“And, O most fortunate one, He [Rama], who is self-controlled, is followed by His wife Sita, just as the highly-effulgent sun is followed at the end of the day by its light.” (Lakshmana speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.11)
This is a very sweet description of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, given by her husband’s younger brother, her devara, Shri Lakshmana. Aside from being an accurate description of the beloved mother of the universe, this statement also informs us of the relationship between living entities and God. The Supreme Lord is supreme for a reason; He has dominion over all that be. No one can question His authority or His power, though many may try to. Since time immemorial mankind has been enamored by this creation, a realm which represents only a tiny fraction of the Divine Entity’s supreme energy. Frustrated in their attempts to find a purpose in life, the ignorant take to criticizing the Lord, or even to outwardly denying His existence. Through his conversation with Hanuman, Shri Lakshmana not only informs us of God’s existence, but also of mankind’s relationship to Him.
Since the human brain is such a formidable force, it can eventually make its way to pondering issues of spirituality. There are always those in society who will remain on a certain ritualistic path, one they inherit from their ancestors or one they choose to follow out of allegiance to certain figures. There are others, however, who require a logical backing to their spiritual efforts. After all, careful consideration is taken before starting any important endeavor, with the pros weighed against the cons, the potential gains compared to the losses, the rewards juxtaposed with the risks, etc. The same discriminating eye will want a solid foundation of empirical and philosophical evidence before jumping into any specific spiritual discipline. In this regard, the first truth that must be established is the relationship between the performer of religious practice and the object of such worship, i.e. God. If mankind doesn’t have a clear definition as to the nature of this relationship, their efforts, honest or otherwise, will go in vain. Moreover, many will simply reject religious practice altogether, for they will see no inherent need to perform activities if there is no clearly defined recipient of the fruits of such action.
On the most basic level, God is taken to be an order supplier. Those who aren’t acutely aware of God’s nature and mankind’s relationship to Him take the Supreme Lord to be someone who grants wishes. “God take care of my suffering. I know that I make mistakes every now and then, but I know You can forgive me.” Under this paradigm, the aim in life is to behave piously to the best of one’s abilities. As long as there is a good faith effort to remain on the virtuous path, God will surely reward the practitioner with ascension to heaven in the afterlife. Heaven is viewed as the panacea, a place of unlimited enjoyment, with no hint of misery or despair. While the mindset adopted by the neophyte certainly paints a nice picture, it leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, what is the nature of the enjoyment in heaven? What sorts of amenities are available there which aren’t available in the mundane world? Moreover, if we simply have to act piously in order to go to heaven, why did we take birth in the first place? What if we don’t want to go to heaven? Will we be forced to enter a realm that we have no desire to associate with?
If these questions aren’t answered to the satisfaction of the inquisitive mind, the chances of straying from the virtuous path increase. Piety involves meeting the demands of a higher power, an authority figure who lays down a set of guidelines. When dedication to piety begins to wane, the individual takes to its basic instinct, that of desiring to meet the personal demands of the body. This mindset can be thought of as the original nature of the current life, for even the animals work off of this mentality. The animal is incapable of higher thought; hence it has no clue as to who God is or what the difference is between piety and sin. Therefore the animal is taken to be quite unintelligent; a being which is even ignorant of its own mortality. The human being is wiser, however, so it knows there must be a higher purpose to action. Yet if that purpose remains undefined, the return to animal instincts is inevitable.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that animal life consists mainly of four activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Upon first glance, this behavior seems quite similar to that of human beings. In the human form of body, the idea is not to rid oneself of these activities, but rather to transcend them, performing the necessary functions of the body subconsciously and out of necessity rather than desire. But for one who remains on the platform of animal life, the activities of eating, sleeping, and so on come to the forefront. By desiring exclusively to meet the demands of the gross body, the spiritually disinterested take to satisfying their self-interest. In general, working off the animalistic tendency, activities of self-interest involve the accumulation of wealth, fame, scholarship, and family. The key components of family life are the dwelling, the spouse, the children, and the land. When these four ingredients are present at sufficient levels, one is deemed to have achieved success in the material sense.
Yet upon closer study, we see that simply having a nice house, a beautiful wife, healthy children, and spacious land only amounts to a more civilized form of animal life. Moreover, achievement of such a position doesn’t bring about complete happiness. To see evidence of this, the typical lifecycle of actions caused by base animalistic tendencies can be examined. This analysis is done under the assumption that the individual is lacking any inclination towards spiritual life, or at the very least, they have no knowledge of their constitutional position. The first instinct is to meet the demands of the body, with the pillars of family life viewed as the end-goal. The activities that follow involve studying in school, attending university, and then landing a job which pays a nice salary. A nice salary leads to material possessions and the removal of distress as it relates to meeting the daily demands of the body. Finding food, clothing, and shelter is not a problem for one who has landed a high paying job.
What happens next is quite interesting. Simply removing the anxieties associated with meeting the demands of the body is not enough to provide peace of mind. Rather, the individual shifts their attention towards service to other entities and objects. The first object of service is the significant other; the husband or the wife. The individual spirit soul has a natural loving propensity, a desire to offer affection and service to someone or something else. The most obvious recipient of this love will be the significant other, someone with whom a romantic relationship can be formed. Yet even this service is not satisfying enough, for following a marriage, there is a desire for offspring. The service offered to children is long-lasting and unconditional. In this respect, there is much enjoyment derived from completely loving another being. Yet even this service fails to provide complete satisfaction. Since the loving propensity remains unsatisfied, affection then gets directed towards pets, such as cats and dogs. Many people love their pets so much that they speak of them as if they were their own children.
