“Being prayed for by the demigods, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Absolute Truth Himself, directly appeared with His expansion and expansions of the expansion. Their holy names were Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. These celebrated incarnations thus appeared in four forms as the sons of Maharaja Dasharatha.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.10.2)
The fruit of the human existence is the ability to direct the mind towards the divine realm. Using the mind we can make good things happen without reliance on outside entities. In ventures relating to material happiness, everything must fall into place for the successful outcomes. The threefold miseries of life, which can rear their ugly head at any second, must agree to stay away during the time allotted for success, and there must also be the proper effort expended by the individual. Yet with the divine consciousness, the mind is so powerful that just remembering a number can bring so much happiness.
For instance, think of the number four. Why would we want to think of a number? Is this a guessing game? Is four the answer to a trivia question? Are we doing a math equation where there is the addition of two and two? Is this like the television show Sesame Street, where we’re told that the show is brought to us by a number? Four is only a number, but when immersed in bhakti-yoga, when one is connected to the divine realm in a mood of love, just hearing the word can bring to mind the beautiful sons of King Dasharatha.
A ruler in Ikshvaku’s line during an ancient time, Dasharatha had everything except sons, which was required in order for the family line of kings to continue. It was beneficial to both him and society for the throne to be passed on, as the proper guardianship of the citizens led to happiness for all the parties involved. Without peace there is no question of happiness, and there is no peace if lawbreakers are allowed to get away with their lawlessness. More than just punishment after the fact, there must be fear of a martial force in order to deter the lawless behavior from occurring in the first place.
Dasharatha proved his worth in fighting many times, as the celestials used him in their battles against the asuras. Every creature is a spirit soul at heart and therefore also an inherent lover of God, but in ignorance of the connection to the divine that is everyone’s birthright one can follow the wrong course with their actions. The pious stay on the proper course and they typically don’t bother anyone, but the impious will not be so kind. Rather than sit back and allow the miscreants to run rampant, the pious are required to defend the innocent, and for that to take place there must be able and willing soldiers ready to step up.
Dasharatha deserved to have children, as he was a noble warrior and king. Finally, through the advice of the priestly class, he performed a religious sacrifice, where remnants of offered food were then distributed to his three wives. From this sanctified food the women became pregnant, and pretty soon four children were born. Rama was the eldest, born to Queen Kausalya. Bharata was next, and he was born to Kaikeyi. Lakshmana and Shatrughna appeared next from Queen Sumitra.
Just reciting the names of the four brothers warms the heart. They are still celebrated to this day because they are expansions of the Supreme Lord Vishnu, who is the same God but more clearly defined. Rama is Vishnu directly, and the three brothers are partial expansions. In the spiritual world, the strict laws of mathematics do not apply. If I have a single pizza pie, I can divide it into sections, thereby breaking up the original. In the spiritual world, a pie can be broken up with the original remaining intact. This sort of explains how the material creation came to be. God simply expanded, using His external energy to create the material universe. The internal expansions are known as avataras, incarnations which appear in various places and accept various roles. Despite Vishnu coming as Rama, the Supreme Lord remained in the spiritual kingdom. This shows how God is all-pervading and still a singular entity.
Goswami Tulsidas, a famous Vaishnava poet and great devotee of Lord Rama, remarks that before undertaking any task one should remember Dasharatha’s four sons. This means that when you get up in the morning and get ready for work, remember Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. When you get to the office and start your day, remember them again. When times are good remember them, and also bring them to mind when times are bad. When it’s your birthday and everyone is offering you kind words, remember the four brothers. Keep them in mind also when you desire something very badly.
In the absence of such a remembrance, you may or may not get what you want. Yet what you get today is not guaranteed to stay relevant going forward. I may receive a nice shirt to wear as a gift today, but pretty soon I will want another one. Or perhaps the shirt will start to fade after continuous wear. In the reverse situation, where I don’t get what I want, the sting of defeat will eventually dissipate, like the sand washed away by the incoming waves of the ocean.
But remembrance of Dasharatha’s four sons brings permanent progress. Proof of the fact is that they are still remembered to this day. The Ramayana poem provides the most detail of their lives and pastimes, and since the time of its original composition many saints have added their own thoughts and prayers, glorifying the brothers even more. Rama is the well-wisher and protector of every living entity. Lakshmana is Rama’s staunch protector. Bharata is the devoted brother thrust into unfortunate circumstances due to the envy of his mother. Bharata’s devotion practiced through asceticism and renunciation of the throne is the example for all transcendentalists looking to remain connected to the divine. Shatrughna is the devoted brother who asks to battle the wicked Lavanasura. He is then asked by Rama to rule over the conquered kingdom, which means separating from his brothers. Following the example of the others, Shatrughna accepts his responsibility even though the separation pains him.
Know that in this journey through life there will come many periods of happiness and sadness, the association of friends and family and also separation from them, but through the mind one can remain connected to the divine realm. The number four is wonderful because it immediately brings to mind the four chivalrous sons of King Dasharatha, who continue to protect the surrendered souls who think of them.
Lakshmana and Shatrughna from Sumitra,
Bharata from Kaikeyi, Rama from Kausalya.
The sons of Dasharatha adore,
Think of them with the number four.
Those who are actually smart,
By keeping them in mind at the start,
Whether win or lose they still gain,
As Supreme Lord in the mind to remain.