“Previous to that in fact, the greatly fortunate Saumitra, who is the delight of his friends, adorned with tree bark for preparing for the journey with his elder brother.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.28)
prāg eva tu mahābhāgaḥ saumitriḥ mitra nandanaḥ ||
pūrvajasya anuyātrā arthe druma cīraiḥ alamkṛtaḥ |
Bhakti-yoga is unique amongst all varieties of religion and spirituality. It is the lone practice that is free of desire for personal gain. Even wanting something for another person is a kind of personal motive. When the person whose welfare you desire gets the intended benefit, you feel some pride, some sense of accomplishment. Bhakti-yoga is unmotivated and uninterrupted, so it is dependent on neither reciprocation nor the opinion of the recipient.
Outside of bhakti-yoga, the first inclination is to ask for things from God. “O Lord, I’m in a lot of trouble. Can you save me? I have nowhere else to turn.” There is the obvious flaw in this request, wherein it is admitted that approaching God was the last resort. If everyone else failed, why should the highest being bail you out? Why didn’t you go to Him first?
In bhakti-yoga desire is not absent.
“Okay, but how can motivation be lacking when there is desire?”
The nature of the desire changes. Instead of wanting for yourself or someone you know, you want only for the Supreme Lord. He already has everything, so this attitude is difficult to adopt with sincerity. The intelligent will keep in mind the supreme standing of the topmost person. Nevertheless, one who reaches the most mature stage cannot be stopped in their service.
Case in point Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. On earth she plays the role of a wife, but she is eternally the consort of God. This means that only for the sake of our understanding in terms of time do we attach the relationship of marriage to her. For there to be a marriage, there has to be a wedding. A wedding indicates a point in time, at which there is something before and something after. In the earthly realm Sita was not married to Rama before the wedding; otherwise what is the point to the ceremony?
The marriage is simply a display for the people in the earthly realm, a formality to go with the timeline of events immortalized in the Ramayana, the original book coming from Maharishi Valmiki. As God’s eternal consort, Sita is always in devotion. Her love for Rama cannot be stopped. She does not look to gain anything from her show of affection. Whether He agrees or not, she will continue to love.
For an example of how this love is practiced, we can look to the incident of Rama’s exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama asked Sita to remain at home. As a good wife following the duties prescribed in dharma, Sita should have stayed in the kingdom. What purpose would her leaving serve? At home she could look after Rama’s parents, who in fact were asked to protect and affectionately watch over her.
Sita refused to listen to Rama. She would accompany Him to the forest for fourteen years. Years later she told Shri Hanuman about this, when identifying herself in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. Devotion is unique amongst all versions of religion, but it should be known that even the qualities typically considered pious are never lacking in the devotee. In fact, they come automatically.
We see how this works from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana. Sita here tells Hanuman that Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was ready to go to the forest even before her. Though she is in pure devotion to God, she does not think herself superior to anyone. She appreciates Lakshmana’s service to Rama more than her own. In the future, she would come to appreciate Hanuman’s service to Rama as the best.
To regularly give credit to others is a good trait. The act is something we appreciate. Even if we know that someone actually did everything on their own, we like it when they try to praise others. In bhakti-yoga the devotee deserves so many accolades, for it takes many births before one even attempts to understand God in full.
manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.3)
kaścid yatati siddhaye
yatatām api siddhānāṁ
kaścin māṁ vetti tattvataḥ
The more one advances in bhakti-yoga, the more they appreciate the service of others. Sita did not need to mention that Lakshmana beat her to the punch in following Rama, but she did anyway. Lakshmana too is always giving credit to Rama for things that he has done. Thus one should feel confident in knowing that from practicing devotion no good quality will be absent. Those qualities will arrive easily, for that is inherent in the divine nature.
Let there be reservations none,
All good qualities easily to come.
Since bhakti’s path to Rama dear,
On this fact have no fear.
At the example of Lakshmana look,
Chance to serve brother in forest took.
More than herself Sita this appreciating,
Story to devotee Hanuman relating.