Rama: Vishnu’s Seventh Incarnation

Sri Ramachandra was born on the ninth day of the lunar month Chaitra in the town of Ayodhya to teach humans how to live righteously. His biography, the epic Ramayana, forms the biggest chapter of ethics in Hinduism. To perform a divine play on a grand scale, when Lord Vishnu incarnated as Rama, his spouse, Goddess Lakshmi, incarnated as Devi Sita. Moreover, Shesha Naga, the unborn serpent god, incarnated as Rama’s most famous brother, Lakshmana. Similarly, the potencies of Vishnu’s Sudarshan chakra and shankha (conch) took birth on earth as Rama’s brothers, Shatrughna and Bharata, respectively.

In Hinduism, Rama is the ideal incarnation of the Divine. Though he is beyond all gunas, he reflects higher qualities such as compassion, gentleness, responsibility, purity, forgiveness, austerity, devotion (to his gurus and Lord Shiva), and courage in unlimited amounts. A considerable feature of Rama’s divine play was his extremely restrained use of divine powers. This allowed his beings to interact with and learn from him while treating him as a fellow being. Because of his unprecedented perfection in hiding his own divinity through his maya, recognizing his real nature was difficult for many of his unrealized contemporaries, including some of his “enemies.”

Astrologically, being related to the Sun, Rama shows the height of self-discipline, leadership, and brilliance, which are all signified by this graha. Just like all the planets revolve around the sun, all the gods, who incarnated as vanaras, and the immortal rishis appeared on earth during Rama’s stay to gather around the ruler of the creation and spend some time with him.

Happy Rama Navami!

Deepavali: A celebration of Darshan

In the treta yuga, the people of Ayodhya celebrated their first Diwali (Deepavali) on Sri Rama’s return to his hometown. The lighting of lamps on this occasion was subsequently followed by the darshan of Rama. In our age, we can see this most popular Indian festival as an opportunity to welcome Rama in our lives. It reminds us that by dispelling darkness from our mind, we too can be blessed with a darshan of Rama.

It is not surprising that Diwali follows Dusshera, the victory of dharma, and is a bigger festival than Dusshera. If Dusshera is the defeat of unrighteousness, Diwali signifies the Lord’s revelation to the jiva. Interestingly, this face-to-face meeting of Ayodhya’s subjects with their ideal king and an incarnation of God was the result of fourteen years of longing (remembrance). This tells us something about the natural sequence of events in devotion: Remembrance and alignment with dharma are the precursors to God’s darshan, which is a major aim of devotional Hindu spirituality. Once a jiva who adores the Lord sees him, separation again from the Divine may not be possible. According to the Adhyatama Ramayana, the residents of Ayodhya became so attached to Rama that they never separated after celebrating their first Diwali. When Lord Rama left the globe for his abode, all his subjects and beings who were devoted to him, except Lord Hanuman, Vibhishan, and Jambvant, renounced their bodies and were guided to the higher worlds (loka).

Happy Diwali!

Rama Navami Special: Remembering the name of Lord Rama

Just like the Ashwin Navaratri concludes with the victory of Rama (Dussehra), the Chaitra Navaratri concludes on Rama Navami, the birthday of Sri Rama, Lord Vishnu’s incarnation as the ruler of Ayodhya as well as the Creation. On the occasion of the Lord’s birthday, let us partially revise the distinction his name has acquired in Indian culture.

Most Hindus would acknowledge that following the impact of the Bhakti Saints, there is only one name of the Divine more popular than the terms Brahman (the Absolute Reality), Paramatama (the Supreme Soul), and Ishvara (the Personal God). And that name is — “Rama.” Popularly talked about as the chant which worked wonders even when chanted backwards (from Valmiki’s biography), the name of Purushottam* Rama, the easiest mantra possible, remains an endless support to the weakest in terms of intellect, financial status, and power in Sanatana Dharma.

