Overcoming Obstacles

Hanuman “O foremost of monkeys, neither on the earth, nor in outer space, nor in the sky, nor in water, nor in the home of the celestials do I see anything that can impede your movement.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.3)

Life is full of obstacles. Things not working when they should, objects of necessity breaking, responsibilities, and people asking for things are the nuisances of everyday life that never go away. After all, constant pressure and obstruction is the nature of material life, which is driven by the pursuit of perfection in the areas of sense gratification and lordship over possessions and other living entities. Since ultimate perfection in this endeavor will always fail, the end result is misery. Moreover, the state of discomfort is facilitated through obstacles and roadblocks in our path, each of which causes frustration and loss of rationale. Forced to live through such troubling situations, it’s nice to know that there have been others who faced similar troubles and were able to somehow get through them. One historical personality in particular had a herculean task in front of him, that of scouring the globe in search of a kidnapped princess. While he certainly met many obstacles along the way, he was able to brush them aside by relying on his strength, determination, and love for his supreme object of worship, Shri Rama. Following this heroic figure’s example, we too can become successful in the real objective of life, that of serving the Supreme Lord with every ounce of our heart, mind, and soul.

Shri Hanuman What kinds of pressures does the average person have to deal with? Work, or occupation, is the most obvious type, an engagement whose pain and misery are spared for no one. Since in today’s age agriculture is not the predominant occupation, individuals must take up service to some employer to meet the basic demands of food, clothing, and shelter. These proprietors are running their own establishments, businesses which aim to earn a profit. Since profit requires the providing of a good or service, the hours of operation for the business span the majority of the daylight hours of every day of the week, including weekends. In addition, larger companies function off of database and IT networks in the background, configurations which, when operating properly, go unnoticed. Those who manage these components have to worry about errors and failures at all hours of the day and night. If something goes wrong on a weekend, there is no one else around to fix the issue. The person in charge of the particular failing component will be forced to find some way to connect to their system and fix the error.

Why do errors come unannounced and at the worst times? To ere is human after all, so whoever is in charge of managing different components of the IT infrastructure is sure to make mistakes every now and then. The errors can be caused by honest mistakes, laziness, or a general lack of accountability and thinking. One person may decide that the network needs maintenance at a particular hour of the day, while another member of the IT staff is counting on the network being operational at that time to ensure that processing of a particular business component can occur. The lack of communication between the two parties will result in an error in processing at the most inopportune of times. This error then affects business functions, which then affects profits and the loss thereof.

Server diagram In this age especially, the pressures of work are seemingly unbearable. As such, many workers like to leave their pagers, cellular telephones, and laptops at home during the weekends and during vacations. It’s nice to just let go every now and then and not constantly worry about things breaking. Surely this is a nice idea in concept, but the reality is quite different. Aside from work pressures, there are the daily issues relating to home life. Supplies of food, drink, and other household necessities are always running low. If the pressures of work weren’t enough to handle already, one has to also remember to regularly patronize the supermarket to pick up the necessary supplies for the house. Thus far we haven’t even mentioned the requests and demands made by friends and family members. Material life means always being pulled in every which direction and meeting frustration in every endeavor.

What can we do to solve the problem? How do we actually achieve peace of mind? Can we ever remove the obstacles that come in our way? Luckily for us, one celebrated divine figure met more obstacles, each of which was great in its intensity and thwarting powers, than any man could ever dream of. His impediments were in relation to a much greater task, that of finding a missing princess. Yet through it all, this figure remained firm and resolute. He surely gave way to grief and lamentation from time to time, and indeed he feared failing, but in the end he always chose to forge ahead, because only through perseverance could there be a chance of ultimate success.

“O most intelligent Uddhava, the living entity, called jiva, is part and parcel of Me, but due to ignorance he has been suffering in material bondage since time immemorial. By knowledge, however, he can be liberated.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Uddhava, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.11.4)

Hanuman This heroic personality was none other than Shri Hanuman, the faithful and eternal servant of Lord Rama. We can think of Lord Rama as God, but He is actually much more. How can a person be more than God? The term “God” is generally associated with an almighty figure, someone who can meet any and all demands, and one who is more powerful than anyone else. This is surely the case with Lord Rama, but He also has the ability to provide the greatest pleasure to the individual living entities. The spirit souls that reside in this and other perishable realms are known as individual spiritual entities, or jivas. A soul is referred to as atma, and jiva refers to a marginal living force, so we living entities are technically known as jivatmas. Inside of our bodies reside another soul, however, known as the Paramatma. This soul belongs to God. The aim of human life is to figure out how to connect with the Supreme Soul and derive pleasure from its association. Religion is meant exclusively for this purpose, irrespective of how anyone else may view the discipline.

To connect with Shri Rama, who can also be addressed as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one must take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Since the original form of the original Divine Being is actually the source of all other forms, He is known as the source of Godhead. Other aspects of the divine can be reached through knowledge-acquiring activities, fruitive work, and mystic yoga. Yet none of these processes seeks to meet Bhagavan, or the Supreme Person. Therefore the pleasure that results from any activity that is devoid of bhakti is inferior to the pleasure felt by those who are in intimate association with Bhagavan.

“It is not possible for a chandala to tread heavily on an altar which is beautifully decorated and situated amongst a sacrificial fire, pots, and ladles, and sanctified by the mantras of the brahmanas. Similarly, I, being the religiously wedded wife of one who is Himself ever committed to dharma, am firm in my vows and thus, O lowest of the Rakshasas, it is not possible for me to ever be touched by you, who are a sinner.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.18-19)

Sita and Rama So how does one practice bhakti-yoga? There are a host of different processes, each of which is wholly capable of being supremely effective, but the general idea is to be engaged in the Lord’s service. Many thousands of years ago, Shri Rama personally appeared on earth and enacted pastimes. On one occasion, His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka. We can scour the annals of human history and never find a woman like Sita. She is not of this world. As Rama’s religiously wedded wife, she was completely dedicated to Him and also to the pious entities of this world. During her time on earth, Sita was always looking to please Rama, His friends, family, and brahmanas living in the forests and the towns. In the Vedic system, the priests are referred to as brahmanas; a term which references their knowledge of Brahman.

