“Oh Rama, for as long as You shall stand before me, even if it be for one hundred years, I will always remain Your servant. Therefore You should be the one to choose a beautiful and appropriate place for the cottage. After You have selected a spot, please then command me to start building.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.7)
Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, uttered these words in response to Rama’s request that he build a hut in the forest of Panchavati. Lord Rama was God Himself. Along with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. When God appears on earth, He performs various pastimes which are referred to as His lila. Though Lord Rama lived for thousands of years, some of His most celebrated lila occurred during His time in the forest.
Rama chose Lakshmana to build the hut for a few reasons. Someone needed to protect Sita while the hut was being built. Even today, the wilderness is not completely safe for human beings. Wild animals are lurking around every corner. Rama, being the husband, wanted to provide unflinching protection to His wife. Also, Lakshmana was more than capable of building a hut. Both Rama and Lakshmana were born in a kshatriya family. In the Vedic system, society is to be divided into four groups, or castes, based on one’s qualities and the work they perform. The modern day Hindu caste-by-birthright system is famous throughout the world, but the original system was never meant to be based on a person’s family heritage.
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me…” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
Lord Rama was born into a very pious kshatriya family. The first division in the varnashrama-dharma system is the priestly class of men known as the brahmanas. The divisions prescribed by the Vedas aren’t artificial. In any society or large group of people, there are bound to be some who are more prone to seeking higher knowledge. Generally referred to as the intelligentsia, this group has certain qualities that enable them to think on a higher level. The brahmanas are similar in this regard, except that they seek the highest form of knowledge, Vedic wisdom. Veda means knowledge, and the original Vedas themselves represent the eternal truths of life. This is because Vedic wisdom comes directly from God, who imparted knowledge of the Self into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created being, and this knowledge has been passed down ever since.
Brahmanas are peaceful by nature. Their high level of intelligence tells them that violence is not necessary in most cases since the gross material body is temporary, whereas the soul is eternal. The brahmanas spend all their time trying to please the soul. The second division of society, the kshatriya, is deputed with providing protection to everyone. We see that kshatriyas also naturally exist in society. Police officers, firefighters, and volunteer military men are all kshatriyas in spirit. Yet the Vedic definition of a warrior is a little different. War, fighting, and general protection should be provided in accordance with the shastras, or religious law codes. Rama and Lakshmana were both born into a very pious kshatriya family, known as the Ikshvakus. According to the genealogy of man provided to us in the Vedas, Manu was the first human being to appear on earth. In fact, the word “man” is derived from Manu. Manu’s son was Ikshvaku, who served as the first king on earth. As the first ruler, he was completely pious. The Manu-smriti, or the Laws of Manu, give step-by-step instructions for rulers to follow. Lord Rama’s father was Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, and a direct descendant of Ikshvaku. All the rulers in this family were chivalrous and well-respected throughout the world.
Though Rama and Lakshmana were born as kshatriyas, they couldn’t be considered great warriors simply off their high birth. A varna, or caste, is determined by one’s occupation. Just as one cannot be considered a doctor without receiving the proper training, one cannot be considered a brahmana, kshatriya, or vaishya without receiving an education from a guru, or spiritual master. For their education, Rama and His three younger brothers humbly served their family priest, Vashishta. We see in schools and colleges today that most teachers specialize in certain subject areas. We may have one teacher for math, and another for science. The unique qualification of the gurus during Vedic times was that they were expert in all subjects. Brahmanas not only could teach others how to become brahmanas, but also could provide training for kshatriyas and vaishyas. One of the duties of a brahmana is that they become learned Vedic scholars, pathana. The Vedas contain complete knowledge on all relevant subjects. They give guidance not only on how to know and love God, but on other areas as well, such as how to properly defend, how to run a business, how much to tax citizens, etc.
Rama and Lakshmana were fortunate in that they had two gurus. The venerable Vishvamitra Muni provided them further training in the military arts. Though Rama was God Himself, He set a good example by accepting a spiritual master. Since God is the all-powerful, He can perform any activity with any part of His body or with any object. Still, as a kshatriya warrior, Rama’s weapon of choice was the bow and arrow. Vishvamitra imparted special mantras unto both Rama and Lakshmana. By uttering these sacred and confidential mantras, the arrows shot from their bows would have a potency similar to that of a nuclear weapon. This shows the greatness of a guru who is a product of the Vedic system.
While traveling in the forest, Lord Rama asked Lakshmana to built a hut, for He knew that His brother was more than capable. Similar to how the Boy Scouts of today teach members how to survive in rugged conditions, the spiritual masters of the past would teach students how to survive in the forest. Being properly taught by both Vashishta and Vishvamitra, Lakshmana had no problem building a great hut out of whatever materials he could gather in the forest.
The reply to Rama’s request shows how great Lakshmana’s love for his brother was. It also teaches us an important lesson. Lakshmana mentions that even if he were to spend another hundred years with Rama, that he would still remain his servant. Lakshmana was an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, the faithful servant of Lord Narayana in the spiritual world. Lord Ananta Deva assumed the same role when He came to earth as Lakshmana, for Lord Rama was the very same Narayana in human form. The Vedas tell us that the meaning of life is to know and understand God. There are many methods of self-realization such as ashtanga-yoga, buddhi-yoga, karma-yoga, etc., but one method is considered superior. That method is bhakti-yoga, which is also known as devotional service.
