Meet a God: Hanuman

There is something about the animal aspect Gods that seem easier to relate to and feel comfortable with. I wonder why that is. Ganesha is so beloved and Hanuman is as well.

I’m not sure whether one can really call Hanuman himself a God. He is said to be an incarnation of Shiva, so I guess he’s a God in the sense that Krishna and Rama were Gods (human manifestations of Vishnu). The God Vayu of the wind was instrumental in his birth and so he is considered to be the brother of Bima from The Mahabharata whose father was Vayu.

The really moving thing about Hanuman is his intense focus on devotion. He adored Lord Rama. My mother would always tell me that Hanuman said (to paraphrase), “In the physical world I am Lord Rama’s servant; in the subtle world Lord Rama and I are the same.”

 The character of Hanuman teaches us of the unlimited power that lies unused within each one of us. Hanuman directed all his energies towards the worship of Lord Rama, and his undying devotion made him such that he became free from all physical fatigue. And Hanuman’s only desire was to go on serving Rama. Hanuman perfectly exemplifies ‘Dasyabhava’ devotion — one of the nine types of devotions — that bonds the master and the servant. –Subhamoy Das

One of the most beautiful stories about him is this one (version from Wikipedia):

Shortly after he is crowned Emperor upon his return to Ayodhya, Rama decides to ceremoniously reward all his well-wishers. At a grand ceremony in his court, all his friends and allies take turns being honoured at the throne. Hanuman approaches without desiring a reward. Seeing Hanuman come up to him, an emotionally overwhelmed Rama embraces him warmly, declaring that he could never adequately honour or repay Hanuman for the help and services he received from the noble Vanara. Sita, however, insists that Hanuman deserved honour more than anyone else, and Sita gives him a necklace of precious stones adorning her neck.

When he receives it, Hanuman immediately takes it apart, and peers into each stone. Taken aback, many of those present demand to know why he is destroying the precious gift. Hanuman answers that he was looking into the stones to make sure that Rama and Sita are in them, because if they are not, the necklace is of no value to him. At this, a few mock Hanuman, saying his reverence and love for Rama and Sita could not possibly be as deep as he implies. In response, Hanuman tears his chest open, and everyone is stunned to see Rama and Sita literally in his heart.

There are many depictions of Hanuman tearing open his chest to show Rama and Sita in his heart.

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Hanuman is a deeply lovable deity. It is easy to find him in many temples in the tableaux with Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana. He is supposed to be immortal and so there continue to be sightings of him.

One interesting tidbit I saw on Wikipedia was this: “Shani promised Hanuman that those who prayed to him (Hanuman) would be rescued from the painful effects of Saturn, which in Hindu astrology, is said to produce malefic effects on one’s life when one is afflicted ‘negatively’ with Saturn.” Interestingly, my fiance tells me that Saturn is acting right now in astrology and he believes it is having a difficult effect on me.  I wonder if his study of astrology lines up with Hindu astrology. Either way, I think it couldn’t hurt to pray to Hanuman!

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About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Seeker

    Hi Ambaa–

    Thanks so much for the story of Hanuman tearing his heart open; I don’t remember ever hearing it before. He’s a God I only recently starting working with and the help he’s given me is significant.

  • HARRY

    I like this post for one simplest reason. I like Hanuman for it’s devotion to his lord. He teaches us how to have this relationship with our lord without wanting anything back in return. Thus the story of reward. Every character in Mahabarata and old times will tell us a story, and it’s our duty to learn something from it, Maybe not everything, but something, and by doing so, we apply this in our life and in the process change the way we live and do things for better, not only for us, but the entire humanity in general.

    The great Atama always tells us and shows us what to do, and how to live, but it is always our choice in the end in what we do. The sad truth is even the animals will treat its enviroment with respect and yet we being more civilize don’t do the same thing. Sometimes I wonder what do we contribute in this world or even in this universe, to my knowledge, nothing. When it comes to human being, it’s all about take take, and never give anything to this world ( Planet ). This is what the Hanumans character teaches us that before we can take, we should consider giving first. Thus the total devotion to what one must believe in.
    Nice one Ambaa. :) And thankyou for the story and the article.

    HARRY

    PS Sometimes one loses way in all the argument with others who are simply there as a hindrance in your Bakti and Devotion to your faith ( I think you know what I am taking about). You do not need to justify or explain your faith to anyone who is only there as a hinrance and it’s wasting your time and energy, which can be put to better use. Some people are not there to learn or ask for direction in life, and in this cases, one should never engage in any explanation or argument to explain ones faith. Hanuman is a prime example of this and I am sure you will relise this from his story. This is the only reason why Hinduism doesn’t convert others to it’s faith, because one should seek for his own truth and direction and upon asking and following the right path he will find the truth. Maybe I think I said too much to you, but only because I care, and I want you to succeed in your endeavour.

