The Golden Mango
Today we are going to talk about focus, meditation and achieving our goals, some of the obstacles we are likely to face, and what to do about them. We’ll explore how can meditation and breath work help you achieve your goals. Amazingly, as we dive into the various lore of ancient India, we find all sorts of instruction in meditative techniques hidden in the stories of the gods and goddesses. Today’s story will follow one of my favorite about the monkey God, Hanuman.
It’s the story of the Golden Mango. The mango in this story can represent our goals, but specifically here we can use the story to understand our adolescent goals. When you were a young child and you REALLY thought you wanted that thing. Oh my gosh, it’s so important that I get that doll today or that toy truck or I want a unicorn!! And even if we are now more advanced in age, if we are all grown up, many of us still cling to these adolescent goals.
We’re not talking about goal setting in general, but about those things that once we mature, we realize they weren’t actually goals that would serve us (or others for that matter), but rather were simply selfish fantasies of our youth. Hanuman is ultimately here to show us this process of moving from a rambunctious selfish youth, into a powerful and wise being who lives in service of everyone else. This story will give us some insight in how we can grow through this experience in our own lives. It will give us some ideas of tools we’ll need to develop to achieve greater goals in life.
Our takes place early in Hanuman’s life. Technically, he hasn’t even been given the name Hanuman yet. He is still known as Anjaneya, the son of Anjani, who is his monkey mother. He’s still a young monkey, he’s known to be a bit of rascal, a bit of a trouble maker. And one day, while his mother wants to complete some chores, she sits him down at the bottom of a mango tree. She points to the mangos and tells him that he can eat any of the mango he sees.
Here, the mangos can also represent the abundance of youth. The whole world is our mango. We are full of potential, ripe with possibility. We are filled with choices. Do I want this thing or that thing? Do I go in this direction or that direction? In America, growing up, parents would always tell us kids: you can be anything you want to be with enough hard work. It’s part of the American mythos, part of the American dream. So too was it with Hanuman.
Now the young monkey looks up at the tree and spies the biggest, golden mango he’s ever seen. In fact, he was looking at the sun without knowing it. So he LEAPS up, and flies after this giant mango. Flies towards the sun.
As he’s speeding through the sky, towards what he thinks is the juiciest mango ever, a giant demon, a dragon by the name of Rahu, spots the monkey flying towards the sun. It’s exclusively the domain of Rahu to devour the sun and create eclipses. How dare this little monkey try to get to the sun and eat it. We see a parallel in the story of Icarus, flying too close to the sun. How dare a lowly human, or in this case, a monkey, try to get to the sun! Try to get that big thing!
So Rahu barrels after Anjaneya, Hanuman, and you can imagine this giant, ferocious dragon, with blackened skin, blood on its teeth, fire fuming out of its mouth and nose, surrounded in smoke, heading towards this tiny little monkey.
But is Anjaneya scared? NO! He sees the dragon and thinks to himself, “Oh my gosh! Look at that cute little dragon! I wanna play with him!” With innocence and fearlessness, he changes direction and heads towards Rahu, thinking he would make a great play toy! He’s very easily distracted from his goal.
Rahu, who wasn’t used to this type of response, all of a sudden, gets scared himself. He sees this fearless little monkey charging after him, and he gets afraid. He cowers. He tucks tail and runs.
The subconscious isn’t used to resistance. It works behind the scenes. The very nature of the subconscious aspect of our mind that clouds the clarity of awareness and focus is that we aren’t really aware when it’s happening. Our habits and our patterns are that way because we don’t really think about them. They just happen. The subconscious wants to block out the sun, to block out focus and concentration, so it can move through its usual, unobstructed patterns. It keeps from our goals, by keeping us locked in our old patterns.
So here is the energy of the subconscious, used to easily covering over our conscious mind, and it sees the intent, an aspirant with playfulness and free of fear, and it doesn’t know what to do. It cowers, it shrinks in response. So our monkey friend is free to head back towards the sun, towards his goal. But that’s not the end of it.
Rahu goes to Indra. The lord of the skies, the King of the gods. Who kind of represents the ruler over the material realm: nature, our senses, our mind. Rahu convinces Indra that this little monkey boy is a threat! And Indra’s gotta do something about it! Now the monkey mind, normally isn’t a threat. It goes from here to there, bouncing from one thought to the next. When the mind operates like this, things stay as normal, stay as they’ve always been.
It allows Rahu to do his work. But now… this monkey mind is focused, through the power of its will, it’s determined to reach the sun, its goal! So now, NOW it’s a problem. It’s a threat. The operator of the subconscious mind, so used to control, needs to put things back into their usual order, back into place, where it can govern from its dark realm of the subconscious.
So Indra is on it! He grabs his magical thunderbolt, mounts his giant white elephant, and heads off looking for this monkey. But now, when Hanuman sees this giant white elephant racing towards him, he gets even MORE excited then when he saw Rahu.
We see the pitfalls here of playfulness of youth, constantly being distracted. Playfulness adds a certain lightness in life, which helps us from getting too serious about things, too rigid, but it also is easy to be distracted from one’s goal, what one is focusing on.
So Anjaneya chases after the Elephant and grabs him by his trunk, wanting to play with him. He’s a little rough, as kids often are, and starts yanking it around. It’s like my daughter playing with her puppy. We have to remind her to be gentle. But Indra isn’t the model of a patient parent. He’s furious. How dare this little monkey disrespect him and his glorious elephant like this. So he grabs his thunderbolt and launches it at the monkey.
It hits Anjaneya on the chin, breaking his jaw and knocking him unconscious.
