“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
Carpe diem is a popular Latin phrase meaning “seize the day”. This saying has been famous for a long time and was given special attention in the movie, Dead Poets Society. The idea behind the saying is pretty straightforward: seize the day, go for it, just do it, you’ll never win if you never try. A similar slogan was used by the New York State Lottery commission many years back, “Hey, you never know”, as a way to entice people to try their hand at winning millions of dollars in the lottery. Though these slogans generally apply to material endeavors, they can also prove to be very beneficial in spiritual life.
The first question we should ask is why we need such slogans in the first place. Why do people need to be reminded to seize the day or to take chances? The reason is that most of us aren’t self-starters. We all have different desires, but true passion itself is hard to come by. We need someone to motivate and guide us. For example, if it weren’t for our parents forcing us to attend school in our youth, we probably never would have gotten an education. If it weren’t for our bosses requiring us to come into work on time, we probably wouldn’t be very productive. This shows that we have an inherent penchant for procrastination; putting the important things off until later.
One of the primary reasons for this behavior is the fear of failing. Once we start a task, there is all the chance in the world that it won’t come out successful. For example, in our youth we had many projects, term papers, and other reports due in school. Most students wait until the last minute to begin these projects because they are very time consuming. There is a lot of pressure that goes with these assignments also, for writing a long paper is not an easy thing to do. One must come up with a central theme, perform the necessary research, and then actually put all the thoughts and ideas together into words and sentences.
What if we are unable to even think of an idea? What if we stare at our computer screen, or typewriter in the olden days, and just come up blank? What will we do? There is nothing worse than failing an assignment, for it means that we were incapable of successfully completing something that our fellow classmates were able to do. This fear of failure can be crippling, and it is the primary reason that we wait until the last moments before we actually begin our tasks. Again, the reasoning behind this is pretty obvious. If we don’t try, or if we wait until later on to try, we don’t put ourselves out on the line; the chance to fail is eliminated or at least tabled.
Through logic and reasoning, we see that avoiding activity simply due to fear of failing is not a good thing. Let’s take driving for example. The first time we get behind a wheel is certainly a tense situation. Driving an automobile is a serious business, and the consequences of making a mistake while driving are much worse than if we fall off our bicycles. Yet at the same time, if we never take up driving due to this fear, we severely hamper our mobility. In the future, we eliminate ourselves from the running for any jobs that require us to travel by car. We will be forced to live in cities, even if we don’t want to. Also, if we ever get married and have children, we will have no way of transporting our dependents anywhere. We will always have to rely on others to take us places, and this dependence can dampen our spirits and our morale.
Though failing certainly isn’t good in the short term, we see that it is necessary in order for us to make advancement in life. We can learn from our mistakes. Moreover, simply being afraid of failure is not reason enough to avoid activity. It is much wiser to take action and not worry about the consequences. “Abandon all attachment to winning and losing and do what’s right. Carpe diem baby!“ This was the lesson taught by Lakshmana, the divine expansion of Lord Vishnu and younger brother of Lord Rama, an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Divine Entity appeared on earth in human form as Lord Rama. Some will take such statements to be mere mythology or some sectarian belief. There is no doubt that the Vedas, the scriptures emanating from India, are the oldest set of law codes in existence. Originally passed down through aural reception, the Vedas were later put into written word in Sanskrit, which is the oldest language in existence. Though the Vedas come from India, the facts contained within are meant to enlighten every single person on earth. Vedic information states that God is one, but that He appears on earth from time to time for various reasons.
“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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)
Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, is one of God’s primary incarnations. Mental speculators and philosophers will theorize that Rama must have been a great personality who was later taken to be God by the people of the time. “They must have turned Rama into God, for they didn’t know any better.” This sort of thinking seems plausible except for the fact that no one can become God. God is always God; there never was a time when He wasn’t God, nor will there be a time in the future when He stops being God. From Vedic information we understand that Rama was God before He came to earth and that He continues to be God even though He returned to the spiritual world.
“The avatara, or incarnation of Godhead, descends from the kingdom of God for material manifestation. And the particular form of the Personality of Godhead who so descends is called an incarnation, or avatara. Such incarnations are situated in the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. When they descend to the material creation, they assume the name avatara.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.263-264)
An incarnation of God is referred to as an avatara in Sanskrit, meaning one who descends. This is important terminology because we see that “descends” means something completely different than “becomes”. An avatara descends from the spiritual world, so Lord Rama never actually took birth or suffered through death. An avatara exists eternally; the only distinction from our point of view is that the avataras usually remain in the spiritual world. When they kindly appear on earth is when we pay attention.
As Lord Rama, God came to earth for specific purposes, the most important of which was to personally kill the Rakshasa demon Ravana. It was important for Rama to kill Ravana because the demon had wreaked havoc throughout the world. The demigods, or elevated living entities, were afraid of Ravana and could not defeat him in battle. This happens from time to time, for we see that the demons in the world sometimes rise to prominent positions of power. Their time in the spotlight is limited, however, as we saw with leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini. Usually the forces of nature take care of these miscreants, but for special cases, divine intervention is required.
