“’O you who know the people, please keep love for them who are offered to you’, were the loving words sounded by the downtrodden mother. Again and again the queen brought the children to her heart and hugged them.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 21.1)
jana jāni karaba saneha bali kahi dīna bacana sunāvahīn |
ati prema bārahiṃ bāra rānī bālikanhi ura lāvahīn।।
“I can’t believe how dedicated that person is. You know that they’ve been a pujari at this temple for almost three decades. Every day, without fail, they’ve gotten up at the appointed time and tended to the wonderfully resplendent Lordships of the building. They bathe the deities, change their clothes, offer flowers and lamps, and make sure they look beautiful for the many visitors who walk through the gates every year. Can you imagine having that level of dedication? This person is so much better than me. All glories to them.”
“I can’t believe how much that mother cooks for her Lordships. She prepares a grand feast every week, and all by herself. So many guests come to her home throughout the week, and then on that one day reserved for the formal gathering, she cooks for hundreds of people. She first makes the offering to the Supreme Lord, who then happily accepts it. And why wouldn’t He? He must love her so much. The mercy from the remnants of that offered food cannot be measured. I have trouble making a pot of herbal tea, and here is this dedicated lady cooking entire meals selflessly all the time. All glories to her.”
“I can’t believe how many books that person has written. They have a fulltime job, too. They’ve dedicated all of their leisure hours towards glorifying the Supreme Lord. They’ve travelled the world and done extensive research, using what they’ve found to further argue in favor of devotional service being the highest occupation for man. They’ve put their name to their work, and they’ve presented it to many respectable institutions. They don’t shy away from the pressure, and they continue to write to this very day. Their guru must be so pleased with them. The Supreme Lord Himself must be dictating the words from within. All glories to them.”
“I can’t believe how many books that person has distributed. Selflessly, without any personal motivations, and without fear, they’ve hit the streets to give the gift of transcendental knowledge. In centuries past, finding real knowledge was very difficult. Famous personalities would build libraries instead of churches to help further expand the intellect of the populace. Still, even in those libraries filled with thousands of books, one would not find transcendental wisdom. This is only available today to the masses due to the work of a sincere follower of the Supreme Lord in the devotional tradition. But even that effort wouldn’t have been enough. There needed to be an army of book distributors, ready to bring the most valuable knowledge to the people. I have trouble sending food back at a restaurant, not wanting to offend the waiter. Here this person is rejected constantly, by so many people. They have to work so hard just to get a single person to buy a book. They do this all for their guru, and so to me they are the best servant. I feel tiny in their presence. All glories to them.”
In these scenarios, one person is praising another for the devotional service they offer to the Supreme Lord or one of His representatives. It is said that when one ascends to the higher stages of bhakti-yoga, they feel more and more humbled. They appreciate everyone else’s service more and more. This stands in stark contrast to material life, where more success means more competition, which means more envy of others. Rather than be happy that a competitor has entered the arena to sell the same product I’ve been selling, I try my best to knock them down. Their success is my loss, and vice versa.
Such is not the case in devotional service, where more competitors to the field only means more success for the people at large in changing their consciousness for the better. The world is a better place when more people are compassionate, austere, clean and honest. These four qualities are an afterthought in bhakti-yoga; they come very easily to one who always chants the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
It is only natural to try to judge offerings, to assess which are better than others. It is a good way to gauge one’s own progress. If someone else is doing so much, it serves as impetus to offer some more. In Janakpur a long time ago, a queen offered her daughters to the Supreme Lord in His incarnation of Shri Rama. It would be very difficult to try to surpass such an offering, so the humble souls instead appreciate what a wonderful soul Sunayana was.
Here she praises God for knowing the people, and she asks that He love her daughters very much. The eldest, Sita, married Rama, and Sita’s younger sister married Lakshmana, one of Rama’s younger brothers. The queen’s brother-in-law had two daughters also, who married Rama’s two other younger brothers. While these daughters would be considered cousins normally, to Sita they were like sisters as well. This is how things work in small communities following ancient traditions; the cousins, aunts and uncles spend so much time around each other that there are no divisions made as to which child belongs to which parent. Every child within the family is a brother or sister.
So Sunayana essentially offered four daughters to God; this was her service at the time. And these daughters would make the sons happy in so many ways. The mother affectionately embraced them again and again as they were leaving. The mother made the offering and then had to watch as her precious children left her, likely to never return.
The devotee can’t compete with Sunayana, or let alone with so many others, but the appreciation itself is worthwhile. The sentiment is what counts most to the Supreme Lord, so whatever genuine offering one can make, even if small the effect is the same as if the offering were of something much greater. The best sacrifice for the modern age is the chanting of the holy names, and so anyone has the chance to please the all-knowing Shri Rama.
For my own devotion to test,
Different offerings to assess.
This person does so much I see,
Incomparable, way better than me.
Like offering from Janakpur’s queen,
Daughters of beauty never before seen.
To Rama, knower of the people was made,
That He would love them always she prayed.