“O hero, many times in the past You had spoken the same words of instruction to me. Of course how can anyone, be they even Brihaspati [the priest of the demigods] himself, be capable of instructing You?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.18)
Every person, regardless of their level of intelligence, seems to have theories on just about every topic. The pursuit of higher knowledge and philosophy is something all of us take up in some way or another. We experience so many different aspects of life that we are bound to see patterns emerge. These patterns help us recognize situations, both good and bad, thus making it easier to decide how to act. There are many choices we have to make in life, and the easier it is to decide upon these choices, the less likely we are to suffer from stress and discomfort.
In today’s world of sound bites and twenty-four hour cable news channels, one doesn’t have to look very far to find an “expert” describing their various theories. The sports media spends almost the entire day discussing various ideas and philosophies and what teams and players should be doing. The political news media is the same way, as they analyze the day to day goings on of the President and Congress. In a formalized educational environment, places of higher learning, there are teachers and professors who spend much time discussing their ideas with their students. Nothing makes a teacher happier than when they hear their student repeat one of their theories or ideas. It especially makes a teacher happy if their student chooses the proper time to invoke a particular postulate or theorem.
In these instances, the cause of the resulting joy felt by the teacher is not very difficult to understand. If we were to spend our whole lives developing theories and philosophies and writing books about the same topics, we would certainly develop an attachment to our ideas. A teacher is so kind in that they go beyond just developing ideas; they take the time to teach this information to others. When compared to star athletes, investment bankers, and movie stars, teachers earn a paltry living. Therefore one must really love what they do in order to take up the teaching vocation. Instructing others is usually reward enough, but when a teacher sees that a particular student really understood the lessons taught to them, the satisfaction derived is unmatched. “I really must be making a difference. I’m not just standing up here and moving my mouth while the rest of the students are simply dozing off. I must be getting through to them.”
Now we may wonder why a teacher would need such validation. After all, most classes involve exams which already give an idea of what the student has learned. Or do they? Let’s take college for example. A typical university class requires students to complete reading assignments, maybe hand in a few papers , and take several in-classroom examinations. Most students are only interested in one thing: passing the class, or at least getting a good grade. To this end, they will do whatever is necessary to pass the exams. Simply based on these requirements, the natural result is that the students will be more focused on memorization than actually permanently retaining the information they have learned. It is not surprising to find that most students, after finishing a class, forget all they have learned in a very short period of time. They may have even received a good grade in the class, but this was due more to their memorization skills than anything else.
Repeating information verbatim isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if the information itself is sound. Many of the things we learn don’t really need to be understood on a deep level. For example, if we unfortunately catch on fire, we are told to “stop, drop, and roll”. Simply following these guidelines is enough to keep us out of danger. We don’t really need to understand how the concept of stopping, dropping, and rolling works. With intricate philosophy expounded by great thinkers, the paradigm is a little different. It is one thing to repeat the information taught to us by an intelligent professor, but actually understanding the material and knowing when to make use of the various concepts is another. Therefore when teachers see that their students have truly understood the material presented to them, they feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
An example of one such student was Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. The Vedas tell us that there is only one God for all of humanity. Though people may not have a concrete idea of who God is, what He looks like, or where He lives, there is still only one God. The Vedas give a name to this singular entity: Krishna. Not only does the Supreme Divine Entity have a name, but He also possesses an eternal, spiritual body, which is full of bliss and knowledge, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. Since every person has a different temperament and worldview, the Lord is not so unkind as to limit Himself to only one form. For the benefit of all the living entities, the Lord takes on unlimited expansions, each having their own name, form, attributes, and so on. Since there are unlimited expansions of God, the Vedas try to give us information on some of the more notable ones. Why are these expansions notable? Because they perform specific functions which appeal to a large number of people.
Each incarnation has a purpose, and with the case of Lord Rama, God came to earth to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to annihilate miscreants. Dharma is usually translated as religion or religiosity, but it is actually the occupational duty of man. We all have different tasks and obligations depending on what line of work we are in, but the Vedas tell us that every living entity has one occupation that stands above all others. That occupation is service to God, who is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. We each perform different work for different reasons. Some like what they do for a living, while others just need a steady income to maintain their bodies. Though there are different varieties of work and different levels of enjoyment derived from such activities, the topmost occupational duty of devotional service to God provides the highest level of enjoyment. Connecting with Krishna brings transcendental pleasure. By transcendental we mean something which goes beyond the temporary nature of this world. Temporary pleasure is something that doesn’t last very long, and once the thrill wears off, we are left with misery and a hankering for a more peaceful condition. Transcendental pleasure does not suffer from this defect. Since God is eternal, so is anything directly related to Him, including enjoyment.
