Examples of why Vaishnava authorities consider Hanuman an ideal exemplar of Krishna consciousness in the mood of a servant.
By Gauranga Darshana Dasa
Lessons from the activities of Hanuman as narrated in the Sundara-kanda of Valmiki’s Ramayana.

Who is qualified for spiritual life? Only brahmanas? Only sannyasis or human beings or scholars or Indians? Whether one is a man or a woman, a householder or a renunciant, an Indian or an American, aristocratic or underprivileged, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, a child or an adult, a human being or an animal, everyone is a child of God and is spiritual. Therefore, to love God and serve Him is the innate characteristic (dharma) of every living being.

Bhakti Is No One’s Monopoly

Bhakti, or devotional service unto God, is the art of the heart. It is characterized by one’s deep love for God and selfless service to Him. Bhakti is not the monopoly of any caste, creed, gender, species, nationality, or any other material consideration. Certain facilities like living conditions, family, association, education, upbringing, and so on can be favorable for bhakti. But not having a certain external background is not a disqualification to connect with God. Anyone with a sincere desire to selflessly serve God can do so. Such a devotee gets all support and intelligence from the Lord Himself, who is always eager to bestow His mercy.

The history revealed in India’s ancient scriptures presents many examples of devotees from seemingly disqualifying backgrounds who attained the spiritual world by associating with pure devotees. Garuda was an eagle, but he became the great carrier of Lord Vishnu. Gajendra was an elephant, yet he offered fervent prayers to Lord Hari, who came to rescue him from a crocodile. Dhruva was just a five-year-old child, yet by his determined devotional practices he attained the darshana of Lord Vishnu within six months. Prahlada was born in a family of demons (asuras), yet for his sake the Supreme Lord appeared in the unique form of the half-man, half-lion Nrisimha and saved him. Prahlada’s grandson Bali was king of the asuras, yet he received unprecedented mercy from Vamanadeva, who became his doorkeeper. Other asuras who attained the Supreme Lord’s spiritual abode include Vritrasura, Vrishaparva, Banasura, and Maya. A fruit vendor who was a simple aboriginal woman in Vrindavan affectionately offered a handful of fruits to little Krishna and received a basketful of jewels. The gopis of Vrindavan were simple cowherd girls, yet because of their deep love and service they are the topmost devotees of Krishna. Kubja was a hunchbacked maidservant of the demon Kamsa, but due to her small service of offering fragrant ointments to Lord Krishna, He blessed her with a beautiful form and His association.

As Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.7.46) teaches us, even sinful people, cave-dwellers, birds, and beasts can know the science of God. In the Uddhava-gita (Bhagavatam 11.12.3–4), Lord Krishna says that even those entangled in the modes of passion and ignorance can attain the Lord’s supreme abode by the association of His devotees.

Who Can Be a Friend of Lord Rama?

The Ramayana, the story of Lord Sri Ramachandra, is filled with examples of great devotees from various backgrounds who selflessly served Him. Even Sage Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana, was formerly a hunter, but he became a transcendental author of the Lord’s pastimes by the mercy of great devotees. When Lord Rama went into exile in the forest, a tribal man named Guha treated Him with deep love and helped Him cross a river. Rama therefore considered Guha His dear friend. When Sitadevi was being kidnapped by the cruel demon Ravana, a vulture named Jatayu courageously fought with Ravana to rescue her and lost his life in the battle. Later, Rama performed Jatayu’s funeral rites as a son does for his departed father. When Rama and Lakshmana were searching for Sitadevi, an old ascetic woman named Sabari welcomed Rama with deep affection. To test the quality of berries, she tasted them first and then offered them to Rama, who ate them happily, reciprocating her innocent yet intense love.

King Sugriva was a monkey dwelling in forests and hills, but he became a dear friend of Rama and engaged his monkey soldiers in searching for Sitadevi and assisting Rama in His war with Ravana. Jambavan was a bear who served Rama in various ways. A squirrel assisted Rama in making the magnificent stone bridge across the ocean to Lanka by gathering small pebbles and grains of sand. Vibhishana was an asura and the brother of Ravana, but Rama accepted him as a friend for his ardent devotion. Hanuman was a monkey, yet he was supreme amongst all the servants of Lord Rama. He found Sitadevi in Lanka and immensely served Rama in the hair-raising battle with Ravana.

In this way the Ramayana proves that a monkey, a vulture, a bear, a squirrel, a demon, a tribal, or anyone can serve the Lord if only they have a pure heart filled with love for Him. In Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.19.7) Sugriva declares this wonderful quality of bhakti:

na janma nunam mahato na saubhagam
na van na buddhir nakritis tosha-hetuh
tair yad visrishtan api no vanaukasash
chakara sakhye bata lakshmanagrajah

“One cannot establish a friendship with the Supreme Lord Ramachandra based on material qualities such as one’s birth in an aristocratic family, one’s beauty, one’s eloquence, one’s sharp intelligence or one’s superior race or nation. None of these qualifications is a prerequisite for friendship with Lord Sri Ramachandra. Otherwise how is it possible that although we uncivilized inhabitants of the forest have not taken noble births, although we have no physical beauty and although we cannot speak like gentlemen, Lord Ramachandra has nevertheless accepted us as friends?”

