“Not able to see Vaidehi, that lotus-eyed lady who was always fond of lotus flowers, life no longer attracts Me.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 1.67)
Those who are new to Vedic traditions and Vedic philosophy will notice that the term “maya” is invoked quite often. The word itself means “that which is not”, and it is tagged to the illusory energy which pervades this material world. What does an illusory energy entail? Everything in nature is directed by intelligence, a higher authority who is in charge of the extremely complicated workings of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Nature encompasses the qualities, desires, and activities of billions and billions of living entities of all shapes and sizes. Who could ever control these events, and more importantly, who could ever predict how future events will play out? Since nature is so complicated, it is easy for us to become illusioned by the course of events, taking things to be what they are not, looking for happiness in areas which only cause misery. Self-realization is the pursuit which gets us past maya, allowing us to see things clearly and understand the purpose of everything and how it fits into the big picture.
What are the symptoms of a self-realized soul? How do they counteract the effects of maya? Since maya is “that which is not”, the opposite of maya is that which is, or more plainly, the Absolute Truth. This Truth has different names and forms depending on a person’s intelligence and angle of vision, but the Vedas tell us that the original form of the Absolute Truth is Lord Shri Krishna, who is also known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is a fancier way to describe God. Krishna is the Absolute Truth because He is beyond illusion, and anyone who connects with Him similarly transcends ignorance. Since Krishna is also known as maha-bhagam and Bhagavan, those who are connected with Him are known as bhagavatas. Bhagam means “fortunate” and maha means “great”, so Bhagavan means one who is the most fortunate. This should make sense because who can have more fortune than God? If Krishna is Bhagavan, surely His friends will be similarly fortunate.
As a byproduct of this fortune, devotees are able to transcend the effects of maya. This quality is acquired through constant contact with Truth, an Absolute one at that. If we know the Truth, we have no chance of being illusioned. This principle can be thought of in terms of darkness and light. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Once light appears, the darkness is immediately dispelled. In a similar manner, once a person understands Krishna, the darkness caused by maya is immediately removed.
How does transcending maya affect our behavior? Devotees connect with God through a series of activities which are collectively known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Devotional service can be thought of as any activity which provides transcendental pleasure; actions taken that allow a person to be connected with God. These activities can involve chanting, hearing, worshiping, or simply remembering. In this way we see how easy it is to remain connected with Truth. “Whenever you are in trouble, just simply remember Krishna. Focus your mind on Him, and you will be safe.”
A side effect of performing devotional service is that a person loses their taste for any activity which is divorced from service to Krishna. This means that anything we do that has no relation to the Supreme Lord will now be viewed as boring and dull. One example is drinking. Intoxication is taken to out of boredom more than anything else. Weddings are a popular drinking occasion because most of the guests don’t want to be there. A marriage is a special day for the bride, groom, and parents, but the guests don’t really enjoy getting dressed up and having to sit around for hours with hundreds of strangers. To get over the tension and boredom, guests often take advantage of the “open bar”; availing themselves of the free alcoholic drinks. This intoxication brings about short term relief, as it allows guests to temporarily escape from their precarious condition.
Devotees of Krishna, however, have no desire to drink. Why is this the case? The simplest reason is that devotees don’t put themselves into boring situations. As mentioned before, when a person is in trouble or in an uncomfortable situation, they can simply remember Krishna’s smiling face and be delivered from all pain. Since this remembering process can be practiced at any time and any place, devotees never have a need for intoxication. Therefore they have no desire to get drunk, even if drinking provided them temporary happiness in the past.
The inverse of the principle dealing with the sweetness of activities and their relation to Krishna holds true as well. Let’s take the example of a love song. When a person falls in love with a new significant other, they’ll often remark how the love songs they hear on the radio finally make sense to them. They may have heard these songs many times before, but the words never made sense to them; the emotions conveyed by the singer didn’t resonate in any way. But when a person falls in love, the love songs start to make sense because the person can identify with the singer and the message. Thus something which was previously unpalatable suddenly becomes palatable due to its relation to the person’s object of affection.
In a similar manner, devotees of Krishna take up new activities which they previously wouldn’t have found enjoyable. Chanting is the bedrock of devotional life. In this age especially, the most effective method of self-realization is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. When one is in a conditioned state and under the influence of maya, hearing this mantra may not result in any spiritual stimulation. But the same person, after having taken up devotional service with sincere faith, can hear this mantra again and again and feel tremendous spiritual satisfaction. When one is practicing devotional service, they are connected with the supreme object of pleasure: Krishna. Thus any activity that has a relation to Krishna automatically becomes pleasurable.