This is life right? You commit to something. You focus. And the universe doubles down. The phone starts to ring, your various subconscious patters arise, all sorts of things come at you in a furious attempt to get you back into your subconscious ways. You’re in a yoga class, and your focusing on your breath, paying attention to your movement, and BOOM, those powerful subconscious mental draws start putting you away into those old tapes of thinking and before you know it, you are right back into repeating the same old thoughts, not paying any attention to your breath, your limbs are all over the place. You make a choice to do something in life, and the demons come up! They want to test your resilience!
But here, Anjaneya loses! He gets knock unconscious. He falls back to sleep. Back into his patterns. He falls back towards the earth, away from his goal of the sun. On a side note, having broken his jaw, this is where he gets the name Hanuman. One of the meanings of Hanuman is “broken chin”.
Hanuman, while considered to be an incarnation of Shiva (the God that represents ultimate consciousness), has both a Godly father, Vayu, and a monkey father, Kesari. It’s Hanuman’s God father, Vayu, the God of the Wind, of prana, of breath, sees his son falling unconscious back to earth. He swoops Hanuman up, and flies into a cave at the very center of the earth. He’s furious at what happened to his son, so he draws in his mighty breath, and sucks out all of the air from the world.
Every living thing on earth that relies on air to breathe and to live, begins to perish. The gods go into a panic! What’s going on? All the animals are dying! Plants are dying! So the gods rush to Vayu to see what is going on. The Gods beg and plead with Vayu to return to air to the world. Vayu eventually agrees, but demands that first the Gods bestow boons, gifts, blessings onto Hanuman.
So let’s pause for a moment to explore the hidden explanation in all of this. What happens when we lose our focus in our journey to our goal? What happens when we fall back unconscious? What can we do? Well, we can utilize the breath and meditation. We can practice pranayama! Specifically here, Vayu draws down into the cave, into the darkness inside the individual self. It withdraws deep down inside, retaining the breath. This is called kumbhaka in yoga. The breath retention. This is a powerful yogic technique and at the heart of many pranayama practices.
Stay here too long, well, things could do die or you could do (or perhaps at least pass out)! Things in the world need air. They need breath they need prana. Interestingly as well, when you hold the breath, there is an initial panic of the body, an impulse to breathe again. The panic is there, just like the gods panicking. But what’s on the other end of that impulse that panic? The BOONS! The treasures of the practice. The blessings!
I do want to mention, before we get into the boons, as a little disclaimer, that it’s important to note that any time you are learning a new breathing technique or practicing retentions, it’s important to practice first with a qualified instructor. Someone who knows what they are doing. I wouldn’t recommend just trying things out of a book.
So… onto the boons! Brahma, the creator God, grants him immortality as well as other boons.
Vishnu, the preserver, promises him that he will forever be known as the greatest devotee to God. Indra even comes along to grant him immunity from weapons of any kind, including his own lightning bolt. And down the list, the various gods go granting him further boons that represent the various siddhis, the various perfections or magical powers of the yogi. These are the very skills we develop to move forward and achieve our goals in life.
When we develop a meditation practice, a pranayama practice, we develop special tools, special powers that help us overcome the various obstacles on our path.
Interestingly though, at this point Hanuman, with all these new booms, doesn’t get up with all of his new booms, and go back after the sun. What he thought the sun was, a mango, it wasn’t. In his youth, in his misunderstanding, he went chasing after something that he thought he wanted. But what he thought it was, it wasn’t. Does that make sense? When you go after something, thinking it’s really want you want, but then you come to understand that you didn’t really want that thing. When you want a million dollars because you think that is going to bring you happiness, but then you realize the money isn’t actually going to make you happy. If I get this stuff for myself, then I’ll be happy! But here in this first step in Hanuman’s growth and evolution, it’s no longer getting the sun, eating the mango, that’s going to make him happy.
The story goes in another direction. Later, Hanuman actually becomes the student of the sun! It is said that Hanuman was the original creature of the Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salute so often practiced in postural yoga.
And what is the Surya Namaskar? The Sun Salute? It’s another practice of focus and concentration. Of breath, of movement, moving in that goal of consciousness. Absolute presence. That story later gives us another tool to utilize in our path. But that, of course, is a story for another time.
So from one sense, we can understand this story in the greater context of Hanuman, who ultimately is a symbol of service to others, and realize that when we start on a journey of meditation, we start to shift away from our early selfish, misguided goals. And move more skillfully towards goals that will help others.
If we want to look at this story standing on its own, we can see an example of how easy it is to get knocked off whatever goal, whatever path we have set ourselves on.
When we set a goal, something we want to train our focus on, we get attacked, assailed, by our subconscious patterns and thinking. We are thrown off track, knocked back down to earth, ruled again by the subconscious.
So how do we help to engage this tendency to fall back into our subconscious patterns? Meditation!
Specifically here, we are talking about pranayama leading to meditation. Through practices of the breath, and of breath retention, we overcome the subconscious mind (its tendency to be scattered, swayed by the senses, continuously coming off track) and can abide in that deep and profound space of meditation, free to receive the boons that the state provides. Free, ultimately, to go back into life with a focus that has been primed and cleared from the usual distractions of the mind. Allowing us to achieve and accomplish our goals, whatever they are.
We’ve cultivated a mind more free of distraction, a mind less likely to fall victim to the ploys of the subconscious mind. And we have it beautifully illustrated here in the story of a monkey, and a dragon, and the gods!
If you have goals laid out in front of you, I hope this story has provided some insight into the tendencies of the mind to scatter and get distracted, and shown the importance of cultivating a meditation practice to help channel your focus. In future podcasts, we’ll share more stories about Hanuman’s journey towards realizing the importance of serving others, and directing your goals to things that will serve more than just yourself, things that will serve your community and the world.
For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed our story today and learned something new. May you reach your goals and be of service to others. Thank you for listening. I hope you’ll join us again next time. Namaste.
Listen to me telling the story here: