Kaustubha das

Radhanath Swami on Sita’s Banishment

“There is more love in separation than in union, for in union the beloved is found in one place only, while in separation the beloved is found everywhere.” Braja poet Nanda das

[One can not estimate the influence of the Ramayana on India’s culture and art or it’s importance to the panorama of India’s religious and spiritual traditions. Rich in the teachings of ancient Hindu sages, the Ramayana’s 24,000 Sanskrit verses follow the life of the Vishnu avatar Rama, from his childhood as prince of Ayodhya, to his youth amongst the sages, his marriage to Sita, their exile to the forest, the kidnapping of Sita to Lanka, the rescuing of Sita and their triumphant return to Ayodhya. But then Rama, who had throughout the epic professed his unending love for Sita, upon hearing an ordinary washer-man’s doubts about Sita’s chastity during her captivity in Lanka, banishes Sita from the kingdom. For the reader, having endured the ample sorrow of their separation due to the kidnapping, Sita’s banishment is not only heartbreaking, but can also be the source of confusion or even enmity towards Rama. How could Rama, the embodiment of all virtue, who had pinned for Sita in her absence and risked so much to retrieve her, suddenly become so callus and cruel. This question has been the subject of debate for millennia, and in the minds of some, can overshadow all the beauty, wisdom and adventure that precedes it. A recent example of a telling of the Ramayana which is almost entirely colored by the pain of Sita’s banishment is filmmaker Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues” . Recently I had the good fortune to be present when the question of Sita’s banishment was brought to the Vaishnava sannyasin and spiritual leader Radhanath Swami. His answer deals with the subject of vipralambha-bhava or the spiritual emotion of the love felt in separation from the beloved. You can read his esoteric explanation of Sita’s banishment below. I have lightly edited it for clarity.]

Kaustubha das

“There is a place called Chitrakuta, a beautiful forest on the banks of the Mandakini River.  I once met a great saint there named Balarama Maharaja. He was a devotee of Rama.  I happened to ask him this question,  “What is the justification for Rama banning Sita to the forest?”  He told me something that was so deep and so esoteric that it can not be fully appreciated by those who are looking at things merely at an external, superficial level.  So one may or may not appreciate this answer but it completely fulfilled my heart.”

Vipralambha means separation, and separation intensifies the experience of love. Just like in music, compare how many songs there are about being happy together to the number of songs about having a broken heart. Which are there more of?  Why is it that there are so many songs about the pain of separation?  Because music is an art, and art is an expression, and the expression of love in separation is a very deep absorption.  When somebody is with us we are absorbed in a certain way, but when our loved one is away it increases our remembrance, thoughts and absorption in that person. It is true that when ones beloved is away one is always thinking of their beloved and searching for them. When Rama was with Sita he was seeing her in one place. But when Rama was away from Sita and Sita was away from Rama he would see Sita in the trees and she would see Rama in the clouds, everywhere. When we are together the love of our heart goes out towards the beloved. In separation that love goes deeper and deeper and deeper into the very core of our heart.  And it is intensified.  On the spiritual platform love is not determined by our physical proximity.  Our connection to God or Rama is to the degree that we are internally absorbed in the thought of Rama.  And when our love is intense, the Lord accepts it from within our heart.  That love may be intense when the Lord stands before us, but it is even more intense when the Lord is not standing before us. When there is that longing, that deep deep absorption, then the Lord is embracing us and reciprocating with us from within.”

“So we read from the Vedas, Puranas and Bhagavatam that this love in separation is very special and deep and that it’s a direct personal relationship with God.  If you have read Srimad Bhagavatam, the Gopis, they are considered the highest devotees of the Srimad Bhagavatam as their love for Krishna was so deep.  Krishna lived with them for about twelve years.  And then he left and went to another place.  The Gopis were in deep separation as Krishna was living in Dwarka and they couldn’t see him for a long time.  Krishna revealed His heart and said that the reason I am separate from them is because their love in separation for me it is so intense, so internalized, that their love and my reciprocation with that love in their hearts cannot be any more.  If I were to stand before them it would only interrupt the intensity of that love that we are having within the hearts of each other. Still he went, but after some time.”

“So Sita is God.  We have to understand the philosophical principle that according to Vedic sidhanta (conclusion) God is both female and male equally.  There is the sakti (energy) and the saktiman (energetic source). Gods female  aspect as Laxmi, Sita, Radha, or Parvati is the compassionate side of God.  Krishna, Rama, Narayana, and Shiva are very powerful, lordly manifestations of God. The feminine aspect of God is the reservoir of love.  And the masculine side of God is the ultimate object of love.  And those two aspects together are God.  Perhaps in western religion, because there is so much emphasis on the masculine side of God, religious people can sometimes become very egoistic and attached to power and control. They can lose their compassionate essence.

