“I know, O great hero, that there are many evils incident to living in the forest; but they generally befall those men who have not their senses subdued.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)
When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended to earth in the form of Lord Rama, He was ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years by His father Maharaja Dashratha. The Lord took birth as the eldest son of Dashratha, thus He was the rightful heir to the throne based off birthright. However, Dashratha was forced to give the throne to Rama’s younger brother Bharata because of a promise the king had made to his youngest wife, Kaikeyi, who was also Bharata’s mother. Dashratha actually had granted two wishes to Kaikeyi, with the second being Rama’s exile to the forest.
Lord Rama was God Himself, so renouncing the throne and luxuries of royal life were no problem for Him. According to Vedic philosophy, God is defined as one who possesses all six opulences of material life (fame, beauty, wealth, renunciation, power, and wisdom) at the same time and to the fullest extent. Being the ultimate renunciate, Lord Rama gladly accepted these two commands of His father; however He had to inform His wife, Sita Devi, of the bad news. When God comes to earth, He usually brings His pleasure potency with Him, who manifests either as His wife or His lover. Sita was the incarnation of the Lord’s energy appearing as His wife, thus she was devoted to Rama from the very beginning of her life. The idea of being separated from Rama was the equivalent of death to Sita, so she was very aggrieved to hear the news of the exile. Rama pleaded with her to remain in the kingdom, but Sita stubbornly rejected His proposal. Rama repeatedly explained to her that forest life would be very dangerous, especially for one accustomed to the comforts of royal life. Sita was born and raised in the kingdom of the pious king Janaka of Mithila, and after marriage, she lived in the kingdom of Ayodhya. She always enjoyed the life of a princess, so Rama was afraid she wouldn’t be able to handle living a forest as a recluse.
As part of her arguments in favor of going, Sita readily agreed that forest life was very difficult and not meant for ordinary women. She made it a point to say that those who didn’t have their senses under control would have a very difficult time living in the wilderness. When referring to the senses, Sita was talking about the five gross senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, and the three subtle senses of mind, intelligence, and false ego, as defined by the Vedas. According to Vedic philosophy, we living entities have been placed in this material world and given suitable bodies in order to fulfill our desire for sense enjoyment. Sense gratification is achieved by attempting to satisfy the aforementioned senses. However through experience, we learn that the senses actually never get satisfied. We are always hankering after something that we want, or lamenting after something that we don’t have. This cycle repeats over and over again, and through our desires and actions, we keep receiving new bodies after giving up our current ones at the time of death. True spiritual advancement only comes when we are able to subdue our senses.
The only way to be successful in subduing our senses is through the practice of yoga. In the modern world, the term yoga is generally associated with various gymnastics postures and breathing exercises. That is actually not the true definition of yoga. Connecting our minds with the Supreme Lord is the true meaning of yoga. By concentrating all of our activities on God, and always thinking about Him, we gradually become immune to the desires of our senses. If we are successful in yoga, we reach a stage called samadhi, wherein our senses are completely under control. There are various methods for perfecting this practice, and they represent the different types of yoga. The Bhagavad-gita, the famous scripture of India spoken by Lord Krishna Himself, describes these various types of yoga. The system that is most popular in the world today is hatha yoga. Hatha yoga involves putting the body into various stretching positions, and practicing breathing exercises, such as pranayama. This is all done as a preliminary means of concentrating the mind on the Supersoul within, known as Paramatma. God is realized in three different forms, impersonal Brahman (the all-pervading energy of this material world manifested as the Lord’s glaring effulgence), Paramatma (the Lord’s expansion as the Supersoul situated in the hearts of all living entities), and Bhagavan (the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His original form). Hatha yoga is meant to be a spiritual activity aimed at detaching one from their senses and connecting their mind to God. Naturally, one who performs this activity nicely will also experience various material benefits. When we are detached from our senses, we become very skilled in material endeavors. The best athletes are the ones that can control their minds in the pressure-packed moments. By freeing oneself from the pangs of nervousness and worries caused by the mind, one can focus completely on the task at hand. Thus we see many yogis who gain great material powers, such as increased health, the ability to survive on very little sleep or food, and the ability to enjoy sex life for extended periods.
