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The Bhagavad-Gita

Introduction
The Bhagavad-Gita is perhaps the most important spiritual document in existence. This
is because it condenses the entirety of Indian spirituality into a brief 700 verses. The Gita is
not a new philosophy. It presents the very same wisdom found in the Vedas and Upanishads.
The only difference is that, as it was written much later—approximately 2,500 years ago—the
language and presentation and examples are more in line with the language and mindset of
modern man.

It was written by Sage Veda Vyasa and is found in the middle of the national epic of
India, The Mahabharata—a work of around 100,000 verses. The Mahabharata, in essence, is
the story of two sets of feuding cousins: the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The Pandavas
represent dharma, the Kauravas adharma. Through a twist of fate, the Kauravas manage to
vanquish the Pandavas for 13 years of exile. When the stipulated years are over, the Kauravas
refuse to return the Pandavas’ rightful portion of the kingdom. The result was the Mahabharata
War, fought on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, located about 100 kilometers north of what is
today known as Delhi.

On the morning the war is about to commence, the Pandava Arjuna asks Krishna, who
is serving as his charioteer, to take him between the two armies so he can survey the scene.
When he sees his opponents— which include his relatives, former combat teachers and other
friends—he has a mental breakdown. The idea of fighting them—even though it is his dharma—is
too much for him. He begins to babble about how horrible war is and how it is better to
become a monk than to fight. He even starts quoting scriptures to justify his newfound
convictions. After prattling on like this for dozens of verses, he eventually realizes that he has
no idea what he is talking about. He understands his utter helplessness—that he simply does
not know what to do in this situation. What is right and what is wrong? It is at that moment
that he falls to Krishna’s feet and seeks his advice. This is a crucial moment, because it marks
the moment of transformation in the relationship between Arjuna and Krishna. Previously
Arjuna was the master and Krishna the charioteer. Now, Krishna is the master and Arjuna his
disciple.

Krishna’s advice—which comes in the form of a heartfelt and loving conversation


between him and Arjuna—comprises the 18 chapters known as The Bhagavad-Gita—The Song
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of the Lord.

In fact, the contents of the Gita are so vast that one can dedicate a lifetime to its study.
Hundreds of commentaries have been composed upon it, including those by Adi
Sankaracharya, Sri Ramanuja and Madhvacarya. In essence, the entire universe is contained
within the Gita’s 700 verses: the origin of human suffering; the nature of the soul; the
difference between consciousness and matter; the spiritual practices of karma yoga, meditation
and jnana yoga; dharma and adharma; the roles of human effort and divine grace; the concept
of avatara; the importance of devotion and its different stages; what happens after death; the
importance of cultivating good qualities and shunning bad ones; Self-realization and its
rewards; and even the nature of God and how, in fact, it is the Creator that has become the
creation.
As previously mentioned, the Gita is a synthesis and condensation of the Vedic
teachings, which are the foundation of Bharata samskara. Arjuna represents the common man.
The battle he is poised to fight represents the battle of life in which every one of must engage.
Therefore Krishna’s advice to Arjuna is not only for him; it is advice for all of us. When we
buy an appliance, it comes with a handbook, informing us how to properly use it. The
Bhagavad-Gita is such a handbook: the instruction manual for human life, a guide for
successful proper use of the body and mind. At its core are sound and proven methods for
finding peace and happiness—not after death, but starting here and now.

Four Gita Teachings Specifically Relevant for Youth/Students

1. Overcoming Stress

Stress is the reaction to a demanding situation and it can occur at two levels—physical
and psychological

Physical stress is caused by physical causes such as accidents, burns, infections, etc. It is
a reaction of the body to face the strain and trauma caused by diverse factors. Psychological
stress, on the other hand, is a reaction to mental situations such as fear, anxiety, tension,
anger, emotional conflicts, etc.

These situations may be of just a short period but may affect a person for long time
leaving deep impressions on his subconscious mind. Restlessness is a common mental
problem. A youth who has to prove his ability and rise up to the expectations of society, peers
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and others undergoes a taxing time and it results in accumulation of stress. With many things
to do, he lives a fast life and then there is no time for him to take stock of things. The modern
youth may be thinking and working faster than what his counterparts did earlier 20 years ago,
but, then, at what cost? Psychological breakdown and negative thinking; Added to this is the
curse of violence and restlessness.

Gita provides valuable guidelines to overcome stress and restlessness. The battlefield of
Kurukshetra, the scene in which Gita was delivered, underlines a point with regard to its
relevance in overcoming stress. Just consider this.

Even after the war drums have been sounded, the conchs and the trumpets blown,
Arjuna is not able to convince himself of the utility of the war and the purpose of killing his
own cousins, teachers and others in the impending war. He is horrified and becomes mentally
nervous when he thinks about the disastrous consequences of war. Arjuna, having lost his
inner steadiness, trembling with fear and confused, is unable to even lift his bow and arrow
and sinks into depression. This situation has aptly been named as vishada [depression] of
Arjuna.

The strong and mighty stature of Arjuna can be found in many modern youth’s life as
well. At the time when they are supposed to carry out their responsibilities, a little failure or a
small obstacle here and there makes them feel weak and totally helpless. Some of them even
think of running away from life itself. But what does Sri Krishna advise Arjuna in this context?
He admonishes Arjuna and is pained at his behavior. He nudges Arjuna thus:

kutastvà kaémalamidaë viçame samupasthitam |

anàryajuçâamasvargyam akìrtikaram arjuna ||2:2

klaibyaë mà sma gamaã pàrtha naitattvayyupapadyate |

kçudraë hädayadaurbalyaë tyaktvottiçâha paraëtapa ||2:3

“Whence, O Arjuna, has this weakness, neither entertained by honorable men, nor conducive to
(the attainment of) heaven, and leading to ill fame, come on you at this crisis? Yield not to
unmanliness, O Partha, it is not worthy of you; shake off this mean faint-heartedness, arise, O
scorcher of foes.”

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Every youth should daily reflect on the essence of these two verses. And their essence is: face
life; do not run away from it. Running away from the challenges of life does not solve them. It only
weakens the mind and makes it more incapable to face them in future. One should think over it deeply
and try to focus on one’s strength instead of weaknesses.

2. Applying the Karma-Yoga Attitude

One of the main practices that Krishna advises Arjuna to apply in his life is that of karma
yoga.

Karma yoga means ‘the yoga of action,’ but it does not indicate the performance of any
particular action— such as puja or homa or volunteer work, etc. Any action can be done as
karma yoga—even school work, socializing with friends, visiting our parents and taking exams.
This is because karma yoga is not a particular action but rather a specific mental attitude that
can be applied when performing any action.

The karma yoga attitude is most succinctly stated in the second chapter of the Gita, when
Sri Krishna says to Arjuna:

karmaåyevàdhikàraste mà phaleçu kadàcana |2:47

“Seek to perform your duty; but lay not claim to its results.”

This is the fundamental law of action-that we have control over our actions but not over their
results.

