“Then I was quickly ready to depart for becoming a forest dweller even ahead of Him, as when lacking His association even residence in heaven is not to my liking.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.27)
sā aham tasya agrataḥ tūrṇam prasthitā vana cāriṇī ||
na hi me tena hīnāyā vāsaḥ svarge api rocate |
What is your concept of religion? What do you think it is for? If you are against it, what are your reasons? If somehow you are one of the fortunate few to have found the proper meaning through contact with a spiritual master in the glorious line of disciplic succession originating with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, what were your notions prior to becoming enlightened? In a single verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi gives the true meaning to the concept, whether referred to as religion, spirituality, duty or faith. It is an attitude more than anything, and it is one that would surprise the casual observer.
Since religion attempts to explain that which is considered unexplainable, the most common way to describe it is as a kind of faith.
“This person is of the Christian faith. They believe in Christ. They put all their trust in him. This person is of the Islamic faith. They pray to Allah five times a day in the hopes of salvation. This person belongs to the Hindu faith. They follow rituals and rites in the hopes that the next life will be better. This person is of the Buddhist faith. They seek the ultimate reward known as nirvana.”
Even if religion is considered a faith, there is a hope for some kind of future. That future existence is supposed to be better. We’re not really sure how or what or where, but things are not supposed to be as bad as they are now. We’re not supposed to see pain, suffering and misery. There is only supposed to be enjoyment. The object of faith will grant that enjoyment as reward for allegiance.
The skeptic of religion will use this common understanding as the basis for their skepticism.
“Religion is really for the less intelligent. Those who can’t make it on their own presently turn to the magical man in the sky to solve their problems. They think that by suffering right now all of their problems will be solved in the future. They give up fun for no reason today and then try to get everyone else to do the same. They speak of heaven, but they have no idea what it is. They say that the people who don’t believe will be punished in hell, but to me hell is having to listen to these people. They’re really no different than anyone else; it’s just their means of searching for happiness is different.”
The Vedic tradition, which is the root of all religious traditions, including the faith of Hinduism, explains both material and spiritual life. Material life is that which is not related to the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity. Material life is an art form that operates on the nature consisting of earth, water, fire, air and ether. The mind, intelligence and ego are the subtle elements of this nature, making psychology and similar studies art forms as well. Material life is briefly covered in the Vedic tradition, for in life outside of spiritual knowledge the material is the sole focus.
The coverage of spiritual life is more comprehensive, and there are varying levels of it. It all depends on what you want. If you want peace of mind, spiritual life can give it to you. Do you want to find a better place in the afterlife? Do you want to be free of stress? Do you want to see peace and harmony, at least in your own life? Follow religion at the basic level, where you believe in the supreme controller, who is known as Ishvara, Allah, God, the Almighty, or by some other name that similarly lacks specifics.
The essence of spiritual life is different from all faiths and all arts of material life. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the constitutional position of the living entity. The living entity is the individual life force that can appear in many different species. Each living being is the same at the core, though from appearance it seems otherwise. The constitutional position is devotion, which is pure love. This love is not dependent on outside factors, and when exercised purely it cannot be checked, even by the powerful material nature.
Sita Devi shows us how this works. She is the goddess of fortune, who is the eternal consort of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavan is a more accurate term to describe the man in the sky whom we can’t know much about without consulting authorized information. Mental speculation alone will never bring us to understanding God the person and the people who are devoted to Him.
In this verse from the Ramayana, Sita says that when she heard her husband Rama had been banished to the forest, she prepared so quickly that she was ready to go even before Him. This is humorous in a sense, as Rama was the only one ordered to leave. He was ready to have Sita stay at home. He told her as much. Sita’s description given here to Shri Hanuman says that she was prepared even before Rama tried to convince her to remain at home and be safe.
Sita gives justification for her decision. She says that even residence in heaven would not be preferable to her, should it mean separation from her husband. This is the meaning to bhakti-yoga. This is the real definition of religion. When the spirit soul has found true love in devotion to God the person, material life completely loses significance. Someone could offer you millions of dollars and many years of enjoyment of wine, food and the like. Someone could offer you complete safety, without any worry for necessities. The catch is that you will be without the Supreme Lord. If you are in the devotional consciousness, you will not even think about accepting this.
This attitude is different, difficult to understand at first, and unfathomable to those who only know of religion as faith. There is no faith involved here for Sita. She is ready to leave before Rama, which means that she doesn’t care what He says. She will not be bought off by the luxuries of royal life. Sita plays the role of a princess and Rama a prince. Though she is originally the goddess of fortune, she has no attachment to that opulence. Her thinking is one way: devotion to God. Even if it means living in the forest, which is the embodiment of renunciation, she is not afraid. The devoted souls have this confidence because they know that the true purpose to an existence is the association of the all-attractive and all-merciful Supreme Lord, who is God for everyone.
As faith religion’s first impression,
Heaven for worldly desires’ suppression.
The real meaning from Sita take,
How better today and tomorrow to make.
By her having devotion strong,
Ready for renunciation long.
Not even Supreme Lord to stop,
Consciousness of Him never to drop.
Categories: sita and hanuman