From time immemorial, the Ramayana has been the guiding beacon to the Indian civilization. It has strongly influenced for millennia not merely the cultural ethos, but the spiritual fabric of the Indian existence. It is not a mere history, story or legend as the perceiver’s eye limits. As one refines one’s vision, by bringing these ideas to life in their own, it radically transforms the imbiber of the esoteric subtleties into a veritable reflection of Rama himself.
Today, we have a committed band of rabid, infected minds with ulterior motives, spreading some imported faiths or merely to pave way for them or break India by attacking the very fabric of its existence that spread falsities and lies by twisting our scriptures. Every day somewhere in Indian social media one gets messages like they will rather have Ravana as their son and say how bad Rama is. They spend hours discussing the lesser understood ideas in Ramayana by adding color of their own dark minds.
It is imperative that we not only study these scriptures in correct light but also start living it to appreciate it better. The Ramayana has many hues of insights, yet there are some broad strokes that dominate. Today we will discard the esoteric ones for the more mundane practical application. Selflessness is one of the most recurring themes throughout Ramayana.
Only by correct understanding and by living these ideals one will be able to achieve the fruits of these scriptures.
There are only two ways in life. The one we are all familiar, we perceive ourselves as the individual. This is referred as Jiva or Jivatman. This is limited, restrictive and exclusive. The vision in this path feels like “I” and the rest of the universe. In short, this is understood as EGO, I-ness, ahamkara. If we understand the cosmic mind, the entire known and unknown Universe is the summum bonum of all beings and more, the Paramatman. This is expansive, unlimited and inclusive.
Irrespective of the school of philosophy one subscribes to, the very purpose of life of a Jiva is to reach the exalted state of Paramatman. Depending on the understanding, Acharyas have explained what happens to the Jiva differently, resulting in various schools of thoughts. If we cast aside these, one can find lots of commonalities in their methods and applications. One such idea is of Selflessness.
All of spirituality is to aid in bridging this chasm of misguided wrong perception of the Jiva by incorporating small doses of ideas that can be perceived as the Paramatman. Selflessness is a simple, practical first step in this inner journey that can give us great dividends.
Kaikeyi’s dormant dark desires are awakened by Manthara, her housemaid from her Kekeya Kingdom. After successfully poisoning Kaikeyi’s mind, Manthara gives a firm plan to execute it. Using Dasaratha’s two promised boons from the past, Kaikeyi feigns rage to trap Dasaratha, who was intoxicated by his love for Kaikeyi, whom he loved next to Rama. Despite his repeated pleas and fainting sessions, Dasaratha realizes his dharma sankata of unable to go back on his words and the horrible boons Kaikeyi was cashing it for – To make Bharata as the next King instead of Rama and to have Rama sent to the forest for 14 years as a forest dwelling hermit. Kaikeyi capitalizes Dasaratha’s mental state and his losing consciousness thinking about separation from Rama to fetch him.
What we see is a perfect preamble to how Selfishness blinds the very source. Despite the best plans, Kaikeyi never thought she will lose Dasaratha or anticipated him from disowning her as his wife and Bharata as his son. (Read more about this crucial connection in Understanding Agnipariksha) Just like the foolish woodcutter chopping the branch on which he is sitting, Selfishness hurls the very source into deep peril.
In a complete contrast, Rama who was always intent on doing his father’s desires and mother’s directive (Rama saw no difference between Kausalya and Kaikeyi) saw the picture completely as he operated only from Selflessness. He was able to see Dasaratha’s dharma sankata through Kaikeyi’s selfish desires. Yet he had neither dejection nor sorrow on being booted out on the day of his coronation nor anger on the situation or its creators. Because HE remained above the limiting factors of the self (read as ego), he operated not just on pure vairagya (dispassion) but also purely out of compassion.