Followers of bhakti-yoga are referred to as bhaktas, meaning those who love God. Lakshmana was a bhakta of Lord Rama, and his statement proves that bhakti-yoga is an eternal occupation, something never to be given up at any time. All other inferior methods of self-realization have an end-goal. For example, the impersonalist philosophers have a desire to merge into God’s impersonal effulgence known as Brahman. These philosophers take Brahman to be the beginning and end of everything, even though Lord Krishna Himself declares that He is the original source of Brahman. Nevertheless, through renunciation of activity and study of Vedanta, these philosophers work very hard to merge their existence into the Brahman effulgence.
“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.5)
Buddhists have a similar mindset, though they completely deny the existence of God. They hope to nullify all activity and one day reach a state of complete void, known as nirvana. Even among those who believe in the personality of Godhead, there are many who desire to merge into the Lord’s body. The followers of the Patanjali yoga system desire to merge into Lord Narayana’s body. In His expansion as the Paramatma, or Supersoul residing in the heart of every living entity, God appears in His four-handed form of Lord Narayana, or Vishnu. Thus the personalist meditators try to concentrate on this form.
“A pure devotee does not accept any kind of liberation—salokya, sarshti, samipya, sarupya or ekatva—even though they are offered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Lord Kapila, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.29.13)
Though difficult to perfect, these systems can certainly bring success to some. However, the benefits are short-lived. This is because it is the inherent nature of the spirit soul to want individuality. We are all the same on a spiritual level because we are all spirit souls, part and parcel of God. Yet just as we all have different material desires, there are differences in spiritual desires as well. When a soul merges into Brahman or Narayana, it eventually wants to regain its identity. Thus it is thrown back into material life. We see evidence of this with many great Mayavadis. They work very hard to realize Brahman, but then they eventually fall down and again take part in material activities such as philanthropy.
Devotional service is different. The Vedas define religion as sanatana-dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. Since the soul is eternal, it makes sense that it would need an occupation to engage in. That occupation is devotional service, or pure loving service to God. A famous radio talk show host in America often exclaims that he was born to host his radio show and that his audience was born to listen. In a similar manner, God is meant to rule, and the spirit souls are meant to be His servants. This is the natural order of things; a situation where everyone is completely happy.
The material world represents the opposite situation. Here everyone thinks themselves to be God, assuming responsibility for their own fortunes and misfortunes. We do have independence in that we can choose how our senses will interact with material nature, but, in the end, it is God and His energies that decide what happens. Karma is the ultimate system of fairness, and something we have no control over. Since it is unaffected by karma, devotional service is our way out of this material world. Also known as bhagavata-dharma, devotional service is the original occupation of man. Unlike the other methods of self-realization, it has no end. When one becomes a pure devotee of God, his love never stops.
“O my Lord, I am Your unmotivated servant, and You are my eternal master. There is no need of our being anything other than master and servant. You are naturally my master, and I am naturally Your servant. We have no other relationship.” (Prahlada Maharaja speaking to Narasimhadeva, SB 7.10.6)
Lakshmana’s behavior was a perfect example of the eternal nature of love for God. He was a pure devotee right from birth. As a child, he wouldn’t eat his meals unless Rama was with him. This kind of devotion is very rare, for sibling rivalries are quite natural. It is usually not until adulthood where brothers and sisters start to get along well. In childhood, it is customary for brothers and sisters to compete with each other for attention and affection from parents and other family members. This situation never existed with Rama and Lakshmana. Lakshmana remained devoted in adulthood, all the way to the end of his life. The beauty of devotional service is that one can achieve perfection even before they quit their present bodies. The term jivan-mukta refers to one who is liberated while in their present body. This isn’t a utopian concept, but a reality for pure devotees. Since love for God is something that never stops, one who has achieved pure love during their lifetime is considered to already be liberated.
So how do we become devotees? Lakshmana shows us the way. In His words directed to Rama, we see Lakshmana’s eagerness to serve God. He was anxiously awaiting orders from the Lord. When we want to help or serve someone, we just love having them ask us to do something. When a man is sick, it is often seen that a wife or mother will pester him with requests. This is because the devoted wife is eager to please her husband, especially when he is in distress. Children are often the same way with their parents. They are eager to cook food for their parents, or help them around the house. For pure love to exist, it must go both ways. Children love their parents so much that they often want to repay the love shown to them by their mother and father.
Lakshmana and other pure devotees are always eager to serve the Lord. Though God may not always be physically present before us, we too can directly offer Him service. Around five hundred years ago, God appeared on earth in a covered incarnation as Lord Chaitanya. His mission was to deliver Krishna-prema, or love for Krishna, to every person on earth. Being the most munificent incarnation of God, He provided an easy way for all of us to become devotees and gurus at the same time. He advised us to simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible, and to speak about Lord Krishna to others. “Chant the name of Krishna and induce others to chant.” These were His instructions, and they are so simple that even a child can execute them to perfection. Lord Rama derived great pleasure from Lakshmana’s devotion, and we too can make God happy by following Lakshmana’s example.
Categories: glories of lakshmana