The Most Trusted Servant

Hanuman’s service to Lord Ramachandra was unparalleled, His deep devotion unexcelled. Hanuman was an incredible combination of efficiency, etiquette, intelligence, and mental balance. He was also well versed in the Vedas. For centuries Hanuman has been the favorite character in the Ramayana for all kinds of audiences, whether men or women, children or elders.

A most beautiful section of the Ramayana is Sundara-kanda, which describes the valorous deeds of Hanuman in detail. When Rama and Sita were in lamentation due to separation from each other, Hanuman brought hope into their lives by giving information to both of them about their beloved. Hanuman’s journey from Rama to Sita and from Sita back to Rama was an amazing journey from hopelessness to hope. This is the subject of Sundara-kanda, which is sundara, or beautiful, in all respects. While Rama is the hero of the Ramayana, Hanuman is the hero of Sundara-kanda, by the grace of Lord Rama. After all, the Lord loves to see His devotees being glorified more than Himself.

Sugriva had sent Hanuman with Jambavan, Nila, Angada, and other monkeys to search for Sitadevi in the south. Sugriva considered Hanuman the most capable of finding Sita because Hanuman had superhuman strength and was courageous, intelligent, and resourceful.

Rama also became convinced that Hanuman would find His beloved wife, and handed His ring to him, saying, “My name is inscribed on it. When you locate Sita, give her this ring. She will then become convinced that you are My representative.”

Hope in a Hopeless Situation

Hanuman’s party searched for Sita everywhere, but they couldn’t find her. Disappointed upon reaching the shore of the ocean, they all decided to fast until death.

Losing hope is the greatest impediment in one’s life. The really unfortunate are not those who face difficulties or lack facilities, but those who have lost hope. Bringing hope to the monkeys, a great vulture named Sampati, Jatayu’s brother, spotted them and told them that Sitadevi was in Lanka, Ravana’s abode across the ocean. The monkeys became hopeful and overjoyed.

Another wave of disappointment overwhelmed the monkeys as they saw the expanse of the ocean. No one felt confident to jump across the one-hundred-yojanas-wide ocean (one yojana is eight miles). Seeing the monkeys’ dejection, Angada said that despondency is the root cause of failure, and asked whoever was ready to leap one hundred yojanas to rescue Sita to step forward. Some monkeys said that they could jump ten yojanas, or twenty, thirty, forty, and so on. Angada claimed to be able to jump one hundred yojanas, but he doubted he could do it a second time to return.

Jambavan then said, “Don’t worry. We have Hanuman, who is equal to Garuda. I consider him alone capable of executing our mission.”

Jambavan glorified Hanuman in various ways, reminding him of his extraordinary strength. Everyone glorifies Hanuman for crossing the ocean to Lanka, but it was Jambavan who inspired him to do it. Similarly, a guru is the one who identifies the strengths in disciples and inspires and encourages them to engage in the service of the Lord accordingly. Genuine appreciation empowers, encourages, and strengthens a person, while fault-finding disempowers, discourages, and weakens one’s determination. Unnecessary fault-finding makes the faults true even if they didn’t exist before.

Being thus encouraged, Hanuman expanded himself into a gigantic form. To encourage the despondent monkeys, he spoke of his own glories.

“I can go around Mount Meru a thousand times without pausing. By splashing the ocean waters, I can inundate the entire world. I can circumambulate Garuda a thousand times as he flies in the sky. I can uproot the entire city of Lanka.”

All the monkeys were thrilled. Sometimes, to give much-needed reassurance to a dejected person, a wise person can boast about his powers, but without false pride. That induces hope and confidence in the discouraged hearts.

The same Hanuman, when he met Sita in Lanka, encouraged her differently. Sita wondered if the monkeys could cross the ocean and reach Lanka.

To reassure her, Hanuman said, “All the monkeys in Sugriva’s army are equal or superior to me. Surely they will all easily reach Lanka. It is only inferior persons like me who are sent as messengers. Please give up all your doubts for good.”

Hanuman, who to give hope to the monkeys had boasted of his prowess before crossing the ocean, to give hope to Sitadevi downplayed his prowess after crossing the ocean. These two cases might seem contradictory, but in both cases Hanuman’s purpose was to encourage and reassure the despondent devotees of the Lord. This is how a mature devotee induces hope in others.

Don’t Be Tempted by Comforts

Hanuman offered obeisances to Vayu (his father), Surya (his teacher), and Indra before jumping. A humble person offers respect to great souls, seeking their blessings for the success of his mission. Hanuman then drew his breath and suddenly sprang into the air like an arrow shot from the bow of Lord Rama.

