“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 of the offenses to chanting the holy name is to equate the process with any ritual mentioned in the Vedas that is meant for material upliftment. To understand this better, we can look to the raising of a child. You would never equate waking up early to feed your child with some sort of health habit. Love for someone else is not for your personal betterment. Acts in love are done out of love; selflessly, with no personal motivation. Therefore love can never be wrong, can it? Sita’s words above confirm this.
One person goes to school, starts a business, and then becomes extremely wealthy. Another person also finds material success, but in a way of their own. They don’t pray to God for anything. Therefore they think that God is for the “bitter clingers,” those who were previously unsuccessful in life. Or they think that perhaps He is for those who don’t know any better. “These fools think that if they speak to an invisible man in the sky that all their problems will vanish. They need to get out and work instead. They need to give up their make-believe.”
This foolishness is rooted in nearsightedness. Not necessarily in reading the letters on an eye exam, but more so with respect to time and cause and effect. In the short term, the latter group sees that material success comes without worship. But in fact past generations living in the same area were indeed more religious. They prayed all the time. The settlers to that land in question actually came there so that they would have freedom of worship. They left superior material conditions behind in favor of destitution, poverty, and isolation. They made this choice due simply to their desire to worship as they saw fit. Their efforts paved the way for the material success of the future generations.
When one is a little religiously inclined, they become familiar with different rituals aimed at achieving different results. If I want a healthy family, I do this certain worship designated for a specific time and place. If I want my child to enter adulthood with the proper consciousness, when they reach the appropriate age I will arrange for a priest to come to the house and do a specific ceremony. When someone in the family passes on, I follow specific guidelines for mourning. This is to show proper respect to both the departed and the Supreme Lord.
In the Vedic tradition there are so many such rituals. Every type of person is assigned some kind of religious practice. Even if you are a drunkard who can’t see clearly enough to avoid violence against innocent creatures, you get some rituals slated for your advancement in consciousness. That is the ultimate goal, after all, though it may not be revealed in the beginning. The first grade teacher doesn’t tell the students why they will need to know the alphabet. The teacher doesn’t go into great detail about how mathematics will be put to use all the time in adulthood. The children just accept the instruction, with the ultimate benefit coming later on.
So too the performers of the different religious rituals eventually work their way up towards full God consciousness; at least this is the case ideally. This consciousness is very difficult to instill in the beginning, for the living entity exiting the womb starts the discovery process immediately. They find so many things and then study them. They try this thing and that; whatever is appealing. They then constantly accept and reject these things, hoping to find that one thing that they will never have to reject; an acceptance which will bring real transcendence.
The innocent child doesn’t know any better, so if they are given real transcendence right away, they may mistakenly discount it as unimportant. They may assign something else a higher priority. Therefore the rituals help to gradually build the consciousness to the point that it can see things clearly. In this respect, the various rituals have appropriate times and circumstances. There are also times of impurity. For example, when a new child is born or when a family member passes on, the affected parties are considered impure. Therefore doing standard rituals is prohibited. The family should not do any kind of worship to procure material gain. We can think of it like not wanting to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
The ultimate objective is very difficult to achieve, and it can take many lifetimes. Once real God consciousness is there, the stipulations for time and circumstance vanish. This makes sense if we think about it. Is it ever a bad time to love someone? Is it inappropriate to think favorably of someone else? These actions can be harmful if the person in our mind is someone we should forget. The Supreme Lord, however, is the reservoir of all transcendental goodness. Therefore it is never wrong to think about Him. Indeed, it is an offense to ever equate thinking of Him in a mood of love with any ritual mentioned in the Vedas for material gain.
Doing so is an offense because real love for God is unmotivated and uninterrupted. Those who genuinely love Him never stop thinking of Him. And although they think of Him all the time, they feel like they are not worshiping Him enough. They feel as if they are the worst person in the world since they manage to continue living when He is not in their presence. This is the sentiment of Sita Devi referenced here from the Ramayana.
Sita is Hare, or the energy of God. She can never not think of her beloved husband, Shri Rama. Rama is the Supreme Lord in the spiritual form of a warrior prince who roamed this earth during the ancient time period of the Treta Yuga. Though His lotus feet graced this earth so long ago, He continues to live on here through His names, forms, attributes and pastimes. He is always roaming a land somewhere, as there are innumerable universes in existence. Thus one can always think of Rama, wherever they are.
It is never an offense to worship Rama in love. This worship is known as bhakti-yoga, and it can take place anywhere. Here Sita Devi gives an example of bhakti-yoga practiced amidst enemies. She does not have a priest in the vicinity. She does not have an altar on which to direct various prayers. She does not even have a new dress to wear to the occasion of worship. Indeed, she is not even really praying. She is simply remembering her dear husband. She is thinking of how in comparison to her He is so great. She considers herself so low for not being a good enough wife. She feels bad for putting Him into distress, for He is presently looking for her. She had gone missing in the Dandaka forest after the fiendish king of Lanka stole her away in secret.
Even in lamentation one can worship the Supreme Lord. Even in circumstances that “try men’s souls,” one can remember the beloved husband of Sita. Not only is it not an offense to think in such a way, but it is a sign of a pure consciousness, one that no longer needs to rely on the rituals targeted for this benefit or that. Saying the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” is an act of divine love. Therefore it is an offense to ever equate this chanting with any ritualistic process. As God is omnipresent, eternally existing, and ever benevolent, He can accept worship from any person, at any time, and at any place.
Offense against the holy name to make,
When to ritualistic process to equate.
Divine love fit for any time anywhere,
For gain or loss in devotee not a care.
Even amidst ogres of visages grim,
She thought of Rama, always devoted to Him.
Most humble Sita Devi even in circumstances sad,
Showed that for bhakti never a time bad.