On Election Day, CNN noted that Barack Obama has a number of "good luck" practices, including playing a pickup game of basketball. He also carries, they reported, a number of good luck charms with him (not unlike Dennis Kucinich, with his tiny copies of the U.S. Constitution). Obama's include a medal with Madonna and Child, and what CNN describes as "a small statue of an Indian monkey god."
I have worked in India, most recently to assist in the environmental cleanup of the Ganges River in Benares. The group I worked with in Benares (also known as Varanasi) was associated with the Sankat Mochan Temple there, an ancient temple dedicated to this same "monkey god" that Obama is said to carry in his pocket. So, you may wonder, what monkeys have to do with anything, religious, luck-wise, or otherwise?
In Indian mythology (the Ramayana, and other Indian early works of literature), the god Hanuman, a monkey, was a worshiper of Ram, an embodiment of "good," for lack of a better way of describing it. Hanuman did everything he could for Ram, served him in the best way he could, neither asking nor accepting praise for himself for his good deeds. In temples to Hanuman in India, therefore, Hanuman is not seen on an altar, but instead is seen facing Ram, thus passing on all praise he receives to a greater power, a greater good.
Hanuman is considered the "god of service," therefore — the humble servant of the world, and the one who has no attachment to personal gain, and who asks nothing for himself other than the chance to serve. I long ago adopted Hanuman as my favorite Indian god for exactly this reason.
The Hindu book of cultural and religious wisdom, known as the Bhagavad Gita, which is as close as Hindus come to having religious belief distilled into a single piece of writing (like the three religions "of the book" in the Middle East and the West) teaches that "right action" is the duty of all people. One should always do the right thing, but one should do the right thing without attachment to the fruits of these actions. So, if you hear about any "monkey god" nonsense in coming days, be sure that you understand that what Hanuman really represents is an idea: the idea of selfless service. It's not a bad idea. I, myself, endorse it. It is nice to have a presidential candidate who feels this way, too.
Kristin Baldwin Seeman lives in Berkeley.
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