Perhaps we can blame Kipling for the long-term belief in irreconcilable differences between East and West. “Oh East is East and West is West and never the ‘twain shall meet…” Yet all mythology does ring true to Campbell’s adventure of the hero, and absolutely all of it in some way expounds on what it means to be human, and animal and alive. Hindu mythology especially plumbs the possibilities of human experience because the belief in the equal sanctity of all life includes the possibility of reincarnating as an animal. While the West struggles with its knee jerk offense at the possibility of evolving from apes, this tale from Hindu lore upholds a literal monkey as among the most evolved beings.

Hanuman, the subject of this collection of tales, has super strength, invulnerability and a spectacularly short-term memory regarding his own abilities. Born of a divine mother – magically enchanted to forget her own divinity – and a great hero to both monkeys and man, his childhood exploits represent the hard-to-discipline subconscious mind. In adulthood, Hanuman keeps Lord Rama and Rama’s wife and consort Sita in his heart, and devotes himself to the masculine representative of human perfection absolutely until both meet their physical deaths. Even after his master’s death, Hanuman continued his devotion, meditating upon his master on a distant mountain until Rama reincarnates as Indra. Hanuman’s discipleship exemplifies the good brought about by pure-hearted devotion, respect for propriety and self-sacrifice. He also, sometimes, descends into monkeying around. Pagan readers may find it worth noting: devotion to Hanuman, according to Hindu tradition, allays the effects of Saturn Return.

This book takes tales of Hanuman from the epic the Ramayana. Each tale leads to the meaning of dharma, duty, and the small personal tragedies that such duty can induce in the interests of greater good. While purportedly this book tells of Hanuman’s monastic devotion to his lord, the stories explore unusual themes, most notably the power that humanity has over its own gods. You might come away thinking that rather than mortals serving gods, that the gods serve mortality, giving themselves endlessly to maintain a universal balance. These tales show what the gods – even the less than loving aspects – do for human beings so that humanity understands its own debt to the gods.

Amali writes a lighter read than most translations of Hindu epics. The easily absorbed stories come with surprisingly relevant themes. The resentment of sons on behalf of their mother bespeaks experiences common to modern divorce, as is the reality that public opinion can tear apart the personal lives of world leaders. Sita’s conflicts and treatment will interest and irritate feminists worldwide, because while the rules play out differently, women worldwide experience the same social demands in different forms. While western Pagans may reject the asceticism of Hanuman, they can discern the same bigger picture Hanuman meditates upon eternally.


~ review by Diana Rajchel


Author: Van Amali

Inner Traditions

pp. 406 $19.95