By: Ranilo Abando (Manila, October 28, 2020) ***
The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic of India that follows the story of Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his beloved wife Sita from the custody of Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka, with the help of an army of monkeys. The epic is considered to have been written by the sage Valmiki and was dated to about 500 B.C. – 100 B.C.
The Abduction of Sita in the Forest
Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, fell in love with Sita, the wife of Rama of Ayodhya. So, Ravana disguised himself as a hermit and went to Sita’s hut in the forest begging for food. Sita did not realize he was the demon king Ravana who has a sinister plan against her. Ravana picked up the ground where she was standing to carry out Sita’s abduction. Ravana took Sita to Lanka and planned to make her the queen of his kingdom.
Sita became very lonely because she was separated from her husband. He was the only one she wanted to have her body and her heart. Because of her loyalty to Rama, she rejected all of Ravana’s advances and decided to sleep under a tree.
Ravana had many women, who dedicated their lives to give him pleasure. But he had forgotten all about them. Now Sita was his greatest and only treasure. Even though Ravana claimed to love Sita, he was not willing to return her to her husband and put an end to her pain. He decided to conquer her with lies and deceive and take Sita against her will. It was his passionate affection for Sita and his avid obsession to make her his wife.
When Rama learned about the abduction of Sita, he went on to rescue her by allying himself with Hanuman, the monkey king, and his army of monkeys. Rama and the army of monkeys then fought a battle against the army of Ravana and Rama himself killed Ravana. Rama then rescued Sita and went back to Ayodhya.
This is the hidden meaning of the allegory: In the Ramayana, Rama was a fairly evolved human seat of consciousness (spirit) who incarnated on earth – meaning, he assumed a virtual physical body in this physical world built by his lower mind. Rama is referred to within Hinduism as Maryada Purushottama, literally the “Lord of Self-Control”. He came from Ayodhya, which literally means a place where there is no conflict. So Rama represents the human spirit which originally came from the spiritual realm of eternal peace and bliss, in contrast to this virtual physical world which is characterized by conflicts and suffering.
Sita is the daughter of the earth goddess Bhumi. Her adoptive father, Janaka, found her while plowing the earth. Ultimately, she goes back to mother earth. Sita therefore represents the virtual human physical body.
Thus, Rama, the human seat of consciousness or spirit, gets wedded to a virtual physical body – a process commonly called human incarnation. Once that human being is born in this world, his spirit ceases to dwell in eternal peace and bliss. By its very nature, conflicts necessarily occur in this world and inevitably experienced by that human being. So, he goes to the jungle with Sita. Jungle means the forest of dualities and conflicts of opposites – good vs. evil, reason vs. passions, ordered life vs. deterioration, predator vs. prey, etc. This jungle includes the unpredictable and treacherous terrain within the passion programs in our nature. The associated sufferings and lessons are all meant to jolt and force the progressive evolution of the human mind and spirit within us. That is the purpose and nature of the virtual physical world where we live today.
Ravana represents the “beast” aspect of the human lower mind – the aspect that runs our passion programs, like lust, hate, greed, jealousy, sadness, etc. Ravana abducting Sita, means that our dark passions often hijack our physical body into doing such things as revenge, killing, rape, stalking and other malevolent deeds without regard to the thinking mind’s sober reasoning and careful assessment of adverse consequences of such actions. In that situation, the Rama within us has lost control of the physical body. Fortunately, that Rama will eventually reassert itself and triumph in the end – retaking Sita from Ravana.
Rama, representing the human spirit, accomplishes that rescue through the help of Hanuman the monkey, which represents the human thinking mind. The “thinker” aspect of our human mind, though limited in power while in these lower levels of the mind column, is an important ally of our spirit. It gives us the power of reasoning, compared to the slow-to-develop instincts such as fight or flight.
The human mind, though, has the quality of diminished concentration and attention, compared to the higher mind which is free from physical embodiment. This same monkey symbolism is present in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, when the heart of the dead is being weighed using a feather on a balance in the Papyrus of Ani. That monkey has the same meaning — the human thinking mind that was brought down into these depths of the lower mind. The monkey was used for such symbolism because it is perceived by ancients to possess guile and cunning.
I have read once in CNN about the news of a 14-year-old girl who described how innocence was ripped from her by the bombing and fighting in Syria. She said “I discovered how cruel life can be, and how in one second a smile can turn into a tear, peace into war, a friend into an enemy and life into death.” Indeed, war can jolt the human spirit from its stupor. War may help awaken the spirit, mind and consciousness in many people, but for me, I hope we do not have to experience it. It is too much suffering.
War is an extreme version of the allegorical “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” where the fishes and sea creatures which swam close to the churning rod are torn into pieces by the turbulence. In the Ramayana, those who lead the opposing sides in the allegorical churning are Hanuman, who represents the thinking part of the human mind, and Ravana who represents the “beast” part. The constant war between these two opposing aspects within our nature eventually results in the progressive evolution of our minds and eventual triumph of our spirits.
The Battle of Lanka
After Sita was abducted by the wicked king Ravana, Rama was maddened by grief. While wandering around the forest searching for his beloved, Rama met Surgriva, an exiled monkey prince, and established an alliance with him in order to regain his wife. Rama could now also count on the loyal support of the monkey general Hanuman, and his strong army of monkeys. Ravana tried to defeat and kill Rama and his army of monkeys but was repulsed with great losses. Rama decided then to attack Lanka to regain his wife.
An extremely fierce battle of Lanka, took place between the army of Rama’s monkey allies, headed by the mighty Hanuman, holder of magical powers, against the army of the rakshasas headed by Ravana. The outcome was uncertain until Rama killed Ravana in single combat. Rama sent for Sita, but refused to take her back because she had lived in Ravana’s palace. He insisted that she must prove her innocence of any infidelity by going through the ordeal of fire. Having survived that ordeal, she was accepted by Rama, and the two were finally reunited.
I guess you can already see the hidden meaning of the above allegory. The Battle of Lanka is being fought everyday within each of us. It is the battle between a person’s “thinker” aspect of the mind, which is the tool of his seat of consciousness (spirit) in seeking spiritual light, and the “beast” aspect of his lower mind, representing his dark passions like greed, hate, fear, sadness, jealousy, lust, anger, etc. which were originally meant to motivate him to survive in this world but are now holding his spirit back from being delivered from the darkness of the various realities built by his lower mind.
I once watched the movie “Life of Pi”. It is about an Indian (Hindu) boy who got shipwrecked and stranded in the ocean onboard a lifeboat together with a lion, hyena, orangutan and zebra. It is sort of a fantasy movie. What can be said is that there are two versions of his story while surviving at sea. One is allegorical and the other is non-allegorical. It is just like religious writing — you can believe the unbelieavable which is the allegorical version, or you can choose to know the true meaning which is the non-allegorical version. Most people choose to believe the unbelievable because it is simple and requires less mental abstracting. Billions of people believe the stories in the various holy scriptures about vengeful gods who destroy cities and spread plagues. But you have the choice now to know the books’ hidden non-allegorical meaning. The movie Life of Pi gives us the same choice.
(Thanks to pixabay.com for the Ramayana photos above)