“She looked as if she were travelling to the side of the self-realized Shri Rama, a lion among kings, using a chariot of desires yoked with horses of determination.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 19.7)
samīpam rājasimhasya rāmasya viditātmanaḥ |
saṅkalpahayasamyuktairyāntīmiva manorathaiḥ ||
“What is the purpose to chanting sixteen rounds over and over every day? Wouldn’t it be better to do just one round and really focus? Why do I need to avoid intoxication? If my friends and coworkers are going out to the bar at night, why can’t I have just one or two beers with them? It’s not going to do any harm. I’m not sure what the purpose to all of these rules is. It seems that I can connect with God, make Him happy, and take care of other things without being so strict.”
These concerns are certainly understandable, as strict adherence to various rituals and practices doesn’t give a visible benefit in the immediate term. The long-term benefit that isn’t so easy to spot out always takes a backseat to the immediate benefit from a quick and visible action. Yet the factor of visibility can be deceiving when making an assessment. For instance, if the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] prevents a drug from coming to market that would have led to one hundred deaths, they are lauded for their action. At the same time, when they ban a drug that could have prevented one thousand deaths, nothing is said. The first case has a visible benefit, while the second has an invisible one. The visible death later on can be directly traced to an action, whereas the invisible prevention of death is rarely investigated, if at all. In a sober assessment, though, the act of prohibiting the sale of the life-saving drug is much worse in this case. It does much more damage.
Similarly, because of the short-term benefit we think that ignoring stringent rules and regulations promoted by followers of the true occupation of the soul won’t harm us that much, but it actually will. The greatest harm done is that it prevents us from sharpening the tools necessary for ultimate success. After all, whether we chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” for one round a day or sixteen, there is still the desired goal of advancing in spiritual consciousness. From the observations made about a distressed queen a long time ago, we see what is needed for success and how all the underlying processes of devotional service are meant to sharpen the two necessary aspects.
In the scene in question, Sita Devi, the missing wife of Lord Rama, is going to Him even though she is separated by a lengthy physical distance. The distance was so great that the leader of the land where she currently resided thought that no one could reach him. The opening chapters of the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana describe how arduous the journey to Lanka was for Rama’s heroic servant Shri Hanuman. Reaching Lanka wasn’t enough; Hanuman had to then search through the city for Sita, all the while remaining undetected.
Ravana, the fiend who had taken Sita away from Rama’s side through a backhanded plot, mentioned the strategic location of Lanka as a way of enticing Sita to become his queen. His basic point was: “Hey, Lanka is so far away. Even if your beloved Rama did want to come and save you, how would He ever get here? Actually, no one can reach here except me, so you shouldn’t entertain any false hopes of reunion with Him. Better to just enjoy here with me.”
The clueless Ravana wasn’t aware that Rama is the all-powerful. Rama has so much potency that those who only think of Him in a mood of love can do extraordinary things. The scene from the above referenced verse had two extraordinary characters. First there was Hanuman, who made it to Lanka despite all the odds against him. He reached Sita as well, as he was watching her from his perch in a tree. He saw Ravana approach her and try to change her mind. In this particular scene Ravana is just entering the Ashoka grove to again see if he can try to win Sita over. He sees that in her mind she is travelling to Rama.
Sita is the other remarkable character gifted with abilities unknown to fools like Ravana. She travelled to Rama with her mind. She used a chariot made of desires and horses made of determination. That was all that was needed. From her behavior we see the goal of bhakti-yoga practice. Bhakti-yoga is the height of all religion; it is above the sectarian designations, the rules and regulations, the reading of scriptural texts, the acceptance of this church or that. The reason it is so is because it directly addresses the needs of the soul, the identifying force within each of us. All other religious practices are meant to culminate in bhakti.
The objective is to create the sort of mind that Sita had, and that end signals a new beginning of activity. In that activity one regularly travels towards Rama, who is the Supreme Lord. He may be addressed by different names and thought of in different forms, but it is true nonetheless that God can be approached through the mind. And that approach can take place at any time, provided one has the two aforementioned attributes. The desire is the first thing and the determination is the other. Hanuman too had a desire to serve Rama, and in his determination he pleased the Lord and His wife.
All the regulations mentioned in shastra aim to create the conditions seen in Sita. Her consciousness is always pure because she is eternally Rama’s consort. She doesn’t require pious behavior or concentrated action in bhakti. She doesn’t think of Rama because it will be good for her. She doesn’t think of Him because it will impress others. She doesn’t think of Him because it is considered good. She thinks of Him because she loves Him. This love is tied to her very existence; without it she cannot be. The same goes for Hanuman.
In fact, the same goes for all of us in our constitutional position. Through contact with material nature we have been made to forget this. In our ignorance we think of genuine spiritual life as a chore, but if we have some faith in the spiritual master and the devotees who have blazed the proper trail, then certainly we can get the determination that goes along with a fervent desire necessary to travel to Rama, despite how far away from Him we think we are. Ravana couldn’t understand Sita’s mind, and so he continually tried to win her over, but she never entertains such nonsense.
“Why insistence on sixteen rounds to chant,
Break the rules every now and then I can’t?
To be so strict doesn’t seem right,
Why random fun to take out of sight?”
Purpose to all rules to make conditions ideal,
To think of God, His divine presence to feel.
Will and determination are needed,
In Sita both comfortably seated.
With mind swiftly to husband’s side to go,
Such amazing ability fool Ravana never to know.