“That glorious Rama right away accepted those words of His father to be supremely dear; considering them more important than the installation as king. He accepted them giving His word.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 33.24)
sa pituḥ vacanam śrīmān abhiṣekāt param priyam ||
manasā pūrvam āsādya vācā pratigṛhītavān |
When discussing bhakti-yoga, the word “devotee” is used quite often. In fact, you might hear this word more than any other. “Associate wit the devotees. The devotees are trying to love God in thought, word and deed. Don’t offend other devotees. Always keep the association of devotees.” There are many meanings to this word when discussing the highest occupation for man, devotional service. We can get one of the meanings from the descriptions given by Sita Devi when she spoke to Hanuman in the Ashoka grove in Lanka.
Have you ever changed your mind? Have you ever decided on one thing only to switch later on? Have you ever made a decision with your heart but then afterwards been compelled by outside forces to reverse it? Such is the nature of the world we live in, we can’t always make the best decisions. We can’t predict the future, which means that as circumstances change, so too do our desires.
Goswami Tulsidas, who knows the Supreme Lord very well, says in his Dohavali that Shri Rama favors the desires of His servants more than His own. So the person connected to God is a devotee, and they are described here with the term “sevaka,” which means servant. A bhakta, which is the principally used Sanskrit word for devotee, is someone who serves God in one of the nine different processes of bhakti-yoga. Something as simple as chanting the holy names qualifies as service: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
“Tulsi says that Rama favors the desires of His servant more than His own. How can anyone turn their back on such a sweet master as the husband of Sita?” (Dohavali, 48)
As mentioned before, desires are known to change. What does Rama make of this? As the personal side to the Supreme Being, who thus has interactions with others, does He get angry if the bhaktas change their mind? What if their desires change? What if they are compelled to do something else?
Tulsidas already provides the answer, and here Sita Devi confirms it. The above referenced verse from the Ramayana is part of her introductory remarks to Shri Hanuman, who has been sent to Lanka to look for her. Sita knows Rama very well; she lived with Him for many years as His wife. At this moment, she is still His wife, but is separated from Him through no choice of her own.
Sita says that Rama accepted the words of His father Dasharatha to be very dear. The previous desire of the father was to install Rama as the king. This happened in the thirteenth year that Sita lived with Rama in the kingdom of Ayodhya. Dasharatha was the leader of that land, and Rama was His eldest son. Based on tradition, protocol, and assessment of qualities, making Rama the new king was the right decision.
But just as the formal transfer of control was about to happen, Dasharatha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi intervened. She put Dasharatha into a sort of checkmate position. She reminded the king that he had previously promised her any two boons of her choosing. She used this opportunity to cash in on them. She wanted her son Bharata as the new king and Rama to go to the forest.
An easy move would have been to ignore her. But Dasharatha was known to be true to his word. Without truthfulness, he would lose the respect of the people, who required a capable leader. Also, Kaikeyi promised to starve herself to death if Rama became the new king. Thus the king had no choice but to change his mind. Regrettably, he asked Rama for the kingdom back.
What was Rama’s reaction? Though playing the role of a father, Dasharatha is eternally a devotee of God. He is also a living entity travelling through various bodies, which means that he has desires. Therefore it is not surprising that Dasharatha changed his mind, like any other person is known to do. Rama did not mind one bit. He accepted these words of His father to be supremely dear. They were more important to Him than being installed as the new king.
Rama also gave this approval immediately. In this way we get one definition of a devotee. They are someone whose desires are taken to be of utmost importance to the Supreme Lord. The non-devotees do not enjoy the same benefit. Although God is impartial at the start, caring equally for all living entities, those who accept His divine mercy become His friend. The friend of God gets the benefit of having their desires met, which always have some relation to devotional service.
Knowing this, why would anyone cast aside devotional service? Why would they accept any other master? Hanuman and Sita do not make this mistake. They each make their decision with complete soundness of mind. They are not poor, either. They don’t need anything. Hanuman possesses all six of the perfections of mystic yoga. Sita is the goddess of fortune. They follow devotional service because they know Rama’s nature, and how He never puts Himself first.
Changing mind, suddenly a new thirst,
Know that to Rama His devotees come first.
Like when Dasharatha transferring power about,
Then suddenly reversed, Rama from kingdom to get out.
Lord taking new words as supremely dear,
His love for devotees thus crystal clear.
To forsake such a Lord don’t make the mistake,
Like Sita and Hanuman bhakti your life’s path make.