“Giving up all enjoyable things, forced by affection for her husband she entered into the desolate forest, not concerned with the hardships.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.19)
sarvān bhogān parityajya bhartṛ sneha balāt kṛtā |
acintayitvā duhkhāni praviṣṭā nirjanam vanam ||
“God, I’ve done everything right. Though I didn’t always like the virtuous path, I followed it out of obligation. I went to school when I was younger. I did my homework as soon as I got home every day. I missed out on playing with the other kids because of this focus on responsibility. I did my chores as they were assigned to me by my parents. I got very good grades and then gained admission into the college of my choosing.
“There, also, I paid attention to my studies, despite all the distractions around me. I graduated on time, while many of my friends required one or two extra years to do the same. I worked right after college and I was never a slacker. I showed up at the job on time and always put in a good effort. Despite the political games at the office, I never used someone else’s laziness as an excuse to shirk my responsibilities.
“I took care of my parents and my siblings, and I even got married at the right time. I never did anything wrong and yet now I’m in so much pain. I don’t know why You brought all this hardship upon me when I’ve only done everything right my whole life. If You’re the loving God that everyone says, why does it feel like You don’t love me at all?”
This is a hypothetical scenario wherein the individual follows the book on virtue starting from childhood. They seemingly do everything right and yet they fall upon hardship at the end. The same sequence existed with a beautiful princess a long time ago, though her voluntarily accepted hardships were much greater. She didn’t even follow the virtuous path strictly out of obligation; her allegiance to dharma was due more to love for someone else. And isn’t love the essence of living? How can love, which in this case fell in line with virtue, cause so much trouble? Shri Hanuman noticed this strange pairing when seeing the princess in her later distressed condition. From his review we can get a better understanding of the nature of this world.
The princess in question is Sita Devi. Arising from the ground as a baby while her father was ploughing it for a sacrifice, she was named Sita. Her father was Janaka of Mithila, a very famous king known throughout the world for his dedication to piety. It was no surprise, then, that he got such a daughter, and when she reached an age suitable for marriage she was given over to Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman begins a brief review of some of the sacrifices Sita made while married to Rama. He says that she gave up all enjoyable things. Bhogan can also refer to a standard of living. Imagine having to become homeless overnight. You’re accustomed to the modern amenities like hot water, electricity, television, cellular telephones and the like. If you have to go without these for a day or two it might not be that bad, but imagine if you’re shut out for fourteen years. Imagine renouncing all of that for love of someone else.
This is exactly what Sita did. Though a chaste wife of the Vedic tradition, she did not follow her husband Rama into the forest because He ordered her to. On the contrary, when Rama was handed an exile punishment He insisted that Sita remain in the kingdom, where she would be safe. As an independent woman in the truest sense, Sita would not listen to her husband on this occasion, as she would not allow Him to suffer fourteen years in the forest alone. She exploited the Vedic tenets pertaining to the dedication a wife should show her husband, using it to her benefit, in essence compelling Rama to take her with Him.
The forest was desolate; no friends or relatives there. It was full of hardships, so it would be understandable if she had lamented her plight. “O woe is me. I love my husband so much that I had to follow Him to the forest, but I really hate it out here. I can’t believe how awful life is. What did I do to deserve this?” Sita actually didn’t complain at all. Material opulence was meaningless to her if it had no connection to her husband. What she did in renouncing the regal lifestyle was not ordinary. That she didn’t complain, either, made it more remarkable.
Shri Hanuman remembered all of this when he finally spotted Sita in the Ashoka grove inside of Lanka. While serving the fourteen year exile in the woods, she was kidnapped by the King of Lanka, Ravana. Hanuman was living in the forest at the time, acting as the chief minister to the Vanara king Sugriva. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana met Hanuman and formed an alliance with Sugriva. Hanuman alone made it to Lanka to find Sita, and at this moment his search ended successfully.
He couldn’t help but feel for Sita. She was now in a much worse condition. Female Rakshasas, man-eating ogres essentially, were harassing her day and night. Ravana gave her an ultimatum: either become his wife or be killed. She didn’t mind death, but she was waiting for Rama to come. His fame would increase through her rescue, and if she were to quit her body the chance for acquiring that glory would vanish.
Shri Rama, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, isn’t a glory hog. He extended an opportunity for glory to Shri Hanuman. Based on Hanuman’s status today amongst followers of the Vedic tradition, we’d have to say that Rama’s plan worked perfectly. Despite being in a position to celebrate, namely due to victory in the mission, Hanuman felt compassion for Rama’s wife. In reviewing her previous hardships, he’s essentially saying, “She did nothing wrong. She doesn’t deserve this. She’s not even attached to material opulence, so why should she have had to suffer more? Wasn’t life in the forest bad enough?”
It’s quite natural to ask these questions, as shouldn’t amassing virtuous credits be to our benefit? The issue, of course, is in assessing what is beneficial and what isn’t. The spirit soul is the identifying force within every living being. It’s in the soul’s constitution to serve, and in the ideal state that service is directed at God. One of the best ways to serve Him is to think of Him. Sometimes material opulence is an impediment to this kind of service. Through hardship the frequency of the thoughts can increase rapidly, thereby leading to a more auspicious condition.
In this sense living in a time where material opulence is abundant makes us unfortunate. The standard of living is as high as its ever been, and we see that people are still unhappy. This means that they are lacking something. Vaishnavas like Hanuman know what that is: the connection to God. Through consulting the thoughts of Shri Hanuman on occasions such as these, we get to automatically think of God and figure out ways to think of Him more in the future. This further increases the glory of the greatest servant of Sita and Rama.
“My whole life I did everything right,
And now in pain I’m filled with fright.
Why not peace of mind to me give?
So that in fear no longer I’ll live.”
Real auspiciousness based on thought,
Not just material opulence brought.
Sita thought of Rama when in distress,
Devotion showed through toughest test.
Noticed by Shri Hanuman the wise,
Has compassionate heart of biggest size.