“He is looking at the many mountains, vines, rivers and ponds on the way. As part of His childish play, He is running after birds and trying to stop deer.” (Janaki Mangala, 33)
thgara tarū beli sarita sara bipula bilokahiṃ |
dhāvahiṃ bāla subhāya bihaga mṛga rokahiṃ ||
Travelling in the forest, the young son of King Dasharatha is having a good time, as any child close to twelve years of age would want. Seeing the birds and tigers, He is trying to catch them, and gazing at the beautiful surroundings, the origin of all life and matter is appreciating His marvelous abilities. At the same time, the boy’s younger brother Lakshmana is accompanying Him, and they are guarded by Vishvamitra, the pious muni. This combination of characters makes for a delightful scene, one which can be contemplated upon again and again.
Why was Lord Rama chasing after birds and trying to stop deer? As the father of the creation, all creatures come from Him. It is not that the intelligent species who can understand God slightly through the good fortune of meeting a spiritual master are the only candidates for the Lord’s mercy in the form of His personal association. Even the less intelligent deer, who run out into the road and get mesmerized by the headlights of an oncoming automobile, can delight in seeing Rama’s countenance. When God chases after them, tries to stop them, or shows any attention to them at all, how could they not feel pleasure?
Animals have souls? They most certainly do. In fact, all forms of life have the same quality of spirit residing within them. The outer forms may not always have the same appearance, but the makeup of the spirit soul, the spark of life, in the individuals is not different. This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. A spirit soul resides in a body so helpless that it requires diapers and then stays within that body until it is old enough to drive a car, go to work, and produce offspring. The soul is the constant; it does not move or change in quality.
Take the same principle and apply it to every single species and you get the vision known as Brahman realization. Brahman is pure spirit. It is not affected by the changes to the external features. Just as when we might be angry one day and sad another our identity doesn’t change, just because one soul is in the body of a deer and another in the enlightened human being doesn’t mean that there is any distinction in the end. If you gather together every instance of spirit and put it into one collection for observational purposes, you get the concept of Brahman.
Obviously, acquiring the Brahman vision is very difficult. The principles of a bona fide religion are meant to bring about the realization of Brahman. In the Vedas, the oldest system of spirituality in existence, strict austerity and dedicated sacrifice coupled with instruction from a spiritual master at a young age sets up the necessary conditions for attaining the enlightened vision of seeing all spirit souls as equal.
Yet the vision doesn’t represent the end point, as was proven by Vishvamitra Muni. On the surface Vishvamitra, the son of Gadhi, was a brahmana practicing the principles of the Vedas aimed at seeing all living beings as equal. At the same time, he knew that there was one spiritual force which was superior, which was the source of Brahman. That singular entity, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, happened to appear in the pious Raghu dynasty as the son of King Dasharatha. Known by the name of Rama, this incarnation of the Supreme Lord was loved and adored by all the members of His family, including His three younger brothers: Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna.
It was Rama and Lakshmana playfully travelling with Vishvamitra in the forests because the sage was being harassed by night-rangers looking to disrupt the religious practices of the ascetics avowed to following their occupational duties. While all living entities are the same constitutionally, realization of that fact and the connection with the Supreme Lord can only take place through dedication in yoga. Yoga means to link up the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, God’s expansion residing within the heart. Yet not all kinds of yoga are the same, though unknowing mental speculators and unauthorized commentators may say otherwise.
Through his dedicated practice of asceticism, Vishvamitra was also a yogi, following meditation and also the route of karma, or action, with detachment. Yet his real business was bhakti-yoga, or divine love. If this were not the case, Shri Rama would never have accompanied Him in the forest. To understand why, think of who the people are with whom you currently associate. Are they friends or enemies? Do you purposefully go out of your way to hang around people who hate you? Better yet, do you cherish the association of someone who pretends that you don’t even exist?
With the paths of impersonal study of Vedanta, fruitive work with the results renounced, and meditational yoga, the Supreme Lord in His blissful features, the sach-chid-ananda vigraha, is not acknowledged. Therefore, by definition how can anyone following these paths bask in Rama’s company, gaining His divine vision? Not that these paths are illegitimate, for they are mentioned in shastra for a reason. It takes the conditioned soul many lifetimes just to attempt to adopt an authorized system of spirituality in earnest. Therefore those who don’t take to the path of bhakti are not shut out immediately; they are given the chance to progress through other, more difficult paths.
Only in bhakti-yoga, the linking of the soul with God through acts of love, can one hear about and relish the activities of the Supreme Lord Rama travelling through the forests with Vishvamitra and Lakshmana. The impersonalist can hear the same above referenced passage from the Janaki Mangala and not get any delight from it. Using only mental speculation and knowledge limited by time, space and logic, the philosopher may think that Rama was foolish for chasing after birds and stopping deer. “Also, why did the mountains, lakes, rivers and vines need to be appreciated? These are all objects of maya, or illusion. The birds are just spirit souls, part of the Brahman energy, so why the need to pay them any attention? Shouldn’t Rama have just sat back and stayed renounced?”
The Supreme Lord is always in ananda, or bliss. He derives this pleasure in whichever manner He sees fit, but at the core of any real pleasure is the exchange of emotion. In order for there to be an exchange, there must be more than one party. With the birds and deer, Shri Rama was having a good time with His parts and parcels, spirit souls who would appreciate His appearance. The animals enjoy God’s personal presence, at any time and at any place. It is said that the same Shri Rama, when appearing on earth as the preacher incarnation named Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, would get even the tigers to dance along to the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Shri Rama as Govinda, one who gives pleasure to the cows and to the senses, was loved and adored by all the animals in Vrindavana.
The lower species worship God in the mood of devotion called shanta-rasa, wherein they can’t directly offer obeisances. This mood is known as neutrality, but it is still part of devotion because love for God is present. Shri Rama always plays the part perfectly. Younger children are more energetic and difficult to restrain when let out into the open. A young child doesn’t require a television set or a video game console to be entertained. Simply by running in a field, seeing nature’s creation, a young child can find endless opportunities for excitement, avoiding boredom throughout. Shri Krishna and Balarama used to go out daily with their friends to play and they had such a good time that the dear mother Yashoda had to repeatedly call them to come home and eat.
Shri Rama similarly enjoyed travelling through the forests with Lakshmana, staying under the care of Vishvamitra. Ironically enough, the guru had specifically requested Rama’s company for the purposes of protection. Rama and Lakshmana were trained from childhood to be military fighters, and due to their divine natures, they were already expert at fighting at a young age. The most hideous creatures had been attacking the sages in the forests, so Vishvamitra knew that Rama and Lakshmana were the only ones capable of defeating these enemies and eliminating their influence.
As the Supreme Lord is Absolute, His fighting and His playing serve the same purpose. He fights with the enemies to protect the innocent and give them pleasure, and He plays with the deer and birds in the forest to enjoy their company. Thanks to the saints like Tulsidas who record these adventures in poetry format, any person can bask in the same sweetness by regularly hearing about the Lord’s activities. Vishvamitra certainly was delighted to have Rama with him, as was the entire population of creatures who called the remote wilderness their home.
The birds in the wilderness He did chase,
Giving them chance to see His beautiful face.
As part of His childish play,
Rama tries to stop deer in their way.
As the brothers with Vishvamitra move along,
The rivers, mountains and ponds they gaze upon.
Thinking of this scene for mind pleasurable,
Rama’s play with His brother for sage delightful.
Creatures of this world deserve God’s association,
They are souls too, devotees by constitution.