Lessons from Sri Rama’s life on how to handle extreme reversals

All of us have experienced an unexpected success or an earth shattering heartbreak at some point in our lives. To many their life is either a series of good peaks or the low valleys, depending on the prism. While an (un)expected success can mess with the mindset of some, life being a great leveler balances it out with enough failures to temper the excess.

For instance, someone having years of superlative success in their business can make one small costly mistake to dent their position and pride. Yet there are some, who seem to have a meteoric rise fueled by their current Purushartha and Prarabda resulting in directly feeding their ego. Many asuras like Ravana, Hiranyakashipu or even asuric men like Duryodhana exemplify the point.

On the other hand, we are used to the other extreme, where we face one problem after the other. It is not uncommon to see someone repeatedly being plagued by problems. Failure in studies/work despite efforts, breakup with a lover, death of a spouse, child or parent, repeated setbacks are all part of daily lives. While the repeated failures are disheartening to most of us, sometimes even a single one of them is enough to break the toughest of us.

In the rarest of instance, someone can experience the complete swing from their highest point to a very low one in a short period of time. This gives us a window into how a person can handle these extremes. Rama gets thrust upon such a situation on the eve of his coronation. How this Purushottama handled these is the best example for all of us to emulate!

Storytime

Rama was born with superlative qualities and a known path to be the next ruler. There was no challenge to him in his gunas or the political scene. Having married Sita, they led a very contented life of servitude to the citizens of Ayodhya. He won their hearts through exemplary actions. Dasaratha, understanding the pulse of the people, desired to make Rama the crown prince and next regent. He makes an earnest plea highlighting Rama’s qualifications and seeks the permission of the ruling elite of his empire and the eminent citizens of Ayodhya.

Not only they concur with Dasaratha, but also they like to effect this change immediately. Dasaratha happily obliges and declares to coronate Rama the very next day. Dasaratha then requests Vasishta to prepare for the coronation, who gives detailed instructions along with Vamadeva. After initiating all these preparations, Dasaratha instructs Sumantra, his charioteer and minister, to fetch Rama.

All these events happen behind the back of Rama, as it was not customary for him to get involved in official activities. Rama appears in front of the court, prostrates before Dasaratha and stands humbly with folded hands. Dasaratha provides him an excellent throne and informs Rama that on the Pushya nakshatra, the next day, Rama will be coronated as Yuvaraja.

After everyone departs to prepare for the exciting day ahead, Dasaratha once again asks Sumantra to fetch a puzzled Rama. He instructs that Rama and Sita do upavas for the night and sleep on kusha grass. He is afraid of the planetary positions and feels these adequate counter measures will ward off their ill effect. Even the ever righteous may act under impulse (सतां च धर्मनित्यानां कृतशोभि च राघव  – Valmiki Ramayana (VR)- 2-4-27) felt Dasaratha’s anxious mind.

Rama and Lakshmana sought the blessings of Kousalaya meditating upon Vishnu. Sumitra was also present. Sita was fetched as well. Though Kousalya had already heard the news and gave away cows and diamonds, when Rama informed her of the details, she burst into tears of joy.

Rama addressed the smiling humble palm folded Lakshmana to assist him in ruling the Kingdom.  Rama felt his life and the rule as an extension of his affection for Lakshmana (जीवितं च हि राज्यं च त्वदर्थमभिकामये – VR 2-4-44). The anxious Dasaratha again sent Vasisthta to instruct Rama on the finer aspects of the upavasa. Rama immersed immediately in following the instructions and was oblivious to the events elsewhere.

Meanwhile Manthara enraged at the turn of events poisons the mind of Kaikeyi, who in turn invokes the two boons from Dasaratha, given to her in the past. With one boon she sought Rama to go to Dandakavana for fourteen years and she used the other to seek Bharata’s coronation. The former uprooted Dasaratha but repeated abuses of Kaikeyi shook the very foundations of his existence.

The thought of separating himself from Rama was too much for him to bear and he fainted repeatedly only for the waiting Kaikeyi to abuse further. His pleas fell in her deaf ears, yet her obstinacy only grew stronger as Dasaratha was cornered by his own words. Even repeated falling at her feet made no dent on Kaikeyi’s focus.

As the arguments continued through the night, Dasaratha desired to see Rama. At the crack of dawn, Vasishta entered the city and eventually the palace seeking Dasaratha’s presence. Sumantra carried the news to the King who could barely overcome his emotions. Kaikeyi informed Sumantra to fetch Rama immediately.

On being informed, Rama opines that Kaikeyi must be inciting Dasaratha to go beyond in celebrating this grand occasion, as she had been his well wisher. Lakshmana joined them at the door with folded hands and his bow. As the brothers rode in the chariot, they saw the preparations for the ceremony amidst the gathering of thousands of men and women.

