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Crossing the ocean of nescience
The deeper meanings of the various characters and situations within the Epic Sri Ramcharita Manas composed by Goswami Tulsidas is essential for one to dive deep within the nectarine ambrosia of Lord Sri Rama’s divine pastimes. Understanding the context of the various events within the epic and applying it to the larger context of life is essential for us to develop a safe-boat that will steer us across the mighty, colossal ocean of nescience represented by the material world.
Rama and Laxmana enter the Pushpa Vatika
Lord Sri Rama is unattainable without Bhakti. Bhakti means intense, non-relenting attachment to His divine lotus feet. But to develop love for Lord Rama one needs to understand the dynamics of His love through other elevated characters and situations detailed within the Ramcharita Manas. One popular episode within the Manas is the fine morning in Mithila, the land of King Janaka, where the two brothers Rama and Laxmana enter the Pushpa Vatika (Flower Garden) to pluck flowers required by their Spiritual Master sage Vishwamitra, for his morning prayers. Here is where Lord Rama had the very first a glimpse of His eternal consort Srimati Seeta Devi on the earthly plane. This small event in the Pushpa Vatika has great significance with respect to the life of a sadhaka, a practitioner of Bhakti.
What does Pushpa Vatika represent?
It is important to understand that unless there is a union of Srimati Seetadevi and Lord Rama in our hearts, we shall never be able to emerge victorious out of the whirligig of material life. The interpretation of this statement is that the Lord is unattainable without Bhakti. Sri Rama represents the Lord and Srimati Seetadevi represents the devotional mellow of Bhakti. So if we are to invoke the Lord into our life, it is important for the sadhaka to enter the Pushpa Vatika. Now what does Pushpa Vatika represent? One can only get introduced to Bhakti if one enters the flower garden of pure devotees, people who have in their hearts the divine mellows of love for the Lord. Only in the association of sages and seers who have unflinching devotion for Lord Rama, can one receive the gift of Bhakti. Bhakti cannot be acquired through work, material gains or through any other means. Bhakti Devi is received as a matter of Grace that flows from the hearts of such pure devotees to the one who has become an empty vessel, a sadhaka who is ready to receive it. Bhakti is represented by Srimati Seetadevi. Hence the marriage of Srimati Seetadevi and Lord Rama happens in the heart of a sadhaka only in the flower garden of sages, seers and pure devotees of the Lord.
Significance of collecting flowers
Sage Vishwamitra had asked the Lord and Laxmana to collect Suman, which in Sanskrit has two meanings and in the current context both meanings are befitting. One meaning is “flowers” and the other meaning is “purified intelligence”. The Lord is available to only those beings who have purified intelligence. Purified intelligence is available to only those people who has surrendered their minds in the service of the Supreme Lord. Service of the Lord is verily Bhakti of which Srimati Seetadevi is the personified form. Srimati Seetadevi represents Siddha Bhakti, Bhakti that is perfected, which is not of the nature of sadhana, but that which is attained by the grace of perfected beings, after having been qualified to attain the highest, perfected form of Bhakti. We shall see the two aspects of Bhakti namely sadhana bhakti and siddha bhakti.
Understanding Sadhana Bhakti and Siddha Bhakti
When a person is inspired by the words of a pure devotee, he starts practicing devotional activities for the Lord and tries to establish an emotional connect with the Lord. This is a stage when the devotee begins his journey towards the Lord, his heart, yet in the grip of Maya and sullied with materialistic emotions. It is with the grace of the pure devotees and faith on the scriptures pertaining to Bhakti, that the neophyte devotees takes up sadhana Bhakti, following the Bhakti process, which is at an immature stage also called bhakti in the mode of a beginner or bhakti at the practicing stage. Once Bhakti process is followed continuously, getting completely immersed in the activities related to the Lord, dedicating all of one’s actions and results of actions to the Supreme Lord, Sadhana Bhakti gets into the matured mode. Sadhana Bhakti only matures in the association of perfected devotees who have attained the highest devotional mellows towards the Lord. When the neophyte devotee has transformed all his activities into acts devoted to the Lord, after having been rid of all selfish undertakings and maintaining life only for the pleasure of the Lord, he attains the grace of the pure devotees automatically. By their grace which is an expression of the Lord’s direct Grace, the devotee enters the perfected stage. The Bhakti that he performs at this stage is then not out of practice, effort, habit or intention. One’s all actions becomes an expression of the Supreme Being Himself; it is out of undiluted love for the Supreme Being unhindered by anything material. At this stage of Bhakti, the devotee depends only on the Grace of the Supreme Being without expecting anything from the Lord. His life becomes an expression of austerity and pure love.
Srimati Seetadevi and Her friends
The girl-friends of Srimati Seetadevi represent the various devotional moods arising in the heart of the pure devotee. In the event when Srimati Seetadevi enters the Pushpa Vatika, she takes bath in the water-pond inside the flower garden. She is surrounded by Her eight girlfriends. The number 8 represents 8 different moods in Bhakti. This means that Bhakti, which is at the root, has 8 flavors or moods that form the body of divine emotions that go along with Bhakti. Bhakti incarnate Seeta Devi takes a bath in the cooling waters of the flower garden. With respect to the individual who is eager to attain Bhakti so as to attract the Lord, the individual is supposed to first enter the association of holy sages who are adept in the mellow of Bhakti. He has to serve the sages/pure devotees and establish his earnestness in seeking Bhakti. The pond represents the water body which stands for the liquefied, cooling, emotional, divine mellows of Bhakti that arise in the hearts of such pure devotees. Only when the individual seeker is able to establish a chord with the pure devotees, can he be able to attain a place in the hearts of such sages. If the sages/pure devotees are concerned for such an individual seeker, one can consider that care and concern as the cooling water bath that the individual takes, in the hearts of the pure devotees. When sages remember the individual seeker and have blessings for him, the dirt and muck deposited on the spiritual self of the seeker is washed away and the sleeping spiritual self of the seeker takes shape and becomes automatically awakened by the grace of the pure devotees/ sages. This is the siddha stage, perfected stage of Bhakti. It is important to remember that in this stage of maturity, the sadhana process shall continue not for any goal or purpose but it shall become the very character of the sadhaka. In the perfected stage both the sadhaka and sadhana become one.