“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 ||
“I know there is the nice reference from the Ramayana. Spoken by Lakshmana to Shri Rama, brother to brother, the vow is to continue in service for up to one hundred years, if necessary or possible. This attitude exemplifies pure devotion.
“This is the primary aspect of the Vaishnava culture that creates uniqueness. You can find faith practically anywhere in the world, at any time. Even when there is rampant atheism, there is still some connection to an original tradition. The people might describe themselves to be ‘lapsed’ in their faith, as they don’t follow the rules and regulations but still acknowledge the tradition.
“The Vaishnava strives for pure devotion, bhakti. This is inherent in the living entity’s existence. There is no way to remove the property. In that respect, atheism is merely a perverted reflection of the original bhakti spirit. The output of service and devotion will always remain; simply the object of service changes.
“Lakshmana wants nothing for himself. He will do everything for Rama. The setting for that vow is the forest area, where the two brothers are living away from civilization. Rama’s wife Sita Devi is with them. Rama asks Lakshmana to build a hut, and the younger brother eagerly obliges.
“The question I have relates to interference. What if I have the same spirit of devotion, but something gets in my way? Rather than present myself as an exalted soul, dedicated to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, say that I am at least striving for perfection in that area.
“I will serve the Supreme Lord for one hundred years. He can command me as He wishes. I will follow. The problem is other people get in the way. Circumstances in life create a situation that I have no other choice but to divert. It is a matter of survival. How do I continue the progression of the bhakti spirit in that direction?”
Shrimad Bhagavatam explains that bhakti-yoga is ahaituki and apratihata. In its pure form, the devotion is without motivation and without interruption. Lakshmana’s behavior gives an example of both. He leaves for the forest without any concern for his personal welfare. He is the son of a king, well-regarded in Ayodhya. Nothing has happened to him directly; the harm is to Rama.
Yet Lakshmana insists on accompanying Rama to the forest. The vow to continue in service for one hundred years indicates lack of interruption. It doesn’t matter how many times Rama will ask. If the hut is not to their liking, Lakshmana will build another one. Lakshmana will not sleep at night, in order to stand guard against foreign attack.
As bhakti-yoga ultimately depends on the consciousness, there is no way for an outside force to completely suppress the exercise of devotion. If we should find ourselves in trouble, we can remember God even more. If others get in our way, we can take it as a test of our strength and determination. When we carry forward at a time when giving up seems like the more reasonable option, the reward on the other side will be even better.
Best reward on other side,
When in adversity to reside.
Struggling but forward moving,
Eye on eternity not losing.
In bhakti opposition to expect,
But Rama Himself to protect.
So taking the impetus now,
For continuous service vow.