  • Janae

    I actually disagree with the above statement “The sad truth is even the animals will treat it’s environment with respect and yet we being more civilized don’t do the same thing.” I think perhaps there is something to be said with your opening statement “There is something about the animal aspect Gods that seem easier to relate to and feel comfortable with. I wonder why that is.” I would argue that the reason many feel much closer to the Gods with animal qualities is because animals are much simpler souls than humans. They don’t require much and are extremely forgiving and loyal as human companions such as dogs. I think we ask too much from our existence and think we are “civilized” when really we are just over-complicating an otherwise easy life with the inventions of money, government, etc. Not that I don’t see the splendor in these things as well, just that animals have learned to exist with whatever environment they are placed in and usually handle all situations much more gracefully than a human being. We could learn a lot from nature and animals.

    I like to imagine that perhaps Maya is Vishnu’s dream world and all the other avatars are just his Brahmin Consciousness wanting to be apart of his creation. What kind of God wants to watch from the sky when you can come celebrate life and bewilder your people? I don’t think viewing God as mischievous is a bad thing either. For example, I love how much of a trouble-maker Krishna was as a child. I think that itself embodies the idea that we are just as perfect as God. He had to learn himself how to balance right and wrong in his own world. We have to learn before ever hoping to reach the level and state of soul that is his ultimate. :)

    • Ambaa

      I think you make a good point that we often over think things. I don’t know if I would say that animal souls are “simpler” but I do think they are more ruled by instinct and that has a good and a bad side to it. While humans can analyze and rethink how they respond to something, animals cannot and that is one of the reasons why they say that a human embodiment is necessary for the attainment of enlightenment.

      I also like the mischievous side to God. I like that it shows that one can take life as fun and silly and not get bogged down in its difficulties.

      • Janae

        True but, it is often argued that animals are naturally Hindu, especially due to the heavy association of them being companions to the embodiments of God himself.
        I guess simpler isn’t the right word to attach to “soul” but, I would argue that companionship is easier to obtain with domesticated animals(animals whom have developed a respect for humans as well). I don’t like when any religion tries to trump out animals as being able to reach God but, perhaps they cannot reach enlightenment, as you say, in their animal states.

        I agree. I think Christians would be bewildered to see how Krishna behaved as a child and would try to argue that God would never do that. Why not? Especially if we are tainted with “original sin” why would God not want to test our patience by being mischievous?
        I actually LOVE when Krishna shape-shifts into one of the villager’s children when he gets in trouble for breaking in and eating the butter and he tells her “Next time you try to call me out for a mistake, I will turn into your husband and how embarrassing will that be for you?” I think Christians have a hard time with the concept that we are all divine beings because they view God as all-knowing and the kind of guy who doesn’t mess around but, when we say we are all God-like, we know the stories of Krishna and the other Godheads and know they themselves had to learn from the people and were often trouble-makers in their own right which is different from being sinless and all-knowing. I think in the grand scheme of things, God knows what he is doing but in the every-day, mundane tasks we perform here, he is not with us because he doesn’t need to be. We can learn right from wrong just like he did in the realm of the Earth. We are god-like in our ability to learn and grow as souls. I also feel like Christians forget that it does not grant us all to a enlightenment either just because we are god-like. Until we have learned to be exactly like our God, it’s going to take some time to meet him face to face, which is fine by me and I’d rather take an eternity of learning how to balance my karma than an eternity of bliss or damnation for one life’s choices. I apologize for always having to fall-back on the dominant world religion but, growing up in a family with Catholics and Protestants and Christians themselves, I often have to find a way to compare and contrast my beliefs in a way they would understand. I don’t even consider myself a Hindu in the true sense of the word. I suppose their is such a contrast in Hinduism that I don’t know how to truly define myself as one. I consider myself an Omnist with Hindu beliefs and a small touch of Buddhism just because I simply don’t know enough to define myself as one religion and believe all paths will lead to the ultimate destination in due time.

        I recently considered that God may have wanted more than one belief system on Earth because he knew not everyone would be satisfied with one way of thinking. Not everyone can be Hindu or Christian or Buddhist or Islamic or so on and so forth. Their are different ways to call to God but, I don’t think it would be approved of for anyone of any faith to try to shove their beliefs upon someone else. (I also hate giving God a gender because I do believe the true form is genderless and a concept way beyond any scripture or belief system can begin to imagine.)

