Forced Remembrance

Hanuman remembering Sita and Rama“(Hanuman did not see Sita) who was firmly situated on the eternal path of devotion to her husband, had her gaze always fixed on Rama, was always possessed by love for Rama, had entered the glorious mind of her husband, and was always the most exceptional of women.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 5.24)

sanātane vartmāni samniviṣṭām |
rāmekśaṇāṃ tāṃ madanābhiviṣṭām |
bharturmanaḥ śrīmadanupraviṣṭām |
strībhyo varābhyaśca sadā viśiṣṭām ||

Vishnoh-smaranam is one of the central components of bhakti practice; it is a recommendation nicely given to us by Prahlada Maharaja, one of the twelve mahajanas, or authorities on devotional service. There are many types of religious systems, with each fulfilling a specific purpose, but there can be no higher engagement than dedicating one’s thoughts, words and deeds to the pleasure of the origin of good qualities, the Supreme Lord. Just from a mere drop of His energy comes everything splendid around us, those things which are so wonderful to behold that we are unable to properly put their beauty into words. From a simple seed, a perfectly constructed flower results, an object whose beauty, elegance and aroma cannot be duplicated. If we just look at the flower and appreciate its beauty, further insight can be gained into the gloriousness of its creator, that entity to whom every one of us is inherently tied.

HanumanThough we may have a vague idea of God’s existence or perhaps we might only appreciate Him indirectly through the wonders of His creation, actually remembering the Lord on a regular basis is a little difficult. So many other activities and interests are given higher priority within the mind. “Oh, just let me finish my work for the day; then I will think about God. Oh but wait, now I just want to relax; I’ve worked so hard during the day. I’ll start my religious pursuits tomorrow, with a clean slate.” Through this procrastination, remembering God keeps getting put on the backburner, something we’ll eventually get around to. Since habits are tied to meeting other interests, the need for remembering the Supreme Lord, a practice which actually brings bliss to the heart, is forgotten. Never fear, however, as for the sincerest souls sometimes there are rainy days, unpleasant situations encountered, which force remembrance. Such was the case with one person who actually never deviates in thought, word or deed from pleasing the Supreme Lord. In this special circumstance, however, his temporary frustration led him to delve even further into the divine qualities possessed by the most beautiful, kind, intelligent and merciful woman to have ever graced this earth: Sita Devi.

The practice of instigating remembrance is present in many facets of life; it is not reserved exclusively for those interested in spirituality. Rather, just in the way the world works our mind constantly shifts from one interest to another. We finish one task but then worry about how we’ll complete the next one. The young student thinks that once they pass a certain test or complete a specific assignment that was put off for the longest time they will feel alleviated. “Whew! That huge weight is finally off my shoulders. Now I can just relax.” But as the journey through life continues, it is seen that the pressures actually never cease. With each new day come new challenges and hence new fears over potential failure. The mind has constant and steady sources of distress, an easy way to always be distracted by something or someone.

For these reasons annual holidays specific to a certain subject matter or entity are assigned. For instance, the brave sacrifice made by volunteer military men and women in service of their country is easily taken for granted. Though there have been periods in the history of the United States where there was forced military enlistment, most of the time the men and women serving in the armed forces have been volunteers. Therefore they know that they are risking their lives by what they do. Yet they remain dedicated to their work nonetheless, as some people are born with the qualities necessary to protect. According to the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, at the time of birth one’s qualitative makeup can be categorized into one of four groups. Those naturally prone towards serving in the military or police are known as kshatriyas. They protect others from injury; hence they must be brave, chivalrous and sometimes violent in their behavior.

Lord KrishnaThe sober person recognizes the sacrifice and commitment towards delivering justice made by the kshatriyas in a society. In this sense there should be no reason to cajole any feelings of appreciation, as who wouldn’t be thankful to have others protecting them from domestic criminals and foreign enemies? As mentioned before, however, the daily grind makes it difficult to remember everything that should be remembered and honor everyone who is deserving of homage. Therefore there are certain holidays within each year, such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day, where time is set aside to pay tribute to the brave military men and women who fight to defend liberty. Through a national holiday, at least some attention is given during the long year to the noble efforts expended by others.

