“Highly respecting the order of the one we serve, and firm in our vow, we entered the forest, which we had not seen before and which gave the appearance of being very deep.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.29)
te vayam bhartuḥ ādeśam bahu mānya dṛḍha vratāḥ ||
praviṣṭāḥ sma purāt dṛṣṭam vanam gambhīra darśanam |
Things aren’t looking good. The snow cover is thick, the night is dark, and the storm is unrelenting. It’s getting more and more difficult to see. Though the lights on your car give some indication of the road ahead, on this night the visibility is severely limited. All you have is the implicit faith you put into the path itself, which you’ve traversed before.
When you end up reaching the desired destination, you realize that the road travelled was right. Though you couldn’t see far ahead, though the storm was strong, your faith in the authority that was the road paid off. In a similar manner, the faith extended to the highest authority figure yields the desired result. The path may be one you have never seen before, and the prospects for success may appear dim in the beginning. Yet it is the potency of the person being served that gives strength to the faith extended.
The common idea of religion is that there is a higher being from whom you can get things, provided you worship properly. We all want things. Even if you have everything right now, there is the need to maintain. The four traits exhibitive of the animal are eating, sleeping, mating and defending. You have to eat to stay alive. Eating involves a taste, and so what gets consumed should be palatable. What is tasty today may not be tomorrow; so desires tend to change.
Sleeping is as important. Rest is required to keep the body fit. If you’re on a long journey, the main concern is rest. If you’re travelling in an airplane, you wonder how you will sleep. Especially if the seats don’t fold all the way down, to get proper rest will be difficult. That then leads to other problems.
Mating is the ultimate enjoyment in a material existence, and when you have everything the desire is to maintain. For help in these four areas you can approach God.
“O Lord, please give me nice food to eat. Thank you for what you’ve given me already, but I need you to keep it coming. The same goes for health, enjoyment and protection. By your favor, anything can happen.”
This style of religion involves basic prayer. You may have to attend a house of worship or you may have to perform some ritual in the home, but everything is laid out in front of you. In the highest religion, which is the one yielding the best result, the path isn’t always known at the outset. You may not know where you will end up. It is your faith that keeps you going, and since it is in the power of the Supreme Lord to deliver His personal association in all circumstances, the faith is rewarded accordingly.
We can take the example of Sita and Lakshmana to see how this works. They perpetually serve the Supreme Lord in the mood of bhakti-yoga, which is devotional service. They don’t ask for gifts relating to eating, sleeping, mating or defending. They don’t perform rituals so that they’ll be happy materially. They know that God as Rama is the reservoir of pleasure. They know that true happiness only comes through His association, which they’re determined to keep through any means.
Sita here explains how one time that faith was tested. Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya for fourteen years. Imagine not seeing your family for that long. Imagine going to a foreign place and not having any communication with the people you’ve lived with for many years. Material envy can become so strong that it drives a person to deliver this punishment upon an innocent person.
Because of this envy, Rama was asked to leave Ayodhya; but His wife Sita was not. Neither was Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Yet they both insisted on accompanying Rama. Sita explains that the place they entered was not familiar to them. In appearance, it looked dense. It was a forest area, so it was truly entering the unknown.
Sita explains why they went. They had faith in the order of the one they serve. This refers to Rama, and by extension His father King Dasharatha. It was Rama’s father who had to hand down the order, driven to the regrettable act by his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Sita and Lakshmana went to that unknown place without fear. They were not expecting anything favorable materially. They were not in search of a treasure chest full of gold. They had faith in Rama, and that was all they needed.
In a similar manner, those who have faith in the guru, who is Rama’s representative on earth, know that following bhakti-yoga will yield everything favorable. Their practice may require following things foreign to them, such as the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. They may not know where they will live or if they will have friends and family around. They won’t be entirely sure where exactly they will end up in the afterlife, either.
Through faith, they know that wherever they end up their circumstances will be favorable for devotion. This was the case with Lakshmana and Sita, and also for Shri Hanuman. He went to search for Sita many years later, also entering an unknown territory. The strength of bhakti is such that one’s faith is always rewarded accordingly, even if at first glance everything doesn’t look ideal.
The reward for perseverance paying,
When on the righteous path staying.
Though at the outset not everything clear,
Devotees treading guru’s path without fear.
That Supreme’s association to get,
That favorable wherever feet to set.
Like Sita and Lakshmana to the unknown,
Dense forest with Rama then to roam.