“I shall happily reside in the forest, considering it to be just like my paternal home, paying no attention to the three worlds and only thinking of devotion to my husband.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.12)
सुखं वने निवत्स्यामि यथैव भवने पितुः।
अचिन्तयन्ती त्रीन्लोकांश्च्चिन्तयन्ती पतिव्रतम्।।
sukhaṃ vane nivatsyāmi yathaiva bhavane pituḥ।
acintayantī trīnlokāṃśccintayantī pativratam।।
Friend1: I don’t want to get into a debate about arranged marriages.
Friend2: Good. Neither do I.
Friend1: I won’t mention that they were found in all parts of the world as recently as a few centuries ago. It is not a practice exclusive to those following the Vedic tradition.
Friend2: In general, people used to get married at a much younger age, also. Even fifty years or so ago, the landscape was quite different.
Friend1: Not as heavy a reliance on a college education, for instance.
Friend2: Which means that you get a head-start on adulthood, which often includes marriage.
Friend1: The thing in particular that strikes me about the Vedic tradition is the experience of the bride.
Friend2: In what way? That she has the husband essentially selected for her?
Friend1: You have the occasional svayamvara, either formal or informal.
Friend2: A self-choice.
Friend1: I am referring to the experience of essentially getting traded, for lack of a better term, to a brand new family. I like to think in those terms because it correlates with professional sports. If you are playing with a particular team, you might get traded one day, on the spot.
Friend2: What does that mean, exactly?
Friend1: You become the property of another team. That might mean travelling to a different city. You have to uproot your family. Everything changes. Brand new people with whom to associate. You put on a new uniform.
Friend2: Which has to be a little strange. Sort of like changing schools when you are a child. People in the military culture often have to experience that, as the parents move from base to base, depending on the shifting assignments.
Friend1: The experience for the bride in these arranged marriages is the most extreme, if you ask me. You have to move in with a brand new family. You literally know no one. Not only that, it is not like this new family will treat you well from the beginning.
Friend2: What does that mean?
Friend1: It is almost like going into basic training for the military. There is a structure of love and support, in most cases, but you still have to uphold your end of the bargain.
Friend2: That is why they say the wife is the better half. She is the strength of the man. That situation of moving to a new family requires a lot of strength.
Friend1: I think that also explains the many references to the paternal home that we see in Vedic literature. For instance, Sita Devi once remarked that in the company of her husband even out in the forest she would feel like being back at home, with her parents.
Friend2: Which is one of the nicest things one person can say to another. They are basically saying that the other person is their home. They won’t feel like a stranger at all. That is one of the influences of the Supreme Personality of Godhead through direct association.
Friend1: Okay, but how do we deal with real separation? In the case of the bride moving to a new family. A student graduating and entering the workforce. Parents moving on to the next life, leaving the children behind.
Friend2: That is the constant factor within our existence. We know that the body is always changing, based on perceived outcomes and the philosophical teaching from Bhagavad-gita:
देहिनो ऽस्मिन् यथा देहे
कौमारं यौवनं जरा
धीरस् तत्र न मुह्यति
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
Friend1: The body changes, but the soul remains the same.
Friend2: You can’t even really use the word “same.” It doesn’t apply since it is not possible to change an existence. We are who we are. We will always be who we are. We have always been who we are.
Friend1: Okay, but why do we have to suffer through these changes? I would rather things stay the same.
Friend2: That is the influence of time. Nothing can stop time. That time was responsible for our birth. That time brings us together with loved ones. That time causes separation.
Friend1: I don’t want separation. At least not anymore.
Friend2: The only constant, along with the spirit soul, is the Supreme Soul. If we are devoted to Him, then every situation is tolerable. The entirety of Vedic culture, from beginning to end, is for accepting the external changes but remaining unchanged in consciousness.
Friend1: How can we do that? What is an example to follow?
Friend2: We see that Sita Devi loves Rama whether He is a participant in the contest of the bow, living as the lead prince in Ayodhya, exiled to the forest, or separated based on world events. There is no change to the consciousness.
Friend1: Is that based on love?
Friend2: You could say that is the meaning to life. Love God. That is the natural state. Everything else is unnatural or imperfect. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the proper way to love is to love God. Then everything else will be accounted for, like watering the roots of the tree.
Like watering roots of the tree,
Then everything properly to see.
With love accounted for,
Not troubled like before.
By constant change shifting,
Through dreaded time sifting.
Sita when by Rama’s side,
Like in paternal home to reside.