Many of Rama’s actions may seem adharmic when we see it. But that is a limitation of the lens we are using
The above is an oft-repeated charge against Rama and it has been beaten to death over and over again by defenders of dharma and those who want to establish that Rama was a “misogynist pig”. Despite so many reams being written about it, the doubt over Rama being an embodiment of dharma has refused to go away.
It is important to understand the intent of the questioner that s/he is wanting help to try to respond to questions from others
Today, we will try to understand it from one more master and see if it helps to clear those doubts somewhat. Bharat has never lacked in spiritual masters who show the way and it will continue to have them. The secret of Sanatana Dharma is that its essence is propagated by embodied beings rather than being frozen in a book. As long as that is the case, Hinduism/Sanatana Dharma will continue to live.
There have been many exemplars and will be many of them in the future too. We will attempt to explain the above doubt via means of a discourse from one such exemplar from Kerala, Swami Chidanandapuri. We will do a translation of his response to such a question from Malayalam to English and put it out among dharmics so that those in doubt can draw their own conclusions. We will lay emphasis on certain things he says, to highlight the importance and centrality of that thought to fully appreciating and understanding dharma.
The discourse is entirely in Swamiji’s voice though, at different times in the discourse, he speaks as a questioner from the audience or as Sri Rama or some other character from the Ramayana.
Questioner: I am unable to properly explain our deities Sri Krishna or Sri Rama or Shiva or others, to people from other faiths who are questioning me about them.
Swamiji: Only by studying Sastras can you properly explain.
Questioner: Sri Rama, on hearing the comments of someone from his kingdom regarding Sita’s chastity, banished a much pregnant Sita to the forests. Is Sri Rama a Maryada Purushottam then?
Swamiji: Why is this person asking this question? I am not referring to the person here who asked this question but it is something to understand before answering. Why is someone asking such a question? In this case, I understand the intent of the questioner that s/he is wanting help to try to respond to questions from others. However, if someone is asking me this question with some other intention, I do not think I am obliged to answer that person.
Once, in the course of a Q and A after a discourse I gave, a person asked the question “How do you call Sri Rama an embodiment of dharma? Isn’t what he did was wrong? He killed Bali through deceit, he abandoned his pregnant wife. What do you have to say about this?”
Rama himself has said, “Just as is the case with rishis, I have also surrendered to the highest and purest form of dharma”. He says this to his step-mother Kaikeyi in the Valmiki Ramayana
His tone was accusing as if Rama was someone related to me. I asked him, “So what happened? Did they file a case against Rama? Did the police charge sheet him? What happened? How dare he abandon a pregnant wife and kill through deceit! Did the police arrest him? Who did this?”
Swamiji: Who Rama, which Rama? Where did this happen? I am unable to understand anything…
Questioner: What is this Swamiji! Why are you acting as if you don’t know?
Swamiji: I simply did not understand. Which Rama killed through deceit?
Questioner: Swami, Ramayana says so…
Swamiji: Which Ramayana, who told you Ramayana says this?
Questioner: Valmiki says so…
Swamiji: So, you believe what Valmiki says, right? So what Valmiki says is what happened, right?
Questioner: Yes, that’s right
Swamiji: Then if that is the case, the same Valmiki has said in his work that whatever Rama does, it is dharma. Now you can leave…
Valmiki has said right at the beginning that whatever Rama does is dharma. You have to see his actions and then understand it as dharmic. You believed that. If you didn’t believe, then we could discuss but if you believed that, then later Valmiki also says that Rama stayed behind a tree and unleashed an arrow against Bali. Then you have to see dharma in that too.
Either Valmiki is wrong or he is right. In the case that he is wrong, then there is no Rama, no dharma, nothing. So you can leave. Else, if you believe that whatever Valmiki says is true, then whatever Rama does is dharma and he is the embodiment of dharma. You can leave.
I answered thus and concluded. This is because such a person is not asking a question to understand. There is no need to waste our oorja in trying to explain to those who question only with intent to find fault or argue. Just move on.
However, if someone is asking a question to understand better, then it is imperative that we help the person come to that understanding. It is our duty to help.
The intent of translating the above content, which is not the core of his explanation, is to highlight the importance of assessing the motive of a questioner before responding to the question. It is an extremely important task to undertake because often we are all answering people who never want to engage in any issue. It’s only a cerebral matter to be discussed and argued about but one that they don’t want to understand. If we waste our time trying to engage with such people, it will only be us who suffer because the drain of energy is real and sapping.
