“Then Janaka came and asked the family guru to bring Sita. As she is a storehouse of beauty, the people received the fruit of their eyes.” (Janaki Mangala, 10.2)
Shri Ramachandra’s wife is the most beautiful. As they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, the eyes that gaze upon her lovely form make an instant decision. The beauty is so striking that the observer realizes that they have just then received the fruit of their eyes. Previously, the eyes were used to look at this thing and that, but nothing was so beautiful that it gave meaning to having eyes, making one thankful for them. This beauty in Sita is used to please her beloved, who is the Supreme Lord. Thus she is the best devotee, practicing devotion in the proper way.
Is there a wrong way to practice devotion?
Sure there is, though in those cases the word “devotion” may not be entirely appropriate. Let’s say that I am devoted to my diet, which came to me from a fitness guru. I liked what they said initially, so I decided to listen to them. Whatever the diet, they all work. The health benefits may not be equal, but in any case one who follows a diet, wherein they limit their intake of food, will see the desired benefit of a shedding of weight, provided they are faithful.
This faithfulness is a kind of devotion, but what is the intention? What if the diet didn’t work? Would I still follow it? Would I still give attention to the fitness guru who came up with it? Obviously my attention would go elsewhere, to someone with a valid message. Thus the original devotion wasn’t really devotion; it was more of a bargain, an agreement. “I’ll scratch your back and you’ll scratch mine.” There is nothing inherently evil with this arrangement, as the fitness guru has the same purpose. “You give me money and attention and I’ll give you something in return.”
Real devotion, which is known by terms such as bhakti and prema in Sanskrit, is not dependent on the object of attention’s reciprocation. Then the obvious question is, “Why be devoted? If the corresponding party is not obliged to offer you anything in return, why waste your time?” These are indeed relevant issues, and they are kindly resolved by the qualities found in the corresponding object. Since only one person is capable of reciprocating properly through their qualities, of giving a benefit regardless of what the servicing party is expecting, bhakti can only be offered to them.
Not surprisingly, that person is God. Devotion to Him is never a waste. If we take the same diet example, if we should choose to only eat prasadam, or food first offered to God, as our diet, we may not lose weight. We may not get the specific health benefits that we want, but nevertheless there is still a benefit to us. How is this? The fruit of an existence is devotion to God. No matter what route is taken to reach that fruit, the taste at the end is so sweet that the past miseries are forgotten.
“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)
In his Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas notes that the mistakes of so many past lives can be rectified immediately through devotion to Rama, or God. The fact that we took birth from a womb indicates past mistakes. The original sin for every person is the desire to challenge God, to compete with Him for supremacy and enjoyment. We may not remember having made this choice, but through our present efforts the original sin is validated. The competitive race in karma, or fruitive activity, indicates a desire to reach a state of full material satisfaction, where it is believed that enjoyment will be available without a problem. But in fact just the opposite happens. With no worries over money, there is nothing to do. With no job, left to sit around at home all day, there is a deep void to fill. One needs some way to find enjoyment, though previously they worked so hard to secure it.
In bhakti, the desire is to please God rather than compete with Him. This puts a stop to the cycle of birth and death, and it means that the past mistakes get erased. If I eventually reach the treasure, I may not dwell so much on the many hours of searching from the past. In the same manner, whether it takes me one or many lifetimes, indulgence in all the different yogas or excessive drinking and material sense gratification, if I reach devotional service and practice it in earnest, I will taste the sweet fruit of my existence.
In Janakpur a long time ago, the people assembled on a particular day got the fruit of their eyes a few times. First, they saw Rama and Lakshmana, two sons of King Dasharatha. Rama is the Supreme Lord in a personal form and Lakshmana is His younger brother, almost God Himself. The boys were in Janakpur following their guru Vishvamitra. The occasion was a svayamvara, a self-choice ceremony to determine the husband for the daughter of King Janaka.
In the above referenced verse from the Janaki Mangala, Janaka is asking his guru to call Sita, the princess whose hand will be given away. She would choose her husband based on a contest. Whoever would lift Lord Shiva’s heavy bow first would win. When Sita arrived in the assembly, the princes got to see who they would be marrying. This added to the suspense, as the people of the town wanted Rama to win. The assembled kings this time got the fruit of their eyes when they saw Sita. They may not have felt the same way when they saw Rama, as He was their competitor. Many kings surely did notice the divine presence in Him, but the envious rivals only thought about how their chances had diminished. Some of them worried that Janaka would hand Sita over to Rama without even bothering with the contest.
Sita’s beauty is used for Rama’s pleasure, and so she is the best devotee. We too have various gifts given to us by God, talents and abilities that can be used for His pleasure. In that devotion there is no need to expect reciprocation, as just being able to practice bhakti is reward enough. Fortunate we are to have ears to hear about that wonderful incident in Janaka’s kingdom, which saw the union in matrimony of Sita and Rama. More fortunate it is to have the works of Goswami Tulsidas to recreate that scene over and over again.
Devotion is the best you say,
Can I practice it the wrong way?
Think of the fitness guru that you choose,
To help you in excess weight to lose.
If their plans fail you know,
Why to them will you go?
In bhakti for reciprocation no need,
Chance to glorify God happiness to feed.
In Janakpur princes got fruit of their eyes two,
When seeing Sita after called by family guru.
Her beauty for the Supreme Lord, her soul mate,
Thanks to Tulsidas wonderful scene can recreate.