“I am His younger brother, Lakshmana by name. Due to His transcendental qualities, I have taken up service to Him, as He is grateful and very knowledgeable.” (Lakshmana speaking to Hanuman about Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.12)
“Worship God and be forever benefitted; just surrender yourself to the Almighty and become free from the reactions to sin.” These are some of the common recommendations given to the spirit souls classified as wayward, those who haven’t yet dedicated their lives to spirituality. While these prescriptions are certainly correct in their underlying assertions, sometimes the doubting soul needs justification, tangible evidence of the Almighty Lord’s ability to deliver one from all perils. Moreover, the cautious individual needs justification as to why this Supreme Being is deserving of such faith. Through studying the faithful relationships formed in other areas of life, the conclusion that God is most certainly deserving of the highest respect, love, and service can be reached.
Probably the most visible example of the faithful relationship in the modern age is the marriage. In days past, most marriages, at least in the Vedic tradition, were arranged by parents. Vedic refers to the Vedas, which are the eternal truths espoused by the great seers of India. These sages didn’t conjure up the knowledge found in the Vedas; they learned Vedic wisdom from their superiors, who in turn heard it from their superiors. Climbing the ladder all the way to the top, the source of all Veda, or knowledge, is reached. That original source goes by many names, with the most accurate and attractive one being “Krishna”. Krishna is not only a word that describes God and His features, but it is also the name given to the original form of Godhead.
Since Krishna is the fountainhead of all knowledge, it makes sense that the institution of marriage would emanate from Him. Being much more than a way to punish the sexually active male and grant security to the helpless female, marriage is intended to be a completely religious institution, a bond formed to allow for advancement in spiritual life, which above all other disciplines, is the foremost practice and engagement for the spirit soul. Men and women are naturally attracted to each other, so in this regard marriage is not required. No one needs to be taught how to chase after someone of the opposite sex or how to fall in love with them. The Vedic institution of marriage was put into place so as to allow for a faithful relationship to be forged, wherein both parties help each other achieve the ultimate aim of life, that of realizing God at the time of death. This consciousness, when solidified, transports the wayward soul back to its original home, the spiritual world.
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Gradually over time, however, marriage morphed into what it is today, a codification of a romantic relationship. The sequence of events today is more or less the same. A man and a woman meet, fall in love, and then get married as a way of putting their relationship into writing, giving meaning to their love. In this way, we see that the modern day marriage institution is one based completely on faith. Since it is formed voluntarily, it makes for an interesting study into the nature of faith and the justifications for it. When a woman agrees to marry a man, she essentially says that she will faithfully engage in his service for the rest of her life. Similarly, the man voluntarily accepts the responsibility of faithfully providing for the protection of the woman for the rest of her life.
This faith is adopted based on the qualities of the other party. If the woman didn’t believe that the husband was a worthy character, she most certainly wouldn’t offer her faith to him. She would have no reason to dedicate her thoughts, words, and deeds to him for the rest of her life. By the same token, if the man believed that the woman was unchaste, mean, and generally unworthy of affection, he most certainly wouldn’t put faith into the institution of marriage. In fact, we see that once the justifications for faith diminish, the marriage itself falls apart. If the husband cheats or the woman fails to provide adequate satisfaction to the man, the faithful relationship quickly erodes and sometimes completely dissolves through the divorce process.
Faithful relationships are formed in areas outside of marriage as well. The military is an institution where faith and service are required. Once again, this faith isn’t adopted easily or without justification. By enlisting in the military, one voluntarily puts their life on the line for the safety of others. In this way, volunteer fighters can be considered to be benevolent and unselfish. Yet in military engagements of a large scale, there must be a leader, a commander who directs troops as to the best course of action. These instructions are very important, for one strategic mistake can lead to the death of many soldiers. When one’s life is on the line, they aren’t likely to take instruction from another person without justification. Therefore a good military commander is one who garners great respect and faith from his followers. America’s first President, George Washington, exhibited such qualities when he commanded the rebel forces in the Revolutionary War. This war eventually resulted in America’s independence, a victory which was due in no small part to Washington’s efforts. Due to his courage, honesty, and perseverance, others took to faithfully engaging in Washington’s service.
