“Shame on me, who am uncivilized, unchaste, and living a sinful life, for I continue to protect my life for even a moment without Him.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 26.7)
dhiṅmāmanāryāmasatīṃ yāhaṃ tena vinā kṛtā |
muhūrtamapi rakṣāmi jīvitaṃ pāpajīvitā ||
One person goes to church every Sunday. They make the sacrifice because they think it is good for them. They skip the football pregame shows on television and the chance to sleep in on a day off. They instead visit their specific house of worship with their family. Another person swears allegiance to a specific religious organization. They get married through that institution and though they may not explicitly practice very often, they consider themselves to be God-fearing. Another person refuses to associate with any group that is considered cult-like, for they are a free spirit. They find out for themselves who the Supreme Lord is. They either read famous books or mentally speculate as to the cause of this creation.
From the discipline that descends from the rishis of India of ancient times, we learn that the true measure of religiosity is consciousness. In simpler terms, how often are you thinking of God? More specifically, how often are you actually thinking about His interests as opposed to what He does for you? If you get a good grade in school, you may thank the Lord for your good fortune. If you’re in trouble and you look to the heavens in distress, you may think that is religious as well. But how often do you actually contemplate His features? How often do you remember His pastimes, His disposition, His ability to transcend material dualities, and His supreme benevolence upon all creatures, large and small?
The latter is considered legitimate consciousness of God, where each of the former aspects may eventually lead up to the ideal destination. The ancient science of the relationship to the Supreme was originally spoken at the beginning of the creation. This is the “beginning” for our understanding, for the shrewd mind picks up on the fact that time is infinite in both directions. We say there is a beginning, but there is always a beginning to that. There is always an after to any result as well. Human beings are baffled by infinity, which is one way to know that we can never be God. The Supreme Lord is the beginning of all beginnings and the end of all ends. One of the names for the science that describes Him is Vedanta, which means the end of knowledge. It is the conclusion to all theorems, postulates, and ideas for how things work.
“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.3)
That ancient science of the relationship to the Supreme also goes by the name “yoga.” To distinguish it from any exercise system concocted in the modern world, it can also be called “bhakti-yoga.” Bhakti-yoga is God consciousness. It is always thinking of God in a mood of love. Love does not mean always asking for things that we want. Love means offering. It means sharing and sacrificing. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that one of the principal methods of practicing bhakti-yoga is the sacrifice of chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
There is no need to be scared off by these Sanskrit words, as they are merely beautiful descriptions of the Supreme Lord and His attributes. “Krishna” says that He is all-attractive. And who can deny that? This world has attractiveness in rivers, ponds, lakes, forests and flowers. Why, then, should attractiveness be absent in the author to all these things? “Rama” says that the Supreme Lord is full of transcendental pleasure which can be shared with those willing to accept it. The participants in the playful pastimes of pleasure are known as the Lord’s energy, or Hara. “Hare” references this energy, of which there is a singular personality who excels in pleasing the Lord. She is the speaker of the above referenced verse from the Ramayana.
The saints of the bhakti-yoga tradition recommend chanting the aforementioned holy names of God on a set of japa beads as part of a daily practice, or sadhana. Depending on the exact tradition followed, the recommendation may vary slightly, but His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples say to chant the maha-mantra at least sixteen rounds a day. This means saying the mantra one hundred and eight times multiplied by sixteen. This is quite a formidable standard to maintain. To help in the effectiveness of the chanting and the focus necessary to stay true to the vow, sincere seekers of the Truth are advised to give up meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.
One who follows these regulations has sufficiently established the baseline standard recommended by the saints of the bhakti-yoga tradition. Does that mean everything stops there? Does the person suddenly become perfect in all ways? Do they never have to do anything else? Actually, it is quite natural for one to wonder if they are doing enough.
“I chant sixteen rounds a day, but is that all? Should I not be associating with other saintly people? I try my best to get out to visit these people when they gather together in homes and temples, but it is hard with my hectic schedule. I have a job to go to and a sadhana to keep up. I feel like I’m not doing enough. What can I do to be a better devotee? What can I do to be more in the favor of the Supreme Lord?”
One way to answer this question is to look to those who are always in God’s favor. Those who are loved by Him so much that the love cannot be measured can give us an idea of what it takes to feel satisfied in devotion. Of course, it is a trick question, as shown by Sita Devi. Here she laments her situation by speaking on her poor qualities. In truth, she is the greatest devotee. She is the Hare addressed in the maha-mantra. She is the original goddess of fortune, sometimes manifesting as Radha to Krishna and Lakshmi to Narayana. Whatever her external manifestation, she is always purely God conscious. She thinks of no one but her beloved Lord. She doesn’t need to explicitly practice any yoga. There is only one way for her to live: devotion.
Does she think that she is superior? Does she think that since she only thinks of her beloved husband Rama that she is the greatest devotee in the world? Actually, she thinks that she is unchaste, uncivilized and living a sinful life. She is none of these things, but her sentiment is genuine. She thinks these things because she has managed to live after being separated from Rama for a moment.
If God is great and full of attributes to which we are all attracted, and I consider myself pure in consciousness of Him, how is it that I can survive in His absence for a single second? I lament when my favorite sports team loses a big game. I get sad when someone says something mean to me. I am upset when my desires are frustrated. And yet these things aren’t close in comparison to a second’s loss of association of the beloved Personality of Godhead. If I am such a great devotee, how is it that I can continue to live when not personally in His company?
Sita’s attitude is very nice, and it reveals a secret to success in devotion. The more inadequate one feels in their devotional practices, the more advanced they are. Sita is always with Rama, for His name alone is enough to qualify for association. He is always in her mind and she in His. Here she is in difficult circumstances, kept in a foreign land against her will. She is unable to rub Rama’s lotus feet, make Him smile with her gentle behavior, and enjoy with Him the springtime blossoming of flowers. She feels that she shouldn’t be alive after having been separated from Him, but actually Rama never stops thinking of her. He will come to rescue her, and so the same fate awaits the devoted souls who always look for ways to increase their consciousness of God.
Daily chanting sixteen rounds,
Keeping my practices on solid ground.
But am I actually doing enough?
To keep sadhu association is tough.
As Sita considered herself low,
That she is most advanced know.
Devoted soul always looking for more ways,
Catching favor of Lord, with them always stays.