“Just as good deeds give people whatever their mind desires, so God will deliver to the people through the king’s protecting his vow.” (Janaki Mangala, 68)
asa sukṛtī naranāhu jo mana abhilāṣihi |
so puraihiṃ jagadīsa paraja pana rākhihi ||
The joke is sometimes made that no good deed goes unpunished, which can mean that once you do something nice for someone, you will likely be punished in the future by them approaching you to do something for them again. Either that or the good deed will go unappreciated, with the recipient complaining about what you did for them. If you had never stepped forward to offer your service out of kindness, you wouldn’t have had to deal with the future inconvenience. Real sukriti, however, does not go to waste. Good deeds bring meritorious credits that lead to one’s benefit. It’s difficult to remember this truth while you’re carrying out your good deed, but that is why it’s helpful to have others around to remind you.
When would you need to remember this? When your commitment to righteous behavior is threatened through some unforeseen circumstance, the tendency is to bail, to take shelter of your immediate emotions. For example, think of fasting on a particular day to gain some benefit. Fasting is part of religious traditions around the world, and in the Vedas there are many fasting regulations recommended. If you control your urges to eat on a specific auspicious occasion, your mind will be better geared towards focusing on the Supreme Lord. That remembrance is the real boon of the human form of life, as with conscious thought developed to the max you can choose where to focus your efforts. If they are shifted towards a transcendental realm governed by an all-powerful figure of unmatched benevolence, then you’re obviously making good use of your discrimination.
If the fast calls for total abstention from food, it is natural to get the urge to eat during the day. “What is it going to hurt me if I have one tiny thing to eat? Is God going to all of a sudden hate me? Will He punish me because I broke the rules of the fast out of intense hunger? I did make a vow this morning not to eat anything, but all this food around me is just too tempting to pass up.” To injure oneself to the point that you can’t function is never the intended aim of a fast, but at the same time, the original vow helps to bring one the auspicious merits they’re looking for. As best you can, if you can carry through on your vow, especially in the spiritual context, you will achieve a good result.
King Janaka always stayed true to his vow. Not only in relation to fasting, but in all aspects of occupational duty, or dharma. He was a king, but this didn’t mean that he was free of duties in righteousness. If anything, his enhanced stature made him a larger target. More people would scrutinize his behavior, so this meant that if he slipped from the pious path, his subjects would take that as license to break the rules in their own lives. The thief feels validated when they see higher authorities engage in theft. “If they are allowed to get away with stealing, why shouldn’t I? I’m not doing anything they aren’t doing.”
On the flip side, when the king follows his vow to uphold righteousness through his own conduct, so many benefits accumulate, which then trickle down to the rest of society. Think of it in terms of the policeman or firefighter. These public officials have vowed to protect the innocent and put out blazing fires. In times of emergency, if they do their job, the citizens are satisfied. If they fail to uphold their vow, then everyone gets hurt. This is the general rule with dharma. You follow it and you’re benefitted. If not, you’re harmed.
The gray areas are what make this dedication difficult. What if you’re in a situation that seems like it’s okay to break the rules just one time? This is what the pious Janaka faced one time. Indeed, many of his citizens were urging him to break his vow previously announced to the world. The king had a beautiful daughter who had recently reached an age appropriate for marriage. She was of such splendid character that Janaka couldn’t decide on a proper husband for her. After consulting with his royal priests, he decided to hold a contest.
Janaka vowed to give Sita away to whichever prince would be the first to lift an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva. The king was famous throughout the world for his control over the senses and his dedication to piety, so everyone took his vow seriously. They packed up provisions, assembled the royal family members, and headed straight for Janaka’s city. They knew that the king wasn’t lying, so if a prince in their family could lift the bow, the beautiful Sita Devi would enter their family.
A chaste wife coming from a noble family is considered a great blessing. Through her own dedication to piety, the new wife ensures that the family life is supported and that the husband is happy in his daily affairs. The pious wife can even keep the husband on the straightened path, should he feel the desire to stray. Though the husband may feel like he’s getting nagged, the closeness in the relationship allows the wife to correct errant behavior that would otherwise go uncommented on. This puts her in a unique and powerful position.
As an example, it is considered rude to chew food with one’s mouth wide open. The sound that results is very annoying to others, and the behavior mimics that of animals like dogs, who are not civilized enough to know how to eat properly. A good wife who loves her husband will immediately correct this behavior, reminding him that eating in such a way is not good. The ability to chew is not hindered when the mouth is closed, so the annoying sounds from eating and sipping with the mouth open are not necessary.
Janaka made the vow, but things got really interesting when a beautiful youth with a bluish complexion entered the city. He wasn’t there for the contest. Vishvamitra Muni was using this young boy and His younger brother Lakshmana as protection in the forest against vile rangers of the night who had been harassing the innocent sages for too long. Though the kind youths were only following their spiritual master, they looked prime to participate in the contest. Neither of them were married, and since Rama was the elder, He could try to lift the bow to win Sita’s hand. Before any of these thoughts could enter the minds of the observers, the wonderful beauty of both Rama and Lakshmana was noticed. It was mesmerizing, and many of the people realized that they were tasting the fruit of their existence. At that very moment they were finally understanding why God gave them eyes.
With the intense attachment that formed instantly and spontaneously, many people started to worry about the contest. The elder brother Rama was so beautiful and youthful, so how could He lift the bow? Sure, He had just killed attacking Rakshasas in the forest, but His immediate vision was sort of a paradox. Everyone wanted to protect Rama when seeing Him, instead of the other way around. Lakshmana was identical in appearance except for complexion. So such a beautiful sight lay before the eyes of the pure-hearted residents protected by King Janaka, and now they wanted to make sure to never lose that vision again. Their joy could only be enhanced if Rama were to win the contest and marry Sita.
Ah, but that was the issue. The king made a vow. If not for his promise, all these people wouldn’t have arrived in Janakpur. If not for the king’s dedication to piety, Vishvamitra wouldn’t have considered it necessary to visit him, taking Rama and Lakshmana with him. So many opinions thus circled, with some cursing the king for his vow and others standing up for him, saying that his vow is what brought Rama and Lakshmana to Janakpur.
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala we get another viewpoint that is sympathetic to Janaka. It says that pious deeds, sukriti, bring whatever the mind desires, so in the same way God Himself will ensure that happiness will abound by Janaka protecting his vow. The vow was a kind of pious deed anyway, and all deeds rooted in legitimate piety are initially instituted by the Supreme Lord. Therefore He is the distributor of good fortune to those who follow sukriti.
This viewpoint was indeed correct, for more than one reason. Shri Rama is the very same Supreme Lord, so He would personally protect King Janaka’s vow. There was no need for concern, for even in a youthful figure Bhagavan exhibits immense strength. The youthful son of King Dasharatha would lift the extremely heavy bow without a problem, winning Sita’s hand in marriage. The people would get what they wanted, and it was originally arranged by Janaka’s vow. He stayed true to it in the presence of the Supreme Lord, and everyone was duly rewarded for it.
Through following deeds meritorious,
People to see beloved Rama victorious.
King had taken his vow,
Couldn’t go back on it now.
System of piety God first creates,
Sukriti’s results therefore He makes.
Rama is God, so fate of His deeds sealed,
In His mighty arms bow of Shiva to wield.