“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।।
“Do you ever consider the incompatibility with modern standards as it pertains to paying obeisance? I mean in the traditional sense, of spiritual life descending from the Vedas. You have the blatant offering in front of the deity, prostrating before in a planking sort of manner. You become like a stick on the floor; hence the term dandavat pranam.
“People might object to the practice. They vow to never bow down to anyone, especially not a statue. In my culture, we have to touch the feet of elders when first greeting them. The same is repeated at the time of departure.
“This applies not only for the parents and grandparents, but elder siblings and extended family, as well. How do we try to instill such a mentality in others? In the Ramayana, you have the advice from Queen Sumitra to her son Lakshmana. She tells him to view Sita and Rama as his parents, during the exile term in the forest.
“We know that siblings tend to have rivalry. If one child receives a gift, the other one wants the same. If one child receives preferential treatment, the other will feel passed over. It is a lengthy transition to reach the stage of worshiping your elders. How to convey the idea to a public that prioritizes personal satisfaction?”
If speaking informally, we could say that the entire Vedic culture involves eating crow. Being humbled. Taking orders from someone else. Never a true master; only a servant. From the beginning of life, all the way to the end.
The child is the dependent of the parents. The wife serves her husband. The husband goes to work; either for someone else or in a business-type venture. The government has supervision over the businesses. There is the cruel hand of death lurking in the background, which is controlled by higher forces.
No one is actually free. No one has true independence; only a small amount in the factoring of choice. Where to live. What to eat. How to worship. On what to contemplate. On which direction to follow for long-term satisfaction, if considered at all.
In the same Ramayana, Lakshmana describes how he cannot live without Rama’s personal association. It would be like taking a fish out of water. This sentiment is superior to viewing Rama as a protector or order-supplier. Lakshmana is not only subservient in mood, but he will go to any length to offer that service to the utmost satisfaction of the person in charge.
This sentiment is the true meaning of dharma. The essential characteristic of the living force, the spark of spirit springing from the original storehouse, is service. Everyone is serving in some capacity. If they refuse to bend the knee before the archa-vigraha, they will likely do the same for someone or something else.
No one can say they have complete autonomy. It is for this reason that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that even the atheist eventually sees God. Their face-to-face meeting is at the time of death, whereas for the devotee there is constant vision and resulting satisfaction.
Every transcendentalist should aim to be locked in service to Lakshmana’s elder brother, to view Him as everything, to look for His satisfaction first with every thought, word and deed, spanning this lifetime and as many future ones as will come.
Whether as demigod to become,
For as many lifetimes to come.
With whatever action commanded,
Whether kindly or sternly demanded.
That in service humbly to stay,
Following Lakshmana’s way.
For the soul happiness to get,
Return to first dharma set.