“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
You’re so tired. You can’t muster the strength to move your body out of bed. Plus, it’s so comfortable underneath the sheets. Wouldn’t it be great to lie there for the rest of the day? If you have to go to work, however, you will likely arise. No matter the conditions outside and no matter how fatigued you feel, if you have a deadline to meet, you’ll have no choice but to wake up. This example speaks to the mission in life and how the opportunity is for everyone to seize, regardless of their circumstances.
A child is stricken with cancer. Another loses their parents at an early age. One person grows up in poverty. Another has to work two jobs in order to support their family. Another loses a limb fighting for their country overseas. One person feels so much heartache after their wife has left them. Another person has just gotten divorced for the second time, left to wonder if their life will ever work out the way they had planned.
In all such cases, the individual must go on. Quitting doesn’t solve anything. If it is a hot day, do we avoid going into the kitchen? Do we not cook food? Perhaps we don’t prepare our own dishes; we only eat at restaurants or what others serve us. Nevertheless, at some point in the chain someone needs to prepare the food. Should they avoid doing so because of the heat? If it is a very cold winter day, should one avoid taking a shower? Is bathing only reserved for those days when the weather is nice? Do we only work when we feel like it? Do we only sleep when we’ve run out of things to do in the day?
From this review we see that we already do so many things regardless of the external circumstances. They “must” be done; they are obligatory. In the same way the birthright of every individual is to be God conscious. That is the point to being alive. If I had the good fortune to wake up this morning, it means that I’ve been given another opportunity to learn about God. If I already know Him, I have another chance to serve Him. If I’ve already been serving Him, it means that I have been given more time to continue in that service.
Excuses are many. “It’s not fair; I don’t have the necessary intelligence. No one else is worshiping the Lord. Everyone around me eats meat, drinks, and smokes. They think the summit to an existence is to work like a dog all week and then forget their troubles on the weekend through intoxication. By going out to a nightclub, they are essentially paying to become stupid. Children have a leg up on them, as they don’t need to get wasted in order to be happy. So in this sense reaching adulthood is a punishment for them. How am I supposed to worship in such circumstances?”
As it is said, “the show must go on,” and with genuine service to God, any place can serve as the stage for the show. An elaborate stage preparation is not required. A captive audience isn’t even necessary. A long time back a distressed princess was surrounded day and night by ghoulish creatures who threatened to eat her. Imagine your worst nightmare playing out in real life. And by the way, she had no idea when this reality would end. The king of the area was holding her there against her will, trying to convince her to renounce her dear husband, Shri Rama.
The strong lady, Sita Devi, did not budge. Her husband is God Himself in His incarnation made famous through the sacred Vedic work titled the Ramayana. She serves as a faithful wife. Obviously, to play the part of a wife one prefers to be in the company of the husband. Do things for the husband so that he may be pleased. The husband acts in the same way. Yet even in separation Sita was able to serve. Despite the fact that everyone around her was full of the worst qualities, she continued to speak as though she hadn’t left the divine association.
“Smelling the fragrance of Rama and Lakshmana, like a dog smelling a tiger, certainly you will not be able to stand.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.31-32)
She served the Lord by speaking about Him, offering sound words of advice. Though the audience wasn’t very receptive, her effort was not a waste. For starters, Shri Rama’s beloved messenger, the minister of the king of Vanaras in Kishkindha, observed her behavior from his perch on a tree in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. Hanuman was sent to find Sita, for she had suddenly gone missing from the couple’s camp in the Dandaka forest. Sita’s behavior and words are found in the Ramayana, which means that her preaching lives forever.
The ascetics living in the Dandaka forest had the ideal conditions for worship. No outside distractions. No pressures of a family. No obligations for growing food, showing up for work, or maintaining a kingdom. They worshiped God in these conditions, and they continued to do so after being attacked. Their safe environment suddenly became dangerous through night-rangers coming from Lanka. Picture a prototypical villain from a modern-day movie based on a comic book. These creatures could change their shapes at will, and they had no problem eating human flesh. The victims were skinny, peaceful sages. Despite the mismatch, the sages stayed strong in their vows.
The key in both instances was that the beneficiary of their worship was the Supreme Lord, who has a personal form. With that form He was able to arrive on the scene and protect the worship. Sometimes that protection arrives subtly in the shifting of external conditions. We may think that rituals and recommendations are just superstitions, like wearing your hat backwards in a baseball game in the hopes that your team will make a rally, but actually the real foolishness is to think that every reaction arrives only at random. We may pray for help today and not receive it, but this doesn’t mean that the prayer is fruitless. All reactions come at the appropriate time, like a tree that blossoms flowers. This truth is especially worth knowing for the sinful, who think that they can commit whatever crimes they wish and get away with them.
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
In the present period of time, the origin of matter and spirit, the non-sectarian Absolute Truth, is best served through chanting His holy names, such as those found in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. We find a way to shower in the winter, cook in the summer, get up for work when we’re tired, and dig out of our driveway after a snowstorm. Therefore we should be able to find a way to always chant the holy names. A person of strong resolve glorifies God no matter the circumstance. And that resolve is always rewarded, as has been shown time and time again.
Work even when hard to concentrate,
Winter and summer seasons to tolerate.
Shower, eat, sleep not only when to feel,
Responsibilities wait not for conditions ideal.
Worship of God the same you can know,
Sita spoke truth even when in Lanka to go.
For chanting holy names make the time,
Devotees with resolve find life sublime.