Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sanatana Dharma

Rama Darbar “I shall sport with you, Oh great hero, in that forest impregnated with the fragrance of flowers, tending you constantly, having my senses subdued, and being engaged in austere performances.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

In loving relationships, we often subordinate ourselves to the wishes of our paramour. Those who are in love will often utter the phrase “I will dedicate my life to making you happy” to their significant other. Such sentiment is very nice because it represents the essence of true love. Wanting more for the other person than you want for yourself is the quintessential ingredient of love.

A husband or wife will often put themselves into very stressful situations in order that they may please their spouse. Sometimes a husband will go to great lengths to buy his wife some nice jewelry or some flowers to mark a special occasion such as an anniversary or birthday. A loving wife will similarly go through the pains of cooking elaborate meals, or attending sporting events, or travelling to exotic destinations simply to give pleasure to her husband. Many times we don’t like performing these tasks but if it makes our spouse happy then we are more than willing to do it. For we know if our husband or wife is happy and satisfied, then we are happy.

Lord Rama, who was God Himself living in Ayodhya many thousands of years ago, was given the order by His father, King Dashratha, to live in the forest as a recluse for fourteen years. Being married at the time to His wife Sita, the Lord knew that she would insist on coming along. Rama gave her many sound reasons why she should remain in the kingdom under the protection of other family members, but Sita soundly rejected them. Being truly in love with Lord Rama, Sita would not be happy unless her Lord was happy. Lord Rama was very worried about how Sita would fare in the forest, since the conditions would be very rough and not suitable for a woman accustomed to a life of royalty. To alleviate Rama’s worries, Sita assured Him that she would constantly tend to Him and that she would be engaged in austerities.

Aside from exhibiting her love for Rama, Sita Devi in this instance is teaching all of us the proper way to serve God. We all want to serve something in this material world, whether it is our senses, our bosses, our parents, our children, or even our lovers. While all those types of service may be very nice, our original occupation is to serve Krishna, or God. According to Vedic philosophy, this is called sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no begging or end and dharma means occupation. Sometimes dharma is mistakenly interpreted to mean religion, but religion has a different connotation. One’s religious belief system may change from Hindu to Muslim or Christian to Jew, but one’s occupational duty never changes. That is the true definition of dharma.

“Religion conveys the idea of faith. Faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change the faith afterwards and adopt another faith. But sanatana-dharma means which cannot be changed. Just like water and liquidity. Liquidity cannot be changed from water. Heat and fire. Heat cannot be changed from fire. Similarly, the eternal function of the eternal living entity, which is known as sanatana-dharma, cannot be changed. It is not possible to change. We have to find out what is that eternal function of the eternal living entity. When we speak of sanatana-dharma therefore, we must take it for granted on the authority of Shripada Ramanujacharya that it has no beginning nor any end.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture)

Ramanujacharya Sanatana dharma means our eternal occupation. It is our duty to serve the Lord since that is what we are naturally inclined to do. In order to serve the Lord, we must voluntarily submit ourselves to austerity or pennance, which is known as tapasya.

Sita Devi informed Lord Rama that she was more than willing to perform tapasya for Him in the forest. “I will always serve you with all my heart and soul. I will undergo and any all hardships simply to make you happy. You are my Lord for life, and what may be viewed as hardships to others, will be undertaken by me with glee and enthusiasm. Fear not for my welfare in the forest. If I am serving you, then I will always be happy, and thus you will be too.” These were the thoughts she was conveying to Lord Rama. This is the attitude of a pure devotee who is most highly advanced. By following the principles of devotional service through chanting the Lord’s names, offering Him prayers, rendering service to His deity, and by voluntarily abstaining from the primary sinful activities of life, namely meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex, then God will be most pleased with us, and we in turn can enjoy an eternal blissful relationship with Him.