A Talk by Giriraj Swami
April 6, 2001
The original Personality of Godhead is Krishna, and He manifests Himself in different forms. One such manifestation is Lord Ramachandra. When Krishna appeared in His original form He acted as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whereas when He appeared as Rama He acted as the ideal king. In fact, the pastimes of Lord Rama display ideals in many ways. Lord Rama appeared as the son of King Dasaratha, and Dasaratha acted as the ideal father and king. Rama acted as the ideal son and later, after He was coronated, as the ideal ruler. Rama’s brother Laksmana acted as the ideal brother, and Rama’s wife, Sita, acted as the ideal wife. Because Lord Rama acted as the ideal human, He is called maryadha-purusottama. He followed the same types of rules and regulations that we as human beings are meant to follow, whereas Krishna, acting as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, followed no rules or regulations; at least He was not obliged to follow any rules or regulations, because He was manifesting Himself as the Supreme Enjoyer and showing us how we can enjoy pastimes with Him. Therefore Krishna is called lila-purusottama.
The pastimes of Lord Rama are elaborately described in books called the Ramayana. Beyond the other Ramayanas, learned scholars and authorities have determined that Srimad-Bhagavatam is the supreme evidence within the Vedic literatures. Srimad-Bhagavatam describes various incarnations of Krishna, including the incarnation of Lord Rama, and so we shall read a few words about Lord Rama as He is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto Two, Chapter Seven: “Scheduled Incarnations.”
asmat-prasada-sumukhah kalaya kalesa
iksvaku-vamsa avatirya guror nidese
tisthan vanam sa-dayitanuja avivesa
yasmin virudhya dasa-kandhara artim arcchat
Due to His causeless mercy upon all living entities within the universe, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, along with His plenary extensions, appeared in the family of Maharaja Iksvaku as the Lord of His internal potency, Sita. Under the order of His father, Maharaja Dasaratha, He entered the forest and lived there for several years with His wife and younger brother. Ravana, who was very materially powerful, with ten heads on his shoulders, committed a great offense against Him and was thus ultimately vanquished.
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
Lord Rama is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His brothers, namely Bharata, Laksmana, and Satrughna, are His plenary expansions. All four brothers are visnu-tattva and were never ordinary human beings. Originally, Lord Ramacandra is the incarnation of Vasudeva, Laksmana is the incarnation of Sankarsana, Bharata is the incarnation of Pradyumna, and Satrughna is the incarnation of Aniruddha, expansions of the Personality of Godhead. Laksmiji Sita is the internal potency of the Lord and is neither an ordinary woman nor the external potency incarnation of Durga. Durga is the external potency of the Lord, and she is associated with Lord Siva.
As stated in the Bhagavad-gita (4.7), the Lord appears when there are discrepancies in the discharge of factual religion. Lord Ramacandra also appeared under the same circumstances, accompanied by His brothers, who are expansions of the Lord’s internal potency, and by Laksmiji Sitadevi.
Lord Ramacandra was ordered by His father, Maharaja Dasaratha, to leave home for the forest under awkward circumstances, and the Lord, as the ideal son of His father, carried out the order, even on the occasion of His being declared the king of Ayodhya. One of His younger brothers, Laksmanaji, desired to go with Him, and so also His eternal wife, Sitaji. The Lord agreed to both of them, and all together they entered the Dandakaranya Forest, to live there for fourteen years. During their stay in the forest, there was some quarrel between Ramachandra and Ravana, and Ravana kidnapped the Lord’s wife, Sita. The quarrel ended in the vanquishing of the greatly powerful Ravana, along with all his kingdom and family.
Sita is Laksmiji, or the goddess of fortune, but she is never to be enjoyed by any living being. She is meant to be worshiped by the living being along with her husband, Sri Ramacandra. A materialistic man like Ravana does not understand this great truth, but on the contrary he wants to snatch Sitadevi from the custody of Rama and thus incurs great miseries. The materialists, who are after opulence and material prosperity, may take lessons from the Ramayana that the policy of exploiting the nature of the Lord without acknowledging the supremacy of the Lord is the policy of Ravana. Ravana was very advanced materially, so much so that he turned his kingdom, Lanka, into pure gold, or full material wealth. But because he did not recognize the supremacy of Lord Ramacandra and defied Him by stealing His wife, Sita, Ravana was killed, and all his opulence and power were destroyed.
Lord Ramacandra is a full incarnation with six opulences in full, and therefore He is mentioned in this verse as kalesah, or master of all opulence.
