“I shall wend my way to the forest impassable, devoid of men, inhabited by various deer, tigers, and other voracious animals.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
The Vedic texts often make reference to forest life or one’s living in a forest. Similar to the modern day concept of homelessness, having to live in the forest means living without any material comforts. The forest is meant for wild animals, birds, and other beasts, and not for human beings. Even in the modern age, many people go camping in the woods to get a taste for the wilderness. It is considered “roughing it” to live without electricity, having to procure food and shelter for oneself. Even heat must be generated through one’s own efforts by starting fires and keeping them burning. These camping trips are usually short in duration; lasting no more than a few days, for living in the woods is no easy task. The amenities available to us in urban life such as toilet paper and hot water are hard to come by when one is out enjoying nature.
On the other hand, the forest is devoid of human beings, so it is considered a place of great solitude. According to Vedic philosophy, one isn’t supposed to remain in family life all the way until death. For men, life is divided into four stages, known as ashramas. The fours ashramas are bramhacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasya. Brahmacharya refers to celibate student life where one takes instruction from his guru and learns the art of serving Krishna, or God. Grihastha is the mode of life where one lives with a wife, produces offspring, and earns a living. Vanaprastha is the time of retired family life where one stops fruitive work and concentrates on serving God, and if often involves travelling to holy places with one’s wife. Sannyasa is the final stage of life and it involves complete renunciation from family life and fruitive work. God made this the last stage in one’s spiritual progression because this is the time when one prepares to die. According to the Bhagavad-gita, if one thinks of Krishna at the time of death, then they are guaranteed never to return to this material world.
Sannyasa is the time for one to seriously practice thinking of Krishna and become completely dependent on Him for everything. There are many rules and regulations associated with being a sannyasi, but the most important is that one must not have any intimate connection with women. Sex life is the biggest hindrance to spiritual understanding, so it is sanctioned for grihasthis, but not for people in any of the other three ashramas. Even a grihasthi is to abide by many rules and regulations when engaging in sex life, such as only having sex for procreation. This means that married couples should only have intimate relations during the wife’s fertile period of the month, and then only after adhering to the garbhadhana-samskara.
“When the mentality of the father and mother is completely Krishna consciousness, so that when there will be sexual intercourse, the mentality of the child will be Krishna conscious. This is the garbhadhana-samskara.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 731229SB.LA)
Samskaras are rites or reformatory processes which people should adhere to if possible, for it will help them to make spiritual progress.
In order to be free from family attachments, during Vedic times, sannyasis would leave home and live in the forest. Forest life isn’t fit for normal people, but for one who is completely renounced and has his mind fixed on Krishna. For them, the forest is one of the most pleasing places to live.
When Lord Krishna appeared on this earth in His avatar of Lord Rama, He was exiled to live in the forest for fourteen years by His father, Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Now Lord Rama was God Himself, the ultimate renunciate, so He had no problem accepting this decree. One is known as God when He possesses all six opulences of life in full and simultaneously. Krishna is the most famous, the most beautiful, the richest, the wisest, the most powerful, and the greatest renunciate. Upon being given this order by His father, Lord Rama went to inform His wife Sita of the bad news. The Lord instructed her to remain at home for the exile period, where she would be protected. Sita Devi vehemently protested His request and put forth a series of counter arguments in hopes of persuading the Lord to allow her to come with Him. The forest is very dangerous for human beings, so Sita made sure to inform the Lord that she knew exactly what to expect. She had no reservations about going with the Lord.
Far from being a typical sannyasi, Sita was the most beautiful woman who grew up as a princess. Living in the royal court of King Janaka, and then as the daughter-in-law of King Dashratha, she was accustomed to having every material comfort at her disposal. It was for this reason that everyone was worried about how she would survive forest life. With this being the case, how and why was she so eager to follow her husband and live a life tailored for great renunciates? The answer is that Sita was completely devoted to Lord Rama, God Himself. When one is perfectly practicing devotional service, known as bhakti yoga, then he or she has no attachments to anything material. Such a person is actually a complete renunciate and thus a perfect sannyasi. So though there may be many rules and regulations as part of the varnashrama dharma system, we see that one can transcend all those rules instantly by becoming a devotee of the Lord. God is very nice to us in this age because He incarnates through His holy name. We should learn to accept His mercy by constantly chanting His holy name in a loving manner. Doing so will make us the perfect sannyasis, capable of enduring any and all hardships.