“All of these subjects in the Ramayana seem very pitiable, and they may appear to be very distressing to the reciter, but actually this is not so. Otherwise, why would Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Ramachandra, read daily about the activities of Lord Ramachandra, as described in the Ramayana itself?” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 34)
Friend1: I heard an interesting question recently. One I had never given thought to before.
Friend2: Is this in relation to spiritual life?
Friend2: What is the question?
Friend1: What is better to read? Hanuman Chalisa or Ramayana.
Friend2: Which Ramayana? Many people equate the Ramacharitamanasa of Goswami Tulsidas with the Ramayana.
Friend1: He is also the author of Hanuman Chalisa. Why the confusion?
Friend2: It’s easier to understand. Easier to say. It’s a way to praise the author, also.
Friend1: How so?
Friend2: Because people like the Ramacharitamanasa so much that they take it to be their Ramayana. You will hear other saintly people say similar things. Such as His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada saying that the Ramayana can be found in Shrimad Bhagavatam, as well.
Friend1: I did not know that.
Friend2: Ramayana in the vernacular sense, where we are talking about a story of the life and pastimes of Shri Ramachandra, an incarnation of the Almighty.
Friend1: Oh, so if a particular sacred text has a summary of Rama’s life, then that could be considered equivalent to the Ramayana, which was originally authored by Maharishi Valmiki?
Friend2: Yes. In the sense of general conversation.
Friend1: Interesting. For this question, let’s say we are talking about the Tulsidas version.
Friend2: Alright, and so this person wants to know which is better to read?
Friend2: Well, I will borrow a technique I see a popular trainer in the technical field use. If he gets these types of questions that generally receive “biblical” answers elsewhere, where one side is better than the other, he returns with his own question.
Friend1: What is that?
Friend2: He asks, “What is the problem you are trying to solve?”
Friend2: That has more relevance. If someone wants to know if they should get a laptop computer or a desktop PC, it is better to first ask what the utilization will be. What are the needs of the user? What are they looking for? In other words, what problem are they trying to solve?
Friend1: Oh, that is brilliant.
Friend2: It applies to this situation, as well. What is that person trying to solve, where they are deciding between Hanuman Chalisa and Ramayana?
Friend1: I actually don’t know. It’s a great question, though. Let me venture a guess. Maybe they would respond with, “Well, for spiritual wellbeing. What will be best for me in the long run?”
Friend2: As Prahlada Maharaja describes in Shrimad Bhagavatam, it is in the best interest, svartha, of the individual to go towards Vishnu. In other words, approach the personal God.
Friend1: Even if I have ill intent?
Friend2: Any intent. If you want a new car. If you want to get revenge on someone. If you want to be promoted to the heavenly planets. If you want to give thanks for everything you have in this world. If you want to be free of material desires.
Friend1: Interesting. So which side aligns with Prahlada’s recommendation?
Friend2: Either one. Hanuman Chalisa is a way for Goswami Tulsidas to praise Shri Hanuman. What better way to honor someone than writing a song that will be sung for hundreds of years by millions of people, in a devotional mindset?
Friend1: That’s true.
Friend2: Ramayana is for being with the Supreme Lord directly. Either way, you are going through His representative. On either side the presentation is sourced in a devotee of Rama.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: I will acknowledge that people sometimes repeat Hanuman Chalisa for personal gain, to be free of fear, to make it through a difficult situation, and so forth. Same thing with reading the Ramayana on a particular day in the year. The association is still powerful enough to purify. Shri Krishna acknowledges that four kinds of people approach Him initially.
चतुर्-विधा भजन्ते मां
जनाः सुकृतिनो ऽर्जुन
आर्तो जिज्ञासुर् अर्थार्थी
ज्ञानी च भरतर्षभ
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino ‘rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
Friend1: So does this teaching apply to any sacred text and any mantra?
Friend1: Why not?
Friend2: Because you cannot approach a demigod and expect to be elevated to the spiritual consciousness. That is more or less a business transaction.
Friend1: But then what if I have the same motivation in approaching God directly?
Friend2: He is not obliged to return any favor. In fact, He will do what is best for me in the long run, even if I don’t like it. That is why approaching Him is always best. Hanuman is Rama’s dedicated servant, and Hanuman can open the doors to the spiritual kingdom for me. He gives the recommendation, based on the intent of serving God; not competing with Him.
For money in need,
With other desire to proceed.
That motivation not pure,
Only God can help me sure.
Even with ill intent,
Better this way went.
Since Supreme purifying me,
Worshiped by Hanuman is he.