The standard set by Rama was so high that the closest to him in his thoughts, Sita and Lakshmana too were operating on the same lines. Sita argues vehemently to convince Rama to let her accompany him. Again one must note her idea was not based on fantasizing the vanvas as an extended honeymoon as she was well aware of the dangers, yet her focus was to fulfill her dharma. Lakshmana stayed steadfast in his desire to serve Rama and Sita, setting the highest exemplar role for seshatvam (Servitude). On the other hand we see the same Selflessness can get expressed in different ways. Urmila, Lakshmana’s wife resolved to follow her husband’s directive to stay back and serve her in-Laws.
Bharata when he has the kingdom at his feet, chose to kick it off very much to the chagrin of his mother’s desires. This was possible as Bharata identified himself with Rama whom he saw as his sole Universe. This gives us a clear clue. When a high ideal is chosen as the self, it makes us immune to possibilities of being selfish. The agony of the world cursing him for usurping Rama’s throne was insignificant in Bharata’s heart in front of the pain of seeing Rama go through this grave injustice. A simple good man without Selflessness would be more consumed why me, why I should suffer or look at all the negatives this will unfold. Instead Selflessness launches the person’s mind more deep in dharma, compassion and nishkamya karma. Doesn’t that fit Bharata’s fourteen years of penance, waiting for Rama’s darshan.
Bharata demonstrates highest obedience for Rama’s words by staying back. Yet as a representation of his Selflessness, he lives 14 years in a similar austere way, staying outside the city borders. The first thing he does on Rama’s return is to update on how much the people were prospering and it was all due to the grace of Rama’s paduka. Selflessness allows an impartial, yet compassionate focus in leading a dharmic life.
Perhaps, in this mega competition to outwit each other’s Selflessness, Shatrugna outshines them all. While Rama being Maryadapurushottama is no surprise, Lakshmana his constant shadow wanting to do life long service is no shock. Bharata’s ability to transmute his desire to serve Rama by focusing on only doing what Rama desires takes this to a higher realm. Shatrugna goes one step further by curbing his desire to serve Rama, the very embodiment of Paramatma, by using his Selflessness to serve those who have dedicated themselves at the feet of Rama, namely Bharata. Of course, the wives of Bharata and Shatrugna, namely Mandavi and Shrutakirti are also unsung heroes of Selflessness.
Ramayana is a repetition of putting the lower self in its place by a larger mindset of Selflessness. This expansive outlook appears in the form of following dharma, obeying elders, respecting others or sacrifice (Read Tyaga – the quintessential message of Sri Krishna’s life). We see the best example of sacrifice in Jatayu. When Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, being overpowered and helpless, Jatayu wants to impede Ravana. Attacking with all its might, knowing pretty well being outclassed, the intent was above the self. There was no what is in it for me calculation. Selflessness rooted in righteousness gave the ferocity to Jatayu that Ravana had to use a very special sword, Chandrahasa, obtained from Shiva. Though Jatayu’s actions were Selfless, Rama rewards the bird by cremating it with Vedic rituals and treated it like his father. One must hasten to understand, if rewards are the motivation for thinking larger, then it actually makes it even more selfish. We later see Sampaati, Jatayu’s elder brother, got hurt and wingless during a selfless act of protecting his younger sibling.
Though one may interpret Hanuman’s or Sabhari’s bhakti, they are also inherently an expression of Selflessness. The very essence of Bhakti is to dissolve the smaller individual self into the Universal SELF. One may interpret Hanuman’s acts as purely driven by Bhakti, when in reality; he has transmuted his individual self into Rama. Hence all his acts were Selfless.
Ravana provides a complete contrast to Selflessness through his petty, selfish behavior. UttaraKanda catalogs how despite his powers and reach, how shallow they were. The four directional guardians – Varuna, Kubera, Yama and Indra were constrained due to the powers of his boons and conditions. Ravana had lost very badly to Kartaviryarjuna and Vaali, yet goes back to Lanka and acts as if he had the best day of his life. Selfishness makes him so blind that he abuses women. He is so intoxicated by selfishness that he asks Indrajit, his son, to stop his yagna, which would make Indrajit, almost invincible. When Shoorpanaka laments about her situation, finding Ravana stunned, she coaxes him by appealing to his selfish side that her mission was all about getting Sita to marry Ravana. This contrast cannot be more glaring.
