“Then, making an offering of flowers and performing customary rites to ensure the peacefulness of the home, Lakshmana showed the hermitage he built to Rama.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.25)
In this passage from the Ramayana, we see that Lakshmana has just built a hut for Rama, Sita, and himself to live in. The trio was travelling through the forests of India at the time and they needed some type of housing to stay in. Lakshmana worked very hard to make Rama, who was God Himself, happy. In this way, he showed us what the real purpose of a home is.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that everything in this life is meant to be used for serving God. Naturally, this includes the home. To survive in this world, a person needs a few bare essentials. These include food, water, clothing, and shelter. Though these are bare essentials, we see that many people try to increase the quality of these four things. The Vedas tell us that simple vegetarian food is enough to live off of. Not only is it easy to produce and inexpensive to purchase, this type of food doesn’t require unnecessary violence towards innocent animals. Many people mistakenly believe that animals don’t have souls. Yet we see that an animal engages in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, just as we humans do. As soon as the life force, the soul, exits the body of an animal, its body becomes useless. This is also how the human body works. In fact, an infant, or small child, often has an intelligence level equal to or even less than that of an animal. We would never be foolish enough to think that an infant doesn’t have a soul. In the same way, it is incorrect to say that animals aren’t living entities.
Eating vegetarian food means we don’t have to cause unnecessary harm to animals that aren’t bothering us. Vegetarianism is recommended for another reason. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us that He accepts flowers, food grains, milk, or water to eat. In the Vedic tradition, devotees offer food to God in His form as the deity. Though appearing to be made of wood or stone, the deity is completely spiritual in nature. It is God’s incarnation, for being the Almighty means the Lord can take any form He chooses to.
Aside from adhering to a simple diet, regulation and moderation in the areas of clothing and shelter are important too. The fashion industry survives on people’s desire to constantly buy new clothes so as to keep up with the times. Magazines and television shows fill us in on what’s hot in fashion, and what all the celebrities are wearing. In reality, once we reach adulthood, we have no reason to ever buy new clothes. For children, buying new clothes makes sense because they are always growing. For adults, unless our clothes wear out, there’s really no reason to ever go shopping. Nevertheless, we see that shopping malls are continually packed, especially during the Holiday Season. Variety is the key to enjoyment, so buying new clothes gives a temporary feeling of material enjoyment.
Housing is an area which has seen great improvements over the past one hundred years. In days past, people would primarily live near bodies of water and in warm climates. This made sense because there would be both drinking water and a place to regularly bathe. Living in a warm climate area meant that food could be grown almost year-round and that families wouldn’t have to worry about heat for the harsh winter. With the modern petroleum based economy, people can pretty much live anywhere now. In the United States, the northeastern section of the country is heavily populated, even though they go through some of the harshest winters. When the Pilgrims first arrived here in the 1600s, they had great difficulty in surviving their first winter. Today, with oil and gas heat, living in a cold weather city is not a problem.
“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)
These advancements should take away many of the issues related to finding an appropriate home to live in. Things aren’t that simple, however. The mode of passion is very strong. Its most lasting effect is that it causes one to have unlimited desires. Finding a nice home with a steady source of heating and water is not enough. There are many others issues to consider now when buying a new home. We may want a garage, a washer/drier room, a spacious kitchen, enough rooms in the house to host family and other guests, etc.. Cooling is another issue. The hot summer months can be very uncomfortable. The invention of the air conditioner has brought great relief from the heat. So now when buying a home, people often look for central air conditioning systems, whereby the entire house can be kept at a set temperature regardless of the outside weather conditions.
All these issues are undoubtedly important, for the home is where the heart is. But from Lakshmana’s example, we see the true purpose for a home. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga. As part of His pastimes, He accepted an exile punishment from His father, King Dashratha of Ayodhya. Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita Devi, both accompanied Him during His exile. Lakshmana loved Rama so much that He couldn’t stand to be without Him for a minute. Lakshmana was a faithful servant and a first class devotee of God. About ten years into their exile, the group made their way to the woods of Panchavati at the advice of the famous Agastya Rishi.
Reaching Panchavati, Rama asked Lakshmana to build a nice cottage for the group to live in. The fearless servant, Lakshmana, went to work and, after building a beautiful hut, he showed it to Rama. Lakshmana didn’t build the hut for his own pleasure. He was perfectly content staying awake every night and guarding both Sita and Rama as they slept. He took great care in building the hut simply for Sita and Rama’s pleasure. This is the mood of a pure devotee. He is always eager to serve the Lord. He views everything in this world in the context of God and service to Him. We too can easily follow Lakshmana’s great example.
“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.47)
A home can be used to worship God. Generally, people who are religiously inclined visit temples or churches to offer their prayers to God. This makes sense because temples exist for this very reason. People go there to see God and to hear about Him. But visits to the temple are not meant to be the end of spiritual life, but rather the beginning. Lord Krishna tells us that those who always think of Him will return to His spiritual abode at the end of their current life. Thus the aim of human life is to adjust our activities in such a way that we are always thinking about God. The temple is a great place to start, but the end-goal should be to reach a point where we always feel like we’re inside a temple.
The easiest way to achieve this feeling is to always chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting, by itself, is good enough to bring spiritual perfection. However, over the course of many lifetimes, we have accumulated a multitude of sins. In this age of Kali especially, we have taken up many bad habits such as intoxication, gambling, meat eating, and illicit sex life. To keep from falling down from the spiritual consciousness, the great acharyas advise that we try to always engage in devotional service. An easy way to do this is to dedicate our homes to God. In most Hindu families, one will find an altar for Lord Krishna or one of His direct expansions, such as Lord Vishnu or Lord Rama. Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu, offer prayers and worship at this altar at least twice a day. Deity worship can be very complicated but, in its simplest form, it includes arati. The lighting and waving of a ghee lamp, accompanied by the chanting of Vedic hymns, essentially defines what an arati.
As we advance in our practice of devotional service, we can add on to this process of deity worship. Just as chanting to ourselves is enough to give us perfection, chanting out loud can induce others to become perfect devotees as well. The sankirtana movement is based on this principle. One doesn’t need large musical instruments to perform kirtana, for they can simply sit in front of a deity in their home, chant out loud, and have others clap along.
The idea is to use the home as a place of worship. This is how Lakshmana viewed the cottage he made. “Sita and Rama will be very happy here. I will defend them at all times. This hut will always remind me of my Lord.” This is how devotees should view their homes. We should use everything at our disposal for God’s service. The home is a great place to start. If the Lord feels welcome in our home, we are guaranteed to feel spiritual bliss at all times.