LECTURE by Giriraj Swami
In brief, Lord Ramachandra was the eldest son of Maharaja Dasaratha, and He was loved by all of the citizens in the state. According to the Vedic system, when one reaches a certain age he retires from worldly duties and responsibilities and devotes himself fully to God consciousness, or Krishna consciousness. Maharaja Dasaratha wanted to retire as king and install his son, Ramachandra, as his successor. But on the eve of Rama’s coronation, because of some past events, Maharaja Dasaratha was obliged to ask Him to go into the forest in exile, to fulfill a promise the king had made. And Lord Ramachandra, as the ideal son, immediately accepted His father’s order without hesitation or lamentation. Still, everyone in the kingdom loved Rama so much that they wanted to accompany Him into the forest, but Lord Rama replied, “No, if you all come into the forest with me, what will happen to the kingdom? You all must remain in Ayodhya.” Rama’s brother Laksmana, however, was so attached to Him that he couldn’t bear being separated from the Lord, and the Lord agreed that he could come with Him. Similarly, the Lord’s wife, Sita, wanted to follow her husband into the forest and serve Him in His difficult position, and Lord Rama agreed for her to accompany Him. Then, while they were in the forest, a very powerful demon, Ravana, kidnapped Sita and abducted her to his kingdom, Lanka.
When we hear such stories we may wonder, “Are these stories real or mythological? Are they stories made up to entertain people and illustrate some moral principles and then frighten people to be good according to some moral standard?” We take the events described in the Ramayana or the Bhagavatam as factual. We read that Ravana had ten heads. Someone may challenge, “How could someone have ten heads? How can anyone expect us to believe that someone had ten heads? It is obviously a myth or an allegory that has some message or meaning but not a literal record of historical fact.” The fact is that we are very limited in our experience and in our comprehension, and we cannot judge everything by our own limited experience or by what appeals to our limited intelligence. People now are quite reduced in intelligence, in physical strength, and in other powers compared with people in previous ages. Thus our conception of what is possible and what is impossible is very limited, according to our experience. But in previous ages, people were more powerful and often developed mystic powers.
Some of us may have heard of yogis in India who have mystic powers. Such powers are relatively rare now, but in previous ages they were more common. Srila Prabhupada told us about yogis living as recently as the last century, during the British rule, who were known to the people and to the government. He mentioned one yogi who used to sit naked in meditation. The British authorities arrested him for indecent exposure and put him in jail, but by his mystic powers he reduced himself in size to become smaller than the keyhole to the jail cell, and he escaped. The next thing the authorities knew, he was sitting naked in the street again, so they arrested him again and put him in jail, and again by his mystic powers he shrunk and came out again. After three or four such incidents, the authorities gave up. They decided they couldn’t contain him, and so they left him in peace—naked.
When, during his conquests, Alexander the Great came to the precincts of India, the first person he saw was a yogi in meditation in the heat of the sun. The yogi was just sitting there, completely undisturbed, and Alexander was greatly impressed. He was so impressed that he said to the yogi, “I am Alexander the Great, the emperor of the world. I am ready to give you whatever you desire. You may ask of me whatever you like.” The yogi simply replied, “Can you kindly move aside? You are getting in the way of the sun.” Later, Alexander sent a message to his men: “The people here are very special. Don’t mess with them.”
So, at one time people had great control over their minds and senses, and they had mystic powers. Such powers were meant to be used for spiritual elevation, but sometimes it happened that persons with selfish motives acquired such powers and used them for demonic purposes. Of course, people now are generally not so pious, but we can understand in principle that a rich man should use his money for the good of others, for charitable purposes. Still, a rich man can also use his money for evil purposes. In the same way, a powerful person can use mystic powers for the good of others or at the expense of others.
Ravana used his powers for evil purposes, and in the end he was chastised by Lord Rama, and ultimately he and his entire dynasty were vanquished—even though they were materially so powerful. Thus, from the story of the Ramayana we can learn that however powerful we may be materially, if we use our power against the Lord, in the end we will be vanquished.
Of course, one may argue that in the end everyone is vanquished, everyone dies. And true, everyone in the material world does die—but there are differences. When the devotee dies, he is promoted to the spiritual realm, but when a demon dies, he is punished in hellish conditions. Also, a devotee brings all auspiciousness to his family and friends, whereas a demon can bring ruination. Here, Ravana and all of his associates—as well as their kingdom—were destroyed because of their offense against Mother Sita and Lord Rama. We should be careful not to commit offenses against the Lord or His devotees. Although indirectly Ravana offended Lord Rama, more directly he offended Sita. He kidnapped Sitadevi. And because she was dear to the Lord, the Lord was all the moreaggrieved. The devotees of the Lord are actually more dear to the Lord than the Lord is to Himself, and therefore an offense to the devotee is taken more seriously by the Lord than an offense against the Lord Himself.