The loving propensity then expands to other areas such as philanthropy, charity, and nationalism. We can see a pattern starting to develop. The individual’s primary method of enjoyment is serving others. Service is first offered to the body through fruitive activity, but since that fails to bring happiness, the service mentality gets shifted to other areas. Since fruitive activity and service to other living entities fail to bring about ultimate peace, we can therefore classify such activities as inferior and not part of the ultimate objective of life.
The Vedas kindly fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. The Supreme Lord, or God, is the ultimate object of pleasure. Success in life is achieved when one realizes their constitutional position as eternal servant of the Supreme Pure and then takes the necessary steps to rekindle their relationship with Him. The terms “rekindle” and “eternal” imply that this relationship with God has existed since time immemorial and that somehow or other knowledge of this bond is currently forgotten. How did this happen? Why is mankind ignorant of their constitutional position?
The short answer is that man wanted to forget God; hence the justification for the creation of the perishable realm. Wanting to imitate the Lord, the individual spirit souls needed a playing field, one which was kindly provided to them by God in the form of the material world. In order to fully imitate God, one must be completely ignorant of His supremacy. To facilitate this, the Lord ordered His external potency known as maya to delude the living entities into a false sense of proprietorship. These facts certainly paint a bleak and hopeless picture, for if God created an energy to delude us, what hope do we have?
Fortunately for us, the Supreme Lord wants us to come back to Him. There is complete independence given to the living entity in regards to their desires. It is similar to how we can never make another person love us. In order for a relationship to be defined as loving, both parties must equally consent to the formation of the bond. This sheds light on the relationship between God and the living entities. The bond between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit is meant to be a loving one. In this loving relationship, there is a leader and a follower. God is the leader, and the living entities are the followers; not just ordinary followers either, but faithful followers, loving servants who look to satisfy every need and desire of the leader. When the relationship works in this symbiotic way, there is eternal peace and happiness.
Rekindling our relationship with the original object of pleasure should be easy, but due to the forgetfulness of the living entity, the path to success is made more difficult. To help the souls reawaken their attachment to Him, God kindly appears on earth from time to time. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago when Lord Rama roamed the earth. The Vedas subscribe to the idea of a single God for all of mankind. Though there is only one God, He is referred to as “Godhead” since He can take many forms, or direct copies of Himself. Lord Rama was one such direct copy, an expansion of God equal in potency to the original. Rama appeared in the guise of a warrior prince, a dedicated protector of the innocent who was chivalrous, kind, and sweet.
As with any other handsome prince, Rama had a beautiful princess for His wife. When God expands Himself to enact pastimes, His associates from the spiritual world also expand themselves to assist Him. This was the case with Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife. She was an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, the pleasure potency expansion of the original form of Godhead residing in the spiritual world. Sita had every desirable attribute; she was kind, beautiful, shy, knowledgeable of the rules of propriety, faithful, chaste, and most of all, completely dedicated to Rama.
Unfortunately, Sita would one day be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. God’s primary business in His appearance as Rama was to kill Ravana, a miscreant who had terrorized the innocent around the world. In order to kill him in a fair fight, the Lord needed an excuse to initiate conflict. Sita’s kidnap would serve as the most obvious justification for eventually battling with and killing the demon.
After Sita was kidnapped from the forest, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana didn’t know where she was. Their search landed them in the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited by a race of monkeys at the time. Their leader was a Vanara named Sugriva, who sent his chief minister, Hanuman, to greet the two princes and see what they wanted. Upon meeting Hanuman, both Rama and Lakshmana agreed to form an alliance with Sugriva. The monkey-king would help them find Sita, and the two princes would in turn protect him from the attacks of his brother Vali.
In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is describing Rama and Sita to Hanuman, who had asked the princes why they were roaming the forests all alone. In Lakshmana’s description, we see that Rama is compared to the sun and Sita to the sun’s effulgence. This is a great metaphor for describing the relationship between God and His devotees. God is the energetic, the source of all heat and light. The sunshine, the splendor of the sun, is its energy. The energy cannot exist without the energetic, and at the same time, the energy also gives definition to the energetic. Since the living entities are subordinate to God, the comparison to the sun serves as a way of defining the Supreme Lord. Moreover, when the energetic and the energy are together, the sun functions properly. In fact, the sun is so powerful that its position never changes. Even if the sunshine is unaware of its intrinsic properties, the sun continues to remain unchanged in its supreme position.
So what does this all mean for us? The goal of human life is to follow the Lord as His splendor, just as Sita did. As individual souls, we are already inclined towards this behavior, but in the conditioned state we become forgetful of this fact. Rama is who He is, the splendorous sun of the spiritual and material worlds. When the individuals assume their proper place as His blissful energy, there is peace and harmony. In any other position, the individuals are prone to defeat, lamentation, anger, and unhappiness. Purification comes through following in the footsteps of the great personalities, the exalted devotees and divine figures like Hanuman, Lakshmana, and Sita. Just as the energetic is worshipable for its existence, so is the energy for its relationship to the energetic. It is for this reason that Lord Rama is always worshiped alongside Sita, Lord Krishna alongside Shrimati Radharani, and Lord Vishnu alongside Lakshmiji. What the Lord’s energy expansions all have in common is that they never divert their thoughts for one second from the interests of the Supreme Lord. This is the example to follow. In the current age, the quickest and most effective method for permanently acquiring the perfected consciousness exhibited by the likes of Sita Devi is the regular chanting of the foremost names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
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