As we dealt in detail in the three part series to understand Agnipariksha (Part-1, Part-2 and Concludin Analysis), the entire blame of the drama played by Rama was with the sole purpose of freeing Kaikeyi and Bharata from the words of Dasaratha. Sitting on a serious time crunch, reaching Ayodhya on time to save Bharata from entering the Agni was not an issue thanks to the Pushpakavimana. With the mission of his avatara successful at the elimination of Ravana, Rama was out of choices. His prior experience to pray Sagara took days and a threat of evaporating the seas. This was when he had a clear mission ahead. So he deftly uses the situation, knowing pretty well Sita will be able to perceive his heart. His pretense rudeness shocks the Universe. Brahma, Shiva, Devas come with Dasaratha. To this day complete certified morons and mischievous readers do not see this wondrous act of Selflessness. Rama subjected Sita not to abuse, but to spotlight on her greatness, yet the primary purpose was to do justice to Bharata and Kaikeyi. One must purify one’s mind with Selflessness, even at the risk of the world misinterpreting it.
Selflessness makes Rama to weigh in the citizen’s rumor and growing distrust in Sita. In this dharma sankata, he sacrifices his own pregnant wife by sending her off to an ashram. Though Rama never doubts Sita ever, his harsh actions are still hard for us to digest. Interestingly Sita never holds any grudge against Rama, as she also is able to understand the reasoning behind Rama’s predicament. This is not possible if she did place Rama above her individual self.
Applying in our lives
All Ramayana will be useless if we fail to translate this subtle, yet deep wisdom in our daily lives. Selfishness makes things worse not only for the Self, but all around as in the case of Manthara, Kaikeyi and Ravana. On the other hand, Selflessness helps one heal the oddities in the situation. Rama gives an easy way out for Dasaratha from his Dharma sankata created by Kaikeyi. Selflessness increases his empathy to impartially analyze the situation, yet compassionately approach everyone. Because there is no constant urge for self aggrandizement or self importance, it becomes very easy to stay rooted in Dharma.
Krishna gives us the actual process in Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, Sloka 5. We are stuck at a lower level of thought process which is basically I-ness or me or its projection as mine. We may be limited to our body or mind, yet we try to expand the limits of this I-ness through artificially connecting with others as relations. Since both the entities are having similar assertions, no wonder we find there is a power struggle, even amongst couples or parents and kids. We may further expand this assertion through other constructs like country, race, language or religion. In short all the problems in the world as observed are a mere expansion of this willful arrogation.
As our vision opens up, so does our mind. Krishna’s simple assertion is as one is rooted in dharma, the vision expands, providing a bigger field of choices. This allows one to act selflessly. As actions become selfless, they lose the ability to cause bondage. Our Karmas themselves become liberating. The easiest way to expand this vision is to focus on the biggest and only ideal – Paramatman. Once we lift ourselves to place it at the feet of the highest ideal, it automatically starts this self-cleaning, healing process and lifts our thoughts, words and deeds to operate from an elevated plane.
Selflessness can act as a simple causeway to slowly expanding one’s mind. Whether one does a simple chore or a grand action, as long as we cleave the desires, wants and vasanas from the Karma, they act itself can release us from the bondage of I-ness.
Ramayana continues to constantly flood our bosom with this highest wisdom if we choose to overcome the little Tamas of not reading or understanding or merely aping some ignoramuses rants. As we make consistent effort to correct our thinking and applying, the more we learn and the positive cycle expands and cleanses one’s mind.
May Rama’s actions continue to inspire our minds to soar into lofty thinking. May our minds shed this false little self of ego at the feet of Rama’s grace, his naama and his persona. May we continue to read, understand and follow Ramayana in our daily lives. Jai Shri Ram.
Om Tat Sat