by Swami Krishnananda
Sri Ramanavami message given on the 23rd of March, 1972.
Let us observe this auspicious occasion of Sri Ramanavami as a moment of contemplation on a special spark of Divinity that made its advent on the earth. Popularly speaking, in ancient historical times, to emphasise the historical advent of this great Divinity on earth has been the exoteric side of the epics as people generally understand it. This popular emphasis on the incarnations of God on earth has taken the form of epics like the Ramayana. We are told in the Ramayana of Sage Valmiki, in the earliest of these documents, that it was a history par excellence, a history of a chronological procession of divine exploits which is what we generally mean by a divine epic. It is believed that the earliest record of the history of Rama, the Ramayana of Valmiki, was written during the lifetime of Rama Himself. It was not a biography written later on, after several years. It was composed then and there by a contemporary of Rama, Sage Valmiki, and so it is but proper that devotees take it as the most authentic of documents pertaining to the history or life story of Rama. Surprising though it may appear, this master poet who composed the Ramayana was an illiterate brute in his earlier life, but suddenly transformed into a Master whose genius is today regarded as incomparable in the history of Sanskrit literature. This total transformation by a magical touch, as it were, was given to Valmiki by another genius, Sage Narada. One genius created another genius, and this genius has written an epic, stirring the soul of man, on a genius of human perfection, Sri Rama Himself. And so, even today a contemplation on these aspects of holiness and perfection brings us into contact with a unique feature, namely humanity as it ought to be properly understood and brought to bear on practical life.
The whole of the Ramayana is an epic of humanity. Humanity does not mean mankind, but that which particularly characterises human nature. It is in this sense that Sri Rama is oftentimes called the paragon of humanity, an example of the perfection of human nature. This perfection of human nature is not inclusive of the foibles of man in his lower endowments. In the majestic words of Valmiki with which the epic commences, we are given a description of what this perfection of humanity is, as an answer given by Sage Narada to a question put by Sage Valmiki as to who is the ideal of human nature. "Who do you think, O Sage, is the perfect embodiment of humanity in this world, and can you give me an example of such perfection?" was the question put by Valmiki to Narada. And then, Narada commences a dignified description of a personality whom today we know and adore as Sri Rama. That majestic feature of bodily personality, the ideal perfection of physiological structure, the profundity and beauty of understanding, dignity of behaviour, exemplary nature of conduct – to put it in one word, 'perfection' as conceived or as conceivable by the human understanding – this is what comes forth as an answer from the great Sage Narada.
We have two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, just as in the West they have two epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. These two parallel movements of epic stories, known as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, give us a complete picture of the process of the advancement of the human soul towards its Perfection. It is not to be taken as a surprise that the culture of Bharatavarsha is a culture of the Spirit, so that anything that is said and done or believed in, is directly or indirectly connected with the march of the Spirit towards the recognition of its Perfection. We have no other culture here except the culture of the Spirit. A connecting of the visible phenomena with what underlies the phenomena is the significance of the epics. And these two masterstrokes of genius given to us by Valmiki and Vyasa, in the form of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, give us the religion of India.
There were some over-enthusiastic orientalists in the West particularly, and sometimes in the East also, who began to believe that the culture of India is in the Vedas and the Upanishads. But, if we bestow a little thought on the actual situation, it will become clear that if the Vedas and the Upanishads were the sole basis of the culture of India, the Indian culture would have been wiped out like the cultures of Egypt, Greece or Rome. These cultures are only names to us now. They do not actually exist any more. They vanished in the process of time on account of their inflexibility, their rigidity of character and their emphasis on a particular aspect of human life. If, as people often believe, the dicta of the Vedas and Upanishads alone were to be taken as the foundation of Indian culture, there would have been no Indian culture today. It would have gone to the winds, because what we have in the Vedas and the Upanishads are 'principles' like theorems of geometry or algebra, which are wonderful enough, and which are the basis of all scientific approaches and discoveries. Nevertheless, they are principles, and the masses do not live on principles. When we talk or when we move about in the streets, we do not think of the principles behind speaking and walking. We work with the peculiar manifestation of our personality which is spontaneous in its nature. Principles somehow have the aroma of fixity and rigidity. They cannot be changed. But, emotion seeks a spontaneous expression of itself and this feature, this peculiarity of human nature, was taken notice of by the sages of the Vedic times.
