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Love and Light

Life Lessons from the Ramayana

The Game of Losing!

Once in their childhood days, the four sons of King Dasharatha; Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Shatrugna were playing a game in the courtyard of their palace. After sometime, Bharatha came sobbing into the palace. Mother Kausalya enquired and asked, “Bharatha, why are you crying? Have you lost the game?”. Bharatha replied, “Mother, I was about to lose the game but somehow Rama managed to loose and made me the winner. I am upset about his defeat.” On the other side was Rama who was happy because his brother had won!

I was deeply touched when I read this story in one of the Indian English dailies as narrated by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Himself during my engineering days, much before I joined the Prashanthi Nilayam campus. Having seen siblings amongst my own relatives fighting for property, this simple yet profound story was an eye opener. In the corporate world that I am in currently, each one out there wants to win at the expense of the other if need be, in what is famously called as the mad rat race, which has sadly become the norm.

But, what kind of a game was being played by Rama and his brothers wherein Rama loses to make others happy? In one perspective, it represents the game of the world wherein the ego wins and the divinity seems to lose. Bharatha wins and Rama chooses to loose in the game of the world. Baba says, “Life is a Game, Play it!” He did not say win it, although it would have sounded much more motivating, why? If I have to play, then how do I play? In Ramayana, we find some secrets as to how we should play this game called life.

When I contemplate on this story, I feel apart from giving the joy of winning, as a master Rama wanted Bharatha to imbibe one of the first steps of spirituality, that of losing oneself, that of surrender and he himself set an example by losing the game and making Bharatha follow suit. It is not just losing that childhood game; the same story repeated itself when Rama again chose to sacrifice the throne and go on exile. Bharatha by then had learnt his lessons well and he went to the forest to persuade Rama to return, but when he failed he did something very profound. He carried back the sandals of Rama with great respect on his head to the capital and installed them on the throne to represent Rama’s presence. This is symbolic of his surrender and his willingness to follow in the footsteps of Rama. He then ruled the kingdom very effectively whilst living as an ascetic in a thatched hut practicing what Baba calls as ‘Ceiling on Desires’. He contemplated on the beautiful form of Rama desiring and longing for Rama’s return. He was immersed in the remembrance (smaranam) and contemplation (mananam) of Rama.

Baba has said that Bharatha represents Kama or desire which is one of the 4 Purusharthas or the goals of human life. He has reminded that directing desires towards the divine is the right way and Bharatha was the living proof of this. He did rule the kingdom in the most prefect manner; it was no less than the Rama Rajya (rule) itself. Dharma is the first Purushartha of life and Rama embodied it. Life is a game of desires, play it like Bharatha with Kama directed towards Rama!

When Bharatha was living in Ayodhya, let us see what enchanting lessons of life one can learn as the leela (play) of Rama unfolded in the forest.

The Play of Choicelessness

In the Ramakatha Rasavahini, Baba beautifully writes about an incident during Rama’s exile which is the basis of the next story. Rama, Lakshmana and mother Sita once reached a beautiful place called Panchavati in Nasik, on the banks of river Godavari. Rama wishes to stay for some more time in Panchavati. He reclines under the cool shade of a tree, calls out to Lakshmana and says, “Brother, look out for a beautiful and a comfortable spot nearby and build a nice little hut as charming as you would wish it to be.” One would have thought this was a divine command which was crystal clear but Lakshmana immediately breaks down in agony. He runs and falls at the feet of Rama and complains, “What sin have I committed to receive such a cruel command from you?” Rama and Sita were taken aback and consoling Lakshmana, he says, “What makes you so sad? You serve me as the very breath of life, how can I ever utter a cruel word to you. Your grief is mistaken. Lakshmana, you have been so dear and near to me that this time around I want you to select a spot of your choice and build a hut of your liking and I would be glad to stay there with you and Sita.”

Lakshmana closes his ears and says, “Rama, I cannot bear to hear your words” and with folded hands says, “Lord! There is no one within me to say ‘I’. I have no will of my own, your will is my will, your wish is my wish. How can I then bear to listen to the words which indicate that I have to choose a spot and build a hut as per my liking and wish? I do not have the capacity to choose.” When Rama hears these words he was moved and takes Lakshmana along. After walking some distance Rama stops, selects a place and directs Lakshmana to build a hut there giving instructions as to how the hut has to be built. Lakshmana then jumps with joy and exclaims, “I am indeed blessed. My duty is to just carry out such commands and not do anything on my own!” Life is a game of choices, be ‘choice-less’ like Lakshmana even in the day to day things and let the divine choose!