As Amma always reminds us, results are dependent upon a vast latticework of factors,
of which our on actions are but one. Accepting this reality, the karma yogi puts his focus on
action and accepts with equanimity, whatever results come.

Let’s take for an example being interviewed for a job. We can rehearse for the interview
for weeks, having a friend ask us common questions and honing our answers. We have total
control over what suit we chose, what color tie we pick. We can practice our smile in the
mirror, work on developing a firm handshake, buy a Rs. 10,000 pair of shoes and even go to a
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beauty salon and spend Rs. 1,000 on a haircut. In the realm of action, we can plan and think
and calculate as much as possible. Therefore, more or less, we have complete control. Even
after the interviewer poses his questions, we are still in control over what we say.

However, as soon as we speak, we are no longer in control; the action has left us and
become subject to the laws of cause-and-affect as dictated by the universal forces. The
interviewer could be in a good mood or a bad mood based on previous interactions he’s had
that day. Our answers could trigger positive or negative memories in his mind. Anything can
happen. When we leave his office, there is no point in worrying over the results, as we have no
control over them. No matter how much we worry about how our answers were received, it will
not change the interviewer’s perceptions of us. Therefore, as Krishna said, we have control
over action but not its results. Once we understand this, we will stop worrying about results and
shift our focus to perfection in action. Such a person is a karma yogi. He moves forward in life relatively
unperturbed, peacefully abiding in the present moment.

The result of the karma-yoga attitude is that we are no longer overjoyed in our success
nor depressed by our failures. Our focus is on action and we accept their results with mental
composure—be they positive or negative. Aside from the peace of mind, the main benefit of this
is that we never lose our rational thinking. When we become overjoyed in success or depressed
in failure, we cannot learn from our mistakes in life. We cannot even learn from our successes.
In short, we will not have a mind capable of learning all the important lessons life is trying to
teach us. So, apply the karma yoga attitude: take care with what you have control over (i.e.
action) and surrendering when it comes to what you do not (i.e. the results). Not only will this
give us mental peace and help us learn from life’s lessons, but furthermore, as our attention is
not split—half on the action and half on the results—we will actually perform actions more
efficiently!

2. Gaining Mental Control

dhyàyato viçayàn-puësaã saêgasteçù-pajàyate |


saêgàt sañjàyate kàmaã kàmàt-krodho’bhijàyate |2:62
krodhàd-bhavati saëmohaã saëmohàt-smäti vibhramaã |
smäti-bhraëéàd-buddhi-nàéo buddhi-nàéàt-praåaéyati ||2:63
ràga-dveça-viyuktaistu visayàn-indriyaiécaran |
àtmavaéyairvidheyàtmà prasàdam adhi-gacchati ||2:64

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“Brooding on the objects of the senses, man develops attachment to them; from attachment
comes desire; from desire anger sprouts forth. From anger proceeds delusion; from delusion,
confused memory; from confused memory the ruin of reason; due to the ruin of reason he
perishes. But the disciplined yogi, moving among sense objects with the senses under control
and free from ràga and dveça, gains in tranquility.”

One of the core spiritual teachings is that, in truth, we are not the mind. The mind is tool
for us to use as we transact in the world, just like a computer. The problem is that modern
man has utterly lost control of the mind. As such, life has become like a science-fiction movie—
like The Terminator or Battleship Galactica— wherein man’s invention has imprisoned him. In
the Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna a number of methods for regaining control of his mind.
Mental control is essential if we want to attain success in any field in life. For how can we
master the outer world without having first mastered the inner world?

Many people think that having negative thoughts and desires is not harmful, as thoughts are
only in our mind and therefore do not harm anyone. However, Krishna informs us that if we
allow negative desires and thoughts to continue, they grow more and more powerful and
eventually manifest in our speech and actions. As Amma says, “Repeated thoughts become
actions. Actions become habits. Habits becomes our nature, and our nature eventual devours
us. So, watch your thoughts.”

Krishna says, although these impulse thoughts cannot be prevented, they can be nipped in
the bud. We may not be able to prevent the first thought, but it needs our cooperation in order
to continue in our mind. One method of removing negative thinking is simply replacing the
negative thought with a positive thought. This can be the chanting of a mantra, prayer or
bhajan. If we find ourselves dwelling on someone’s negative qualities, we can immediately
replace this negative thought with a positive one. As Amma says, “Even a broken watch tells
the correct time, twice a day.” Another method Krishna recommends is intellectually knocking
the negative thought out of our heads, by asking ourselves, “Will this thought really help me in
life? Will it help society? Is thinking about this going to help me reach my goal in life? If I only
see other people’s negativities, how will I ever experience a sense of oneness and harmony with
my fellow human beings?”
In order to do this, we first need to cultivate a degree of awareness. For only if we are aware
that a negative thought has entered the mind do we have any hope of removing it.
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Incorporating five to 10 minutes of meditation into our lives can help us create this necessary
heightened level of awareness.

4. Visvarupa Darshanam

Seeing the Creation for What It is: The Creator Manifest

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One of the most famous scenes in the Gita takes place in the 11 chapter, which is
titled: Vishvarupa Darshana Yoga–The Yoga of the Vision of the Cosmic Form. Here, Arjuna
asks Krishna to reveal his cosmic form, and Krishna grants Arjuna that vision. In fact, the real
vishvarupa darshan is nothing more than a clear understanding that it is the Creator that has
become the Creation—as Amma says: srstiyum srstavum randalla— ‘The creation and the
Creator are not two.’ It is verily the Lord that has come in the form of the vishva.

In fact, Krishna gives this vision to Arjuna as a boon, even though he is not
emotionally mature enough for it. As such, when Arjuna comes to understand that God is not
only the positive aspects of the universe but also the negative ones he is overcome with fear
and begs Krishna to remove the vision, which Krishna does. This shows us that we can never
hope to have peace in life as long as we are unable to accept all aspects of life as being a
natural part of the God-given universal order. It is a cosmic law that cannot be changed:
Where there is birth, there will be death. Where there is growth, there will be decay. Where
there is a beginning, there will be an end. Where there is richness, there will be poverty.
Where there is good, there will be evil. Where there is success, there will be failure. The
universe is comprised of opposites: hot and cold, pleasure and pain, coming together and
going apart. The Gita teaches us that we should start learning to accept this reality, as only
when we cultivate this understanding and maturity will be at peace with the world around us.

At the same time, Gita also teaches the highest truth: that the real Self—the Atma—is
beyond all such opposites. The real Self was never born, never grows, never decays nor dies.
This is the reality behind all names and forms: sat-cit-ananda—eternal, all-expansive, blissful
consciousness. Understanding this is the true source of peace. The external world will always
throw challenges our way; that is its nature. At the same time, the inner world—the atma—is
eternally peaceful. Krishna, a true jagat-guru like Amma, is challenging Arjuna to understand
these great truths and fight the battle of life.