Just as devotees relish anything that is related to Krishna, Krishna takes joy from anything related to His devotees. A great example of this was seen with Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna is the original form of Godhead, but His various incarnations and expansions are equally as potent. Lord Rama is one of Krishna’s most famous incarnations, and He is loved by so many around the world that He is often taken to be the original form of Godhead. This is all part of the Lord’s mercy. He understands that different people will be attracted to different features of Bhagavan, so He kindly takes to many forms, each of which is suited to a particular person’s method of worship. Whether someone takes Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, or Lord Vishnu as the original form of God, they are still worshiping the same Supreme Lord.
Lord Rama is especially attractive to devotees since He performed so many activities during His time on earth. Loving God is easy in concept, but in practice it’s a little more difficult. Therefore we need other items of attraction such as pastimes, quotations, and teachings that allow us to further develop an attachment to the Supreme Lord. God is the original tree, and His activities, forms, and names can be thought of as branches which expand from the giant tree. We simply need to grab on to any branch belonging to this tree in order to make our lives perfect.
Another reason Lord Rama is so endearing to the devotees is that His associates are so pure and kind. Lord Rama’s wife Sita Devi is especially noteworthy. Krishna is considered the energetic and His pleasure potency, Shrimati Radharani, is considered the energy. Sita is an incarnation of Radha, so she is also a manifestation of God’s pleasure potency. Since there is really no difference between God and His pleasure giving energy, Sita is just as worshipable as Rama. Sita’s most outstanding characteristic is her devotion to Rama. While on earth, she never thought of another man, nor did she derive pleasure from any activity which was performed in Rama’s absence. This is the highest standard of devotion reserved for only the greatest personalities. We certainly can’t imitate Sita’s wonderful activities, but we can follow her example.
We often hear about how we should be devoted to God and never think of anyone else. We also see the example set by divine figures such as Sita and know that we should learn from it, but what about the other side of the equation? How does Krishna feel towards His devotees? Does He acknowledge our service? Does He think of us? To answer these questions, we simply have to study one passage from the famous Ramayana, the original poem describing the life and pastimes of Lord Rama. The above referenced words from Lord Rama were uttered shortly after Sita had been kidnapped while residing in the forest of Dandaka. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were looking for Sita when they came upon a lake named Pampa. At the time the spring season was just setting in, so Lord Rama was pointing out the various flowers and trees to Lakshmana.
This may seem a little strange at first glance. Why is Rama explaining the symptoms of spring to Lakshmana? After all, both of them were grown men, so they obviously had full knowledge of what spring was. Rama wasn’t explaining spring in ordinary terms though. He looked at everything in terms of its relation to Sita. Rama explained to Lakshmana how both He and Sita had enjoyed the springtime in the past and that this year they couldn’t enjoy it because they weren’t together. Rama remarked how Sita would get excited at seeing certain flowers and how she would rush over and call Him to come see the wonderful signs of spring.
As beautiful as the spring season was, Rama wasn’t deriving any enjoyment from it this time around. As the Lord mentions in the quote above, He wasn’t happy at all because Sita wasn’t with Him. The beauty of the flowers paled in comparison to Sita’s beauty. Nature didn’t appeal to Him because Sita wasn’t there to enjoy the surroundings with Him. She had eyes like lotus petals and she was very fond of the lotuses in the forest, but seeing these beautiful surroundings without Sita didn’t bring any pleasure to Rama. So this one statement should remove all doubts as to whether or not the Lord thinks of His devotees. Shri Rama never forgets Sita for even a second.
Sita is the greatest of devotees, so it would make sense that Rama would be attached to her. But this same attachment also applies to any pure devotee. If we surrender ourselves to the Supreme Lord, He won’t leave us hanging. He won’t leave us lonely. We can be rest assured of this. Lord Rama would eventually find Sita and rescue her from the clutches of the demon Ravana. Even when they would be separated later on in life, the Lord always kept her in His mind. In the latter years of His time on earth, Rama would always keep a deity of Sita with Him while performing religious functions. Sita, to her credit, always kept her thoughts on Rama while raising their two sons, Lava and Kusha.
Taking to devotional service will purify our vision. Love will get us every time. Once Krishna enters our hearts, He will change our minds and cause us to enjoy any activity that is related to Him. As we progress in our service and our consciousness advances, we will start to see everything in terms of its relation to the Supreme and thus be able to enjoy life to the fullest.