“The stage of perfection is called trance, or samadhi, when one's mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This is characterized by one's ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.20-23)
In the modern world, the concept of a strong and independent woman is usually attached to those women who have become successful in the workplace. Many women now serve as doctors, lawyers, and CEOs of very large corporations. They are breaking out on their own, climbing the corporate ladder and fulfilling their ambitions.
Up until recent times, women traditionally played the role of the devoted housewife. They maintained the house, cooked all the meals, and raised the children while the husbands were out pursuing their careers and supporting the family. Women were completely dependent on their husbands for their livelihoods. The modern day career woman is considered strong because she has broken out on her own, and isn’t dependent on anyone. Breaking into the workplace is not an easy thing to do for a woman, and it requires great strength to be successful in such an arena predominated by men. Due to the economic climate, many women today manage a career and support a family at the same time.
This change in gender roles occurred gradually over time and really took hold during the feminist movement of the 1960s. Feminism taught women that they were equal to men in all respects and that they didn’t have to abide by the traditional roles imposed by society. Women were encouraged to pursue careers instead of raising families. They were taught to be independent of men.
“O you, pure-hearted one, surely shall I become sinless if I follow my husband, out of affection, for my husband is my Divinity.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, real independence only comes when one surrenders unto God and realizes that He is always protecting them. The Vedic definition of women’s liberation is the freedom provided to a woman while she is under the protection of her husband. Not just any husband either, but a man who is a pure servant of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Only a truly God conscious husband can properly provide for and protect his wife. Just as a child feels completely at ease because of the protection provided by the parents, a woman can feel the greatest sense of independence when she knows her husband is with her. The Vedas prescribe that a woman should never be allowed to live alone at any time in her life. In her youth, she is to be protected by her father, as an adult the husband provides protection, and in old age the eldest son takes care of the mother. This definition may seem old fashioned or outdated, but it is actually the proper way to maintain a happy family life. One may look at such rules as being an imposition on the woman. “Why does the woman need protection? Why should she be in a position of weakness all her life?” These questions can be answered by studying the life of Sita Devi.
Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi that appeared in Mithila many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna had decided to appear on earth in the form of Lord Rama to kill the evil demon Ravana. Upon descending to earth, He brought with Him His entourage consisting of various demigods, including Lord Shesha Naga, who appeared as His younger brother Lakshmana, and Goddess Lakshmi, who appeared as Sita. Lakshmi is always serving God in the spiritual world, so she naturally performed the same role while in the material world. Sita was married to Rama, and the two were enjoying blissful married life in the kingdom of Ayodhya, which was ruled by Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashratha.
As Rama’s wife, Sita proved to be the strongest woman that ever lived. Her outward demeanor masked her inner strength. She was a shy person, and she had very delicate bodily features. While growing up, she enjoyed the royal treatment of the most exalted princess of Mithila, and in married life, she enjoyed the same treatment as the wife of the eldest son of the king.
One may ask how she could be such a strong woman while being treated like a princess. According to the Vedas, when a husband and wife are married, the wife is instructed to view her husband as her God, pati (meaning “Lord” or “Master”). She is to perform worship for him daily, and serve him throughout her life. By being steadfastly devoted to her husband, family life is peaceful, which leaves more time for God realization. The scriptural injunctions say that a husband and wife share in the merits of their actions in this life and the next life. If the husband is very pious and devoted to Krishna, then the wife will follow Him to the spiritual world after death. By the same token, if the husband is sent to hell, the wife must follow him there as well. So it is in the best interests of the wife to ensure that her husband is happy and sticking to the path of devotion.
Sita Devi had no problem viewing her husband as her god, since He actually was God in human form. Her strength came not from being superficially independent or having a career, but rather through her complete surrender to Lord Rama. There are different types of strength, but the most important kind, inner strength, results from fearlessness. By eliminating fear, one is able to be successful in all their endeavors. Achieving success gives one a feeling of great strength.
“Being fearless in your company, Oh my intelligent husband and great hero, I shall behold on all sides ponds filled with wild geese and ducks and beautified with a collection of full-blown lotuses, and shall bathe there every day, pursuing the same vow with you…” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Vm, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
Sita’s fearlessness came from being completely devoted to Lord Rama. As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted the punishment of exile to the forest by His father King Dashratha. Dashratha had initially planned on installing Rama as the new king, but due to a prior misjudgment, the king was instead forced to send Rama to live as a recluse in the wilderness for fourteen years without any access to the kingdom. The Lord, being completely devoted to His father, gladly accepted the decree. When He went to tell Sita the bad news, she insisted on accompanying Him, going against her husband’s wishes.
This one event represents the glory and strength of Sita Devi. It would have been very easy for her to remain in the kingdom. After all, her husband had requested it. Living a life of luxury, she easily could have waited out the fourteen years without suffering any material discomfort. Instead, she demanded the Lord take her to the forest, where she would live amongst the wild animals, walking on the bare ground with thorns pricking the soles of her delicate feet. In the modern age, we become panic-stricken when there is a loss of electricity for any extended period. We can’t even imagine spending life in the wilderness. From time to time we may go camping as a means of “roughing it”, but these trips only last a few days, and we know that we will return to the luxuries of our home very soon. Sita knew that this exile period would last for fourteen years, yet she had no qualms about going. The Lord tried His best to dissuade her, but she put forth such cogent and persuasive arguments, that He was forced to acquiesce.
Sita’s fearlessness and resultant strength came from taking Rama to be the beginning and end of everything in her life. One who is completely devoted to God gains the greatest inner-strength. This is the true definition of independence. Most of us have a false sense of independence, where we believe we are the cause of the fruits produced by our labor. Such thinking leads us to believe that we are God and that we are controllers. In reality, God and His energies are responsible for the results of our action. We merely have a minute amount of independence in that we can decide how our senses will interact with material nature.
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.47)
The aim of our life should be to make ourselves detached from material nature, and at the same time, become attached to God. True independence can only be achieved when we surrender everything unto Krishna and rely on Him for everything. This liberates us from the clutches of maya, God’s illusory energy in charge of tricking us into believing that we are God.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with the idea of pursuing a career. Anyone, regardless of their disposition, can become strong by becoming a devotee of Lord Krishna. This is the true purport to the statement made by Sita Devi. She in essence was saying, “There is no sin in following my husband out of love, since my husband is God Himself. There is no sin in following God.” Following these two tenets, we can become the strongest and most independent person. Let us all engage in chanting the glorious names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and commit ourselves to following the path of devotional service. By so doing, wherever we go, we will be following the Lord.