“The evils of living in the forest, thus enumerated by you, do you know, actually appear as so many good qualities since your affection for me comes before them.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to kill the evil demon Ravana. As part of His pastimes, the Lord accepted exile into the forest for fourteen years at the demand of His father, King Dashratha of Ayodhya. Lord Rama was the eldest son of the king, so He was in line to be crowned as the successor. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Dashratha instead decided to install Rama’s younger brother Bharata, and at the same time send Rama to live as a recluse for fourteen years.
Lord Rama was married at the time, so He went to tell his wife Sita the bad news. The Lord requested her to remain in the kingdom, but Sita was very defiant. She put forth a series of arguments in favor of her going, but the Lord again pleaded with her. Lord Rama reminded Sita of how dangerous the forest was and how painful life would be there for her. Sita Devi, in response, informed the Lord that she viewed such dangerous conditions as being quite favorable. Sita was born and raised in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila, thus she knew no other life except that associated with royalty. So how was she so willing to accept the painful conditions of life in the forest, a place suited for wild animals, beasts, and the most advanced yogis?
In our material endeavors, we often find ourselves voluntarily accepting austerities in order to be successful. We see marathon runners on television, and marvel at the fact that they can run for over twenty-six miles in one stretch and still maintain a rapid pace. Most of us tire out after running a mile or less. These runners are able to perform such extraordinary feats through rigorous training and practice. This training requires the voluntary acceptance of austerities, such as running short distances on a regular schedule, and adhering to a very strict diet conducive to achieving peak performance. Many of us view running as a very painful and boring activity, yet these runners very eagerly took to training. What may seem very painstaking to the average person was actually very pleasing to runners since they were working towards a goal. When we work for a higher purpose, things that were previously unpleasant all of a sudden become very pleasing to us. This same concept can be applied to bodybuilders who regularly lift very heavy weights in order to bulk up their physique. Practically anyone who is successful in a material endeavor must initially voluntarily subject themselves to austerities, which eventually turn into pleasurable activities.
This same principle, when applied to the spiritual realm, yields the most wonderful of results. Sita Devi was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who is the husband of Lord Narayana, or God. Being God’s wife, she is completely devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed. When one is completely devoted to God, then all material pains become completely nullified. Sita was more than willing to subject herself to the austere forest life, for it meant that she would be in constant association with her husband. This is true love. We may find ourselves in precarious conditions from time to time, but if always keep Krishna on our minds and in our hearts then we will be able to survive anything. Krishna is the ocean of mercy and the best friend of the devotees.
The tongue and the stomach are the hardest sense organs to control. Eating too much and talking unnecessarily lead us away from spiritual life. When we eat too much, we are inclined to sleep more than we need to, and our desire for sex increases. We should control our eating habits by preparing and offering food to Krishna. We should eat the remnants of the offered food, known as prasadam, and thus our eating will be purified. Sita Devi was the perfect devotee in that everything she did in her life was an offering to her husband. Even while living the life of a princess, she had her senses completely under control and thus had no qualms about living in the woods, where food was scarce, and where the cuisine would consist mostly of fruits and roots.
Keeping all this in mind, we should all voluntarily accept austerities which will help us advance in spiritual life and allows us to always think about God. According to Vedic philosophy, the four pillars of sinful life are meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication. If we refrain from these four activities and constantly chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” then our lives will be perfect.