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For further reading:

1 The Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda


2 The passage on Sri Krishna in Amma’s book ‘Lead Us to Light.’
3 The Vedanta Kesari , Vol 95, No. 12
4 The Bhagavat Gita as a synthesis, M.R. Yardi, B.O.R.I, Pune, 1991
5. A set of good PDFs are available at
http://vidya/indiastudies/Ithihasa/Mahabharata_texts/Bhagavat_gita/

||om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu ||

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Ramayana

Introduction
In the massive library of Indian literature, two vital and massive epic poems are
Ramayana of Valmiki and Mahabharata of Veda-Vyasa. These are referred to as Itihasa,
meaning ‘histories.’ (Literally iti ha àsa– ‘so indeed it was’) The implication being that they
are based on actual historical events. Not only does each of these epic poems contain
over-arching story, they also contain hundreds of short parables–stories within the story. The
Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the many Puranas were indeed meant to entertain. At
the same time, they were also meant to educate the masses about India’s spiritual culture,
dharma, values and life itself.
The Itihasas give us beautiful stories of absorbing interest and importance, through
which all the fundamental teachings of Sanatana dharma are indelibly impressed on one’s
mind. We get a clear idea of Sanatana Dharma from these sublime stories.
In fact, the exact same teachings and ideas as presented in the Vedas are reborn in the
Itihasa literature, personified in the form of stories and characters. The Upanishads are succinct
(concise); they do not mince (crumble) words. They say: satyam vada | dharmam chara |
[Speak truth. Do Dharma]; màtrudevo bhava | pitrudevo bhava | acharya-devo bhava |
atithi-devo bhava | [May mother, father, teacher and guests be God to you]. However, in the
Itihasas, such ideas are elaborated into stories. Satyam vada becomes the story of
Harischandra. Pitrudevo bhava is taught through the example of Rama happily obeying
Dasharatha orders to go into exile. Àcarya-devo bhava becomes the story of Ekalavya’s guru
dakshina.
Furthermore, sections of these works have come to be considered scriptures unto
themselves. The 700 verses of the Bhagavad-Gìta, from Mahabharata, contains the essence of
spirituality and, along with the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, is considered part of the
prasthana-traya–the three core scriptures of Hinduism.
The glory of the Itihasas and purànas is that they actually transform and uplift us–not
only through their moral lessons, but also through their characters. Reading about the chastity
and purity of Sita Devi, we gain these qualities ourselves. Reading about embodiments of
dharma like Rama and Yudishtira makes us more virtuous individuals. Becoming absorbed in
tails of Hanuman’s devotion gives birth to love for God in our own heart. This is not
something mystical, just basic human psychology.

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Pitfalls while reading Itihasas
There are many examples of the confusion resulting from not knowing the proper
meaning of a story. One of the biggest is found at the end of the Ramayana. A few years after
Rama rescues Sita and returns to Ayodhya, a rumor begins to spread that Sita was unfaithful
during her imprisonment in Lanka. One day Rama learns of this rumor from a washer man. He
immediately sends Sita off the forest; despite the fact that she is pregnant. This causes a lot of
confusion in people. Some of them attack Rama and Sanatana dharma, saying “What is this?
Rama is supposed to be the embodiment of dharma, and here he is acting like a mahà
adharmi!”
Here, Rama-the husband is not being stressed. This is not the teaching. It is Rama’s
glory as a king that is being highlighted. The point being that a king should be ready to
sacrifice anything for his people. He is first married to the kingdom, secondly to his wife.
Here, the teaching is about the dharma of a king and how he has to consider his subjects before
his personal life. If you want to learn about the dharma of a husband, look at the portion in
Ramayana when Sita first disappears and Rama is depicted wandering through the forest,
searching her everywhere.

This technique of highlighting certain points and not others is common throughout the
Itihasas and Puranas. Although it is an especially common teaching technique in Indian
culture, we in fact find it throughout the world. If we find a particular story does not taste right
to us, it is probable because we are eating the cane stalk and not the sugar juice! We should
approach a guru and ask him or her to clarify our doubt.

Ramayana-its universal acceptance


The Ramayana is one of the rare literary masterpieces that are eternally relevant and
useful. The various types of situations depicted in Ramayana are very similar to those that
commonly occur in our lives and hence relevant to all mankind.
The epic Ramayana composed in India, traveled to South East Asia more than one
thousand years before. The Khmer of Cambodia had Reamker and the Thais of Thailand had
the Ramakien. Indonesians, Malays, Vietnamese, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Mongols,
Siberians, Tibetans, Burmese, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, the ancient Turks, Arabs and the
Persians too had their own versions of Ramayana. The story of Ramayana was recomposed as
Yama Watthu in Myanmar.
The capital of early Thailand was called Ayutthaya, possibly named after Sri Ram’s
capital of Ayodhya. Another ancient city in Thailand is Lavpuri named after Ram’s son Lav.
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The country Laos is named after Ram’s son Lav. Burma is named after Lord Brahma
and the old name for Vietnam is Champa. Singapore is called the lion city from its Sanskrit
origin. The capital city of Brunei is Bandar Sri Bhagwan and that of Indonesia is Jaya Karta,
the city of Victory.
The current monarch of Thailand is called ‘Bhumipal Athulyatej, Rama IX’. The Prime
minister and his cabinet in Malaysia take oath of office in the name of Lord Ram’s Paduka
‘Urusan Seri Paduka’ and the agong or royal president takes oath of office in the name of the
dust of Ram’s Paduka ‘Urusan Seri Paduka Dhuli’. (They too consider the dust of the Paduka
to be holier than the Paduka itself). The Southeast Asian Games in 1997 used Sri Hanuman as
its mascot, which shows his wide acceptance in all these countries.
Individual and social ideals seen in Ramayana
The epic illustrate the concept of Ramarajya, an ideal society based upon dharma,
justice, truth, and peace. This can be understood through an analysis of the main characters of
the story:
Ratnakara the highway robber begins as a robber and ended up as Valmiki the poet. He
robbed others to feed his family. When his family readily shared his loot and reluctantly
refused their share in his sins, realization downed on him. To alleviate his sins, Ratnakara as
advised by sage Narada, started chanting Rama nama. He was so lost in his chanting and
meditation that, he was unaware of the ant-hills that formed around him. He came to be called
Val-Mika:-the ant hill and Ramayana- the Ithihasa of Rama came to be written by him. When
he saw a hunter, who shot dead a male dove, plunging the female in to sorrow, the poetry came
to his mind.
Rama is the personification of dharma, nobility, goodness, humility and valor. As a son
of a noble and virtuous king, he scarifies his personal life in order to assist his father in
fulfilling his promise to his wife Kaikeyi. He leaves for exile in the forest without any grudge
or hatred against, his stepmother Kaikeyi, who was the cause of his exile. Rama advices his
brother, Bharata, who was very angry at his mother (kaikeyi) for sending Rama to exile, to
love his mother and extend her the respect and reverence worthy of a queen.
At his own risk, Rama always fights the demons in the forest who harass the sages and
the holy men. He weeps for Sita when separated from her by Ravana. As a devout brother, he
weeps when Lakshmana, appears dead when hit by an arrow in the battle with Indrajit, the
valiant son of Ravana. As a man of dignity and honor, he fights Ravana and kills him. As an
ideal king, he banishes Sita to the forest in order to satisfy the wishes of the people of his
kingdom.
Sita is the ideal of love, devotion, and chastity in marriage for women. She loves her
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husband with single hearted devotedness during all trails and turbulences of her life. She fights
Ravana’s every attempt to win over her during the period of her forced possession. Lakshmana
symbolizes the ideal of sacrifices. He leaves young wife behind in the palace and chooses to
accompany Rama in exile. He scarifies the amenities of his personal life in order to serve his
elder brother. Bharata is the ideal of brotherly love. He becomes angry at his mother when he
learns that she conspired to exile Rama. He follows Rama all the way to the forest in an
attempt to persuade him to return home and assume kingship. When Rama refuses to come,
Bharata assumes kingship only as a caretaker and does not actually live in the palace.
Hanuman is the symbol of unprecedented physical strength, ultimate obedience, selflessness,
sincere love and humility.
Mystical essence of Ramayana
“Rama” denotes the atman, the omnipresent and the omniscient divine spirit, the core
of all beings. “The Dasharatha” consists of two parts: Dasa (ten) and ratha (carriage).
Dasharatha, means a person who can ride the chariot in ten different directions. This
symbolizes the human body made of 10 sense organs (5 internal and 5 external).
Sita symbolizes the mind. The city of Ayodhya signifies a place of no conflict.
(Ayodhya means not to be warred against). The forest denotes samsara, the physical world of
life’s trials and turbulences. Lakshmana symbolizes dharma and the austerities that protect an
individual from the troubles of samsara. The golden deer symbolizes the lust for sense objects.
Ravana represents the ego. The island of Lanka represents the physical body.
Thus the story of Ramayana depicts great philosophical truths of Sanatana dharma in a
simple way, so that even layman can understand it. At the outer level, Ramayana is a story of
abduction, rescue, destruction and justification. At the deeper level, it is a symbolic epic, each
individual having a cause of its own, each character designed to act in a particular manner, all
coming under a divine design by the infinite designer.

