“Great munis continue their yoga birth after birth, but at the time of death, they fail to utter the name of Rama. But now He, on the strength of whose name Lord Shiva grants liberation to all alike, has appeared before my very eyes.” (Vali speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa)
“Ram naam satya hai!” is a phrase uttered during funeral processions in India and amongst followers of the Vedas around the world. It means that the name of Rama is the truth. Lord Rama was the incarnation of Krishna who appeared during the Treta Yuga, so He is as good as God Himself. Friends and relatives hope that the departed soul will go straight to the Lord’s spiritual abode upon the repeated recitation of this phrase.
Virtue is defined as being a moral righteousness or goodness. We usually associate virtue with good and noble deeds, acts performed for the benefit of others. Altruism, philanthropy, and charity are some of the deeds performed by the virtuous. There are many different definitions of what is and what isn’t virtuous, but in general, the definitions come from religious codes, or shāstras. Shāstra is a Sanskrit word used to identify the scriptures, but its actual meaning is “that which governs”. Just as in the material world we have law books and constitutions that govern the affairs of society, the shāstras serve as a guidepost for governing all of mankind in hopes that they can make spiritual advancement. Along with shāstra, there is shastra (pronounced “shustra”). Shāstras are the guiding principle, and shastra is the force used to punish those who don’t abide by the shāstras. The Vedic law codes come from the original Vedas themselves, along with the Puranas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and any other literature which follows the principles of the original Veda.
Truthfulness, honesty, kindness, tolerance, and patience are a few qualities that are considered virtuous. They are so labeled because these qualities are not easily acquired. It is the natural tendency of man to be selfish by wanting to lord over material nature. We have to be taught how to be civilized by our parents during our childhood. It is often the case that those children who are spoiled in their childhood, they end up being not so good people in their adult life, always whining and complaining and thinking they are entitled to the property of others. Those who are taught austerity and virtue in their childhood usually end up being upstanding citizens later on in life.
Good people are lauded by society, whereas bad people are vilified. One need only watch the nightly television newscasts or read the daily newspapers to see evidence of this. To ere is human, but any celebrity who mistakenly makes an offensive statement ends up being tarnished throughout the media, whereas those who are charitable end up being praised to the hilltops. Tennis legend Andre Agassi was known for being somewhat selfish in the early part of his career. He was known for his wild outfits and long hair, and he was featured in television ads uttering the phrase “Image is everything.” As his career continued, Agassi matured and turned to philanthropy. He started his own school for disadvantaged youths in his hometown of Las Vegas. He raises millions of dollars annually for his academy, and he enjoys universal praise and adoration from tennis fans and media around the world. There are other examples as well. The first president of the United States, George Washington, was famously known for never having told a lie during his childhood. Civil War President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most popular leaders in history, is often referred to as “Honest Abe”.
“When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.15)
The Vedas declare that virtue lies on the platform of goodness. By definition, the material world means a place where gunas and karma exist. Gunas are qualities and karma is work. The three qualities of material nature are goodness, passion, and ignorance, and every living entity has a combination of these qualities in them. These qualities, along with karma, determine the type of body one receives at birth. Those who possess a high level of goodness take birth as devotees or demigods. Those in ignorance take birth in the animal kingdom. Human beings generally have a combination of goodness and passion. Even though the mode of goodness is considered the highest, it is still classified as material. Above regular goodness is pure goodness, known as suddha-sattva. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is in pure goodness and anything connected with service to Him is also considered pure. He is the only virtue.
People can behave any way they like, but if work is performed on the material platform, it is essentially all the same. For example, the Vedas declare that virtuous behavior leads to ascension to the heavenly planets after death. If we are kind, pure-hearted, honest, and don’t cheat others, we go to heaven after our time on earth is finished. This is the established belief of all major religions. The Vedas go one step further, however, in letting us know just how long we stay in heaven and what kind of heaven we actually go to. Virtuous people certainly ascend to the heavenly planets, but residence there isn’t permanent. All our deeds and misdeeds have expiration dates on them, and at the expiry of our good deeds, we get sent back to this material world.
“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Bg. 6.41)
Along the same lines, the sinful go to the hellish planets after death, but they also eventually make their way back to the material world.
Another type of piety followed by many people is the performance of yajnas, or sacrifices enjoined in the karma-kanda section of the Vedas. These sacrifices are aimed at procuring material wealth and prosperity. Performance of these sacrifices certainly isn’t a bad thing since it at least involves thinking about God and realizing that He is responsible for providing everything to us. However, once the wished-for material wealth is acquired, what is one supposed to do? No amount of wealth or fame can secure everlasting happiness. In these cases, the virtuous activities are performed in vain.
So what are we supposed to do? Should we just forget about virtue since it proves to be meaningless? The answer lies in God’s name, “Ram naam satya hai!”. We should take note of what is chanted at a funeral. In the Vedic tradition, people don’t ask for material benedictions at a funeral. They don’t pray for the soul to have temporary residence on one of the heavenly planets. Instead, they wish for the eternal salvation of the soul. Rama’s name is the truth, for God is the only virtue in life. It is said that Lord Shiva, known as Mahadeva or the great demigod, whispers the name of Rama in the ear of those who give up their body in the holy city of Kashi. In this way, Lord Shiva is an agent for moksha, or liberation. Notice that he doesn’t whisper “Go to heaven” or “Rest in peace”, but he simply utters the name of God, for God’s name is the most powerful force in the entire universe. All virtue emanates from God. Those who lovingly chant His name, offer Him prayers, prepare food for Him, and hear stories about His life and pastimes engage in truly virtuous behavior. All other good qualities pertaining to the mode of goodness are automatically acquired by the Lord’s devotees.