“Indeed, previously Rama’s beloved and chaste wife, the daughter of Janaka, always had a fondness for the creatures of the forest.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 14.48)
vane carāṇām satatam nūnam spṛhayate purā |
rāmasya dayitā bhāryā janakasya sutā sati ||
If someone tells you they are a “dog person” or a “cat person”, it means that they like that particular animal. The identification is made so as to distinguish their behavior from what one might otherwise guess. A civilized human being isn’t expected to live amongst animals, so how they would react to their presence is unknown. By default, one would think that a person wouldn’t have a fondness for a foreign creature. Think of the typical reaction to seeing a spider or a lizard. The spider is rather harmless, but seeing a small thing like that crawling around your house might put you on edge. The lizard might be more dangerous, but then again you as a human being are much larger, and thus more powerful as well.
That cats and dogs would serve as ideal pets should make sense. They are seemingly innocent animals who can accept unconditional love. They ask for basic maintenance and in return you get to watch them as they enjoy life. To have affection for these animals is a way to offer service, a way to spread love when other outlets might not be available. If you’re not married or if you have no significant other, you can bring home a pet and have so many responsibilities added to your daily routine. These burdens are welcomed, as they give you a chance to care for another creature.
The highest transcendentalists extend that kindness to all creatures. This means that the animals that are commonly killed for food are also loved and adored. With the vegetation that grows naturally, and with the milk produced by the loving mothers known as cows, the human being can have plenty of food to eat. Thus the strongest justification for killing such innocent creatures goes away. The requirement, of course, is that one be honest in their assessment. If a small child is the essence of innocence and so is the helpless cat or dog, then why not the cow too? Why not the chicken? How about the ant, the elephant, and the tiger?
“So does this mean we should keep tigers as pets? Deer are meant to live in the wild, so how are we to take care of them?”
The vision is applied equally, but the application of effort does not have to be uniform. That dichotomy already exists in dealings with pets. You can’t talk to a cat or a dog about the movie you just watched. You can’t get their opinion on the outfit you’re wearing and neither can they give you career advice. Yet this doesn’t hinder the output of emotion; the ointment of affection is still applied to the eyes which gaze upon such creatures.
Affection can still be offered to all creatures without necessarily offering them the same behavior we extend to other humans. A tiger is a spirit soul just as much as a cat or a dog is, but it just has different tendencies. The tiger will only eat the flesh of other animals, and it is not harmless enough to serve as a pet. This, by itself, doesn’t qualify it for harsh treatment though, and the wise person will not hate the tiger, nor any other creature.
The saintly figures have this equal vision, for they are intimately familiar with the qualities of the spirit soul, which comes from the original soul, the Supreme Lord. He is also the soul of all creatures, as without His presence, nothing can have an existence. To “be” means to have God’s presence, and to “act” requires the presence of the individual soul. The two combined together make for a potent combination, but in the conditioned state the ideal meeting in blissfulness doesn’t take place without a purification of consciousness, which requires a clearing of the vision.
Vision needs to be clear because only with dust on the eyes of the consciousness are there distinctions made with respect to other creatures. The cloudiness starts with looking in the mirror, where we take our bodily features to be part of our identity. We relate to our skin color, country of origin, and even our gender. Yet these were not in our control; we had no choice in where we took birth. The bodily features change over time as well, but we as individuals do not. This means that what we are really looking at in the mirror is a spirit soul.
But this is difficult to see, so through dedicated practice of religious principles we can learn to see our true identity. All other forms of life are spirit as well. This means that the more we extend the sort-of x-ray vision, where we see spirit and not matter, the more clear our vision will be. Moreover, through that oneness established between the many creatures in the universe, we can understand that there is a singular spiritual energy, which is just one aspect of the complete spiritual force, who is more commonly known as God.
All of this seems rather difficult to follow, especially if we’re so accustomed to acting off of bodily designations, taking what we see to be what we believe. There is a better route towards attaining the constitutional position, however. Along the way, the equal vision of the sage is acquired automatically. To see proof of how this works, we can look to the example of Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka. Though technically her example doesn’t apply since she is the Supreme Lord’s eternal consort and thus a divine figure who never assumes or rejects a position, we can still study her behavior to see how divine qualities automatically exist in a lover of God.