Further reading
1 The Ramayana of Valmiki-an appraisal, Swami Harshananda
2 Lectures on Ramayana, VS Srinivasa sastri, Madras Sanskrit academy
3 Ramayana around the world, Ravi Kumar
4 Epilogue of Ramayana, M.R.Yardi, BVB, Pune
5 http://vidya/indiastudies/Ithihasa/Ramayana_studies/

||om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu ||

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1. The 10 Heads of Ravana
In the Ramayana, the demon king Ravana is depicted as having 10 heads. What is the meaning
behind this?

2. The Breaking of Siva’s Bow (Tulasi Ramayana)


In the Ramayana, as part of the svayamvara, Sita’s various suitors have to shoot an arrow from the
massive bow of Lord Éiva. It is said Rama’s competing suitors, the citizens of Mithila and Sita all were
praying. Seeing how strong Rama was, the competing suitors prayed for him to fail. Seeing how heavy
the bow was, Sita prayed for God to make the bow lighter. The citizens of Mithila prayed for God to
give Rama the strength to win the competition. Which of these prayers was superior and why?

3. The Exile of Sri Rama to the Forest


Due to the command of Rama’s stepmother, on the morning of what was to be Sri Rama’s coronation
as king, his father had him exiled to the forest instead. Sri Rama bowed down to his father, elders and
gurus, including his stepmother, and left the kingdom for the forest. Was this weakness or strength?
Why?

4. The Reaction of Rama’s Brother Bharata to Rama’s Exile


When Rama is exiled to the forest, his brother Bharata is to be crowned king. However, Bharata
refuses to take the throne. He pleads with Rama to stay. But Rama refuses to disobey their father.
Bharata says, “Then give me your sandals. I will place them on the throne as a symbol of you. I will
only be the caretaker of the kingdom, not the king. And I will live not in the palace but in a nearby
village. After 14 years, you must return and become king.” What is the teaching here?

5. Rama Kills Vali


When Rama comes upon the monkey kingdom, there are two cousin monkeys in a fight over who
should be king. One is Sugriva, the other Vali. Vali is extremely strong. Even worse, he has a special
boon that allows him to take away half of his opponents’ power when they come before him. This
makes him almost invincible Eventually, Rama slays Vali by shooting him from behind. What is the
meaning of this story?
6. Sita & The Golden Deer
When Rama and Sita are in the forest, Ravana tricks Sita through a series of magic tricks. First, he has
one of his fellow demons appear as golden deer, which entices her so that she sends Rama away to
capture it. He does so reluctantly, leaving her in Lakshmana’s protection. However, soon the sounds
of Rama calling for his brother to come and save him echo throughout the forest. Even though
Lakshmana is positive that Rama is fine, Sita commands him to go to Rama’s aid. He finally agrees,
but then draws a circle around Sita and tells her not to step across it or to allow anyone to step over it,
until he returns. Soon after, Ravana appears in the disguise of a sannyasi. He tricks Sita into giving
him alms, and then steals her. What is the hidden meaning in this story?

7. Praising Hanuman Gives Him Power


Hanuman is in fact very strong and can jump incredible lengths. However at times he forgets this.
When he is ready to make the leap from India to Lanka, he begins to doubt himself. Only when all
his fellow monkeys cheer him on does he find the confidence and is able to make the leap. What is
the teaching here?

8. The Monkeys Destroy Madhuvanam


When the monkeys learn that Hanuman has located Sita, they become overjoyed. In their bliss, they
go to Madhuvanam, a precious forest, and trample it. What is the teaching behind this story?

9. Rama Sends Sita to the Forest


Towards the end of the Ramayana, after Rama and Sita are back in Ayodhya—even though Sita has
already proven her purity—it seems some citizens do not think it was correct for Rama to have taken
her back. When Rama learns of this, he sends Sita to the forest. Is this dharma or adharma on Rama’s
part? Why? What is the intended teaching here?

10. How the Squirrel Got Its Stripes


When the monkey army is building the Rama Setu, a small squirrel decides to help. As he is too small
to carry the massive stones, he simply dips himself in the water, rolls in the sand and then shakes the
sand off over on the bridge. What is Lord Rama’s reaction upon seeing this? What is the teaching
here?
11. The Monkeys Become Lord Rama’s Army
Is there a teaching behind the monkeys teaming up to fight with Lord Rama? If so, what?
Om Amriteswaryai Namah

1. The 10 Heads of Ravana


In the Ramayana, the demon king Ravana is depicted as having 10 heads. What is the meaning behind this?

Ràvaåa represents the human personality totally out of control, consumed by desire. He is the personification
of the truth that all it takes is one small vice–kàma–to lead to one’s downfall. Ràvaåa’s ego and his desires
have consumed him. Furthermore, reflected in him is the truth that fulfilling a desire can never satiate a
desire. The desires just grow more and more. How many wives are there in Ràvaåa’s harem? Hundreds. Yet
still he wants Sìta! Fulfilling one desire is simply like throwing diesel on a fire in attempt to extinguish it. In
Ràvaåa we see how desires, if left unchecked can ruin us. The chain is: “It is nice. It is worth having. I want
it. I cannot be without it! I will even kill for it.”

