Today is all about having perspective when we encounter pride in our ego. Indian stories recognize this tremendous thing that is the ego, so we see story after story about various tools and practices and examples of ways to overcome the ego. Or perhaps in some respect, move through instead of being moved by the ego.
Our story today is about Hanuman. Hanuman and the water pot, and the burning of Lanka. And it’s going to teach us things about pride and about our ego, and invite us into a place of perspective when we encounter the ego, when we encounter pride.
Before we begin, we have to contextualize our story a little bit. The story in particular happens within the larger narrative of the story of the Ramayana. We have a few basic characters we want to be familiar with. One is Prince Rama. He is the Prince of Ayodhya. He’s considered to be an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, although he doesn’t really know it yet. There is the Princess Sita, who then technically is also an incarnation of Lakshmi.
We have King Ravana. King Ravana is a very complex character in that he’s considered the demon king. But he doesn’t fit the same or typical model of villain as often you find in stories. Ravana is considered a pretty good and capable ruler. He’s a very accomplished Yogi. But his downfall and the contrasts that get played out through the characters throughout the story is his ego, and how his ego gets in the way of his decision making and causes his downfall.
So you have these characters. You also have Hanuman, which we’ve done episodes for on the podcast in the past. He is the monkey deity. He is the incarnation of Rudra, of Shiva.
So once upon a time, in the story, Ravana kidnaps Sita. He sees something that he wants and he just takes it for himself. This is the ego, again. As she’s kidnapped and sent away, Ravana heads back to Lanka. And Rama comes to find that Sita is gone, he goes looking for her, he meets all kinds of characters along the way. One of those characters happens to be Hanuman, and they’re all out looking for Sita.
So they’re in separate groups, going separate ways, and it ends up being Hanuman that finds Sita. There’s a lot of amazing adventures along the way, which we’ll get into at other times in other stories. But Hanuman finds Sita in a garden, locked in the palace on Lanka. He explains to Sita what’s going on, who he is, he shows her a ring that Rama gave to him to give to her to show to her to prove that Hanuman was truly from Rama, and not just a trick of Ravana. Sita ends up giving Hanuman a comb from her hair so that then Hanuman can prove to Rama that he has actually found her. So it’s a token from her.
Now Hanuman getting ready to leave Sita there, to go back to find Rama, to tell him where she is, he decides to allow himself to get captured by Ravana’s forces. Now Hanuman’s a pretty invincible guy, so he’s not really worried about what’s going to happen. He’s going in quite confidently.
Now when they bring him into Ravana’s throne room, now Ravana with his big ego again, he always makes sure that he sits above everyone. And when they sit Hanuman lower in front of Ravana, Hanuman has the ability to grow his tail longer, so he starts to grow it out longer and longer and longer, so that eventually his tail is so wound up that he sits above and looks down on Ravana.
And this absolutely infuriates Ravana, and he just wants to burn Hanuman. His fire is so kicked up that he just wants to burn him, and his advisors kind of suggest against it, and tell him like “Hey, probably not a good idea to burn the messenger.” He kind of agrees. What he says is “Okay, well I’m not going to burn the whole monkey, but I want to burn his tail.”
So they started wrapping his tail in this cloth that had been soaked in flammable oil. But as they’re doing this, Hanuman starts growing out his tail longer and longer and longer again. They keep wrapping more and more, getting more cloth, and eventually, when they decide to light it on fire, Hanuman jumps up and breaks out of his chains, and starts jumping all over Lanka, from rooftop to rooftop, and every time he touches down on a building, his tail kind of wraps around it and catches it on fire.
So here we have this whole city being burned to ashes. Now as Hanuman finally leaps towards the edge of the palace and of the city, to leap back over to mainland India, he looks back for a moment and he sees the burning down of the city, the burning down of the palace, he sees the chaos, he sees the defeat of the city of Lanka, of Ravana, in a way. And he feels pride. He feels proud that he did it. He’s like “Yeah, like I showed them.”
And he turns back and he jumps. And Hanuman’s flying through the air. He starts to get thirsty in his flying, because you know, flying dehydrates you, I don’t know. He looks down and sees a lake below, so he lands. And at the edge of the lake he sees a sage. The sage is sitting there meditating. Hanuman comes up to him and asks him very politely, he’s like “Hey, can I have a sip of water? Is that okay?”
