“Giving up all desires and enjoyment, devoid of the company of relatives, she maintains her body through her hope of meeting Him again.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.24)
kāma bhogaiḥ parityaktā hīnā bandhu janena ca |
dhārayati ātmano deham tat samāgama kānkṣiṇī ||
Take away everything that is enjoyable to you. Then take away everything that you could possibly desire. And finally, to top it off, take away the company of your friends and relatives. What are you left with? Isolation, boredom, sadness, despair, fear, uncertainty? Any of these terms are appropriate. You would likely wonder what your reason for living is, why you should continue to maintain the body. From looking at a princess from afar, Shri Hanuman wondered these things too, but then he quickly realized that there was a force compelling her to maintain her life. Hopeful of a meeting with her beloved husband, she stayed alive.
A book authored in the twentieth century pondered the scenario where a soldier comes back from war so badly injured that he has nothing but his consciousness as his friend. His arms and legs were blown off. His hearing and sight are gone as well. He can’t speak. All he can do is feel. To communicate, he gyrates up and down, using Morse code. In that isolated condition, he wonders if he is alive or dead. A famous heavy metal band later covered a similar frightful situation in a song.
Despite the desperate condition, we see that there is still life. The consciousness is what indicates that there is still an existence, and that consciousness is tied to the spirit soul, or that which animates us. The animating spark is what forms the subject matter of the highly philosophical, historical, and practical Vedas, which are the oldest scriptural tradition in the world. The soul is addressed in the beginning stages of instruction, where the term aham brahmasmi accurately identifies the individual as Brahman, which is the non-differentiated spiritual energy. That which animates us also animates others. It animates the trees and the animals too. The quality of the animating force is identical within each being, so the cause of the perceived differences is only external, being namely the influence of matter, which is not spirit, or Brahman.
In the Bhagavad-gita, which is also known as the Gitopanishad, it is said that the spirit soul cannot be cut up, burned, made wet, or destroyed. The hypothetical scenario of the injured warrior proves this fact, as despite all essential parts of the body leaving, the life force still remains. Even at the time of death, the soul isn’t destroyed; it simply moves on to somewhere else.
This brings us to the issue of why we should remain alive. Why should we keep the soul where it currently resides? Will not the soul be better situated somewhere else? Perhaps, but while we have consciousness right now, and while we have the ability to ponder over the meaning of our existence, we have the potential to feel the highest pleasure. And to feel pleasure is the reason to live, as no one intentionally does anything that they think will harm them in the end. The diets and exercise routines are a little strenuous in the beginning, but the end goal is still to find a pleasurable condition.
Shri Hanuman saw a princess in a difficult situation a long time ago, and what he saw speaks volumes into the nature of activity and how to fulfill the quest to find everlasting happiness. He was sent to look for a princess who had gone missing. After an extensive, dangerous and difficult search, Hanuman was blessed with a golden treasure in the form of the vision of the beautiful wife of Lord Rama. Named Sita by her father King Janaka, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Hanuman was so amazed at her beauty that he kept thinking of all that Rama had done for her previously and how all that hard work was worth it.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Hanuman remarks that Sita has given up all desires and enjoyment. Presently she is in the Ashoka grove in the kingdom of Lanka, forced to stay there as a prisoner. The ruler of the land, Ravana, wanted her for himself, but she refused. Rather than return her to Rama, he kept her there, hoping to scare her into submission. It is noteworthy that Sita did not ask for any material comforts. She did not ask Ravana to give her a nice bed to sleep on. She did not ask for sumptuous food preparations or nice clothes to wear. Her single cloth was soiled due to sitting on the ground for an extended period of time, and to her this was just fine. Why would she want to look attractive for the hideous creature Ravana, who was so consumed by lust that he couldn’t see his imminent death brought on by his iniquitous deed?
“When the time for the destruction of living entities arrives, people are seen to perform activities that endanger themselves due to the influence of that all-devouring time.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.16)
Sita was a king’s daughter, so she grew up with family, well-wishers, and aides around her. When she married Rama, the son of King Dasharatha, her life in royalty continued. But now here she was all alone, not a single friend in sight; just enemies everywhere. Through it all, she maintained her body. Hanuman deduced that the cause of her remaining alive was her hope to one day meet Rama again. This was her only desire in life. She took His association to be the most desirable thing, that which is most enjoyable.
That association is not dependent on any factor except sincerity. One doesn’t have to be wealthy or highly knowledgeable to have Rama’s association. One doesn’t have to belong to a certain religion or be born into a certain kind of family. Moreover, one doesn’t even need all of the senses to work. Rama is the Supreme Lord, an incarnation who appears in the Treta Yuga to delight the residents of Ayodhya and other areas with His presence. One of Rama’s names is Hrishikesha, which means the master of all senses. His association can be had through sound, touch, feel, and taste, in addition to sight.
In Sita’s situation, the association came through the consciousness. This linking is known as yoga, which should be a familiar word to us. All other types of yoga are but a means to alter the consciousness for eventually connecting with God. That is the purpose to living. We have a consciousness, so why not keep it focused on the best thing? In Sita’s case, just the desire to see Rama again was good enough to make it happen. Hanuman too was far away from Rama at the time, but when he saw Sita he immediately remembered Rama as well.
At present our external conditions may not be as dire as Sita’s were, but if our consciousness is not connected to God, if we’re not in yoga, then our situation is actually more perilous. Therefore the Vaishnavas, those devoted to Rama in thought, word and deed, kindly try to teach real yoga to anyone who is willing to listen. If we have our wits about us, if we have the life force safely within the body right now, why not listen to the message, which is easily accepted through hearing the sounds of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare?”
“Arms, legs, hearing, speech taken away,
Landmine with me had its way.
Into this perilous condition I fell,
How that I am alive can I tell?”
Consciousness is our way to know,
That life force did not yet away go.
Like Sita, stay alive from of God thinking,
In true yoga, to the divine keep linking.