So this is the one God.  God is never separate. Sita and Rama can never be separate in essence.  In their lila in this world they lived together and enjoyed love in union.  But Rama wanted to experience for himself, as well as have Sita experience, that even deeper,  intensified experience of love in separation.  In their hearts of hearts they could never be separated.  So therefore Rama banished Sita, but really he was blessing her by giving her a higher experience of internal union and he also experienced that union. So the great devotees of Rama, the great yogis, they understand it in this way.”

“Externally the lesson that a king should be beyond suspicion, and that a leader should be willing to make sacrifices even of him or herself for the sake of the people, is taught through this lila. Rama banished Sita in order to remove all doubts  in him as a leader with integrity, by proving that he was willing to make the greatest sacrifice, the sacrifice of the person he loved most.  Sita, being very much an integral part of everything Rama was doing for the citizens, shared in that sacrifice for the welfare of others. This is the superficial lesson from this story. It’s what most people talk about when discussing this lila, but it is only the external reason for Sita’s banishment.  Internally Rama and Sita wanted to share a deeper and deeper experience of love for each other from the core of their hearts.”

“This banishment of Sita, amongst people who have gone deep into the subject, is a very profound meditation on the loving exchange between her and Rama. This conclusion that I am speaking has been passed down for millennia.  And how God and Goddess, male and female aspects, how they shared the ecstasy of love for each other is not limited by our ability to comprehend it. This is what they choose to do and we understand that is what they really want to do. They go through the whole lila in such a way that is very traumatic and brings about such emotions in all of us. But there is a beautiful verse in the Upanishads.”

Tad-vijnanartham sa gurum eva abhigacchet

“To learn that transcendental subject matter, one must approach a spiritual master.” (Mundaka Upanisad 1.2.12)

“To understand the essence of the scriptures we really need to have a teacher to explain them. Otherwise we can so easily become confused or bewildered by apparent contradictions based on how we feel it should be and all of that.  So I am repeating the words of one great guru who spoke these words to me.”

Radhanath Swami

Related Posts: Sita Sings the Blues, More From Radhanath Swami, Feeling Separation from Krishna


6 Responses to “Radhanath Swami on Sita’s Banishment”

  1. Beautiful.

    I got into a big discussion the other day with a friend who is reading the Bhagavad-gita for the first time. She is fascinated/compelled to read it, but couldn’t wrap her mind about the fact that it “promotes war” and she’s a pacifist. I was happy to be able to explain that in the same light (and tell her to actually read the purports! ;). So many deep spiritual texts, including many from the Bible and other scriptures as well, are often disturbing or contradictory to the novice. It takes a realized teacher to help filter and process the knowledge encapsulated within.

    Sarah

  2. Counter intuitive, lovely.

  3. I thought for a long time, of Sita’s banishment as an injustice to Sita and caused her suffering in her pregnancy. Then she was considered the role model for Indian girls who were supposed to suffer in silence. But after reading Radhanath Swami’s explanation of the deeper love in separation and the deeper meaning of it, I feel my doubts are removed. At first we feel the surface level emotions but we need to look into “God’s Lila” in a spiritual way so our understanding grows. Thank you dear Radhanath Swami!

  4. I am very happy to have come across this explanation of Sita’s banishment. For many years, this part of the Ramayana has been a source of confusion and even resentment within me. Radhanatha Swami’s explanation reveals that there are always deeper spiritual ways of understanding seemingly contradictory passages in the ancient story of the Ramayana. Thanks!

  5. In a verse in Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says: “One who understands transcendental activities of My birth and activities does not, upon leaving body, takes birth in this material world again”.

    When I was reading Bhagavad Gita As It Is for the first time, this was one of those verses that attracted me a lot. And everytime i hear inner explanations and deeper realizations from HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj, my mind automatically recalls this verse, because this verse always makes me realize, that pastimes of Lord are not as simple that insignificant jivas like us with no devotion can calculate. Its simply beyond the scope of conditioned intelligence to understand Lord, His glories, His pastimes.

    I thank you Maharaj for bringing such topmost confidential subject matters in light of our poor intelligence.

  6. […] The subject of Rama’s banishment of Sita has been questioned, contemplated and commented on by a variety teachers and holy people over the course of the history of the people of India. People existentially committed to the texts and whose questions are motivated by deep, living concern. The answers, range from the exoteric (often involving the need for a leader to sacrifice for the good of their followers or for their character to be beyond reproach), to the esoteric (usually dealing with the depth of emotion experienced through love in separation). One such explanation can be found in the article previously published on The Bhakti Collective entitled “Radhanath Swami on Sita’s Banishment“. […]

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