“While those two brothers wandered the earth in search of you, they saw the lord of monkeys, Sugriva, sitting atop Mount Rishyamukha, filled with trees. Having been dethroned by his brother, he was oppressed with fear, but pleasant to behold.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.24-25)
tvām eva mārgamāṇo tau vicarantau vasum dharām |
dadarśatuḥ mṛga patim pūrvajena avaropitam ||
ṛśyamūkasya pṛṣṭhe tu bahu pādapa samkule |
bhrātuḥ bhārya ārtam āsīnam sugrīvam priya darśanam ||
The Ramayana describes historical events relating to the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His incarnation of Rama. The name Rama is in the title to the work of epic length authored by Maharishi Valmiki. The term “author” isn’t completely accurate for the great poet, as the Ramayana is not a concoction of the mind or a work of fiction. It is a beautiful description of things that indeed happened, events to which Valmiki was privy based on his outstanding qualification.
That qualification came from years of chanting the holy name of Rama. In the beginning the chanting wasn’t pure. There is the term bhakti-yoga that describes the highest occupation for man. Another equivalent term is bhagavata-dharma. Bhakti means love and devotion and yoga is the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. In bhakti-yoga you try to connect with the Divine through acts of love and devotion.
Those who follow bhakti-yoga often speak of purity. Pure devotion is practiced when there is no desire for material gain, renunciation, or mystic perfection. From this very definition we see that typically bhakti-yoga practiced in the beginning is impure. After all, man knows no better in the early stages of life than to seek after material enjoyment, known as bhukti in Sanskrit. When a bitter taste follows the enjoyment, there is desire for renunciation, mukti. In between, when there is some knowledge of the spiritual science, there may be a desire for out of body experiences, abilities that would impress the entire world. This is known as siddhi.
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino 'rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me - the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
Shri Krishna describes the four kinds of people that are initially drawn to service to God. Before taking up chanting in earnest, Valmiki was a highway robber. You could say he was in the category of those wanting wealth. He stole to support his family. His heart changed after a chance encounter with Narada Muni. Based on the sage’s advice, Valmiki took up chanting the holy name.
After a long time he became pure, having been immersed in that transcendental sound. Free of any outside desire, he was qualified to expound on the glories of the Supreme Lord in His incarnation famous in the Treta Yuga, where He appeared as the son of King Dasharatha.
The Ramayana is quite lengthy, and there are many symbolic aspects to the factual events. When a leader does something, it serves as a way to guide others. Krishna Himself says in the Bhagavad-gita that what a great man does, others will follow.
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas
tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute
lokas tad anuvartate
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
For those interested in fraternal affairs, the Ramayana provides plenty of knowledge and guidance, and from all sides. How should a brother act? What to do if strife arises? Is it possible to have ideal relationships with friends and family? In the Ramayana, the first lesson in brotherly relations comes to us from the home of Dasharatha, where Rama grows up with three younger brothers. Rama is instantly paired with Lakshmana, while Bharata and Shatrughna are naturally attached to one another.
Lakshmana stands out when he refuses to allow Rama to go to the forest alone. Rama is the eldest one, and all the younger brothers adore Him. This makes sense, as Rama is God Himself. The other three are partial incarnations of the Supreme. Lakshmana accompanies Rama into the forest for fourteen years, refusing to allow Rama to suffer alone.
Then there is Bharata, who gets the throne handed to him, though he doesn’t want it. The move is also against protocol, as typically the eldest son is the heir-apparent. He insists that Rama take the throne instead, but Rama has respect for the orders of the father Dasharatha. On one side you have Lakshmana who refuses to listen to Rama, and on the other there is Bharata who reluctantly agrees to what Rama asks.
In a distant land there are three brothers living in different circumstances. They are of the Rakshasa species, which is a kind of ogre. Ravana is the most famous of the three, and he is the king of Lanka. Ravana has a bad character; adharma is his way of life. The younger brother Vibhishana is devoted to God since birth. Vibhishana tries his best to persuade Ravana to follow dharma, but Ravana doesn’t listen. Eventually Vibhishana renounces Ravana and takes the side of Rama, who is about to fight against Ravana in battle. Using the standard of mundane morality, Vibhishana is the greatest traitor.
Then there is another set of brothers to study. They are referenced in the above quoted verse from the Ramayana. These brothers are of the Vanara species, which is monkey-like. They live in the forest of Kishkindha. Sugriva is initially the king, but due to a misunderstanding the brother Vali becomes angry to the point of wanting to kill Sugriva. Sugriva then gets driven out of the kingdom by the more powerful brother.
From these relationships we learn that nothing is perfect in the material world. There is duality to everything, also. A younger brother should follow the example of the elder, but not always. If the elder is committed to adharma, then it is proper to renounce him. Sometimes a brother is justified in fighting against another, especially if he has been previously attacked unfairly.
Rama and Lakshmana met up with Sugriva in Kishkindha. Sugriva was living in an area known as Mount Rishyamukha. There he was safe from the attacks of Vali, through a curse applied by a sage. Despite the safety, Sugriva was still in fear. Thus another lesson comes to us. The fearful have their worries removed through the association of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Though the initial interaction may not be pure, through enough service things work themselves out. Through Rama’s favor, Sugriva won back his kingdom. He was such an honored servant that he joined the triumphant party that returned to Ayodhya.
At Mount Rishyamukha staying near,
From brother Vali living in fear.
But when meeting brothers to world dear,
Fortunes to change, path to become clear.
Lakshmana with devotion pronounced,
Vibhishana the sinful one renounced.
When in dharma’s favor to act,
Then feet falling in safest tract.