The third goal of life is Artha, the aim of acquiring skills and resources required to live in this world. Baba has pointed that Lakshmana symbolised Artha. This story beautifully highlights Baba’s directive of Artha being at the service of Dharma (righteousness). Earn money and acquire the resources but as a shadow of Dharma, just like how Lakshmana was just the shadow of Rama. If Artha has a will of its own, it will cause havoc in life. It should be utilized in life as per the dictates of Dharma in the same way as Lakshmana insisted upon being dictated by Rama or Dharma.

Instead, let us see what is happening today? The world is just a place where everything revolves around money or Artha. Whilst the correct order is to run after the divine or Dharma, and Artha will follow us as needed. Sita forgot about this natural order for a while and her mind ran after the golden deer which became the reason for her abduction by Ravana who took her to the City of Gold called Lanka. If we run after the world, we will get shackled in the iron chain of misery or the golden chain of luxury, both bind us nevertheless as Swami Vivekananda had once put it. These are valuable lessons to follow in the journey of Life. Kama needs to be directed towards Dharma, and Artha should follow Dharma.

The Pyre of Bliss

Bhagawan Baba once stated that to understand the scriptures, we need to transcend the senses. The scriptures were interpreted by those who were still under the sway of their senses, leading to wrong interpretations. Baba specifically mentioned this whilst talking about the sacred relationship of Krishna and Gopikas. The story below is based on Baba’s Ramakatha Rasavahini and requires us to go beyond our own senses to understand its significance.

One day Rama enters the famous ashram of Sage Sarabhanga whilst in exile. When Sarabhanga’s eyes fell on Rama, he was overwhelmed with ecstasy and he dances with joy and addresses Rama saying, “Now that my eyes have seen you Rama, they need not see anything else.” Rama had given the word that he would fulfil the wishes of the sages and reminding him of that he further says, “My only wish is this, stand before me in this most charming form, until my breath leaves this form. I wish to cast off this body even while my gaze is upon you.” It would have been not practical for Rama to just stand there till the sage breathed his last in the natural course of life. Without losing any time, what does the sage do? He instructs his disciples to set up a pyre used for cremation. Sarabhanga mounts the pyre all the while looking at His Rama and lights the pyre. He sits on the top unconcerned, filled with bliss and his eyes filled with gratitude! Most joyfully he reduces his body to ashes. His soul Baba said merged with the universal consciousness that was before him. It was the rarest blessing that Rama bestowed on that Rishi who had gone beyond the world of senses into bliss which is beyond pleasure and pain. Life is Love, enjoy it! Whatever the circumstance we are in, let the form be before our inner eye.

Being the Instrument of God

In many circumstances of life there will be challenges. Hanuman faced several of them but what was the source of his strength? The next story I wish to refer was actually depicted in a drama conducted in the divine presence of Baba in the Sai Kulwanth Hall, Prasanthi Nilayam.

As the bridge was being built, Rama sat in a secluded spot, seemingly lost in sadness, suffering the pangs of separation from Sita. Lakshmana and Hanuman were by his side.

I was playing the role of Hanuman! It was for the first time that I was acting and I was blessed to enact the role of Hanuman, who was my hero ever since my childhood. I loved Hanuman so much that even as a child, I wanted to have muscles and strength like that of Hanuman. Night time before sleeping, I used to keep two stones that my mother used for pounding the spices beneath my bed. In the morning as soon as I woke up, I used to lift them and do my weight lifting! I feel it was Hanuman who built the bridge of my life and connected it to Baba; hence the role was of utmost significance to me.

Just before the drama, we were all sitting in the Bhajan Hall as instructed by Baba. He used to interact with the drama boys and motivate them and most importantly oversee all the last minute details Himself! Swami smiled as he entered the Bhajan Hall and looked towards me and very sweetly said “Hanuman” and asked me as to why my face was painted as there was no bulge over my lips. I was sitting quite far and one of the teachers responded, “Swami, there is a dialogue to be delivered and hence we had to just paint.” Swami nodded his approval. Baba talked with us very lovingly and seemed to be happy with the preparations and blessed us to proceed.

The drama then began and in between was this story of Ramayana. Rama was sitting with great melancholy over his face. Hanuman implores Rama asking as to how He could be seen so sad, when towards whom the entire army of vanaras (monkeys) looked up to for solace and strength. In response, Rama says that he is not sad but is deeply moved by the dedication of the vanaras who had forsaken even their families to be at His service. Rama said, “No pangs of separation can ever enter my being and no incident can ever disturb my tranquillity. My mere Will alone is enough to part the ocean in a trice, but just to set an example of great devotion and sacrifice, the bridge is being built. It does not matter how small your contribution is, as long as it is made for a noble cause, I will elevate it to the highest possible level. It is your responsibility to place the boulder and mine to keep it afloat!”

