Turning Karma Into Bhakti

[Shri Hanuman]“Then that highly-resplendent Hanuman, who is the son of the wind-god, having a coral colored face, appearing humble and indigent, descended from the tree. He respectfully raised his folded hands to his head and said the following sweet words to Sita:” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.1-2)

so.avatīrya drumāttasmādvidrumapratimānanaḥ |
vinītaveṣaḥ kṛpaṇaḥ praṇipatyopasṛtya ca ||
tām abravīn mahātejā hanūmān māruta ātmajaḥ |
śirasi añjalim ādhāya sītām madhurayā girā ||

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Every living entity works. Even if they are completely renounced, living in the forest with no possessions, they must do something to maintain their body. If they go out looking for fruits that have fallen from the trees, it means they are working. If they are sitting in meditation throughout the day, fasting from food and drink, they are still doing something. Everyone does some kind of work, but who knows for sure to whom that work should be offered. Shri Hanuman here gives us the answer, showing us that abilities used in any kind of work can be easily transferred to the spiritual realm.

As everyone does work, everyone has some kind of ability. Some are better at speaking than others. I get up in front of the classroom to deliver my book report, and as soon as I see the teacher I get nervous. My legs start to shake and I am barely able to speak. Meanwhile another student doesn’t even have a prepared speech, but they are able to talk eloquently for quite some time.

[public speaking]I have some ability but I don’t know how best to use it. Ordinary work is known as karma. The results of karma are known as fruits in Sanskrit: karma-phala, the output to your work. If I am lucky, I have a firm belief in God. I know that He exists. I offer Him salutations during the appropriated times in the day. I have so much respect for Him that I will never speak ill of Him.

But is that all? What should I work for? Should I try to satisfy my senses? Should I try to eat nicely and sleep on a comfortable mattress? Should I take care of my friends and family, keeping an eye out for their wellbeing? Should I engage in welfare work, where I help the poor and the needy?

Bhakti-yoga provides the answers. In the process, it turns karma into devotion. Put more simply, your abilities take on their true value when you use them in devotional service. Take Shri Hanuman for example. In this verse quoted from the Ramayana, we see that he has splendid characteristics. The color of his face is like coral. It is a beautiful reddish color. Hanuman is highly splendorous, maha-tejah. Tejah can also mean potency; so Hanuman can stand up to anyone in a fight.

Though he is maha-tejah, here he intentionally appeared humble and pitiable. He is preparing to offer sweet words to Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. He is raising his joined palms to his head. This is all work. It is coming from someone who is very potent. We know from the following verses that Hanuman is very skilled in speech as well. So he has the ability to fight against highly estimable foes. He has a beautiful color to his face. He has very good parentage; he comes from an important god of the Vedic tradition.

[Shri Hanuman]Though he can use any of these characteristics to increase his personal stature and comfort, he does not do so. His abilities go straight to the bhakti realm. He works, but it is for pleasing God. He acts, but he is not interested in enjoying the result. This verse also gives us the proper mood required for transferring our abilities in karma to the realm of devotion. Hanuman can assume any size, which means that he could have appeared frighteningly large in front of Sita. He chose to look humble and meek instead because this is the proper way to address someone important like the wife of Shri Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in a splendid incarnation form.

We use sweet words all the time. We speak nicely to our spouse so that we’ll get along with them. We try to charm the person working behind the counter at the takeout restaurant so that they’ll throw in some extra food for free. We praise our parents and grandparents for the wonderful job they did in raising us. If sweet words are used in these instances, why not towards Sita also?

yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi

yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat

yat tapasyasi kaunteya

tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam

“O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.27)

[Rama Darbar]Hanuman has amazing abilities, but this does not mean that one needs to be as skilled as him in order to practice bhakti. The same sweet words that we use elsewhere can be offered in the temple. When praying to God, we can praise Him very nicely. We can offer our respects to His wife, His younger brother, and all those devoted to Him. We can do this each and every day, and in so doing we’ll transcend the bounds of the material world. We will feel a pleasure we’ve never experienced before, and we’ll realize that the purpose to our work is to please the Supreme Lord, who is the enjoyer of all sacrifices.

In Closing:

A clenched fist, intimidating face can make,

Shri Hanuman, any form can take.


Though of qualities great and tall,

In approaching Sita looking humble and small.


Addressing to her words right and sweet,

Informing her that Rama soon with her to meet.


Karma into bhakti quickly to change,

When sweet words used for God the same.


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