“O Rama, keen observers such as Yourself never lament even when faced with the most distressful of situations, for they are able to maintain a steady outlook.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.15)
The Bhagavad-gita chronicles a famous historical incident where God Himself offered counsel and sound words of advice to one of His dear devotees. Such a situation is not difficult to imagine, for God is the all-knowing and all-powerful, while we mortal human beings are limited in our knowledge capacity. Yet God’s kindness towards His devotees is so great that He often likes to do a role reversal. In these situations, He pretends to be the one who is lacking knowledge, thereby allowing His devotees to offer Him counsel.
As human beings, the highest achievement we can hope for is to become a lover of God. The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Lord, Krishna, is the energetic, while the living entities are His energy. The perfection of life is to have fusion between the energy and the energetic. What results is pure love, the variety of which cannot be found in the three worlds. Not even the heavenly planets can give a glimpse of the pure bliss that exists in the loving relationship between God and His pure devotees.
As spirit souls, we are meant to always be with our eternal companion, Lord Krishna, who is the great soul, or Paramatma. Eternal happiness does not come through the acquisition of wealth, the frantic search for empirical and practical knowledge, or the gratification of the senses through eating, sleeping, or sex life. These material endeavors certainly do provide a limited form of happiness, but true ananda, or bliss, comes through association with God. After all, our senses are only material coverings made up of the various elements of nature. The spirit soul, on the other hand, transcends nature and thus for it to be happy, it must associate with things that also transcend nature.
Becoming a successful industrialist, a world-famous inventor, or a great politician is not the ultimate aim of life. The most exalted figures in history from the spiritualist’s point of view are those who attained pure love for God through the practice of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. These figures are so famous that they remain objects of worship for thousands and thousands of years. Their notoriety is acquired through the grace of the Supreme Lord, who makes sure to highlight their extraordinary qualities for future generations to observe and learn from. This is an important point because it is only through studying the action of these famous devotees that we can achieve life’s ultimate objective. If we imitate the activities of ordinary fruitive workers, at best we can hope to be just like them. For example, if we admire a great politician and study their teachings, it is likely that we too can become a great statesman some day. Yet this type of notoriety is not ever-lasting, nor does it provide any extended bliss. Whatever material perfections we achieve, they must be given up at the time of death. Then upon taking birth again, we must start all over in our material pursuits.
Spiritual pursuits are different. Taking up devotional service to God means trying to reconnect with our spiritual nature. As mentioned before, the spirit souls are meant to serve as God’s energy. Since we are currently in a conditioned state, we falsely believe that we are the energetic. Thus we gradually drift away from our natural constitutional position as eternal servants of the Supreme. Therefore we require some help in this matter; someone to show us the light. The great devotees fit the bill, for they are prime examples of perfection in life. The great devotees of the past realized that they were meant to serve as God’s energy, so they set the example for how we should act.
Throughout the course of human history, there have been many notable devotees. According to the opinion of Lord Chaitanya and other great Vaishnavas, the perfection of spiritual energy can be seen in Shrimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Shri Krishna. Radha is always thinking of Krishna and trying to serve Him. Not only does she derive pleasure by associating with Krishna, but the Supreme Lord similarly feels tremendous satisfaction by accepting her service. Another great devotee is Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. Many thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the form of one of His many incarnations. The word “avatara” gets used quite often these days, but it actually has its origin in the Vedas. Avatara is a Sanskrit word which means one who descends. This person who descends is God, and He is coming from the spiritual world. Though the Lord appears to come to earth in a material body, the avatara actually exists eternally in the spiritual world. Thus there is no difference between a Krishna avatara and Krishna Himself.
Since Lord Rama was God Himself, it makes sense that He would be an authority on matters of religion. He was wholly dedicated to dharma, or religiosity, so He taught primarily by example. As the son of a great king, Rama’s occupational duty required Him to be chivalrous and equally disposed towards all living entities. This is the proper way for a societal leader to behave. Currently we see that politicians run on various platforms, saying they’re for this group and against another. “I’m for working families; I’m for the little guy.” While this is all well and good, a truly wise person will be for everyone. This is how God behaves, for He is the creator of every single living entity, even the animals. Supporting the little guy at the expense of another person simply due to differences in salary is an activity of the ignorant.
Though Rama taught religious tenets by example, He was nevertheless playing the role of a human being. As the saying goes, “To ere is human”, Lord Rama showed signs of imperfection from time-to-time. We shouldn’t mistake this to mean that God is fallible, because He is anything but. One of Krishna’s many names is Achyuta, which means one who never falls down. Even when Rama appeared to make mistakes, He did so specifically to prop up and highlight the virtues of His devotees. One such time was when His wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped while residing in the forest. Since Rama was God Himself, it made sense that His closest associates possessed the topmost character. We often see that we can judge a person’s character based on the company they keep. If someone is hailed and highly regarded by other respected people, then we can assume that they are a good person. This is the reason why politicians lobby to get endorsements from notable public figures.
