“Rama always gives in charity but never takes any. He always speaks the truth and never tells a lie. O brahmana, this is Rama’s highest vow and He is incapable of deviating from it.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.17)
A hero is a person who stands up to help others, even under the most difficult circumstances. When the chips are down, a hero is a person you can count on to save the day. A hero is brave, fearless, and ever committed to the welfare of others. In this regard, Lord Rama, an incarnation of God who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago, can correctly be identified as a hero. Lord Rama was at His best when the going got tough. He was often put to the test, but it was never enough to bring Him down.
In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, is describing His virtues to the demon Ravana. At the time, Rama, Sita, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were residing in the forest of Janasthana. Lord Rama was the son of a king, but through an unfortunate series of events, He was banished from His kingdom. Sita and Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him on His sojourn through the forest. Ravana was a Rakshasa demon. He appeared in front of Sita in the guise of a brahmana, so as to fool her into letting her guard down. Ravana had many wives, but after he heard of Sita’s beauty, he had to have her. He set up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from the group’s cottage. Ravana, while in the guise of a mendicant, used this opportunity to approach Sita and proposition her.
Sita was a little taken aback upon first seeing the brahmana. She had just yelled at Lakshmana to go check on Rama, so she was already a little flustered. At the same time, Sita was a highly pious person, so she knew that etiquette called for her to receive the brahmana in a welcoming fashion. Sita obliged by first offering the brahmana food, water, and a nice place to sit. Ravana took advantage of her kindness by propositioning her. Normally, Sita would have chastised a person for speaking that way. She was completely devoted to Rama after all, and she never even thought of another man. Yet she knew that it wasn’t right to yell at a brahmana, or priest. Thus she decided to kindly identify herself. In so doing, she described the virtues of her husband. In the above referenced statement, she makes special note of Rama’s defining virtuous characteristics. In case the brahmana had any other intentions, Sita made sure to inform him that her husband was brave and courageous. Rama would be coming back at any moment, so the brahmana should know that Rama would defend and protect Sita under any and all circumstances.
From the first part of Sita’s description, we see that Rama always gave in charity and never took any for Himself. Giving in charity is an obvious sign of chivalry and virtue. Charity means voluntarily sacrificing one’s possessions and wealth for the benefit of those in need. The Vedas give us a more concrete definition of charity than what we normally take it to be. In the Vedic tradition, charity should only be given to brahmanas, or priests. Brahmanas engage in specific activities such as reading the Vedas, teaching Vedic wisdom to others, performing sacrifices, teaching others how to perform sacrifices, and accepting charity. Since they generally don’t earn a living on their own, their lifestyle is very meager. They rely on the charity of others to survive. Not only do they accept charity, but they are completely deserving of it. Since all of their activities are religious in nature, they don’t have time to go out and earn a living. Therefore it is the duty of others in society to take care of their needs. This rule especially applied to kings. The kshatriyas, or warrior class, were the rulers of society. They acted as the government, and their primary duty was to provide protection to others. In terms of the body, the kshatriyas can be thought of as the arms. The arms do more than just protect, however, for they can perform certain Vedic sacrifices and also give away charity to others.
Lord Rama used to give very generously in charity. In fact, just before leaving for the forest, both He and Sita gave away all of their most valuable possessions to the brahmanas. One brahmana in particular was shy about asking Lord Rama for charity. At the insistence of his wife, the brahmana went and approached Lord Rama. The Lord was so pleased to see the brahmana that He asked him to throw a rod as far as he could. To the brahmana, Rama would give away as many cows as would occupy the land between the spot where the rod was launched and where it would land. Even after the sage threw the rod, Lord Rama laughed and said that He was only joking, and that He would give the brahmana whatever He wanted. The brahmana was satisfied with the cows given to him, and thus went away happy.
