Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14th, is a holiday about love. We usually think of it in terms of romantic love. We purchase cards, sweets, and flowers for our significant partner(s), and enjoy the gifts they give us in return. Some people enjoy this sentimental tradition, but others despise it. No matter where we fall on the spectrum of loving or loathing Valentine’s Day, any opportunity to bring more love into the world can’t be a bad thing!
Love is a yoga practice. The monkey-god Hanuman, also known as “the Greatest Bhakti”, is a great example of how to love like a yogi! Hanuman teaches us about the transformative power of love. When we love others, we step outside of our isolated selves and into a deeper relationship with those around us. As we do, we discover a part of ourselves -our True Selves- that is connected, courageous, and capable of far more than we ever thought possible.
Hanuman is one of the greatest heroes in yogic mythology. However, he didn’t start off that way. Fathered by the wind god and mothered by a woman, Hanuman was a demigod. He was quite rambunctious in his youth and often got into mischief! The gods were very concerned about the direction his life was taking. They didn’t feel his parents had shown they were up to the task of raising this wild but gifted child.
The great Monkey King heard about the plight of the gods and was concerned for the fate of the child. The Monkey King was of the opinion there is no such thing as a hopeless case. With love and guidance, he believed the child had the potential to do great things. Therefore, the wise Monkey King volunteered to adopt the boy and raise him as his own.
The gods felt this was a very good plan. The erased young Hanuman’s memory. Over time, Hanuman took the form of a monkey so he would better fit in with his new family. He spent years living and learning from the monkeys. As he grounded himself in the security, stability, and most importantly the love and acceptance of his new family, Hanuman grew to be a kind, responsible adult. He developed the capacity to take good care of himself and those around him.
Perhaps this is what so attracted the good King Rama, an avatar of the god Vishnu, to the monkey-demigod! Upon meeting, the two became instant friends.
Rama and Hanuman had many adventures. The greatest of which is recorded in the Indian text The Ramayana. The evil demon Rakshasa abducted Sita, Rama’s beloved. Rama is so angry that he goes to war with Rakshasa! As he leads his troops into battle, he sends Hanuman ahead of the army to find Sita.
Hanuman searches far and wide for Sita. Finally, he finds her trapped in a tower on an isolated island. He has no boat, no way of getting to the island. However, Hanuman is determined to save Sita. He kneels down and prays for the strength to do whatever needs to be done to complete his task.
Hanuman stood up. He didn’t know how things were going to work out. All he knew is that he had been given a job to do and he implicitly trusted that whatever means necessary to complete his task would be granted him. Hanuman took a deep breath, a running start, and leaped from the shore to the island where Sita was held captive!
Upon rescuing Sita, Rama arrived with the rest of the troops. There was a great battle and Rakshasa was defeated! Rama was so grateful to Hanuman, his very best friend, that he took off his precious ring and gave it to the demigod.
Hanuman examined the ring closely. Confused, Rama asked his friend what was wrong.
Hanuman said, “This ring is beautiful, but I can’t find your name anywhere on it.” The monkey-god then ripped his own chest open for all to see. The image of Rama and Sita was depicted on his own heart. Everyone could even hear the sound of Hanuman’s heart. Instead of thump, thump, thump, Hanuman’s heart beat Rama Rama Rama.
The story of Hanuman is not only the story of a great hero, but also the story of how a hero becomes great. There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and Hanuman’s story illustrates how true that is. Hanuman was not born under ideal circumstances. His father and mother, though they loved him, struggled to be good parents. It was not his birth family, but the great Monkey King who nurtured him as a boy and taught him how to use his gifts for good.
Love is all-encompassing and all-pervading. Yogic love is love without conditions or limitations. That does not mean we love irresponsibly. Mature love sets healthy boundaries and reasonable expectations. The Monkey King knew that part of loving the child Hanuman meant teaching him how to behave appropriately and redirecting his wayward energy into something positive.
In the end, it was Hanuman’s love for Rama that allowed him to fully step into his true self. That is the nature of love. It sees who we are at without judgement or condemnation, while gently calling forth the higher self of which we are meant to become. It is through our love of others that we self-actualize and discover our life’s purpose.
Kaivalya, Alanna. Becoming the Hero: the Myths of Yoga. https://alannak.com/online-courses/ Accessed 10 February 2020.
Image: Author’s own.