Rishabh Verma: Reflections on the essence of the Valmiki Ramayana
The Vedic scriptures describe many different types of charity or dana. Of these, Srila Ramanujacharya identifies two types of charity as the highest – charity of self-knowledge (Jnana dana) and charity of fearlessness (Abhaya Dana). These forms of charity are not only recognized by Bhakti Yogis, but also by Buddhists. Both schools agree that Abhaya Dana is superior to Jnana dana because it removes the fear of repeated birth and death. While the source of fearlessness in Buddhist schools comes from knowledge of the self, Bhakti Yogis derive this fearlessness from unflinching faith in Krsna and his incarnations by practicing devotional service fearlessly. Lord Rama, an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead appears in this material world to demonstrate this principle.
Most people believe that the purpose of the incarnation of Lord Rama is to establish the principles of morality (Maryada) or the principles of righteous actions (Dharma). Sri Vedanta Desika, however, writes in his Abhaya Pradanam Saaram that the real purpose behind the incarnation of Lord Rama was to show the entire universe that one who takes shelter of the Supreme Lord (Sharanagati) need not fear. This may appear like a stretch but throughout the seven cantos of the Ramayana, Lord Rama demonstrates this principle.
The demigods seek the refuge of the Lord for protection from the demon Ravana. The demon Ravana had defeated the demigods in battle and taken Indra as his prisoner. The demigods were very fearful of their position in heaven. Lord Vishnu promises to protect them and appear as Lord Rama on this Earth.
When Lord Rama is exiled, Laxmana, the younger brother of Rama falls at his feet and asks the Lord to accept him as his servant. Lord Rama then promises Laxmana and his mother Sumitra that he will look after Laxmana in the forest as his own child. The mood of the Lord is heightened in Yuddhakanda when Laxmana is struck unconscious by the Nagapasha weapon of Indrajit. Lord Rama says ‘She, his mother Sumitra entrusted him to me and sent him to help me. How can I face her, myself alone alive, and Laxmana lost to us?’ (Valmiki Ramayana Yuddha Kanda Chapter 49: Rama comes back to senses)
The sages and their wives seek shelter of Lord Rama for protection from the various demons present in the forest. Lord Rama promises his protection to the sages. At one point, Sita asks Rama if he should be engaging in killing even though he has been exiled as a hermit. Rama consoles Sita by telling her ‘Now these holy men have become dearer than my very life the moment they threw themselves upon my mercy; any harm, any injury done to them is so much done to me’. (Valmiki Ramayana Arayna Kanda Chapter 10: Rama explains himself)
Sugriva approaches Lord Rama near the kingdom of Kishkindha and seeks the Lord’s protection from his brother Vali who had made a vow to kill him. Later on, when Rama kills Vali, he accuses the Lord of being partial to Sugriva without hearing his side of the story. Rama then tells Vali: ‘Sugriva is a dear friend to me even as Laxmana; and, inconsequence, he should be restored to his crown and wife. He ever seeks my welfare. Would I not disgrace myself by neglecting such a one and seeking your alliance? And I have sworn so before these Monkeys.’ (Valmiki Ramayana Kishkindhakanda: Chapter 18 Rama’s reply)
When Hanuman is taking leave of Sita from the Ashoka forest, Hanuman asks for some form of identification he could take to the Lord to show him that he had in fact actually met Sita. Sita recites to hanuman a story of how a crow Named Jayanta (the son of Indra) had committed an offense at the feet of Lord Rama by attacking Sita. The Lord discharged his bramhastra after the crow. The crow, realizing that no one could protect him, fell at the feet of Rama to beg forgiveness. The Lord forgives him and gives him shelter.
In the beginning of the last Kanda, Lord Rama gives the essence of the Ramayana when Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana comes to offer his surrender. This episode is the most important section of the Ramayana, just as the last chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is that of the Mahabharata. He is accused by the monkey hosts, Sugriva, Jambavan, Angada and many others of being unworthy of being given shelter. The Lord speaks extensively on why he would offer his protection to Vibhishana and he speaks to the monkey hosts as follows:
‘People call me Rama, the incarnation of Dharma. I have laid down the rules of conduct for all. I must practice them aright. Now if I, even I were to inflict pain on one who has taken refuge in me, where is the limit to the evil that men may do?
The seeker of refuge need not feel friendly towards the protector nor express friendship in word or conduct. He need not be endowed with all the excellences that the doctrine of refuge demands of the seeker. It is quite enough that the seeker should join his palms in prayer, as a gesture of surrender. Even if he does not join hands, it is enough if he announces that one is helpless and needs help. Even if this is absent, turning in the direction of the savior is enough. Let the suppliant be our direct foe, still, we cannot harm him’. (Valmiki Ramayana Yuddhakanda: Chapter 18 Rama’s Pledge)
Hence, this Rama Navami, devotees must remind themselves of the promise of the Lord and with faith in his nature and words, demonstrate the principle of fearlessness in their lives by wholeheartedly engaging in devotional service. By demonstrating this principle in their lives, devotees will be able to glorify the Lord and also grant this gift of fearlessness to others who still live in a fearful state of material existence.