“It is my vow that if one only once seriously surrenders unto Me, saying, “My dear Lord, I am Yours”, I shall immediately award him courage; and he shall forever remain safe.”
– Lord Rama (in the Ramayana)
When two lovers meet, there is happiness. But when they are separated, the intensity of emotions churned in the heart is richer. The pain of not being with the beloved strengthens the lovers hankering.
This principle applies even in our relationship with God. The desperation–in separation- is a greater devotional ecstasy than physically being in the Lord’s association.
The transcendental love of Separation
Lord Ram and his devotees experienced this love many times. When Ram was banished to the forest, his father Dasharath and the citizens of Ayodhya felt deep pain of separation. Bharat and Ram too felt this reciprocal love. An old and simple woman named Shabari who waited for years to see Ram, exemplifies serving the Lord in separation and hope.
While Ramayana is filled with pastimes exemplifying this mood, Sita-Ram’s separation is the pinnacle of this emotion. The time they spent in separation churns the reader’s heart with love and tenderness. Interestingly, in Lord Krishna’s pastimes, devotees are seen crying in separation but we hardly find Krishna crying in separation from his devotees. However in Lord Rama’s pastimes, the Lord’s lamentation and his transcendental emotional outbursts are there for all to see. This helps one appreciate Lord Ram’s humanness; and feel the love he feels for us.
The paradox of Ramayana
The most beautiful paradox of the Ramayana story is that there is pain and suffering, yet it’s deeply nourishing and irresistible for the reader. Usually when we read a tragedy, there is meaningless pain. However the suffering in Ramayana is like the hot chutney – sauce of Indian cuisine. The chillies and spice burns the tongue, yet it tantalizes one’s senses; one wishes to have more of it. Srila Prabhupada gave the example of hot sugar cane juice. The temperature makes one uncomfortable to drink it, yet the sweetness entices one to drink more of it.
Ramayana begins with Valmiki rishi-the author- seeing the painful separation of a female Crauncha bird (Sarus Crane) that witnesses her partner being shot by a hunter. She wails piteously, and Valmiki feeling compassion for the suffering bird, pronounces a curse on the hunter. Even as he succumbs to anger, Valmiki is surprised that his outburst came out in perfect poetic meter. As he wonders about this incident, the leader of the universe, Lord Brahma appears before him and explains how his cursing is a propitious sign; it’s an indication that he should write the Ramayana, extolling the glorious love of Lord Rama and his devotees for each other. The cursing of the hunter becomes the first verse of this immortal classic, and sets the mood of transcendental sorrow and love in separation, for the remaining part of the book.
The Ramayana ends with Sita going back to her abode, under the earth, and thus intensifying Lord Ram’s separation from her.