“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)
न च सीता त्वया हीना न चाहमपि राघव।
मुहूर्तमपि जीवावो जलान्मत्स्याविनोद्धृतौ।।
na ca sītā tvayā hīnā na cāhamapi rāghava।
muhūrtamapi jīvāvo jalānmatsyāvinoddhṛtau।।
“I heard something interesting recently from a pretty famous person. The video clip is from years ago, but it has some relevance to the modern day. This person is speculating that it would be nice to one day lose everything. From riches to rags. From powerful and important to an ordinary person. Worse than that; a failed leader. Someone who was rejected by everyone.
“They want to lose everything for the express purpose of seeing who is loyal. The tendency is for people to hang around the powerful. They want a piece of the action, so to speak. You can always try to raise your stature by association. ‘I am the close confidante of such and such person. I am one of their top advisors.’
“But how many people would stay close once the leader has lost everything? It is a good test of loyalty, for sure. Is there anything analogous with the Supreme Personality of Godhead? Does He ever conduct tests to see if we are still loyal to Him?”
We often speculate that the test is during times of difficulty. It is easy to thank the man upstairs when everything is going well. Nice home. Beautiful family. Steady source of income. No pressing threats, other than the onslaught of time, from which no one can escape.
प्रह्लादश् चास्मि दैत्यानां
कालः कलयताम् अहम्
मृगाणां च मृगेन्द्रो ऽहं
वैनतेयश् च पक्षिणाम्
prahlādaś cāsmi daityānāṁ
kālaḥ kalayatām aham
mṛgāṇāṁ ca mṛgendro ‘haṁ
vainateyaś ca pakṣiṇām
“Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)
Do you maintain the same belief when you have your back against the wall? Nothing is going right. More pressure than you ever considered. No one is happy with you, no matter how much you do for them. They think you are weak from the destitution, that you cannot fulfill any outside obligations.
Is God the same person to you? Is He still the source of your strength? Do you still believe in Him? Or have you abandoned any fidelity to the path of righteousness? Is dharma just an idea now, rather than a way of living?
As the Supreme Lord holds original claim to the property of the entire universe, He can never be made poor. Yet the pastimes described in the Ramayana are interesting in the temporary situation of destitution. Shri Rama, an avatara of Bhagavan, goes from royalty to asceticism. One moment He is about to become the next king of Ayodhya. The next He is forced to wander the forests like a poor man, with no rights to land, army, or the stock of provisions.
The younger brother Lakshmana shows his loyalty by simultaneously abandoning the kingdom. He would rather not stay where Rama has been insulted. His first inclination is to mount a coup. Wage war against the father and other brothers, if necessary. Like an expert attorney, Lakshmana poses the question to Rama of who should be killed first.
Sita Devi is equally as loyal. Her decision to accompany her husband to the forest is striking considering that Rama suddenly cannot do anything for her. She is a beautiful queen with delicate features, who was born into royalty, grew up in it, and later married into it.
Lakshmana speaks to Rama comparing to the fish taken out of water. Neither Sita nor Lakshmana can survive when disassociated from Rama. This automatically implies that nothing else means anything to them. The greatest power in the world, more riches than anyone can imagine, a safe and comfortable living establishment, adulation from an adoring society – nothing compares to having direct association with the Supreme Lord.
More important is the nature of that association. Service. This is the real business of the living entity. The individual is atma. The dharma of atma is service. This is the essential characteristic. We are always serving someone. Better to serve God directly than to satisfy the senses. The senses will never be pleased, while the master of all senses, Hrishikesha, keeps forever with Him the memory of even a single good deed done in His honor.
Which way now to choose?
When God everything to lose.
Attachment maintaining the same?
Or now the other way in shame?
Lakshmana to the fish comparing,
Impossible out of water faring.
Because service always to maintain,
Rama’s association greatest gain.