Ramayana teaches the spirit of selfless service and sacrifice. For the devotees, there is strong nourishment needed in terms of hearing and studying the glorious characters exhibiting unparalleled sacrifice. This helps them practise renunciation in its true spirit, namely the spirit of selfless service.
The Ramayana, through sterling examples, shows us the mood in which a devotee practises Bhakti yoga, and in particular how a renunciants practises his renunciation.
Vibhishana was a great devotee of Lord Rama, and the younger brother of Ravana, the arch enemy of the Lord. Ravana’s family is indeed strange; his sister Shurpanaka wanted to enjoy Rama, and seeing Sita as an impediment, tried to kill her. Ravana on the other hand wanted to enjoy Sita, and considering Rama as an impediment, vainly attempted to kill him. Another brother, Kumbhakarana just wanted to sleep, while Vibhishana alone wanted to selflessly serve the Lord.
Vibhishana wasn’t a traitor; he loved Ravana and repeatedly implored him to return mother Sita to Lord Rama. However Ravana’s obstinacy impelled the devout Vibhishana to abandon his brother and seek refuge of the merciful Lord. Vibhishana later cried when the Lord killed the wicked Ravana and retrieved Sita from his abode Lanka. Vibhishana teaches us that to serve the Lord means to uphold the truth and this may mean sacrificing even our loved ones if they abandon sacred principles.
Earlier in the Ramayana we see the heroic bird Jatayu, laying down his life to protect mother Sita as she was being unlawfully carried away by Ravana. Sita had told the bird to just inform her husband Rama about her abduction, and he would certainly come to protect her. Jatayu, feeling outraged at Ravana’s heinous act decided to save her from his clutches. Most people in Jatayu’s place would have been happy to receive the service of simply giving news. He wasn’t expected to fight and protect her; he was old and would have certainly lost the battle. However, unable to tolerate this offense to mother Sita, he attacked, knowing fully well that he’d be killed because he was too old. But to serve Rama, he gave all his efforts, and with his two old wings attacked Ravana. Ravana on the other hand possessed strong arms and bought down the heroic Jatayu but not before the warrior bird destroyed Ravana’s chariot, asses, and his charioteer.
Why did Jatayu risk his life; what was his motivation? Selfless service to the Supreme Lord. He embodies the teachings of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who taught the ideal aspiration of a devotee:
“O Lord of the universe, I do not desire material wealth, materialistic followers, a beautiful wife or fruitive activities described in flowery language. All I want, life after life, is unmotivated devotional service to You.”(Sikshastakam, verse 4)
This heroic service of Jatayu bought tears to the eyes of the Lord; the Lord cried profuse tears of gratitude seeing this act of pure, selfless devotion of a devotee in the body of a mere bird. Jatayu gave up his life in the loving embrace and lap of Lord Rama. The Lord performed the last rites of this great devotee while Emperor Dasharatha, the Lord’s own father was not favoured with this blessing.
All our spiritual advancement depends on cultivating this mood of selfless service; the more a devotee grows in his spiritual life, the more he desires to be the servant of servant of all, giving all respect to others and desiring nothing in return. In this mood alone we can chant Hare Krishna purely, in a way that attracts the Lord to reciprocate with our calling and fill our hearts with the gift of pure love, Krishna Prema.