Ràvaåa is the antithesis of Ràma. Whereas Ràma lives selflessly for the good of the world, Ràvaåa lives only
for himself, to the detriment of the world. On one level, this is the symbolism of behind Vàlmiki’s depiction
of him as having 10 heads. He is completely identified with the body and its 10 indriyas–five organs of action
and five organs of knowledge. He is a slave to his senses.

On another level, Ràvaåa’s 10 heads represent his intelligence. In fact, Ràvaåa was a bràhmaåa, and thus
extremely learned. (This in itself should erase any wrongheaded put forth by some communalists that
Ràmàyaåa is a tale about North Indian Aryans going to war with South Indian Dravidians.) Not only was he
a scholar who had studied so many sciences, he was also a master composer, a maestro of the vìåa. He had
studied the Dharma Éàstras and scriptures as well. Yet, as he had not controlled his desires, all of his learning
was in vain. His intelligence, which could have been a boon for the world, became a curse for the world
instead. Furthermore, as he did not have his desires under control, even though he was so learned and
intelligent, he had no peace of mind. Despite his intelligence, his excessive desires prompted him to make
many poor decisions. He knew the difference between dharma and adharma, but he was like Duryodhana,
who said, “I know what is adharma–and I always follow it.”

Furthermore, we see that Ràvaåa was full of tension and agitation. He lived in fear of Ràma. We see the same
thing in the world today. People with the highest IQs and most number of degrees are often miserable–all
because of their lack of mental control. No matter how much book knowledge we have, it will not bring us
peace of mind. In Chàndogya Upaniçad, this truth is eulogized through a story, wherein Nàrada approaches
Sanatkumàra Äçi in hopes of becoming his disciple. Nàrada begins enumerating all he has studied in his life.
He mentions about every field of knowledge you can think of rituals, mythology, grammar, mathematics,
natural disasters, mineralogy, ethics, chemistry, archery, astrology, fine arts, handicrafts, sculpture, dancing,
music... Then he then admits: Yet, ahaë éocàmi–‘I am full of sorrow.’ So, no matter how much learning we
have, unless we have come to know the Self, we will not know peace in life.
Furthermore, the 10 heads represent a nonintegrated personality–a person who is full of conflicting voices
and ideas. The inner voice of reason and righteousness is drowned out by those raised in fear and desire.
How can one whose mind is full of conflicting voices ever know peace? Such people are eulogized through the
story of Legion in the Bible. When Jesus was travelling throughout Galilee, he came to a place where there
was a man who was said to be possessed by demonic forces. He lived among the tombs, ranting and raving
and generally scaring everyone who lived around there half to death. After some time he approached Jesus,
and Jesus asked him what his name was. And the man said, “Call me ‘Legion’ for we are many.” What the
Bible says he meant by this was that he wasn’t possessed by merely one demon but by a multitude of demons.
Regardless, Jesus blessed the man, and the legion of demons was cast out. Some people see a symbolic
significance to this exorcism. The legion of demons represents a non-integrated mind. Such a mind contains a
multitude of conflicting impulses and ideas. It has no power of focus, nor can it ever be relaxed. Legion’s
example is extreme, but if we introspect we will see that most of us are ‘possessed’ in this way to some extent.
Meeting with Jesus means coming into contact with a mahàtma, whose teachings help us gain mental control,
focus and, ultimately, peace.

What can we learn from Ràvaåa? The following is one story regarding Ràvaåa. It seems when Ràvaåa lay
dying, Ràma called Lakçmaåa and said, “Go to Ràvaåa quickly before he dies and request him to share
whatever knowledge he can. A brute he may be, but he is also a great scholar.” Lakçmaåa did as his brother
commanded. He ran over to him and whispered in his ear, “Demon-king, do not let your knowledge die with
you. Share it with us and wash away your sins.” But Ràvaåa simply turned away. When Lakçmaåa told Ràma
this, Ràma asked his brother where he had stood when he spoke to Ràvaåa. Lakçmaåa said that he had stood
by his head. Ràma, the embodiment of all humility, then demonstrated how one should approach someone
when seeking knowledge from them. Kneeling at Ràvaåa’s feet, he bowed and said, “Lord of Laêka, you
abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now you are no more my
enemy. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that, for if you die without
doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world.” Ràvaåa opened his eyes and raised his arms to
salute Ràma. He said, “If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy. Standing at my feet as a
student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very
little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things
that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things that are actually good for
you fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. That
is why I was impatient to abduct Sìta, but avoided meeting you. This is the wisdom of my life, Ràma. My last
words. I give it to you.” After these words, Ràvaåa died.
2. The Breaking of Siva’s Bow (Tulasi Ramayana)
In the Ramayana, as part of the svayamvara, Sita’s various suitors have to shoot an arrow from the massive
bow of Lord Éiva. It is said Rama’s competing suitors, the citizens of Mithila and Sita all were praying. Seeing
how strong Rama was, the competing suitors prayed for him to fail. Seeing how heavy the bow was, Sita
prayed for God to make the bow lighter. The citizens of Mithila prayed for God to give Rama the strength to
win the competition. Which of these prayers was superior and why?

Amma: “Lord Ràma enters the hall where Sìta is to choose her husband. As soon as the people of Mithila saw
Ràma, they started praying, ‘O, how handsome and strong he is, and blessed with all good qualities! Oh,
Lord, please give him the strength to string that bow!’ As Ràma entered the hall, all the kings who had
assembled there hoping to win Sìta’s hand started cursing Ràma in their minds, ‘Why did he have to be
brought here now? Will we miss our chance because of him? It seems doubtful that we would get Sìta. Oh, if
only he would go away!’ On the other hand, Sìta, seeing Ràma, started praying thus: ‘O God, why did you
make such a heavy bow? Can’t you decrease its weight a little?’ Hers was a prayer to change the circumstances.
Among these, the prayer of the people of Mithila was the proper one. Their attitude was the right one. They
did not pray for a change in the circumstances. ‘Give Ràma the strength to face it!’ is what they prayed for.
Similarly, whatever the situation, we should pray only for the courage to confront it.

There is a nice prayer: “O Lord, give me the strength to change what can be changed, give me the strength to
accept what cannot be changed, and give me the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
6. Sìta & The Golden Deer
When Ràma and Sìta are in the forest, Ràvaåa tricks Sìta through a series of magic tricks. First, he has one of
his fellow demons appear as golden deer, which entices her so that she sends Ràma away to capture it. He
does so reluctantly, leaving her in Lakçmaåa’s protection. However, soon the sounds of Ràma calling for his
brother to come and save him echo throughout the forest. Even though Lakçmaåa is positive that Ràma is
fine, Sìta commands him to go to Ràma’s aid. He finally agrees, but then draws a circle around Sìta and tells
her not to step across it or to allow anyone to step over it, until he returns. Soon after, Ràvaåa appears in the
disguise of a sannyàsi. He tricks Sìta into giving him alms, and then steals her. What is the hidden meaning
in this story?