This was the standard etiquette adhered to by all the pious kings of the past. Brahmanas give us so much valuable information. Brahmana means one who knows Brahman, the impersonal effulgence feature of the Supreme Lord. Everything is Brahman, thus one who understands it knows that there is no difference between living entities. Every person is a spirit soul at their core, so there is no reason to use unnecessary violence towards others. Brahmanas teach others how to realize Brahman, meaning they teach others about the non-dual nature of things, and how there is a difference between matter and spirit. Those who know Brahman have a better chance of understanding its source: God.
Lord Rama also never took in charity. The Lord appeared during the Treta Yuga, or the second time period of creation. Some calculations say that this occurred millions of years ago, while others say it was many thousands of years ago. Either way, it was certainly a long time ago, and the governments operated a little differently than they do today. Regardless of the time period, however, all governments are similar with respect to tax collection. A government needs operating revenue, which can only come through the levying of taxes, tariffs, and fees. The kingdom which Lord Rama presided over, Ayodhya, certainly taxed its citizens, but this cannot be considered the acceptance of charity. Charity involves voluntarily giving up money and possessions. Taxes involve coercion, which can be thought of as a forced form of charity. If governments properly provide protection, this taxation, in a limited form, is justified.
“That gift which is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return, is considered to be charity in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.20)
For a kshatriya to accept charity is considered a bad thing because, as mentioned before, charity is only intended for brahmanas. The Vedas tell us that all our material activities involve karma, meaning there are reactions to everything that we do. This includes the area of charity. For example, if we give money to a homeless person on the street, and they in turn use that money to buy drugs or alcohol, we really haven’t done anything worthwhile for that person. In some respects, we have only made their life worse. The Vedas tell us that all charitable giving should be performed with these considerations in mind. If we give money to someone who is not worthy of it, we are actually committing a sin. The sin also applies to the person accepting the charity. Thus Rama was completely pure in all respects, for He knew He wasn’t worthy of others’ charity, and thus never accepted it.
Sita declared that part of Rama’s unbreakable vow was His commitment to telling the truth. This is certainly a rarity for the government leaders of today. In America, most politicians are lawyers by trade, thus they are skilled at cheating the law and using word jugglery to their advantage. This isn’t to say that lawyers are bad people, but rather they are required to be good at certain things in order to do their job well. This includes being able to bend and shape the text of laws to give them new meanings. Politicians are so good at lying and twisting words, that people have come up with a term for the practice: political spin.
Political parties practice spin tactics all the time. In America, the most watched political news shows each week are the Sunday morning talk shows. Between 8 am and noon on Sundays, each major network has a talk show dedicated to covering the biggest news items of the week. These shows feature guests and have roundtable discussions with expert panelists. The guests on these shows are always major political figures; either people running for office, current office holders, or even the President of the United States. Many times, the same guest appears on each show so as to not show favoritism to any particular network. And what is the purpose of going on these shows? To distribute political spin, of course. Each party sends out “talking points” to their members during the week. These talking points stress certain ideas and buzz words to be used when being interviewed. Thus members of both political parties end up all sounding alike. A President can do four different interviews on one particular day and end up giving the same answers to each interviewer.
Lord Rama was not like this. He was dedicated to the truth. It was His commitment to honesty that led Him to the forest. Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, previously promised two boons to his youngest wife, Queen Kaikeyi. After Kaikeyi asked for Rama’s banishment to the forest, Dasharatha was thinking about reneging on his promises. Rama knew that if the king did this, he would be committing a great sin. In order to protect His father’s reputation, and that of the Ikshvaku dynasty, Rama insisted on serving out the fourteen year exile term. Even after Dasharatha passed away later on, Rama still refused to go back to the kingdom, for He believed that Dasharatha’s commitment to the truth didn’t end after his death.
Lord Rama was an ideal man, husband, older brother, father, and king. More than anything else, He is a hero that we can look up to and worship, for He is God after all. We are the intended beneficiaries of Rama’s heroism. We spirit souls are swimming in this ocean of nescience and hopelessly looking for a way out. Lord Rama, in the form of His holy name, is the life raft that can safely carry us to shore. Those who constantly recite the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are assured of being rescued and taken back to the spiritual world.