And the sage just kind of looks at him and tilts his head towards the water, whatever, as if to say “Sure.” So Hanuman takes his items that he got, his ring, his comb. He also in versions of the story got a letter from Brahma, basically saying “Hey, Hanuman burnt down the city of Lanka. He did all of this, hurrah.” So he could show that letter to Rama.
So he places these three things down next to the sage, who also had a water pot sitting right next to him. And he goes down to the water to drink. Now right after he started to walk down, a little monkey jumps out of the bushes and grabs Hanuman, aka Rama’s ring. He throws it into the sage’s water pot, and then disappears into the bushes.
Now Hanuman comes back after drinking his water, and he comes to kind of grab his stuff, and he looks around, and he’s like “Wait, where’s the ring?”
And seeing as the sage is the only guy there, he looks up at the sage and he’s like “Hey, I was just gone for a second here, where’s the ring?”
And the sage just kind of looks at him, and just kind of tilts his head down as if he’s pointing to the water pot, but Hanuman doesn’t really get this right off the bat. So he’s kind of like mimicking the head movement, he’s like “What are you doing with the head?” And the sage keeps doing it, and like trying to point more obviously without saying words, and starts to even point with his finger, like “Look at the water pot.”
Hanuman’s freaking out, like “What do you keep doing with the head thing? I don’t understand.” And then he finally, aha, gets it, and he looks in the water pot. And he sees endless rings. There’s just a pile of rings in there that he then kind of reaches his hand and starts going through, and they’re all an exact replica of Rama’s ring. And no matter how much he digs in there, there always seems to be more that he’s pulling out.
And he turns to the sage and he’s like “What’s going on? Like, what’s happening here?” And the sage finally breaks the silence and he explains to Hanuman about the eon. How time expands and contracts and repeats itself in cycles again and again, that there have been countless Hanuman’s before this Hanuman, who have come and stopped at this lake for water, after burning down Lanka. And the monkey came and put the ring in the water pot.
And there are going to be countless Hanumans after, that are going to stop here and go for a drink of water, and a monkey’s going to come and throw a ring in a water pot. We are so insignificant in the grand scheme of space and time. The ego is so self-important. It thinks that it’s world is the most important world, and it just hits Hanuman so clearly. It’s like “Wow, I am so insignificant. I thought it was such a big deal, like look at me, I did this to the city, but I’m so small in the grand scheme of life.” And it just annihilated his pride.
And this is where the contrast comes in then with Ravana. Because Ravana is that representation of the ego that’s always making choices based on that, and never really learns his lesson. Hanuman here, his ego’s getting him to feel this pride for burning down Lanka, and he has an experience that triggers this understanding in him. He learns. He grows from it. He recognizes like “Wow, these things aren’t so significant.”
That doesn’t mean don’t do them, he continues with his story, he continues with his destiny and his dharma. It’s not saying be apathetic. It’s just allowing perspective to recognize how small we are in this vast universe, to not get so caught up in our own ego, in our own press release, in our own story about ourselves.
This story is providing an opportunity for us in our own lives, to look at those moments when we’re on the ego trip. When we’re caught up in our own story, our own perceptions or our concerns about other people’s perception. Allowing that pause or recognition of, in many ways, insignificance.
Like even if you think about some of the things that the ego is tripping on right now, the things you’re worried about, you’re concerned about. Will they even matter three months from now? Three years from now? Ten years from now? Like three days, three minutes from now?
Allowing ourselves a little perspective above the muck is helpful in overcoming the ego. So much of what we get in this story of the Ramayana is the ways to overcome the ego, the ways to overcome Ravana, and Hanuman here is that example. As the story itself invites an opportunity for all of us to have some perspective on our pride, on our ego. To have some breadth and space to really observe and contextualize our own ego trip drama.
So let go, give up the ego, and as Hanuman ends up doing, give your work to something larger. Right? It’s not about you, it’s about this larger, continuing thing that we are all a part of. So keep doing your work in the world. But it’s not for you, it’s not for the ego, it’s not for the pride, it’s for something larger.
And so Hanuman, on his path here, is learning that when these things come up, to remember that we’re doing it for something larger than ourselves, and that will help us to overcome the tendency to get caught up in the ego, and that then leads to the destruction that we see Ravana eventually succumbing to.