“If that devi, who has a face that resembles the lord of stars, the moon, still lives, then certainly she will come to this river of auspicious water.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.51)
yadi jivati sā devī tārā adhipa nibha ānanā |
āgamiṣyati sā avaśyam imām śiva jalām nadīm ||
Here it is said that Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, has a face that resembles the moon. The moon is considered the best star, the king or lord of the many stars that illuminate the night sky. The comparison is apt for Sita, as from her fair complexion her face is very soothing to the eyes. With its contrast to the darkness the moon stands out, and in this area of darkness known as the city of Lanka, Sita too would be noticeable by her virtuous qualities, which were ever so dear to her husband.
Shri Rama, the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, was looking for Sita, who went missing while the couple was residing in the forest of Dandaka. Rama too was often compared to the moon, for His effulgence was comforting to the souls surrendered unto Him. In the Vedic tradition, the highest system of religion, or regulative practice for that matter, is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The English translation pretty much explains how the process works. There is devotion and there is service, and combined together they are directed at the Supreme Lord.
To take up that service as one’s primary occupation in life, it helps to know about the features of the object of service. Therefore some of God’s limitless glories are spoken of in the Vedic texts. The abstract concept of a Divine Being is also touched upon, as that feature is described to be an impersonal energy known as Brahman. Brahman exists regardless of one’s cognizance of it. Indeed, if you gathered everything in the universe and assembled it together, you’d essentially have Brahman. Whether you call it Brahman or something else, that complete aggregate exists nonetheless.
Lord Rama is the intelligence behind the impersonal force. Think of Him as the greatest living being. He has no beginning and no end. He has unlimited forms, or ananta rupam. Rama is God’s divine manifestation as a warrior prince, and from Rama you ascend up to Lord Vishnu. If you go further, you get to Lord Krishna. These beings are the personal aspects of the Supreme Spirit, and they are superior to Brahman because they allow for interaction.
When you boil it down, life is about working. Somehow or other, you have to do something. If you choose to sit around and do nothing but watch television, you are still acting. If you sit in quiet meditation in a remote forest, there is still some work going on. There is constant unhappiness and turmoil because the proper work is difficult to find. We think that it is one set of procedures, but shortly thereafter, boredom results. And so we try something else, only to continue on in the cycle.
Devotional service is the right kind of work. You can tell this based on the influence the work has on your consciousness. Bhakti-yoga can also be translated to mean “Krishna consciousness”, wherein Krishna is synonymous with God. If your consciousness is focused on the divine realm, then the work you do will not be boring. In fact, in bhakti the work is so invigorating that you look for new ways to serve. This is not done to avoid boredom, but rather to quell doubts pertaining to whether or not the object of service is receiving pleasure.
In reality, just the attempt itself is enough to put a smile on Rama’s face, which is moonlike. He is also known as Ramachandra because of this feature. To see how devotional service is supposed to look, we are given the examples of close associates like Sita Devi, Ramachandra’s beloved wife. She serves Him without fail, always thinking of Him in a mood of love. Sometimes she goes against Rama’s wishes because she knows that her preferred course of action will be better suited for Him.
Contrast this with the deviation from the divine will that we concoct on our own. We follow sinful behaviors like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex because we think that pleasure will follow. That these are restricted, or at least limited, in a civilized society is mistakenly seen as a hindrance on the opportunity to enjoy life. That voluntary deviation from the righteous path is detrimental to ourselves in the end, and it keeps us further away from pleasing God, which is actually the best way to feel real pleasure.
In Sita’s case, when she kindly goes against the wishes of her husband, her guiding principle is His pleasure. For instance, Rama once asked her to stay at home for fourteen years while He served out an exile punishment. Sita could have listened, but she decided that Rama’s opinion was not correct. He was overly concerned with her welfare, while she was not going to let Him suffer in the forest alone. Who cares what He thought, she was going with Him. The same wonderful defiance was exhibited by the gopis of Vrindavana in their dealings with Krishna. The lord of the life breath of Shrimati Radharani tried many times to dissuade the gopis from loving Him, but they didn’t bother with His requests, for what would a life devoid of devotional service be to them?
It shouldn’t surprise us then that others who are serving the Supreme Lord would anxiously anticipate a meeting with an exalted servant like Sita. What better way to practice devotion than to see someone else who is an expert at it? Communion with the saints is beneficial for this very reason, as just meeting a saint can do so much for purifying consciousness. Theoretically understanding the need to devote your life to God is easy, but practically implementing the principles is more difficult, especially when many lifetimes have been spent developing bad habits and forming attachments to the temporary world of maya.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman, who was in Lanka looking for Sita, goes over some of her qualities in trying to predict where he might find her. The devoted Vanara was inside a grove of Ashoka trees situated next to the palace of the King of Lanka, Ravana, who was the fiend who had taken Sita back to his kingdom through a backhanded plot; though he could not win her over. She stayed in this Ashoka grove, but Hanuman didn’t know that for sure. He had searched through all of Lanka thus far without any success.
This area was quite pristine, however. The water in this nearby river was auspicious, and so Sita would likely visit it to take water to be used for religious rituals. Sita was pious in every way, though she had no extra reason to be. She was already married to Rama, so her primary duty was to please her husband. Yet her husband paid special attention to dharma, or religiosity, because of His standing as a king’s son. Thus Sita held the same respect for religious principles, and she also grew up as the daughter of the virtuous King Janaka of Mithila.
Hanuman assumed that Sita would be coming his way, to this nearby river, bringing her moonlike face to brighten up his mind, which was just previously in the darkness of despair due to not having succeeded in the mission. Perched on a tree looking down at this nice area, Hanuman was convinced that Sita would arrive. Though he would see her in a slightly different area inside of this grove, his review of Sita’s qualities is nonetheless noteworthy. She is a goddess, and her beautiful face is an ideal match to the lord of stars. She is the best of queens, and so she is the only suitable wife for the king of kings, Shri Rama.
When darkness takes away sight at night,
Depend on the moon shining so bright.
The thickness of the darkness no longer to matter,
As light to come from the rays the moon scatters.
Sita Devi’s face bright in the same way,
Shines light whether night or day.
Hanuman eager to see that brightness,
As devotion to God her true greatness.
Eventually her vision Hanuman to witness,
Ready he was to please Rama with eagerness.