“O You of great intellect, not even the demigods can fathom the level of Your intelligence. Due to bereavement Your wisdom is currently in a dormant state, and I am here to rouse it.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.19)
Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, is the emblem of loyalty. We can dig deep through the pages of written history and scour the earth, but we will never find a more loyal and praiseworthy figure than the beloved younger brother of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His loyalty and dedication to Rama shows us not only how to behave towards our own loved ones, but also how we are to attain the ultimate objective in life. Through unflinching loyalty to the Supreme Divine Entity, we can acquire all praiseworthy characteristics, while simultaneously advancing to the topmost platform of spiritual understanding.
Loyalty is considered laudable because it is an attribute not easily acquired. The living entity tends to act in its own self-interest; an interest which takes precedent over the interests of others. This behavior certainly isn’t condemnable on the surface, for who wouldn’t want to further their own condition? At the end of the day, we have to live with ourselves and the decisions we make, so who would want to take actions that would lead to misery? If we put the interests of others ahead of our own and end up miserable as a result, we’ll likely blame others for our ill-temperament.
For these reasons, true loyalty is seldom displayed. In the world of sports, it is rare nowadays to see players play for the same team throughout their careers. In days past, free agency was limited, so a player didn’t have much of a choice as to which team he could play for. Whichever team drafted him in the beginning of his career was the team he would likely play for throughout. Teams could always trade a player to another team, but the player had no say in this, so there was no dent made in their perceived loyalty.
With free agency, players in sports like baseball, basketball, football, and hockey could take their services elsewhere once their contracts expired. In the open marketplace, all workers are free agents in that they have a choice as to where they want to work. A professional sports league is more of a closed environment, so this freedom is limited. Free agency sought to introduce some of this mobility into the workings of the various leagues. As a result, it is quite common now to see teams drastically change from year to year. Once a star player is up for free agency - especially if they play for a team that doesn't take in much revenue - it is likely that they will go to another team that will pay them a higher salary.
In recent history, no one was more maligned for his free agency transition than the baseball player Alex Rodriguez. A star shortstop for the Seattle Mariners franchise, Rodriguez signed a deal with the Texas Rangers franchise which was, at the time, the most lucrative contract ever offered. Obviously the driving force behind the decision to switch teams was money, so many in the sports media took to criticizing him for his lack of loyalty. The Mariners couldn’t come close to offering the same salary as the Rangers, so there was really no choice for Rodriguez, who was simply acting in his self-interest.
Loyalty shows that a person is not a miser. It shows that they are grateful for any and all services provided to them in good faith. Of all the persons to ever have traversed this earth, one would be hard pressed to find a more loyal person than Shri Lakshmana. Lakshmana’s stature is enhanced by the fact that he hadn’t been offered much service from the object of his loyalty, his elder brother Rama. In this way, Lakshmana’s loyalty was not only unmatched and uninterrupted, but it was unmotivated. One could say that his behavior towards Rama was driven out of love, but since there was no expectation of reciprocation, we cannot describe this love as being selfish in any way.
Lakshmana’s loyalty was put to the test on many occasions, all of which were opportunities the great warrior prince looked forward to. Rama and Lakshmana roamed the earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. During that time period, royal orders took charge of the governments, and one of the most famous royal dynasties was the Ikshvaku. According to Vedic information, the original system of knowledge for the world, Maharaja Ikshvaku was one of the first kings on earth, so he was the emblem of chivalry, honor, and good governance. Those following in his line took it upon themselves to live up to his standard. Rama and Lakshmana appeared in this dynasty as sons of Maharaja Dasharatha. Rama was the eldest son, and He had three younger brothers: Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. As is natural in many families, the siblings sort of grouped together at a young age. Bharata and Shatrughna took a liking to each other, while Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable. All three younger brothers were equally as pious and dedicated to Rama, but Lakshmana couldn’t live without Him. He refused to eat or sleep unless Rama had done so first.
“O Lakshmana, do you rule this earth with Me. You are like My second self, so this glorious opportunity has been presented to you as well. O Saumitra, do you enjoy all the pleasures you desire and the fruits of the regal life. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, 4.43-44)
The most important day in a prince’s life is the day the reins of the kingdom are handed to him. When this day came for Rama, He kindly approached Lakshmana and asked him to rule the kingdom with Him. This showed that Rama certainly loved Lakshmana very much. Unfortunately, Rama’s coronation would have to wait, as events took a dramatic turn for the worse. Through the disloyal and selfish actions of Bharata’s mother, Kaikeyi, Rama was forced to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. Unbeknownst to him, Bharata was given the thrown, though he was away on business at the time. Ready to leave for the forest, Rama said goodbye to Lakshmana, but the dutiful younger brother refused to let Rama leave alone. Casting aside kith and kin, Lakshmana embarked for the forest with Rama, where the two would live as mendicants not having any claim to the royal perks that rightfully belonged to them. Lord Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, also insisted on accompanying the Lord in His sojourn through the wilderness.
While in the forest, Sita would one day be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. The Rakshasa devised a plan which temporarily lured Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita. Making the most of this short time period, the demon swooped in and took Sita back to his island kingdom of Lanka. Upon returning to their cottage, Rama realized that Sita was missing. Giving way to lamentation and grief, Rama lost His senses for a moment. Luckily for Him, His younger brother, the emblem of loyalty, the fearless fighter and defender of the innocent, Shri Lakshmana, was with Him.
