Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Divinity of Rama

Sita Rama “I have heard this pious report from brahmanas of great fame that even in the afterlife, your company is greatly beneficial to me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Herein Sita Devi is secretly revealing the true identity of Lord Rama. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, incarnated in the form of a human being many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. In the form of Lord Rama, God played the role of a perfect king, son, and husband. Still, at the time most didn’t know the true nature of His identity.

The great rakshasa demon known by the name of Ravana was causing death and destruction around the world at the time. Ravana had undergone severe penances in order to propitiate the demigods, and they duly rewarded with him with several benedictions. He was given ten heads, and invincibility from all demigods and other various creatures. Due to his raging desire for world domination, Ravana forgot to mention humans in his list of beings that he would be immune from. For this reason, the demigods approached Lord Vishnu, Krishna’s guna avatar maintaining the material world, for protection. Vishnu agreed to appear in human form in order to kill Ravana and restore the principles of dharma to society at large.

Lakshmi and Vishnu When God comes to this world, He brings along His closest associates to aid Him in His pastimes. In this instance, Lord Vishnu brought along various demigods who would serve as His immediate family members and faithful servants. Goddess Lakshmi was one of those demigods who joined the Lord. In the spiritual world, she is known as the goddess of wealth or fortune, and for this reason, Krishna is also known by such names as Madhava and Shripati, meaning the husband of the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi is always serving the Lord in the spiritual world and when she descended to earth, she performed the same task. Born out of the earth, she was found in the field by Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. He named her Sita and raised her as his own daughter. When she reached a suitable age, Janaka arranged for her svayamvara. At this ceremony, whichever prince would raise and string the bow of Lord Shiva, he would be given Sita’s hand in marriage. Many a valiant prince from around the world came to the ceremony to give their best effort, but only Lord Rama was successful. He lifted, strung and broke the bow, such was the strength of the Lord.

Sita and Rama enjoyed several years of married life in the kingdom of Maharaja Dashratha, Rama’s father. There came a point when Rama was to be installed as the new king, however events suddenly took a dramatic turn, and Rama was instead ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years as an exile. Sita was heart-broken at the news, and even more disturbed that the Lord wished for her to remain in the kingdom. Sita, being the perfect devotee, was completely attached to her husband, who was God Himself. The idea of separation from Him seemed unthinkable to her. She gave Rama a lecture on the proper duties of a husband and wife, and the above referenced quote was one of the arguments made by her.

Marriage of Sita and Rama Rama was loved and adored by all, but people had no direct knowledge that He was God Himself appearing in human form. Here Sita makes reference to statements made by pious brahmanas, who hinted at the Lord’s true nature. No matter one’s specific faith or lack thereof, the concept of religion is known to all. We live out our current lives in the hopes that we will have a better place to live in the next life, namely a permanent abode in heaven. Herein the brahmanas, or priestly class of men, make reference to the fact that it would be greatly beneficial for Sita to have company with Rama, even in the afterlife. In actuality, that fact holds true for everyone. There can be no greater achievement than for one to have eternal association with God in heaven after this life has completed. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states how one can achieve this goal.

“One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows and in full devotion engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. …After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” (Bg. 8.10, 8.15)

If we think of God during our current life, we will likely think of Him at the time of death, which guarantees association with Him in the afterlife.

Lord Krishna speaking Bhagavad-gita Lord Rama had explained to Sita that it would be in her best interests to remain in the kingdom. Forest life is meant for the wild beasts and animals, and those people who have their senses completely under control. Among humans, only the great yogis and ascetics can survive in the forest. Sita was a princess, born and raised in royal surroundings, with every material pleasure at her fingertips. Forest life would be difficult for anyone, let alone such a delicate and beautiful woman as herself. Sita’s retort was that association with Rama is more beneficial than any other association. One may live in a nice kingdom with the greatest protection, but such a life doesn’t compare to direct association with God. When we are in constant association with God, thinking of Him, and lovingly serving Him, then such a life proves to be most beneficial. She was basically telling Him, “You are worried about my welfare and what is good for me? Well there is nothing more beneficial to me, or anyone else, than to be with You at all times. This isn’t something that I’ve made up myself, for I heard this from the most respected brahmanas. In fact, they said that association with You is beneficial not only in this life, but in the spiritual world as well.”

Herein lies the second lesson to be learned from Sita’s statements. Lord Rama was very insistent on the idea of her remaining in the kingdom for the duration of the exile period. In order to persuade Him to change His mind, Sita had to come up with impeccable and irrefutable arguments in her favor. As part of her plea, she repeatedly made reference to statements she had heard previously from brahmanas. The most astounding thing about this was that she had never even received any formal training from brahmanas. According to the Vedic system, there are four ashramas of life that one must go through, namely brahmacharya (celibate student life), grihastha (family life), vanaprastha (retired family life), and sannyasa (renounced order of life, no family connections). Brahmachari life is similar to today’s concept of student life, from kindergarten through high school. In the classic system, students went to school at a guru’s house, known as the gurukula. The guru, a brahmana, would train and house the students for free. In return for the instructions given to them, the students would go out daily and beg for alms from the householders. The collected food would then be brought to the guru, which he would then divide amongst the students. In this way, the rest of society provided for the brahmanas, and the students in turn were taught respect and how to control their senses. Upon completion of their studies, brahmacharis would either get married or continue their spiritual learning and serve as the higher class for the rest of society.

Sita Devi This system was very nice and beneficial to all. However, this system did not apply to women. Young girls did not go to school; instead they remained at home protected by their parents. When they reached the age of puberty, they would be married off to a suitable husband, whose responsibility it became to provide protection to the woman. A woman’s duty was to serve and honor her husband, for the husband and wife share in spiritual merits. If the husband was pious and devoted to Krishna, then the wife would also benefit. Amazingly, Sita, who had no formal training in any of the scriptures, had perfect knowledge on all the rules of dharma, as exhibited through her statements to Lord Rama. How was she able to gather such knowledge?

Maharishi Valmiki From her statements, we understand that her spiritual acumen came from hearing. Growing up in the kingdom of Janaka, brahmanas were regularly around her family, for the pious kings would rely on their royal priests for counsel on all matters. Sita intently listened to everything the brahmanas would say, and due to her eagerness to learn, she was able to retain the information completely and fully. This lesson can be applied to everyone. The system of varnashrama dharma (four divisions of social status and stages of life) is virtually nonexistent today. Most everyone is given a secular education, and not provided training on spiritual life and understanding of Krishna. However, if we are eager to learn, all we have to do is listen attentively to the teachings passed down from the great acharyas. This will give all of us, regardless of our gender, class or social status, a perfect understanding of Krishna and devotion to Him.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Goswami Tulsidas, Vyasadeva, Maharishi Valmiki, and many other great Vaishnava saints have written extensively on the principles of bhakti yoga, or devotional service to Krishna. We simply need to dedicate a little time to sit and understand their teachings found in their books.  By eagerly and attentively hearing Vedic wisdom, we too can be as smart as the great yogis of the past. May we all follow in the path of the glorious Sita Devi and love Krishna with all our hearts.