Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making the Most

Sita and Rama “Thus I was given to Rama at the time of the svayamvara (self-choice ceremony). And ever since then, I have been devoted to my beloved husband, the foremost of those possessing strength.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.54)

Herein Sita Devi concludes her narration of the story of her marriage with Lord Rama. Most importantly, we should take note that Sita was indeed thrilled to get Rama as a husband. This isn’t surprising since Rama was loved and adored by all. The story of His marriage with Sita was known throughout the world at the time. It was for this very reason that the venerable Anasuya asked Sita to tell the story in her own words. In her conclusion to the story, Sita made sure to inform the great female sage that her receiving of Rama as a husband was certainly a great benediction, and that she made sure not to let such an opportunity go to waste. Sita Devi openly declared that she had been devoted to Rama ever since their marriage.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna and Balarama In any good marriage, the husband and wife will often poke fun at each other. The husband complains to his friends and family about how the wife nags him all the time or makes him do things that he doesn’t want to do. A wife is often jokingly referred to as the “ball and chain” since she restricts the carefree lifestyle that the husband was accustomed to in his youth. On the other side, a good wife views her husband as being somewhat foolish and helpless. This is actually a good trait since it is similar to how mothers view their children. A good mother nurtures the child throughout life, giving guidance and protection under all circumstances, even if the child is hesitant to accept such love. This is how Mother Yashoda treated Lord Krishna when He was a child growing up in Vrindavana.

“My dear, the glory of Your family, please come back with Your younger brother Krishna immediately. You have been engaged in playing since morning, and You must be very tired. Please come back and take Your lunch at home. Your father Nandaraja is waiting for You. He has to eat, so You must come back so that he can eat.” (Mother Yashoda addressing Balarama, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 11)

This attitude is required of a good mother. The reason for this is that if the mother thought the child was competent enough to be independent, she would have no reason to offer her love. The same scenario applies to wives. A good wife is always there to support her husband, whom she views as helpless and in need of her guidance. In public situations, this love manifests itself in peculiar ways. When a husband and wife are around others, it is quite common for the wife to poke fun at the husband. “Oh, he is so lazy. He doesn’t help me at all. I don’t know how I manage things.” A smart husband will usually bear such insults because he knows they are spoken out of love.

Sita and Rama's marriage As typical as these scenarios are, they didn’t exist in the marriage of Sita Devi and Lord Rama. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. He was a valiant prince, loved and adored by all. Coinciding with His appearance was that of Goddess Lakshmi. In the spiritual world, God doesn’t reside alone, but rather in the company of His devotees. His topmost devotees are His eternal consorts, known as His pleasure potency, hladini-shakti. In God’s four-handed form of Lord Narayana, His consort is Lakshmiji, also known as the goddess of fortune. During Rama’s time, Lakshmi appeared in the form of Sita Devi. When she was a small child, she was given the name Sita by her father Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. Janaka found her one day while ploughing a field. Taking her in his arms and declaring that she was now his daughter, he treated her as his most valued possession. Since it is the duty of every father to marry off his daughter to an appropriate boy, Janaka decided to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, to decide Sita’s nuptials. The contest was very simple: whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. The outcome of the contest was pre-ordained, but nevertheless, many kings came to Mithila to try to raise the bow. All of them failed except for Lord Rama. After lifting, stringing, and breaking the bow in the twinkling of an eye, Rama was garlanded the victor by Sita.

Aside from being Rama’s wife and an incarnation of Lakshmi, Sita was a pure devotee of God. That was her trademark characteristic. She was quiet, kind, dedicated to dharma, and chaste, but she was best known for her unflinching devotion to Rama. This is the point she wanted to convey to Anasuya during their conversation. Receiving Rama as a husband is the greatest boon any woman could ask for. Yet we notice that Sita didn’t state that Rama gave her pleasure throughout their marriage, though this was undoubtedly true. She didn’t say that they had been happily married ever since. No, Sita wasn’t selfish in this way. Actually, she would be excused if she did think along these lines. It is typical for any person in a relationship to analyze things in terms of their own self-interest. This is how we usually evaluate our friendships and intimate relationships. “How is such and such person making me feel? Am I happy? Do they love me as much as I love them?”

Sita Devi We can see from Sita’s statements that this wasn’t how she analyzed her marriage with Rama. Rather, she only thought of serving Him in thought, word, and deed. This is how pure devotional service works. It is human nature to initially seek out God for some personal benefit.

“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Approaching God in these ways certainly isn’t bad. It shows a much higher level of intelligence than those people who think of themselves as the doers or those who don’t believe in God at all. Still, pure love means doing everything for the object of your love without expecting anything in return. Just as a mother gives pure service to her child without wanting anything in return, a pure devotee serves God regardless of the circumstance.

Sita Devi What is ironic is that by loving God in this manner, one automatically reaps other benefits. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others. This means that anyone who is intimately associated with Him automatically is bestowed with the highest pleasure. This happiness isn’t of the material variety either. Sense gratification brings temporary feelings of happiness but transcendental pleasure brings the highest bliss. Sita Devi knew this, so she felt no need to tell Anasuya about how happy Rama made her. Sita made the most of the wonderful opportunity of getting Rama as a husband. This is the point she wanted to convey to Anasuya.

“In this age of Kali there is no other religious principle than the chanting of the holy name, which is the essence of all Vedic hymns. This is the purport of all scriptures.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.74)

The Lord doesn’t personally incarnate in human form all the time. He reserves the right to appear wherever, whenever, and in whatever form He chooses. In this age of Kali, the Lord has kindly appeared in the form of His holy name. His name is found in many prayers, hymns, and mantras. In the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, He appears in the names of Krishna and Rama, and Sita Devi appears in the word Hare. Any person can chant this mantra regularly and enjoy direction association with the divine couple.

Hare Krishna The Lord’s names are found not only in great mantras, but also in the Vedic scriptures. Famous books such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita, and Shrimad Bhagavatam detail the wonderful pastimes of the Lord during His various appearances on earth. Reading and hearing these pastimes is another way to have direction association with God. This opportunity should not go to waste. The goal of human life is to fix ourselves up to the point where one day we too can openly declare that we associated with God, and that we were devoted to Him ever since. This was the path taken by Sita Devi, and for this she is worthy of eternal love and respect.