Ensconed in the world of Ramayana, this book is a collection of enlightening reflections on the dynamics of the relationships of the epic’s larger than life characters. These characters existed ages ago, yet they encountered dilemmas similar to ours—dilemmas that tested their love and their principles.
Replete with thought-provoking conversations and incidents, Wisdom from the Ramayana is at the heart of a quest to have enriching, fulfilling relationships, and thereby living meaningful lives.
Chaitanya Charan is a mentor, life coach, and monk. Building on his engineering degree from the Government College of Engineering, Pune, he complemented his scientific training with a keen spiritual sensitivity. For over two decades, he has researched ancient wisdom texts and practised their teachings in a living yoga tradition.
Author of over twenty-five books, he writes the world’s only Gita-daily feature (gitadaily.com), wherein he has penned over two thousand daily meditations on the Bhagavad-gita. Known for his systematic talks and incisive question-answer sessions, he has spoken on motivational and spiritual topics across the world at universities such as Stanford, Princeton, and Cambridge, and companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Google. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, Wisdom from the Ramayana. Courtesy: Fingerprint.
An excerpt from Wisdom from the Ramayana, by Chaitanya Charan
Why did the gods want Rama to leave Ayodhya? To fulfill his mission as a descent of the divine. Rama being supreme is the Lord of destiny too—destiny acts according to his will. That means Rama was exiled by his own will.
However, the Ramayana doesn’t stress Rama’s divinity—it focuses on his being the ideal human being.
And Rama’s actions are instructive in understanding how to respond to destiny. Despite repeatedly referring to destiny, neither Rama nor the other characters in the epic act as if they are puppets, pulled helplessly into doing particular things. When faced with perplexities, they reason conscientiously to determine their dharma, the right course of action for them. They draw insights from scripture and tradition, and use their intelligence for applying those insights to their particular situations.
Thus, the characters simultaneously acknowledge destiny and deliberate dharma. Destiny connotes forces beyond our control, and dharma connotes actions that we are meant to choose, implying that those choices are in our control. How can considerations of destiny and duty—of factors beyond our control and factors in our control—be reconciled? By seeing destiny and duty as complementary, not contradictory, as Rama did.
In the third article of this book, we discussed how Rama’s placid acceptance of his exile was not fatalistic, but pragmatic. Nowadays, we often rebel against any notion of predestination, any idea of resignation to any power higher than human. But just as in Rama’s case, Dasharath’s surrender to his destiny is not fatalistic either. He tried his best to avert the calamity. Only when nothing worked did he share the story of his being cursed to explain that the adversity had been pre-ordained. The Ramayana gives no indication that any fatalistic sense of predestination decreased his efforts to change Kaikeyi’s mind.
The thrust of the Ramayana’s discussions is that we not see the events happening in our life as isolated incidents—they are manifestations of a complex chain of factors, a chain into which we implicated ourselves by our past actions. Such a philosophically informed vision helps us respond to reversals intelligently, not impulsively, so that we can act to mitigate the situation, not aggravate it.
From Destiny through Duty to Liberty
Such level-headed pragmatism in the face of destiny is the most empowering option in a disempowering situation. And it becomes even more empowering when coupled with the spiritual practice of bhakti-yoga.
This is evident in Dasharatha’s actions.
Though deeply afflicted by separation from Rama and though confronted with the inevitability of his own imminent demise, Dasharatha didn’t become resentful or hateful towards hostile destiny. He saw the calamity as a reaction to his own past action. Of course, in his particular case, that culpable action had been perpetrated in that very life and he could recollect it. In most cases, we may not be able to recollect the relevant past action, for it may have been done in some previous life. Nonetheless, the key point is that destiny is not arbitrary or inimical; it is orderly and reactional. It gives us reactions to our own past actions.
Accepting the inviolable will of destiny, Dasharatha absorbed himself in the remembrance of Rama.
The Ramayana embodies a dynamic, ecstatic tension in Dasharatha’s mind over Rama’s identity—is Rama human or divine? The king is told repeatedly by sages that his son is the Supreme Lord descended to this world, and hearing about his son’s divinity delights him. Still, that knowledge never became the defining basis of his relationship with Rama. Out of his paternal affection, he saw Rama as his own son, to be protected and provided for by him.
Srimad-Bhagavatam, a pre-eminent bhakti text, declares that absorption in the Lord is always auspicious. If such absorption is continued till the moment of death, it can grant liberation, transporting one to the Lord’s eternal abode.
Dasharatha became absorbed in Rama, in a mood of parental affection and intense separation. Thus absorbed, he left his mortal frame and attained reunion with Rama in his supreme abode. The destiny that had brought him such agony ultimately led him to liberation.
And a similar auspicious result happened for the world at large—Rama freed it from the scourge of demonic forces. Intriguingly, destiny’s ways turned out to be auspicious for the demons too. Not all of them were innately, incorrigibly evil—they were just led by a fiendish pack of leaders headed by the lecherous Ravana. Rama eliminated those rogue leaders and entrusted the demons’ leadership to the virtuous Vibhishana, who brought auspiciousness into the demons’ lives.
If we too respond to adverse destiny by sticking to our dharma and absorbing ourselves in our Lord, destiny’s ultimate benevolence will eventually become manifest.