“O Kakutstha, if You are unable to tolerate this distress, then how will the common person or the meager be able to tolerate it?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.5)
Not everyone is born to be a leader, which means that most of us look to others for leadership and guidance. In times of trouble, even the strongest among us look to others for comfort and stability. If a friend or close confidante shows grace under pressure, our spirits are uplifted, and it makes it easier to persevere through tough times. Even if someone just says something as simple as, “Everything’s going to be okay”, it’s enough to give us temporary relief. Having these kinds of people in our life is very important, even more so for society at large. If our leaders exude confidence and show steadiness under pressure, the rest of society will follow suit.
Why is it important to not panic in emergencies? An emergency, by definition, is a troublesome situation. Who wouldn’t give way to lamentation or fear during such a time? This is precisely why it is necessary to have people around who don’t give way to grief, for most of us wouldn’t be so calm. If our authority figures panic under duress, it makes it easier for the rest of us to lose our cool. The famous American television sitcom, Seinfeld, had an episode that illustrated this principle. One of the main characters on the show, George Costanza, was attending a children’s birthday party when a fire broke out. George’s character type was that of a seedy fellow, someone who was selfish and didn’t abide by social conventions. He was always looking for shortcuts in life, and he didn’t care who got in his way.
In this particular episode, when the fire broke out, instead of remaining calm, George panicked. In fact, he lost his cool in the worst possible way. He repeatedly screamed out, “Fire! Fire!” and then ran out of the house, throwing aside any women and children that were in his way. Later on, the adults at the party confronted him regarding his behavior, and George tried to lie his way out of it. The adults were angry because he, as an adult, should have acted more maturely. Young children growing up in school are given lessons on fire safety. The breakout of a fire is one of the more common emergency situations that come up. Students repeatedly go through fire drills, wherein they are told to remain calm and exit the building, single-file, in a controlled manner. If clothing should catch fire, children are taught to remember three words: stop, drop, and roll. These three words are used to convey the need for calm and peace during an emergency. Fire on the clothing requires immediate attention, so it can be considered a greater emergency than a general fire. Yet the protocol during this increased emergency doesn’t call for increased panic, running, or screaming. Rather, the victims are told to immediately stop what they are doing, drop to the floor in a calm manner, and then roll so that the effects of the fire will be limited.
The heroes in society are those who don’t get flustered under pressure. Firefighters and police officers are especially recognized for their bravery. In the infamous 9/11 attacks in New York City, firefighters and police officers were called to the rescue. Based on the firsthand accounts of the people on the scene, many firefighters and police officers refused to leave the burning Twin Towers, for they did not want to leave any innocent victims behind. Many of these brave men were told that the buildings were about to collapse and that if they didn’t leave, they would surely die. Many of them still decided to stay, thereby voluntarily giving up their own lives in favor of helping others.
The heroes teach us by example. If they show steadiness under pressure, we are more likely to have our fears allayed. If you conducted a poll around the world and asked people what would be the one thing they would want, the most common response would be “World peace.” Heroes help to give us some semblance of peace, especially during troubling times.
By the same token, our life here on earth can be thought of as a continuing saga of misery and heartache, chaos and despair. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this world is not meant to be our permanent home. It is a temporary place, full of miseries. This may seem like a pessimistic view, but it is not intended to be. Human life is considered a great boon because it is our best chance to learn about God and use that information to love Him. This love can then take us to the spiritual world, which is free of anxieties and miseries, Vaikuntha.
The root cause of our anxiety stems from our forgetfulness of God and His powers. This is easy to forget because we are born into ignorance. We have lived many previous lives, and those past experiences determined the circumstances of our current birth. Nevertheless, we are pretty much ignorant once we come out of the womb. We have to be taught everything that we know, either directly by someone else, or indirectly through new life experiences. If no one teaches us about God, or if we remain obstinate in our pursuit of material sense gratification, we will lose touch with the Supreme Lord. Since the material world is ultimately subject to destruction, so is everything contained within. This includes our own bodies, along with all of our possessions and relationships. Knowing that we are going to die is probably the greatest cause of our distress.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
Since we know we are going to die, some of us try to cram as much sense gratification into our lives as possible. This isn’t really a good solution because death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new life. Just because we die once, it doesn’t mean that we don’t take birth again. But most of us don’t realize that we’ll take birth again, for we have no knowledge of our previous lives. If we understand the imperishable nature of the soul, we can understand that we have no reason to fear death or the loss of our valuable possessions.
So if we shouldn’t focus on sense gratification, what should we do with our time? What is the purpose of our being put on earth? How should we act? To guide us in our activities, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, gave us dharma, or religiosity. Dharma actually never gets created, but rather exists at all times. Issues arise because we forget what dharma is and why it exists in the first place. The exact definition of dharma is “something which defines the essence of something”. When applied to the living entities, it means that which defines our existence as spirit souls. Since our original nature is to be loving servants of the Supreme Lord, dharma can be taken to be religiosity, or our occupational duty.
