Friday, September 18, 2009

Road Trip

 Incidents from the Ramayana “A man who reads this Ramayana story, which leads to long life, will, after death, rejoice in heaven together with his sons, grandsons, and kinfolk.” (Narada Muni speaking to Maharishi Valmiki, Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kand, Sec 1)

Few things in life can be as exciting and liberating as the “Road Trip”. When we get group of friends together and take a long distance journey in a car, the possibilities are endless. New adventures are on the horizon and no one quite knows how events will play out. Therein lies the appeal of the road trip.

Life in the material world can get to be boring very quickly. In any stage of life, but especially in our adolescent and young adult years, our days can become very regimented and stressful. As students, we are required to get up early to attend school and as soon as we come home, we are forced to complete our homework or study for exams. There are vacations every now and then, but the majority of the year is spent in school. As adults, the typical job requires us to go to the office from 9 am to 5 pm. When we come home, we are too tired to do anything fun. We usually just relax and wait for the next work day to arrive.

Friends Gandalf episodeFrom time to time, we want something different in our lives, something to get us excited. Weekends offer some hope, but even those days can become boring. Two days out of each week just isn’t enough time to do anything really fun and worthwhile. The road trip is our chance to be spontaneous and add a little unpredictability to our lives. On a road trip, anything can happen since there aren’t any set plans. We may have a certain destination that we are traveling to, but there is no set itinerary. We can stop off anywhere we want for lunch and dinner, or we may take various detours along the journey to see interesting sights. The beauty of the road trip is that you’ll never know where you might end up or what you might be doing. In the television sitcom Friends, there was an episode where two of the male characters, Chandler and Ross, were excited because their friend Gandalf was coming to town. In this particular episode, they both happily uttered the phrase, “Dude…We are so gonna party!” in anticipation of their meeting with Gandalf. Gandalf was known as the Party Wizard to his friends because they could never predict where he was going to take them, thus both Chandler and Ross were very eagerly anticipating the prospect of another wild night of partying with him.

Going on road trips and partying may bring us short term excitement, but there was one road trip in particular that still brings pure bliss to millions of people around the world.  This was the journey taken by Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in India. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descends to earth from time to time to reinstitute the laws of dharma as He states in the Bhagavad-gita:

“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.” (Bg 4.7)

Rama DarbarAs Lord Rama, God took the form of a kshatriya prince dedicated to dharma and to serving and protecting His devotees. Rama was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Ayodhya, ruled by His father Maharaja Dashratha, but due to unforeseen events, the kingdom was bequeathed to His younger brother Bharata. Along with this decision, the Lord was also ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile. Now He hadn’t done anything wrong, but Dashratha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi, who was also Bharata’s mother, was afraid that Rama would try to usurp the kingdom from her son. Thus she ordered the exile and the Lord happily obliged. God is always full in six opulences, with renunciation being one of them. Prepared to set out for the forest by Himself, His wife Sita Devi and younger Lakshmana both refused to let Him go alone.

The trio finally set out for the forest, but they had trouble shaking the town residents. Everyone loved Rama, for He was a flawless human being who was kind and compassionate towards all. The citizens of Ayodhya loved Him so much that they were willing to abandon their homes and spend the exile period in the forest with Him. As pious souls, they were firmly attached to God and they felt there was no pleasure in a life without Him. They all wanted to be part of the road trip, but Rama knew that forest life would be very difficult for them. Akin to living a life of homelessness, the woods were reserved for people who had their senses under complete control, such as the yogis and renounced brahmanas. Lord Rama did not want to cause His fellow citizens any pain, so He devised a way to escape from their company. Early on in their journey, Rama and His party awoke early in the morning while the citizens who had followed them were still sleeping. The Lord advised the royal charioteer, Sumantra, to make two sets of tracks with his chariot so that the citizens would not be able to tell which way the group had gone. This plan worked, as the townspeople were unable to find Lord Rama when they awoke, thus they retreated back home.

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha The citizens of Ayodhya didn’t have the benefit of following the Lord, for they had to wait fourteen years for His triumphant return. However, due to the mercy of the great sage Maharishi Valmiki, all of us can come along on Lord Rama’s road trip. The Valmiki Ramayana has all the details of the Lord’s journey, with His glorious pastimes described in great detail. In their fourteen years in the forest, Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana engaged in many insightful and delightful conversations. They visited various hermitages, receiving the blessings and benedictions of the great sages. Lord Rama and Lakshmana killed many a Rakshasa, including Ravana, who was the most powerful of all. It was in the forest that they made friends with the Vanaras, including Rama’s greatest devotee, Hanuman. The stories are timeless and they wrap the soul in a blanket of pure bliss. There is no greater feeling in life than to have association with God, and thanks to Valmiki, we can all enjoy His association. The Ramayana is the spiritual trip of a lifetime.