“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
No matter how hard we try to remain optimistic, there are bound to be certain times when our moods can turn sour. Encountering a rude person, getting into an argument with a friend or family member, or simply forgetting to do something – these are all things that can get us down. If prior to taking a trip, we forget to fill up on gasoline, we’ll have to suffer the consequences later on. We don’t usually make this sort of transgression, so the mistake is depressing in a sense. “How could I forget to do something as simple as that?” Though these things can get us down, the wise know how to persevere and forge ahead with the tasks at hand. These people can even go one step further by taking the necessary actions to improve their condition, in essence lifting their moods up. No matter how down we may be, there are always ways to get up.
One of the primary reasons we can get down so quickly is that there is little consistency in life. It takes forgetting to do a task just one time to get us in a bad mood. We can perform the same task 99 straight times, but it is that one miss that can cost us dearly. Essentially we feel that there is no excuse for forgetting to do simple things, so we beat ourselves up over it when it happens. This phenomenon can be seen in the sport of tennis. Tennis players are notorious for their temper tantrums, which usually involve yelling, screaming, and the throwing of the racket. Now obviously the racket is not to blame for bad play, for it is an inanimate object, incapable of acting on its own. Yet when a player feels frustration, he or she must take it out on something, with the racket being the easiest target.
Frustration in tennis is justifiable. On the professional level, players are excellent ball-strikers, so they can hit the shot they want to almost all the time. For recreational players, just maintaining a steady rally of at least ten strokes is very difficult. This is because it takes not only ball striking ability, but great hand-eye coordination, timing, and body positioning to hit a tennis ball properly. For professional players, however, keeping a rally going in practice is not difficult at all. At most major tournaments, fans are allowed in for free on the days immediately preceding the start of competition. It is during these times that players come out and practice with each other, sometimes even playing practice sets. Fans can get up close and see how their favorite players spend their practice time.
What fans see is that players can keep rallies going for up to one hundred shots. This is because they are tennis players by trade, so they have tremendous ball-striking abilities. Yet every now and then a player will make a mistake. It is at these moments that frustration can kick in. One can easily guess what the thoughts are in the player’s mind. “I hit the ball correctly every single shot, but why did I miss that one? This is ridiculous. I should be playing better than this. There is no excuse for my missing that shot.” A player only needs to think this way once in order to get the ball rolling so to speak. The next time an error comes, the anger increases, eventually boiling over into rage, and ending in the racket toss.
“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.62)
You don’t have to be a professional tennis player to feel this level of frustration. Even school children have to suffer through loss and defeat every now and then. In our elementary school days, there was one particular incident which illustrates this principle. One year we had a teacher who would hand out a “Student of the Week” award to whichever student she felt was deserving of it for that particular week. Elementary school students are no strangers to homework, for there are assignments in almost every subject that are due every day. The Student of the Week Award was to be given out every Friday, and one particular week, the inaugural week of the award in fact, we had a hunch that we might win it. We performed well in that particular class, were always on good behavior, and made sure to always do our assignments. At the end of the last day of the week, Friday, it came time to hand in a specific homework assignment. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to do this particular assignment. All the other homework was done, just this one piece was forgotten; a mental slip up. When the teacher found out about this, she told the entire class that she couldn’t give the Student of the Week award to someone who doesn’t do their homework. Thus she tore up the award, which had our name previously filled in, in front of the entire classroom.
Obviously as an impressionable child, we were quite devastated from this incident. The fault was not the teacher’s, for there was no excuse for our not completing the assignment. So we see that even if we try our hardest, we are bound to make mistakes from time to time, even for the simplest things. Whether one is a famous athlete or an elementary school student, no one is immune from committing mistakes. To ere is human after all, and the Vedas even tell us that one of man’s four defects is his propensity to commit mistakes. The issue of importance, however, is how we react to our failures. Do we let setbacks get us down permanently, or do we rise back up and fight on? This was the issue addressed by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, many thousands of years ago.
Man is fallible but God is not, thus one of His many names is Achyuta, meaning one who doesn’t fall down. Though God automatically acquires this characteristic based on His nature, He is kind enough to appear on earth from time to time and commit mistakes. By giving the appearance of fallibility, the Lord empathizes with the living entities and also allows them to foster an attachment to Him. By default, we should all love God simply for who He is. He is the Supreme Controller, the ever well-wisher. There is no reason to forget Him or neglect worshiping Him. Nevertheless, we are in the material world, which means we become illusioned by the forces of maya. Maya has many powers, but her greatest effect on us is that she makes us think that we are God. Maya tricks us into thinking that if we make just the right material adjustments, we can be completely happy.
Obviously this is not possible, because spirit is superior to matter. If we simply associate with matter, we are bound to meet with disappointment in the end, for only spirit can make us happy. God is the supreme spirit, so it is only through association with Him that we can find eternal contentment. Since the Lord is so nice, He kindly appears on earth from time to time to help us break free of the effects of maya. When He appears on earth, the Supreme Divine Entity doesn’t tell everyone who He is, nor does He display all of His features. The reasoning behind this is pretty simple. Though we should love God, no one can force us to. The same holds true with romantic love, because no matter how hard we may try to get someone to like us, the choice is completely up to them. That is the definition of independence and free will. This same independence is there in our relationship with the Supreme. He will never force us to surrender unto Him because then the resulting relationship can’t be classified as a loving one.