Sadly, today most people are taking up the process of hatha yoga simply to attain these material powers and not to connect with God. They gladly recite the syllable of Om, taking it to be a mundane sound vibration. Om is actually the sound vibration equated with the Supreme, and it is for this reason that is was originally associated with yoga. Other types of yoga are mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita, such as jnana yoga, which involves analytical study of the soul and the mind, and karma yoga, which involves fruitive activity aimed at providing spiritual advancement.
Lord Krishna describes very specifically how one is to practice hatha yoga. He told Arjuna,
“To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kusha-grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should neither be too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogi should then sit on it very firmly and should practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart and fixing the mind on one point.” (Bg. 6.10)
As one can see, these conditions are very difficult to meet in the present day and age. It is for this reason that yoga has watered down into a mundane exercise system and has completely lost its spiritual component. Of all the yoga systems, one is the highest, and that is known as bhakti yoga. Bhakti means love, thus bhakti yoga, or devotional service, is the process of dovetailing all of one’s activities with the Supreme Lord out of love for Him. Instead of artificially trying to give up actions in order to control the senses, one simply has to add God to all of one’s current activities. We may like to read, write, watch movies, or listen to music. Bhakti yoga doesn’t require one to give up these activities, but simply asks that we relate them with Krishna. If we read about Krishna, talk about Him, write books about Him and His devotees, listen to music about Him, and chant His holy names, then we are performing the best kind of yoga.
The activities of devotional service fall into nine separate categories or processes. These are: hearing, chanting, remembering, worshipping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, making friends with Him, and surrendering everything to Him. Shrila Prabhupada, the great author and devotee of Lord Krishna, described these processes in this way in his Bhagavad-gita As It Is book,
“One can engage in all nine devotional processes, or eight, or seven, or at least in one, and that will surely make one perfect.” (Bg 11.55 Purport)
At the time of Lord Rama’s exile, Sita Devi had actually performed all nine of these processes perfectly and completely. Being married to the Lord for many years already, she had paid great attention to all His words and His teachings. In fact, she was such a great listener that as part of her arguments in favor of going to the forest, she mentioned the Lord’s teachings to her about the duties of a wife and how a woman shouldn’t live without her husband.
Sita was extremely pious, as were most in the age of Treta, thus she was expert in chanting the name of the Lord. In fact, one of the benefits of being married to Lord is that she got to directly address Him by His name on a regular basis.
Sita remembered the Lord at all times in her life. Even though she was eventually allowed to accompany the Lord to the forest, she met very long periods of separation from Him. The first time was when she was kidnapped by the demon Ravana and forced to be his prisoner for many months. The second time was when she was abandoned by Rama late in her life. She spent her final years on earth living in the hermitage of Valmiki Muni, where she raised her two children, Lava and Kusha. Even through separation, she never once turned her mind away from Rama.
In the Vaikuntha planets of the spiritual world, Goddess Lakshmi is always massaging the feet of Lord Narayana, who is one of Krishna’s primary expansions, thus it was only natural that Sita would do the same in the material world. Even Lord Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana would regularly massage the lotus feet of his brother. God knows that His devotees take great pleasure in serving Him, so He gladly facilitates such desires.
As husband and wife, Sita and Rama were the best of friends. They greatly enjoyed each other’s company and couldn’t stand to be separated. Even through separation, God is always with His devotees, and His devotees are always with Him.
“Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.” (Bg. 12.8)
Surrendering everything unto the Lord is probably the most difficult process to perform, and can only be done by the most advanced devotees. We are greatly attached to our material possessions and desires, so it is hard for us to surrender everything and rest all our hopes and dreams on the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna’s final instruction to Arjuna is for him to surrender to God and be rest assured that God will protect Him.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg 18.66)
As part of her plea to get her husband to allow her to go to the forest, Sita boldly declared that Rama was her life and soul and that she would die without Him. She surrendered everything unto Him, without any fear of the repercussions. Sometimes outsiders see devotees prostrating themselves before God or their spiritual master and they find this practice very strange. “Why should you bow down?” they think. For the devotees, complete surrender brings total bliss because only through surrender can one be freed of all material pains.
From Sita Devi’s example, we can see that she was the perfect yogi. Though she was a woman with no formal education in Vedanta, she had her senses completely under control due to her perfect practice of bhakti yoga. Lord Rama couldn’t refute the arguments she made, and He was forced to finally take her along with Him. We should all learn from Sita’s example and take up the process of devotional service, so that we too can subdue our senses, and serve God with all our heart.