I make sense of the innumerable Gods of the Hindu pantheon through the prism of language and meaning. I see every name that denotes a deity as the embodiment of the adjectival qualities attributed to that noun. It’s not an idea unknown in Islam either, popular discourse has us believe that He is known only as Al-lah, but that is only one of His names. Al-Mubdi, Al-Muqeet and Al-Mumeet is similar to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva as the creator, preserver and destroyer. I just love the sound and meaning of Al-Baseer (The All-seeing), Al-Haqq (The True) and An-Noor (The Light) and many more.
It is an obvious part parallel to the Sahasranama (thousand names) of the divine masculine and the divine feminine; which is representative of an astoundingly vast idea for the human mind to grasp in a single thought. Most of us can imagine a ‘blue car’, many can compose a melody silently, some can visualise 13-dimensional space and string theory; but almost no one can imagine a car that is ‘blue’ and ‘red’ at the same time, be singing and silent, be thinking and not, all in the same moment; that’s what imagining Him or Her is like, full of contradictions, paradoxes and unknowables – something not graspable by the mind.
My mother is devoted to Hanuman and believes the Puranic stories that unlike other Gods, he never left the Earth but stayed for the sake of his devotees.
“Oh! So there is a Monkey-Man roaming amidst us?” I had laughed.
“Pray to Him; He will give you courage” She said solemnly giving me a pocket size Hanuman Chalisa which she recited everyday.
Her belief being that worshipping a particular deity eventually inculcates the qualities of that deity in you and Hanuman is Al-‘Aziz (The Mighty) and Al-Wahhab (The Bestower) of many boons. The idea is no longer that esoteric and modern cognitive science validates the same to a limited degree.
I still did not pray to Hanuman. Instead, I found my way back to Dhamma Arunachala, a Vipassana meditation centre on the outskirts of Tiruvannamalai, a temple town in Tamil Nadu, to spend 10 days in self-imposed silence. Vipassana as taught here is claimed to be the pure meditation technique of the Buddha and hence does not believe in priests and rituals as you have in Buddhism today. It relies on the breath which is universal and one’s own sincere efforts.
Upon arrival, I was told there was a shortage of volunteers to serve the course and if I would be willing to take up the responsibility. I agreed readily but perhaps at the cost of my practice. I did not experience any of the clarity and deep tranquillity that had marked my previous stints with Vipassana; and on the one day when I finally began to experience a deep absorption I had to stop meditating and go attend to my duties. I was a little dejected with the outcome but still in better mind space than before.
I decided to visit Maharishi Ramana’s cave on Arunachala, a hill upon which Siva manifested as an infinite column of light to resolve the dispute of superiority between Brahma and Vishnu. Apart from a Russian couple, I was accompanied by an ever-smiling Polish girl and a Ukrainian man both of who had served the course with me. We climbed barefoot, taking pictures of the beautiful views and nature around us. Someone had sold me a small but beautiful garland of flowers just before we began our trek and I had jokingly declared that we shall take it as an offering to the Mountain God.
We were almost at the Maharishi’s cave, when the Polish girl and I were accosted by a troupe of monkeys. As she squatted to take a picture, the monkey tugged at the garland breaking the thread and scattering the flowers. The monkey came up to me, stood on its legs and stretched its arms and was looking up at me like a child who wants to be lifted up. I was too surprised to do anything and feared for the safety of my phone and spectacles. A big monkey sauntered up behind him grabbed it’s tail and prodded it to get moving as he unmistakably gestured towards me with a nod. The monkey climbed the low stone parapet behind me and before I knew what was happening had perched itself on my shoulder. I stood there frozen, as the monkey shuffled about at times touching my head. The Polish girl came up to me laughing at my plight, I relaxed and laughed as well saying that maybe the monkey just wanted a ride. We began walking and after a few steps the monkey hopped down and just as suddenly as they had arrived the entire troupe disappeared into the trees.
We reached the Ashram and did the only thing we knew how to do together – sit in silence and meditate. Within a few minutes I could sense that something was different, there was a force here that was supporting my concentration and I easily slipped into the states I had been trying to reach desperately on my own for the last 10 days.
My father had laid the burden of his business’s legal troubles on me and I had done as much as I could for him; but he had stubbornly refused his own deliverance and in the process, unknowingly, not only wounded me deeply but also destroyed my sense of worth. His name is Arun and I prayed to Arunachala for his redemption. I asked why must you be so immovable? why must your ego be as big as this mountain, bigger than the well-being of your family? why? Submerged emotions began to surface, wave after wave broke into my mind, tears began to trickle down my face. As I struggled to not sob and disturb the silence; I felt a loving presence envelop me and soon my tears subsided as a peace washed me ashore.
A few weeks later, I ran into the Polish girl near Auroville, a spiritual community near Pondicherry. We greeted each other and she said she has some pictures she would like me to see. What I saw, was incredible, surely, this was no ordinary monkey. Does Hanuman really live amongst us physically or is he manifest every time we find the courage to face our fears? Will you know him when he shows up for you?
I did not know then that the Universe had heard me. Soon, I found the will to start looking for a job, the right one found me and I began teaching. I began to heal and found gratitude; a small poem flowed from my heart. I was beginning to feel that maybe my differences with my father were not irreconcilable after all, but the Universe had understood more than I knew about my true needs.
My family lives lavishly; my annual salary would cover a fortnight’s expense. I had tried to become grateful using my mind, by becoming aware of the cost of the privilege I was being afforded. Surprisingly, this made me weak. I felt obligated for receiving things I did not desire anymore but was indulging in nevertheless as it was already there. This kind of gratitude is not a positive emotion but a burden on the mind. It makes you feel indebted. So, when I discovered disturbing truths about my father, this very gratitude prevented me from processing my emotions. There was only one solution that didn’t involve hurting innocents but I did not have the courage to take the step.
It was then that I picked up the Hanuman Chalisa which I read with my mother’s helpful explanations of words and stories I did not know. That’s all it took. One reading. Soon after, I found the courage to move out, get a place of my own and start living within my income. I found the courage to let go of a narrow identity to take up a name that embraces all. I found the courage to live my life by values and principles I connected to. I still struggle, I still fall and fail at a great many things as I put my philosophy to practice, but I have found the courage to take ownership of my life.
Renouncing family support was a step down materially but a giant leap spiritually. I have never felt more at peace with myself and my existence. A part of me is critical that I am not acting in accordance to the dharma of a son and escaping rather than shouldering responsibility. I tell that part I will always have space for my birth parents in my humble but enough means should they ever want it but I am not bound to chase a toxic notion of success that is not me. I don’t know if I sin.
May Hanuman give us the courage to live as per our own dharma.
May our karma be of service.
May we become worthy of grace.