Rama’s closest associates were His younger brother, Lakshmana, and Sita. As part of His pastimes, Rama had to roam the forests of India for fourteen years, living essentially the life of a homeless person. This was the result of some unforeseen family politics. Nevertheless, Lakshmana and Sita refused to allow Rama to wander the forest alone, so they both renounced their family and home in favor of helping Him. Unfortunately, one day Sita was kidnapped through a sinister plot hatched by the king of demons, Ravana. The ten-headed Rakshasa king, Ravana, devised a plan whereby Rama and Lakshmana would be lured away from their camp, thus leaving Sita all by herself. The plan went through without a hitch, and when Rama came back to His camp, He saw that Sita was gone.
Immediately the Lord gave way to lamentation and anger. It is impossible to put Sita’s glories into words; she was the very same Shrimati Radharani appearing in the guise of a beautiful queen. So in this regard, her devotion to God was unmatched. At the same time, she was kind, sweet, and very innocent. No one could ever think of harming her, yet she met with the awful misfortune of being kidnapped. Rama did not even want to think of what might have happened to her. We can all sympathize with this situation, for our worst fear is that something bad will happen to one of our family members. If our dear wife or daughter were kidnapped, we wouldn’t know what to do. If God forbid something were to happen to them, we’d seriously contemplate taking our own lives.
“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)
By having to suffer this type of separation, Rama played the role of an ordinary human being. This unfortunate incident, though seemingly an unforeseen mishap, allowed Rama to glorify His devotee younger brother. Seeing Rama’s lamentation, Lakshmana immediately interjected to offer some sound words of advice. He put forth a series of wonderful arguments, all based on the eternal truths of the Vedas. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that those who have experienced life, and understand what should be done and what shouldn’t be done, the great seers, never lament even in the face of the greatest calamity. They always remain calm and maintain a steady outlook, not being deterred by the negative situation. These statements are similar to the instructions that Lord Krishna would provide many thousands of years later on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Krishna advised His cousin and disciple Arjuna to stand up and fight and not worry about the consequences because by acting according to one’s occupational duty one can never incur any sin.
“Do thou fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat—and, by so doing, you shall never incur sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.38)
Experience is very important in being able to understand how one should act. In the beginning stages of any endeavor, we are likely to commit many mistakes since we don’t know much about the field of activity we are interested in. Yet through experience, enduring successes and defeats, we slowly gain a better understanding of how something works. On a more abstract level, those who are experienced in life come to the sober conclusion that good and bad things come and go on their own. It is often said that the elderly aren’t afraid to die because they have experienced all that life has to offer. This means that they don’t fear bad things happening because they have seen it all; “been there, done that”.
The neophytes don’t have this knowledge. Especially amongst the younger population, there is an idealistic view of the future. Young people think they can rule the world and that if they acquire enough material success they will always be happy. Getting old and dying doesn’t even cross their minds. It is incumbent upon those who are inexperienced in life to take instruction from those who are experienced. At the time these statements were made, Lakshmana was still quite young, yet he had the knowledge of an elderly wise man. Lakshmana acquired this knowledge not only from his own experiences but from taking instruction from the wise brahmanas of his kingdom. This is an example of acquiring knowledge through the descending process. One person acquires knowledge of a set of facts and then kindly distributes that information to those who don’t have it. It is much easier to learn this way since the student doesn’t have to make the same mistakes that the teacher did.
The other part of Lakshmana’s statement deals with the concept of keeping a clear vision, knowing what to do and what not to do without becoming disheartened by the current situation. Those who know what to do in life understand that excessively lamenting over temporary setbacks is something not to be done. This sort of lamentation is the behavior of the unintelligent. Those who associate exclusively with their material body don’t have an understanding of the soul or the temporary nature of this world. Therefore they easily lament at the slightest loss of sense gratification or the severing of a close relationship with another human being.
Avoiding lamentation is something that we should do, but there is still the other half of the equation. It is not enough to simply refrain from certain behavior. We should have something to occupy our time, something that we should be doing. This occupation is known as dharma, the highest of which is bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. It is our inherent duty to take the necessary steps to learn about God, understand who He is, and use that knowledge to serve Him. This is the real aim of life. Yet we still must perform our prescribed duties since we need to maintain our bodies. The key is to perform our activities with detachment, not caring for loss or gain.
It was Lord Rama’s duty to rescue His wife and defeat the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Thus Lakshmana’s advice was that Rama should give up His lamentation, remain resolute, and continue His search for Sita. This is precisely what Rama would end up doing, as He would eventually find Sita’s whereabouts and rescue her after defeating Ravana in battle. The lesson here is that we don’t need to go through a lifetime of suffering to understand the eternal truths of life. The glorious Lakshmana has provided beautiful words of wisdom which we can all live by. Lakshmana is an incarnation of Baladeva, who is considered Krishna’s immediate plenary expansion. Lakshmana is also representative of the spiritual master, or guru. By following His instructions, we can slowly make our way back to the spiritual world. We should all try to perform as much devotional activity as possible. By keeping an attachment to God, we will automatically detach ourselves from the illusory material nature, thus making it easier to perform our prescribed duties without giving way to lamentation.
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