Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Better Than a Superhero

 Lord Rama“O Sita, there is none who can defeat your husband. There is not the least doubt in this. Worshipful madam, the celestials, animals, birds, and others…there is none among them who can withstand Rama, who equals the lord of celestials, Indra, in warfare. In fact there is none who can do away with Rama in battle.” (Lakshmana speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 45)

The latest Batman movie to be released, The Dark Night, set records for box office attendance. Based on the fictional superhero character of the same name, previous Batman movies also enjoyed similar successes with movie goers. The Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies were so popular that they spawned multiple sequels. The Spiderman movies are another popular series. It seems the best way to ensure a box office hit these days is to come out with a fantasy movie involving one or more superheroes.

The Star Wars movies hold their own unique place in our culture. The first movie, released in 1976, was so popular that people eagerly anticipated the five movies that followed over the next thirty plus years. Fans would camp out in movie theater parking lots just so they could be the first ones to see the new movies. Others would dress up as their favorite characters as a sign of loyalty and adoration. Fans would go back to the theaters to see the same movie two and three times. They just couldn’t get enough.

The popularity of these and other movies involving superheroes shows our natural affinity towards strength and courage. We like to see the good guys win. We understand that we are mere mortals and have limited abilities, so we are drawn to those who can rise above the limitations of ordinary human beings. Superheroes have extraordinary powers that enable them to defeat enemies of immense strength. Movies like Spiderman, Superman, and Batman show ordinary people doing extraordinary things through their special powers. The heroes struggle through adversity, but never give up, and always win in the end. We see evil all around us in our daily lives and we feel helpless in stopping it. Superheroes give us hope that maybe someone is out there who can protect us and give us peace of mind.

Spiderman BatmanStar Wars Though these stories are very nice and uplifting, they are nonetheless fictional. They were drawn up by the imagination of writers and comic book creators. Once the movie ends, we go back to our normal lives, where superheroes don’t exist. All hope is not lost however.

Many thousands of years ago, there was a great demon by the name of Ravana who was wreaking havoc throughout the world. He had performed many great austerities in order to please the demigods and they rewarded him with special powers. According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the demigods are elevated living entities who manage the affairs of the material world. They are not God, but they have been deputed by Him to handle different departments relating to karmic activity, similar to the way a President will have a variety of Cabinet secretaries handling specific areas of government. The demigods grant benedictions to pretty much anyone who pleases them to their satisfaction. In Ravana’s case, He was given ten heads and granted the boon that no demigod, celestial being, or animal could defeat him. Lost in the jubilation of his new found powers, Ravana forgot to ask to be immune from human beings. Ravana belonged to the Rakshasa race, people who lived off eating flesh and drinking wine. He was an enemy to devotees of God and he persecuted them every chance he could get. Ravana steadily rose to power as a result of the boons he received. The demigods were all afraid of him, as were the great sages, or brahmanas, living in the forests.

Lord Vishnu, God Himself, was informed of the situation by the demigods. To relieve their stressful situation and give protection to the sages, He decided to incarnate on earth as a human being in the form of Lord Rama. He appeared as an ordinary human being, who was the kindest, nicest, most courageous, and the most dedicated to dharma, or righteousness, of all people. He had no desire to please Himself in any way. He was completely dedicated to those who were dependent on Him. The name Rama actually means “one who gives pleasure”. At the request of His father, the king of Ayodhya, and step-mother, the Lord spent fourteen years as an exile from His kingdom. His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him to the forest, for they didn’t want the Lord to suffer alone. God actually never suffers, but since He was playing the role of a human being, He agreed to put Himself into stressful situations for the benefit of others. One day while they were living in the forest, a demon by the name of Marica appeared in front of their cottage in the guise of a deer. Sita was very much enamored by the deer and requested Rama to catch it for her, with its life in tact if possible. The Lord chased the demon a long way, finally piercing it with an arrow. As Marica gave up his life, he revealed his original Rakshasa form, and cried out for help in the voice of Rama. Sita, hearing this and getting worried, told Lakshmana to see if Rama was alright. In response, Lakshmana, in the above referenced quote, reminded her that Rama was unconquerable in battle and that the sound must have been an illusion. Nevertheless, as events played out, Lakshmana would end up leaving Sita’s side to go check on His brother, which gave Ravana the opportunity to kidnap Sita and take her to his palace.

Already an exile ranging the forest, now the Lord had to deal with the abduction of His most beautiful and chaste wife. Rama persevered and with the help of the Vanaras, monkey-like people dwelling in the forest, He was able to defeat Ravana in battle and rescue Sita, proving Lakshmana’s words to be true.

Rama's army fighting Ravana We needn’t look to movies or comic books to find a superhero. Lord Rama is the ultimate protector, with powers greater than those of any fictional character. God comes to this earth from time to time specifically so we can have someone to look up to and worship. In times of trouble, we need only turn to Him, as He is the most powerful and most courageous. The lessons from Lord Rama’s story are timeless. The Star Wars movies depicted material advancement in the modes of warfare. Even with advanced weaponry, Darth Vader’s empire was defeated by the powers of good, represented by the Jedis. Similarly, Ravana’s great powers achieved through great boons were no match for Rama’s army, consisting of monkeys hurling rocks and trees. The monkeys, headed by Rama’s greatest devotee Hanuman, were fighting for the good guys, with God on their side, so their victory was guaranteed. Ravana’s demon army cast many illusory spells and used trickery as their weapons. Lord Rama and His brother Lakshmana used simple bows and arrows to defeat them. That is the power of God. He can turn a simple arrow into something more powerful than the strongest nuclear weapon.

God is eternal and so are His various forms. Lord Rama’s activities are still celebrated to this day in India and throughout the world. We are eternally indebted to Maharishi Valmiki and Goswami Tulsidas for giving us the story of the Lord in such great detail. We should all read the Valmiki Ramayana or Ramacharitamanasa at least once in our lives. The story is so wonderful and moving, that we’ll never get tired of reading it. Though the actual events occurred many thousands of years ago, through the power of His holy name, Lord Rama is still with us, helping us fight the Ravanas of today. Let us always remember the Lord, chant His name, and offer Him our prayers. By so doing, our lives will become perfect.