“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, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)
न च सीता त्वया हीना न चाहमपि राघव।
मुहूर्तमपि जीवावो जलान्मत्स्याविनोद्धृतौ।।
na ca sītā tvayā hīnā na cāhamapi rāghava।
muhūrtamapi jīvāvo jalānmatsyāvinoddhṛtau।।
It has been the primary means of punishment since before anyone can remember. From the petty to the serious, the degree of the offense determining the length of stay, the prison is one way to assess society. Those who are law-abiding live in the free and open. They can more or less come and go as they please.
If you violate a law of the state, however, there is the potential to be locked up. The threat of jail-time is one way to influence behavior in the positive direction. It is also an incentive for offenders to make deals with prosecutors, to give up valuable information in exchange for leniency.
The idea is that no one likes being confined. They would rather be anywhere else, in fact. Stuck in a single room, likely with other offenders, for days and months, sometimes years – not what the average person looks forward to.
Correspondingly, there are certain life situations that a person might compare to a prison sentence. It is like being stuck in jail for them; they would rather be anywhere else.
1. Working at an office, 9-5
Since this is the standard employment environment in industrialized nations, there are two periods during the day dubbed as “rush hour.” Everyone is trying to get to their respective offices at the same time, creating traffic on the roadways. The trains might be packed, as well, with people comparing themselves to sardines fit into a sealed can.
That references the difficulty in simply reaching the office and then leaving. There is the time in between, where you have to sit in a small space, with other people, and work for what seems like an endless amount of time. After you reach the end of the day, the lasting impression is that you have to repeat the same the following day.
Do this for five days a week, month after month, year after year and you begin to question the routine:
“How is this any different from prison? We are all stuck here. No one can go anywhere. We get a weekend furlough, but that is never enough. Sure, we get to go home at night. That is the lone solace. I just don’t know how people do this for an entire lifetime.”
2. Sitting in an airplane for a long-haul flight
If you are unaccustomed to the journey, this can be quite daunting. It is a microcosm of the office job, except with likely no ability to work on a computer or connect to the internet. The space is smaller, too, with passengers jammed in either side.
Others recommend different techniques to help pass the time.
“Take a pill that helps you sleep. Read a book. Watch movies on the in-cabin entertainment system. Listen to music.”
The hints are helpful, but the fact remains that you are forced to stay in one place for many hours, with no chance of escape. This is the inconvenience brought on by the convenience of air travel, which allows moving between destinations that could be separated by thousands of miles rather quickly.
3. Life in a palace without Shri Rama
Here there is no prison sentence. You are allowed to move around. You can enjoy nature and then return home to royal comfort at night. No need to shop for groceries. Food is in abundant supply and there are expert cooks ready to prepare.
Everything is quiet and peaceful, but to Shri Lakshmana the experience is hellish. This is because the beloved brother Shri Rama will not be there. He will be away from home on something like a prison sentence, but in the reverse. He will be exiled from the community, from the kingdom He was on the precipice of ruling in all dharma.
In the Ramayana we find the comparison to taking a fish out of water. Lakshmana references how the fish cannot survive when removed from its natural habitat. In the same way, neither he nor Sita Devi can survive without the association of Rama, who is the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Lakshmana is one of three younger brothers, and Sita is Rama’s beloved and devoted wife.
This is the mood of the devotee. Once they have returned to their original and eternal engagement of devotional service, life without the association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the equivalent of hell. If they are forced to live without Him, being unable to serve with thoughts, words and deeds, then the life is not worth living. It becomes worse than prison.
Such issues can be resolved through a saving grace known as sound vibration. Uttering the name of Rama helps to remember Him. Remembering Him is like being with Him, and so the maha-mantra helps in coping with a prison-like experience, however it applies to each individual: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Job necessary I know,
But again don’t let me go.
Like prison for many hours sitting,
Dreams of how one day quitting.
Devotees the same to receive,
Like when Rama kingdom to leave.
Lakshmana rather at side to stay,
Divine life the only way.
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