Within the realm of spiritual life, the ultimate goal is to have regular remembrance of God. This shouldn’t be an earthshattering revelation, as what we think about will determine our consciousness. Our mindset then determines the type of behavior we adopt. If we think about God as often as possible, we will engage in His service. Since He is the Supreme Lord and original creator, no one can ever become a loser by thinking about Him. In every other area of endeavor, by taking up a specific action, we automatically neglect another, and thus receive a mixed bag of benefits and detriments. For instance, it is seen that famous celebrities and politicians have a difficult time taking care of their children or maintaining their relationship with the spouse. Since so much time is spent in the particular field of interest, automatically there is neglect of other priorities.

It is this very issue that serves as one of the largest stumbling blocks towards advancing in spiritual consciousness. “Sure, thinking about God is nice, but won’t this strict adherence to religious life interfere with my family relations and my work? Can’t I just wait until I’m old and retired to start thinking about God?” This thinking seems quite logical, as retirement brings the best opportunity for engaging fulltime in whatever pursuit one is interested in. But there is great risk with following this path. For starters, there is no guarantee that we will make it all the way to retirement. Because of the threefold miseries of life, death can come at any second. Disease, mental pain, harmful influences from other living entities, and natural disasters don’t play favorites. They have been known to strike people of all ages.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord KrishnaMore troublesome than the uncertain life expectancy is the consciousness factor. If we spend our whole lifetime engaged in fruitive work and sense gratification, what’s to say we won’t continue that mindset after we retire from work? Taking these issues into account, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide rules, regulations and procedures meant to be followed from the time of birth all the way until the end of life. With adherence to samskaras, or reformatory processes, the human being, who has the most valuable form of body, gradually builds upon a consciousness that focuses on God. In the younger years, the natural urge is to play, so when education can be forced, it is most beneficial to focus on spirituality and the temporary nature of material life. The soul is the essence of identity; it does not die when the body perishes. It doesn’t even ever take birth; it exists forever.

Consciousness is what determines the type of body the soul is placed into. In the animal species there is a less developed consciousness, one that has no potential for learning about God or the need to connect with Him. With the human species, however, through proper training there is every chance of becoming fully God conscious. This is the real purpose to any religion, even if the followers are unaware of it. Young children don’t understand why they are compelled to go to school, but once they reach adulthood they not only understand why their parents made them go to school, they also fully appreciate the discipline and structure previously imposed on them. Similarly, the immature person might not realize why he has to learn about the soul and its relationship to God as being part and parcel of Him, simultaneously one with and different, but if he follows the guidelines put forth by a bona fide spiritual master, he will one day realize why the different methods were implemented.

A potent form of religious practice, even if it’s not directly part of a samskara, is remembering. In this fallen age of Kali, where adherence to religious principles is almost nonexistent, the simplest and most effective tool for the aspiring transcendentalist is the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Vishnu is another name for God which means “all pervading”. There is only one God, but hardly any established religious system discusses or reveals His attributes. Only the Vedic literature, which is the most complete in terms of both the knowledge presented about the Lord and the information given for realizing Him, gives us thousands of different names for God, each of which speaks to a specific attribute, pastime, or feature. Vishnu is one of God’s names, and it also references His four-handed personality that is responsible for the creation. Krishna is God’s name that means “all-attractive”, and it also references His two handed form that is considered the original form of the Lord. Rama is the Lord’s name that means “one who gives transcendental pleasure”.

Lord RamaRama also refers to Lord Ramachandra, the incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth as a celebrated prince in the Raghu dynasty. To facilitate remembrance of Rama, who is non-different from Vishnu, the Vedic seer Maharishi Valmiki gave us the Ramayana, a lengthy Sanskrit poem which highlights Rama’s most famous pastimes from His time on earth many thousands of years ago. Since that time, many other works, including sacred poems authored by Goswami Tulsidas and the Puranas compiled by Vyasadeva, have also discussed Lord Rama, His activities and the glorious qualities of His associates. What’s interesting to note, however, is that while we can remember Rama through reading about Him in the Ramayana, we can also hear about how others remember the Lord and His entourage from the same work.