This occupational duty manifests through a set of law codes and recommendations that we must follow in order to make our lives perfect. Perfection in life means returning back to Godhead in the afterlife. Knowing that we would have a hard time residing in the material world, Krishna imparted the system of dharma to the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. He then passed it down from generation to generation. The principles of dharma are set forth in the Vedas, which are the original scriptures for mankind. Veda means knowledge, and since the original Vedas expound on the system of dharma, they are considered the highest form of knowledge.
If these scriptures have existed since the beginning of time, why do most of us continue to live in fear? Why do we overly lament over misfortunes, and overly rejoice during the good times? Why are we fearful of death, and why do we go to any means to try to prolong our life of sense gratification? What happens is that, over time, the system of dharma deteriorates. Though we are naturally disposed towards abiding by dharma, contact with material nature tends to skew things. Matter is subordinate to spirit, but we become illusioned into thinking that the reverse is true. Material life means worshiping matter. This worship involves the intense search for sense gratification in the form of beauty, wealth, and fame. These things are all related to matter, something which is controlled by spirit.
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)
The more time spent associating with matter, the further we drift away from dharma. To reestablish the principles of dharma, to annihilate the miscreants, and to also give pleasure to the devotees, the Supreme Lord personally advents on earth from time to time. One such occasion was during the Treta Yuga when Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the guise of a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Each of Krishna’s incarnations has specific characteristics and features, and as Lord Rama, God was especially focused on abiding by established dharma and setting a good example.
As the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Lord Rama took it upon Himself to uphold the great tradition of the Ikshvaku dynasty. The rulers in this line were all known for their strict adherence to piety. They were all chivalrous and ruled the citizens perfectly. They didn’t play any favorites as far as the people went; everyone was treated fairly. Lord Rama was so well known for His detachment and equanimity that even His enemies had respect for Him. Even though Lord Rama punished them, the criminals knew that He had no personal grudge against them, for He was simply following the proper code of conduct.
Lord Rama not only set an example on how to be a great government leader, but He also taught us how to persevere through troubling situations. We tend to think of God as being very opulent and powerful, and while this is certainly true, the Lord also possesses the quality of renunciation to the fullest extent. This quality was exhibited by Rama through His reactions to a series of unfortunate events. First, the kingdom which was rightfully His was taken away from Him. Not only was Rama passed over to be the next king, but He was banished from the kingdom for fourteen years, forced to wander the forests of India. Then, as a result of being separated from his son due to the exile, Rama’s beloved father, King Dasharatha, died prematurely. To make matters worse, while residing in the forest, Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana.
The combination of these tragic events would be enough to make even the strongest person contemplate suicide. Though Rama was God Himself, He still played along in His role as a human being. After Sita was kidnapped, He lamented greatly. He was ready to destroy the entire world with His arrows. Rama was an expert kshatriya warrior, skilled in using the most powerful of mantras. Recitation of these mantras would make the arrows shot from His bow equal in potency to today’s nuclear weapons. Lord Rama didn’t know what had happened to Sita, so He thought the worst. He gave way to lamentation and grief.
Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, stepped in to console his brother. Instead of giving way to grief, Lakshmana gave Rama a pep talk. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that He is supposed to be a leader. If Rama were to give way to grief, then every ordinary person in society would have an excuse to give up when the going got tough. Obviously Rama wasn’t really grief stricken, for He was God Himself, but this situation nevertheless shows the greatness of Lakshmana. We could only wish to have such a brother as Lakshmana. He was so devoted and pious that he was willing to even correct God Himself.
Eventually Lord Rama regained His composure and decided to continue His search for Sita. He would be successful in finding and rescuing her and killing Ravana in the process. Lakshmana’s words were certainly true though. If Rama had given up, all of His devotees and followers would have an easy excuse to give up and to not try to make the most of their lives. We should all follow Rama’s example and try to remember that we should never deviate from the pious path, even if the worst things happen to us. Good and bad things happen on their own, and we should not let them affect us.
“O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.15)
In today’s age, however, it is easy to forget these things. One of the symptoms of the Kali Yuga is that most people are not religious. Taking the gross material body to be the beginning and end of everything, we are worshiping matter instead of God. Therefore it is the duty of devotees of Krishna to follow in Lakshmana’s footsteps. If we believe in Krishna, have knowledge of the Absolute Truth, and have firm faith in the superiority of devotional service, we should take it upon ourselves to share this information with others. Since devotees know that Krishna is the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of all things material, they are able to persevere through even the most troubling of situations. It is incumbent upon the devotees to set a good example for others to follow. Lord Chaitanya said that all of us should become gurus, or spiritual masters, simply by talking about Krishna with others. If we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and abide by the four regulative principles, other people will have a nice example to follow. We can make the most of this precious human form of life by being solid as a rock in our performance of devotional service.