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Spiritual Import of Religious Festivals

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Chapter 4: Rama – The Apotheosis of Human Perfection (Continued)

I will now give an outline of the background of the writing of the Ramayana and the purpose behind the epics of India. The other more important aspect relevant to a Sadhaka or seeker of Truth is that Sri Ramanavami, the birthday of Sri Ramachandra, is a day for divine contemplation. It is an occasion for intensified contemplation on the Spirit, God, or Sri Rama, as we call Him. It is a day of self-control and an occasion to raise our emotions, feelings and understanding to the level of the understanding of Valmiki or Tulasidas or Kamban, or of Sri Rama Himself. These contemplations are processes by which Consciousness, our own Self, establishes relationship with the powers of the cosmos. The observation of the birthday of Sri Rama, or the celebration of Sri Ramanavami, is not a day of mere rejoicing or feasting, but a day of spiritual contemplation and self-restraint by which we become en rapport with the forces of the world. What was the power of Rama? Why was He so powerful and forceful? We say that He was an incarnation of God. But, why is God so powerful, while we are not? What is the difference? What makes these masters, heroes and incarnations centres of such energy, force and activity, while we are the contrary of it? The simple reason is that they are en rapport with the forces of the universe, while we are cut off from them. They are facing the light of the sun and so they drink the nectar of the rays of the sun. But we turn our backs to the sun and see only darkness. This is the difference between mortal men and divine incarnations who are immortal, eternal emblems moving on this earth. So, in these contemplations today, as on similar such occasions, we should recharge the cells of our personality by introducing a new light of divinity into ourselves. Let not the day pass in waste, in idle talk or merely hearing a few words about the Ramayana from someone. These celebrations are only indications for you, pointers to you, to help you to raise yourself up to a state higher than you were yesterday. If your days have not been spent without getting at least an iota of satisfaction or contentment that you have become a worthy child of God, in His eyes, you should consider your life as unworthily spent.

One of the central questions in your spiritual diary should be, "What am I in the eyes of God?" But this question is never put and you do not want to know the answer. You always wish to know, "What am I in the eyes of people, in the eyes of my neighbours, in the eyes of the public? What does the country think about me? What do the vote-givers think about me? What is the international opinion about me?" Never for a moment do you think, "What does God think about me?" Let this be your contemplation. The moment you begin to know what God thinks about you, you will not speak afterwards; your mouth will be hushed. It will be hushed for two reasons. One reason is that you would look so small and insignificant, a nothing, and all your importance vanishes in toto when you compare yourself in His light. The other reason is that you would feel lifted up into a state of joy that the time has come for you to realise your true duty as a human being, which is nothing but realisation of God. This is what Sri Rama teaches us in the Rama Gita, as His final message – how the soul should come out of the cage of flesh, like a lion breaking its boundaries and roaring in its majesty or power. The moment you begin to recognise your true status in this world, you become powerful, not because you possess large wealth or you have a seat in the Parliament or in the cabinet, but because you have a seat in the constitution of the universe. When this seat is given to you, you become a member of the government of the cosmos. And here the powers are not given by votes or by plebiscite. People do not raise hands to make you a member. Something else – mysterious and miraculous – takes place. Your cells become revitalised. They get charged with a power totally unknown up to this time. From where does this power come? It does not come from anywhere. You keep yourself open to the powers that are and allow them to enter into you, while up to this time you were preventing them from entering into you.

What are we doing now? It is something like building a house with four walls, without any ventilation, and sitting inside in pitch darkness while the sun is shining outside in all its might and glory. The sun has come up wanting to enlighten the whole world with its lustre and force. But we live in a dungeon, covering ourselves with a blanket and closing our eyes so that the energy and the light of the sun may not have any effect on our personality. This is what we do in our relationship with God and in our relationship with the forces of the universe. The forces of the universe are just here, within this hall – wherever we are. They are not far away in the skies. You can keep yourself open to them or keep yourself shut to them. Thoughts which are directed to the body and to the centre of the personality called the ego, prevent the entry of universal forces into our personality, so that the more important we look in our own eyes, the more impervious we are to the entry of the forces of the cosmos. The bigger we are in the world, the worse we are from the point of view of spiritual strength and knowledge, because this self-importance, self-assertion, Ahamkara, personality-consciousness, body-consciousness, social-consciousness and status-consciousness – all these put together act as psychological barriers which shut off the forces of the cosmos from entering into us. These forces of the cosmos are not absent. They are just here, and the moment we think in terms of them, they enter into us. When we think in terms of our own personality, they run away from us. So contemplation on the Masters and Incarnations and the recognition of the forces of divinities which manifest as incarnations and sages are the ways in which a Sadhaka should observe Ramanavami, the day of God's incarnation or a celebration of a birthday of a superhuman Master. Our birthright is to imbibe the grace of the Masters, to assume the contour and personality equal to theirs, to attain Sarupya or equality of personality with them, to become like them and to imbibe their characteristics by meditation on them.

So the epic of Ramayana is a long meditation on the superior manifestation of God in the form of Sri Ramachandra. Terror was Rama, thunderbolt was Rama – says Valmiki. But butter was Rama, a rose petal was Rama, all compassion was Rama – says the same Sage Valmiki. In anger, Rama was fierce like fire – fire comparable only with the fire during the dissolution of the cosmos, and at the same time nobody could be so compassionate, goodhearted and simple as Rama himself was. This is the dramatic contradiction of personality which Valmiki introduces into his epic, to bring out the greatness of the divine personality. What are the characteristics of great men? They are harder than a diamond but softer than a lotus petal. The great Masters are harder than a diamond and, therefore, you cannot do anything to them and they will never budge from their principles. You cannot shake them by your powerful logic and argumentation. This is only one side of these great Masters. The other side is that no person can be so good, merciful and tenderhearted as them, which characteristics are revealed in proper time. Such is the mysterious combination, a terrific manifestation of divinity combined with most perfect humane characteristics and features that we see in Sri Rama.