It was such assurances from Rama that made Hanuman the perfect instrument of the Lord. Life is a challenge; meet it like Hanuman with the name of Rama on the lips. After the drama, Baba came down for the group photographs. As he came down, he was saying ‘Hanuman’ a few times and I was filled with bliss to be near Him. Baba looked at me and asked “Who has given you the necklace?” I was overwhelmed and did not know how to answer and hence smiled. After the photographs, I got a chance to touch His hand and was thrilled beyond any expectation. Never did I ever dream that in my life that I would be able to touch my Rama!

Experiencing the Oneness

Before we immerse into the next story to understand what true Love means, I would like to share an experience that I had heard. In the olden days, Baba’s Brindavan ashram had an old bungalow where He used to reside. There was a flight of steps that Baba used to use; halfway, there was a small window. Boys would be waiting and peeping through the window as Baba made his way down. The window used to be a frame of 8-10 heads peeping in. Swami too would not miss this and he used to make faces at the boys, sometimes pretending to pluck their noses off. Cute little fun time, I was told! One day, Baba in a pensive mood looked deeply at one of the boys’ and asked him, “Hey boy, do you love me?” “Of course, I love you Swami”, instant was the reply. The boy was waiting for an hour just to get a glimpse. Baba remarked, “No, No! If you really loved me, you won’t even know that you love me!” Baba says in the relationship with God, one has to lose oneself in God, everything then merges in it and what remains is only Him.

Bharatha lived such a life during Rama’s exile. When Rama returned to Ayodhya, Bharatha had attained the ultimate state of Nidhidhyasanam, the final ‘oneness’ with the divine due to his uninterrupted smaranam (listening to Rama’s Name) and mananam (remembering and contemplating on Rama’s name).

Baba describes that when Rama returns from exile, Bharatha comes to welcome Rama along with the entire kingdom. As he had spent his days contemplating on Rama for fourteen years, his face had also changed to the likeness of Rama. Bharatha’s Kama or desire was transformed into the highest of devotion and he became one with Rama! Bharatha points out at the direction of Rama as people were confusing him for Rama saying, “Here is Rama, Here is Rama!”

On the day of coronation, Lakshmana was beside Rama while Sita was on the other side. Hanuman was kneeling in front of Rama, but I imagine he felt the picture did not look perfect without Bharatha, as he was nowhere to be found. Hanuman searches for Bharatha and finally finds him sitting behind the throne of Rama, with tears flowing down his cheeks. He was holding the Royal umbrella above the throne of Rama! This time he was crying because unlike that game in his childhood when he was made to win by Rama, in this game of life that he managed to play, he ensured that Rama ultimately won. Finally, Bharatha loses and Rama wins! What was remarkable was that Bharatha had no separate identity by then and he had become one with Rama.

In this context, it is easy to understand what Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who are able to stand last” and what Lao Tzu had said “The sage puts his own person last and yet it is found in the foremost place”. Bharatha loses Himself and yet he was present in Rama, the foremost.

I had heard once Bhagawan Baba asking the students “Why is it that some devotees coming from far off places, may be once in a year or so, are just thrilled by my sight? It is because they contemplate; they capture the moments of my darshan (divine sight) and keep doing mananam or recapitulating the experience thereby re-living it again and again. That is the reason why they are thrilled when they come back and have my darshan again.” Baba then revealed, “If you contemplate or do the mananam of my one single experience in your life, I am bound to give it back to you again. Do it!” Let us take this statement of Baba to heart and make Him give us that experience once again by re-living His moments of Grace in our life again and again.

Every day I contemplate on the various experiences that Baba had blessed me with, and I feel the bliss. As I do this every day, l feel we are also sitting on the pyre like Sarabhanga, each day our life is being burnt away by the pyre of Time and as it is being burnt, I pray that in my mind’s eye, I can visualise His form and feel blissful. I do not know what mansion of my life is being built today, but I pray to Him for guidance as to where, when and how it has to be built, like He did for Lakshmana. Meanwhile, I wait like Bharatha for Him to take over the throne of my heart.

Life is not a game of becoming number one, as per Ramayana it is to experience that oneness with the only One. If we play our life in this manner, it would be a true victory of Rama within us, until then it is just the game of our desires. Finally, Bharatha loses and Rama wins the game, the ego will eventually lose giving way to divinity that is how this life needs to be played.

Sudhir Shetty
MBA (2003-2005), SSIHL, Prasanthi Nilayam