Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
The world today is full of Godmen. While many are genuine and truly guide their followers through the minefield of Samsara without any expectation of quid pro quo, there are many others, who are but pseudo-gurus, adopting Spirituality as an occupation, like any other commercial activity. They profess to teach you anything from mere deep breathing exercises to how to realise God. While the Upanishads prescribe a mere 32 paths for God-realisation, it would appear from the statements of these Godmen, that the paths to Liberation can be tailored to suit individual tastes, predilections and fancies. While rigorous discipline is prescribed by the Scripture for climbing even the very first step on the lofty mountain of MOksha, these mystics tell us that it is just a lap ahead, reassuring us that we need give up none of our creature comforts for achieving this exalted goal. Funnily, many of them have quite a rigid fee structure for their “Professional Services”, indicating how altruistic their efforts are. If it is a ten-day course of PrANAyAma (which is a part of our daily Sandhyavandanam, if only we care to do it properly), the compensation expected is around Rs.1000 per head. For the comprehensive course on the “Art of Living”, much more is charged. How wonderful! To think that at a cost of a mere thousand or two, we are able to acquire wisdom which would stand us well in this world and also provide us a passport to Paradise! It would appear that the essential qualifications for becoming a modern Guru are sufficient anonymity of background, a flowing beard (preferably white), saffron robes (silky and shiny), a smattering of Sanskrit but facility in English, with ability to quote long and unintelligible scriptural (“) passages at the drop of a hat, in and out of context and an endless repertoire of funny stories with a “message”. And, in all humility, these Guru’s don’t call themselves divine, but simply do not protest when their followers ascribe divinity to them.
This is not intended to be a tirade against Godmen, but to emphasise that while mere Men with feet of clay are trying to act as Gods, there was a God, in fact the God of all Gods, who insisted that He was a mere mortal and refused all attempts to glorify His divinity. He protested vehemently that He was a man, the son of another man, with absolutely nothing special about Him. And He prayed to Gods much inferior to Him, for attaining something, which He Himself could have achieved in a trice effortlessly, to establish His humanity.
After Sri Janaki enters the fire to prove Her chastity, all the exalted deities including BrahmA, RudrA, Indra et al assemble at the site, to request Sri Rama to accept the unblemished Sita. On the occasion, the Devatas sing the praise of Sri Rama in unison, extolling Him as the Supreme Power, the Ultimate. “You are indeed the Creator of all the worlds, the most exalted among all deities. You are indeed the repository of all wisdom and virtue and it is You who are seen constant and unchanging, at the beginning and end of all creation.” Here are the sweet words of praise from the Devas
“KartA sarvasya lOkasya shrEshttO gnAnavatAm vara:”
“trayANAm hi lOkAnAm Adi karta svayam Prabhu:”
“antE cha Adou cha lOkAnAm drisyasE tvam Parantapa!”
Unmoved by all this adulation by one exalted deity after another, Sri Rama stands on the ground, His palms folded in supplication, and tells the celestials that He considers Himself to be a mere man, the son of Dasaratha
“AtmAnam mAnusham manyE, RAmam DasarathAtmajam”
It is this attitude of Sri Raghava that endears Him to us all the more. Being the Parabrahmam, He could very well have accomplished the avowed mission of eliminating Rakshasas, through His mere Will, without having to be born to Kousalya after a twelve-month imprisonment in the human womb, trekking all the jungle trails behind the heartless VisvAmitra who made the Paramapurusha walk mile after mile in dense and inhospitable forests, accepting uncomplainingly a fourteen-year exile in the terrifying jungle in lieu of a princely life at Ayodhya, cohorting with all manner of people including monkeys and bears, stoically bearing the unbearable pain of separation from the Lokamata whom He had pledged never to be parted from, having to wage a virulent war against the most terrible of Rakshasas for reclaiming His innocent and suffering Consort. All these could have been accomplished merely by the Lord deciding that it be soTatthAstubut, instead, He chose to be born among us mortals, to share our pain and pleasure, enthralling us with His soulabhyam, souseelyam, and innumerable other auspicious attributes.
And after doing all this, He meekly tells BrahmA and Rudra, “I consider myself a mere man, the son of Dasaratha”. In this world of people who are forever projecting themselves in a larger-than-life mode, here is an entity who was the Supreme Lord, the incomparable and immaculate being beyond contemplation, who refuses to put on airs and chooses to adhere absolutely to the character He has adopted as a mortal.
BrahmA is so moved by the sight of the Parabhrahmam standing on the ground with palms folded in supplication, that he bursts into a lengthy adulation, a compilation sweet to the ear and the tongue, which is to be found in the 120th Sarga of the Yuddha Kandam.
However clear Sri Rama might have been about His role as a man, there appear to be contradictions in how He perceived Himself and how others viewed Him. Further, some of His acts during the Ramavatara too cast a doubt as to His real nature and His insistence on being a human being.
In the introductory chapter of Srimad Ramayana, Sri Valmiki’s question to Sri Narada, which forms the genesis for the great Epic, is worth analysis. Sri Valmiki lists sixteen glorious guNAs and seeks to know from Narada as to which human being is endowed with all of them. And Sri Valmiki is very specific about a Mantvam samartthOsi gyAtum Evam vidham naramnot a God or even a demigod. And in reply, Sri Narada too, after deep consideration, indeed finds such a human being and tells Valmiki to listen carefully “MunE! VakshyAmi aham buddhvA tai: yuktam shrayatAm narai:” It is thus very clear from the prologue itself that Sri Rama was considered a Man and not a deity, both by the author and his interlocutor.
