“O Hanuman, certainly in you exist strength, intelligence, valor, prudence, and the ability to act properly according to time and place, O Pandita.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.7)
Prudence is the ability to gauge which course of action is appropriate for a particular situation. An imprudent act is one that goes against the standard etiquette of the particular situation or one that proves to be harmful towards the ultimate objective. Taken in this light, prudence can be considered one of the most important qualities to possess, especially if we are tasked with working on another’s behalf. We may be very strong, courageous, knowledgeable, and quick-witted, but if we don’t know when and how to make use of these attributes, we can actually do great harm to ourselves and the interests we represent. The quality of prudence is well-represented in Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Not only does Hanuman exude the quality of knowing how to behave according to time and circumstance, but since he holds every other beneficial attribute simultaneously, his entire demeanor and nature make him one of the purest souls to have ever graced this earth, an individual worthy of love and worship from everyone.
Proper behavior is typically learned from authority figures, those who already know the appropriate actions called for in different situations. A particular behavior may actually be quite appropriate in one setting, but entirely inappropriate in another. This duality is characteristic of the world that we live in. In the Supreme Realm, the area where the original Divine Entity resides alongside His liberated associates, there is no duality. Since everything there is spiritual, all modes of behavior are beneficial to the performers and the recipients. In the world that we currently reside, the opposite is true. Each individual is on their own chartered path towards flickering happiness and enjoyment devoid of divine association. In worldly dealings, that behavior which is beneficial to one entity can actually be harmful to another.
Goswami Tulsidas, another great devotee of Lord Rama, mentions many of these dualities in his poetry. In one instance, Tulsidas brings up the use of slang or curse words, an issue which applies to the area of prudence as well. When we are with our friends and close confidantes, using slang and curse words can actually enhance the enjoyment felt in conversation. A friend is usually an equal, someone we share close experiences with in our journey through life. Since there are usually no rules and regulations in our dealings with our friends, it is customary for buddies to crack jokes and poke fun at each other. The pleasure felt from jesting is enhanced by using inappropriate words and discussing taboo subjects. Yet in almost any other situation, using slang is very inappropriate. If we are in a formalized dinner setting, hosting guests, in a house of worship, or speaking to our young dependents, it is imperative that we avoid using harsh and foul language, for that gives off a bad impression to others. Tulsidas remarks how interesting the material world is, for the Supreme Lord gave us words which can be considered the cause of distress and pain in some instances and yet the source of great humor in others.
Where prudence takes on the most importance is in the area of achieving life’s ultimate goal. Regardless of what spiritual discipline one follows or doesn’t follow, the most palatable condition, that aim that is the most worthy of being achieved, doesn’t change. The Vedic tradition is often referred to as the Hindu faith, and thus the doctrines espoused are compared to others that are in existence. Questions such as, “How do you convert to Hinduism?” or “What do Hindus believe?”, are actually not applicable in the grand scheme of things. The Vedas make no mention of a faith or an official conversion process. The relationships between individual spirit, matter, and the Supreme Spirit are defined through laws. Whether a person has faith in these laws is beside the point. We may or may not believe in the concept of gravity, but if we drop an air conditioner out of a window, it will most surely fall. In fact, this heavy object will fall at the same rate regardless of who is doing the throwing. The individual dropping the object may have been born in India, America, to parents who were carpenters, or to parents who were priests, but the object will drop nonetheless.
“So do not think that this movement is trying to convert you from Christian to Hindu. Remain a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. It doesn’t matter. But if you really want to perfect your life, then try to develop your dormant love for God. That is the perfection of life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, 5.1)
The study of the relationship between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit constitutes a great scientific discipline. The Vedas have no equivalent term for “religion”. Instead of espousing a blind faith, wherein dedication to a particular divine figure is a requirement for averting punishment in an eternal lake of pain, the Vedas describe the actual state of the situation presented before the individual souls in the phenomenal world. Every life form has an individual spirit soul residing within. The atma, or soul, has an essential characteristic, or dharma, which manifests through the performance of activities of the constitutional nature. The dharma of the individual spirit soul is that of loving servant of the Supreme Soul. Such a characteristic is actually inherited from the Supreme Spark, the powerhouse of energy. The ultimate reservoir of energy and pleasure is known as Bhagavan, or the person we often refer to as God. Therefore the spirit soul’s dharma is to always be in connection with Bhagavan in a loving way. Since the constitutional characteristic of the atma never changes, its dharma is described as sanatana, or without beginning and without end. Hence the closest matching term to “religion” in the Vedic tradition is sanatana-dharma, or the eternal characteristic of the individual spirit soul. Since dharma manifests through activities, the term can also be taken as an occupational duty, those activities which must be performed. Therefore the eternal occupation of the spirit soul is something that never changes or varies. Nor is it something that a person chooses to believe or neglect. Dharma is always dharma; it can never change.