It is one thing to pledge allegiance to someone, but it is another to actually prove this loyalty. As the saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”, true friendship and loyalty are measured during the bad times, not the good. It is easy to have friends and well-wishers when everything is going alright, but once the chips are down, once it looks like we are down and out, only our true friends stay with us. In Lakshmana’s case, he never failed to step up to the plate. In fact, as the going got tougher, Lakshmana got stronger and stronger. This was evidenced by the fact that when he saw Rama distraught and disheartened, he didn’t sit back and allow the Lord to remain in a weakened state. That would have been the easy thing to do, but Lakshmana never took the easy road in life. His only dharma, or occupational duty, was service to his elder brother.
Dharma is a Vedic term that is often translated as religiosity, duty, piety, or plain religion. The idea behind dharma is that of an essential characteristic. This definition is more appropriate because whatever a person deems as their essential characteristic is what they will adopt as their way of life, or occupational duty. Thus the characteristic, or dharma, leads to the perceived prescribed duty. One’s primary occupational duty can manifest through religion, piety, or religiosity; hence dharma is often equated to these terms. Vedic information states that every person assumes a different nature based on their karma, or the work they performed previously. Based on this nature, which unfolds in the form of consciousness, each person takes their essential characteristic to be something different. For instance, one person may deem themselves to be very scholarly. They feel that their essential characteristic is that of intelligence, so they take the acquisition of knowledge to be their dharma. Another person feels that their essential characteristic is one of a shrewd businessman whose aim it is to procure and enjoy as much wealth as possible. Thus they take to business as their occupational duty.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
Not only are there perceived primary characteristics, but secondary and tertiary ones as well. In this way, dharma gets applied to all areas of activity. There is even a dharma when it comes to building a house, i.e. a set of prescribed regulations that leads to the essential characteristic of a well-built housing structure. So there are many dharmas, but the Vedas tell us that there is one characteristic that reigns supreme. Not only does this characteristic trump all others, but it is actually the same for every form of life. This essential characteristic is that of a loving servant to the Supreme Divine Entity. The individuals are spirit souls at the core, and the Personality of Godhead is the Supreme Soul. The natural order of things is for the individual to be in constant association with the Supreme. This gives transcendental pleasure to both parties, so it is deemed the ultimate favorable condition. Those who take the reattachment of this connection as their foremost occupational duty, the most favorable and important characteristic to acquire, will be abiding by the highest dharma.
Lakshmana was a great warrior who was equally as powerful in battle as Rama. Lord Rama had previously killed 14,000 attacking Rakshasa demons in one sitting so to speak. In this way, He proved to be more than an ordinary man. Others might be tempted to challenge the notion that Rama is God, but simply based off His activities we can understand His divine nature. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the Vedas mention in many different places, in many different books, that Shri Rama is the same original Divine Being who happens to appear on earth in the guise of a human being. Moreover, Rama was of the topmost character, someone who never openly claimed to be God. We know He is the Supreme Lord based off His activities, and also based on the loyalty shown to Him by Lakshmana. While others may take shelter of their own concocted dharmas, which result in the deification of various fallible entities and objects, the bhaktas, or devotees, are more than happy “taking their chances” worshiping Rama. Simply put, if someone as loyal, noble, and wonderful as Shri Lakshmana tells us that Rama is God, we will believe him. The gods created by the sense demands are always letting us down, but Shri Lakshmana never does. We will gladly follow him to heaven or hell, for simply hearing of his love and devotion to Rama is enough to keep us satisfied in any and all situations.
Seeing Rama lamenting over the loss of His wife, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. He essentially advised Rama to shake the incident off and continue with His search. His duties as a kshatriya prince called for Him to protect the innocent. Sita was in a dangerous situation, so it was Rama’s duty to try to save her. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that since He is the Supreme Lord, no one is capable of providing Him instruction. Since Lakshmana is the emblem of loyalty to Rama, he kindly listened to all the instructions provided by the Lord on previous occasions. In this instance, Lakshmana is simply reminding Rama of His own teachings. The Lord greatly appreciated this reminder and would go on to rescue Sita and kill Ravana.
Lakshmana is the embodiment of the spiritual master, or guru. In order to succeed in reconnecting our spirit with the Supreme Spirit, we need someone to instruct us and show us the way in life. This shouldn’t be a foreign concept to anyone. In order to learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic, we need a good teacher. To regain our essential characteristic of loving servant of the Supreme, we need the greatest teacher, one who himself is already attached at the hip to the Supreme Lord. No one is more attached than Lakshmana, so his example is the one to follow. The bona fide spiritual master is one who is as loyal towards the Supreme Lord as Lakshmana. In this way, when looking for a guru, it is quite easy to tell the pretenders from the contenders. If a spiritual master is not loyal to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and instead takes himself to be God or their own interests to be supreme, they will never successfully rescue anyone from the perpetual cycle of birth and death brought on by karma. On the other hand, one who is loyal to the Supreme Lord – one who believes in His ever-existing, transcendental form - will save anyone they teach, even if their teachings aren’t presented in an erudite manner.
Shri Lakshmana, as a warrior prince by trade, wasn’t outwardly viewed as a great scholar or spiritual master. Yet by remaining loyal to Rama, he had acquired all the knowledge he needed to execute his prescribed duty in life: service to the Lord. By following his example, we can never go wrong. Anyone who associates with this divine prince, who is himself a partial incarnation of Lord Vishnu, will surely acquire the greatest attribute known to man: loyalty to the Supreme Lovable Object, Shri Rama.