“And the highly splendorous Lakshmana, who is the dear follower of your husband and overcome himself by grief, bows his head in offering obeisances to you.” (Hanuman speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 34.4)
lakṣmaṇaḥ ca mahātejā bhartuḥ te anucaraḥ priyaḥ |
kṛtavān śoka samtaptaḥ śirasā te abhivādanam ||
Is it bad to be a follower? Statistics show that in nations with a democratic-style government, the incumbent wins office the overwhelming majority of the time. In spite of the record, not considering the deals they may have made in exchange for campaign contributions, the public time and time again gives the benefit of the doubt to the person holding office. The natural tendency to follow is one way to explain this.
The leader is different. For starters, they must be courageous. Because as soon as you take the lead, you make yourself a target. If you’re stuck in the middle of a forest and don’t know where to go, someone needs to take the lead. But if the leader goes in the wrong direction, they will take all the blame. Nevertheless, without leaders there wouldn’t be companies that provide the products we rely on. The people who invented things that we find so useful today were risk-takers. They took the lead in innovating; they didn’t sit back and accept things as they were.
What about in spiritual life? Is it better to take the lead? We’ve seen so many people cheated by blindly following public figures who were later exposed to be frauds. The innocent people gave so much money, sacrificed so much time, and came out with nothing in the end. Perhaps it is better to take the lead, then? Charter your own course back to the spiritual world. You’ll take a risk, but at least the responsibility will not be with someone else. You can always count on yourself.
The above referenced verse from the Ramayana provides some clarity on the issue. Here Shri Hanuman is talking to Sita Devi. Hanuman is the messenger of Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Sita is Rama’s wife. Anytime the eternal consort of the Supreme Lord is referenced, we automatically know that she is the goddess of fortune. She holds this title because of her relationship to the person who owns everything.
Hanuman is praising Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Hanuman is actually just speaking the truth, but when you speak the truth about God and those closest to Him, you are simultaneously offering the highest words of praise. Included in Hanuman’s praise is the term anuchara. This means a follower or one who is a constant companion. Being a follower isn’t always the best thing. It opens you up for criticism. If you are overly attached to someone, it is a sign of weakness. Sort of like the Peanuts character Linus holding on to his blanket, if a person has to follow another person in order to survive, it means they are a dependent.
Is Lakshmana weak? Is his following of Rama a demerit? Being a constant companion is also a sign of affection. It is a way to show love for someone else. In this regard Lakshmana is a leader. He shows the path of loving devotion to the Supreme Lord, to whom he is very dear. The word used is priya.
Rama is the original leader. He expands into the four-handed form of Narayana and effortlessly creates everything. Destroying the entire cosmos is just as easy for Him. No one can imitate Him on that level. We can try to create, maintain and destroy, but it will never be the same; we must first use the ingredients created by Narayana and operate under the stringent laws of the material nature. We are always following Him, even if we don’t know it. He confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita, where He speaks the highest words of wisdom in His original form of Krishna.
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante
tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
“All of them - as they surrender unto Me - I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.11)
Every person follows Him, and the Lord rewards each person accordingly. The person who takes the lead in following gets rewarded with constant association. Rama offers love back, and mercy from the Supreme Lord is the highest benediction in life; nothing else can compare. Hanuman is bringing a form of that mercy to Sita through words about her husband. Sita brings that association to the pious souls through the fortune she bestows. That fortune, like everything else in this world, is meant to be used in service to her husband. Those who fearlessly follow that dear brother of Lakshmana stand out in this world; they are the example for others to follow.
As follower behind to stay,
Or as leader showing the way?
In crisis decision needed to be made,
But in following by cheater could be played.
Lakshmana the path of devotion showing,
Leading in following Shri Rama going.
Hanuman too following without fear,
All rewarded, to Lord becoming dear.