Overcoming Obstacles Through Devotional Purposefulness

No votes yet

Reflections on Hanuman’s flight across the ocean to Lanka.

Among the most visually dramatic events in Valmiki's Ramayana is Hanuman’s flight across the ocean to Lanka, the stronghold of the demon king Ravana, who had abducted Sita. During his aerial journey, Hanuman’s thoughts and actions as he encountered various obstacles can guide us when we face challenges in our life and in our spiritual life in particular.

Let Reflections Reinforce Action

When Hanuman leapt off the Indian coastline, he fixed his mind on Rama. He remembered Rama’s grief-stricken yet hope-filled words during their last meeting, when Rama had given him a signet ring to give to Sita. Rama had not given any such token to anyone else in any of the search parties sent in the four directions to search for Sita. Rama’s handing that ring to Hanuman reflected His confidence that Hanuman would find Sita.

Remembering Rama’s confidence in him, Hanuman felt increasingly energized to reach Lanka as fast as possible. The wind-god, the celestial father of Hanuman, wanted to aid his son, who was performing an extraordinary service to their Lord. Accordingly, the wind blew powerfully behind Hanuman, helping him move faster.

As Hanuman flew, the sight of the vast ocean stretching out in all directions below him reminded him of the potency of Rama’s names. The sacred scriptures declare that by chanting the Lord’s names, one can cross the entire ocean of material existence – what, then, would be the difficulty in crossing one ocean within that material existence?

Seeing shoals of aquatics moving about in the ocean, Hanuman thought of how the other vanaras (celestial monkeys) in his party were praying for his success – and not just praying but also performing austerities. When he was preparing to take off for Lanka, they had told him that till he returned, they all would perform yogic meditation; they would stand on one foot, praying that the merits of their austerity assist Hanuman in his mission.

As he remembered those for whom he was working, and those with whom he was working, his inspiration increased and his determination deepened. With his reflections thus energizing his actions, Hanuman sped through the sky towards destination Lanka.

Whenever we do anything that challenges us in our spiritual life, we need to ensure that our thoughts support us, not sabotage us. If we carefully contemplate the things that inspire us, not the things that dishearten us, our contemplations can work in tandem with our actions.

Don’t Let the Good Come in the Way of the Best

When Hanuman was speeding above the ocean, he suddenly found a mountain rising in front of him. The personified mountain, a venerable elderly person named Mainaka, told Hanuman that he had been friends with Dasharatha, Rama's father. He said that he wanted to serve Rama by serving Rama’s servant, specifically a dedicated servant such as Hanuman. Mainaka asked Hanuman to rest on the mountain before continuing on his onerous flight.

For Hanuman, reciprocating with Mainaka’s desire to serve Rama would not have been wrong – far from it, it would have been proper etiquette. Devotees are expected to be courteous with everyone, what to speak of other devotees. But Hanuman had a mission far more urgent than resting or socializing. He knew how much Rama was distressed in separation from Sita, and he could also imagine how Sita would be pining in separation from her Lord. Now that he was so close to reaching Sita, he didn’t want to lose even one moment.

Moreover, Sugriva, the vanara king who was overseeing the search for Sita, had asked the search parties to return within a month. Hanuman and his party had already been searching for longer than that. He didn’t want to do anything that would delay him further.

And yet Hanuman didn’t have the heart to reject the service Mainaka was so kindly offering. After all, Mainaka was a pious soul, devoted to the same Lord to whom Hanuman was devoted.

So Hanuman lowered himself from his aerial trajectory and touched the mountain, thus offering it his respects. Rising again, he explained the urgency of his service and sought Mainaka’s permission to continue. Pleased with Hanuman’s untiring eagerness to serve Rama, Mainaka gladly gave permission.

The Bhagavad-gita (9.26) states that the Lord accepts even the simplest offering given in devotion, because He focuses on the devotion with which it is offered. Hanuman, as a devotee of the Lord, accepted Mainaka’s devotion while ensuring that in practice his own service was not delayed. Thus, Hanuman expertly did both: he honored etiquette and stayed fixed in his purpose.

