Thursday, December 22, 2011

Highest Standing

Sita holding flower“Or while advancing higher and higher over the ocean, trying to break free that daughter of Janaka surely fell into the sea. Alas, while trying to protect her chastity, cut off from her relatives, Sita, the very chaste wife, has been eaten up by this wicked Ravana. Alternatively, that innocent, dark-eyed lady has been eaten up by the ill-motivated wives of the king of Rakshasas.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.10-12)

upari upari vā nūnam sāgaram kramataḥ tadā ||
viveṣṭamānā patitā samudre janaka ātmajā |
āho kṣudreṇa ca anena rakṣantī śīlam ātmanaḥ ||
abandhur bhakṣitā sītā rāvaṇena tapasvinī |
athavā rākṣasa indrasya patnībhir asita īkṣaṇā ||
aduṣṭā duṣṭa bhāvābhir bhakṣitā sā bhaviṣyati |

Lord Rama’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead is substantiated through the authorized words of the Vedas and their followers. As if He needed any further support, for good measure, to remove any doubt, the Lord’s true identity is also revealed through the glorious nature of His closest associates, those who worship Him with every thought, word and deed. Just by observing their behavior, becoming intimately acquainted with their personality traits, Rama’s standing increases. Among such proponents, Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, stands tall always, even when the mind is conjuring up the worst possible images. If one hasn’t met her, never seen her before, and only heard about her from others, Sita still comes off looking good. In many respects she can be worshiped as being greater than God.

Sita DeviWhat are some of her characteristics? Why is she so glorious? Her predominant feature is her devotion to Lord Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in His manifestation as a warrior prince. Sita and Rama are always together, but during their time on earth they put on a wonderful play, sometimes remaining in close proximity to one another and sometimes feeling the pains of separation. Through separation is where our commitment is really challenged, where our devotion to the stated object of affection is put to the real test. Sita, by dharma, or religiosity, was wedded to Rama in the beautiful kingdom ruled by her father, Maharaja Janaka. Her devotion to Rama was expected as a matter of protocol. Nevertheless, she always went above and beyond the call of duty, for her love for God can never be challenged or diminished. Just like a raging fire cannot be put out by tiny buckets of water, Sita’s intense affection for Shri Rama cannot be lessened through physical separation, imminent danger, or even the fear of never seeing her beloved again. Even Shri Rama, the husband she swore an oath to always serve, is helpless in trying to quell her love for Him.

The most detailed accounts of their time spent on this earth can be found in the Ramayana of Valmiki, one of the most sacred and oldest Vedic texts. The Ramayana can be considered a history book put into a poem. Since the subject matter is the prince of the Raghu dynasty, the soothing moonlight for the living entity stuck in a world full of darkness, the history becomes the most important to learn about. Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it, and those who miss learning about the Supreme Lord and devotion to Him in this lifetime are destined for rebirth.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Lord KrishnaWhy is rebirth such a bad thing? Isn’t it cool that we get another chance at life if we mess this one up? And if we do well in this life, we get to start off from a better position in the next one, so why the negative portrayal of reincarnation? These are certainly valid points, as everything in the material world presents a duality. One person likes ice cream and its taste, while another person loathes the effect it has on their weight and sugar levels. One person loves the summer and the wonderful heat, while another person can’t stand having to put on the air conditioner all the time and sweat constantly.

Reincarnation can be viewed both favorably and unfavorably. To the wise rebirth is not a welcome event because it indicates that the previous life was a failure. How do we know this? The human brain cannot conceive of the meaning of life on its own; it must accept the information on the position of the soul and its constitutional qualities from the proper authority figures. In the absence of such instruction, man will try his hand at different conclusions to see what the effects are.

In the beginning the first conclusion is that life is only about enjoyment. Play all day, sleep a little at night, and then repeat the procedure again the next day. With a little maturity, the need for education is introduced. With school, the aim is to acquire knowledge and grow up to have a profession that is both enjoyable and productive. When life’s gains are accumulated, renunciation will naturally follow as well; get rid of all the things you don’t need anymore. This cycle of acceptance and rejection continues all the way up until death.

If the consciousness is not properly situated when the time comes to exit the currently occupied dwelling, there is no choice but for the higher authorities in charge of managing nature to grant rebirth, wherein the pursuit of perfection resets. To the person who learned that the meaning of life is to become God conscious, the repetition of birth and death is considered quite miserable. To he who has no knowledge of such things, the greatest loss of missing out on the Supreme Lord’s eternal association is not known.

“Tulsi emphatically says, ‘O mind, hear what I am saying and always take it to heart, for this will benefit you. Remembering Shri Rama is the greatest profit, and forgetting Him is the worst loss.’” (Dohavali, 21)

Sita and RamaVedic texts fill us in on what we would be missing out on should we not make the most of this valuable human form of life. The Ramayana has truths of life presented through a real-life story pertaining to God and His associates. After enjoying married life with Sita for around twelve years, Rama was ordered to leave His kingdom of Ayodhya and reside in the forests for fourteen years. He did not want Sita to come with Him. The order didn’t apply to her, so why should she needlessly suffer?

To Sita, life was only about loving Rama, no matter what. What could she have to gain by remaining in the kingdom while her husband suffered in the wilderness? Though Rama tried and tried to dissuade her, nothing could stop Sita from accompanying her husband. This was just the first notable incident showing Sita’s unbreakable love for Shri Rama. But while in the forest, there would be trouble. The king of Rakshasas, Ravana, heard of Sita’s residence in Dandaka and decided he couldn’t live without her. He already had hundreds of the most beautiful princesses for wives, but this was of no concern to him. He didn’t know the meaning of life, so he figured the more enjoyable association he could get, the better his life would be.

