"O best of men, what is the use of Your destroying the entire world? After finding out Your sinful enemy, You should uproot him alone." (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.21)
This statement was uttered by Lakshmana, the beautiful, compassionate, and kind incarnation of Lord Ananta Shesha Naga, the celestial serpent who serves as the resting place for all the planets of the world and also for Lord Vishnu, or God. Ananta means that which has no end, and in this context, it references the unlimited hoods possessed by Anantadeva. Lakshmana, as a powerful incarnation of this divine servant, similarly possesses a limitless desire to defend and protect Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu.
Why would God need protecting? The Lord doesn’t require any security, but nevertheless, He enjoys receiving service from His devotees every now and then. God is the head honcho, the “top dog” in charge of everything. Naturally, the topmost person doesn’t require anything from anyone else, but he certainly likes to be complimented and praised from time to time. In pretty much any business, the boss isn’t a very popular person. This dislike is not personal; the boss is the person in charge, so naturally the subordinates will want to complain every now and then. Complaints aren’t lodged against those that are powerless; they will be directed at the person who has absolute authority or someone who has more power than the person doing the complaining. God is the ultimate authority, so it makes sense that people would lodge many complaints against Him, being unhappy that He put them into various unwanted circumstances.
As much as we may dislike our bosses, it is a reality that a business runs smoothly when the subordinates are properly serving the superiors. If every person was on an equal footing, nothing would get done because there would be an absence of leadership. If one worker were to ask another worker of equal status to perform some task, there is no guarantee that the job would get done. Equals have no authority over one another, so there is nothing stopping a person from refusing to do the task which was asked of them. When there is service offered to the superior, things run more efficiently, the subordinates are happy, and so is the boss.
“My dear Lord Krishna, I do not want material wealth from You, nor do I want followers, a beautiful wife or the results of fruitive activities. I only pray that by Your causeless mercy You give Me pure devotional service to You, life after life.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.30)
The cohesiveness of a properly functioning work environment essentially mimics the operations of the universe in relation to God. The employer-employee relationship can serve as an analogy to the relationship between God and His devotees, but the paradigm isn’t exactly the same since there is an inherent expectation of reciprocation of service in the workplace. The employee serves the boss, provided that the boss gives payment. Since pure love for God doesn’t work this way, it is known as Krishna-prema. Prema can be translated to mean love, but it is even more purified than that. Prema means serving God without any desire for reciprocation. Lord Chaitanya, God’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, kindly gave us the example of how to be a perfect devotee. Though He didn’t leave many written instructions, He offered a nice prayer which essentially says that He has no desire for any material opulences or fame. He simply desires to be engaged in the Lord’s service. This is the definition of prema.
Lakshmana, being a perfect devotee, also adopted this prema mentality. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the original Personality of Godhead came to earth in the guise of a pious prince named Rama. The eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Rama had many duties and responsibilities to tend to, including that of protecting His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped from the forest by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana weren’t with her at the time, so they didn’t realize she was missing until after she had been taken away. Realizing that Sita was gone, Rama frantically searched for her whereabouts. Unable to find her, Rama gave way to lamentation, followed by anger. He was ready to destroy the entire world as punishment for Sita’s abduction. He couldn’t believe that someone would want to harm such a kind and peaceful person. Rama, being an exemplary government leader and warrior, was very generous. Prior to leaving for the forest, many brahmanas [priests] approached Him and asked for benedictions. Lord Rama kindly donated all His wealth to them, reminding the brahmanas that there was no limit to what He would give out in charity to those who depended on Him.
Lord Rama was angry at Himself for not being able to protect Sita, and He was also angry at all the other living entities who stood by and did nothing while she was taken away. The trees, flowers, deer, and other forms of life in the forest, with the exception of the bird Jatayu, did nothing as Sita was taken away. Now obviously Rama was a little aggrieved, so He wasn’t thinking rationally. These other life forms really had no ability to defend Sita, but the Lord’s sentiments remind us of an important fact. Any material body which has a soul inside it should be considered a form of life. There is no difference between the qualities of souls, just a difference in the types of bodies they occupy.
Since Rama was so angry, He was intent on firing a powerful arrow from His quiver that would destroy all of creation. Only God is capable of doing this. Through the perfect recitation of mantras, Rama’s arrows could pack the power of the greatest modern day nuclear weapon. At this time, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. He reminded Rama that there was no reason to lament, nor was there any reason to destroy the whole world. After all, there was only one person responsible for Sita’s kidnapping, and thus only one person worthy of being sought out and punished.
