In Book IV of the Ramayana but in Vishaka Hari's Sundara Kanda is a scene of recognition, where Hanuman recognizes the divine qualities of Rama; recognition itself being a religious concept, I think, but also ancient where ancient means time, if we think of the time and attention given to guests, symbolised in the tesserae hospitalis, the tokens in ancient times that were broken in two, to be reunited as one when the same people or their kin reencountered. Tokens, the first encounter, suggest the importance of preparation for that threshold of recognition. O'Donohue speaks of the importance of how we cross thresholds, whether we are ready, or worthy. Perhaps to work too hard is unworthy, and not an example of what is the motto on his posthumous site: "Each of us is an artist of our days. The greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become."
There is a message about intent of purpose in Sundara Kanda, summarised incredibly by Vishaka Hari when she says that no one needs to enter the crooked, narrow streets at all, but just the highway of Dharma; that to take the crooked street is to get caught. As the soul is pregnant with meaning, we are to grow in order. This is illustrated in the book by Hanuman's "order" of supporting heavenly order: when he is unsure of how to speak to the captured Sita, he begins by praising the Rajarshis, which comply with this purpose. When he enters the palace of Sita's captor, and sees all his wives sleeping, wondering if he has transgressed, he realises that he has not lost sight of his single purpose and his passions had not been stirred by them: "The mind is the motive power of every movement of the senses, whether it be good or evil and mine remains untroubled".
If we wonder how to cross our own seas, as Hanuman does to reach Sita, we learn of his model humility coupled with confidence. Just the former means inefficiency, the latter, conceitedness: this is how he gets things done.
When he loses his calm, at the very end, and sets the city on fire ("In anger one may even slay one's spiritual preceptor" and affront virtuous men), he still-going back to Vishaka Hari's retelling-has a chance to take the Dharmic path, for which it is never too late. Even Ravana, the captor, is given chances, first by Sita, then Hanuman, then Ravana's brother, then the city is burned...
This text brings a cure through colours, too, rather like the colours against the threat of disappearance in death in O'Donohue's Beannacht: "when the ghost of loss gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green, And azure blue Come to awaken in you". In Sundara Kanda the colours appear in the white, rose, purple, blue, yellow, black clouds that Hanuman disappears into and becomes visible out of as he flies to and fro to Sita's place of enslavement.
But it is not a place of enslavement. As Vishaka Hari puts it, and as we learn by reading, Sita could have destroyed the city, but was waiting patiently for Ravana to change. Ravana, who had deceived her by putting on a disguise. Ravanna, who everyone says is versed in the Veda, who is even chanting it when he comes to visit Sita in the Sundara Kanda, but who does not show himself to be intelligent, by committing acts prohibited by the laws of righteousness. It turns out in the end that it was he who was ultimately deceived and not Sita: "Beware of placing thy neck in the noose of death in the form of Sita" his brother counsels; and Hanuman later calls the flames that had been on his tail with which he destroyed the city, "Sita's wrath". How quickly the snare entraps he who sets it: this is worth being remembered, for later.
After Hanuman lost control as he flicked his fiery tail about in a rage, he repents, and as he repents, he "recollects certain auspicious signs". Recollection! He realises fire could not consume the fire of Sita and hears godly voices confirm this. "Such were the words, resembling ambrosia."
Dharma is regained, auspicious signs are recollected through the humility: through courage, intent remains a highway. As for the rhetoric of this singular message, it is like Hanuman in the clouds, at once implicit and hidden and explicit and visible.
It is in part manifest in Hanuman's singularity of purpose, his physical communication across the ocean, and an ever-mindfulness that for the message to be conveyed, he must be ready to adapt to those new circumstances. By association, we might note that in tranlsation, it is so mediocre to just throw words over the seas to their rough equivalents, so much more profitable to weigh them and convert them into their syn of kin, which admittedly requires knowing the local market fluctations as well as one's own. Hanuman notes twice in almost the exact same words: "Undertakings often fail through an incompetent messenger unable to take advantage of time and place, as darkness is overcome by the rising sun; in such cases, whether it concerns the accomplishment or avoidance of any matter, the most widely planned projects do not succeed." This is summed up by the question of intent behind his actions: "How shall the crossing of the ocean not prove to have been useless?" It is not enough to do, one is to do that which is fruitful.
Actions are complex, and clouded, because singularity of purpose requires the right interpretation of signs. After all, this is what ostensibly ensnares Sita, who is protected by her intentions and so also by Dharma, but truly ensnares Ravana.
Observe the difficulties even Hanuman had in recognising Sita, who he had come to save: "Entangled in a mighty web of sorrow, her beauty was veiled like ... a traditional text obscured by dubious interpretation ... Beholding Sita in that pitiable state, Hanuman was perplexed as one whose learning is lost for lack of sustained endeavour and, seeing her without ornaments, he recognised her with difficulty as a text that is wrongly construed. .... She resembled a great reputation that has been lost or a faith that has been disregarded or a mind that has become clouded or a hope destroyed, a future shattered, an order misinterpreted".
There may be such necessary beauty in the trials of what must ultimately fall away: a computer for a time, health through overstrain or oversorrow, even meaning, but what beauty is then gathered up again in the right intent, on the Dharma highway that leads across oceans, effortlessly. Even the fasting Sita who had been led astray is ultimately recognised and restored to be the exalted being that she is, and one with transformative powers.
Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees.