“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)
There are various definitions of what exactly constitutes religion. Some take it to be a system of studying God, while others equate religion with piety and righteousness. Based on the authority of Shri Lakshmana, we can understand that real religion is that which is in accord with God’s interests and which teaches people to serve Him in a loving way.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures originating in India at the beginning of creation, recommend various methods of self-realization. In essence, these methods represent their own self-contained religious systems. The highest system is referred to as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti means love and yoga means to have union of the soul with God. Technically, bhakti-yoga isn’t really a religious system, but is actually the eternal occupational duty of man. That is the real definition of religion. It is not something that changes over time or on a person’s whim. Loving God is the natural tendency of the spirit soul, thus a religious system isn’t necessarily required to teach that love; it is inherent in all of us. However, due to contact with the material world, the living entities have forgotten this relationship, and thus God, through His causeless mercy, has given us the roadmap back to His eternal abode in the form of the Vedas.
God can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman (the impersonal energy that pervades all of creation), Paramatma (the Supersoul that exists inside every living entity), and Bhagavan (the Supreme Personality of Godhead). Bhagavan is essentially what most people equate with God. However, over time, various pseudo-yogis and mental speculators have come to believe that Brahman is the only feature of God. Thinking in this way, they have taken away God’s personal aspect, making Him merely an energy that we must merge into. Through this philosophy, many sub-standard religious systems have gained in popularity, such as hatha-yoga and jnana-yoga. All these systems are mentioned by Lord Krishna, God Himself, in the Bhagavad-gita. They are legitimate self-realization methods, though subordinate to bhakti-yoga, provided that one still believes in God’s feature as Bhagavan. If one denies God’s personal existence, then any religious system derived from that line of thinking will be a cheating one.
The impersonalists, also known as Mayavadis, deny the existence of God in underhanded ways. They may outwardly show respect to Krishna and His various forms, but they teach people to view everyone as God. To achieve self-realization, they recommend concentrating the mind on any form of God or even any demigod. Mayavadi sannyasis refer to each other as Narayana, which is the name of Krishna’s four-handed form residing alongside Goddess Lakshmi in Shvetadvipa. This type of thinking is quite foolish because no one can become Narayana no matter how advanced a yogi they may be. God is one, separate from us and also superior to us. The Mayavadis view everything as Brahman, thus they even equate the demigods to be on the same level as Krishna.
Taking everyone to be equal to God represents a grave offense at the feet of the Lord. The demigods, referred to as devatas or devas in Sanskrit, are elevated living entities who serve as Krishna’s chief deputies in managing the affairs of the material world. They can be best thought of as Krishna’s Cabinet secretaries. Though they are highly elevated and possess great powers, they are nevertheless considered jiva-tattva, meaning they are of the same quality as we living entities. God expands Himself in various forms, meaning that we are all qualitatively the same as the Lord, but quantitatively we are quite different.
Krishna takes various forms that are vishnu-tattva, such Lord Rama, Narasimha, Varaha, etc. These forms are equal in potency to God Himself. Concentrating the mind on these forms is as good as worshipping God. Yet one shouldn’t mistakenly take the various forms of Lord Vishnu to be on an equal level with the demigods. This type of thinking is strongly condemned by all the great devotees, including Lord Shiva. While describing the life story of Lord Rama, Shivaji sternly warned his wife Parvati not to think of Rama and His body as being like that of an ordinary human being. The great devotee of Lord Rama, Hanuman, constantly sings the glories of Sita-Rama and concentrates his mind on their forms. He doesn’t have the time to waste praying to someone who isn’t real or someone who is on the same level as an ordinary human being.
People who criticize God can never be considered pious or religious. One will often find impersonalist spectators criticizing the activities of Lord Rama, Krishna, and even Lakshmana. These philosophers take the Lord to be an ordinary human, subject to the same defects as themselves. This is a sign of a serious lack of intelligence.
“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)
When Krishna came to earth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, as part of His pastimes, He accepted an order from His father which required Him to live in the forest for fourteen years as an exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama’s father, King Dashratha, had three wives, the youngest of whom was named Kaikeyi. She wanted her son, Bharata, to ascend the throne, so it was at her insistence that Rama was banished. Dashratha had to abide by her requests since he had granted Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing on a previous occasion. During those times, kshatriya kings were very honest and they strictly abided by their word.
“O righteous soul, why can’t You see that, in the name of religion, both of them are deceiving You and acting in their own interest through dishonest means to keep You away from acting properly?…The act of enthroning anyone except You is not to the liking of the people. Pardon me, but I cannot tolerate this act of the king, O brave one.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.8, 23. 10)
Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, was quite angered by this development. He loved Rama purely and without any motives, hence he was always looking out for Rama’s welfare. In the above referenced statement, he is pleading with Rama to remain in the kingdom and defy their father’s orders. As part of his argument, he is stating that any act which inflicts harm upon Rama, cannot be considered to be pious. Lakshmana is chastising Dashratha for hatching this scheme with Kaikeyi.
In reality, Dashratha could not be blamed, for he wanted Rama to remain in the kingdom just as much as anybody else. So in this sense, Dashratha was acting piously by adhering to his word. Rama knew this as well and, for this reason, He willingly accepted the punishment handed to Him. Still, Lakshmana’s mood of devotion is quite exemplary. He loved God so much that He couldn’t stand seeing anyone harm Him. This is the example for everyone to follow.
True religion is that system which is in line with God’s interests. God is all knowing and self-satisfied, atmarama. He is need of nothing, but still He is kind enough to accept our service. Lord Rama appreciated Lakshmana’s feelings and rewarded him by allowing him to accompany Him and His wife, Sita, for the duration of the fourteen year exile period. If a religious system teaches one to love and praise God, then it is bona fide. Any other system is a cheating religion and should be abandoned.
Categories: glories of lakshmana