Amma: “It is said that Sìta is the mind, Ràma is God, Lakçmaåa is the viveka buddhi [discriminating
intellect], the mind is maya [delusion], Ràvaåa is the indriyas [10 sense organs]. Sìta (the mind) got attached
to the golden deer. A desire arose. We separate from God when a desire arises in the mind. Along with the
desire, Sìta separated from God. Lakçmaåa is said to be rules and discipline. It is said that the deer cried in
the sound of Ràma’s voice. When God left, the mind fell prey to delusion. Sìta even lost the discrimination to
identify Ràma’s voice. When God left, discrimination was lost too. Then she started to say irreverent things
that came to her mind. Then discipline and rules also left her. She then became the slave to Ràvaåa, the sense
organs. It was only then that she realized the place where all this had led her. Then followed repentance.
Sitting under a tree, with rigor and discipline, she thought only of Ràma, and finally came back to Ràma.
Ràma himself accepted her. This is the principle when you look at it from the angle of Advaita.”

Swàmi Paramàtmànanda: “In the Ràmàyaåa, Sìta and Ràma were exiled to the forest. Sìta was kidnapped
by the demon Ràvaåa, and then Ràma went and got her back. That’s the whole Ràmàyaåa in short. Sìta was
very blissful with Ràma in Ayodhya. Ayodhya means a place where there’s no yudha–no war, no conflict.
Ràma is representing the Paramàtma, the swan that we call God, and Sìta was very happy with Ràma, until–
what happened? Even when they were exiled to the forest by their mother-in-law, they were still very happy.
Sita was perfectly content. And then one day, what happened? Sìta saw a golden deer. It wasn’t a normal deer;
it was a golden deer. It was very strange looking, but very attractive, and she said, “Oh, I’ve got to get that deer
at any cost.” So, she forgot about Ràma and her source of happiness became that golden deer, that thing that
looked like it would make her so happy. As soon as that happened, what followed? Ràma left her. Then
Lakçmaåa gave her some advice, to be careful, to which she wouldn’t listen. That’s the advice of the wise
people, the scriptures or guru. Don’t be deluded by the golden deer, it’s not what it seems. You’re going to get
in trouble; stick to Ràma. She said, “No, I’m not going to listen to that. You don’t know what you’re talking
about. You’ve got bad motives.” So she sent Ràma away to get the golden deer, and then immediately when
that happened, in came Ràvaåa. Who’s Ràvaåa? He’s the 10-headed demon. What do the 10 heads represent?
If he really had 10 heads, you can imagine what would be his condition when he caught a cold! No, he
represents the ego, the personality that identifies with the body and the 10 sense organs, the indriyas. This
was Ràvaåa. As soon as we run after the illusory deer of the sense objects that seem so attractive that they’re
going to make us so happy, then Ràvaåa, the ego, catches us. We identify with what? The body and the mind!
And then we get into a lot of trouble, and it takes many, many millions and millions of years and births to get
back to where we started, to that blissful Ayodhya, with Ràma. And what did Sìta do when she realized what
had happened? She felt so bad, and she decided, “I’m going to hold onto Ràma’s feet in my mind, day and
night, until I reach Him, until I get back with Ràma. However much this Ràvaåa tempts me, I’m not going to
pay attention.” This is an ideal sàdhaka, who doesn’t swerve once they’ve realized that they were played the
fool by màya, by this extroverted tendency. Then they take that firm decision, “I’m not going to dance to the
tune of màya anymore. I’m going to hold onto God until I reach Him.”

Amma: Sìta desired to have the golden deer. She was the incarnation of the Goddess Lakçmi and was very
wise. Still she was attracted by the golden deer. Although Ràma advised her not to crave for the it, she begged
him to capture it. What followed was a whole chain of calamities. When the deer was shot by Ràma’s arrow, it
(being the demon Maricha) gave out a cry, imitating Ràma’s voice. Sìta then urged Lakçmaåa to go help
Ràma. Lakçmaåa tried to convince her that there was deceit behind this cry and that nothing bad could
possibly happen to Éri Ràma. But Sìta was adamant. She lost her wisdom, her discrimination and all other
virtues for a moment. She became angry with Lakçmaåa and even uttered insulting and crude words at him.
This incident in the Ràmàyaåa symbolizes how a person, even one highly evolved, can err and fall at any
moment, if one is not alert.

Amma: Amma explained how Sita represents the mind, Sri Rama represents God, Sri Rama’s brother
Lakshmana represents discipline, the deer represents desire, Maricha represents maya [the illusionary world]
and Ravana represents the senses.

In the story, Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are staying in a camp in the forest when Maricha approaches
them in the form of a golden deer. Sita wants Sri Rama to capture the deer for her and he complies. But the
deer tactfully takes him far away from the camp. When Sri Rama realises the deer is really a demon, he kills it,
but as Maricha is dying, the demon calls out. “Lakshmana, help me!” When Lakshmana and Sita hear Sri
Rama’s call back in their hut, Sita tells Lakshmana to go help his brother. Lakshmana reluctantly leaves, but
before he does so, he draws a line on the ground and warns Sita not to cross it at any cost. With both Sri
Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita, Ravana comes, tricks Sita into crossing Lakshmana’s line and takes her
away to Lanka.

“As soon as Sita realised her mistake, She began repenting,” Amma said. “When her yearning for Sri Rama
reached its peak, Sri Rama reached Lanka with his monkey army, defeated Ravana and brought Sita back.”

Amma explained how the story illustrates the fact that when desires enter our mind, we become distant from
God. “Maya [the illusionary world] is very powerful,” Amma said. “If desires become strong, we fall into a
trap. Then it is discipline alone that saves us. When Sita, the mind crossed over the line of discipline she fell
into the hands of Ravana. Then she realized her folly and started praying to the Lord wholeheartedly. Then
Sri Rama came and rescued her. When we awaken to our ignorance and put in conscious efforts, God reaches
out to us and we are able to unite with God, the Source.”
7. Praising Hanuman Gives Him Power
Hanuman is in fact very strong and can jump incredible lengths. However at times he forgets this. When he is
ready to make the leap from India to Lanka, he begins to doubt himself. Only when all his fellow monkeys
cheer him on does he find the confidence and is able to make the leap. What is the teaching here?

Ràmakäçåànanda Swàmi: “In the great Indian epic Ràmàyaåa, Hanumàn needs to travel quickly to Laêka
to bring a message to Sìta, the beloved of his Lord Ràma who is being held captive by the demon king
Ràvaåa. Actually, Hanumàn is a god and has tremendous powers, but in his childhood he used to harass the
äçis with various pranks and practical jokes, and they cursed him so that he would forget his powers. Later on,
they blessed him saying that if someone reminds him of his powers, he would remember them and be able to
use them. So, as Hanumàn was standing on the seashore looking forlornly in the direction of Laêka, he was
surrounded by Lord Ràma’s army of monkeys, who knew that Hanumàn alone could leap to Laêka. As they
started singing his praises, reminding him of his hidden powers, he immediately remembered his divine
nature and rose to the occasion, crossing the sea and reaching Laêka in a single giant leap. Like Hanuman, we
have forgotten our divine nature. The many scriptural declarations such as, ‘Thou art That,’ are singing the
praises of our True Self in order to remind us of who we really are.”
8. The Monkeys Destroy Madhu Vanam
When the monkeys learn that Hanuman has located Sita, they become overjoyed. In their bliss, they go to
Madhuvanam, a precious forest, and trample it. What is the teaching behind this story?