While Bhagavan is God’s original feature as the complete and most fortunate person, Brahman is the effulgence that emanates from His gigantic transcendental body. When the avataras of Godhead come to earth, it is seen that their bodies are similar in dimensional measurements and appearance to those of ordinary human beings. Generally, the incarnations, and the deity representations carved to match their auspicious bodily features, are known as the saguna forms of the Lord. Guna means a material quality, something which only individual souls can possess. The Supreme Lord never touches matter, so it can never be said that He comes under the control of gunas. Nevertheless, the term saguna is used to illustrate the fact that even during His time spent on earth, the Lord possesses transcendental qualities, those which are perceptible to the conditioned eye fooled by the illusory workings of nature. God has arms, legs, and a face, but the scope and function of these features cover the entire universe. Lord Rama gave the appearance of ordinary arms, but these transcendental body parts were capable of destroying thousands of attacking demons in a matter of minutes. Therefore there is no way to accurately describe the Lord’s features or to properly worship Him. Yet He is still kind enough to appear on earth in a transcendental form which can be worshiped and offered service to. When the Supreme Lord personally returns to His spiritual realm, or when He is not visually manifest before the surrendered soul, the deity serves the same function as an object of worship wholly capable of providing spiritual benedictions.

Lord Krishna Brahman is the effulgence glaring off the Lord’s original transcendental body. In the spiritual world, the Lord’s form is described as nirguna, which means “without material qualities”. This term also describes the Lord’s form that appears to those who are meditating upon the Supreme within the mind, i.e. when personal contact with Bhagavan and the deity is absent. The Lord’s arms and legs are so gigantic that they exude an effulgence which covers up the entire universe. The individual spiritual sparks are all tiny fragments of this blissful light which is known as Brahman. Therefore, one can take to activities which lead to the merging of the soul into Brahman, but it certainly is a higher discipline to be engaged in the service of the original Person from whose arms, legs, etc. Brahman emanates.

Sita is perfect in every respect. She is equally as divine a figure as Lord Rama. She is Rama’s wife for all of eternity; therefore she still exists to this day. She can surely be offered worship by the devotees. No one is kinder, no one is more dedicated to the pious, and no one is more loving than she is. Yet even with all of these wonderful characteristics, she had to suffer through the horrible ordeal of being kidnapped. A Rakshasa demon at the time was slowly ascending to power on earth. His name was Ravana and once he heard about Sita’s beauty, he had to have her. He set up a scheme where he was able to forcibly take her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. No one knew where Sita was, including Rama and Lakshmana, the Lord’s younger brother.

Rama and Lakshmana The two brothers, while searching for Sita, made their way to the forest of Kishkindha, where there lived a monkey-king named Sugriva, who, through the efforts of his chief minister Hanuman, ended up forging an alliance with Rama. Agreeing to help the Lord find and rescue Sita, Sugriva approached his most trusted aide, Shri Hanuman. In the above referenced quote, Sugriva is assuring Hanuman of his confidence in him. Sugriva states that nothing will be able to impede Hanuman’s path. Wherever Hanuman would go to find Sita, be it on land, in air, or on water, nothing would be able to stop him. Not even in the land of immortals, amara ālaye, where the supremely powerful demigods reside, could anyone stop Hanuman from serving Rama. Sugriva’s words would indeed hold true as Hanuman would be able to successfully find Sita, relay information to her about Rama, and then return to Sugriva and Rama and inform them of what he had seen. Eventually, off the intelligence gathered by Hanuman, Rama would march to Lanka, kill Ravana, and rescue Sita.

It should be noted that Hanuman did indeed meet obstacles in some of the areas mentioned by Sugriva. Hanuman’s journey to Lanka was a very long and arduous one, the events of which have been described in great detail in the Ramayana of Valmiki. Today, Hanuman is a celebrated figure because of his devotion to Rama. Different scenes from his trek to Lanka, including the famous leap across the ocean, are depicted in pictures and sculptures and thus remembered by the devotees. So in the above referenced statement, Sugriva isn’t mistaken when he says that there would be no obstacles to obstruct Hanuman. This speaks to the fact that an obstacle can only be classified as such if it is effective in thwarting one’s ultimate objective. Hanuman faced so many potential obstacles, some in the form of demons aided by boons granted by celestials, and others in the form of geographic limitations, but he was able to fight through them. In this way, nothing was able to impede Hanuman’s march towards success. There was no way he was going to go down without a fight.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama One should always try to remember Hanuman, his perseverance, and his love for Shri Rama. Such a practice will help us in all of our endeavors, but especially those pertaining to devotional service. With all the pressures of school, work, home, and family, taking up bhakti-yoga in this day and age is not an easy thing. While the quintessential act of bhakti-yoga is the chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, a practice as simple as this is neglected by the majority of the world’s population. Obstacles such as daily pressures, skepticism towards spiritual life, and the belief that one can themselves become the greatest order suppliers or enjoyers serve to divert attention away from bhakti-yoga. By remembering Shri Hanuman, Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi, and the illustrious Shri Lakshmana, not only can we remain steady in our service to Bhagavan, but we can continue to derive the highest transcendental pleasure at every step. Whatever the obstacle or impediment, simply remembering Hanuman’s devotion is enough to pull us across the finish line, where the Supreme Lord is waiting to embrace us with wide-open arms.

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