If dharma never changes, why are the living entities currently separated from God? This brings us back to the issue of constitutional activities versus conditioned ones. In its purified form, the spirit soul only takes to activities that meet its eternal dharma. Yet due to the nature of the material world, the living sparks take to conditioned activities in lieu of their natural characteristic. Conditioned activities are adopted as a result of the flawed mindset that comes with the assumption of a material body. Tulsidas also addresses this issue in his poetry. The most debilitating effect of maya, or the illusory energy governing this world, is that every person becomes very comfortable with their way of life, even if they don’t realize it. They become so accustomed with their way of doing things, which is adopted through bad habits or mental speculation, that they deem their way of life as the eternal dharma. As mentioned before, dharma can never change, but if one takes to conditioned activities, they are essentially creating their own dharma, or essential characteristic. Tulsidas gives the example of those who eat garlic every day and don’t notice the unpleasant aroma that emanates from the body. In the Vedic tradition, garlic is considered a food in the mode of ignorance, so it’s something that should be avoided. Those who are brahmanas, the highest class of transcendentalist, refrain from eating foods in the mode of ignorance since they are not conducive towards the performance of constitutional activities. Yet Tulsidas makes the point that in the material world the living entities become so attached to their own dharmas that they become accustomed to the negative side effects that come as a result. Any dharma that deviates from the constitutional characteristic of the soul will surely have many unpleasant consequences. There are no exceptions to this rule because any activity that doesn’t bring the soul closer to its ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the Supreme Spirit, will eventually lead to an unpalatable condition. Yet the conditioned soul is so bewildered that it takes the unpalatable situation as palatable, just as a man in the dark will mistake a snake for a rope.
Since sanatana-dharma, a system which remains ever-unchanging, was originally instituted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it represents the ultimate system of prudence. An individual who sincerely adopts the original dharma as their only way of life will be on the path towards achieving the only permanent palatable condition: eternal association with the Supreme. Sanatana-dharma creates the path back to the spiritual world for the conditioned souls by arming them with the knowledge to decipher how to behave properly in any situation. If we are aware of the ultimate destination, the ideal condition, we will know how to make the best use of our various resources. Supreme prudence is the exclusive property of the great devotees, those who make service to the Lord their life and soul. One such divine lover is Shri Hanuman, and he had the great fortune of being able to show off his prudence on many an occasion.
Lord Rama, a non-different expansion of the original spiritual reservoir of energy, the Supreme Lord, appeared on earth many thousands of years ago in the guise of a warrior prince. On one occasion, His wife Sita Devi, the original goddess of fortune, was taken by force by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Since Rama was playing the role of an ordinary human being, He had to conceal many of His divine powers. To secure Sita’s safe rescue, Rama gave a group of Vanaras, monkey-like human entities, the opportunity to serve Him. The group was headed by a monkey-king named Sugriva. When the time came to search for Sita, Sugriva divided up his massive monkey army and gave each search party a section of the earth to scour. Of all of Sugriva’s warriors, no one was more capable than Hanuman. In the above referenced statement, Sugriva is reinforcing that fact by listing some of Hanuman’s wonderful characteristics.
We see that one of the qualities praised by Sugriva is Hanuman’s ability to follow the proper behavior according to time and place. Sugriva knew of this ability firsthand, for it was Hanuman’s efforts that made the alliance of Rama and Sugriva possible. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were roaming the forests looking for Sita, and they eventually made their way to Kishkindha where Sugriva resided. Yet Sugriva, being the king, didn’t approach Rama and Lakshmana directly, but rather sent Hanuman as his representative. Through Hanuman’s efforts, Rama became very pleased and agreed to help Sugriva in regaining his lost kingdom. In return, Sugriva would help Rama rescue Sita.
Hanuman also possesses other beneficial attributes such as strength, valor, and intelligence. He would go on to substantiate Sugriva’s praise by tapping into these various personal resources. Hanuman would be the one to eventually find Sita on the island kingdom of Lanka. Yet his trip to the safely tucked away island was by no means an easy one. He met many obstacles and was forced to deal with several difficult situations, where the proper course of action was not immediately known to him. Yet by taking shelter of his intelligence and prudence, he was able to decide when to be violent, when to be peaceful, when to be kind, and when to flee the scene. He would eventually reach Sita and give her the ring given to him by Rama. Hanuman would then return to Sugriva and Rama with intelligence pertaining to Sita’s whereabouts and what it would take to rescue her. Eventually all would end well, with Sita and Rama reunited and Ravana defeated and killed.
The source of Hanuman’s sublime wisdom was his eagerness to serve. Actually there is a linear relationship between one’s knowledge and the intensity of their desire to take to constitutional activities. The spirit soul, being part and parcel of God, is already full of knowledge. Yet in the conditioned state, the constitutional intelligence is masked. The more one takes to sanatana-dharma, the more their natural knowledge is revealed. Divine figures such as Hanuman are always connected in consciousness with the Supreme Lord, so the light of their transcendental knowledge is always beaming. No one is more eager to serve Rama than Hanuman, and for this reason he is ever worthy of our love and adoration. By following his example and asking for his blessings, we too can reacquaint ourselves with the most prudent discipline in life, devotional service to the Divine.
Sugriva got everything he wanted by putting his trust in Hanuman, which means that we too can achieve the ultimate palatable condition by associating with saints and following their words of advice. For the conditioned souls of this age, there is no activity more recommended than the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting is always prudent, regardless of the time or circumstance. When one takes to acts of devotion without any motive for personal gain, it is to be understood that the internal storehouse of knowledge emanating from the soul is making its way to the forefront for others to see and learn from. May this knowledge take over our bodies and bring us back to the promise land, the spiritual sky.
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