We move next to the arrival of VisvAmitra to demand the services of Sri Rama for protection of his yagyam. When Sri Dasarata, concerned at the capability of the boy (still in His teens) to confront deadly Rakshasas, is reluctant to send the darling of his eye along with the Maharshi, Visvamitra tells the Emperor that Sri Rama is no mere human infant and that His true prowess and glory are known only to those immersed in penance and austerity like VisvAmitra himself and VasishttA.
“aham vEdmi mahAtmAnam RAmam satya parAkramam
VasishttOpi mahA tEjA: yE chEmE tapasi shritA:”
It is clear here that VisvAmitra has full realisation of Sri Rama’s true nature as the Supreme Being, capable of annihilating the entire clan of Rakshasas singly.
Puzzlingly, however, the very same Visvamitra calls Sri Rama a man, a tiger among men, when waking him up one morning in the jungle, for the performance of adulatory rituals addressed to deities.
“KousalyA suprajA Rama! poorvA sandhyA pravartatE
uttishtta nara sArdoola! Kartavyam daivam Ahnikam”
Was He only a Model Man, a Model Monarch and a Magnificent specimen of humanity, or was He the Parabrahmam personified, we keep asking ourselves while perusing the various key events of the Epic. And we find that we are not alone in trying to resolve this incongruity, as a senior Acharya, Sri Koorattazhwan, devotes quite a few verses to this puzzle, in his “atimAnushtvam”.
“I ask You, my Lord and do give a straight answer. You said you were a man and displayed all the limited wisdom of a Man, in going after the golden deer that was MArIchA and later exhibited all the grief and sorrow of an average Man separated from His beloved wife, not knowing the whereabouts of Sri Sita and beside Yourself with grief at Her loss. I do agree that all these were indeed in tune with your assumed role as a man. However, can You explain, being after all a human being, how you were able to promise the paradise to JatAyu” You told the devoted bird plainly, “gaccha lOkAn anuttamAn” (You will reach the coveted worlds above) how was this possible if You were a mere man? enquires Azhwan of the Lord
“PricchAmi kinchana yathA kila RAhavatvE
MAyA mrigasya vasagO manujatva mougdyAt
SItA viyOga vivasO na cha tat gatigya:
PrAdA: tathA para gatim hi katham khagAya
“If you were capable of awarding JatAyu’s selfless services with a berth in the highest of worlds, why then did you roam about the DandakAraNyam, in tears and torment, searching for the lost Sita who was hundreds of miles away enquires Sri Azhwan, posing inconvenient questions to the Paramapurusha. In sum, the query is, “If you have power enough to promise paradise to a bird, how come you didn’t know where your own wife was ?
Continues Sri AzhwanYou showed your matchless prowess by riddling seven tall trees, not even in a straight line, with a single potent arrow, let off almost playfully from your magnificent bow. When you had such boundless strength, courage and prowess, why at all did you seek the assistance of mere monkeys in the search for Sita
“SAlAn hi sapta sagirIn sa rasAtalAnyAn
EkEshu manda javatO nirapatraya: tvam
TEshu Eka vivyathana kinna bibhraNunnam
ShAkA mrigam mrigayasEsma katham sahAyam”
Oh Lord! You set out in Sri Ramavatara to enact the role of an ideal Man and to establish the standards of behaviour for human beings, by your own impeccable conduct. This being so, why did You perform superhuman acts like building a bridge across the ocean, with the aid of rocks and mountains playfully thrown on the water by monkeys
“MAnushyakam charitam Acharitum pravritta:
dEvAdhikam charitam anga! Kim angyakArshI:
yat sAgarE batha babandhita nAtha! sEthum
shailai: plavangama samingita sampraNunnai:”
“When Vibhishana fell at your feet at your camp on the opposite shore of Lanka, how did you declare him to be the King of Lanka and perform an impromptu coronation, without even ascertaining the strength of enemy forces, with no strategy on hand for crossing the waters to Lanka, without any intelligence on the relative strengths of the armies? If you were indeed a man, how was it possible for you to display such supreme confidence in crowning Vibhishana the king of Lanka, with the war being a wide-open affair, with not a single arrow fired yet and the battle yet to be won ?” enquires Azhwan further
“abdhim na tErita, na jigyatha rAkshsEndram
naivAsya jagyitha yathA cha balAbalam tvam
nissamsaya: sapadi tasya padE abhyashincha:
tasyAnujam katham idam hi VibhIshanamcha”
Sri Rama might have considered Himself to be a man, but we do not agree, nor does Azhwan, in view of the numerous “atimAnusha” (superhuman) acts, which He adopts during this avatara. He might hide His Paratvam or supremacy behind a human façade, but His wisdom, prowess, etc. give Him away every time, whether it be the infructuous sharanagati to Samudra rAjA, the transformation of a wayside stone into the RishipatnI ahalyA, the single-handed annihilation of fourteen thousand rAkshasAs at JanasthAnam, the dispatch of JatAyu and Sabhari to exalted worlds and so on.
However, to us devotees, it matters little whether Sri Raghava was a Man or God. Each and every act, every little gesture of His, speaks volumes about how we should live, speak, act and think. He has endeared Himself to each one of us through His glorious conduct and the ideal relationships He forged with not only those near and dear, but with absolute strangers too. God or Man, He has pervaded every little nook and corner of our hearts, towering head and shoulders above Men and Gods alike.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore