Whether one is wise or ignorant, as long as the body lasts, its functions continue unaltered according to its nature. And the embodied person functions as is appropriate in the world either attached or unattached. The difference between the two lies in the mental dispositions; in the case of the wise these are liberating and in the case of the ignorant these are binding. As long as there is the body, so long shall pain be painful and pleasure pleasant: but the wise are not attached to either. Rejoicing in joy and suffering in suffering, the great ones appear to behave like the ignorant, though in fact they are enlightened. The wise behave appropriately in society though inwardly they are free of all need to conform.Yoga Vasishtha IV, 14-15
Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu has captivated the hearts and minds of Indian people for many millenia. Rama is loved for his divine characteristics – righteous, peaceful, compassionate, courageous, to name a few. He is lovingly referred to as Maryada Purushottam Rama, the portrait of the ideal human being.
On the surface, Rama then appears to be a very simple and predictable person and we may even feel it appropriate to encapsulate our understanding of him in the convenient notion that whatsoever can be considered morally right, was exemplified by the character of Rama. But I feel that Rama is usually squared away by the human mind in a very simplistic way. Unlike Krishna, who we readily admit has us helplessly confused if we try to pin him down, we feel Rama is easy to understand. But I feel that is a mistake. Perhaps because we confined Rama to the limits of our intellect, Vishnu came again as colourful Krishna showing more clearly that we need to look beyond our simple, moralistic human understanding.
One of the most striking things about Rama to me is his great acceptance of events without becoming resentful or embittered. Whatever befell him, his attitude was that ultimately, it is good. On leaving his kingdom to take-up his 14 year exile, he never felt that anyone had done him wrong. Neither was his attitude, ‘what can one do, sometimes bad things happen in life..’ but rather, ‘it is good’. Had he not had that attitude, he would have given great moral sermons on why Kaikeyi and Dashratha were less-than-ideal human beings. But no, he placed no blame on anyone, didn’t think any less of anyone for the way they behaved. Equanimity shone through him.
Even after vanquishing the evil Ravana, Rama showed the appropriate regard for taking another life. But all this is not to say, on the other hand, that Rama was emotionless as we all know how his distress over Sita’s abduction was enough to start a war.
Therefore, to me, the Ramayana is not just a simple story of good over evil but rather, one of transcending both. How else can one go through situations like Rama did? He was not only relating to people on a human or personal level. If he was, the Ramayana would be full of Rama sermonising, censuring bad behaviour and intentions and praising the “good people”. His “oneness” of vision is what the Ramayana is trying to portray to us. Because the times he lived in were generally those of high moral standards, there is a danger of idealising Rama as a ‘perfect’ human being or a conformist to societal norms and missing his transcendental aspect.
Do not react to any action that takes place in, by and around you.
Act but do not react is one secret principle.
The other, is to totally and experientially understand that things and actions, in and around you, happen through you and are not done by you.
– Ramana Maharshi
I feel the important thing that Rama’s life shows us is not that Rama as a character is ‘good’, but that ‘it (life or whatever is happening) is good’. Rama shows us how to live with an openness and acceptance of situations. As an embodiment of universal consciousness, his actions were not motivated by personal or selfish motives. Knowing fully well that he was the most able and capable person to lead the kingdom of Ayodhya after his father, he didn’t react to the announcement of his exile with “you foolish people don’t know what’s good for you”.
Not holding an individual perspective, the divine saw all the different pieces on the chess board lined up to act for the fulfilment of the divine “leela”. He understood the methods of nature, the importance of timing for the readiness of people and events and He rested content with how the play was unfolding, knowing deeply, that it is good.
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All you write is true only because Ram was a divine avatar. How is a common man to follow in the footsteps of an avatar? Ram could see the whole play into the future and thus knew that exile was suitable. Therefore he did not condemn Kaikeyi or Dasharath. But a common man cannot see even the next moment, forget the next 14 years. So he will rightly be bitter about being thrown out of his house. Rama was infinitely powerful so he knew whatever dangers he encountered in the Dandakaaranya would be child’s play for him. A common man doesn’t possess the same strength. Won’t he feel scared witless to go into the bad world without this divine protection? I often wonder how Ram would have reacted had he been only human. If you have watched Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, in the episode where Sita goes back to Mother Earth, Ram was so anguished and pained that he forgot all about his divinity and threatened to rip the earth apart if it didn’t return his wife. That is how a common man will react. Brahma had to appear and pacify Ram and remind him of his divine origin and that Sita had already reached his divine abode and would meet him there after Ram’s leela on earth ends. Again, a common man if he loses his wife in this way is never going to be able to see her again. Won’t he be angry and pained? It’s so easy to be cheerful and non-resentful when you know that this is all a play designed by you yourself, and that you are going to be victorious in the end and go back to your home sweet home and things will be back to normal. It’s like playing a video game by using the God mode cheat. You can do anything and everything. The game becomes a breeze. How is that an example for the common man to follow? I adore Ram and he is my ishta Devata, but I also believe that avatars setting examples for humankind is only fancy talk, since they’re operating on a totally different plane altogether and with a totally different set of rules.
Thanks for sharing. I feel the avatars are indeed examples for us but it can be difficult to understand the aspect that their non-reaction is an internal way of being. I’d like to write more about this soon.