Yet there was one minor issue with which to contend. Ravana, though having ten heads and a legendary fighting prowess, was no match for Shri Rama, who, using a single bow and arrow set, had killed 14,000 of the demon king’s most capable fighters that had attacked the Lord in the forest of Dandaka. How a single man could kill that many fighters without outside help is known only to the devoted souls who have taken shelter of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Though Ravana couldn’t believe what Rama had done, he wasn’t going to take his chances by fighting the Lord one on one. Instead, he devised a plan where he could take Sita away in Rama’s absence.

His plan worked and he was able to separate the divine couple. To help find Sita, Rama enlisted the aid of a band of Vanaras residing in Kishkindha. Hanuman was their most valuable asset, the most capable warrior, so the burden for success in the reconnaissance mission was placed on his shoulders. Having tremendous love for Rama, though only knowing Him for a short while, Hanuman was up to the challenge. He was enthusiastic to please Rama and find the Lord’s wife, whom Hanuman had never met.

HanumanHanuman had heard all about Sita, and he knew that she was Rama’s wife. This automatically meant that her character was flawless. The story of the couple’s marriage arrangement was also famous throughout the world at the time. Janaka had found the child Sita in the ground while ploughing a field. Taking baby Sita back with him to Videha, he and his wife raised her as their own. Since her family ancestry was not known, Janaka was in a quandary about her marriage arrangements. He decided that whoever could lift the amazing bow belonging to Lord Shiva handed down in his family would win Sita’s hand in marriage. At the svayamvara ceremony, many kings from far and wide came to try their hand at lifting the bow, but like an assembly in a manufacturing plant, one king after another came and went. They started out excited, but as their inability to even move the bow showed, they left dejected.

Shri Rama, who was in the forests at the time with His younger brother Lakshmana protecting the sage Vishvamitra from the attacking Rakshasas, came and easily lifted the bow, breaking it in half while stringing it. Thus Sita and Rama were married, showing the world that they were destined to be with each other. While in Lanka searching for Sita, Hanuman was having trouble finding her. He used every power he had in him just to infiltrate the city. The other monkeys in his party could not make the giant leap across the ocean to reach the shores of Lanka. Thus Hanuman was a warrior all alone. The fate of the mission rested with him. Sita’s chances for rescue were also dependent on his ability to find her.

Who wouldn’t start to feel the pressure after a while? Hanuman is extremely powerful and ever pure of heart, but he finally relented a little to the inhibiting forces of the mind. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, he is continuing his running through of the different worst-case scenarios. “Maybe Sita fell off from Ravana’s aerial car while he was flying away from Dandaka. Maybe that Rakshasa ate her up, for she wouldn’t give in to his demands. Or maybe the jealous queens in Lanka devoured her to remove the competition.” All of these were distinct possibilities, as the Rakshasa king was jealous enough to steal another person’s wife. What would then stop him from hurting Sita? Moreover, what would stop the other queens from removing their stiffest competition? So infatuated was Ravana with Sita that he offered her the position of head queen.

The irony in these hypothetical scenarios is that though they are horrible to even think about, should any of them had actually taken place, Sita’s glory would remain intact. If she fell from Ravana’s aerial car, it would have been because she was so disgusted by his presence. If Ravana ate her up, as the Rakshasas are known to do, it would have been because she refused to give in to his demands. The same would hold true if the rival queens had attacked her. In this way Hanuman knew that Sita was incapable of sin, and that if she weren’t in Lanka, it was due only to the wicked forces of those most vehemently opposed to loving God.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaHanuman’s love for Sita and Rama would keep him going despite the horrible situations created in his mind. Why give up when there was a possibility of success by forging ahead? In a similar manner, just because we have wasted so many previous lives, why not at least put forth the effort to make this birth our last one? The path laid down by Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman can be followed by the people of this age by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra is the mother, the father, the guru, and the benefactor. With the sound vibrations of the spiritual world permeating the consciousness, proper intelligence is revived, which gives the ability to decipher the proper course of action in any situation.

Hanuman kept the holy name with him while traversing Lanka. Despair and temporary setbacks did not deter him. Neither did being separated from her beloved Rama stop Sita from loving her husband. She forever has the highest standing, and since her love for Rama was tested on so many occasions, she is in many ways superior to Him. Rama sometimes puts His devotees into difficult situations because that will increase their love for Him. We can be angry with Him over this or we can honor and adore Him even more for giving us such special favor.

Sita Devi similarly ensures that the devotees engaged in bhakti are never bereft of necessities. She knows what it’s like to love Rama, and unlike the jealous queens in Lanka, her heart melts whenever she sees someone sincerely trying to win her husband’s favor. To this day she is Hanuman’s greatest supporter, and their affection for each other is one of the many jewels coming from the history that is the Ramayana. Those who become familiar with these truths will doom their chances of rebirth.

In Closing:

Know it for certain that Sita is pure,

Her position as Rama’s beloved secure.

Even in the face of the worst calamity,

She remembers Rama, ignores impending tragedy.

Not finding her, Hanuman had negative thoughts,

Perhaps Sita killed while to Lanka she was brought.

The queens of Rakshasa king always rivaling,

Perhaps their competition they took to devouring.

Monkey forged ahead because one thing he knew,

That Sita’s chastity and love for Rama always true.