We can transfer these same principles to the realm of spirituality. In order to adopt a faithful attitude towards God, one must know of His qualities and of which features He possesses that garner faith. The Vedas go into great detail about the Lord’s names, forms, and attributes, but sometimes just descriptions aren’t enough. To kindly appeal to the natural desire of the living entity to offer service to Him, the Lord appears on earth from time to time. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. The Supreme Lord, the original and oldest person, assumed the guise of an ordinary human being, a pious and handsome prince named Rama. Appearing in a famous family of kings, Rama also had three younger brothers.
Of all of Rama’s brothers, Lakshmana was closest to Him in friendship. The brothers all loved each other, but there were certain bonds formed in their childhood years. Lakshmana was like Rama’s shadow, while Shatrughna was attached to Bharata. All three younger brothers loved and adored Rama and looked to Him as a father. During the most difficult circumstances in Rama’s life, it would be Lakshmana who would accompany Him. One such troubling time was Rama’s banishment to the forest for fourteen years, an incident which was the result of a series of unfortunate events.
The misfortune wouldn’t end with the exile though. Only Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom, but both Lakshmana and Sita, Rama’s wife, refused to let Him travel alone. While residing in the forest, Sita would be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana, and Rama and Lakshmana’s search would eventually lead them to the forest of Kishkindha. At the time, this forest was inhabited by a race of monkeys headed by their king, Sugriva. His chief minister was the famous Hanuman, the greatest of Vanaras and a divine figure in his own right. Hanuman descended from Mount Rishyamukha to see what Rama and Lakshmana wanted, for Sugriva was afraid that the two princes, who were unknown to him, had come to kill him.
Upon meeting Hanuman, Rama and Lakshmana were quite delighted. Hanuman praised them with the kindest of words, and Rama in turn agreed to make a friendship with him. After the friendship was established, Hanuman kindly asked the two princes how they ended up in the forest. Lakshmana, acting as Rama’s emissary, answered Hanuman by giving a brief history of the sequence of events. The above referenced statement was part of that description.
In this statement directed to Hanuman, Lakshmana is identifying himself. Of all his identifying qualities and attributes, Lakshmana was only concerned with his faith and devotion to Rama. This is how the mahajanas, the exalted devotees, think. They may have many nice features and abilities, but their only concern is service to God. Lakshmana was often described as being an identical twin to Rama, with the only difference being their complexions. Rama had a dark complexion, similar to that of a raincloud, while Lakshmana was fair. But in all other respects, the two brothers were identical, including in the areas of beauty, strength, and appearance. Though he possessed every auspicious attribute, Lakshmana was only concerned with his faith to Rama.
“Rama's younger brother, Lakshmana, has reddish eyes and a voice that resounds like a kettledrum. His strength matches that of Rama's, and his face shines like a full moon. Just as wind gives aid to a raging fire, Lakshmana has joined forces with his brother. It is that best of kings, Shriman Rama, who has brought down the Rakshasas fighting in Janasthana.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.16-17)
Lakshmana was a younger brother, so the standard etiquette called for him to be faithful to Rama. Lakshmana wanted Hanuman, and everyone else for that matter, to know that the cause of his faith had nothing to do with family ties. Lakshmana makes sure to point out that it is due to Rama’s qualities that he is engaged in His service. Rama, or God, possesses every beneficial feature, every quality needed for the formation of a faithful, solid, and loving bond. It was due to Rama’s kindness, compassion, commitment to protection, and reciprocation of love that Lakshmana took to serving Him.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
From Lakshmana’s description, we can understand that of all the people in this world, God is the most deserving of our faith. Unlike with other living entities, the Lord will never let us down. He recognizes even the smallest service, so there is no reason to not at least try to be faithful to Him. In this age, the easiest way to enter into that faithful relationship, where all service is acknowledged by the most grateful of entities, is to regularly chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though there are various rites and rituals associated with spiritual life, real faith cannot be established through any official ceremony. The faith must be there in the heart, and it must manifest through acts of devotion. By remaining steadfast on the path of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, we can keep up our end of the bargain as it relates to our relationship with God. With this faith firmly established, the Supreme Lord will surely take care of the rest.