As Hanuman soared through the sky, the ocean deity desired to assist him and ordered Mount Mainaka to rise above the water and provide a resting place for him. Previously, Indra had placed Mainaka Mountain in the ocean to obstruct asuras from traveling to the earth from the nether regions. Now, with the order of the ocean god, Mainaka rose, stood on his own summit, and spoke to Hanuman.

“I request you to stop awhile and accept my hospitality.”

Completely focused on his mission, Hanuman replied, “Please excuse me. My time is very short. I cannot dare stop to accept your hospitality.”

When time is short and the goal is yet to be achieved, one should not accept comforts that dampen one’s determination and enthusiasm. So Hanuman politely rejected Mainaka’s proposal and respectfully touched him and proceeded on his mission.

Don’t Give in to Egoistic Competition

As Hanuman continued on his journey, a huge demoness named Surasa emerged from the ocean, blocking his path.

She told Hanuman, “I have a benediction from Lord Brahma that I can eat whatever comes in front of me. O great monkey, now you should enter my gaping mouth.”

“I’m on a mission to find Lord Rama’s kidnapped wife, Sitadevi,” Hanuman said. “After finding her and reporting back to Rama, I’ll return to you and enter your mouth.”

But Surasa demanded that Hanuman enter her mouth at once and opened her mouth ten yojanas wide to block his path. Hanuman expanded his body ten yojanas wide to challenge her. Surasa then expanded her mouth to twenty yojanas, and Hanuman expanded his body to thirty yojanas.

In this way they both continued to expand, and when Surasa expanded her mouth to one hundred yojanas, Hanuman at once shrank to the size of a thumb, entered her mouth, and quickly came out, saying, “Now the condition of your benediction has been fulfilled. Please let me continue my journey.”

Surasa was impressed and delighted.

Assuming her normal size, she said affectionately, “Dear Hanuman, you are very intelligent. The demigods sent me to test you. I bless you: May you be successful in your service to Lord Rama.”

Sometimes when we clarify our goals to those who try to impede us, they will try to provoke us. We must act wisely by not needlessly arguing or competing with such people, but showing timely intelligence and presence of mind. Hanuman cleverly satisfied Surasa without obstructing his mission. Even a hard-hearted person may become mild and soft when seeing humility in the opponent. It’s not necessary to respond to every challenge or provocation. One need not prove one’s power in front of others in every situation. Sometimes, by not exhibiting one’s strength or skill one can get better results. While egoistic persons always try to prove their superiority over others, humble persons exhibit their powers only when necessary.

Destroy Envy

As Hanuman sored through the sky on his way, suddenly he could move no farther. He first thought he was losing his strength, but then noticed a huge ghastly creature emerging from the sea. Named Simhika, she was a rakshasi (cannibal) with special powers, and she grabbed Hanuman’s shadow to stop him. Simhika rushed towards Hanuman with her wide-opened mouth to swallow him. Hanuman expanded his body but realized that her mouth was still too wide. The sharp-witted Hanuman then reversed his strategy and suddenly shrank himself into a tiny form and entered Simhika’s mouth, tore her heart to pieces, and came out of her body. He then resumed his expanded size and continued on his journey. As Simhika fell dead into the water, celestial beings glorified Hanuman for his victory.

Simhika represents envy. Envy chokes our progress and makes us lose our strength. We have to destroy this envy just as Hanuman did.

Accomplished Mission

In this way Hanuman crossed all obstacles and reached the city of Lanka. Even after his eventful jump of one hundred yojanas, Hanuman didn’t feel even slightly tired, because his heart was filled with love for Lord Rama, and his body, mind, and intelligence were focused on his service to Him. Bhakti is never tiring. When devotional service is performed with a selfless intention, for the pleasure of the Lord, there is no possibility of boredom or exhaustion, despite many difficulties. Although facing several impediments during his journey, in the form of comfort-providing Mainaka, determination-testing Surasa, and envious Simhika, Hanuman successfully accomplished his mission. Similarly, a sadhaka, a practitioner of bhaktiyoga, may encounter struggles with various anarthas (unwanted habits and mentalities); still, due to the innate nourishment available in the Lord’s service, a sincere sadhaka is not exhausted by the struggles. Later Hanuman found Sitadevi and consoled her. He burned the golden city of Lanka, returned to Lord Rama, and gave Him the good news of Sita’s whereabouts. Rama lovingly embraced Hanuman for his exceptional service.

Obstacles are obstacles only when we see them so, but when we see all challenges as part of the Lord’s merciful nature, they seem insignificant. The Lord’s empowerment and blessings can equip even monkeys, bears, vultures, and squirrels to accomplish unimaginable missions. So there is no need to be proud of being a human being with a so-called high birth, but one must learn to take pride in the glory of the Lord, whose mercy is beyond all external considerations of caste, creed, gender, species, and so on. 

Gauranga Darshana Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He is the author of twenty-seven books, including the Subodhini series of study guides, children’s books such as Bhagavatam Tales, and other self-enrichment books. He conducts online and residential scriptural courses for both children and adults. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.