“Satisfied with fruits and roots, faithfully serving her husband, she feels the same supreme happiness in the forest as in a palace.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.20)
samtuṣṭā phala mūlena bhartṛ śuśrūṣaṇā parā |
yā parām bhajate prītim vane api bhavane yathā ||
A new child is born. They have entered this crazy world that you have grown accustomed to but still haven’t figured out completely. You think about their future and what their journey through life will be like. If you could only give them one piece of advice, a truth or saying to keep throughout their journey, what would it be? The Vedas give this to every living entity, advice which is perfect in every way. The advice forms the foundation for finding satisfaction in every condition subsequent to its acceptance.
What is that singular advice? “Aham brahmasmi” is the aphorism, and it means that I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of the spiritual energy known as Brahman. Seems pretty plain, no? What is this information going to do for me? Why is remembering this so important? Shouldn’t the advice be more along the lines of “always keep your chin up” or “if life hands you lemons, make lemonade?”
Actually, the root cause of every unpleasant situation in life is a misidentification. What do we mean by this? Think of trying to kick a soccer ball into the goal defended by your own team. Think of giving information that will help your opponent win an election. Think of entering a classroom in school geared to teach young children, when you are on the cusp of graduation. These conditions are incongruent due to the temporary identifications you hold.
If not knowing your temporary identity is not good, imagine then what ignorance of your permanent identity will lead to. On the other side, if you know who you really are, you will be able to cope with pretty much any situation. For instance, if there is a death in the family, using your knowledge of your identity, you can apply the same principle to the departed. “I am sad that they are gone, but I know that they are really spirit soul. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, the soul is immutable, unchanging, and non-decaying. It cannot be made wet, burned, or destroyed. What we see now is the destruction of the material body, which is a temporary covering. My covering too will one day be destroyed, but the soul will carry on to another body. Therefore the wise do not overly lament another’s death.”
"It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.25)
Knowledge of Brahman ideally culminates in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. This is the most confidential truth revealed only to the sober human being who has exhausted all attempts at happiness through material acquisition, philosophical speculation, and mystic practice. Bhakti-yoga taken up in earnest allows one to both cope with any situation and also find pleasure in them. An example of how this works was seen with Sita Devi, a famous princess who once had to abruptly leave her home.
Her husband was the prince of the Raghu dynasty. Named Rama, He was loved and adored by all, but when His step-mother succumbed to the influence of envy, He was exiled from His kingdom for fourteen years. Rama told His beloved and devoted wife Sita to stay home, but she refused to listen to Him. She went with Him to the forest and subsisted on whatever fruits and roots were available. In the forest she was as happy as she was at home.
There was a reason for this, of course, and it is provided in the above referenced verse, which is a thought from Shri Hanuman found in the Ramayana. Sita was faithfully engaged in her husband’s service in the forest. And because of this she could survive on meager food without a problem. She wasn’t on a diet or anything. She wasn’t forcefully trying to punish herself. Indeed, she didn’t feel like this was a punishment at all, as she was invigorated through pleasing her husband.
Does this mean that the secret to life is to get married and thus have someone to serve? Actually, the secret to Sita’s formula was not necessarily in the marriage arrangement but more so in the real identity of her husband. Rama is the Supreme Lord, an avatara of the original Personality of Godhead. The Sanskrit word avatara means “one who descends”, so Rama did not have an ordinary birth. His body is spiritual, so it does not go through the same changes that ours go through, and neither does it ever decay.
Service to Rama, or God, is every soul’s original occupational duty. In Sita’s case, she gets to serve God through the covenant of marriage. Indeed, she uses the duties of a wife in the Vedic tradition to her advantage. If I tell you that you are duty-bound to serve someone you love, the command will only make you happier. “So you’re telling me that I have to serve this person? Sounds good to me.” Sita used her duties as a wife as a way to persuade Rama to allow her to come to the forest with Him. She essentially exploited her position, and since it was related to serving God, the exploitation was not impious.
Shri Hanuman similarly serves Rama by accepting His orders. The above referenced thought came to him while looking at Sita in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. She was separated from Rama at the time, and it was Hanuman’s duty to find her. Lanka was a foreign territory to him. There wasn’t an immigration department there, but if there were they most certainly wouldn’t have allowed him in. Lanka was ruled over by the Rakshasa king Ravana, and the people and its leader were all very sinful. They feasted off human flesh and had no regard for innocent life. Sita was another man’s wife, but Ravana thought that she could be won over by force. He thought wrong.
For that child new to this earth, the secret to their success will be the holy name. By chanting it as a means of serving God, they can endure any troublesome situation and also keep the mind active. If you boil life down to its essence, it is all about having something to do. If we are financially well-off but don’t have anything to do with our time, we will be miserable. If we are not very wealthy but have a constant engagement that keeps us satisfied, we can survive on fruits and roots and still be happy. This was the case with Sita. Hanuman stayed happy even while in a hostile territory. For us, we can simply chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and thus require very little to maintain our blissful life.
What advice to new child will you give,
So that life to the fullest they will live?
Proper identity is required,
For in service spirit to be inspired.
For God our sacrifice is meant,
Efforts in His service well spent.
Like Sita in any situation can survive,
By chanting holy names stay alive.