So Rama came to kill Ravana. At the same time, He wanted to set a good example for everyone else to follow. Ravana was committed to adharma, or irreligion, thus Rama wanted to show what real dharma was. As the eldest son of a king, Rama displayed exemplary behavior. He was chivalrous, kind, sweet, charitable, and most of all, brave and courageous in clashes with the demons. He never backed down from a fight, as is the code of conduct for kshatriyas, or those belonging to the warrior caste. On one occasion, Rama easily killed 14,000 of Ravana’s associates in battle. Because of this defeat, Ravana hatched up a scheme whereby he was able to kidnap Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita Devi, while both Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were not around to protect her.
When Rama found out that Sita was missing, He gave way to lamentation and anger. He was very attached to Sita, who was the incarnation of the Lord’s eternal pleasure potency. Though God is one, He doesn’t enjoy alone. Just as we tend to enjoy things more when friends and family are around, so the Lord derives the most pleasure when He is in the company of His devotees. This is actually the reason behind our existence, i.e. to realize that we are God’s eternal loving servants and that true happiness can only be found through direct association with Him. Since Sita was a perfect devotee, she couldn’t live without Rama and the same held true for the Lord. With Sita gone, Rama felt as though the wind had come out of His sails. As strong and perseverant as He was, this one setback really got to Him.
At this moment, Lakshmana stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. He reminded Rama that good and bad things come on their own to even the most pious of people, and that the wise don’t let this get them down. Rama actually didn’t need this advice since He was God, but at the same time, He was playing the role of a human being. “To ere is human”, so every now and then Rama showed signs of imperfection. We shouldn’t take this to mean that God is capable of committing mistakes, for that is not the case. The Vedas tell us that the Lord’s original form is that of Shri Krishna, whose many names include Achyuta, which means one who never falls down.
In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reiterating a well-known Vedic tenet relating to karma. Every action that we perform on a material level has a commensurate reaction. Sometimes we don’t see these reactions, or they are short-lived in nature. Thus it is also difficult to determine whether a particular activity is pious or sinful, for the complete scope of the fruits of such action are unknown. Regardless of when the fruits of our work manifest, it is an undeniable fact that action is the root cause of such fruits. In simpler terms, if you want something, you have to work for it. That is essentially what Lakshmana is saying. “You may or may not get what You want, but You can be rest assured that nothing will happen unless some action is taken by someone. Knowing these facts, it is better for You to shake this incident off and resume Your search for Sita.”
This one statement by Lakshmana is so beautiful and profound that one can study it over and over again and take away new lessons each time. Rama very much appreciated Lakshmana’s words of advice. The two brothers loved each other very much, so there was never any animosity between them. God is the all-knowing and all-powerful. He is most certainly capable of imparting words of wisdom to others, as He did at the beginning of creation to Lord Brahma and also on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to Arjuna. But one of the nice things about being God is that You don’t need to show off. This is what it means to be atmarama, or self-satisfied. The Lord is much happier seeing His devotee glorified, so He takes every opportunity He can to create just the right situations where they can shine. This incident with Lakshmana was one such situation. Lakshmana’s teachings were spot on, and just like a humble devotee, he reminded Rama at the end that he had originally heard these teachings from Him.
What we can take away from these teachings is that there is no reason to sit back on the sidelines and hope for success in life. Moreover, success and failure in material endeavors come on their own through our own karma and the karma of others, so it is more important to seize the day when it comes to spiritual life. After all, the benefit of human life is that we have the ability to learn about the Supreme Spirit. Yet just like with other endeavors, there is an inherent fear there. “What if I take up dharma, or yoga, or whatever it’s called, and don’t succeed? Won’t I have wasted my time?”
This is the beauty of the highest form of dharma known as devotional service, or bhagavata-dharma. If we take a chance and play the lottery, it is highly improbable that we will win. In other ventures, such as starting a business or taking up a new occupation, the chances of failing are also quite high. While it is certainly good to take action and try, if we fail in these endeavors, we don’t really come away with much. Maybe our work ethic improves or we learn how to deal with pressure, but we are still left with failure.
This principle doesn’t hold true with devotional service. Say that we muster up the courage to sincerely take up devotional service. We start chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads and also abide by the four regulative principles of abstention from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. After all of this, somehow or other, we fall back down. Either we stop chanting as many rounds or our interests shift elsewhere. Let’s say that we aren’t able to correct things by the time our life ends. Does this mean that our efforts went to waste?
No. As Lord Krishna clearly states in the Bhagavad-gita, there is no loss in performing devotional service. In our next life, we get to start back up again right from where we left off. We see that some children have the great fortune of growing up as devotees. Either they take birth in a family of Vaishnavas or they are introduced to Krishna early on in life, and they remain devotees throughout. These situations are not accidental; it surely means that there was some level of devotional service performed in the previous life. The lesson here is that we have no excuse not to take up service to God, even if it is only at an immature level. We should remember that we’ll never succeed unless we take action. Seizing the day means taking control. And hey, you never know, you just might end up going back home, back to Godhead.