As Rama entered, he prostrated at the feet of Dasaratha and Kaikeyi only to be puzzled at his father’s fearsome form, who could barely utter “Rama”. Unable to bear Dasaratha’s plight, he sought some explanation from Kaikeyi wondering about his health, well being of Bharata-Shatrugna and even wondering if he had committed any offence. Kaikeyi spoke arrogantly that redeeming her boons brought misery to Dasaratha as it was not favorable to Rama.

Rama declared even if it meant jumping in fire or drinking poison, obeying his father’s words was his primary objective and will bring to fruition anything Dasaratha desired. Kaikeyi informed about the two boons she sought to make Dasaratha’s words a reality.

Rama declared that he will leave for Dandakavana this very day, clad in rags, and was happy for Bharata without a second thought. The only thought that troubled him was why Dasaratha was not greeting him like before. Kaikeyi urged him not to tarry and accepted Rama’s suggestion to fetch Bharata immediately. To Rama’s concern for Dasaratha, she responded that Dasaratha will neither bathe nor eat till Rama goes to the forest – (पिता तावन् न ते राम स्नास्यते भोक्ष्यते अपि वा  – VR 2-19-16). Dasaratha faints at this cruelty which provokes Kaikeyi to goad Rama to leave.

Rama was able to clearly understand the picture and informed Kaikeyi that she could have directly given the instructions to him, thus sparing Dasaratha of the pain. Rama departed with the angry teary eyed Lakshmana after circumambulating Dasaratha and Kaikeyi. He circumambulated the auspicious materials kept for coronation. Valmiki declares just like the night is unable to rob the beauty of the moon, this loss of kingdom had no impact on Rama, who was like an ascetic, beyond pain and pleasure. Refusing the chariot, friends and citizens, he entered Kausalya’s abode to inform her about his departure and seek her blessings.

The people around could not discern the impact of the events on Rama (नालक्षयत् रामस्य किंचिदाकारमानने – VR 2-19-36). Valmiki goes through the pains of documenting the true state of Rama’s mind as naturally abiding in ecstasy as the cool autumnal lunar rays. (उचितम् च महाबाहुर्न जहौ हर्षमात्मनः  – VR 2-19-37).

It is important to note the easy to anger Lakshmana too kept his senses subdued due to the towering presence of calm Rama. He ensured there was no instigation to the emotions of the people around by keeping his calm. As he entered he greeted and saluted the elders, the Brahmanas and the elderly women at the different gates.

Kausalya’s enthusiasm was meted with Rama’s decision to go on exile at the behest of his father’s words. As Rama revived the fainted Kausalya, she turns to lamentations. She insists on going with Rama which enrages Lakshmana who pours his rage at Dasaratha’s decision. He declares to burn Ayodhya and all those who oppose Rama, even if it meant death to his own father. He declares if Rama enters blazing fire or forest, he will do it ahead of Rama (दीप्तम् अग्निम् अरण्यम् वा यदि रामः प्रवेक्ष्यते | प्रविष्टम् तत्र माम् देवि त्वम् पूर्वम् अवधारय || – VR 2-21-17).

Words of anger and valour from Lakshmana revived the spirits of Kausalya, who asks Rama to take the next steps. She pleads that as a mother she can override this mandate and asks Rama not to embark on this exile.

After consoling Kausalya with anecdotes and dharma, Rama directs his speech at correcting Lakshmana’s anger. He continuously educates about his duty to abide by his father’s words and sought Kausalya’s permission to leave. He questioned Lakshmana’s position on siding with his mother, despite the dharma he was expounding. He tried to reason out that only actions where Dharma, Artha and Kama are together ought to be initiated. (If only one or two only are met, then dharma ought to be upheld).

Since Dasaratha is alive and following dharma, Kausalya cannot abandon him like a widow and follow Rama to the forest. Thus having convinced his mother and consoling her to focus on her dharma, Rama averted more than a political crisis.

Rama viewed Kaikeyi’s mental agitation will not cease until he left the kingdom, so he urged Lakshmana to help him make a hasty exit. As Kaikeyi’s agitations will further exacerbate Dasaratha’s agony. He attributed her fall from a cultured loving and lovable status to दैवात्, divine accident. Rama elaborates to Lakshmana that he was not having least grief about the obstruction of the coronation as he had controlled his mind with his intellect. (एतया तत्त्वया बुद्ध्या संस्तभ्यात्मानमात्मना | व्याहते अपि अभिषेके मे परितापो न विद्यते || – VR 2-22-25).

Lakshmana repeatedly vents his anger at this trickery and suggests they deal it by force. Finally he declares himself as a servant of Rama and resolves to follow his dictates. Kausalya again tries to convince Rama to take her to the forest, which he firmly denies. Finally she yields and blesses Rama for a complete sarga.

