“Because Rama is firmly resolute and eternally dedicated to dharma, He, wearing matted hair and assuming the form of an ascetic, has entered the forest of Dandaka along with me and His brother.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.20)
In this statement, Sita Devi is explaining how she, her husband Rama, and His younger brother Lakshmana ended up residing in the forest. At the time, a demon, in the guise of a brahmana, was visiting her hermitage. This demon, named Ravana, propositioned her while both Rama and Lakshmana were away. Sita took the opportunity to identify herself and also to extol the virtues of her husband and brother-in-law. Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, was very famous at the time, so it seemed quite strange that He would take up residence in the woods, for He was the son of a king.
Being royalty, Sita and Rama were accustomed to living the high life. In their kingdom of Ayodhya, the couple would awake to the sound of mrdangas playing and people chanting Vedic hymns. Rama’s father was Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. As the eldest son of the king, Rama enjoyed great popularity and had every material comfort available to Him. His wife, Sita, was the most exalted of princesses and was also loved and adored by all.
We see that in today’s society, royalty and high class people enjoy similar treatment. Government officials in America have the best perks. Sitting Presidents are closely guarded at all times by the Secret Service. The commander in chief has trusted aides who handle all of their day-to-day affairs. Even when a President leaves office, he enjoys Secret Service protection for the rest of his life. A pension is also included, along with the best healthcare coverage in the world. In fact, all members of Congress can choose from some of the best healthcare plans in the country. Pay increases are regularly enacted. Not only are most of a Congressman’s expenses paid for by either the government or by lobbyists, but a large annual salary adds to the perks. Once they leave office, government officials often land high paying jobs as lobbyists or as political analysts on television.
In Vedic times, kings also enjoyed perks that weren’t necessarily available to the rest of society. However, their lavish lifestyle was deemed justified due to the protection they provided. The Vedas often refer to saintly kings as raja-rishis, meaning kings who are devoted and pious. The first king on earth was Maharaja Ikshvaku, the son of Manu, who incidentally was the first man on earth. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that He first imparted Vedic wisdom to the sun-god, Vivasvan, who in turn passed it down to Manu. Manu then taught Ikshvaku, who then passed on that legacy to all his descendants. Lord Rama took birth in the family line of Ikshvaku, thus He was firmly dedicated to dharma and piety.
The Vedas tell us that in addition to providing protection to society, a king should act as God’s representative on earth. This doesn’t mean that the king is God, but rather he is to be treated as good as God. Formerly the brahmanas, or priests, were the highest class of men in society, but the kshatriya kings were also treated to be as good as God because they acted piously. They knew their limitations, thus they took counsel on all matters from the brahmanas. This shows how a society can function properly. Not every person has to engage in the same occupation. This is not possible because everyone has different qualities they are born with and different desires they want to act upon. As long as one follows the directions of a bona fide brahmana, they will be acting piously.
We see that today’s leaders run into trouble because instead of acting as God’s representatives, they try to pretend to be God themselves. This is because they don’t have any belief in a higher power. They take themselves to be the smartest people in the world, part of an elite stock. They view the common man as a peon, someone who is too stupid to know what is good for him. Thus they enact policies which force the common folk into becoming dependent on the government. In this system, the leaders get to pretend to be controllers of society, thereby fulfilling their desire to imitate God. The miscreant leaders of today choose winners and losers in the economic system, divide up land based on ethnicity, all the while exempting themselves from the rules they impose on others.
If someone doesn’t believe in God and tries to act as God to everyone else, they are committing the most grievous of sins. In fact, the root cause of life in the material world is mankind’s desire to imitate God. By challenging the authority of the Supreme Lord, a person inherits all bad qualities. This was the case with Ravana. Though technically he was a great devotee at heart, Ravana played the role of an avowed atheist. He performed many great austerities in hopes of pleasing the demigods. The Vedas tell us that God is one and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. Krishna then takes unlimited personal expansions known as vishnu-tattva. All other expansions of the Lord, including the living entities, are separated expansions, meaning they are subordinate to God.
The demigods are included in the list of separated expansions. They are highly elevated living entities who are in charge of managing the affairs of the material world. The material world is part of God’s inferior energy, thus the Lord can never directly associate with it. Since the creation needs day-to-day management and someone to handle maintenance and destruction, the Lord gives charge to the demigods. Unlike the Supreme Lord, the demigods are required to grant boons to anyone who pleases them, regardless of their motives. Ravana took advantage of this loophole by pleasing Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. The boons they gave him allowed Ravana to amass great wealth, fame, and power. Yet just like the modern day leaders, he had no belief in a higher power. He thought the demigods were the most powerful living entities, and by tricking them into giving him boons, Ravana thought he had surpassed everyone in the world in power and strength.
If a person does believe in God and becomes His devotee, then, unlike with the miscreants, they will inherit all good qualities. Lord Rama was not only an incarnation of Lord Krishna, but a pious kshatriya prince. He set the example for good government and proper conduct. In performing His duties as the eldest son of the king, Rama played the role of a raja-rishi. Devotees of God realize that all living entities are equal at their core. Unlike God’s challengers, the devotees realize that the body is temporary and that the spirit soul inside the body is eternal and unchanging. Realizing that all living entities are equal, devotees treat every person with respect and humility. Rama’s behavior was a great example of this. Lakshmana once remarked how no one could find any fault with Rama, even those He had punished. This is quite a striking statement, for one would expect criminals to be angry with those who prosecute them. But everyone knew that Rama didn’t play favorites and that He wasn’t puffed up with power.
Lord Rama’s humility and dedication to dharma would be tested on the eve of His coronation as king. Dasharatha decided Rama would succeed him on the throne, but at the last minute, he ordered his son to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. Modern day leaders would be outraged by such a thought. In America, some Senators serve more than thirty years in office. If it wasn’t for the twenty-second amendment to the Constitution which limits Presidents to serving two terms, most Presidents would also remain in office indefinitely, as was the case with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
But Lord Rama wasn’t like this. He was dedicated to dharma, which dictated that a pious father should always be listened to. It is especially important for a king to set a good example, otherwise the citizens will follow his bad example. Rama never asked someone to do something He Himself wasn’t willing to do. This is the true test of a spiritual master. The great devotees of God are referred to as acharyas because they teach by example. Lord Rama gladly accepted the exile punishment, taking both Sita and Lakshmana along with Him, for they refused to remain in the kingdom without Him.
There are many lessons to learn here, the most important of which is that we should never try to be God. It is a futile attempt anyway since God is not a title that someone can assume or relinquish. God is always God; He was God in the past and will remain so in the future. As living entities, we are meant to be His energy, or His pleasure potency expansions. We can only give Him pleasure by engaging in loving devotional service. Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana showed us the way by always remaining dedicated to dharma. Dharma means righteousness, religiosity, or occupational duty. The dichotomy between Rama and Ravana illustrates how drastic the difference is between dharma and adharma. Ravana chose the path of adharma and eventually lost everything. His death was quite painful, whereas Rama and His associates abided by dharma and were duly rewarded. In this day and age, an occupational duty we all can adopt is bhagavata-dharma. This dharma can be easily practiced by becoming devotees of God and regularly chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.