“There was a king named Dasharatha. He owned chariots, elephants and horses, and was of a pure nature, very famous, straightforward, and of great reputation.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.2)
rājā daśaratho nāma ratha kunjara vājinām |
puṇya śīlo mahākīrtiḥ ṛjuḥ āsīn mahāyaśāḥ ||
To the person unfamiliar with the standing of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in scientific terms, a hurdle in getting that understanding is sight. The first question is often, “Can you show me God? If He exists, why can’t I see Him?” In this verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman gives an answer to that question. He explains exactly to whom God appears. He provides the qualities of such a person in great detail.
Incarnations, expansions, demigods, Vishnu forms, tattvas, the soul, the Supersoul, the material nature, reincarnation - Vedic culture is filled with complex terms that are certainly overwhelming in the beginning to someone who has never heard of them. Slowing things down, taking a more deliberate approach, gives us the opportunity to see the bigger picture and thus more easily understand the separate puzzle pieces, which can actually fit together well, working harmoniously within the mind of the aspiring transcendentalist looking for the perfection of the human form of life.
“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that whenever and wherever there is a discrepancy in the practice of religion, and an accompanying rise of irreligion, at that time He descends Himself to the realm where there is the problem. This answers the question of when God appears and also what the conditions of society must be. The tricky part is knowing exactly what God looks like in those appearances. It is not that He changes. He is unchanging. He is also a singular personality. One appearance is identical to another. Simply the display of transcendental qualities varies with each appearance. That display fits the circumstances. It also meets the specific desires of the individuals most affected by that appearance.
The Ramayana describes the appearance of Krishna as Shri Ramachandra. Who is Ramachandra? He is the son of Dasharatha. And who is Dasharatha? Hanuman tells us. Dasharatha is a king who owned chariots, elephants and horses. This means that he was not a pauper among kings. To be a ruler means to have control. In order to have control you need a way to wield authority. You can’t have authority if you don’t have anything to use. I can be a high court judge, but if I’m missing a gavel, a robe, and a courtroom, I am a judge in name only. I can be the commissioner of a sports league, but if I have no way of getting the teams to listen to me, my title is meaningless.
Dasharatha is a real king. He could travel anywhere with his chariots. His name means “one who can combat chariots coming from the ten directions simultaneously.” One chariot attacks from the east. Another from the west, and two more from the north and the south. Then another four chariots come from the four corners. If that wasn’t enough, two more chariots attack from up and down. Dasharatha can defend against all of them. He uses his chariots, elephants and horses to defend.
And why does he defend? Because he is of a pure nature. He is also straightforward. This means that as a king he does not play favorites. He is not like the police officer who suddenly turns on the emergency lights because they aren’t patient enough to wait at a red light at an intersection. He is not like the judge who tries any which way to interpret the law so that their particular favored policy can become legal. He is not like the government ruler who sticks his henchmen on groups that he does not like. Dasharatha is pure; there are no faults in him.
Dasharatha is also very famous. When something happens to him, everyone hears about it. He has everything going for him as a king. When he reached old age, everyone knew that he didn’t have any sons. To this purest of kings, God appeared as Shri Ramachandra. Dasharatha did not demand to see God. He did not suddenly lose faith in righteous principles because he was lacking a son. He had done everything right. He protected all the people. He defended the innocent against the attacks of the wicked. He maintained three wives simultaneously, and still no son.
Krishna appeared to Dasharatha and delighted him with His transcendental form. Rama was like Dasharatha in qualities, and so there was naturally a bond of affection. Rama was Dasharatha’s life and soul. The rise of irreligion at the time did not have to do with the King of Ayodhya. It had to do with the King of Lanka, Ravana. Rama appeared to a pious man, and from there inherited the role of defender of the pious. Rama always has this role, but in this appearance on earth He gave the benediction of taking the torch from the wonderful father, the straightforward Dasharatha.
More than just doing away with Ravana and defending the pious sages who dwelt mostly in the forest, Rama increased the devotion of Dasharatha. The king did not have to know that Rama was God. The attachment was enough to give perfection in life. So the more important question is “how can I serve God?” This is more important than seeing Him. Here Shri Hanuman is serving. He has already seen Rama and accepted the order from Him to look for His missing wife Sita. These words are spoken to be heard by Sita, who is presently in distress in the Ashoka grove in Lanka. God appears to the most pure souls like Dasharatha, and He is served forever by the amazingly poetic like Hanuman.
How God to see,
When to appear before me?
From Bhagavad-gita learn,
How one His vision can earn.
Stock of Dasharatha’s qualities take,
How ideal king and father to make.
In such a king defending without any fear,
Beautiful Rama as beloved son to appear.