Friday, May 3, 2013

The Mind’s Chariot

Sita and Rama“She looked as if she were travelling to the side of the self-realized Shri Rama, a lion among kings, using a chariot of desires yoked with horses of determination.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 19.7)

samīpam rājasimhasya rāmasya viditātmanaḥ |
saṅkalpahayasamyuktairyāntīmiva manorathaiḥ ||


This section of the Ramayana transitions from Shri Hanuman’s identification of Sita Devi, the missing wife of Lord Rama, to her interactions with the fiend who brought her to Lanka against her will. Hanuman found the princess after an exhaustive search, but his plan still wasn’t complete. He was asked by Rama to find Sita and give to her a ring inscribed with His name. This way Sita would know that Hanuman was indeed her husband’s messenger. From this verse found in the Ramayana, we get an idea of what Ravana saw when he again tried to win her over.

In the preceding verses it is described that Ravana awoke to the chanting of Vedic hymns. The Vedas are the original scriptural tradition of India. The original works consist only of various hymns, with the rituals and other supporting practices applied through tradition and observation of outward practice. The Ramayana represents an extension of the Vedas, where the same original principles are taught through story form, with the stories relating to real-life historical incidents. They touch on the amazing and the unbelievable, but none of the events should be mistaken for mythology, for anytime the Supreme Lord is involved we are bound to be amazed and impressed.

Valmiki writing the RamayanaThe straight singing of Vedic hymns can be likened to ordinary piety. You do things the right way just because you know that it is right. You’re not really sure what the ultimate purpose is, but you know that there is something pious with the behavior. This is sort of the attitude involved in singing Vedic hymns when there is no devotion to the Supreme Lord. That was the condition in Lanka, where Ravana had actually committed the greatest offense at the feet of the origin of spirit and matter. Ravana nevertheless thought himself to be very pious, so he awoke to the sound of Vedic hymns.

As he left his palace for the nearby Ashoka grove, female attendants followed him. They carried wine with them, though it was the early morning hours. Even in the civilized societies today, where drinking is very common, it is still considered in poor taste to get intoxicated in the morning. Someone who prefers to make their morning coffee “Irish” is considered a drunkard, a person with a major drinking problem. The label of “drunkard” aptly applied to Ravana, as he was constantly intoxicated.

Though he had plenty of wine and so many beautiful queens, he was still infatuated with Sita. She was the forbidden woman; she was already married to someone else. Ravana could have won Sita if he had defeated her husband in a fair fight, but he was advised not to go down that route. Instead, Ravana created a ruse where he took Sita away in secret. She immediately refused his advances, and so Ravana thought that after some time had passed maybe she would change her mind.

To his dismay, he found her to be in great distress. She covered up her belly-area as soon as Ravana arrived, and she was already disheveled in appearance. This was the result of her grief. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she looked like her mind was elsewhere too. Here it is described that her mind was like a chariot made up of desires. That chariot was driven by horses made of determination, or resolve, and it travelled to the side of Shri Rama, who is self-realized and a lion among kings.

Sita DeviThe various components of the verse tell us so much. To compare the mind to a chariot of desires is not very extraordinary. We all have desires. Sometimes they are very strong, as in the case of Ravana. But desires cannot be fulfilled without action. And so the desires that make up the chariot of the mind cannot really go anywhere unless there is action to be taken. In Sita’s case, she was married to someone who is absolute. This means that His name directly represents Him. So does His presence within the mind.

If I am separated from my wife in physical distance, there is no way for me to immediately reach her. I can try to move the chariot that is my mind which is desirous of meeting her, but there is no way for that chariot to move unless my body moves. Maybe I can make a phone call or send an email, but again that requires physical contact. I cannot just think of my wife and automatically be with her.

Rama is the Supreme Lord. In some traditions He is described as the original and in others He is considered an incarnation. Nevertheless, the incarnation is the same in potency as the original, so there is actually no difference between the various factions of Vaishnavism, or devotion to the personal aspect of God. Thinking of Rama is as good as being with Him, though it may not seem the case for even the liberated soul who feels intense separation. But again, the strong lament that one is still not by Rama’s side indicates real devotion. It seems like circular logic, but one who thinks of Rama in this way, all the time, is never actually bereft of His company.

Having the desire in this instance is a great start, and though you don’t need Rama’s physical presence to be with Him, you still need a way to move the chariot. In Sita’s case, her determination pulls the cart. Without determination, the desires within the mind will remain stationary. Think of it like wanting to get up out of bed to arrive at work on time but getting distracted by the warmth of the blanket. The thoughts of the tough day ahead at work also help to keep you laying on the bed. It is only determination that can get you out, that can help pull the desires towards the intended destination.

Lord RamaSimilarly, if there is no determination in trying to be by God’s side through thinking of Him, or no desire at all, then the association will not come. We can use the individual as an example to understand this, for it is said that the personal expansion known as the Supersoul resides within every living entity. The soul identifies us and the Supersoul identifies God. The Supersoul is all-pervading and it acts like a neutral witness. We don’t see the Supersoul or realize its presence because we lack the desire to see it. Either that or we don’t have the determination necessary to reach it.

Rama’s qualities strengthen that determination. He is a lion among kings. A lion is the king of the jungle, and the king is the ruler of a community. Rama is thus the king of kings; the best protector in the world. The best protector is the greatest shelter for the restless mind. Rama is also a knower of the self; He knows His true identity. Ravana, on the other hand, only knows kama, or lust. Kama is a fire strengthened by the fuel of ignorance. Knowledge is like a large bucket of water to douse the flames of kama. One who knows the self also knows others, and thus their association is worthwhile.

Sita conveyed all of this just by her vision, and so things didn’t look very good for Ravana. He foolishly forged ahead with his ill-fated idea, consumed as he was by lust. Sita was with Rama the whole time using the chariot of the mind, and pretty soon, through the help of Hanuman the couple would be together again in physical proximity as well.

In Closing:

When separated from Rama yourself find,

Travel to Him using chariot of the mind.

 

Ravana employed all tactics of intimidation,

Could not phase Sita and her determination.

 

God is absolute, no difference in His name,

Chant it regularly for His association to gain.

 

Sita’s mind revealed just from her sight,

Soon with husband Rama to reunite.

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