“After having rested on the worshiped arm of the Lord of the world, how can I now take rest on the arm of any other?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.16-17)
upadhāya bhujam tasya lokanāthasya satkṛtam ||
katham nāmopadhāsyāmi bhujamanyasya kasya cit |
Just one arm on Shri Rama was more valuable to Sita than the twenty on the mighty Ravana, whose name was given to him by Lord Shiva because of his terrifying roar. One arm was good enough to provide complete protection and comfort during the most vulnerable period that is sleep, while twenty arms weren’t enough to save Ravana nor the city of Lanka, which was in its own state of slumber, one induced by the mode of ignorance. One arm was so glorious that the person who took rest on it would never think of choosing another, giving us an indication of the true purpose of devotional service.
What other purposes can there be?
Why do people take to religious life? Because they are scared of the afterlife? Because they need to find a meaning to their time on this earth? Because they like what they hear in religious sermons? Because they are looking for wealth or the removal of distress? Any of these may form the basis for the initial interest in transcendence, learning of that which is beyond birth and death. Though the methods of entry may vary, as may the initial paths chosen, the destination is always the same.
This doesn’t mean that everyone will know the destination. In the Bhagavad-gita, the object of service, the transcendental light at the end of the tunnel, says that it takes many, many lifetimes for one to properly understand Him. Those lifetimes can be spent in the body of a pig, a fish, a cow, a dog, or even a human being. They can be spent in the body of a famous head of state, a world renowned scientist, or even a religious man. The body itself isn’t so important; it’s what happens to the consciousness that matters.
In that rarely achieved pinnacle of knowledge, there is an understanding of the destination. That understanding then drives activity, in which there is a taste, or rasa. If there is no taste, there is no impetus for the activity. I work hard at the job so that I can taste the enjoyment of home life. I work hard in school so that I can taste the enjoyment of having a high paying job later on, or at least a job that I like doing.
Spiritual life involves activity, so it would make sense if it had a corresponding taste. The spiritual transcends the material. The spirit soul inside the body is what identifies the individual. When we say “individual,” we’re automatically referring to the soul. When we’re sitting in the stands of a hockey game, we identify the players based on the numbers they wear on their jerseys. The number is used to do a mental look up. For instance, back in the day if we saw a player wearing number 99, we would know then that it was Wayne Gretzky. Wayne Gretzky refers to the person, the individual, which is the spirit soul. The jersey may change, and the number may also, but the individual does not. Whether he is on the Edmonton Oilers or the Los Angeles Kings, he is still Wayne Gretzky. This is one way to understand how spirit transcends matter.
Correspondingly, spiritual life transcends material life. In material life we experience tastes that are palatable one second, but then not so the next. One week I like eating pizza, and the next week I like eating burritos. One day I enjoy heavy metal, and the next I’m into classic rock. In spiritual life, the tastes don’t change because they are the highest. If you have experienced God through knowing Him and then serving Him, you will never go back to material life. It may seem to others that from time to time you are materially afflicted, but in fact you can never be separated from the object of service.
Case in point Sita. She was married to Rama, who is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Rama’s body is transcendental. With that body He performs wonderful activities. His arm serves the dual purpose of annihilating miscreants and protecting those surrendered to Him. Sita is His intimate friend, so she takes rest on that arm from time to time. Rama’s body is very delicate, though it is full of strength. Rama is beautiful, though He can be as ferocious as a lion when necessary. In all respects, Sita takes great pleasure in relying on that arm.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, she is seemingly separated from Rama. We can think of it like a priest being taken out of church and forced to remain in the company of devout enemies of God. You would think that this means that you can’t practice your spiritual life, but actually all you need is consciousness. In Sita’s case, there was a nagging pest around who kept trying to get her to convert to a different way of life. He wanted her to become his wife, though she was already married. When she refused, he kept trying to persuade her, employing torture tactics as well.
Here she tells Ravana that she already has taken rest on the worshiped arm of Rama, who is the Lord of the world. Ravana was the lord of Lanka, automatically making him inferior to Rama. Ravana’s arms weren’t worshiped by anyone, either. Sita essentially tells him that she already has found a higher taste. Life with Rama is her only life. She will never accept any other protection. Thus from this single verse we get a full understanding of the ideal result of spiritual life.
Sita does not mention wealth. She does not talk about being saved from going to hell. She does not speak of peace of mind. She only mentions taking rest on that worshiped arm. This rest is a means of surrender. The surrender is defined by two conditions: the relinquishing of the battle to vie for supremacy and the handing over of your emotional wellbeing. Ravana was a direct enemy. He had offended God in the worst way by causing harm to His wife. Ravana surrendered his emotional wellbeing to Sita, though only with conditions. Thus his surrender was in kama, or lust, and not in prema, or divine love.
Shri Rama’s worshiped arm is more valuable than all the wealth in the world and more powerful than all the military might of the world’s armies combined. It is the most beautiful arm as well, kindly adorned by the even more beautiful Sita, the beloved daughter of King Janaka.
With twenty arms to fight,
You’d think it’s of greatest might.
Take rest on it Sita would not,
Already a protector she’s got.
From that single arm many destroyed,
Raised heavy bow like it was a toy.
On that beautiful arm Sita takes rest,
Thus enhanced by king’s daughter the best.
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