Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Anuvrata

Sita and Rama “I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is as immovable as a great mountain, as great a lord as Mahendra [Indra], and who, like a great ocean, is incapable of being agitated.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.33)

Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, cannot be shaken or flustered in any way. God is atmarama, meaning one who is Self-satisfied. He cannot be defeated, moved, or agitated by the miscreants. This is the very definition of God. The purport of Sita’s statement is that not only is God immoveable, but so are those who depend on Him. Sita Devi, being Rama’s wife, surrendered herself completely to the care and protection of the Supreme Lord, and thus was able to remain steady on the virtuous path.

Lord Rama All of us are dependent on someone or something, even though we may not know it. Children are dependent on their parents. Parents are also dependent on their children because the sons and daughters take over the lives of the parents. Lovers are dependent on their paramours. We see that the strongest type of depression occurs after a breakup or a divorce. Unrequited love causes pain to the heart. Thus even in loving relationships, there is a full surrender of feelings and emotions to the other person.

Since economic development, or artha, is required for society to function, we see that many of us are dependent on our bosses and the companies that we work for. Even the CEOs and company leaders aren’t independent, for they rely on the general public to purchase their products and services. Government leaders rely on the advice and consent of other officials in government, along with their trusted staff. Since the largest governments of the world today are democracies, the leaders become dependent on the voting public. One small mistake or misstep can lead to a revolt from the constituents, who can kick people out of office come election time.

On the surface, such dependence isn’t bad since we all must serve someone or something. We run into problems, however, since none of the objects of our service is perfect. This means that the protection they provide to their dependents is also flawed. We can use the recent economic crisis to illustrate this point. In the capitalist system, jobs are created through competition. A person has a good or service that they wish to sell to others in a peaceable and voluntary manner. The more products and services a person sells, the greater profit they will turn, which is the reason they are in business to begin with. Many of us think that companies exist to provide a decent wage and health benefits, but that is not the case. A company is in business for one reason: to turn a profit. All of us, being God’s children, have an equal right to pursue happiness. As a result, it is rare to see only one company for a particular industry. Usually many new companies spring into existence who also want to turn a profit offering similar services and goods. This results in competition. The same company that had the market cornered on a specific product or service must now deal with competitors. To maintain revenue stream and profit margins, companies look for ways to increase productivity; hence they hire workers. Competing companies then follow suit, and you eventually end up with what we have today - thousands of companies, both large and small, employing millions of workers around the world.

Even the largest companies, which are publicly traded and bring in millions of dollars in revenue each year, are subject to success and defeat. The buying and selling habits of consumers are always changing, meaning that a company can quickly go from turning a profit to turning a loss. In recent times, there has been a worldwide recession, where the overall output of goods and services has declined sharply. As a result, companies have been forced to cut costs. In most companies, the largest expense comes from labor, i.e. the workforce. When it comes time to tighten the belt, the workers are the first ones to suffer, through layoffs and firings.

Arjuna praying to Krishna Anyone who has ever held a job for a long time will tell you that being let go is not a good feeling. Having a job means having a steady source of income, which results in a sense of security in life. When layoffs occur, this security gets swept away. People are then left to either look for new jobs, or beg the government for help. In this way, we see that no matter how wealthy someone is, or how successful they are materially, they can never be considered infallible or perfect.

“Arjuna said: O infallible one [Achyuta], please draw my chariot between the two armies so that I may see who is present here, who is desirous of fighting, and with whom I must contend in this great battle attempt.” (Bhagavad-gita, 1.21-22)

In the Vedic tradition, God is one, but He has many different names based on His innumerable features and characteristics. One of His names is Achyuta, meaning infallible, someone who never falls down. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, the great warrior, Arjuna, often addresses Lord Krishna as Achyuta. This title can only apply to God because He is perfect in every respect. He is the original proprietor of everything; someone completely independent. Since He is the only person that is perfect, it means that He is the only entity that we should completely surrender to. He never suffers through loss or gain, thus His protection is always perfect. God is unshakeable and so are His devotees.

This fact was on full display many thousands of years ago in the Dandaka forest. Lord Krishna had incarnated on earth as Lord Rama, a pious prince and son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. While Rama, His brother Lakshmana, and His wife Sita Devi were residing in the forest of Dandaka, they were visited by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. The demon’s trusted aide, Maricha, appeared first in front of Rama’s cottage in the guise of a deer. At Sita’s request, Rama went chasing after the deer, and Lakshmana soon followed. This left Ravana free to approach Sita. The demon knew that Sita was kind-hearted, especially to the saintly class. Taking advantage of this, Ravana assumed the guise of a mendicant and thus approached Sita and begged her for alms. After Sita welcomed him, Ravana propositioned her. Sita politely declined and, at the same time, identified herself and explained to the brahmana that her husband was Lord Rama. She told him that Rama was ever-dedicated to the welfare of the saintly class and that there was no reason for the mendicant to harbor any ill-feelings towards Him or His relatives.

Sita greeting Ravana in the guise of a brahmana Ravana couldn’t stand to hear Rama and Lakshmana being praised in this way, so he finally gave up his act and revealed himself. This time, he openly declared his intention to have Sita as his wife. In the above referenced quote, Sita is sternly rebuking the demon by telling him that she is a dependent of Rama. And who is Rama? Well, Sita explains that Rama is someone as strong as a mountain and resilient as an ocean. A mountain is so large that no one can think of shaking it. People may try to climb a mountain or even ski off of it, but the mountain itself remains unaffected. The ocean also can handle anything that is thrown its way. Tidal waves, hurricanes, tsunamis, and yes, even oil spills, all cause fluctuations in the water, but in the end, the ocean remains intact. Mahendra means maha-Indra, and is a reference to Lord Indra, the king of heaven and the strongest fighter of the demigod army. The Vedas tell us that God is one, but that He deputes thousands of highly elevated living entities known as demigods to manage material affairs. Since the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing struggle between good and evil, the suras and the asuras. The demigods are the suras, and in their battles against the asuras, Indra assumes the role of leader. By comparing her husband to Indra, Sita is letting Ravana know that Rama can never be defeated in battle.

Not only did Sita list all of these wonderful attributes of Rama, but she made sure to state that she was His dependent, someone faithfully engaged in His service and abiding by her vow to always follow Him [anuvrata]. This is an important point. Since Lord Rama, God Himself, was capable of all these great feats, it naturally made sense that His dependents would enjoy all the protections offered from such a strong person. Ravana’s desire to have Sita was so strong that he would eventually forcibly drag her away from the cottage and bring her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. But Sita was a pure devotee of God, which meant that she was also unshakeable. She rebuffed all of Ravana’s advances and never came over to the dark side.

Sita and RamaThe lesson here is that we should become dependents of God and take shelter of His pure devotees like Sita. She is the goddess of fortune who also represents the Lord’s pleasure potency. If we honor and worship her along with God’s representative, the spiritual master, the Supreme Lord will be pleased with us and grant us full protection from all the bad elements in life.