The name Rama means one who gives transcendental pleasure, and this was certainly the case with the prince of Ayodhya. Born as the eldest son of King Dasharatha, Rama was loved and adored by all. The Lord had three younger brothers who all loved Him very much. In the Vedic tradition, the eldest brother is deemed in charge of the siblings. This is true in many families, for the eldest carries the greatest burden. The common joke is that the parents make all their mistakes on the firstborn child. This is certainly true in many cases, with the younger siblings benefitting as a result. The eldest son takes all the arrows, for the parents aren’t as lenient with them. They expect so much from the eldest, including the protection and caretaking of the younger siblings and the setting of a good example.
“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, 107.19)
Rama was more than up to the challenge of taking care of His younger brothers. Of all His siblings, Lakshmana was the one closest to Rama. This bond was there from birth, for Lakshmana would not eat or sleep without Rama. Actually just focusing the mind on their relationship brings such transcendental bliss, since Rama and Lakshmana are the emblem of fraternal affection. All of Dasharatha’s sons were very pious, and since Rama was the eldest, He was treated like a father by His brothers. In accordance with His standing in the family, Rama would instruct His brothers from time to time on matters of piety, governance, and spirituality.
Since Lakshmana spent the most time with Rama, it would make sense that He listened to Rama’s teachings the most. The spiritual master, or guru, plays a very important role in the Vedic tradition. Since He is the origin of Vedanta, or the ultimate knowledge, God is the original teacher. He put this original system of information into place to allow future generations to understand their true purpose in life. Though Rama and Lakshmana took instruction from their own spiritual masters while growing up, Lakshmana undoubtedly viewed Rama as his foremost guru. As a perfect student, Lakshmana not only listened to what Rama told him, but he actually understood everything. He had a chance to prove this fact on one notable occasion.
Part of Rama’s pastimes included a trek through the forests of India for fourteen years. Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, and Lakshmana accompanied the Lord during this journey. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana were not with her when this happened, and when they realized she was missing, Rama gave way to grief and anger. Since He lost His composure, He contemplated destroying the whole world as revenge. This is where Lakshmana stepped in. The perfect younger brother and student, Lakshmana offered sound words of advice to Rama, asking Him to not overly lament over loss, for the wise neither lament over bad fortune nor overly rejoice over good times.
“O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.15)
Lakshmana’s teachings were sound and solidly based in Vedic wisdom. But as a pure devotee and humble soul, Lakshmana didn’t dare claim to have come up with this knowledge on his own. In the above referenced quote, he reminds Rama that the Lord had taught all this information to him on previous occasions. He even references the fact that Rama requires no teacher, for even the demigods look to Him for guidance. Not even Brihaspati, the spiritual master of the divine entities residing in the heavenly planets, is capable of teaching Rama something He doesn’t know. In this one statement, Lakshmana is secretly revealing Rama’s true identity as the Supreme Lord. People sometimes mistakenly believe that Hindus worship many gods, or that you can just pick any god and worship them as the Supreme Lord. There are certainly many godlike figures in the Vedic tradition, but they are not on the same level as the Supreme Lord Krishna or His personal expansion of Vishnu. The demigods are referred to as devas, which mean godlike or divine beings. They are elevated living entities possessing extraordinary powers. However, from Lakshmana’s statement we see that Rama is even their preceptor, what to speak of ordinary men.
This one incident also reminds us of the fact that God derives tremendous pleasure from hearing Vedic wisdom from devotees. As the original teacher, Rama instructs the entire world on the proper code of conduct, or dharma. Nevertheless, not everyone will understand His teachings. Some can surely recite what He says verbatim, and that itself is certainly a good thing, but there are very few people who truly understand what He teaches.
“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.3)
Those who have the highest understanding of God, the devotees, are capable of not only remembering what their spiritual masters tell them, but also of knowing when to invoke different aspects of what they have been taught. Lord Rama, by giving way to lamentation and anger, purposefully created a situation which allowed everyone to see how intelligent Lakshmana was. Moreover, Rama wanted to create a scenario where Lakshmana could offer service to Him in a loving manner. This is an example of God’s mercy. He knows that not everyone will offer service to Him in the same way, so He creates situations tailored to each devotee’s mood of worship. This is similar to the way women behave when they are attracted to a man. Women will sometimes pretend to not know how to do something so that they can have the man in their life take charge and help them. This gives pleasure to both the woman and man, for the woman takes service from the man and the man gets to show off his skills.
The lesson here is that nothing pleases the spiritual master more than when we can teach others the same things that were taught to us. This represents a high level of devotion to God. What is so wonderful about teaching others about Krishna is that not only does our spiritual master become pleased, but so does his spiritual master, and his spiritual master, and so on and so on until we reach all the way up to the original spiritual master, Krishna Himself. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation on earth, advised that every person living in this age of Kali can become a guru by simply talking about Krishna with every person they meet. Wherever we go, and whomever we meet, we simply have to talk about Krishna and His instructions. An even simpler way to do this is to chant the holy names of God out loud, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
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