The Madhu Vanaë episode shows to things. The first is the importance of maintaining our composure in
success and in failure. It is both extremes–depression in failure and jubilation in success–are dangerous.
Why? Because they cause us to lose our viveka–discriminative thinking. When the monkeys learn that
Hanumàn has seen Sìta, they go wild and commit many rash acts, including destroying the forest, which
could easily have lead to capital punishment for them.

Secondly, it shows the dangers of consuming alcohol. In fact, one of the primary effects of alcohol abuse is
that our intellect loses its viveka éakti. Suddenly people find ourselves engaging in activities that they never
would have engaged in had they remained sober. The insult friends and family. The drive drunk. They get
into fights. And furthermore they begin drinking more and more. Once viveka is out the window, anything
can happen. One may take harder drugs or even commit murder.

Along these lines, Amma tells a story. [Three Rooms: One of Whiskey, One of Gold, One of Woman.]
9. Rama Sends Sita to the Forest
Towards the end of the Ramayana, after Rama and Sita are back in Ayodhya–even though Sita has already
proven her purity–it seems some citizens do not think it was correct for Rama to have taken her back. When
Rama learns of this, he sends Sita to the forest. Is this dharma or adharma on Rama’s part? Why? What is the
intended teaching here?

The epic in question was the Ramayana, the 7,500-year-old text by Sage Valmiki detailing the life of Sri Rama.
In the epic, Sri Rama’s wife, Sita, is stolen away by Ravana, and taken to his palace in Lanka. Eventually, after
a search of 10 months Sri Rama kills Ravana and rescues Sita. But when questions arise in Sri Rama’s
kingdom regarding Sita’s chastity during her time in Ravana’s palace, Sri Rama exiles his wife to the forest–
even though she is pregnant with Sri Rama’s children–without even giving her an opportunity to speak in
defense of herself. The brahmachari raising the question wanted to know how we could consider someone
who would treat his virtuous wife in such a way as the embodiment of dharma. The brahmachari raising the
question wanted to know how we could consider someone who would treat his virtuous wife in such a way as
the embodiment of dharma.

“If we interpret the inner meaning of Ramayana, Sri Rama, Sita and all other characters are within us,” Amma
said. “Even when we look into the epic of Ramayana externally, Sri Rama was indeed an incarnation of
dharma. And he did set a good example to his subjects.”

Amma then explained how, as the King of Ayodhya, Sri Rama was not just wedded to Sita but to all of his
subjects and that, whatever he did, the well being of his entire kingdom was his top consideration.

“When one is the king of a nation, that person cannot act, merely thinking of the well being of his own
family,” Amma said. “For example, suppose a war breaks out between two countries. A general should not
stay back at home with his wife and children. He has to be there at the war front, leading his army. This is a
general’s dharma towards the nation.”

Amma then quoted some advice given by Sage Vidhura in the Mahabharata: “To save a family, sacrifice a
man; to save the village, sacrifice a family; to save the country, sacrifice a village.”

Then Amma looked at Sri Rama’s actions from another angle, explaining how when a robbery or fraud takes
place at a bank, the authorities will immediately suspend the manager and have the enquiry later. “Although
the authorities may know deep within that the manager is innocent, still they will let the law take its own
course,” Amma said. “Maybe in the enquiry the manager will be proven innocent. In that case, he will be
reinstated. Such an action will increase alertness and awareness among the other staff too, and they will be
extra careful in all their transactions.”
Amma said that Sri Rama’s actions were in a similar vein: “When there was some murmur among the people
about Sita’s purity, Rama sent her to the forest. But later, when the people became convinced of Sita’s chastity,
Rama was ready to accept her back. This shows how a king must be. For a king, each and every subject in his
kingdom is important. He listens to each and every person. He doesn’t just stick to the words of his counsel.
In his heart Rama knew that Sita was pure. Similarly, Sita also knew Rama’s heart.”

Amma then offered another interpretation, this one focusing on the fact that Sita was pregnant. “In India it is
the custom to send a wife back to her parents’ house when she reaches her seventh month of pregnancy with
her first child,” Amma said. “During her stay there, special pujas are conducted and Vedic hymns are
regularly chanted, and the atmosphere is kept spiritually surcharged. This atmosphere will have a positive
influence on the baby. After she gives birth, she is once again brought back to the husband’s house.

“Sri Rama did the same. He knew that Sita was going to stay in Sage Valmiki’s ashram. In the ashram, she
was always hearing the chanting of Vedic hymns, inhaling the pure smoke from the fire rituals and was in the
elevating presence of the Rishi. So the children born to her–the twins Lava and Kusha–were spiritually
vibrant and courageous.”

Amma also pointed out how in those days a king could marry any number of times, yet Sri Rama never took
even a second wife. Even when he performed the Ashwa Medha sacrifice, which requires the presence of one
of the king’s wives, he did not remarry but had a golden idol of Sita made and kept it in the place specified
for the wife. “This clearly shows the love Sri Rama had for Sita,” Amma said.

Amma: Children, before we give an opinion about something, we should see the different aspects of it.
Though Rama was an Incarnation, He was primarily a king, and secondarily a husband and father. In those
days kings were not like the rulers of the present age. They ruled the kingdom with dharma as the basis. They
never erred from the path of dharma. Rama was a true king. He always aimed at the happiness and peace of
His subjects. When there was controversy about His wife, for the happiness and peace of His subjects He
renounced His dearest one, Sita. This is real renunciation. Giving up a thing which is very dear to us is real
sacrifice; relinquishing something which is insignificant cannot be called a sacrifice. As far as Rama was
concerned, Sita was His heart and soul. In reality, they were not two but one. In order to please jects, Rama, a
true king, abandoned Sita whom He loved the most.

If you read and understand the Ramayana properly, you can see that both Sita and Rama were Perfect Souls.
In that sense nobody could separate them because they were spiritually one. In fact, they had neither sorrow
nor happiness because both of them were beyond all dualities. Even then, they suffered like ordinary human
beings. That was to set an example of how we should live in this world without deviating from the path of
dharma even when we are in the midst of life’s problems.
You can see that the same Rama who abandoned Sita, shed buckets of tears the night before the abandonment
and also when Ravana kidnapped Her. From that we can understand that He was a loving husband too.
Moreover, even if She was renounced by Rama, Sita still adored Him. She never thought or spoke anything
negative about Her husband even for a moment. She never thought of another man. That was only because
She knew what Rama’s duties were as a king and She knew what was in His heart as well. Their conduct
makes it clear that Rama and Sita were Perfect Souls. What higher example is needed for us mortal human
beings? Today people never try to understand the scriptures properly. Not only that, they misinterpret them.
That is the pity. There are many people who say, “If Rama could renounce Sita, I can also abandon my wife.”
On the other hand, some women will say, “If Sita could live with Ravana, what is wrong if I live with another
man?” What moral degradation! Only renunciates who perform tapas can correctly interpret the scriptures, not
others. Sri Rama ruled the kingdom, and at the same time was highly spiritual while living in this world. He
was an ideal brother, son, husband, king and friend. He was even a good enemy.
10. How the Squirrel Got Its Stripes
When the monkey army is building the Rama Setu, a small squirrel decides to help. As he is too small to
carry the massive stones, he simply dips himself in the water, rolls in the sand and then shakes the sand off
over on the bridge. What is Lord Rama’s reaction upon seeing this? What is the teaching here?

