“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)
Friend1: Alright, I have a Ramayana question for you.
Friend2: Like what happened at such and such point? Something to trigger your memory?
Friend1: An analysis piece, focusing on a specific incident.
Friend2: Okay, and you want a legitimate review and not some ridiculous mental speculation that you’re using to further another goal?
Friend1: Umm, what?
Friend2: Like where you take the Ramayana, which is a historical work in the Sanskrit language, beautifully composed and presented by Maharishi Valmiki, a liberated soul, and compare it to a game. Though you don’t outwardly deny the validity of the incidents, in reality the same is accomplished.
Friend1: Oh, like where you take things symbolically? You use the incidents to further your own goals.
Friend2: Right. I won’t be a party to that. I get very upset.
Friend1: No, this is a legitimate discussion. It’s about bhakti, or devotion. I think I already know the proper explanation but thought I’d run it by you to make sure.
Friend2: Alright. Which incident are we talking about?
Friend1: Where Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is preparing to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya. It’s for fourteen years, in a sudden turn of events. Moments prior preparations were being made for His installation as king. Dasharatha had decided the time was right to hand control over to the eldest and most beloved son.
Friend2: Yes. This was keeping with both tradition and the father’s favoritism. Though Dasharatha had four equally capable sons, Rama was the closest to him in terms of emotional attachment.
Friend1: Then everything changed. The youngest queen, Kaikeyi, cashed in two favors Dasharatha had previously promised her. She asked that her son Bharata be made king instead. Rama and Rama’s father would have been fine with this. For her second boon, she went one step further.
Friend2: “Leave the kingdom for fourteen years.” This way Bharata wouldn’t have any competition. Man, these incidents are wonderful, even the supposedly bad ones. There is room for endless study and contemplation, and that’s without touching the bogus side of symbolism used by the atheists.
Friend1: Hold on. The place I’m getting to is where the question is. Rama is ready to leave. He has no problem following the orders of the king. Sure, everyone is sad. Even Bharata is going to be once he finds out. Only Kaikeyi is happy.
Friend2: Yes, because Bharata and Shatrughna were visiting someplace else at the time.
Friend1: Rama is ready to go and He tells both Sita and Lakshmana to stay at home. It’s not just out of safety. Neither is it only to spare them the hardship of living like a homeless person, following the rules of an ascetic out in the wilderness.
Friend2: Sita is Rama’s wife and Lakshmana is another son to Dasharatha. Lakshmana is Queen Sumitra’s son, but he is the brother closest in terms of association to Rama, though all four brothers love each other equally.
Friend1: I’m glad you mentioned that. There is strong affection going around. Rama essentially says to not use that as an excuse. He advises Sita to remain at home and serve His mother, Queen Kausalya. The mother will be heartbroken at Rama’s departure, but Sita staying there will provide some comfort.
Friend2: Makes sense.
Friend1: Rama tells Lakshmana that help is needed for the father, Dasharatha. By remaining in the kingdom, Lakshmana can oversee things properly, serving Bharata and ensuring that dharma is upheld.
Friend2: Again, no problem there.
Friend1: Listen, I agree with that. These are important duties. They fall in line with dharma, for the respective people. Dharma is religion, religiosity, righteousness, or what have you, and it’s not always the same. The wife has a different dharma than the younger brother or the son of a king.
Friend2: Right. Dharma is an essential characteristic. We assume different roles in a material existence, and dharma is the way to advance. It’s the way to progress in terms of consciousness without having to think too much. Just do what is proper for you. As Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, it is better to follow your own dharma improperly than to take up someone else’s.
“It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though they may be faulty, than another’s duties. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.35)
Friend1: Okay, that is a wonderful explanation, but here’s the thing. Neither of them listened to Rama. They insisted on accompanying Him to the forest.
Friend2: And that surprises you?
Friend1: Of course not, but Rama gave in. Moreover, they abandoned dharma in favor of sentimental attachment. Is that still bhakti? I understand that we are supposed to be devoted to God, but isn’t that incident setting the precedent for others to abandon work, family and responsibilities in favor of practicing devotional service?
Friend2: I would hope that it is.
Friend1: How can you say that? Isn’t that cruel? How will the world function if everyone abandons their responsibilities?
Friend2: What do you think the sarva dharman parityajya verse from the Bhagavad-gita means?
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
Friend1: Krishna told that to Arjuna, and Arjuna didn’t abandon the responsibility of fighting in the war. He proceeded forward.
Friend2: That was following Krishna. It was bhakti.
Friend1: Sita and Lakshmana didn’t follow their responsibilities. They left everything to stay with Rama.
Friend2: To you it’s staying; to them it’s serving. They wouldn’t let Him be alone. Lakshmana says they would be like fish out of water without Rama by their side. In fact, their decision is indicative of the height of consciousness. Even if they were to suffer in hell for thousands of years for leaving the kingdom, they would make the same decision. Their only concern was Rama and His welfare. The devotion is so great that not even Rama could stop them. Think about that for a second.
Friend2: It’s the most powerful message in the world. Bhakti has such potency that when practiced on the highest level not even the Supreme Lord can do anything to stop it. Dharma, adharma, right, wrong, heaven, hell, pious, impious – all conditions in duality melt away in the blazing fire of devotional love, serving the lotus feet of the Almighty.
Since concern in blazing fire to melt,
Bad about leaving home not felt.
Since desire only with Rama to stay,
Following Him even to forest’s way.
Despite Him to the contrary advising,
Sita and Lakshmana home now despising.
Since of their most important bereft,
So without hesitation with Him left.