In the Srimad Bhagavata, one among the eighteen Puranas, at the very commencement itself we are told that Vyasa felt the necessity of composing the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagavata. And for a similar reason was the Ramayana composed. We believe what we see with our eyes, what we hear with our ears, what we perceive with the other organs, and what we feel from our hearts. We are incapable of believing anything else. Pure principles, though they may be eternal facts, are incapable of evoking the emotion of man. Hence, even the elite and the intelligentsia of mankind today think of God in the epic parlance, and not in the Upanishadic parlance. When you and I think of God, we think of the epic God only and not the Upanishadic God or the Vedic God. The meaning is that we think of a humanised relationship between ourselves and the Creator. When we de-humanise the Creator or take Him above what the human mind is capable of conceiving, the relationship between man and God gets snapped, and the vast majority amongst us, excepting perhaps the very few spiritual heroes, fall down to a level lower than that of the human being. So the need was felt to bring home to the mind of man that concept of Perfection and Divinity which can be contained in the human mind, in the form of human perfection, animated by the force of that which is superhuman. Such was the personality of Sri Rama, the superhuman element infusing a personality of a human being. It is difficult to understand this peculiar blend, just as it is difficult to understand masters, sages and adepts in yoga and even spiritual life. This is because they are a blend of what we see and what we cannot see. What we see is the form of their lives and what we cannot see is the essence, the meaning and the significance of what they live.
In the Ramayana, we have such a contradictory picture of the personality of Rama, presented by Valmiki, where we are asked sometimes to look upon him as the perfected man and sometimes as a perfection of Divinity itself manifest. It is in the Yuddha Kanda of Valmiki's Ramayana, (I am not talking of Tulasidas's Ramayana because that has a different approach altogether) for the first time, we have a proclamation of the divinity of Rama, where Mandodari in deep sorrow over the death of Ravana, her husband, exclaims that it is Narayana that has come as Nara which fact is unknown to Ravana and due to his ignorance, he has mistaken Rama for a human being. The contradiction which Valmiki brings out is that while he puts these words in the mouth of Mandodari, he puts a different type of statement in the mouth of Rama himself. When the whole theme is over, the drama played out, Brahma comes and speaks to Rama, "Thou art Lord Narayana, Thy play in this world is over, and we seek Thy entry back into Vaikuntha." And Rama says in reply, "What are you speaking? I do not know anything. Am I Narayana? I think I am only a man – atmanam manusham manye. Whatever you may think or speak about me, I think I am a man, I am a human being." These are the words of Rama himself. While Rama himself thinks that he is only a man, Brahma speaks of Him as Narayana and wants Him to go back to His Abode, as His drama in this world is over. These interesting dramatic contradictions are brought into play by the genius of Valmiki, deliberately, to fulfill the purpose of the epic. Otherwise, there would be no meaning in the play itself.
It was not at all given to Rama to proclaim Himself as Narayana. That was not the purpose of the Avatara at all. It was to defeat the purpose of Ravana who had a poor opinion of human beings. Being a demon, he thought that human beings and monkeys were only a morsel of food for him. On account of this, he deliberately omitted men and monkeys from the list of his possible future enemies when he asked for boons from Brahma. "May I not have death from any one – Gods, Kinnaras, Kimpurushas, Daityas, Danavas, all superhuman beings," was the boon he asked. But he never said anything about monkeys and men. He thought: "They are only food for me; what need to fear them." Now, this neglect, this contemptuous attitude of Ravana towards aspects through which God could manifest Himself and does manifest Himself, was the occasion for God Himself to teach humanity that He can work miracles even through the lowest of His manifestations. And the other side of the teaching of the epic is that through humanity we reach Divinity.
Sometimes, we are told that the ten Avataras – incarnations of Vishnu beginning from the incarnation as Fish, the Matsya Avatara; the incarnation as Tortoise, the Kurma Avatara; the incarnation as Boar, the Varaha Avatara; and so on – represent the process of the evolution of the human consciousness to the perfection of its Realisation. From this point of view of understanding of human nature and its evolution, the stage which was enacted by Rama, God in human form was the penultimate step which Consciousness takes in its attempt at Self-realisation. He showed what human perfection is and how it becomes a stepping-stone to divine perfection. This we can know only when we read the whole of the Ramayana from the beginning to the end, reading also between the lines. Most of us do not know what the whole Ramayana is. We know only some outline – that Rama was a son of Dasaratha, he learnt archery from Visvamitra, married Sita, who was stolen by Ravana, and then he befriended Sugriva and Hanuman, crossed the ocean, went to Lanka and then killed Ravana. This is all the Ramayana we know. Everyone knows only this much of it. But this is not the whole of Ramayana, whether it is the Ramayana of Tulasidas, Valmiki or anyone else. The real Ramayana is the spirit that is manifest in its words when we read the original of the Masters. Whether it is Kamban's Ramayana or Tulasidas's Ramayana or Valmiki's Ramayana, ultimately it makes no difference because it is said that all great men think alike. All these masters thought alike and they had a common purpose. One wrote in Tamil, another wrote in Hindi and the third wrote in Sanskrit, but the spirit expressed by these is similar and common, and it is directed to the same purpose of transforming human nature into divine perfection.