The Ramayana is a great epic that teaches us many aspects of devotional service to the Lord. In this article, I will focus on the lessons of service from the characters of Lakshman, Bharat, Shatrughan, Hanuman, and Sugriva.
Lakshman: The Wealth of Sacrifice
Lakshman derives his name from Lakshmi-maan, which means one who possesses Lakshmi or devotion. Lakshman teaches us that to serve Rama, we have to serve through Sita Devi, who is the embodiment of devotion. Lakshman stayed awake for 14 years to protect Rama and Sita, who were exiled in the forest. He walked ahead of them to avoid stepping on their footprints. He was the wealthiest person because he had the wealth of devotional service. He left his wife to serve Rama and showed us how to serve the Lord. He sacrificed everything: his sleep, his wife, his opulence, his throne. Lakshman teaches us that if we want to serve the Lord, we should be ready to sacrifice. The more we sacrifice in service, the more we progress. Lakshman teaches us that great souls are praised not only for their service, but for their sacrificing service. We all serve, but who is the one who is rich in sacrifice? Who knows how to sacrifice? Krishna wants to see that. That is what Lakshman teaches us. This is one aspect of service.
Bharat: The Burden of Service
The Burden of Service Bharat means bhara, which means the weight or the burden. He took the burden of service on his head. When Rama went to the forest, he asked Bharat to stay back and take care of the kingdom. Bharat did not accept the throne but took Rama’s sandals and served them as his representative for 14 years. He took the burden of God on his head and did not give his burden to Him. A servant goes to his master and says, “Oh my master, do you have any problems? I will solve them for you.” What is the problem of God? He is anxious about how living beings can be liberated from this material world. That is why He comes again and again. As a servant, we take His anxiety on our head. Krishna, you don’t worry about that. We will make sure that all souls will go back to the spiritual world. Bharat shows us that Rama was very worried about how his kingdom would run, but Bharat took care of it. Bharat shows us to take the burden of God on our shoulders, not to give our burden to Him. That is not devotional service.
Shatrughan: The Enemy of Lust
Shatrughan teaches us another aspect of service. Shatru means enemy and ghan means to destroy. Shatrughan destroyed the greatest enemy, which is lust. Shatrughan wanted to go with Rama to the forest to serve Him and Sita, but he did not go and chose to stay back in the kingdom. He conquered his lust to be with God. If you want to be with God for your own sake, that is called lust. Shatrughan knew that Bharat needed his help at that time because he would be alone managing the kingdom and Lakshman was already with Rama. So, he gave up his desire to be with Rama and stayed back. Shatrughan shows us that in service, lust can come in different forms and one of them is to have a desire to be with God. If you have a desire to see Him without the intention of serving Him, then that is lust.
Hanuman: The Planning and Enthusiasm of Service
Hanuman is teaching us the planning and enthusiasm of service. He is always planning how to serve Rama. He planned how to bring Sanjivani Buti, how to go to Lanka, and he is so enthusiastic and he wants to serve the Lord. Hanuman is teaching planning and enthusiasm in service.
Sugriva: The Friendship of Service
Sugriva is teaching that when you serve the Lord, you have to assist him in his mission. Sugriva assisted Lord Rama and in an act of devotion became friends with Krishna. And the definition in scriptures of a friend is one who participates in the happiness and the distress of his friend. We should be ready to serve Krishna in adverse conditions. Sugriva teaches that no matter how much adversity you are facing, always keep on serving God. And that is how you will express your friendship with God.