tato nihatya tarasā rāmo vālinam āhave |
sarva ṛṣka hari samghānām sugrīvam akarot patim ||
The avatara of Rama is known for following dharma, which translates to religiosity, duty, and righteousness. The right choices in life are not always straightforward. One bad decision can be regretted for many years after the fact. By appearing on earth as Shri Rama, the princely son of King Dasharatha, the Supreme Lord showed that there are indeed many difficult choices to make in life, but that following dharma is what benefits everyone in the end. The incident with the rival brother of the monkey-king Sugriva appears to show a divergence from the righteous path. A proper understanding of the incident reveals that even dharma has its limits.
Dharma is for the human species. The animals have no concept of right and wrong. They are in their body-type due to karma, but they don’t accumulate any going forward. Karma translates to fruitive work. You do something that has a reaction. The reaction may not be immediate. If I make a mistake during the assembly of a piece of furniture, everything may look okay in the beginning. Several months later the mistake rears its ugly head with a collapse of the finished product. The reaction to the work arrived, but at a later time.
In the same way, the living entity does so many things that carry good and bad consequences. In the higher scheme, there is really no such thing as good or bad. What we consider to be good is actually something that brings a person closer to the original position, their constitutional occupation. It’s like the hot and cold game. Doing bad things takes a person further away from the end goal.
As long as the goal is not reached, good and bad have no real meaning. If I am close to solving a puzzle and another person is further away, it doesn’t mean that I have solved it. The other person can come back and surpass me with a completed puzzle. Dharma helps a person to go further along towards the finish line. It helps in acquiring good karma, but it doesn’t bring the end itself.
What is that end? What is the constitutional engagement? The incident with Vali gives us an idea. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana, who were youths, or kumaras, reached Mount Rishyamukha and met with Hanuman. Hanuman is the speaker of the above referenced verse, and he was the minister to the monkey-king Sugriva.
Through Hanuman’s influence, Rama made an alliance with Sugriva. Rama was looking for His wife Sita and Sugriva wanted to reunite with his wife and kingdom in Kishkindha. Rama dealt with His end of the bargain first. His help was required, since with the kingdom regained Sugriva could send an army of soldiers to look for Sita.
The plan was simple. Sugriva and his brother Vali would get into a fight and Rama would shoot Vali with an arrow. It worked. The means of Vali’s death is what appears to contradict dharma. The person who prided Himself on following righteousness shot another warrior in the back. Vali was engaged in a fight, and according to the code of conduct of a warrior during that time it was not proper to shoot someone this way. Kshatriyas, or those in the warrior class, are meant to fight honorably. Using cheap tactics is a sign of weakness.
From that incident we see that Rama, or God, is above dharma. If it were not the case, then He could not be God. Being bound by rules is an indication of inferiority. Rama was above the rules of combat, and He was also the king of the entire forest. The Supreme Lord is sarva-loka-maheshvaram, which means the supreme proprietor within every single planetary system.
jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati
“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.29)
In His role as kingmaker, Rama hands over temporary responsibility to trusted people. In this case He made Sugriva the pati, or lord, of the entire group of monkeys and bears. Sugriva became king because he was friends with Rama. He would use his post for devotion, which is the highest dharma. Vali had done harm to Sugriva, and so by extension he was not a friend to Rama. Though the Supreme Lord is neutral towards everyone, those who engage in devotion to Him get His special favor. Moreover, Vali got the wonderful benediction of dying directly at the hands of God. He saw the Supreme Lord face to face at the time of death, which assured his liberation from reincarnation.
From proper assessment to take,
As king of monkeys Sugriva to make.
Shooting Vali in the back,
Against dharma was attack?
Above all rules and judgments to stand,
Is Shri Rama, carrying bow and arrow in hand.
Even the slain Vali liberation getting,
Since on Lord’s face departing eyes setting.