When we are rendering an important and difficult service to the Lord, we may be offered comforts by those wanting to assist us. We may be inclined to enjoy those comforts as due rewards for our hard work. But if we keep our purpose foremost, we won’t be swayed.

Simultaneously, we need to be careful not to go to the other extreme. We may be tempted to reject those comforts as an exhibition of our renunciation. Hanuman’s example reminds us to be courteous, appreciating their intention of service, even when we have to say no.

Hanuman’s declining Mainaka’s offer also illustrates that even in the context of devotional service to the Lord, the good is often the greatest enemy of the best. If we had to choose between the bad and the best, we would naturally choose the best – at least we wouldn’t be confused about what to choose, even if our conditionings made that choice difficult to implement. But when we have to choose between the good and the best, the mind’s rationalizations can delude us into preferring the good.

By nourishing our intelligence regularly through scriptural study, we can keep our eyes fixed on the best. When we have a yes for the most important thing burning within us, we will get the conviction to say no to less important things.

Know Which Battles to Fight and Which to Skip

When Hanuman flew on, he soon came across a gigantic creature who identified herself as the demoness Surasa. Actually, she was a goddess, the mother of the Nagas, or celestial serpents, and the daughter of Daksha, a progenitor son of Brahma. She had been asked by the gods to test Hanuman, specifically his bala (strength) and buddhi (intelligence), two resources he would need in abundance if he were to succeed in Lanka.

Surasa told Hanuman that she was going to devour him and that he had no chance to escape because she had been blessed by Brahma that any creature going by that area would have to enter her mouth.

Initially, when Hanuman had seen this fearsome demoness with her deadly mouth wide open, he had been about to attack. But on hearing her speak, he changed tack. He requested her to let him go and deliver Rama’s message to Sita, assuring her that during his return journey he would enter her mouth. When she remained unrelenting, he told her that he would enter her mouth if she could make it big enough to accommodate him. Saying this, he expanded his size. When the demoness made her mouth bigger than him, he made his body bigger still. No matter how big she made her mouth, Hanuman kept making himself bigger still. Both of them repeatedly exhibited their extraordinary shape-changing abilities.

When Hanuman saw that this competition of size expansion was just going on and on, he reversed his strategy: he suddenly decreased his body to a small size. He entered Surasa’s mouth, and before she could close her cavernous mouth, he slipped out. Folding his hands in front of her, he told her that as he had honored Brahma’s benediction by entering her mouth, she should now let him proceed. Pleased with him, she revealed her true identity and purpose, and blessed him to move on.

Hanuman thus passed the test of the gods with flying colors. He demonstrated his strength by expanding his body to phenomenal dimensions and his intelligence by expertly honoring Brahma’s benediction while persevering in his purpose.

Here, Hanuman intelligently chose his battles. As a warrior who loved a good fight, he could have seen Surasa’s challenge as a spur to fight. But he expertly put first things first. Instead of getting into a needless and possibly endless confrontation, he took the humble position by decreasing his size, and moved on with his mission. For Hanuman, proving his own greatness was not as important as carrying out his mission.

We too need to be similarly intelligent in choosing our battles. Amidst conflicts that may arise as we pursue our goal of pure devotion to the Lord, we need to discern which issues to hold on to and which to let go. Many things may be wrong around us, and we may feel that we need to set them all right. But we are finite beings with finite time, energy, and resources. If we try to fight every single battle that comes our way, we will keep fighting endlessly, drain ourselves completely, not do even those things we could have done, and, most important, waste valuable time that could be used in nourishing our devotion.

In our interactions with our loved ones, for example, we may find ourselves getting into a heated argument on an issue that is not particularly important. At such time, instead of getting sucked into the confrontation, we need to mentally take a step back and get our priorities straight. Our relationships should aid us in our spiritual life, and thus they are more than some temporary issue. Our love for our family, friends, and associates during our life's spiritual journey should free us from the need to be right in every argument.

Knowing that the battle of egos can be endless, we can take the humble position. Humility doesn’t mean letting ourselves be trampled by others – it simply means that we don’t let our ego come in the way of our purpose.

