The Tree of Knowledge
Vedantic significance of Ramayana
— Swami Chinmayananda
In Ayodhya (yudhdha means conflict, Ayodhya means where there is no conflict) to the king Dasharatha – one who has conquered all the ten Indriyas – was born the Supreme Lord, Sri Rama (‘That One’ who is revelling in every form – as a baby).
Rama grows up in Ayodhya (without any conflicts) and then goes out of Ayodhya with sage Vishwamitra to protect the yagnas. Rama gets married to Sita. Janaka is her father. Janaka found her while ploughing the mother earth; most improbable place to come out from. Ultimately, she goes back to mother earth. So here is someone who came from no-cause and goes back to no-cause, and this is called, in vedanta, as ‘Maya ‘. Thus Rama, the Atman, the self, gets wedded to Maya…
Once ‘ Self ‘ gets wedded to Maya, the Ego, ‘I’ cannot remain in Ayodhya. Conflict must necessarily start. Thus he goes to the jungle with Sita. The jungle means the forest of pluralities, conflicts, in which you and I live today. There, as long as Sita was looking at Rama, living in Rama, for Rama (ego thinking of God only), she never knew the difference between Ayodhya and the forest. But one little moment she turned her attention outwards and there stood the golden deer – the delusory golden deer.
And once we see that delusion, we do not want God; we want that delusory thing only. Sita got stung by the desire, rejected Ram, sent him away saying, “I want that Golden deer.” Rama goes. The deer is killed no doubt, but it starts crying out and Sita asks Lakshmana also to go. He hesitatingly goes… It is at this time that the ten-headed monster, Ravana, comes in the guise of Sanyasi Bhikshu. See the anti-thesis. Dasharatha, who has conquered the ten Indriyas, is in Ayodhya, and Dashamukha is in Lanka. We are like Ravana. Our attention is constantly turned outwards through the ten Indriyas. Materialism enters the bosom of a seeker in a deceitful form. Ravana, the extrovert man, with lusty living came to Sita in a deceitful form. He comes and takes her away and Sita becomes a prisoner in Lanka.
Her fall from Ayodhya to Lanka is the fall of man from greatness of divinity into the present condition of guilt, sorrow, agitation, worries and suffering. Thus you and I are Sita now in Lanka. What did she do there? She refused to cooperate with materialism all around. When she says ‘NO’, materialism cannot touch her. She remained under the Ashoka tree. Shoka is sorrow, and Ashoka is sorrowless. Though there is sorrow in all our minds, we refuse to recognise it. There under the Ashoka tree she contemplated on Ram with a sense of total surrender, recognising and realising the terrible mistake that she made and remained there. When we thus remain contemplating on Ram, every seeker will get intimation from the Divine, Sri Ram, that ‘I am coming.’
Hanuman reaches Sita and gives her the Symbol. Her hope increases and she is confident that Rama is coming. She awaits the arrival of Rama. As Sita weeps for him, Rama also expresses sentimental emotions. Valmiki wants to communicate to us that when we cry for God, he responds. How will he go there? He is in jungle. The only army he can have are monkeys. We find so much of criticism in Western literature that monkeys cannot make an army. But here it has to be monkeys. Human minds and thoughts are the only ally for the Lord, the Spiritual Self, for I and you to reach that state. Monkeys and human minds have the same qualities of ‘chanchalatwa’ and ‘asthiratwa’ (lack of concentration and attention).
These monkeys can never be the ally of the Lord as long as they are ruled by Vali, the incorrigible lust. As long as our minds are ruled by lust, we are not ready to do Ram’s work. So Vali is to be destroyed and see who comes to the throne – Sugreeva. Greeva means the reins of horses, total self control! Under Sugreeva the monkeys are available to do Ram’s work and together they build the bridge – the bridge of contemplation to reach the realm of Ravana – the realm of pure materialism, to destroy the extrovertedness, destroy Ravana and take Sita back to Rama.
Sita, the ego, when comes face to face with Rama, the Self, the ego disappears. Just as ‘the dreamer, I’ disappears before ‘the waker, I’ . Sita thus disappears. It is Kapilamuni who tells Rama that he cannot go back to Ayodhya and bring about Rama Rajya without a queen. Hence Kapilamuni makes a delusory Sita with whom Rama returns to Ayodhya and rules for a short time. All men of Realisation, having realised the Truth, always come back to the world for a short time to serve as Saints, Prophets. We cannot work in the world without an ego. But here, it is not a true ego, but an illusory ego. When he thus rules, Luva and Kusha are born. Similarly when a Jnani works in the world, a Bible or a Koran, a Gita or an Upanishad will necessarily emerge out of Him.
Then he gives up the world. There is no compulsion on him to give up because it is already an illusory one. It is not a real one. He gives up the world and there ends the masterpiece. Thus Ramayana, from Ayodhya to Lanka is the process of an individualised ego, coming into the present state of misconception that I am a limited, individualised ego, and the return of Rama back to Ayodhya from Lanka is the man’s pilgrimage fulfilled in the Realised Self.
There is a spiritual background to the entire story of the Ramayana. That is the reason why it is so popular. The average man is happy with the story. To the mediocre man, the idealism that Rama stands for is a great education. But even the man of Realisation enjoys Ramayana, because he sees in and through the story the entire Vedantic Wisdom, echoing and re-echoing as a melody Divine.
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Let us take this opportunity offered by the celebration of Ram Nawmi to reflect on the symbolism of Lord Rama. In its simplest form, the Ramayana is the story of a great noble prince who was an ideal son, brother, disciple, husband, and king. Generally, we find that a person is perfect in only one or maybe two relationships or fields of activity in life. One may be an ideal husband but not an ideal son; another may be an ideal son but a monstrous husband and an uncaring father. To find someone who is ideal in all of his or her relationships, in all fields of activity, and who is full of noble virtues is nearly impossible. Yet, we find in the Ramayana, Sri Ramachandra, who achieves what we consider “nearly impossible”.
Sage Valmiki, who wrote the Ramayana, presented Ramachandra as the perfect person because society is always in need of an ideal. It is a fact that when people have a higher goal in their lives, they strive hard to improve and bring out the best in themselves. But if one’s ideal is low and if one has no higher goal to aspire to, one only drifts along in life and gets carried by whatever whims and fancies are in his mind or in the society around him.
If we study the Ramayana carefully, we will discover that not only are day-to-day duties demonstrated through Rama’s example, but we are also taught how to deal with the greater conflicts in life, although the exact circumstances may be somewhat different. The great importance of the Ramayana is that it teaches us how to observe situations and to come to the right decision.
Rama, about whom we read in the Ramayana, is actually our own absolute spiritual nature. And who is Sita to whom Rama is married? She is the absolute peace wedded to our blissful nature. And the Ayodhya in which bliss and peace dwell together is the space in the heart.
In the story of the Ramayana, Ramachandra had to cross the ocean to kill Ravana and Kumbhakarna. This ocean is the great ocean of ignorance and delusion that we must cross in order to destroy the enemies within us: the likes and dislikes, and the desire and anger. Only when these hosts of negative tendencies in our hearts are removed can we attain absolute peace.
The story of Lord Rama is a demonstration of righteous living. It is old but ever fresh and new.
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