“If even the respectable Sita, who is dear to Lakshmana’s elder brother, who was trained well by His superiors, can be struck by distress, then the influence of time is indeed insurmountable.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.3)
mānyā guru vinītasya lakṣmaṇasya guru priyā |
yadi sītā api duhkha ārtā kālo hi duratikramaḥ ||
Though it should really have no bearing on the fact, when we hear that someone was involved in nefarious activity prior to their untimely passing, we feel a little less sad. This is because it is understood that the punishment which arrived was due to a personal action, something wrong that they did. For instance, a tragic death due to drunken driving will make us think that the person could have avoided it. “They acted stupid, so what did they expect would happen?” Ah, but in this material world no one is totally safe from distress, no matter how pious they are. The true aim in life is transcendence, and from the thoughts of a dedicated servant a long time ago we get insight into what that means.
You do something bad, you reap the negative consequence. You run around with scissors, you invite danger. When the scissors cut your skin or someone else’s, the result could have been predicted beforehand; it’s not very surprising. But the Vedas describe this world as temporary and full of distresses. This means that whoever you are, whether you are of world prominence or relative obscurity, you will get both pain and pleasure. These will also arrive on their own, without you seeking them. If you don’t believe this, think of the pain and pleasure that relate to the weather. It’s really hot outside today, and so it makes the inside of the home quite uncomfortable. This is distress. The next day the temperature lowers and you automatically feel better. This is pleasure. Both came on their own, without you having to do anything. Sure the conditions are only temporary, but the pain and pleasure are real.
It is inherently understood that through pious behavior we will avoid pain, both in the short and long term. Piety and sin can be likened to following and disobeying an instruction manual. The instruction manual is for our benefit. By following it we are to get the intended outcome. If we ignore the manual, we may be able to figure out the right course, but if we don’t, the blame lies with us. We deserve the punishment that follows because we chose to ignore the guidance that was for our benefit.
“Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.15)
Prescribed duties are tied to sacrifice, both of which are fixed in transcendence. That which transcends rises above, and with respect to sacrifice and prescribed duties, it means that the living entities can rise above the dualities of pain and pleasure, heat and cold, and life and death through following regulations passed down by the origin of matter and spirit, the original person. Therefore real piety is automatically tied to God, and it exists for the end-goal of pleasure, and not of the temporary variety either. Real pleasure is ananda, and its origin is not in a realm governed by duality.
Even if you are the most pious person in the world and related to others who are pious, you are sure to get your share of distress. This fact was noted by Shri Hanuman when he first saw Sita Devi in Lanka. She was in terrible distress. Think of being separated from your loved one and left to wait for an uncertain future. You don’t know if they’re missing you, if they feel sad over your not being by their side. You don’t know if they want to reunite with you, if the separation pain they feel is as strong as yours. You also don’t know what will happen to you, if your terrible situation will persist.
This describes Sita’s situation, as she remained in Lanka against her will due to the wicked king Ravana. She was in a grove of Ashoka trees surrounded by female ogres ordered to harass her day and night. Hanuman saw her from a distance and immediately had tears fill his eyes. He also thought of Sita’s husband, Shri Rama, the person Hanuman previously met. Rama asked Hanuman to find Sita, so it was not surprising that Hanuman would think of Him at this time.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana it is said that Sita is very dear to Lakshmana’s guru, which in this case refers to Rama. Rama was the elder brother of Lakshmana, but He was also a guru in the role of the most respected personality. Rama was also respectful to His gurus, or teachers and elders. This means that the entire chain was perfect. Sita was respectable. Her husband was the guru of Lakshmana, who is the most respectable brother. Lakshmana abandoned the comfortable life in Ayodhya to follow his brother Rama through the forest. Lakshmana was not required to do this, but he did not want Rama to suffer alone in the forest for fourteen years, an exile punishment handed down by their father.
Time is the great equalizer. It will take away everything eventually. In the Vedic literatures time is known as kalah, a word that can also be translated to mean death or destiny. From seeing Sita, Hanuman understood that every person must suffer distress at some point. If it is destined to arrive, nothing can be done to stop it. Nevertheless, both Sita and Hanuman are fixed in transcendence, so their pain and pleasure are not the same as ours. They only appear to be ordinary because that is one of the purposes served by the Ramayana, which is a real-life play enacted by the Supreme Lord and His dearest servants.
From their time on earth, we understand that Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman underwent periods of distress, so that is a lesson to all that no one should think they can escape pain and pleasure in this world. The key is to remain fixed in devotional service, the bhakti-yoga practiced by Hanuman and Rama’s other close friends. In bhakti one acquires the ability to transcend duality, to remain fixed in loving thoughts of the Supreme Lord in any situation. This type of consciousness then brings residence in the spiritual kingdom after death.
Insurmountable the influence of destiny,
Brought to Sita a condition to pity.
Her vision this realization to Hanuman brought,
For of impiety never in her a thought.
Eternal time to deliver results to all,
Whether in stature large or tall.
Though we see Sita suffered pain,
As a divine figure for her not the same.
Nevertheless, from Ramayana lessons take,
Follow bhakti and life of transcendence make.