Thursday, September 17, 2009

Follow The Leader

Sita and Rama “I shall follow you, taking the permission of the respected ones; without you, O, Rama, I will renounce my life.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sita Devi was Goddess Lakshmi herself incarnated in human form many thousands of years ago in Mithila. Lakshmi is known as the goddess of fortune in the Vedic tradition, and she is the husband of Lord Narayana, God’s four-handed form who manages the entire creation. Being God’s pleasure potency, Sita was naturally a perfect devotee and completely pure. As part of her pastimes, she was married to Lord Krishna’s incarnation of Lord Rama. The two were living very happily in the kingdom of Ayodhya under the protection of Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama was to be installed as the new king but as fate would have it, He was instead ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years as an exile. The order applied to Him only, so the Lord requested Sita to remain in the kingdom for the duration of the exile. Sita Devi vehemently protested His decision and insisted on accompanying Him. She boldly declared that she would follow Him after having taken permission from the exalted members of the kingdom.

Lakshmi Narayana Being a perfect devotee, Sita required no such permission, but she sought it to teach a lesson on the proper rules of etiquette. According to Vedic principles, the brahmanas and the elderly members of the family should be given the utmost respect. Parents that strictly adhere to Vedic principles should always be respected and their instructions should be followed. Lord Rama was God Himself and the greatest of kshatriya warriors. Yet at the command of His father, He immediately renounced His kingdom and accepted banishment to the forest. The human form of life is meant for God realization and not for sense gratification. By giving respect to those who are worthy of it, one becomes detached from the bodily comforts of life and rises above the desire to satisfy the senses. Following religious principles, known as dharma, allows one to steadily progress on the path of God realization. Sita and Rama were celestials in the guise of humans, thus they weren’t striving for any sort of realization, but they strictly adhered to the laws of dharma in order to teach future generations.

The brahmanas are the priestly class of men in society, and they are very dear to Lord Krishna. True brahmanas have no attachment to material activities, and they devote one hundred percent of their time to serving the lotus feed of the Lord. For this reason, they are to be given the highest respect in society. In the Vedic times, kings would take counsel on all matters from brahmanas that were part of the royal court. Similar to the modern day concept of political advisors, brahmanas would guide kings on the proper role of government and how to administer justice. The orders of the brahmanas were accepted immediately and never questioned. When Lord Rama was a youth, the great sage, Vishvamitra Muni, came to King Dashratha and requested to have Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, accompany him to the forest. Dashratha was a great devotee and was naturally very attached to his eldest son Rama. He couldn’t live without Him, thus he was quite pained upon hearing the brahmana’s request. However, Dashratha knew the rules of propriety so he acceded to Vishvamitra’s request.

Vishvamitra Aside from teaching us to respect authority, Sita Devi taught us an even greater lesson. By insisting on following Lord Rama to the forest, she was requesting the Lord to allow her to serve Him. Loving service to God is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Sita was already the perfect devotee, performing all nine processes of devotional service (hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, becoming friends with Him, and surrendering everything to Him) without any flaws. However, to teach an example to everyone, prior to commencing her devotional act of going to the forest, she requested the permission of the authorized members of the kingdom. We all think of God at some point in our lives even though we might not have a clear conception of Him. Maybe when we are falling asleep at night we pray to Him, or maybe in times of distress we’ll ask Him for something. In the neophyte stage, we think of God as an order supplier and nothing else. This form of worship is very nice, but we are actually incapable of understanding God simply through our mental speculation. In order to properly understand Him, we are required to take up the process of devotional service under the guidance of a spiritual master. A bona fide spiritual master is anyone who is completely devoted to Lord Krishna or one of His authorized forms. The devotees are expert in serving Krishna because they themselves have learned the art from their spiritual master. This disciplic succession is known as the parampara system and was instituted by Krishna Himself at the beginning of creation. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna explains that knowledge of Him was first given to the sun god.

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bg 4.1)

The Bhagavad-gita deals with a conversation between a spiritual master, Lord Krishna, and a disciple, Arjuna. Being quite bewildered on the eve of a great war, Krishna initiated Arjuna into the discipline of bhakti yoga.

Krishna speaking to Arjuna If we proceed with our material endeavors without following the authoritative instructions of God’s representatives, then we will inevitably fail. While Sita and Rama were staying in the forest, the demon Ravana would kidnap her and hold her hostage on his island kingdom of Lanka. Ravana was advised by many in his kingdom, including his brother Vibhishana and also his spiritual advisors, to return Sita to Rama, but he didn’t listen to any of them. As a result, Lord Rama came and destroyed Ravana’s entire kingdom, killing Ravana and others in his family. Ravana had amassed great wealth, and lived a life full of unrestricted sense gratification. Yet, due to his reluctance to follow sound advice, his wealth and fame were lost in an instant.

We should all follow Sita Devi’s lead and eagerly take up the process of devotional service through the guidance of the best of the brahmanas, the Vaishnavas. In this age, Lord Rama incarnates through the sound vibration of His holy name. If we constantly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and follow the instructions handed down to us by the great saints such as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Lord Chaitanya, and Goswami Tulsidas, then our lives will be perfect.