When One Door Closes, Look for Another That Has Opened

While Hanuman was flying on, he suddenly found himself paralyzed. Though he strained to the fullest extent of his phenomenal strength, he couldn’t move onwards. Looking down, he saw a hideous demoness, named Simhika, looking at him and licking her lips. He understood that she had used her mystic powers to catch his shadow, thereby arresting his progress. As he was considering his options, he found himself being pulled down towards her devouring, gloating mouth. Her plan was to chew Hanuman to kill him and feast on him.

With remarkable presence of mind, Hanuman used the momentum generated by the demoness's pulling him down to speed through her mouth down into her alimentary canal. Before she could even understand what was happening, he went deep into her stomach and started attacking it from within. Eventually, after ripping apart her stomach from inside, he emerged, unhurt and victorious. As the demoness fell screaming to her death into the ocean, setting off huge waves, Hanuman flew on.

Simhika represents envious people who try to pull down the person who is the object of their envy. Just as Simhika caught Hanuman’s shadow, the envious catch hold of incidental or inconsequential faults in those who are doing good things, even extraordinary things. But just as the very power with which Simhika pulled Hanuman down ended up becoming a cause of her destruction, the shenanigans of the envious rebound against them. In the Vedic scriptures we find many examples of envious people being destroyed by their envy of devotees of the Lord.

Sometimes, envious people may create problems for us that are almost impossible to overcome, just as Hanuman found it impossible to move on. Instead of becoming overwhelmed or disheartened, we can keep our wits about us, as did Hanuman. And, by the Lord's grace, some way forward will emerge.

In general, when one door closes in our face during our life journey, we may feel frustrated. But instead of glaring at that door, we can start looking for some other door that might be opening. If we let resentment blind us, we will miss the opened door, which is often an invitation from the Lord to increase our devotion and service to Him.

The no to a particular door in life is not a no to life. Failures in spiritual life don’t equate with a failed spiritual life. If we keep persevering in our service attitude, striving our best to find some way to serve our Lord, then, no matter how many doors close in our life, some door will soon open somewhere. The Bhagavad-gita (18.58) assures us that those who stay conscious of the Lord are guided by His grace to overcome all obstacles.

Even if we find ourselves powerless externally, we needn’t let ourselves become hopeless internally. If we keep ourselves faithfully hopeful, then that inner power of faith will attract the supreme power of divine grace, revealing a way where none seemed to exist.

Flying on, Hanuman eventually reached Lanka. He saw a huge island with a central fortified city, walled off on all sides. He assumed a small form to discreetly enter the city. Suddenly, a demoness blocked him. Declaring herself to be Lankini, the guardian of Lanka, she rebuked him for trying to sneak in.  

As a shrewd warrior, Hanuman could size up the strength of opponents. Assessing Lankini’s strength, he slapped her with enough force to knock her down but not slay her.

Again his purpose was foremost in his mind. He wanted to find Sita as soon as possible. So, before Lankini could recover from the shock of being felled by a mere monkey she had been planning to gleefully devour, Hanuman sped past, entering Lanka.

While trying to figure out how a mere monkey could have overpowered her, Lankini remembered an ancient prophecy: When she would be overcome by a monkey, Lanka would soon be destroyed. With an impending sense of doom, Lankini got up and went to alert Ravana, while knowing that no one could stave off that which destiny had ordained.

Perhaps the most important lesson from Hanuman’s adventurous leap to Lanka is his single-minded purposefulness in serving the Lord. Rather than letting obstacles deter him, he resourcefully found a way through them. Similarly, when faced with obstacles to our spiritual progress, if we stay purpose-conscious instead of becoming obstacle-conscious, the Lord will show us ways to move ahead.

About the Author: 

Chaitanya Charana Dasa

Chaitanya Charana Dasa is a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami. He holds a degree in electronic and telecommunications engineering and serves full time at ISKCON Mumbai. He is the author of twenty-two books. To read his other articles or to receive his daily reflection on the Bhagavad-gita, "Gita-daily," visit thespiritualscientist.com.