Another lesson here is that the energy of the Lord is meant to be used in the service of the Lord and if we try to take the Lord’s energy and use it for our personal gratification or self-aggrandizement, in the end we will suffer. Of course, it is a technical science—the expansions of the Lord and of the Lord’s energy. The Lord’s energy is originally spiritual, and when it remains connected with the Lord directly, it remains spiritual. But when the Lord’s energy is separated from the Lord and instead of being connected to the Lord in service it is misused by people for personal gratification, it becomes the material energy, or separated energy. Whatever we see—all the basic elements of the material world, such as solids, liquids, and gases—are actually expansions of the Lord’s energy. Thus, they are the Lord’s property and are meant to be used for the Lord’s purposes. If we try to take the Lord’s property and use it for our own purposes against the Lord’s desire, then we commit an offense against the Lord and have to suffer the consequences.
But we have become accustomed to stealing the Lord’s property and using it for ourselves. According to Vedic literatures, we, as spiritual parts of the supreme spirit whole, exist eternally, but we have been transmigrating from one body to another since time immemorial. During the process of transmigration within the material world, we have developed the habit of trying to exploit the material nature for our own gratification. And the result is that we are forced to continue within the material world, within the cycle of birth and death, and to suffer not only the repetition of birth and death but so many other miseries. The way to become free from the cycle of birth and death is to come into harmony with the Lord and the Lord’s nature, rather than to remain in opposition to the Lord and His nature. But because we have been conditioned in material nature since time immemorial, we have a very deep-rooted habit of wanting to exploit the material nature and enjoy her. That perverted mentality or perverse habit can be rectified by chanting, especially by chanting the holy names of God. In the present age of Kali the chanting of the holy names of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra—Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare—is especially recommended.
Krishna consciousness is not sectarian. God has various names in different languages and cultures, and all the names of the Lord are as good as the others. Similarly, all of the forms of the Lord are as good as the others. Therefore, if someone is attached to a name of God in another scripture, then he or she can chant Jesus, Jesus or Allah, Allah—or another name of the Lord. And if one is not attached to the chanting of any other name, he or she can chant Hare Krishna, and that will purify the heart of material contamination and bring out the original, pure love of Krishna. Then naturally when our pure love for God is manifest, we won’t do anything against the purpose of the Lord but will act in complete harmony with the Lord. This is one of the lessons to be learned from the story of Lord Ramachandra.
Are there any questions or comments?
Devotee: Yes. I have two questions, and they might be related. First, you were talking about accepting stories as literal, but do we also accept that there is a symbolic dimension to them? And second, What is the actual internal position of Ravana? He is coming into contact with so much pure energy—Sita, who is the internal potency, and Rama—so it doesn’t seem like he would be just any old evil person.
Giriraj Swami: The first question is whether the histories, which we accept as factual, also have a symbolic dimension. I don’t know if “symbolic” would be the best word in most cases. One could say that Ravana “symbolizes” evil and that Rama “symbolizes” good and that the story tells us that good triumphs over evil, but to put it in these terms may minimize the reality of Rama as the Supreme Personality of Godhead or even of Ravana as a historical person. Therefore we might prefer not to say that the stories are symbolic. Rather, we would prefer to say that the stories are factual but that they illustrate certain fundamental principles and that we can benefit from reading and studying and hearing and discussing those principles.
For example, a child might put his or her hand into a fire and get burned. So, we can learn from that example that if you touch fire you will be burned, but we wouldn’t want to say that the fire symbolizes something or that the child symbolizes something, because they are both real. But yes, we can learn from the example of the child that if we put our hand into fire we will get burned. And in the same way, we can learn from the example of Ravana that if we come into opposition to the Lord we will be vanquished—and so many other lessons can be derived from the histories of the Lord and the devotees and demons recorded in the scriptures.
There is one section in Srimad-Bhagavatam that is allegorical, and that brings us to another point: the Vedic scriptures instruct us to study the Vedic knowledge under the guidance of guru. In our case, we study under Srila Prabhupada, and Srila Prabhupada has told us that several chapters in the Fourth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam are allegorical but that the rest of the histories are factual. The other histories are not just symbolic or metaphorical, and to say that they are is to destroy the reality that the scriptures describe. Still, you might have another point of view.
