“O Rama, for as long as You shall stand before me, even if it be for one hundred years, I will always remain Your servant. Therefore You should be the one to choose a beautiful and appropriate place for the cottage. After You have selected a spot, please then command me to start building.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.7)
परवानस्मि काकुत्स्थ त्वयि वर्षशतं स्थिते |
स्वयं तु रुचिरे देशे क्रियतामिति मां वद ||
paravānasmi kākutstha tvayi varṣaśataṃ sthite |
svayaṃ tu rucire deśe kriyatāmiti māṃ vada ||
“One of the appeals with religion as it is practiced in the modern-day is the basic cause-and-effect paradigm. Let me explain further. If you are selling a piece of exercise equipment on television, say during the early morning hours, then you might have a before-and-after photo sequence.
“The first image shows the person when they are out of shape. Too much fat. Difficulty climbing stairs. Always tired. Then they magically come across this exercise equipment. A few weeks later and they look completely different. Slim and trim. Full of energy. Happy about life.
“We find a similar kind of appeal with religion. Be saved from future calamity. Have faith in the higher power. Congregate with like-minded individuals. More specifically, there is a targeted finish line. The time of completion. A place to which to ascend next, after this life is over.
“Unless I am missing something, I don’t see anything similar in bhakti-yoga. Sure, there is the promise for the release from the cycle of birth and death, liberation, but what does that exactly mean? No more coming to the material world? No more activity? And isn’t assigning an objective counterintuitive to the whole process itself? I thought bhakti is supposed to be selfless surrender, not asking anything from God.”
There is certainly something desired in the beginning. To seek a desire-less state is a fool’s errand. To shut off desire is to shut off the mind, which is not possible. Even during the sleeping state, the mind continues to operate. The actual force is consciousness, which is an indication of life.
शरीरं यद् अवाप्नोति
यच् चाप्य् उत्क्रामतीश्वरः
वायुर् गन्धान् इवाशयात्
śarīraṁ yad avāpnoti
yac cāpy utkrāmatīśvaraḥ
vāyur gandhān ivāśayāt
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
Consciousness travels from lifetime to lifetime. What we consider at the time of death determines the next state of existence. Consciousness can be shaped, and this is the ultimate objective of bhakti-yoga.
Still, we have our mini-treasures to look forward to. Peace of mind. Determination in purpose. Dridha-vrata, as it is known in Sanskrit. They worship the Almighty in such a way that no force can intercede; no one can stop them.
येषां त्व् अन्त-गतं पापं
भजन्ते मां दृढ-व्रताः
yeṣāṁ tv anta-gataṁ pāpaṁ
bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ
“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)
Though there may be the targeted finish line of escape from the cycle of birth and death, the life in devotion continues. Embodying the devotional spirit is Lakshmana, who is the origin of the guru. In a single verse from the Ramayana he explains how the person connected in consciousness to the Supreme Lord feels.
During the lila of the avatara of Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord asks Lakshmana to construct a hut. This is while Rama and Lakshmana, brothers, are living in the forest area, along with Sita Devi, who is Rama’s wife. Lakshmana has the service attitude, so he is eager to do whatever will make Rama happy.
Lakshmana remarks that he is prepared to act in such a way for one hundred years, consecutively. It is not that he expects some personal reward after completing a task. He is not looking for any personal favor. He is not eager to earn a medal of commendation.
Lakshmana does everything for the pleasure of Rama. There is no concept of a bucket list for him, since he would like to continue in service in upcoming lifetimes. This is the meaning of sanatana-dharma. It is the eternal way of living for the imperishable individual soul, who is always following God one way or another.
Always following in some way,
Whether in heaven or here to stay.
Better with nature aligned,
Matching dharma defined.
Like Lakshmana after completion nears,
Prepared to continue one hundred years.
Since Rama beneficiary at end,
Service infinitely to extend.