Yoga and the Art of Freedom through Service

An image of Lord Hanuman, the Monkey God, on  Hinduwebsite.com . This image is a reminder to each of us to open up our own hearts to see what's in it that we most revere, and figure out how we can be of service to it by using the talents we’ve been gifted with.

An image of Lord Hanuman, the Monkey God, on Hinduwebsite.com. This image is a reminder to each of us to open up our own hearts to see what's in it that we most revere, and figure out how we can be of service to it by using the talents we’ve been gifted with.

You have conquered your mind, you move as fast as the wind.
You have conquered the senses,
You overflow with wisdom and mercy.
Son of the Wind, you are Ram's messenger in this world.
Lion among Monkeys! Give me refuge!

- Devotional Chant Prayer to Hanuman, by Krishna Das

To take refuge in something means to find a safe space, and to flee a place that is unsafe. The above prayer chant by the inimitable Krishna Das, so beautifully reminds us that within our very own being, there is something that can help carry us to such a safe place.

Each year around this time, I take refuge in remembering the story of Hanuman. I love sharing this story with my students.

Hanuman, also known at the Monkey God, appears in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Essentially, in the story he is serving someone named Lord Rama, whose wife Sita gets captured and taken to an island in the middle of the ocean. Hanuman, because of his deep devotion to Rama, takes up the mission to go and rescue Sita and return her to his master. He comes to the edge of the ocean, sees the island way out in the middle of it, and in that moment, he is reminded that he is powerful and strong and capable of doing the impossible. He gathers up his resolve and does a giant “split-leap” over the ocean, lands on the island, rescues Sita, and returns her to Rama.

Hence, as Religious Studies Professor Joshua Greene says:

Hanumanasana is the forward-splits position. The arms are raised overhead in victory. The body is stretched out in all 6 directions. Practicing the pose, we gain victory over our own selves, our ego and our tendencies towards evil.

Essentially, the character of Hanuman reminds us of the powers that lie deep within ourselves that are awakened when we engage in being of service to the humanity and the greater good…

According to Jayaram V in this article on Hinduwebsite.com, Hanuman “is regarded as the Superman, the perfect man ….”

As yoga practitioners, we’re faced with a similarly “impossible task” – one that is no less difficult than the one Hanuman was tasked with doing. Our mission – impossible as it may seem – is to overcome our own selves. We do this by working to purify our own body, mind and heart. We are aided by our remembering – like Hanuman did – that we are indeed powerful human beings, with many talents and huge quantities of resolve that can be put to good use for the betterment of humanity and all sentient beings on this earth.

Jayaram V writes that in the microcosm:

Hanuman represents, the breath. When ego and the senses carry away the mind and body and put them to wrong use, with the help of breath the embodied soul restrains the senses, silences the ego, regains the control of the mind and body and stabilizes them in the contemplation of God.

We can take refuge in our breath, for it will help bring us back to our senses and lead us to doing the right thing.

The right thing in each of our individual cases is to figure out a way to be useful to the world through the talents we’ve been given. So, in a sense, we can also take refuge in our individual life missions. Being engaged in fulfilling them will carry us to freedom.

Jayaram V writes:

… He also symbolizes the story of animal man in us who through the path of devotion and service to God, can purify himself and attain immortality.

Hanuman saw what was in his heart and listened to its call-to-action. We can too. In so doing, we can gain more freedom and move closer to being reunited with the Divine that is in all of us.

May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you listen to what lies deepest in your heart,
May you take refuge in your breath and ride it to freedom,
May you take refuge in your life’s missions and find the strength and resolve to complete them …
… each for the benefit of All Beings everywhere.

Aloha with metta,
Paul Keoni