“You crossed over the ocean of one hundred yojanas wide, the reservoir of sharks and alligators, as if it were a small puddle.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 36.8)
śata yojana vistīrṇaḥ sāgaro makara ālayaḥ |
vikrama ślāghanīyena kramatā goṣpadī kṛtaḥ ||
Feel like trying spiritual life? Tired of swinging on the pendulum of bhoga and tyaga, enjoyment and renunciation? Material success not doing anything for you? Too much sadness over loss? Nervousness over the guaranteed nature of separation, from people and things dear to the heart?
To take the step, to make even an inquiry into the Absolute Truth represents a significant step. As it is stated in the Bhagavad-gita, after many births a person finally surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, knowing Him to be the cause of all causes.
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
Surrender is the reward for following spiritual life to completion. Reaching the end in a single lifetime is not guaranteed, however. The illusory energy of maya brings temptations.
“Try this. Try that. Put off spiritual life until you are old. After you have enjoyed everything, then go for renunciation. Procrastination won’t hurt you.”
Conspiring with maya are the heavenly figures. This seems counterintuitive. The demigods are known as suras, and the very definition of this body type is awareness of the Almighty. The suras live in the mode of goodness. Though this is still a material mode, it represents knowledge. The asuras are the opposite in quality; they don’t believe in God, or at least consciousness of Him is not a guiding factor in their behavior.
Demigods sometimes put up obstacles due to envy. They think that the person on the spiritual path might be trying to surpass them in stature. After all, by performing enough yajnas, or sacrifices, a person earns a spot in the heavenly realm. It is the mechanical way to accumulate pious credits.
“When a person performs Vedic rituals and sacrifices, he does so to elevate himself to the heavenly planets. No one can become qualified to go back home, back to Godhead, by means of such sacrifices. But the Lord is so kind that He accepts a little insignificant service, and therefore it is stated in the Vishnu Purana that by following the principles of varnashrama-dharma one can satisfy the Supreme Lord. When the Lord is satisfied, the performer of sacrifices is elevated to the platform of devotional service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.20.28 Purport)
Pious behavior is not enough. If a person does just a little service for God’s benefit, though, then they become very dear to Him. From that service they can be elevated to devotional service, which is also known as bhakti-yoga.
This devotion is unique because it brings protection and enhanced potency, supported by the Supreme Lord Himself. The above referenced verse from the Ramayana is an example. Sita Devi, the princess of Videha, is praising Hanuman for the amazing accomplishment of leaping over an ocean that was one hundred yojanas wide, the rough equivalent of eight hundred miles.
The length wasn’t the only obstacle. Within that ocean were makaras, or sharks and alligators. They were trying to prevent Hanuman from successfully serving Shri Rama, the husband of Sita and an incarnation of God. Sita said that Hanuman made that vast ocean seem like the size of a small puddle.
The demigods also put up opposition. There were the female Rakshasas Simhika and Surasa. They were blessed by the celestials with special powers. The residents of the heavenly realm watched from above to see how Hanuman would fare with those tests.
Another name for Rama is Yogeshvara. This means the master of all mystic power. His abilities overpower anyone else’s. Think of the most amazing thing a person could be able to do. God can top that. By extension, His devotees are empowered with the potency to overcome obstacles in their service.
Just as Rama helped Hanuman to leap over the massive ocean, Hanuman helps the surrendered soul cross over the ocean of birth and death and reach the spiritual world. The journey is not easy, and many obstacles will come along the way. Sharks in the form of material desires are waiting to bite. So are alligators in the form of hopelessness and despair. When successful the obstacles halt the progress of the individual, but when there is sincerity help arrives from either God Himself or one of His representatives. Among those servants, Hanuman shines bright like the moon; a fact attested to by Rama’s wife.
Delivering message of husband coming soon,
Among stars Hanuman shining like moon.
Crossed over ocean many miles wide,
To come to princess of Videha’s side.
Obstacles from material nature not just,
Demigods too, so in Bhagavan trust.
The servant helping others do the same,
Empowering devotion’s life with holy name.