Nine-year-old Rhea told her mom, “I hate Rama! How could he send Sita away to the forest just because some man said something?! Poor Sita, she cried so much, yet Rama paid no heed!”
Rhea’s mother was stunned.
As parents following the Sanatana Dharma, we all wish that our children absorb the tenets and appreciate the greatness of our Dharma and our divine Indian culture. And we know that it is through our wonderful Itihasas and Puranas that faith, devotion and the lofty principles of the Sanatana Dharma can be easily inculcated.
For our children today – especially those born outside the divine Indian soil and growing up in a westernized culture – perspectives and the environment are different from the atmosphere of inherent faith that we grew up in, in India.
So, in our genuine enthusiasm to have our children learn about our scriptures, we tend to resort to any available source – books, videos, TV, the Internet – to ‘educate’ them about God and our Puranas.
Rhea had been regularly watching and enjoying a popular TV show based on the Ramayana. Her mother had been happy that Rhea was showing interest in the Ramayana and its characters. But when Rhea said she hated Rama, the bolt had come out of the blue. Her mother had not expected things to take a negative turn like this. Now she was clueless about how to explain Lord Rama’s actions to her daughter! What could she do?
Let us pause for a moment to consider how reliable really are these easily available media sources, when it comes to our great scriptures.? And is mere ‘education’ the purpose? Is it enough if our children just know the characters and the stories, even if it is through the commonly-prevalent inaccurate versions? No wonder then that our grand and noble Itihasas (History) and Puranas (Ancient History) that narrate factual happenings and universal truths have now been reduced to mere, supposedly-fictitious “mythological stories!”
One of the prime reasons for this deterioration in stature are the prolific writers with no scriptural foundation who publish books with superfluous commentaries and re-tellings; producers of sensationalized TV shows allegedly based on our Itihasas but in reality portraying only distorted versions; and all the ubiquitous blogs, websites and online forums expressing their ‘views’ of our Puranic stories that have all unfortunately become the go-to sources for our questions. The sad state is that all of these sources completely miss the purpose of our Itihasas and Puranas, which is to sow, nourish and grow devotion to the Lord in the heart. If that purpose is not accomplished, then the source is weak and is of zero use. And in fact, it doesn’t even make sense to ask questions based on such extremely weak sources that are poor in facts and truth.
In everything, there is saaram (the essential) and asaaram (non-essential). The real intelligence in the human mind is to take only the saaram (essence) and disregard the asaaram. However in the case of divine works like the Ramayana, there is, in truth, no asaaram at all. But despite this, if we glean asaaram from it, then it is clear that it is only we who bring down the divine leelas of an extraordinary person to our own diminutive perspective seen through our confused small minds. Whenever we see asaaram in our scriptures or divine works of saints, then we should understand that the asaaram is not in the work itself, but in our own vision tainted by our mental grime.
There was once a family who moved into the third floor of an apartment building. The lady of the house had a direct view through her paned glass window into the balcony of the neighboring apartment where clothes would be hung up to dry. The lady was a stickler for cleanliness and it irked her that her neighbor’s clothes were never washed properly. There would be streaks of dirt on the washed clothes that were always an eyesore to her. Then one fine day, as she looked out the window expecting to see the annoyingly dirty ‘washed clothes’, she was surprised that the clothes actually looked clean for the first time. She rubbed her eyes in wonder and pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. The clothes smiled freshly back at her. As she stood there wondering what had changed… perhaps they had bought a new washing machine or hired a new maid… her husband came by. “Do you see the fresh, clean window pane?” he asked with a tinge of pride, “The glass was so grimy, I cleaned it today. Just couldn’t stand the streaks of dirt on it!” Only then did the lady realize that the dirt had actually been in her own vision!
Notwithstanding the tainted perspectives of many writers and producers, the responsibility of protecting our children from such misguiding asaaram is completely ours, as parents. It is up to us to ensure that they absorb divine leelas only from genuine sources. And a genuine source in such matters are only Mahans (saints) and those who are knowledgeable, scholars and well-versed in our traditions and scriptures. Only saints understand the heart of the Lord. Hence only they can speak rightly, insightfully about the Lord and flower devotion through the essence of His leelas.
In the case of Rhea’s question about Lord Rama’s actions, her mother reached out to Rhea’s Gopa Kuteeram teacher who, in turn, reached out to their Guru for answers.
They all learned that there are always several important reasons for any single act of the Lord. The Lord’s actions certainly cannot be taken at face value and have to be seen in the right context.
The primary reason that Lord Rama’s avatara was taken — and that the Ramayana was written — is to set an example and show us morality and moral values. When that is the case, how can Ramayana itself bring down our moral values?
Lord Rama and Sita Mata loved each other with their whole being and beyond words. They shared a special prema (divine love) and understood each other perfectly. When Sita Devi was kidnapped by Ravana, Lord Rama spent huge efforts, underwent immense pain, changed course, waged war, did everything possible under the sun to get her back. Therefore, when the same Rama who loved Sita Devi so much, chose to give her up, it is logical to assume that he must have had some very strong imperatives for doing so.
Lord Rama, the perfect follower of dharma (duty), believed that every single person in his kingdom mattered, and considered himself accountable to everyone individually. This is inclusiveness to the highest degree. Such was His greatness and the magnitude of His vision. And Sita Devi was no weak, submissive wife. She was so great that she was a perfect match for Rama’s strength. Given this context, we can only appreciate the greatness of the Divine Couple’s sacrifice. Sita Devi cried, out of prema, not pitifully. Lord Rama, missing her terribly, cried behind closed doors. Yet, they stood by their lofty sacrifice.
But the sacrifice was not in vain. Sita Devi had wished to spend time in the holy company of rishis for the sake of her unborn children. As Lord Rama could not leave his kingly duties, he also used the excuse of the washerman’s comment to fulfil her wish. Sage Valmiki was akin to Sita Devi’s brother (as he too was born from the earth [anthill] just as she was). Hence going to Sage Valmiki’s ashram was, for Sita Devi, like going to her parents’ home.
Another little-understood reason why the Divine Couple separated themselves on purpose, is actually the secret of prema. Love is complete only when there is a little separation! This is why Krishna also left Brindavan and the Gopis.
What Lord Rama and Sita Devi did was an immense sacrifice by both of them. They tore their hearts out knowingly – for prema, for dharma! This is their Greatness! When understood in the right way, this can only deepen our love for both of them.
Such a sublime view of the Lord’s heart can be explained only by Mahans. Our Itihasas and Puranas are indeed great, divine works that carry the secrets of life and love. Their purpose is neither knowledge nor entertainment, but to develop the highest devotion. Viewed in the right perspective, which is only that of sadhus and Mahans, our children can safely enjoy and appreciate the Lord’s divine leelas and nurture love for Him in their hearts.
Nisha Giri, Houston TX
Based on the talks of Sri Ramanujamji, disciple of HH Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji