“For your welfare, O Raghava, having received your permission to follow you, I like to serve you, O great hero, while living in the forest.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
This statement of Sita Devi is so pure and wonderful that it warms the heart. One can read this one line over and over again and still enjoy the bliss brought on by the purest sentiment ever uttered. The two key phrases of this statement are “for your welfare” and “I like to serve you.”
Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, known as the goddess of fortune. According to the Vedas, there is one God and He appoints various demigods, deputies in a sense, to manage the affairs of the material world. Lakshmi is a manifestation of God’s pleasure potency, known as hladini-shakti. Woman is the energy of man, or the better-half. Lakshmi is God’s energy, providing good fortune to devotees so that they may in turn use that fortune to serve God. As God’s pleasure potency, Lakshmi is completely devoted to Him and serves Him constantly. Many thousands of years ago, she came to earth in the form of the beautiful princess named Sita. Since she serves as God’s wife in the spiritual world, she naturally assumed the same role in the material world. Sita was married to Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Krishna. Lord Rama was born in the dynasty of kings known as the Ikshvakus, who were all very pious. Lord Rama’s father was Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya.
After enjoying a brief period of married life, Lord Rama was unexpectedly ousted from the kingdom by His father and ordered to spend fourteen years in exile in the forest. Only the Lord was ordered to go, but Sita wanted to accompany Him. Lord Rama was hesitant to bring her along since forest life would be very difficult compared to the luxurious life they were used to living in the kingdom. Sita Devi vehemently argued in favor of her going and one of her statements was that she should like to go with Rama for His welfare, in order that she may serve Him.
In general, most of us think of our welfare first. We live with ourselves every day, so naturally we are looking to please our personal interests first. We eat what we want, sleep when we want, and go where we want. This is the benefit of independence as we see it. According to the Vedic philosophy, we are spirit souls at our core, but due to our desire to be like God and enjoy, we were placed in this material world. While here, are souls are placed in various types of bodies based on our desires and qualities. Currently in the human form, we seek after sense gratification, thinking ourselves to be the proprietor of our possessions.
On the surface, seeking sense gratification doesn’t seem to be harmful. After all, acting in our self-interest should make us happy. Yet we find that this happiness is hard to come by. Evidence of this can be seen by studying the actions of those who are extremely successful materially, the wealthy. Whether it’s Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, we see that amassing tremendous amounts of wealth doesn’t bring satisfaction in the arena of sense gratification. Once people become free from the desire to earn more money, they take to the practice of philanthropy. They engage in charitable acts of opening hospitals, schools, and various other non-profit entities.
Charity is a wonderful activity because it purifies us. Instead of concentrating on our own welfare, we become concerned with the disposition of others. Acquiring fame and fortune are very nice, and we feel fortunate and blessed to be in such a position. Conversely, it pains us to see those who aren’t as fortunate, so through charity, we try to alleviate that pain. Charity is also an act of love. Wanting more for someone else than you want for yourself is the definition of love. Love is the most liberating feeling because it brings us back to our natural constitutional position as spirit souls. Originally, we all had a pure loving relationship with God, and that was forgotten once we entered this material world.
The other important phrase in Sita’s statement was “I like to serve you.” This is an anathema to many people. As previously mentioned, we have a tendency to give priority to serving our interests over serving others. This phrase is also in stark contrast with the teachings of the modern day feminist movement. Wanting liberation from the perceived bondage of the past, the feminist movement that took hold in the late 1960s aimed at giving independence to women. This movement taught women to break free of their reliance on men and not to cow-tow to them. Wanting to be on par with men, women began refusing to have doors held open for them, to have men compliment them, and to let men pay for lunches and dinners. The idea was that women could do anything that men could do.
Now there is nothing wrong with independence per se. Self-reliance is a very good thing because it affords one a chance at peace, which leaves more time for God realization. However, it is a mistake for anyone, man or woman, to get caught up in the idea of independence. We spirit souls have a minute amount of independence in that we have a choice in how our senses will react with nature in the form of work. Still, we actually have no control over the results or fruits of our work. This is all determined by the laws of material nature, put into place by God. These laws, collectively known as the system of karma, represent the ultimate system of fairness, providing good and bad results for all fruitive action. Simply put, good or bad things can happen to us based on what we do. We may work very hard at something, but that doesn’t guarantee success. Winning and losing, success and failure, victory and defeat, these are all determined by our karma and the karma of others. Thinking that we are the doers is the first mistake made by the living entities. We actually have no independence.
By her one statement, Sita Devi summed up the meaning of life. People search far and wide, speculating and proposing various theories and racking their brains for the answers to life’s questions, but that is all unnecessary. The perfection of life can be achieved when one surrenders everything unto God and willingly becomes His servant. Just as loving others by performing charitable works brings us temporary joy, performing charity for God and loving Him will bring us eternal happiness. The aim of life should be to one day reach the same platform of loving devotion that Sita Devi had. We should all hope to share the same sentiments towards God that Sita did. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes the four types of people that come to Him:
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Bg. 7.16)
Most of us fall into the category of wanting something from God, artha-arthi. This is very natural, for we know that God is the greatest and that He can supply us with everything. However, this is a second class form of worship. Instead of asking something from God, we should offer services to Him. God isn’t in need of anything, but we should still want to serve Him for His benefit. This is the highest form of love as exemplified by God’s wife, Sita Devi. We too can exhibit this form of love through the practice of bhakti yoga, or devotional service. God ultimately wants to see everyone happy, and He knows that serving Him allows us to achieve the ultimate pleasure. It is for this reason that the Lord gladly accepts our service.
The best way to serve the Lord is to constantly chant His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. By chanting and following the regulative principles of bhakti yoga, we will be following the great example set forth by Sita Devi. Her love was so pure and spontaneous that Lord Rama was forced to take her with Him to the forest. Through her love, she was able to purchase the Lord. May Sita be always in Rama’s company, and may we always remember and honor her pure devotion.