“Certainly my husband, the highly effulgent Lord [Rama], joined with my brother-in-law [Lakshmana], is fearlessly residing in the empty forest of Dandaka by taking shelter of His own prowess.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.14)
For the human being, life is full of fears. Defending, or fearing, is one of the four activities of animalistic life, and we human beings inherit these tendencies of animals at the time of birth. It is through culture and good education that we become civilized, but that element of fear always remains with us. As adults, we often try different ways to test our strength and survival skills. Being able to dwell in a vacant forest without any fears is a true sign of manhood and self-sufficiency. These abilities, which aren’t found in most people, were exhibited by Lord Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, many thousands of years ago in the forest of Dandaka.
Dwelling in the forest is difficult because most of us are dependent on our fellow human being for our livelihood. In today’s world, most everyone works for somebody; they are employees of a larger corporation. No matter how skilled we are at our occupation, our income is dependent on the fate of the companies that we work for and the customers who patronize them. In this regard, we aren’t very independent. Since most of us don’t grow our own food, we rely on the supermarket shelves to supply us with the food that we need to survive. The supermarkets themselves rely on an intricate chain of food producers, suppliers, and delivery men.
“As a ripe fruit has no other fear than to fall, so a man who is born has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)
Aside from relying on others for our livelihood, we inherently understand that the world we live in is a dangerous place. To make matters worse, death is sure to come some day. There is a famous saying from Lord Rama which states that just as a ripe fruit has no other fear than that of falling to the ground, the mature human being has no other fear than that of dying. We have an innate fear that death can happen at any moment, especially at the hands of other living entities. For our protection, we rely on the brave volunteers of society who take up arms in defense of the innocent. The military and police force in America voluntarily put their lives on the line to defend their fellow man. If not for these brave fighters, civilians would be left to fend for themselves.
In this regard, we see that man’s dependencies are vast and far-reaching. If it weren’t for other living entities, most of us would not be able to survive. Being completely self-sufficient is actually an art form. It is a quality that few people possess. For those who desire such a trait, forest life represents the playing field where one can practice their survival skills. The modern day Boy Scouts organization strives to teach self-sufficiency and survival skills to its members. Young boys are taught how to pitch tents, start fires, and administer basic first aid, all by themselves, without the help of any modern technology.
This idea of pure survival is also depicted in famous movies and television shows. The hit film, Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, dealt with the theme of survival. The main character in the movie, a parcel delivery man, gets stranded on a deserted island and is forced to provide food, clothing, and shelter for himself. The television sitcom, The Office, also had an episode where the main character in the show, Michael Scott, asks to be left alone in the wilderness without having any knowledge of his whereabouts. In the episode, Michael wants to prove his manhood by being able to successfully survive in the woods and eventually find his way back home after being dropped off in a remote area. The Office is a comedy after all, so obviously Michael is not able to successfully survive by himself. He doesn’t last very long in the wilderness either, for he has no idea how to even start a fire or how to find his food.
Most of us would be terrified if left alone in the forest. There are no restaurants, no hotels, no televisions, and no soda machines. We wouldn’t know what to do. More than anything, we would be pretty scared. To make matters worse, the forest is full of wild animals that would have no problem attacking human beings. Essentially, we would have to sleep with one eye open to make sure that no predators went on the attack in the middle of the night.
In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi is referencing the fact that her husband, Rama, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were both residing in the vacant forest of Dandaka and living fearlessly. Her statements were made to the Rakshasa demon Ravana, who had just kidnapped her and brought her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. In the Treta Yuga, many thousands of years ago, a handsome and pious prince appeared in the Raghu dynasty, a famous line of kings whose ancestry traced back to the first king on earth, Maharaja Ikshvaku. This pious prince was named Rama and He was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the four-armed plenary expansion of Lord Krishna, or God, who resides in the spiritual world.
Rama had three younger brothers, with Lakshmana being the one closest to Him in friendship. Since the boys took birth in a royal family, they were trained in the military arts. During those times, the governments were run by royal monarchies made up of valiant warriors. This class of men was known as kshatriyas, and they were chivalrous, brave, and expert at providing defense to the innocent. Sita Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, married Lord Rama in a grand ceremony in the kingdom of Mithila. The couple was enjoying blissful married life when suddenly Rama was banished from His kingdom of Ayodhya by His father.
Roaming the forests for fourteen years along with Lakshmana, Sita was one day kidnapped by Ravana while Rama and Lakshmana were away from the group’s cottage. Taking her back to Lanka, Ravana tried his best to win her over, but Sita was having none of it. She was completely devoted to Rama in thought, word, and deed. Ravana’s lusty desires were very strong, but he was not able to satisfy them with Sita. She sternly rebuked him and reminded him that she had a husband who was living fearlessly in an empty forest along with His brother.
This is an important point because Sita is trying to contrast the qualities of Rama with those of Ravana. The demon lived in a very opulent kingdom, where he was served by thousands of Rakshasa warriors and hundreds of wives. Ravana himself had great fighting prowess, but he didn’t use any of these skills in kidnapping Sita. Rather than fight Rama directly, Ravana set up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from their cottage by a deer, thus leaving Sita all alone. Sita mentions the fact that Rama and Lakshmana are fearless and all by themselves, whereas Ravana, though possessing a grand army, was himself too afraid to fight Rama.
One may wonder why Rama and Lakshmana, being completely fearless, chose to live in the forest. Rama was God Himself, and one of the Lord’s attributes is that of renunciation. No one can be more renounced than God. This fact should make sense to us because God is the original creator of everything. Renunciation is only difficult for those who have attachments to things. Attachments are formed out of insecurities and fear. God knows that He is the greatest, so He has no need to fear anything, thus He also has no attachments. The Vedas describe God as being atmarama, meaning He is satisfied with Himself. He is comfortable in His own skin, as the saying goes. Rama accepted the punishment of exile so that His father’s reputation could remain intact. Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya, had promised one of his wives any two boons of her choosing. She asked for Rama’s exile and the king was forced to oblige, otherwise he would be made to be a liar. Rama accepted the punishment to keep Dasharatha dedicated to the truth.
Rama and Lakshmana had no problem surviving in the wilderness. In fact, many of the great sages who had set up hermitages in the forest petitioned the two brothers to protect them. Rama and Lakshmana did just that by defeating thousands of attacking Rakshasas. Simply by using their bows and arrows, the two brothers could allay the fears of anyone residing in the vacant forests. Sita’s statement is foreboding evil upon Ravana. Eventually, both Rama and Lakshmana would march to Lanka and kill almost all of Ravana’s Rakshasa associates, including Ravana himself. Sita would be rescued by her heroic husband and His equally brave younger brother.
The lesson here is that we should never think that we are more renounced than God. Lord Rama is a true hero who doesn’t speak much. He lets his actions do the talking. For us mere mortals, we simply have to let the great fearless one, God Himself, protect us. Being her husband, Rama was Sita’s most effulgent Lord, but as spirit souls, part and parcel of God, Rama is our Lord too. He can deliver us from danger in the same way that He saved Sita. Whether we are living in a vacant forest or a crammed city, we simply have to think about the Lord, and He will kindly deliver us from all evils. In this age, the same Lord Vishnu incarnates in the form of His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. If we hang on to this sacred mantra and take it to be our only means of survival, we can transcend any and all fears.