And yes, that is her primary feature: she loves God more than anyone can. She is always in His company, serving His every need. From the Vedas we get information that Sita is also the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi Devi. The Supreme Lord, among many other things, is the wealthiest person in the world. An oil tycoon may have billions of dollars in net worth, but God is still wealthier because He owns the entire earth, in which is found all the seeds necessary for existence. Petroleum, the fuel of the engine of the modern industrial economy, is also found within His earth.
Sita is Lakshmi, and she is other forms of the goddess of fortune as well, but her role never changes. She shares her husband’s fortune with the souls who please her. As the fortune granted is an extension of her, it is meant to follow her example. Her vitality is used for keeping a smile on her husband’s face. And in this endeavor she never fails, as no one pleases God more than Sita. The fortune she confers upon others is meant to give the same pleasure to the Supreme Lord. When it is used otherwise, it can be the greatest source of misery. Today you think that all your troubles will go away should you strike it rich, but know that so many more problems will be introduced. Excessive wealth tends to turn a person into a miser, which then makes both their present and future lives hellish. In the present they constantly worry about losing their fortune. This is a kind of mental torture. That concern secures a hellish afterlife, for miserly behavior does not square with piety.
From her undying love for her husband, Sita automatically has affection for all the creatures of the world. This was proven many times during her stay on this earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Assuming her role in the real-life play known as the Ramayana, Sita appeared as the daughter of the pious King Janaka. She was found in the earth as a baby while Janaka was ploughing a field. Thus she was automatically connected to the earth, accepting it as her mother. Though she grew up in royal opulence, she never had any attachment to it. Her business is giving away fortune in charity, so she obviously isn’t very much impressed by jewelry, gold and the like. Her true wealth is the company of her husband, Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya.
“Ever since I heard those words from the brahmanas versed in interpreting marks on the body in my home, I have always been enthusiastic about living in the forest, O highly powerful one.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 29.9)
Though she was a prince’s wife, she still loved to roam the forests for fun. Think of how people like going for walks in the evenings or mornings. You get out of the house, see the nature around you, and feel at peace. Sita had no fear of the wild, for she viewed all creatures as being spiritually equal. The wilderness is also more peaceful, a place where the mind can focus better on the real meaning of life, that of loving God. She, of course, would go with her husband on these trips, and thus derive tremendous enjoyment.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman was quite familiar with these behavioral characteristics of Rama’s wife. He relied on this information while inside of the Ashoka grove in the kingdom of Lanka, which was ruled at the time by a vile ogre named Ravana. Sita had been taken to Lanka against her will by Ravana, and Hanuman was sent to first find her location. He made it to Lanka, but finding Sita was the more difficult chore. Now he was in the last part of his search, inside this beautiful park of Ashoka trees.
Hanuman surmised that Sita would be there. He perched himself on a tree branch and waited for Rama’s beloved and chaste wife. Hanuman knew that previously she had such a fondness for the creatures of the wild, so it wouldn’t be surprising for her to walk through this forest. Rama wasn’t with her, so she would be aggrieved, but at the same time she liked to roam the peaceful wilderness. She would be thinking of Rama the whole time, reminded by flowers and trees of her husband’s glorious attributes and the time they spent together in the forest of Dandaka.
Though Sita wouldn’t be walking about at that time, the wise Hanuman was correct in his assessment of her qualities, as he would indeed find Sita in that grove. That he knew her so well having never met her shows just how eager to hear about God and His devotees Hanuman is. Sita loved all creatures automatically because of her love for her husband, and Hanuman automatically learned of Sita’s wonderful traits based on his love for the same person. Thus we can see that affection for God proves beneficial in every way, helping to bring auspicious conditions for whatever endeavor the devotee takes up. Know that both Sita and Hanuman harbor no ill will against any creature of this world, and they are especially fond of Rama’s devotees. By always chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, their favor can be gained as well.
Creatures large and small, of many a guise,
That they are different unwise will surmise.
But at the core every living entity is spirit,
Go through cycles where bodies entered and quit.
The truly learned with this equal vision can see,
Know that everyone else just the same as me.
Sita, Rama’s wife, had fondness for creatures of the wild,
With Rama roamed forests with enthusiasm of a child.
To decipher location these traits together Hanuman fused,
In the end his intelligence and love for Sita and Rama well used.