“Being attached to Your qualities, the king, as we have heard from Bharata, attained the divine nature due to separation from You.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.4)
In the course of our lifetime, we are bound to come upon hard times. Especially as we get older, the days seem to repeat themselves. Since we’ve worked so hard to achieve our goals and maintain a steady family life, it just seems that there needs to be a break at some point. We work hard at the office for five days and then relax on the weekend. When the next week starts, we repeat the same cycle. What is the point to all of this? Why are we alive? Why do we have to perform activities to maintain our body? Even if we never think of these things, others most certainly do. Suicide hotlines exist to deal with these very situations. While there may be a variety of answers given by suicide prevention counselors as to why a person should remain alive, the most important reason is that only by living can we perform devotional service to God. This service is the highest occupation of man and is thus known as bhagavata-dharma. Commitment to this service should be the only thing that keeps us bound to this life.
When we speak of someone being bound to the material world, we are referring to attachment. It is our attachments that guide our activities. When we form an attachment for something, we feel that we can’t live without it. Whether it is a certain type of food, going out on the town, drinking alcohol, or even love for another person, attachments can give us a reason to live, something to make us get out of bed in the morning. In reality, we can most certainly live without these things, but the mind tricks us into thinking that we can’t. These attachments may seem harmless on the surface, but the Vedas tell us that if one keeps these attachments up until the time of death, they will be forced to take birth again.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
One may ask, “What is wrong with taking birth again? I think that’s pretty cool. It means that we live forever.” It certainly is a great benediction from God to be allowed to go through the cycle of enjoyment again. It is nice to know that we get second and third chances to get things right. But what exactly constitutes perfection in life? Why do we keep taking birth, and what can we do to stop the cycle? To gain liberation, the first requirement is the firm desire to stop reincarnation. Attachment to material objects doesn’t help in this regard. Attachment results in karma-bandha, meaning it guarantees that we will assume another material body in the next life and be forced to take to fruitive activity again. The aim should be to gain release from having to perform fruitive activities, karma-mukta.
The opposite of like is dislike, or hatred. While some people view reincarnation as a great thing, others are bewildered by it. “You mean I have to suffer through the trials and tribulations of life all over again? I have to go through twelve years of schooling and then work like a dog until the day I die? No thank you!” Many suicide attempts are the result of the inability to cope with the troubles of day-to-day life. Though suicide may seem like a way out of our miseries, the Vedas tell us that it actually leads to more miseries. Suicide involves self-inflicted violence, something which the laws of nature must give punishment for. Suicide involves a sort of material attachment as well, for there is an attachment to the idea of violence. People who commit suicide don’t even take birth again right away like other people. Instead, they remain in their subtle body consisting of mind, intelligence, and false ego. Hence they stay trapped in a ghost-like state until a family descendant performs pious activities in their favor.
So we see that strong attachment and strong hatred for material life both lead to misery. So what are we to do? In reality, there is only one reason to remain alive: to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to God. As spirit souls, it is our constitutional position to be eternal servants of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is God, even though others may refer to Him by a different name. Even if one is unwilling to accept Krishna as the original form of Godhead, they can still practice devotional service, provided they have an object of worship who is non-different from Krishna. The idea is to perform all of our activities as a sacrifice for the Lord. Similar to how sports teams will dedicate a particular game or a season to a fallen teammate, we living entities should dedicate all of our activities to the Supreme Lord. This was the path taken by the great King Dasharatha many thousands of years ago, and he was rewarded with salvation.
In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is counseling his elder brother, Lord Rama. In the Vedic tradition, God’s original name is Krishna. He resides in the spiritual sky on the planet of Krishnaloka. For the purposes of creation, maintenance, and destruction of the innumerable planetary systems, Krishna expands Himself into Lord Vishnu. To show even more mercy to the fallen living entities dwelling on earth, Vishnu appears from time to time in various guises. As Lord Rama, God appeared as a handsome and pious prince, dedicated to the welfare of the saintly class. Since God is so wonderful, naturally all His closest associates will also be. Rama’s father was Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya.
Though Dasharatha had many responsibilities associated with being king, he was not attached to any of them. He neither loved nor hated his title of king; he was firmly detached. Yet he still had someone in his life that served as his reason for living. That someone was Lord Rama, who was the son that Dasharatha had long hoped for. The king’s attachment to his eldest son was no secret. His entire life force was supported by the activities of Rama. In this regard, we see how to attain perfection in life. Even though he didn’t know it, Dasharatha was the perfect yogi in that all his activities were dovetailed with Rama’s service.
Due to a series of unfortunate events, Rama had to leave the kingdom at a young age. He was banished to the forest and forced to reside there for fourteen years, having no connection with the kingdom. Dasharatha couldn’t bear the separation from Rama, so he died soon after Rama left. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama about how and why Dasharatha died, as they had heard from their brother Bharata. It is said that Dasharatha entered the divine [devatvam] realm, or assumed the divine nature. This means that he went to heaven and took on a spiritual body. At the time of Lakshmana’s statement, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, had just been kidnapped by the demon Ravana while the group was residing in the forest. Rama was feeling great grief due to separation from Sita. Moreover, He didn’t know what had happened to her, so He feared the worst.
Lakshmana tried to keep Rama’s spirits up. In essence, he said, “You were the only reason that our father remained alive. He was so attached to You that he gave up his body as soon as You left him. We are all equally as attached to You. If You give way to lamentation right now, what will be left of us? We will have no reason to live. You must continue Your activities so that our attachment will have meaning.”
Lakshmana’s words give us insight into how the great minds think. Why is it a good thing to be attached to God? From Lakshmana’s statement, we see that Dasharatha attained the divine state since He thought of Rama at the time of death. This is God’s promise to us. If we remain attached to material life, we get a material body in our next birth. By the same token, if we remain attached to the supreme spirit, Lord Krishna, we will attain a spiritual state in the next life. Having a spiritual body means we no longer associate with matter. The spiritual world is full of living entities possessing spiritual bodies who constantly associate with the Supreme Lord in His various forms.
We should be very thankful that we are alive and well, for every day that we wake up is another day that we can perform devotional service. If we are dead, we have no control over where we will end up next. We are alive today and conscious of our predicament. We should make the most of this opportunity by taking up the sublime mission of life, that of developing a total loving attachment to God. Though the Supreme Lord may not take birth as our son, we can have the same level of devotion to Him that Dasharatha did by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
If we don’t take up this mission, then our lives are essentially meaningless. Simply getting up every day and performing animalistic activity doesn’t help us or those around us. On the flip side, performing devotional service not only helps the plight of our own soul, but of those around us as well. Aside from giving us a reason to live, chanting and hearing help others find their true purpose in life. The beauty of devotional service is that it is a full-time occupation, complete with variety and nuance. This means that each of us can find our niche in spiritual service, choosing that one special way to show our love for the Lord.
The more people that take up this sublime service, the more that will be rescued from the ocean of nescience represented by the activities of intoxication, gambling, and meat eating; activities which are just like quicksand in how they drag people further and further into hellish life. To make our lives perfect, we simply have to follow the great examples set by Dasharatha, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, and all the other great Vaishnavas of the world. By saving ourselves, we can rescue others and thereby perform the highest service for mankind.