    • HARRY

      @ Janae

      You said that you disagree with what I said, but at bottom of the paragraph in your post you seem to agree little, What is that you disagree with in what I said ? What I should have said is, animal will never abuse the enviroment it lives in the way we do. And when I say that I am saying this in general. We do take advantage of it, and abuse it not thinking in term of saving it. Where as animal will only take what it need and no more. We do not contribute anything to the planet instead we take everything it has like natural resources and many other things.

      HARRY

      PS I do agree with some of things you said in your post. :)

      • Janae

        @Harry
        Yah, I think I misunderstood your main point when I first read your post.
        No worries. :) Glad to see we have some sort of mutual misunderstanding.

      • Janae

        @Harry
        Yah, I think I misunderstood your main point when I first read your post.
        No worries. Glad to see we have some sort of mutual understanding.

  • 5w_haul

    the most popular god of hindus and easy to please, inspiration of tulsi’s work.

  • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

    Only Hanuman (who represents complete self-surrender and ego-surrender) can defeat Saturn (which represents suffering and dis-ease and delusion).

  • Doug

    Alright so I’ll try to be more respectful this time and not compare your religion to mine… How do you rationalize the concepts of gods serving other gods? Like how is Hanuman a god when he serves and has a devotion to Rama? Why is there a hierarchy of gods and some gods are more powerful and respected than others? I find this really hard to understand coupled with the fact that you also believe all of the gods are different aspects of the one supreme God. Isn’t this the Hindu mythology and isn’t that separate from Hindu philosophy? It almost seems like two different religions, how do you make sense of it?

    • Ambaa

      Well, I think for me the philosophy trumps the mythology. There’s a lot of the stories that I don’t see as literally true and it doesn’t bother me to think that many/most of the stories are symbolic rather than true. But there’s many who do believe them literally.

      Hinduism is an extremely varied religion, since it is actually just a name that was given to a wide variety of native beliefs and practices in India. It can be difficult to define what is Hindu and what isn’t sometimes.

      I would say that for me the real answer to what you’ve asked about this specific case is when Hanuman says, “In the physical realm, Rama is my master. In the subtle realm, we are one.” To me Hanuman is symbolic of one possible human relationship with God. One can worship God while at the same time knowing that in reality one IS God. I personally have also not seen Hanuman as a God before. I guess I think of him more like an angel? Something in-between. Given what I have learned in writing this post, I need to rethink that.

      Glad we haven’t scared you away!

      • Doug

        Alright, thanks for the explanation!!

        • Ambaa

          Oh, btw, I wanted to say that I posted the How To Have An Interfaith Dialog to help me get better at it and I didn’t intend for it to be some kind of passive aggressive jab at you!

          • Doug

            Haha ok

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

    Here is what Swami Vivekananda has to say about the aspects of religion:

    “In every religion there are three parts. First there is the philosophy, which presents the whole scope of that religion, setting forth its basic principles, the goal and the means of reaching it. The second part is mythology, which is philosophy made concrete. It consists of legends relating to the lives of men, or of supernatural beings, and so forth. It is the abstractions of the philosophy concretized in the more or less imaginary lives of men and supernatural beings. The third part is the ritual. This is still more concrete and is made up of forms and ceremonies, various physical attitudes, flowers and incense, and many other things that appeal to the senses. You will find that all recognized religions have these three elements. Some lay more stress on one, some on another.”

    So basically the stories of the mythologies are there to explain the philosophy behind it. As you have seen in the posts about the Upanishads, scholars have struggled for thousands of years to explain these philosophies. The mythology and ritual serves to make the philosophy – the undergirdings – accessible to all.

    In Hinduism it is considered there are three paths to knowing God: the path of knowledge, the path of devotion, and the path of service. The path of knowledge would be for those who attune to the philosophy, the path of devotion for those who are most comfortable with the mythologies, and the path of service for those who understand and wish to carry out the rituals in a selfless manner. Even Christianity has these delineations, although it is not always expressly stated. Think of theologians who devote their lives to studying the Scriptures and explaining them to laymen (the path of knowledge), of monks and nuns who live their lives solely for the purpose of prayer and devotion to God (the path of devotion), and people of all walks of life who have found their ‘vocation’ or way of serving God either by becoming a priest and performing ritual, or being a social worker, or nurse, or teacher, or even serving everyone in their less “religious” seeming jobs but doing it as Christ would do (the path of service).

    It is not so much following a different religion as much as diving deep into the ocean and seeing what you can see with your particular set of finite, limited human eyes in the area of the ocean you were dropped into. The most important thing is that we use our eyes, even though they can’t see everything :)

  • sujit

    great post and good discussion.
    Andrea@ great co-relation with other religion.

    when i was a child, entire family woke to Hanuman chalisa, played by mother (maa). Such an auspicious beginning to the day.

    Great work !!

    • Ambaa

      That sounds so beautiful!


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