15 March 2005 — Amritapuri
The Puranas and Hindu epics are full of stories that seem simple on the surface, but upon deeper investigation reveal fathomless depth. This, in truth, is their greatness—the fact that everyone from a child to a scholar can hear them and come away with meaning appropriate for their stage and place in life. But sometimes, due to our lack of understanding, stories in these texts can cause some confusion, particularly when a hero or god acts in a way that seems contrary to the code of dharma. When this happens our only recourse is to go to a True Master and ask him or her to clear our doubt. Such was the case in Amritapuri on Tuesday’s Meditation Day.
The epic in question was the Ramayana, the 7,500-year-old text by Sage Valmiki detailing the life of Sri Rama. In the epic, Sri Rama’s wife, Sita, is stolen away by Ravana, and taken to his palace in Lanka. Eventually, after a search of 10 months Sri Rama kills Ravana and rescues Sita. But when questions arise in Sri Rama’s kingdom regarding Sita’s chastity during her time in Ravana’s palace, Sri Rama exiles his wife to the forest—even though she is pregnant with Sri Rama’s children—without even giving her an opportunity to speak in defense of herself. The brahmachari raising the question wanted to know how we could consider someone who would treat his virtuous wife in such a way as the embodiment of dharma. The brahmachari raising the question wanted to know how we could consider someone who would treat his virtuous wife in such a way as the embodiment of dharma.
“If we interpret the inner meaning of Ramayana, Sri Rama, Sita and all other characters are within us,” Amma said. “Even when we look into the epic of Ramayana externally, Sri Rama was indeed an incarnation of dharma. And he did set a good example to his subjects.”
Amma then explained how, as the King of Ayodhya, Sri Rama was not just wedded to Sita but to all of his subjects and that, whatever he did, the well being of his entire kingdom was his top consideration.
“When one is the king of a nation, that person cannot act, merely thinking of the well being of his own family,” Amma said. “For example, suppose a war breaks out between two countries. A general should not stay back at home with his wife and children. He has to be there at the war front, leading his army. This is a general’s dharma towards the nation.”
Amma then quoted some advice given by Sage Vidura in the Mahabharata: “To save a family, sacrifice a man; to save the village, sacrifice a family; to save the country, sacrifice a village.”
Then Amma looked at Sri Rama’s actions from another angle, explaining how when a robbery or fraud takes place at a bank, the authorities will immediately suspend the manager and have the enquiry later. “Although the authorities may know deep within that the manager is innocent, still they will let the law take its own course,” Amma said. “Maybe in the enquiry the manager will be proven innocent. In that case, he will be reinstated. Such an action will increase alertness and awareness among the other staff too, and they will be extra careful in all their transactions.”
Amma said that Sri Rama’s actions were in a similar vein: “When there was some murmur among the people about Sita’s purity, Rama sent her to the forest. But later, when the people became convinced of Sita’s chastity, Rama was ready to accept her back. This shows how a king must be. For a king, each and every subject in his kingdom is important. He listens to each and every person. He doesn’t just stick to the words of his counsel. In his heart Rama knew that Sita was pure. Similarly, Sita also knew Rama’s heart.”
Amma then offered another interpretation, this one focusing on the fact that Sita was pregnant. “In India it is the custom to send a wife back to her parents’ house when she reaches her seventh month of pregnancy with her first child,” Amma said. “During her stay there, special pujas are conducted and Vedic hymns are regularly chanted, and the atmosphere is kept spiritually surcharged. This atmosphere will have a positive influence on the baby. After she gives birth, she is once again brought back to the husband’s house.
“Sri Rama did the same. He knew that Sita was going to stay in Sage Valmiki’s ashram. In the ashram, she was always hearing the chanting of Vedic hymns, inhaling the pure smoke from the fire rituals and was in the elevating presence of the Rishi. So the children born to her—the twins Lava and Kusha—were spiritually vibrant and courageous.”
Amma also pointed out how in those days a king could marry any number of times, yet Sri Rama never took even a second wife. Even when he performed the ashwamedha sacrifice, which requires the presence of one of the king’s wives, he did not remarry but had a golden idol of Sita made and kept it in the place specified for the wife. “This clearly shows the love Sri Rama had for Sita,” Amma said.
Amma then went on to speak about the deeper meaning of the epic, specifically the scene where Sita is stolen by Ravana after falling under the enchantment of Maricha, a demon disguised as a golden dear. Amma explained how Sita represents the mind, Sri Rama represents God, Sri Rama’s brother Lakshmana represents discipline, the deer represents desire, Maricha represents maya [the illusionary world] and Ravana represents the senses.
In the story, Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are staying in a camp in the forest when Maricha approaches them in the form of a golden deer. Sita wants Sri Rama to capture the deer for her and he complies. But the deer tactfully takes him far away from the camp. When Sri Rama realises the deer is really a demon, he kills it, but as Maricha is dying, the demon calls out. “Lakshmana, help me!” When Lakshmana and Sita hear Sri Rama’s call back in their hut, Sita tells Lakshmana to go help his brother. Lakshmana reluctantly leaves, but before he does so, he draws a line on the ground and warns Sita not to cross it at any cost. With both Sri Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita, Ravana comes, tricks Sita into crossing Lakshmana’s line and takes her away to Lanka.
“As soon as Sita realised her mistake, She began repenting,” Amma said. “When her yearning for Sri Rama reached its peak, Sri Rama reached Lanka with his monkey army, defeated Ravana and brought Sita back.”
Amma explained how the story illustrates the fact that when desires enter our mind, we become distant from God. “Maya [the illusionary world] is very powerful,” Amma said. “If desires become strong, we fall into a trap. Then it is discipline alone that saves us. When Sita, the mind crossed over the line of discipline she fell into the hands of Ravana. Then she realized her folly and started praying to the Lord wholeheartedly. Then Sri Rama came and rescued her. When we awaken to our ignorance and put in conscious efforts, God reaches out to us and we are able to unite with God, the Source.”
When Amma finished Her explanation, the brahmacharis doubt was cleared. Where he once saw a thorn, he now saw the rose.