Children, even after thousands of years, the Ramayana holds a very special place in people’s hearts. What is the reason for this? It is that within the pages of this epic is found the essence of devotion. The devotion in the Ramayana softens and purifies our heart. Even though the essential nature of bitter gourd is bitter, if we soak it in sugar water for some time, it becomes sweet nevertheless. Similarly, when we surrender our mind to God, all of our mental impurities are removed and our mind becomes pure.
In the Ramayana, we can see different forms and expressions of devotion. Bharata’s devotion is different from Lakshman’s. Sita’s devotion is different from Sabari’s. One aspect of devotion is always desiring for close proximity and constant companionship of one’s beloved. We can see this aspect of devotion in Lakshman. Lakshman is forever occupied with serving his Lord Rama. To this day, he is remembered as one who constantly renounced food and sleep to serve his Lord. But Bharata’s devotion was not like that. His devotion was filled with calmness and gentleness. Bharata dedicated ruling the country in Rama’s absence as a means to worship Rama. As long as one has constant remembrance of God and the attitude of complete surrender to God in his heart, all his actions can be considered as worship. On the other hand, without this attitude, even pujas and homas done at famous temples are mere “jobs”, not worship.
The intensity of devotion increases during the absence, rather than the presence, of our object of affection. This is what we witness both in Sita and the gopis of Vrindavan. When Lord Rama was near her, Sita desired the golden deer. She became a slave to her desire. However, after Ravana captured her, Sita’s heart was constantly pining for Rama. In that intense sorrow of missing Rama, all of Sita’s worldly desires were burned away. Her heart was cleansed once more and she was able to merge with God.
Hanuman’s devotion is a combination of qualities such as discrimination, enthusiasm, concentration and intense faith. Once a servant of Sugreeva, after laying his eyes on Lord Rama, Hanuman became totally dedicated to Rama. If the bond Hanuman had with Sugreeva was of worldly nature, what he had with Rama was the bond between the paramatma and the jivatma—the bond between the supreme soul and the individual soul. Hanuman also demonstrates how through constant chanting of the Lord’s name alone one can achieve constant remembrance of God.
To gain devotion, one does not need to be born in a higher class or be very knowledgeable. A pure heart is all that is needed. That is what we witness in Sabari. She completely believed her guru who told her that one day Lord Rama would visit her. With the expectation that Rama would come today, she cleaned the ashram everyday and got all the materials together for worshipping him. She prepared a special place for Rama to sit. In this manner, days, months and years passed. The long wait was not in vain. Rama came to her hut one day. He received her loving hospitality. Sabari’s story proves that God will come to reside in the hearts of those who wait for Him.
Devotion should not be merely emotional. Devotion based purely on emotions will have intensity, but will be temporary. Hence, devotion founded on knowledge is necessary. Devotion should not be for the fulfillment of our worldly desires. After the seeds of devotion sprout, they should be plucked and planted in the fields of knowledge. When it yields good fruit, then the goal is attained.
Rama was able to awaken the expression of devotion in brothers, friends, subjects—even in birds and other animals. Where there is greatness, we will unknowingly worship it. This is because the seed of devotion is hidden in the heart of each one of us. We should nurture it with our thoughts, words and actions. We should rise in devotion until we see God pervading the entire universe. The Ramayana is a path that takes us to this supreme state.
The writer is a world-renowned spiritual leader