“All of these subjects in the Ramayana seem very pitiable, and they may appear very distressing to the reciter, but actually they are not. Otherwise, why would Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Ramachandra, read daily about the activities of Lord Ramachandra, as described in the Ramayana itself?” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 34)
We are very fortunate to be living in the times that we do. Life expectancy is on the rise, technology is improving at an astounding rate, and there is such an abundance of food that most people are obsessed with trying to lose weight. The internet allows us to communicate with one other in an instant without ever having to pick up a phone or write a letter. Airplanes and cars let us travel around the world, visiting new places and meeting new people. We indeed have a lot to be thankful for.
These material comforts are all very nice, but the thing we should be most grateful for is the existence of the Vedas, and especially the Ramayana. The Vedas tell us that each person is born with three primary debts. Many of us accumulate debts in our day to day lives such as mortgages, auto and school loans. In a similar manner, just by taking birth, one automatically owes a debt to their parents and their forefathers, referred to as the pitrs. If it weren’t for our forefathers, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to take birth in the family that we do. The second debt we owe is to the demigods. Also known as the devatas, the demigods are in charge of managing the material world. Goddess Durga, Lord Indra, Ganesha, Shiva, etc. all bestow various material boons to those who please them. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, sanctions all the gifts given by the demigods, so one should know that nothing in this world can come of its own volition. We all need to eat. The food that gives us energy can only grow as a result of the rain provided by the demigods. A smart person realizes that everything in this creation belongs to God.
“In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajna [sacrifice], supply all necessities to man. But he who enjoys these gifts, without offering them to the demigods in return, is certainly a thief.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.12)
The third debt we owe is to the great rishis, or sages of the past. Most people seek out the four rewards of material life: dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksha (liberation). The great sages, however, seek a higher form of knowledge. They dedicate themselves to serving Lord Krishna, writing books about Him, and teaching others the science of self-realization. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation who appeared on earth some five hundred years ago, ordered two of His main disciples, Rupa and Sanatana Goswami, to write books about devotional service. Those who followed in their line have also written many books about Krishna and how to love Him. This is the mercy of the saints. They have no selfish motives. Their only business is to serve Krishna. They abandon all hopes of finding happiness in the material world. They have the gift of transcendental knowledge, and they are so unselfish that they are willing to share that information with others.
“Valmiki Muni meditated for fifty thousands of years, and then he wrote Ramayana. The Ramayana is not an ordinary book. You see? Therefore Ramayana is so much popular in India. Before the appearance of Rama, he wrote Ramayana, all the activities of Rama. So this Valmiki Muni... And what this Valmiki Muni was? This Valmiki Muni was a dacoit, a plunderer. He used to plunder, I mean to say, innocent men on the road, kill him and take everything. That was his business. But by chance, he was associated with Narada Muni, and he rectified him. This is the process. When a devotee meets even a dacoit like Valmiki Muni, he becomes... Narada Muni elevated so many fallen souls. This Valmiki Muni was also. So he was given this mantra, ‘Rama.’ He could not chant it. Then he was advised to just the opposite, mara. Mara means dead body. So mara mara mara. Three mara means one ‘Rama" is there. So in this way he was initiated and he became a great sage. For sixty thousands of years he meditated simply on ‘Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.’ And when he was liberated, he wrote this Ramayana.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, New York, Dec 23, 1966)
Maharishi Valmiki wrote the original Ramayana, the historical account of the life and pastimes of God’s incarnation as Lord Rama. The story lives on to this very day. Set in the Treta Yuga, the Ramayana enlightens us on the true meaning of life; love and devotion to God. The Lord advented specifically to reinstitute religious principles and to give protection to His devotees.
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself. In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Bg 4.7-8)
By reading the Ramayana, we can follow along with the Lord’s every move. The work may seem long to some, but to devotees, it couldn’t be long enough. Material facilities may seem to improve our lives on the surface, but they actually cause us to be bound to them, which can lead to pain and misery. The Ramayana, along with other Vedic texts, is our escape valve.
We are greatly indebted to Maharishi Valmiki for writing this work and allowing us to lose ourselves in the holy lake of Rama’s acts. Goswami Tulsidas also wrote another wonderful book about Lord Rama called the Ramacharitamanasa. The Lord may not be physically present before us, but reading about Him allows us to be directly connected to Him. It’s the greatest gift that we can receive.