I had occasions to go through the beautiful descriptions in the Valmiki Ramayana in Sanskrit, but I had less opportunity to go through the Tulasidas Ramayana. I believe that the comparisons and descriptions are almost similar. Without telling you what they actually want to tell you – this is the peculiarity of poets in general – they imply their meaning in words which, without your knowing, influence your emotions and the total personality. Slowly, without your knowing what is happening, the whole personality is shaken up from beginning to end when you read the Ramayana. You come out burnt and burnished, beautified and purified, because of a very graduated purification process which you undergo in your emotions and your understanding, when you pass from Kanda to Kanda in the Ramayana, until you reach the Pattabhisheka Kanda, the crowning glory of the Ramayana epic.

I shall conclude with a prayer and a request. We are humble seekers; we are not Masters. We are small people trying to follow the footsteps of great Masters like Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, in our own humble, faltering way, trying to raise our minds to true devotion to God. In this attempt, let us be honest to ourselves. This is my prayer to my own self and to all. Honesty of conscience is the watchword of a Sadhaka. Honesty of conscience has a very important significance which we have to make note of. Many times we may look honest, but we are not really honest in the deepest core of our feelings. Then it upsets the whole structure of our endeavour in the life spiritual, because spiritual life is nothing but the life that we lead in the bottom of our being, and not the life that we live in our rooms or in our offices or colleges or factories. What our conscience speaks is our spiritual voice. And if our conscience is not honest and pure, well, you will see the sure outcome of it – an utter failure in the spiritual path. It is difficult to be true to one's conscience, because of the circumstances under which people generally live. The pressure of society, the needs of the body and the weaknesses of flesh are such that it is difficult to be true to one's conscience. It only means that it is difficult to live the spiritual life, to have divine characteristics imbibed into our personality, and to be a devotee of God. In short, it is difficult to realise God.

For this purpose – the purpose of overcoming these unavoidable limitations of our personality – the remedy is to contemplate on the lives of saints. What a difficult but ideal life Saint Tulasidas lived! What a hard and painful life all our saints lived, in spite of the great obstacles placed on their path by the vast majority of the public! How difficult it is to be a man of God can be known only when we study the lives of saints. To be a man of God is to be a fool in the eyes of the public. This seems to be a necessary outcome of turning one's face towards God. "Yasyaham anugrihnami tasya vittam haramyaham." "When I want to shed My grace on any person, I deprive him of all his pleasure­centres," is a famous statement reported to have been made by Lord Narayana Himself as recorded in the Srimad Bhagavata. What are our pleasure-centres? We know them very well. The greatest fortress of our pleasure is our own personality-consciousness, our egoism. We have many other pleasure-centres, no doubt, but the greatest among all of them is what we call, in common parlance, Izzat, dignity of personality, self-respect. This self-respect was unknown to great masters and saints. They respected God and so they were humiliated in the eyes of people, put down as 'no-ones' in the eyes of the world. What torture and what suffering they underwent – it is something terrifying, if you think over it. We have only to read the lives of a few saints of the past. We can read even the life of such a recent personality as Swami Sivanandaji. While it is easy to think that we believe in God, it is really difficult to be true to the salt. Hence, may we take these auspicious occasions as occasions for honest Sadhana of our own conscience and spirit also, and not the Sadhana of the hands, the limbs and the feet alone. We have the Sadhana of the limbs of the body, in the form of ritualistic worship with waving the lights in the temple, opening a scripture and reading it loudly through the vocal organ, and paying obeisance physically by Sashtanga Namaskara through the body. All these are beautiful, wonderful and very necessary. But they become null and void if the conscience is set at naught and is opposed in its spirit to all our outer performances of rituals and religious observances. God is within us, in the deepest root of our being, and to turn to Him would be to turn to ourselves, in our essence, finally. This should be the spirit of Sadhana and devotion to God – and nothing can be more difficult, because it is the death of the individual personality. "Die to live," as Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say. If you want to live in the Eternity, you have to die to the temporal, which means to say that you should die to all that you regard as beautiful, meaningful and valuable in this world. Who can do this? No ordinary man is prepared for this. No ordinary mortal can have the courage, the power and the strength to face the weaknesses of flesh, the foibles of human nature and the impetuosity of the human ego. Who can face these powerful demons? Who can face Ravana? No one, not all the gods, not even Indra could face him. And who are we? It is not a joke to face and overcome these great negative forces. They are awful – this is the only word we can use here. They are so terrifying that even a mere thought of them is enough to make one run away. Such is the terror that one has to meet with before one becomes fit for God-realisation. "The fear of the Absolute," said Plotinus, a great saint of the West. Entering the Absolute is like entering a lion's den, from which you cannot come back. Fierce is the ocean, fierce is the lion, fierce is the conflagration of fire, fierce is the love of God. No one can love God, unless one is prepared to die, wholly and totally, to the so-called good, beautiful and pleasant in this world, to this body and to the ego. Hard is the job! Difficult is the task! God's grace is the only saving factor. So, may we pray to Him, the Almighty, that He may bless us with this uncanny courage, knowledge and strength, that we may realise Him in all His Glory in this very birth.