The image of a mantra or chant of a manifestation of God in a culture is often correlated with the quality of saints that are produced by its remembrance. Some of Rama’s devotees in recent times, while chanting his name and evolving themselves in non-possessiveness, peace, bliss, and knowledge, have excelled in at least one “extracurricular activity.” While Samarth Ramadas became the guru to the greatest Maratha ruler, Ramananda raised students like Kabiradasa and Raidasa. While Tulasidasa authored the most popular book of North India, Thyagaraja became one of the “Trinity of Carnatic music,” as experts call him, and Mahatma Gandhi** became India’s “Father of the Nation.”

The list of souls engaged in remembrance of Rama just goes on and on — from the exclusive devotee saints of Sita-Rama to the Vaishnava saints who find Rama and Krishna identical to the common person. And when this list comes to an end, a new one begins — a list of “intellectuals” who utter his name while criticizing him, constructively or with hatred.

*While selected Hindu individuals who find Rama an ideal person but not the Divine would translate the term Purushottam as “the best amongst humans,” the Gita has a different interpretation: Whoever is beyond nature (prakriti) and superior to the eternal soul (purusha) is called Purushottam (15.18).

**Though Gandhi’s Rama remembrance in his final moments on earth became debatable some time ago, his remembrance of Sita-Rama throughout life, beginning from an early age, should hopefully be unquestionable.

Lord Rama meets Shabri: Devotion is the sole reason for ‘darshan’

According to the Adhyatma Ramayana, when God-incarnate Rama visits Shabri’s hermitage, Shabri tells Rama that she has been waiting for him ever since her guru, Rishi Matang, left for Lord Brahma’s abode. Her mystic guru had foretold her that the Eternal Supreme Soul, who has incarnated on earth for the preservation of dharma, would bless her with his darshan (face-to-face meeting with God) one day and had instructed her to maintain her life till that moment. After pleasantly receiving Lord Ram and offering him some fruits, Shabri asks a question, “When even my guru (a great sage) could not obtain your darshan, how could I — a socially disadvantaged, uneducated person — attain it?”

In reply, Rama explains that his remembrance is not influenced by gender, caste, title, or age but finds its source in bhakti (devotion) alone. In the absence of bhakti, actions like sacrifices, charity, asceticism, and learning are fruitless in leading to his darshan. In Tulasidasa’s retelling of the same theme in the Ramacharitamanasa, Rama compares a person who possesses social privileges, a clan, virtues, ethics, brightness, strength, and riches but lacks devotion to “a cloud devoid of water” (Aranya Kand; 34–3).

Finally, Rama gives Shabri a discourse on the nine kinds of devotion through which a jiva (individual soul) can reach God and concludes by clarifying that devotion leads to the experience of the Divine which, in turn, leads to emancipation: “I am here because you are endowed with bhakti. And my darshan will unquestionably lead to your liberation.”

It is interesting to note that some members of Hinduism’s devotional schools do not cherish realization and emancipation as highly as a darshan. Though the darshan of God is not a prerequisite for liberation, it is the face-to-face meeting with the Personal God that the devotee seeks and attains.

Peer-to-peer learning: An instance from the Ramacharitamanasa

According to the Ramacharitamanasa, when Garuda (eagle; Vishnu’s vehicle) helped Lord Rama in His divine play on earth by untying Him from a mystical weapon, he got doubtful about the divinity of Rama. He kept pondering that if Rama were the Absolute, why would He ever need any help from him. On seeing no end to this confusion, Garuda eventually reached Lord Shiva for help. All Shiva had to do was explain to him that Rama is the Absolute Reality and Rama’s maya is responsible for such divine plays. And Who could have been a better guru than Shiva – the Only One Who knows Rama. But in stead of resolving Garuda’s problem, Shiva prescribed a “long term satsang” with another bird named Kakbhushundi for the reason that “a bird can understand only what a bird says.”

This is an example where Shiva promotes peer-to-peer interaction in learning and clearance of doubts. We have better chances of learning from people we have faith in and who resemble us. In line with this logic, a saint understands what a saint says and entrepreneurs understand what their corporate community says. When we see people like ourselves, we open our mind to receiving data from them. The similarity of our experiences in a peer group can also enable better connectivity and information exchange between the ‘preacher’ and the ‘learner.’ This may also explain why Shiva rarely initiates us into spirituality Himself, but sends us to another human guru so that we can reach Him.