Devotee: No, I was just curious because, for example, I had heard—and I don’t know how authentic this is—but I had heard that in the Bhagavatam where Krishna is killing the various demons, each demon represents a certain anartha such as lust or greed. I heard that, and that is why I wanted to ask if there’s a symbolic dimension—not in place of the literal, but in addition—thus serving two purposes at once. But I understand your answer.
Giriraj Swami: An advanced devotee could perceive the historical persons in the historical accounts as representative of a general type or even of a principle. Actually, I just had a talk with a friend from the Jewish tradition. She said in relation to the festival of Passover (which is to take place soon) that before Passover adherent Jews take all the grains out of their houses. They consider that sin has entered into the grains and that by taking the grains out of the house they are purifying the house of sin and bad qualities. One of the bad qualities is pride, and according to one commentary on the Bible, the Pharaoh—not that I would say that the Pharaoh did not exist as a historical person—but the Pharaoh is considered to be the symbol of pride, because when Moses came to him on behalf of the Lord, the Pharaoh said, “Who is this God that I am meant to listen to? I listen to no one. Everyone listens to me.” According to that commentary, each of the ten plagues that were sent upon the Pharaoh—again, not that they didn’t exist, if we accept the version in the Bible—represents a specific counteraction to a specific evil or ill. And I think that sincere followers in any tradition, when they reach a certain stage of spiritual consciousness, are able to see deeper meanings in things than others are able to see. Someone who is more spiritually advanced and realized can see more deeply into the words of the scriptures and the events described there and come out with meanings that may not be apparent from the descriptions but are very real. They are discovered for us by deeply realized souls who apply themselves to the scriptures.
Regarding the question about Ravana, according to Srimad-Bhagavatam Ravana was not just an ordinary person but was an associate of the Lord who was cursed to become such a powerful demon that the Lord Himself would come and fight with him. The Lord has all the propensities of other living beings, being their origin. So just as we like to wrestle for pleasure sometimes, the Lord also sometimes likes to fight. But who will fight with the Lord? Only some competent servitor of the Lord can do so. Thus, by the Lord’s arrangement, a great devotee came to play the part of Ravana and fight with the Lord. Still, when that devotee took birth as a demon, he actually thought and felt and acted like a demon.
As far as Ravana’s coming into contact with Sita, according to scripture, because the original Sitadevi is completely spiritual, she could never be touched by a demon. She could never even be seen by a demon. So what Ravana kidnapped was not the original Sita but an illusory expansion of Sita called maya-sita. When he kidnapped the maya Sita, the original Sita was kept hidden in the earth. Then after Ravana was killed and Sita was liberated, the original Sita came back.
Srila Prabhupada has explained that if someone just wants to chant Hare Krishna, he or she can achieve complete perfection just by chanting, but that if one wants to study the science of Godhead, there are volumes and volumes of books. So if one wants, if one has that inquisitive type of intelligence, he or she can just go deeper and deeper into the books. It is like an ocean without limit—the information that we can get about the Lord from the Vedic literature.
Morther Urvasi, you are wise. Please say something to encourage and enlighten us.
Urvasi dasi: I can say something about chanting Hare Krishna. You mentioned that chanting Hare Krishna purifies the heart of material contamination. So, I was thinking of the example that Srila Prabhupada gave, that if we go under a tree that has blackbirds sitting in it and we clap our hands, the birds will automatically fly away. Srila Prabhupada, our teacher, gave the example that when we chant Hare Krishna, it chases away the blackbirds in the heart, and lust and greed and pride—these things peel away, like the layers of an onion. They peel away from the heart. The more we really enter into the mood of chanting as a meditation and a prayer to the Lord to purify our hearts and make us more childlike in our love and devotion to God—the more we can enter into that mood—the greater the effect it has on us. So chanting Hare Krishna, as Giriraj Swami said, is really all we need. It is a complete process. But at the same time it is also very nice to understand the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, so that we can talk to others about it as well, and teach it. But chanting Hare Krishna will bring so much joy into our lives because it will connect us with our real selves. We know that we are spiritual beings and that we are covered by these different bodies, just as our bodies are covered by the clothes that we wear, and chanting Hare Krishna will awaken the true happiness and bliss that are inherent to our true self, our spiritual nature.
Giriraj Swami: Wonderful.
Thank you very much.