“The eldest son to that king was named Rama. He was very dear, had a face resembling the moon, was a knower of distinctions, and was the best among all wielders of the bow.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 31.6)
tasya putraḥ priyo jyeṣṭhaḥ tārā adhipa nibha ānanaḥ |
rāmo nāma viśeṣajñaḥ śreṣṭhaḥ sarva dhanuṣmatām ||
Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His famous avatara form of a warrior prince who roamed this earth during the second time period of creation, is often described to be the knower of the self. These are the words used many times by Shri Hanuman, who knows Rama very well. To know the self is a good qualification, for such knowledge is not easy to come by. Rather, everyone first knows what is not the self, i.e. maya. This maya is synonymous with illusion, and so it is natural for the Supreme Lord to not be affected by illusion. In this verse from the Ramayana Rama is also described to be the knower of distinctions, visheshajna. If we think about it, this also makes sense.
I know my hands. I know what they look like. I know my legs, my hair, my ears, and my eyes as well. I am with these things every day. I never knew of a time when I did not have them. In the darkness of ignorance, I think that these things identify me, when they really don’t. In the Bhagavad-gita, these body parts are compared to a covering, something which is assumed at one point and then discarded later on.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
Unfortunately, I think that the body types on other species identify them as well. Even still, I am not very familiar with all of them. I can’t identify every single species right away. If I grow up in a closed environment, where I only see people of a certain ethnicity, I am also prone to mistakenly thinking that others of a different ethnicity are inherently different. This is the product of illusion.
To know the self, or atma, is not easy. It is the first instruction for those seeking self-realization. It would make sense that if you want to realize the self you would have to know what the self is. This is the real goal of yoga. The concocted systems of today, where the practitioners sit in a one hundred degree room and sweat out the pain, do not touch on this. But in fact yoga is for no other purpose than to know the self. Through contorting the body in certain ways and meditating one has a better chance of eliminating the influence of the external body, which covers up the soul that is pure.
Rama knows the self because He is the Supreme Self. There are two souls within each body. One is an individual and one is God. God is different from an individual in this regard because He is not restricted access to anywhere. Moreover, He is everywhere, as the same person. The Supreme Self inside of me is the same Supreme Self inside of you; they are not two different people, though you and I are. Thus Rama knows everything. He sees everything; He is the all-pervading witness.
Here Hanuman continues to describe Him. Previously he referenced Rama’s father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Of course God does not have a father, but due to His causeless mercy when He appears on earth He gives exalted individuals the chance to act in that role. Indeed, we think that we are the father to our children, but those souls lived elsewhere before. We only get the chance to guide them in a particular human birth. With the proper guidance, wherein God consciousness is imbibed, both we and the children derive a supreme benefit.
“No one should become a spiritual master - nor a relative, father, mother, worshipable Deity or husband - if he cannot help a person escape the imminent path of death.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.18)
A knower of the self views a dog, a cow, an elephant, and a dog-eater equally. This is because they see the spirit soul inside of each. Such a person may not know exactly how to treat all other living entities, though. This is a special skill only available to God. He knows both the spiritual and the material. The distinct qualities are part of the material; they are known as gunas. So He knows the spirit soul inside of everyone and He also knows what every quality covering that soul means.
In this context, the description of visheshajna, which also means “expert,” applies to Rama’s ability to handle the bow. Hanuman says that Rama is the best of those who carry the bow, which is a weapon of ancient times that packed more potency than any of today’s advanced weapons. With a single arrow shot from His famous bow, Rama could destroy the world, if He so desired.
His knowledge of distinct qualities was used on many occasions, especially to defend innocent sages in the forest from night-rangers. These creatures resorted to trickery when necessary. They could change their shapes at will and also disappear from sight. How are you supposed to fight against something you can’t see? But Rama knows all the distinct qualities surrounding the soul, so He cannot be fooled by such illusion.
Know that He sees all right now as well. He continues to witness all actions in this realm, whether we notice Him or not. This means that the kind words offered here by Shri Hanuman towards Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, were witnessed by Rama. He also takes note of the person sympathetic to Hanuman. He notices their appreciation of that brave warrior’s devotion. Most importantly, Rama takes note of any pure utterance of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. He rewards the person accordingly, with His eternal association in a personal form, full of transcendental qualities to be noticed and appreciated.
At birth into illusion to go,
So difficult for the self to know.
Qualities in creatures also shown,
But not all to one person known.
Shri Rama the exception lone,
Knowledge of spirit and matter to own.
Witnesses all, including acts of today,
Rewards those who purely His name say.