“She sees neither the female Rakshasas nor these trees with flowers and fruits. With her heart fixed on one thing, she undoubtedly only sees Rama.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.25)
na eṣā paśyati rākṣasyo na imān puṣpa phala drumān |
ekastha hṛdayā nūnam rāmam eva anupaśyati ||
“Wouldn’t it be great to block out all the distractions, to see clearly that one thing that you want to see? I like to look at flowers, so wouldn’t it be great if I saw only flowers? Wouldn’t I be so happy if I didn’t see the tragedies reported on the news and the effects of aging on my face that are prominently displayed in the mirror each morning? Wouldn’t it be great to focus on my beloved all the time, the one person whose association pleases me the most?”
From the testimony of a famous Vanara warrior, we know that one person was able to maintain such a wonderful focus even during a time of great distress. Ironically enough, the benefits of the focus were not intentionally sought out. She was not purposefully trying to block other things out. Rather, the glorious qualities belonging to the person she contemplated on automatically created the focus. And since it was her occupational duty to serve that person with every thought, word and deed, she had no reservations in continuing in her meditation.
“Think about air. Block everything else out. Don’t worry about the package that you have to drop off at the post office tomorrow. Don’t worry about getting up early in the morning to take your car in for servicing. Suppress your anxiety over having to travel to an airport far away to pick up your relative this weekend. Don’t worry about having to make food for that gathering you’re going to in a few days. Also, pay no attention to the mountain of chores at home. Don’t worry that you haven’t cleaned your room in a while, and pretend like the packages you’ve received in the mail recently have all been opened. Block all of this out and just focus on air, which is akin to nothingness. That will give you peace of mind.”
To block out worries over distractions is good, but not to the point that the distracting elements are completely cast aside as being unimportant. For instance, if I have a chore looming in the next few days, when the time comes I need to take care of it. But prior to that, I shouldn’t let it consume me. I should stay steady in mind, as if there are no pressing engagements. No use worrying about something until it actually happens.
How to go about maintaining that steadiness is the tricky part. In the Vedic tradition there is the practice of dhyana, which belongs to the discipline of yoga. Dhyana is meditation, which is beneficial for obvious reasons. But on what or whom should you meditate? You don’t need to consult a yoga teacher to understand that certain things aren’t worth contemplating. For instance, I can’t just stare at a painting I like and block out all other thoughts. I may try this once or twice, but since the explicit purpose is to block out other thoughts, I will not succeed unless the image is divine.
Ah, so where do we go to find a divine image? Obviously the image would have to be of something glorious. If that something has limitless glories, which could be discussed endlessly, then that something could be contemplated on endlessly as well. We don’t think that something like this exists because we have yet to find it. If we had, there would be no use in worrying about meditation, as we would meditate on that object all the time.
“There [In the Padma Purana] it is said that one should always remember Lord Vishnu. This is called dhyana, or meditation-always remembering Krishna. It is said that one has to meditate with his mind fixed upon Vishnu. Padma Purana recommends that one always fix his mind on the form of Vishnu by meditation and not forget Him at any moment.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, 2)
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, say that the best object of meditation is the transcendental form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is an original form, which is all-attractive, but there are also many non-different expansion forms. The above referenced verse from the Ramayana speaks of one of those non-different forms and how meditation on it removes the influence of the most unwanted elements of the surrounding nature.
The non-different form addressed is of Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince. He has distinguishable features. His arms are long like a banyan tree, and He has other auspicious marks on His body. He is the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, a man who never shrinks from battle and who follows dharma, or religiosity, to the letter. Rama is unbelievably beautiful, and He is grateful for any service offered to Him. He is the nicest person in the world, so why wouldn’t someone want to think of Him all the time.
In Sita’s case, she knew Rama intimately. She was married to Him for many years, so she could meditate on Rama by remembering past time spent with Him. She relied on that remembrance to keep her sanity, to keep her life force intact. This was evident to Shri Hanuman just from looking at her. He was nestled inside of leaves and flowers on a tree inside of the Ashoka grove in Lanka, sent to search for Sita after she had gone missing. The evil king of Lanka, Ravana, took Sita away in secret and tried to win her over. She refused him, and so the Rakshasa resorted to threats. He ordered his female attendants, ghoulish creatures, to harass her day and night until she capitulated.
For Sita in the Ashoka grove there were many distractions. Both the beautiful and the hideous were there. The grove had many golden trees which were full of fruits and flowers. There were also the female attendants of Ravana who tried to scare her into thinking that she would die if she didn’t give in to Ravana. Hanuman noticed all of this just as a newly arrived observer, and yet he was amazed at how Sita didn’t see any of it. Though she was in the thick of things, her heart was only fixed on one thing: Rama. Because of that focus, she indeed saw Rama all the time.
And what was the benefit to seeing Rama? Imagine if you’re never alone, if the person you cherish the most is always with you. God is the best friend to everyone, as He resides within every creature as the Supersoul. Whether we know this fact or not makes no difference to the Supreme Lord; He stays with us regardless. He will never leave our side, even if we ignore Him for millions of lifetimes. Though He is always with us, we don’t get the full benefit of His association unless we choose to look at Him.
The incarnation, or avatara, is the external manifestation of the same Supersoul. Rama is the more complete realization of God, as the Supersoul doesn’t intervene with action. To the individual, the Supersoul is a kind of impersonal representation of the personal God. Focusing on only the Supersoul is more difficult, and therefore it is part of the discipline of meditational yoga. Yet dhyana itself isn’t reserved exclusively for the yogis who make the remote woods their residence. Anyone, in any circumstance, and at any time, can focus the mind on God in the same manner that Sita did. As the personal aspect can be remembered more easily and in more situations, it is superior to the localized aspect, which is perceived to be formless.
The benefit of that remembrance for Sita was so great that it automatically blocked other things out. The enchanting grove had no influence; it did not tempt Sita into thinking that residence in Lanka with Ravana would be worthwhile. The female Rakshasas also had no influence; they couldn’t scare her into forgetting Rama and focusing on her perilous condition. Hanuman, who had practiced a similar style of meditation to help him reach Lanka, was amazed at Sita’s focus. His observations prove that one who keeps their mind set on God can overcome all obstacles thrown their way.
Miscreant went on wild killing spree,
Bombs from terrorist in market set free.
Stock prices wildly fluctuate,
Our minds with bad news media inundate.
How then our focus can we keep?
Over misfortune will we not weep?
From Sita, the greatest lesson away take,
How supreme focus with one person make.
Golden trees around, and ogres at her hissed,
Didn’t see them because of husband whom she missed.
As if she were living in a safe bubble,
Enemies could cause her no trouble.
To the features of Shri Rama this was due,
Hanuman saw and practiced the same too.