In case of Sita, Rama tries his best to make her stay only to find her more deep-rooted in dharma, her resolve and love to accompany him during the exile. It takes a strong heated debate for Rama to accept Sita’s viewpoint. Rama’s attempt in making Lakshmana stay back in Ayodhya also failed. Rama then takes his time to give away all his wealth, honor vedic scholars and numerous Brahmanas. Having accomplished their objectives, the trio went to meet Dasaratha for bidding adieu.

Rama assures that he doesn’t crave for kingdom, even happiness or Maithili, nor heaven or even life. (न एव अहम् राज्यम् इच्चामि न सुखम् न च मैथिलीम् | त्वाम् अहम् सत्यम् इच्चामि न अनृतम् पुरुष ऋषभ || VR 2-34-47) (This is not a mental position based on dejection, but based on deep desireless jnana). Sumantra tried his best to lay logical arguments which fell in the deaf ears of Kaikeyi.

Dasaratha desires to empty the coffers and send all the grandeur to the trio heading out, only to be refused by Rama. A relieved Kaikeyi returns the favor by giving them pieces of bark to dress up as ascetics. Shortly thereafter, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana leave Ayodhya charioteered by Sumantra.

Practical applications

  • Be grounded in success – When success happens due to the past or current karma, do not let that go to the head. Stay composed, not that one must entertain a pessimistic outlook of a possible change. But one must understand success is due to a variety of factors, not merely our own.
  • What defines you? Let it not be failure – Do not let failure or the loss of something very close to you define YOU. Once we keep reminding that the events happening to the body, mind and intellect are not what define our real self, it becomes obvious to counter these huge catastrophic events. Rama repeatedly informs others and himself that he is not going to grieve over the loss of kingdom and is ready to sacrifice even Sita and his own life.
  • Be the role model – Follow Purushottama – Take notes from how Rama uses his calm, superior intellect to lift his mental agitations. This shows that mind of even an avatara gets perturbed if not constantly lifted. Eventually in Krishnavatara, Krishna gives this experience as advice to Arjuna in BG 6-5. Rama sets the example thus setting the stage for Krishna’s discourse.
  • Be kind, think about others – If others like to partake in our misery or situation, it is not an opportunity to dump our baggage on them. Rama reasons it with Sita after giving her enough warning about the troubles in forest living and accepted her argument as it was rooted in He uses the same approach for Lakshmana, but in case of Kausalya, he reminds her duty was beside Dasaratha.
  • Be fair – Dasaratha wanted to empty the coffers to make Rama’s stay in the forest comfortable, but Rama remained steadfast to use the opportunity to the fullest. Do not take advantage of others emotions. The same was the logic when he requested the citizens, who wanted to follow behind, to stay true.
  • Be Prepared – Rama and Lakshmana brought their entire weaponry, though they went to live in the forest. They did not forego their responsibility as a kshatriya to protect the sages. Your life situation is not an excuse to perform your duties.
  • Hold no grudge – Kaikeyi – Rama harbored no ill-will against her actions as she had a long history of being righteous and loving. He ensured that all the people around him who respected his views also respect Kaikeyi, thus effectively shielding her. We see the normal Kaikeyi back shortly after Dasaratha’s death, during Chitrakuta.
  • Be thoughtful – Rama after repeatedly confirming Lakshmana’s intent to follow, agreed to let him accompany. Despite Rama’s constant presence, we see his anger is not easy to temper. He was quick to judge Bharata and was ready to wage a war during the latter’s visit to Chitrakuta. Rama in great wisdom put that raw energy to good use in the next fourteen years; else such unbridled energy would have been catastrophic to the society.
  • Be generous – Rama gave away all his wealth. There are many who can bequeath to some worthy cause, yet fail to have the vision letting years and decades of wealth accumulation go to waste. We may be personally undergoing some great misery, but that is not an excuse for not doing the right thing or lacking a vision.
  • Actions during the calamity matter – Rama did not let his face or actions reveal the gravity of the situation. It was not an artificial attempt, but one that came from deep viveka and vairagya. Yet he did not let this great turbulence to affect his outlook, actions or countenance. He kept the overbearing positive influence to let the citizens and family express their shock calmly, though it was ripe for revolt.

Ramayana is not a myth or a fairy tale. It is history. But more importantly it is a spiritual aid. Diving into this ocean, one can fish the great treasures hidden, based on one’s efforts. Unless we study it regularly, apply in our daily lives and benefit ourselves and others around, the very purpose of Valmiki will not be served. Let us make every effort to study the original, even if we do not follow Sanskrit, through transliterations.

Constantly meditating and reflecting on the wondrous qualities of Rama is perhaps the easiest way one can effect a transformation of our lower self to something akin to our true state. May Rama’s grace help us in this endeavor as his nama is the only taraka mantra, capable of liberating us from this samsara sagara.

तत् सत्


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About the Author

Satchitananda
Sanatana Dharmist. Endeavor is to share the little I have learnt along this Cosmic journey with my fellow travelers. Sincerely interested in raising awareness of Hindu Dharma, especially to Hindus.