A Call to Spiritual Heroism
By Chaitanya Charana Dasa
Like Ravana of the Ramayana, the heroes and heroines of today’s movies have a fatal flaw.
The Ramayana is an ancient Vedic saga of action, romance, wisdom, and adventure; a saga that has inspired a quarter of the world’s population for millennia; a saga that depicts a past when beings of celestial might—both divine and demoniac—interacted on our terrestrial realm; a saga of the struggle between good and the evil; a saga in which God descends and teaches virtue, righteousness, and spirituality by His sterling personal example.
Despite the Ramayana’s historical antiquity, its basic storyline is similar to that of a typical movie: It features a hero, a heroine, and a villain lusting for the heroine; and it tells of an exciting confrontation between the hero and the villain, culminating in the death of the villain and the reunion of the hero and the heroine. But there is one vital difference between the Ramayana and a modern movie: In a movie, the hero, the heroine, and the villain are all actually villains.
Why? Many people think of a villain as someone who enjoys by exploiting and harming others. Though not wrong, this conception of evil is incomplete and naïve, as it ignores a fundamental reality: our supremely responsible and loving father, God. Many of us never got the spiritual education needed to understand that it is God who selflessly provides us our daily food. It is true that we have to work hard to earn our living, but our effort is secondary. It’s like the hard work of birds searching for grains: Without God providing the grains through nature, their search, no matter how painstaking, would be fruitless. Similarly without God’s designing the miraculous mechanism of photosynthesis, which transforms “mud into mangoes” (a feat far beyond the best scientist and the latest computer), we would never have any food, no matter how much we labored. All our other necessities—heat, light, air, water, health—are similarly fulfilled, primarily by divine arrangement, secondarily by human endeavor.
Unfortunately our media, culture, and education preoccupy us with so many materialistic allurements that we become blinded to the fact of our dependence on God and obligation to Him. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, just as a healthy fear of a loving father is necessary for a naughty, restless child to become disciplined and responsible. And love of God is the culmination of wisdom, just as gratitude and love for a benevolent father shows the maturity of a grown-up child.
Sadly, however, our society fosters neither love nor fear of God, but glamorizes godless, selfish materialism instead. Consequently nowadays many people are extremely selfish in their relationship with God. They don’t give even a few moments to the person who has given them their entire life. In a family, if a son doesn’t care for his father, who is his link with his brothers, soon he will stop caring for them too. In fact, he may even become malevolent toward them because they become his competitors for inheritance. Similarly, selfishness toward God is the origin of all evil. We have all sown that evil seed in our own hearts and are now force-feeding each other its bitter fruits—terrorism, corruption, crime, exploitation—all born from fighting with each other for the world’s resources, God’s inheritance for us.
The Ramayana gives us a glimpse of heroism and villainy, of selfless love and selfish lust. Lord Rama and His consort, Sita, are the eternal hero and heroine. Hanuman, the godly hero, personifies the tendency to selflessly assist the Lord in His divine love, whereas Ravana, the godless villain, personifies the tendency to selfishly grab the Lord’s property for our own lust. The godly hero aspires to enjoy with God, whereas the godless villain wants to enjoy like God.
On the other hand, in a typical movie all the main characters—the hero, the heroine, and the villain—have the same evil mentality of wanting to enjoy without caring for God. In the hero and heroine, the guise of romance masks that mindset, whereas the villain expresses it without reservation. But they are all Ravanas, the difference being merely in the shades of gray.
Our selfish attempts to be imitation heroes and heroines, whether in the movies or in real life, are intrinsically evil, and they fuel and fan all the greater evils we dread. Ultimately our evil boomerangs on us, for it perpetuates the illusion of our bodily misidentification, and our body subjects us to the tortures of old age, disease, death, and rebirth—again and again and again.
Of course we do not have to choke our natural urge for specialness. Like Hanuman we can all be heroes too—in service to the supreme hero. Unfortunately our society portrays the Ravana tendency as heroic and the Hanuman propensity as obsolete.
A Lesson of Hope
The Ramayana reveals that Ravana, despite his extraordinary prosperity, was never satisfied but always lusty and greedy for more. Isn’t that the condition of our modern civilization? All the might and wealth of Ravana could neither bring him happiness nor save him from eventual destruction. The ultimate defeat of Ravana reminds us of the destiny that awaits our society if it continues in its godless selfishness.
Still, the fall of Ravana is not just a doomsday warning; it is also a harbinger of hope and joy because it teaches us that the Lord is competent to destroy the evil within and without. The same Lord Rama who destroyed Ravana millennia ago has reappeared as His holy name to destroy the Ravana within people’s hearts. The holy name offers us real happiness, not by imitating God, but by loving God, not by becoming an imitator hero, but by becoming a servitor hero.