Symbolisms in the Ramayana – Foreward

“For those who believe in God
no explanation is necessary
For those who do not believe
no explanation is possible”

— Rev. John La Farge S.J.

The Ramayana has always fascinated me.

I would find the story of Rama intriguing enough. I however could not understand the almost impossible characters, like monkey-humans with magical powers, or a demon king with ten heads who could change his appearance at will.

This is just to name a few of the many such incidents that abound in the Epic.

However there was another startling fact that was confusing me. The Ramayana has swayed the imagination, head and heart of millions for thousands of years.

This made me feel that there has to be more to it than meets the eye.

By attending discourses of learned scholar, I realised that the Ramayana is more than a religious scripture; it is a way of life. Each character is symbolic and each incident has its equivalent place in life.

If the Ramayana abounds with superhuman characters, incredible in strength and valour, so does Homer’s Odessey speak of one-eyed giants and lotus-eaters. Neither Homer nor Valmiki could have drawn their characters unless they had heard of or seen mammoths and monsters of unbelievable strength. Evolutionary history tells us that the earth was inhabited by giant animals, whose height is estimated at 100 feet, from the fossils found in the deserts of Africa. One need not, therefore, dismiss as pure mythology, characters like Bali, Sugreeva, the monkey-kings or the 10-headed Ravana of Lanka.

Even as recently as two decades ago, it was common for people to deride another, with the statement ‘you are asking for the moon’. It has become a fact in this atomic age. Till the beginning of the First World War of 1914, airplane was unknown. People used to joke about man flying in space. The advent of the plane and the jet has exploded all this. Similarly, the divine missiles described in the Ramayana need not be cursorily dismissed as pure imagination. Perhaps the age in which Ramayana took place was much more advanced scientifically and technologically than the age in which we live.

The sages emphatically believe that the Ramayana is a historical fact. They claim that the Ramayana is the Sun which will give it’s warmth and light at all times and on which humanity will have to depend for its spiritual well being.

The Ramayana is the story of Sri Rama – the ideal Son, the Ideal Husband, the ideal Ruler and the ideal Warrior (Ramo Vigrahavan Narah). In delineating his characters. Adi Kavi Valmiki must have had the good of mankind at heart when he wrote the Ramayana. If a poet or artist is to create a masterpiece, he must have had an example to draw inspira­tion from. As the legend goes, Valmiki asked Narada whether he knew of anyone among the then living kings who is an embodiment of all the 32 noble quali­ties, the highest hallmark of the complete, integrated person. Narada, in reply, pointed to Sri Rama of Ayodhya.

The Ramayana is an Epic that teaches us the ethics and the political set-up of the people in ancient India.

It is a lesson in Duty, Sacrifice, Service and Devotion.

The philosophy of the Hindus is beautifully inter­woven into the narration to make a tapestry, a classic of such calibre that it is not surprising that the Ramayana is of such immortal value.

Before we enter into the main narration of the Ramayana we must get acquainted with a glimpse of the way Hindus think and believe.

Max Muller has said, “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant — I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we may draw the corrective thought which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life, not only for this life only, but a trans­figured and eternal life — again I should point to India.”

A common western view is that India is ascetic, otherworldly and life denying. This is however not true. India has not condemned enjoyment as evil. Hindu scriptures claim that there is nothing wrong with pleasure; it is one of the legitimate ends in life, but one must see that pleasure is fulfilled as richly and aesthetically as possible.

It is inevitable that when man pursues pleasure he must one day realise that pleasure is not all that he wants. A man of maturity knows that pleasure is not wicked, however he does conclude that it is too trivial to satisfy man’s total nature.

Kieikigaard writes in Sickness unto death:  “In the bottomless Ocean of pleasure, I have sounded in vain for a spot to cast anchor.”

Worldly success cannot satisfy man completely because he knows that wealth, fame and power do not survive physical death.

Hindu philosophy knows that one cannot gain by suppressing desire or by imagining that it does not exist.

All Hinduism asksis that one has an awareness of the above facts. Then one can go after desire and pleasure in a prudent manner and deal with people and circumstances with the fair play it deserves.

During the stage where man is involved in pursu­ing worldly goals a Spiritual master is not likely to disturb the aspirant beyond offering some suggestions as to how to deal with the mundane problems of his everyday life.

When man follows the desire of fame and wealth to its hilt, another stage unfolds in his life when he asks: “Is this all? AmI going to leave all this that I own or have achieved behind, when I die?”

Man realises deeply that he does not want to die. Sometimes one may find oneself driven to suicide but no one really feels happy about dying.

Man wants to be immortal and man seeks Joy. These two desires together coin into one word —Mukti or Liberation — a liberation from the sorrows of Life and Death.

Hinduism not only promises infinite being and infinite joy but also claims that they are already his.

Why is this then not obvious, one may argue? The Hindu sages claim that -the reason that we are not aware of the infinite joy that is within us is because of the dust of distraction and false ideas that cover the light of our infinite centre.

Jesus Christ also claims that the “Kingdom of God is within you.”

The Three Pathways

But how does one reach that Infinite Ocean of Bliss which is now hidden deep within us.

How does one start his journey towards divine perfection?

The Hindus have prescribed three different paths to purify one’s personality and to guide people to a higher state of being.

If the goal is one, should there not be one path to it?

Different starting point is determined by the kind of person one is, by the kind of personality one possesses.

There are, according to Hindu analysis, three different kinds of persons. Some are basically reflective; their way to God would be through knowledge.

The second kind is primarily emotional. Their way to God would be through Devotion and Love.

The third kind is essentially active. Their way to God would be through work and service.

The Path of Knowledge

Such people follow where their Intellect leads. By prolonged intensive reflection such personalities touch upon the unchanging element in themselves, which Hindus call the atman.

By constant introspection they pierce through the various identifications of the roles, that they haveplayed, i.e. as father, as son, friend, husband etc.

By doing so they touch upon true self, which is synonymous with peace and joy. With it they finally identify and merge.

Bhakti Marg – The way to God through love.

This path is dominated totally by Love. Love for love’s sake and not for any other ulterior motive. This love for God will automatically weaken the world’s grip of attachment and desires.

This path knows only to give of oneself totally without asking for anything in return.

Karma Marg — The Way to God through Action

It is needless to state that the human body was made and meant for action. People who are idle or made to retire from their profession are generally not very happy personalities.

Hinduism does not believe that one must take to the woods in order to worship. We must in fact turn each activity of ours into a thoughtful movement, which takes us closer to God and to our ultimate goal.

One must come to feel that one is only an instru­ment through which God’s work is done. That way the ego is kept at bay. One must work like a person who loves and does everything for his beloved seek­ing nothing for himself but taking pleasure in service alone.

Activity is an essential function of life and when one looks closely it becomes obvious that the way of knowledge and the way of devotion are both comple­mentary. Both are required to round up a personality to perfection.

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine