“Shatrughna, endued with cleverness, is your helper. Sumitra’s son (Lakshmana) is well known as My best friend. We four worthy sons of that foremost of monarchs will keep him established in truth, O Bharata. Let not your mind despond.” (Lord Rama speaking to Bharata, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 107)
Children have no qualms about openly declaring their love and attachment for the people they know and love. A child will never hold back in identifying someone as their friend, or even best friend. This is a very endearing quality of a child, for it represents pure unadulterated love, something not easily acquired later on in life.
Loving relationships are different for adults. Children are the essence of innocence. Upon taking birth, they live in complete ignorance. The mother, father, and siblings are all that a young child knows. Completely dependent on the parents for everything, a child immediately forms a bond with them. Yet the parent-child relationship is different from that of a pure friendship. The parents have final say in all matters, and their duty is to direct the child in the right direction. For the relationship to work, there must be a level of respect shown to the parents by the child. Some friendly feelings can certainly exist, but in the end, the parents must be respected as the ultimate authority figures.
It is the nature of a child to want to play all day. As adults, we have to either attend school or go to the office every day to earn a living. Children live under the complete protection of their parents, so they are free to have fun all day, playing various games and so forth. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Himself engaged in playful activities with His friends as a youth in Vrindavana. Since the parents are usually occupied in adult activities, the child looks to play with siblings or fellow friends. A child asks very little of a friend. They simply want someone who will play with them, giving them attention and love. If we spend time with children, showing them compassion, patience, and a general interest, they will really take to us. Love forms very quickly since it is in the nature of the child to love others. Children simply want to spend time with their best friends. For this reason, this type of relationship represents pure love, for the child doesn’t demand any reciprocation from the friend.
These types of friendships are harder to form in adulthood since a person gradually acquires inhibitions as they grow older. Adult friendships are limited in a way since they are checked by the requirement of support. As adults, we require support from our friends. Even if our friend doesn’t agree with certain decisions that we make, we nevertheless want them to support us. If that support goes away, so does the friendship. This dependence doesn’t exist as much in children. As adults, our primary form of companionship comes from our spouse. After a person gets married, It is quite common to see them spend less time with their friends. This makes sense because the husband or wife is there providing fulltime love and support. The companionship of the friend isn’t needed as much.
For a child, the circumstances are different. The parents are the primary companions in youth, and their duty is to serve as authority figures. Thus the other friendships formed by children end up being valued and cherished more. Children can quickly become strongly attached to a cousin, an aunt, uncle, or other relative because pure friendships are formed. In a similar manner, devotees of Krishna, or God, develop strong loving attachments to the Lord. The friendships between God and His devotees are completely pure. The relationship between Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana was a perfect example of this.
From time to time, God personally appears on earth to enact pastimes and give pleasure to His devotees. One such appearance occurred during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Lord Krishna took birth as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. The first man on earth was Manu and his son was Ikshvaku, the first king of the world. In the Vedic tradition, kings are referred to as Mahipati, meaning the lord of earth. Formerly, the entire world was governed by one king, and the planet itself was known as Bharatavarsha. Ikshvaku set the standard for chivalry and governance, and his descendents followed that same tradition. Several generations later, Dashratha was born into this dynasty. Due to the pious nature of Dashratha and the Ikshvaku family, God decided to take birth in this line. Coinciding with His appearance as Rama, God also expanded Himself into three other human forms who took birth as Dashratha’s three other sons: Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Rama was the eldest but all four brothers were close in age.
Right from his birth, Lakshmana had an immediate attachment for Rama. He wouldn’t eat or sleep unless Rama was with him. Sometimes it is seen that an older brother will bully the younger one, or that the younger brother will have arguments and disagreements with the older one. None of these situations existed in the relationship between Rama and Lakshmana. The glorious Lakshmana viewed Rama both as his father and best friend. There was pure love and respect right from the very beginning. At the same time, Shatrughna and Bharata were equally as close. All four brothers were completely pious and devoted to the principles of dharma, or religiosity. They all viewed Rama as their savior and most revered object of worship.
As circumstances played out later in life, Rama was forced into exile, taking His wife Sita Devi and Lakshmana with Him to the forest for fourteen years. Bharata was chosen as Dashratha’s successor, with the king eventually quitting his body due to the pain of separation from Rama. Being apprised of the circumstances, Bharata immediately set out for the forest to look for Rama. Bringing Shatrughna and other important members of the family with him, Bharata wanted to convince Rama to come back to the kingdom and serve as the new king. Bharata didn’t want to rule the kingdom while Rama was forced to suffer, so he even came up with the idea of swapping places with Lakshmana.
In response to this show of affection from Bharata, Rama conveyed the above referenced sentiments to him. The main point of His statement was that Dashratha had ordered Him to spend fourteen years in exile and that returning to the kingdom would nullify the order, thus staining Dashratha’s vaunted reputation. Unlike politicians of today, the great kshatriya kings of the past valued their word more than anything else. Rama, being the ever well-wisher of His father, didn’t want to tarnish the good name of His father and the Ikshvaku dynasty. For this reason, He told Bharata to return to the kingdom and to not worry.
Rama also openly declared that everyone knew Lakshmana was His best friend. Devotees only want to be known for one thing, their pure love for God. Unlike great scholars and famous celebrities who sometimes crave the limelight that comes with their notoriety, devotees prefer anonymity and obscurity. They want all the attention placed on God, for they view Him as the most famous, beautiful, wise, powerful, wealthy, and detached of all people. Since God possesses all these opulences in full and at the same time, He is known as Bhagavan, or one who possesses all fortunes. Devotees view Bhagavan as the only object of worship. Naturally, devotees acquire all good qualities as a result of their service, so sometimes they are also lauded and praised. In these situations, the pure devotees still only want to be known for their love for God and nothing else. This is the behavior exhibited by all the great saints, including Lord Hanuman, who is considered one of Lord Rama’ s greatest devotees.
From Rama’s statement, we can understand that Lakshmana had secured his reputation early on his youth. His only religion was that of serving Rama, and this is what he was known for. Rama, for His part, wholeheartedly acknowledged this. Lakshmana had a pure loving relationship with God. The Lord never breaks this relationship, but actually takes steps to further increase that love day by day. God is always there for His devotees, and therefore, He is their best friend.
The lesson here is that we too can be friends with God. The first step is to befriend His devotees who manifest as the spiritual master, or guru. By regularly chanting God’s names, reading His books, offering Him prayers, and following the instructions of the spiritual master, we can be in constant association with the Lord. Then we can enjoy a lifetime of happiness with our original best friend.