From this point on, Swamiji launches into the proper explanation and it is really something worth listening to.
Swamiji: Rama is an embodiment of dharma or a murti of dharma. Rama himself has said, “Just as is the case with rishis, I have also surrendered to the highest and purest form of dharma”. He says this to his step-mother Kaikeyi in the Valmiki Ramayana.
That Rama is the Vigraha or embodiment of dharma has been emphatically stated by Valmiki via Mareecha for the very first time in the story. This is very significant and worth pondering over. Which Mareecha? The very same Mareecha who is living in perpetual fear of Rama. To understand this fully, we must be able to analyze psychologically the character involved.
Let me elaborate: If we love and respect someone, it is natural that praising that person comes easy. We ascribe qualities to them that they may or may not possess. Similarly, will we praise our enemies? I submit that we will. Why? Only to underline that even if s/he is so great, we are totally unconcerned and that the person is totally inconsequential to us. We do this to underline the self’s own greatness and belittle the enemy. However, if there is someone we fear terribly, then it is guaranteed that we will never praise that person. Perhaps we may praise him to his face but not when he is not around. Mareecha is the kind of person who is petrified if he hears even the syllable “Ra”. To understand why we need to look further.
If one wants to follow the path of dharma strictly, then the answer is very clear, primary dharma should take primacy and actively discard the secondary
Maharishi Viswamitra undertook to do yajna and Rama undertook to be the protector of that yajna. When sathwiks and saadhakas do yajnas, it is the bounden duty of the state to protect them. That is the reason Rama went as a representative of Dasharatha (state) to that yajna. When the yajna was taking place, attempts to disrupt it began raining from the sky. To counter this, Rama shot two arrows simultaneously from his bow. One of the arrows simply obliterated Subahu and turned him into ashes. The other hurled Mareecha 100 yojanas away into the sea. According to today’s measures, Mareecha was flung about 1400km away into the sea which must have been the Bay of Bengal. Somehow, Mareecha saved himself and swam to safety and since then has been living a very quiet life in the jungle. He does not go to disrupt yajnas or create trouble anywhere. It is at this time that another “Ra” Ravana comes there. Ravana asks Mareecha to help him take the Streerathna (jewel in the form of a woman) Sita, the wife of Rama away to Lanka from the Dandakaranya forests where she was staying with Rama and Lakshmana. Remember that Ravana is a great sorcerer and can weave many illusions. So if an expert sorcerer (indrajalaka) like Ravana asks Mareecha for help, what does that make Mareecha? He is a super sorcerer (Mahendrajalaka).
“Who has advised you to embark on a path that will end in the destruction of your kula (race)?” asked Mareecha. “Your entire race will be destroyed. Do you know who Rama is?” It is here, that Mareecha says “Rama is the embodiment of Dharma”. He is one who is a satyaparakrami (fighter for truth). Rama’s efforts would never be in vain for he is truth itself.
I speak of Mareechato emphasize that one who was mortally afraid of Rama also was praising Rama as a dharma vigraha.
Are we ordinary people then going to impute adharmic motives to the actions of one considered the embodiment of dharma by even those who live in fear of him?
So, many of Rama’s actions may seem adharmic when we see it. But that is a limitation of the lens we are using. Dharmamchara or walk on the path of dharma is what our texts tell us. It is easier said than done. When one has to live according to dharma in one’s own life it is one of the most difficult things to do. One should have the ability to distinguish between primary dharma (mukhya dharma) and secondary dharma (gouna dharma) for every circumstance.
If both primary and secondary dharma coincides, there is no conflict but when they are in opposition it is often a very difficult decision to take. If one wants to follow the path of dharma strictly, then the answer is very clear. There is only one option. In every case, it is the primary dharma that takes primacy and one has to actively discard the secondary or gouna dharma. It is very easy to sit in a hall and pontificate on this issue but when one is confronted by life situations, it is not an easy choice to make.
For instance, assume that a judge is hearing a case where the criminal has committed a crime that warrants his being hanged. However, the accused is none other than the judge’s son. What should be the decision? One part of the judge will be saying that the crime by the accused deserves that he be hanged. The other part of him will be saying, “Oh no, he is my son. I must find some way to rescue him from the gallows”. In such situations, it is easy to sit far away and advise that one follows dharma. But following it in one’s own life, is not so easy.
To be Continued. . . .
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