When we hear of worshiping God and devotional service, it’s natural to conjure up images of prostrating before a deity, attending a church or temple, and reading scriptures. While these are all certainly components of devotional service, what really constitutes devotional life is love, or prema. By kindly offering instructions, Lakshmana was also engaging in devotional service, showing his pure love for his brother. Since God is the original person, He is also the original teacher, the first spiritual master. Thus no one is capable of instructing Him. Lakshmana indeed acknowledged this fact by reminding Rama that the instructions he was speaking were initially spoken by Rama Himself. More than anything else, Lakshmana was acting like a tape recorder in playback mode. A devotee’s intellect is capable of functioning like a portable music player which consists only of instructions given by the Lord. In this way, Lakshmana was an exemplary younger brother, warrior prince, teacher, and student.
What did Lord Rama do after receiving this advice? He kindly accepted the instructions of his brother and went about searching for Sita. Eventually the Lord would find what He was looking for. After defeating Ravana in a fair battle, the Lord finally rescued Sita and brought her to safety. Rama was so kind that He made sure to take Ravana on in an open battle. The Lord didn’t lob an arrow from thousands of feet away and destroy his kingdom. The evil elements in Ravana’s kingdom were eventually destroyed anyway by Hanuman and the other Vanaras helping Rama, but the Lord wanted to give Ravana an honest fight, a fair chance to win Sita.
These incidents can teach us so many lessons. We are all in a distressed condition, even if we are unaware of it. During the 1970s, when many Americans were turning to Krishna consciousness and becoming devotees, those who didn’t understand the movement would often say that the young boys were lost. “They didn’t know what to do in life, so they took up this strange religion where they shaved their heads and started chanting in airports.” This is certainly an interesting viewpoint, but it also begs the question of how someone who has nowhere to go can be considered lost.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
Those who don’t know they are lost, the karmis, think that life is going swell for them. Life may indeed be fine in a material sense, but what will happen to their souls after death? We all make plans for the future, either the next day, month, or year, but what about the afterlife? How many of us plan out where our soul will end up next? “Who knows where we go after death? Why should I concern myself with something that is unexplainable?” Karma refers to actions which develop the material body, the outer covering of the soul. Basically anything we do to better our material condition can be considered part of karmic activity, or fruitive action. The rewards of life can be grouped into three general categories: artha [economic development], kama [sense gratification], and dharma [religiosity]. We can think of karmic life as the search for a sea of gold. “One day I will have enough money so that I won’t have to worry about eating, sleeping, or paying bills. Then I will be able to gratify my senses and be happy.”
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)
In this search for the sea of gold, we often find ourselves in cold situations. We find something that we think will make us happy, but it turns out to be the source of so much pain in the end. Even those who are rich and famous find struggles in life. Dharma, artha, and kama aren’t guaranteed to provide us any real happiness, for they only aim to please the material body, a body which is destined for destruction. Upon destruction of the current body, a new one is molded based on a person’s desires and work. So in this sense, we can say those who don’t devote themselves to God are actually the ones who are lost. The greatest obstacle towards success lies in the fact that most of us don’t realize that we are lost, for we are unaware of the intended destination.
How do we alleviate the situation? How do we find the right path in life? Just like in Lord Rama’s case, there is something impeding our success, an enemy who has caused us pain. This enemy is known as maya, or the illusory energy of the material world. Maya means “that which is not”; hence she causes us to think we’ll be happy associating with her, when in reality we really won’t. In order to find the proper path to rescue our soul, we have to defeat the soldiers of maya’s army: lust, greed, and anger. One who can control their senses is known as dhira, or sober, and can thus better understand the position of the soul and how it relates to God.
The great authorities, the pure devotees of Krishna, tell us to take up devotional service. We must commit ourselves to regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Our execution of devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted. Unmotivated in this context means without any personal desire. For example, we shouldn’t worship God in hopes of a return reward such as material wealth. We can most certainly be motivated in our service, for without desire no one would take any action. But our motivation must be on the spiritual level, where we maintain a desire to serve the Lord to the best of our abilities.
After Rama defeated Ravana, His reward was the safe rescue of His wife. In a similar manner, our reward for executing devotional service is that God will be in our life all the time. Once we get Him, we should never let Him go; devotional service should remain our occupation eternally. This was the example set by Lakshmana, Sita, and Hanuman. They are eternally existing, and their only business is to go wherever Rama goes, or wherever His name is chanted. Thus by taking up devotional service, not only will we find God, but the great devotees will find us as well.