“Dwelling in the forest of Dandaka with Rama of immeasurable vigor, I, His lawful wife, was taken away by the evil Rakshasa Ravana.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.30)
vasato daṇḍaka araṇye tasya aham amita ojasaḥ ||
rakṣasā apahṛtā bhāryā rāvaṇena durātmanā |
The enemies of the true religious path seem to be indefatigable. They don’t tire. They remain obstinate. They keep coming up with excuses for not accepting the only route that leads to genuine happiness for the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity. Any human tragedy is seized upon as supporting evidence. “Let no crisis go to waste” is the motto when looking to defeat the powers of good in the world. Though the plight of a princess in the Ashoka grove in Lanka a long time ago apparently gave signs to support the atheistic view, her words spoken to a noble warrior said otherwise.
“Why are you wasting your time serving milk to your gods? Do you think they actually drink it? Do you see them? They are gods, are they not? If that is the case, what need do they have for your milk? You would be better served offering the same to the poor. They actually need it. They are struggling. I’m sure your gods wouldn’t mind.”
“How can you believe in God after seeing all the terrible tragedies in the world? How could a kind savior allow such atrocities to happen on a regular basis? No, I’m not a blind follower like you. I can’t buy into it. There is no God. We’re all alone; we have to look out for ourselves. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and I’m not going to be one of the suckers.”
“I believe the best way to serve God is to be nice to people. If He does exist, then I think He’ll be happiest when everyone is enjoying. Let there be peace in the world. Let others live without conflict and struggle. This is the way to please the Supreme Lord.”
The excuses continue to flow, while the path of devotional service remains an option the entire time. Even after being rejected for so many years, through many lifetimes spent in many species, the Supreme Lord always leaves the door open for His children to return. After they’ve exhausted every mentally concocted system of virtue, some more widely accepted than others, they still have the chance to serve God with love and devotion.
“Are not the excuses legitimate? How can God let atrocities happen? Why isn’t it better to feed the poor instead of the deities in the temple?”
The material is temporary and miserable. In the Bhagavad-gita, the two Sanskrit terms used are duhkhalayam ashashvatam [Bg. 8.15]. The atrocities we see reported on television are actually no different in nature than the joyous moments. The cat being rescued from a tree is on par with the outbreak of the deadly disease. Just as happiness corresponds to sadness, birth is paired with death. Birth brings the potential for so many things, and death takes it all away. In this way, life is a losing business. No one goes into business to fail, but in life that is the only guaranteed outcome.
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye 'rthe
na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.27)
The distinction to keep in mind is that the guaranteed loss applies only to material life. No matter how much the poor are fed, there will still be poverty. No matter how much research goes into fighting and curing disease, people will still fall ill and die. No matter how many conventions and meetings are held to bring world peace, there will always be conflict.
On the other hand, with devotion practiced in the right way, there is every chance for ultimate victory. That devotion is stronger than its opposition. Sita Devi and Shri Hanuman testify to this. The person they serve is the reservoir of immeasurable vigor, which He then kindly shares with those who serve Him.
What does immeasurable vigor mean? Think of one man defeating 14,000 fighters singlehandedly. He had no time to prepare. He did not map out a strategy. He only had a few moments’ notice, and He still won without any doubt. His place of residence at the time was a forest known as Janasthana, or the land of the living people. Noting the irony of what resulted from her husband’s victory, Sita later humorously pointed out that the land transformed into Hatasthana, or the land of the dead.
“O Rakshasa, when your Rakshasa army had been killed in Janasthana, turning it into Hatasthana [land of the dead], being powerless you committed this wicked deed.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.29-30)
The attackers came to take Sita, who was the lawfully wedded wife of the victor, Shri Rama. The evil Ravana eventually succeeded in taking away Sita. He tried to torture her in Lanka, hoping that she would agree to become his chief queen. Sita’s situation would seem to support the argument that God doesn’t exist. If Rama were really God, how could He allow Sita to suffer in such a manner?
Sita here informs us that Rama has immeasurable vigor. Though the enemies of the real religion will amass temporary gains here and there, they are no match for what God brings. In this situation, the vigor extends to both Sita and Hanuman, who was sent by Rama to find her. Hanuman’s perseverance cannot be accurately quantified. The same goes for his love for God, whom he will serve until the end of time and beyond.
Sita’s determination in honoring the vow of marriage is just as strong. The devoted ultimately triumph over the non-devoted. The non-devoted will lose everything at the time of death anyway. The same is not true for the servants of Rama. They get His association after death, for they always remain conscious of Him.
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
How can we know for sure that we will be with God in the afterlife? How can we be sure that devotional service, bhakti-yoga, is not a waste of time? In any other path, we know that everything gets erased at the time of death. We know that the time leading up to that event is spent in fear, as at any moment everything can be lost. In the devotional path, there is only gain after gain, as the consciousness gradually becomes purified. So even in the present life there is success, which continues on into the future, like the immortal words of Sita found in the Ramayana.
Though tragedy and suffering in pain,
Life a losing business, nothing to gain.
Temporary and miserable the description,
That all to die most accurate prediction.
Only in devotion to Rama to win in the end,
His immeasurable vigor to servants to send.
Like with Sita and Hanuman winning,
Overcoming king of Lanka’s sinning.