When the Supreme Lord descends to earth, He usually brings His energy expansions from the spiritual world with Him. As Rama, Vishnu brought with Him Lakshmi Devi and Ananta Shesha Naga to play the roles of His wife and younger brother respectively. Sita Devi, the Lord’s wife, was inseparable from Rama, as was the Lord’s younger brother Lakshmana. Sita would, however, be temporarily removed from her husband’s side through the iniquitous deeds of a demon king named Ravana.

It was Hanuman, Rama’s servant, who would be tasked with finding Sita and returning the information of her location to Rama. This way the Lord could march to Ravana’s kingdom and win Sita back through a fair fight. But first things first; Hanuman had to find Sita. This was no easy task, as Ravana did not want to be found. He had failed to win Sita over, even after showing her his opulence. Sita is never interested in anyone’s activities or qualities if they have no devotion to Rama.

HanumanHanuman discovered that Sita was in Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka, so he bravely made his way into the city. Roaming the many streets at night while in a small form, Hanuman saw beautiful princesses ready to cavort with their husbands and also many ogres of terrible might. All the variety that exists in a big city was seen by Hanuman. Through it all, Hanuman remained determined to find the person he was sent to find.

Up until this point in time, Hanuman had never met Sita. All he had to go by was her qualities, of which devotion to Rama was foremost. Based on this distinguishing feature, Hanuman could tell for certain that he had not yet found Sita. Since the women he saw were happily engaged in enjoying material life, they couldn’t be Rama’s wife, for Sita would have to have been in a distressed condition. Indeed, Hanuman’s failure to find Sita after searching for so long caused some distress to his mind. He was not happy that he had not found who he was looking for.

Normally, a setup such as this would be considered a bad thing. For Hanuman, however, the failure to find Sita actually helped him remember her even more. He was fully attached in a bond of transcendental love to Rama’s wife simply because of who she was. When he failed to find her, when his frustration mounted, he remembered her qualities even more. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see some of the qualities possessed by Sita that were fully appreciated by Hanuman. Sita was devoted to her husband, as she was eternally on the path of chastity. She was so wonderful in her service that she had taken over Rama’s mind. God never forgets anyone who remembers Him sincerely for even a second. Sita always remembers Rama, so we can just imagine how endeared to Rama she is.

Sita DeviSita is described as being the most exalted woman. This highlights the dichotomy noticed by Hanuman. The women in Lanka were beautiful in every way, and they weren’t guilty of the sinful deeds performed by their husbands, the ghoulish creatures following the example of their leader Ravana. A nice thing about remembering God and those intimately associated with Him is that even if we see something opulent or extraordinary in life, we can always compare what we see to what exists in full abundance in God and His associates. In this instance, what was seen was exquisite beauty and devotion to husbands, so these qualities were juxtaposed with Sita’s. In this matchup there was no contest. No one can compare with Sita in gloriousness. As remembering God is the source of the greatest pleasure, remembering those who remember Him is even more heartwarming. Just thinking of Sita and her full God consciousness made Hanuman anxious to continue his search. May we never forget Shri Hanuman and his undying devotion to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. May we remember the joy he felt from bringing to mind Sita’s divine qualities the next time we meet with frustration. Though we should remember God all the time, this fact is very easy to forget. But if we are sincere enough in our desire to connect with the Lord through consciousness, He will create situations of frustration and distress that will force us to remember Him. In this way His mercy and transcendental qualities only go on increasing in abundance.

In Closing:

Remember Lord Vishnu all the time,

Who is God Himself, vision so sublime.

Even if this fact we sometimes may forget,

On regular remembrance your clock do set.

This practice seen in other areas of life as well,

Us to remember the honorable holidays do compel.

Hanuman went looking for Rama’s wife Sita,

Who was taken by Ravana to island of Lanka.

Search was difficult for Hanuman, distress starting to mount,

But for him gave opportunity for Sita’s glories to count.

Therefore even his pain turned out a blessing to be,

In his heart live Lord Rama and Sita Devi.

Follow Hanuman and take shelter of remembrance,

Bask in vision of God’s smile in all its brilliance.

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