“Undoubtedly I shall always live upon roots and fruits, living with you always I shall not bring about your affliction.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
Not too long ago, the majority of the labor force in America belonged to the agriculture sector. Farming for subsistence and profit was the primary occupation of most. Long hours were spent each day planting and harvesting crops, feeding and cleaning up after the farm animals, and then cooking and eating the three meals of the day. Sometimes conditions would be very tough and bountiful harvests weren’t always guaranteed. Some years families would struggle and they would prosper in others. All in all, life was still very simple.
Fast forward to today, and almost no one is involved in the agriculture business. Technological advancements have increased farm productivity greatly, requiring far fewer farmers. America’s crop production is so bountiful that the government actually pays farmers to not grow food as a means of controlling prices. As a result of this advancement, food is very readily available to all and a majority of the population is concerned with dieting and losing weight. Fine dining at expensive restaurants, fast food joints, and giant sized supermarkets mean that we have our pick as to what we want to eat and how much we will intake. Most of us now overindulge in eating and as a result, our government has declared an obesity epidemic. One need only watch television for a few minutes a day to find all the latest exercise gadgets and diet fads geared at reducing weight. Though we may be successful at times at losing weight through these methods, we generally gain it all back since we have difficulty sticking to exercise regimens and fanatic diets.
According to Vedic philosophy, the tongue and genitals are the hardest organs to control. One who is able to conquer the urge to overeat and indulge in illicit sex life is rewarded with peace of mind, allowing one to make progress in spiritual understanding. When Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation in the Treta Yuga, was banished to the forest for fourteen years by His father Maharaja Dashratha, His wife Sita Devi wanted to accompany Him. According to the Vedic system, schooling occurs at the home of a spiritual master, known as the gurukula. Under the direction of the guru, boys living a celibate lifestyle, are taught about spiritual matters, including how to control one’s eating. Students at the gurukula, known as brahmacharis, would beg from door to door to collect alms which would be given to the guru. The guru would then disperse this food amongst his students. If a student didn’t receive any food, it was understood that he would have to fast until the next day or whenever the guru would provide him food. This system of austerity taught the students how to regulate their eating habits.
When Sita Devi was making her case to Lord Rama as to why she should be allowed to come to the forest with Him, she made it a point to say that she would gladly live upon “roots and fruits” during the exile period. Sita Devi was raised in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila from her childhood and was thus accustomed to eating the most sumptuous foods. Women would not attend school during that time, so she had no formal training in regulating her eating habits. Yet she was more than willing to give up all rich and good tasting food for the rest of her life in order to please her husband. This is the symptom of a person infused with pure love for God. Lord Rama was God Himself, and Sita Devi was completely devoted to Him. Devotees will undergo any amount of penance and austerity to make the Lord happy. In fact, this life is meant for tapasya, the voluntary acceptance of austerities aimed at delivering spiritual advancement. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita,
“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Bg. 6.16)
Only one who has their senses regulated can raise themselves to the platform of love of God. If we have our senses in control, then we can realize Krishna is within us as the Supersoul, and thus we can always enjoy the bliss that comes with His association.
“My dear Lord, only by Your mercy and grace can the living entity get the human form of life, which is a chance to get out of the miserable condition of material existence. However, a person who possesses a human body but who cannot bring the senses under control is carried away by the waves of sensual enjoyment. As such, he cannot take shelter of Your lotus feet and thus engage in Your devotional service. The life of such a person is very unfortunate, and anyone living such a life of darkness is certainly cheating himself and thus cheating others also.” (Lord Shiva, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 8)
Sita Devi, though belonging to the woman class, whom the Vedas consider as having a lower birth along with vaishyas and shudras, had her senses completely under control, and was thus allowed to accompany Lord Rama to the forest. This proves that pure devotees can transcend any and all material designations. One may be a man, woman, brahmana, or shudra, but these classifications are only for people who haven’t attained a pure love for Krishna. The Vedas allow such people to make gradual spiritual advancement by following the prescribed dharma for their specific class. However, bhagavata-dharma, pure devotional service to Krishna, is the highest form of worship and is available to everyone, even the animals. Thus Sita Devi was more than just the perfect woman, she was the perfect devotee.