Friday April 3rd is the appearance day of Lord Rama (in the USA, please check your local Temple for other parts of the world). Such a day for any incarnation of God is not called a “birth” day since God is ever-existing and primeval. Their “birth” in the material world is only a superficial ruse, as much as an actor exists before going on stage. Queen Kunti in her prayers in the 1st Canto of the Bhagavatam explains this: ”Being beyond the range of limited sense perception, You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized.”
”In the eighteenth incarnation, the Lord appeared as King Rama. In order to perform some pleasing work for the demigods, He exhibited superhuman powers by controlling the Indian Ocean and then killing the atheist King Ravana, who was on the other side of the sea.” Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.3.22
Unlike conditioned souls such as ourselves who must take birth out of karmic force and necessity, incarnations of God manifest themselves upon the earth to execute many special purposes or “lilas” (divine activities). His lila is fully recounted in the great epic, Ramayana as well as briefer accounts in other Vedic texts such as the Srimad Bhagavatam. These lilas are not myths or just stories as the mundane, faithless scholars would have us believe. They are spiritually powerful pastimes of God, meant for our welfare and the benefit of the entire universe and great devotees never tire of hearing them.
” O wise Suta, please narrate to us the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Godhead’s multi-incarnations. Such auspicious adventures and pastimes of the Lord, the supreme controller, are performed by His internal powers. We never tire of hearing the transcendental pastimes of the Personality of Godhead, who is glorified by hymns and prayers. Those who have developed a taste for transcendental relationships with Him relish hearing of His pastimes at every moment.” SB 1.1.18-19
” Thus learned men describe the births and activities of the unborn and inactive, which is undiscoverable even in the Vedic literatures. He is the Lord of the heart. The Lord, whose activities are always spotless, is the master of the six senses and is fully omnipotent with six opulences. He creates the manifested universes, maintains them and annihilates them without being in the least affected. He is within every living being and is always independent.” SB 1.3.35-36
Often on such days the Bhagavad-gita is consulted as it teaches us the general reasons why any incarnation of God appears on Earth. Verses 7-9 of the 4th chapter give us concise information concerning the appearance of the “Avatar” or incarnation of God. In verse 7 we are told when he comes: when religious practices wane and irreligion increases. However we should not think that irreligion attracts the Lord to come. No. He really comes to protect the faithful, and only secondarily to annihilate the miscreants. Then he reestablishes religious principles and teaches how to follow them by his example.
Although his life is exemplary, he performs superhuman acts that no human can accomplish. Even so he appears to act on the human level which is more easily comprehended then his inconceivable acts of Universal creation, maintenance and annihilation. He could serve his purpose on Earth just by his will alone without appearing here, yet by his mercy he comes to give his association to the saints who are pining in separation due to his absence.
In addition he displays divine activities that give us a sample of what living in the spiritual world is like. Such lilas are recorded in scriptures as Ramayana. By hearing them we become purified of material attractions and our dormant love for God is gradually awakened. The extraordinary power of understanding why such incarnations of God like Lord Rama manifest is explained in verse 9:
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.”
Our material disease is our conditioned selfish interest where we think life revolves around us and that we are the center of the world (however large or small we conceive of it). We stay in the material world birth after birth on account of our attachment for enjoying and exploiting worldly resource with no knowledge of God who is actually the Supreme proprietor, enjoyer and dear-most friend of all.
We are defined materially according to our faith and attachments. Whatever we take shelter of and thus remember at death we return to in the next life. Our artificial material faith can be dissolved by associating with saints and in their company hearing the holy narrations about the incarnations of God. When we are absorbed in the loving service of God, then the things of the world are of no interest to us. Thus we will go to a plane that facilitate our spiritual desires to serve and be with the supreme object of our love and affection–Shri Rama or Shri Krishna etc.
In the divine lila of Lord Rama we find the classic “good overcoming evil” so often imitated in mundane movies, books and stories. We are reminded about the power of spirituality, religious piety, determination in the face of great adversity and obstacles, and many other qualities which we can model in order to be successful in our spiritual and material life.
Every type of human and divine character is revealed in some person in this spiritually uplifting story. Therefore we should not only hear and learn Lord Ramachandra’s activities, we should also be inspired by and want to develop the pious and spiritual qualities of the Lord and his associates. Lord Rama is the perfect son, husband, friend and king. His kingdom was so pious and the people so happy under his rule that even today people hanker after “Ram raja” or the a land ruled by Ram or someone of his caliber. Sitadevi is the perfect chaste and devotee wife. Lakshmana and Bharata are the ideal devoted brothers and servants of Shri Rama.
Hanuman is the ideal devotee servant of the Lord who to this day inspires millions with his standard of surrender and bhakti. Though from one perspective a “lowly monkey” his bhakti makes him better then millions of animal like humans. God is interested in one’s consciousness, not our outer body–we can be inspired that! There is no material impediment for serving the Lord. Whether extremely blessed or cursed or a mixture of both, whether animal or human, we can still serve the Lord.
We can also study the defects of different personalities such as Ravana whose lust for Rama’s wife Sita brought his downfall. We all have a bit of Ravana within us, and we should be aware of this and pray to have such materialistic tendencies removed. Every character in scripture and in fact in life has something to teach us—either positive or negative–if we are open and awake. For a devotee the Lord is always making arrangements to help us advance.
We have to always remember that the activities of the Lord described in Ramayana and other lilas in scripture are special pastimes to accomplish many purposes. Shri Rama and Sita are the perfect Supreme Couple, yet to facilitate their purpose and teach us they also exhibit tendencies to teach us. In Sita’s case she exemplifies not only devotion to Rama but also the effect of material attachment, as when she had to have Rama capture the golden deer for her. Sita berated the devoted Lakshman with cruel language forcing him to leave her so Ravana could carry her to Lanka. That was necessary to occur to facilitate the Lord’s purpose. While immersing ourself in the story we have to also step back from time to time and consider the purpose of the lila as given by great acharyas.
For instance, Kaikeyi’s attachment for “her” son that set up the banishment of Rama. This was similar to the Mahabharata’s Dhritarastha, who because of his excessive attachment to his son, forced the battle of Kurushetra to occur in order to facilitate the Lord’s purpose. Kaikeyi’s maidservant Manthara spoiled her intelligence and fanned her material perspective of what was the proper course of action. Manthara can represent bad council in general, and our own materialist mind, that often will mislead us if we haven’t developed spiritual intelligence.
Every person is a complex mix of many qualities. We can study the characters in the pastimes of Rama and learn our highest spiritual ideals and those qualities that could cause our downfall.
I will leave it to you to read Lord Rama’s divine lila in the Ramayana or Shrimad Bhagavatam. I just wanted to wet your appetite.
JAI SHRI SITA RAMA!