This year I was asked to teach at the Hanuman Festival in Boulder with an old friend of mine. It lead me to reflect on which stories of Hanuman seemed most appropriate for this situation, and I settled upon one related to friendship. It was a delight to contemplate the teachings in light of the evolution of the relationship with my friend, and relationships in general. It was such an honor to teach the class. Thanks to the Hanuman Festival and to all of you who showed up in support!
By way of a brief background to the friendship story, there are many stories of Hanuman. In his childhood and youth, he was a precocious monkey who sometimes acted in ways that were mischievous and even dangerous. On one such occasion he was knocked unconscious by Indra, which upset his father Vayu, the wind, who withdrew the prana from the world. To appease Vayu and avoid suffocation, the Gods bestowed upon Hanuman a number of yogic powers.
Hanuman is often associated with bhakti yoga, or love of the divine, and he figures prominently in the great Indian epic, the Ramayana, in which he is devoted to his Beloved Rama and Sita. Famously, he leaps from India to Lanka to save Sita from the demon Ravana, hence the yoga posture bearing his name is Hanumanasana (also known as the splits). As the story goes, the vanaras were quite consternated on the shores of India as to how or who had the ability to traverse the ocean. It took Jambavan, a great friend of Hanuman’s, to remind him of his great powers and ability to conquer the task. Jambuvan tell Hanuman his life story and reminds him of his great powers. Hanuman then gathers up his power to make the leap, and thereby reunite Ram and Sita.
This is a wonderful teaching about how as friends in community we can all encourage each other and ourselves to bring our gifts forward. I remembered how my friend had once approached me wanting to start a yoga studio with me as the director. I was astounded that anyone would see me capable of such a thing. It was truly a turning point in my life, as I stepped into becoming a leader in the community. It lead me tomentoring many teachers, including my friend. Douglas Brooks has taught: you are every character in the story. So it is that my friend was Jambavan to my Hanuman by suggesting I take a leadership role. I then became Jambavan to her Hanuman as I encouraged her in her teaching career.
As I considered these teachings further, I thought of other relationships I’d been in, and how they lead to further growth in my life Sometimes we need someone else to remind us of our greatness, and sometimes our friends simply show up to support us in our work, like Hanuman does repeatedly in the Ramayana. Other times our friends have the difficult task of reminding us when we’re out of alignment and behaving badly, as the Gods did in Hanuman’s youth. This latter has been among the best help I have received from my friends, even though usually it was the hardest help to receive.
Each of us is blessed with particular assets, be they physical, artistic, scientific, or simply being a good parent or friend, among many other possibilities. Our community and the larger world benefits from each of us remembering our gifts and making our unique contribution. Our friends, family, teachers, and the process of yoga itself serve to remind us of our own greatness. Like Jambavan, may we each encourage the greatness of others, reminding them of their beauty, especially when they’ve forgotten. And, like Hanuman, may we remember our own greatness, and harness our gifts in service of the divine.