Since the Lord doesn’t openly put His great opulence on display when He comes to earth, He gives the appearance of an ordinary human being to others. This was the case with Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu who roamed the earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Born as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Rama was a handsome and pious prince, dedicated to the rule of law and the codes of religion, or dharma. Rama was God Himself after all, so He naturally possessed all good qualities. Everyone loved Him, even those He punished. All the citizens of the town were eagerly awaiting His ascension to the throne, where He would succeed His father. This wouldn’t happen right away, however, since Rama was forced into exile at a young age.
Lord Rama was married at the time to His beautiful young wife, Sita Devi. Vedic doctrine stipulates that a husband’s duty is to provide complete protection for his wife. It was because of this principle that Rama wanted Sita to remain in the kingdom, where she would be protected. His exile term would last for fourteen years, so He didn’t want to bring her to the forest where she would be vulnerable to attack. She was the most beautiful woman in the world after all, so He knew that others would try to steal her away. Not having access to His army in the forest, Rama was worried that He wouldn’t be able to protect her.
Sita, for her part, also believed strongly in the principle that a wife should serve her husband at all costs. She insisted on going to the forest, not for her benefit, but to make sure that her husband was always happy. She knew He couldn’t be happy if she wasn’t there with Him. Thus she refused to remain in the kingdom, leaving Rama no choice in the matter. The Lord eventually embarked for His journey, taking Sita and Lakshmana, His younger brother, with Him. Surely enough, Sita would one day end up being kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana were not in Sita’s presence when this happened, so when they returned to their cottage, they saw that she was missing.
Rama immediately gave way to lamentation and anger. He knew He shouldn’t have brought Sita along in the first place. Moreover, He was now guilty of failing to protect His innocent wife. If the same thing were to happen to us, we would surely be distraught and upset. Thus Rama played the role of a human being perfectly by outwardly showing signs of grief. We must remember that Lord Rama is the Almighty, so He is not capable of making mistakes or failing to provide protection. These incidents were all carefully put together so as to teach future generations a lesson on the proper conduct for a man, husband, king, son, and human being. While Rama was bemoaning His plight, Lakshmana rose up to offer some sound words of advice.
The above referenced statement was the last part of Lakshmana’s advice. He is reminding Rama of the fact that one must take action in order to get what they want. We may or may not see the results of our action, but this doesn’t mean that they come on their own. Every effect has an initial cause. That cause could be some action we performed earlier on in life or even something we did in a previous life. Causes can also be traced to the activities of other living entities, but regardless, every result has some cause. A person had to perform some work in order for the result to bear fruit. Therefore Lakshmana is advising Rama to get up and continue His search for Sita, which is precisely what the Lord did.
This one statement of Lakshmana’s is so profound that one can derive so many life lessons from it. Though we may not be handsome princes or incarnations of God, we certainly have duties to perform. We are all serving someone. Students serve their teachers, workers serve their bosses, children serve their parents, etc. In the execution of this service, there are bound to be successes and defeats, but we shouldn’t let this stop us from continuing forward. We may get down from time to time, but the only way for things to come around is for us to continue to take action.
Though there are many types of service, there is one which is superior to all the rest. This topmost engagement is known as devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The devotional aspect of this service refers to God, who is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. We may serve our friends, family, and employers, but the enjoyment derived from such service is short-lived. This is due simply to the fact that all of these relationships are severed at the time of death. The soul, however, is eternal, so it must have an eternal companion if it wants to remain forever happy. This eternal companion is the Supreme Lord. It is only through serving Him that we can derive everlasting enjoyment.
Devotional service involves many processes, the foremost of which is chanting. In this age especially, the sankirtana-yajna is recommended, or the sacrifice of congregational chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Devotional service mostly involves dos, but there are don’ts as well, the most important of which involve abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Yet just as we saw how Lord Rama wasn’t immune from setbacks, those taking up devotional service will also meet their fair share of defeats.
Devotional life is not easy for the mere fact that one must still maintain their body. Unlike in days past when most people were farmers, the workplace is quite different today. To meet the basic demands of the body, most of us have to get nine-to-five jobs where we go into the office and deal with clients, bosses, and co-workers. This sort of life is unstable because companies always go through periods of change. Sometimes a company does well and expands, while other times it loses money and is forced to lay people off. If we lose our job, we have to find another one fairly quickly. Sometimes this involves relocating to another state or country.
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)
So life isn’t easy even for devotees. Sometimes we may also fall down from the virtuous path through either forgetting to chant our prescribed number of rounds, or losing our cool when talking to others. There are many qualities that a devotee of Krishna must exude, and sometimes we’re not capable of living up to this standard. Yet the teachings of Lakshmana apply to this area as well. Though we may make mistakes from time to time, we should never deviate from the most virtuous path of devotional service. It is the highest occupation of man, the topmost dharma. The lesson here is that in times of trouble, we should buck up and forge ahead. Things can only get better if we continue to perform our prescribed duties. Our spirits can quickly rise up again if we remain on the virtuous path. Human life is not the height of spiritual evolution after all. There is one step higher, that of ascending to the spiritual abode of Lord Shri Krishna. For one who reaches that transcendental realm, there is no chance of ever coming back down.
Categories: lakshmana counselling rama