"My dear Lord, a person who has received a little favor from You can understand You very quickly. But those who are trying to understand You by the ascending process may go on speculating for millions of years and still never understand You." (Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.29)
In Vedic culture, every activity is performed with knowledge and respect for the shastras, or scriptures, and authority figures. The highest authority figures in life are the parents and the guru, or spiritual master. Just as a citizen must obey the laws of the state in order to live in freedom, a person must abide by the directions of pious parents and spiritual guides in order to be successful in life.
Parents are nature’s gift to us. They serve as our immediate family, loving us no matter what. They also serve as our initial teachers, guiding us through the early years. When a child is first born, it is completely helpless. If not for the constant attention given by the mother, a child surely would not survive. For the first year or so, a baby can survive simply off the milk supplied freely by the mother.
“Mother Yashoda took her son on her lap and pushed the nipples of her breasts into His mouth. And while Krishna was sucking the milk, she was smiling, enjoying the beauty of her child's face.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 9)
A father also plays an important role by providing protection and guidance. For most people, their historical perspective begins from the day they were born. Therefore, it is easy to forget that our parents are much older than us and that their knowledge far exceeds ours. It takes a lifetime of pain and suffering, happiness and distress, and highs and lows to gain a proper understanding on the true nature of things. There are two primary ways of acquiring knowledge. Through the ascending process, we can make certain hypotheses and then carry out actions to see if these guesses hold true or not. Through experience, trial and error, we can come to certain conclusions. This is definitely a valid way to acquire knowledge. A much easier way, however, is to learn by the descending process. This method involves less time and hassle because all it requires is for one to hear knowledge from an authority figure.
For example, in our youth, we may not understand that fire is hot. This ignorance can lead us to putting our hands in fire, which will immediately cause a burn. Still, we might not realize that all fire has this property of heat, so we may try putting our hand in fire over and over again. Since every living entity has varying levels of intelligence, for some people, it may take getting burned two or three times before they realize that fire is hot enough to cause intense pain. In the end, the proper knowledge is acquired, but at a cost of time and pain to our hand. This same knowledge could have been acquired simply by listening to an authority figure such as one of our parents. “Don’t touch that fire. It will burn you!” If we heed this advice and take it at face value, our knowledge on the matter will be perfect.
Of course it is the nature of a child to be rebellious from time to time. This is unfortunate as it is greatly beneficial to have the knowledge and wisdom available to us from our elderly family members. Knowledge of day-to-day affairs is one thing, but the real purpose of human life is to learn about the soul and its constitutional position. This was described elaborately over five thousand years ago by God Himself, Lord Shri Krishna.
“The Supreme Lord said: My dear Arjuna, because you are never envious of Me, I shall impart to you this most secret wisdom, knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence.” (Bhagavad-gita, 9.1)
Unlike with the example of how we learn about the heat properties of fire, knowledge about Krishna, or God, can only be acquired through the descending process. The reason for this is that the human brain is simply not capable of fully understanding God. Knowledge of the Absolute Truth must be acquired by hearing from a realized soul. The bona fide spiritual master, or guru, is the authority figure when it comes to understanding Lord Krishna. The guru hasn’t concocted any ideas about religion, for he simply heard the truth from his spiritual master, who in turn heard it from his guru, and so forth. Thus we can climb the chain of succession all the way up until we reach the original source: Lord Krishna Himself.
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bg. 4.1)
In our youth, the parents are to be treated as our first devas, or gods, followed by the gurudeva, or the spiritual master, later on in life. The authority of the spiritual master is important because the guru is the person who gives us our second and more important birth. In the varnashrama-dharma system, the brahmanas are referred to as dvija, meaning twice-born. The first birth is the one we take from our parents. This is certainly important, but that alone doesn’t make us any smarter than the animals. The true potency of the human form of body can be realized only when we take initiation from a bona fide spiritual master. Initiation is usually associated with a formal ceremony where one is invested with a sacred thread and given diksha by the guru. This ceremony is certainly important, but initiation really signals the beginning of spiritual life. The student sincerely agrees to pursue a spiritual education under the guidance of the spiritual master.
"The worship of My devotees is better than worship of Me.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.19.21)
The spiritual master is the pure devotee of God, so simply by pleasing Him, we can attain perfection in life. In the traditional Vedic system, all important activities are conducted under the advice and consent of the parents and the spiritual master. This holds true especially with the issue of marriage.
Due the effects of Kali Yuga, marriage today primarily signals the codification of a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. Men and women freely intermingle today, so their natural attraction for each other leads to the boyfriend/girlfriend paradigm. Depending on age, time, and circumstances, couples may or may not decide to eventually get married. If they decide in favor of getting married, the marriage is merely a formality, since nothing really changes in the relationship. For this reason, many times the actual wedding ceremony is performed in an informal setting and in the absence of the parents.
This may be the way of the world today, but it stands in stark contrast to the original institution given to us by God. In the Vedic system, marriage is a completely religious institution, a time in one’s life where they make gradual progress in spiritual understanding. For this reason, marriage is known as the grihastha ashrama. Simply getting married and living a life devoted to sense gratification doesn’t classify one as a grihasthi. This sort of life is grihamedha. To be a true grihasthi, one must consult parents and gurus in the marriage arrangements. In fact, the boy and the girl should have very little say in the matter. The authority figures know the truth, so by following their lead, the marriage can be successful.
This was the example followed Sita Devi and Lord Rama many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna had descended to earth in human form as Rama, and Lakshmiji had also incarnated as Sita Devi. Sita’s father, King Janaka of Mithila, held a self-choice ceremony for Sita’s marriage. Many kings were invited to try and lift the illustrious bow of Lord Shiva. Sita would marry whoever could lift the bow. As fate would have it, Lord Rama would come and lift the bow, breaking it in half in the process. Since Rama performed this glorious deed, the marriage was all set. Or was it?
“Though being offered to Rama, I was not accepted by Him at the time, for He did not know the opinion of His father Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya. Thereupon, after inviting my father-in-law, the elderly King Dasharatha, to Mithila and receiving his approval, my father gave me away to Rama, the knower of the self.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.51-52)
From the above referenced statement, we can understand that the marriage wasn’t formalized until Rama first got permission from His father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like it was necessary. Rama was God Himself, so why did He need permission to do anything? Sita Devi was also of the highest character. In fact, the whole reason behind the self-choice ceremony was that Janaka didn’t think there was any man worthy of Sita’s hand in marriage. He figured that if he held the bow lifting contest, no one would win it, thereby absolving him of the sin of not having married off his daughter.
Lord Rama’s primary characteristic was His adherence to dharma, or religiosity. Protocol called for the consultation of the parents, so that’s what He did. In fact, He and Lakshmana didn’t even arrive in Mithila by their own whims. They were serving their spiritual master, Vishvamitra, in the forest at the time. It was at Vishvamitra’s insistence that Rama even tried to lift the bow. Of course Dasharatha not only agreed to the marriage, but he was quite thrilled as well. Janaka was a very famous king, so everyone in Dasharatha’s family was delighted to welcome him as a new relative.
By following protocol, the Raghu dynasty received the blessed Sita Devi in their family. She is the original goddess of fortune, a perfectly chaste woman. Her defining quality is her devotion to Lord Rama; a devotion which is second to none. She set the standard for devotional service. Both Sita and Rama gave full deference to their parents and teachers. Anytime we follow the traditions set forth by Sita and Rama, we will surely be on the right path.