory of the Raghu dynasty, Hanuman doesn’t require an entrance fee, a cover charge, or steep penances and austerities as prerequisites for entry. He simply asks that we try to love Sita and Rama as much as he does. Surely this is not possible, but if we remain fixed on the path of devotional service and never forget the glorious Hanuman, the son of Anjana and the darling of the devotees of Rama, our efforts in this life will be successful. The potency of the human form of life lies not in the ability to enjoy the senses, but rather in the potential to understand and associate with the Supreme Spirit and His dearmost associates like Shri Hanuman.