“That chastiser of the foe is a protector of His good conduct and of His people. He is also a protector of all living entities and of righteousness.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.7)
rakṣitā svasya vṛttasya sva janasya api rakṣitā |
rakṣitā jīva lokasya dharmasya ca param tapaḥ ||
“I was hanging out with the wrong crowd at that time,” is what someone who has decided to renounce bad association will say. This means that any person, regardless of their specific desire, in finding the optimal circumstances for success will make distinctions as far as association goes. This should make sense. If I want to get good grades, it would help me to be around others who have the same goal. It’s not that people with a different goal want to purposefully get in my way, but based on what they want they will try to persuade me in a certain direction. Their behavior alone is a subtle kind of persuasion. Therefore the wise person tries to protect their good conduct, with “good” being relative to the circumstance. The same holds true for the Supreme Lord Rama. But since He is God, He can maintain His goodness no matter the circumstance.
You’ve likely seen the public service announcements relating to peer pressure. The typical spot goes something like this. There is a kid at school. He doesn’t want to take drugs. He has no interest in them. In fact, it is his philosophy to not get intoxicated in such a way, especially if the activity is prohibited by higher authorities. Then he finds himself in a situation where others are engaging in that activity. They ask him if he wants to join and he declines. Then they press him as to why he’s resisting. Finally, they throw in the line, “Hey, everyone else is doing it. What’s the big deal?”
Another common public service announcement deals with learning bad habits from the parents. A mother enters the room of her daughter and admonishes her for smoking. The mother has just found a pack of cigarettes in the daughter’s room. She can’t understand why her daughter would take up such a nasty habit. She starts pressing the daughter, “Where did you pick this up? Who got you into smoking?” After remaining quiet the whole time, the daughter finally bursts out, “I learned it by watching you.”
Not surprisingly, to succeed in devotional life you need good conduct. More than who your parents are or which church you go to, success in this venture relies on consciousness. The way your mind thinks cannot be determined by a rubberstamp of a religious figure. The mind cannot be configured automatically by the parents, either. The mind is a part of the subtle body, which belongs to the individual soul. The soul is independent in its choice of actions. With independence, consciousness can go in any direction.
Good conduct helps to get good consciousness. This only makes sense. If you perform some austerities, your mind will be cleared up for understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If you give charity, you understand how the possessions that you have are temporary and that you shouldn’t have such a strong attachment to them. If you are kind to people, you understand that they are just like you, struggling through this difficult journey called life. If you uphold righteous principles, you understand that there is a higher reward, that not everything good manifests immediately.
For the soul sincerely interested in the science of self-realization, it is strongly recommended to renounce bad association. What is the “bad” in this regard? Any association which is against the devotional culture, which goes against the goal of self-realization. The self is what lives inside the temporary body. It is transcendental to matter. In ignorance, one tries to satisfy the matter covering the soul instead of looking to please the soul. Therefore the transcendentalist should avoid intimate association with those having a deluded consciousness, into which everyone is initially born.
“O scion of Bharata [Arjuna], O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.27)
Despite how strong you may be, prolonged interaction with people of different interests will likely lead you over to their side. You can only protect your good conduct so much. Here Shri Hanuman says that Rama is a protector of His good conduct. For starters, it should be known that Rama has the best conduct. He is the Supreme Lord in a special incarnation which appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation.
As He appeared in a famous family of rulers in Ayodhya, Rama paid special attention to dharma, or righteousness. Hanuman says that Rama is also a protector of dharma. Religiosity applies to everyone, but good conduct is at the personal level. Rama made sure to keep the best conduct in order to set the best example of religiosity.
Does this mean that He never had bad association? In fact, He was exposed to the wickedest creatures one could imagine. These ogres regularly attacked innocent sages living in the remote wilderness. They gave no prior notification of their attacks, and they would often mask their shapes initially. Sort of like wearing civilian clothes when fighting in a war, these goons had no shame in their conduct.
Rama was not affected. In fact, His swiftly coursing arrows purified these souls. In losing your life directly at the hands of God, you think of Him at the time of death. This is the best consciousness to have at any time, but while quitting the body it becomes even more important. That consciousness then determines the next birth.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
That Rama is the protector of His good conduct can be shown in another way. In His plenary expansion as the Supersoul, He resides within everyone’s heart. This means that each living entity has God inside of them. At the same time, the Supersoul is not an accomplice to any of the bad behavior. The living entity makes the choice to act, and the Supersoul sanctions. Anything is possible in a land of duality, and the Supersoul does not interfere with desire. Rama is therefore automatically associated with so many bad fellows, and yet He remains pure throughout. His conduct never suffers.
This is another way to understand the nirguna property of God. Guna is a quality, and nirguna means “without qualities.” In the context of understanding God, it means that the Lord is free of material qualities. As Hanuman’s description shows, Rama is indeed full of qualities; they are just of a different kind. Rama’s protection of His good conduct is not like any other we’ve ever encountered. He maintains His high standing in any circumstance, and that trait is passed on to those who hold Him very dear, like Hanuman and Sita.
Righteous principles by Him understood,
Rama also to protect His conduct good.
If with wrong crowd to associate,
In their world eventually to assimilate.
But Rama by any not affected,
That bad by Him always rejected.
Like as in each person Supersoul He lives,
Guides choices not, only sanction He gives.