Swàmi Ràmakäçåànanda: After Sri Rama discovered that his beloved consort Sita had been kidnapped by
the demon king Ravana and taken to the island kingdom of Lanka, the Lord set out to build a bridge to Lanka
from the southern tip of India in order to rescue Sita. The bulk of the work was being handled by Sri Rama’s
armyof monkeys led by his greatest devotee, Hanuman. However, the monkeys were not alone in their efforts.
As the Lord was surveying the progress of the bridge, he noticed that a small chipmunk was darting back and
forth from the bridge to the shore, scurrying between the legs of the monkeys who were inner peace text fixed
carrying on their shoulders enormous boulders to add to the bridge. When he looked closer, Sri Rama saw
that the little chipmunk’s movements were not without purpose; just before reaching the mainland, the
chipmunk would take a dip in the ocean, scramble up onto the beach and roll around in the sand. Then he
would run back to the work-site and shake his body, depositing the sand onto the bridge. He carried out this
ritual tirelessly, taking hundreds of trips back and forth.

The monkeys were irritated by the chipmunk’s presence and kept trying to kick him out of the way. “What are
you doing here?!” one of the monkeys finally shouted. “I’m helping build the bridge to save Sita Devi,” the
chipmunk answered.

All the monkeys in earshot laughed uproariously. “Nice try, little fella,” they admonished him. “But how can
you possibly help us? Look at the size of the boulders we are carrying!”

“It’s true I cannot carry as much as you. But I am doing all that I can. I know that the Lord’s task is a noble
one, and I want to do my best to serve him.”

The monkeys ignored the chipmunk and went on with their work. At the end of the day, they ran to tell Sri
Rama about their progress. But he was not interested in hearing about their exploits–instead, he asked them
to bring the chipmunk to him. “What could our Lord want with that useless fellow?” they wondered, but they
dared not disobey.

When they brought the chipmunk, the Lord picked him up and held him affectionately in his palm. “You
don’t realize, my dear monkeys, that without the sand deposited between the cracks of your boulders, the
bridge would fall apart. Never despise the weak or the deeds of those who are not as strong as you. Each
serves according to his own capacities, and no one is unnecessary.” The Lord stroked the chipmunk’s back
with three fingers, drawing the stripes that adorn the chipmunk’s back even today–an eternal reminder that
God has a special love and concern for the small and the weak.
11. The Monkeys Become Lord Rama’s Army
Is there a teaching behind the monkeys teaming up to fight with Lord Rama? If so, what?

The difficulties and dangers that Érì Ràma had to face during his sojourn in the forest were enormous. It is
the practice for the mothers in the olden days to give a pack of food to their children when they went out to
another place. Kauéalya did a similar thing when Ràma went to the forest. She thought deeply about what
should be given to him, what would remain fresh for 14 years. Then she gave him dharma, the ever-fresh
eatable. She told him, “Ràghava, the dharma which you protect with courage and discipline will protect you.”
She sent with him dharma as companion, as it were. It was dharma which ultimately gave him victory. If one
follows dharma, even animals will support him. Ràmàyaåa proves that if one falls into the ways of adharma,
even one’s own brother will turn an enemy. Even monkeys, supported Ràma. But brother Vibhìçaåa deserted
Ràvaåa.

Everywhere Ràma goes he turns the wild into a palace. Domestication of the human mind–saëskàra.
|| oë amäteévaryai namaã ||
A Look into Ràja Dharma as Presented in the Mahàbhàrata of Vyàsa

Without doubt the Bhagavad-Gìta is the centerpiece of the Mahàbhàrata. However, it is a mere 700
verse out of 100,000. Yet if we remove Käçåa’s battlefield advice to Arjuna, what remains is far from a
mere soap opera. The remaining verses are saturated with wisdom–spiritual and material. In fact, the
main teaching of Mahàbhàrata is about dharma. As Vyàsa himself writes: dharmo rakçito rakçitaã–If
you protect dharma, it will protect you. In the latticework of relationships woven throughout the epic–
if by sheer volume alone–we are provided unprecedented insight into the nature of dharma in various
contexts. There is the dharma of a husband, the dharma of a student, the dharma of a guru, the
dharma of brother, sister, son, father, etc. But more than any other, it is ràja dharma–the dharma of
the king–that is analyzed.

Ràja dharma is revealed throughout the epic through the actions of various characters, through the
results of those actions, as well as through direct advice. Not only do the characters of Mahàbhàrata
discuss governance, but they also recall past conversations on the subject are also recalled as well.
Although raja dharma is discussed throughout the epic, it is the Éànti Parva that offers the densest
presentation of political thought. Here, we get the wisdom of Bhìçma to the future king Yudhiçâhira.

Imagine the scene: The countless arrows that have pierced Bhìçma’s body form his deathbed. The only
thing maintaining his life is a boon that stipulates Bhìçma gets to choose the hour of his death. As
such, he waits for the sun to begin its northward journey in order to breathe his last during that
auspicious time. Upon the advice of Érì Käçåa, Yudhiçâhira approaches his impaled elder and asks:

ko daåáaã kìdäéo daåáaã kië-rùpaã kië-paràyaåa |


kim-àtmakaã kathaë-bhùtaã kathaë-mùrtiã kathaë prabho || [Éànti Parva, 121.5]

jàgarti ca kathaë daåáaã prajàsvavahitàtmakaã |


kaéca pùrvàparam-idaë jàgarti pratipàlayan || [Éànti Parva, 121.6]

“What is governance? What is it like? What are its forms? What is it based on? What is its purpose? What is
its origin? What is its structure? How does governance keep vigilant in the service of the people? Who keeps
awake while ruling the world?”

During the course of the ensuing dialogue, we are provided with penetrating insight into the ancient
Indian concept of governance. What is revealed is a political paradigm of immense maturity: monarchy
established not on the divine status of the king, but on the divine status of his subjects. While
hereditary kingship has disappeared from India, being replaced by a parliamentary democracy, this
doesn’t mean that the essence of the ràja dharma is no longer applicable. In fact, the Éànti Parva is
studied today not as a relic museum piece, but as a vital document offering sage advice on how to lead
in both the political and corporate worlds. However, many of these principles need not be limited to
these two circles. They can be applied in one’s personal, social and family life as well.

Principle 1:
The Main Dharma of the Leader is to Protect His Citizens

eça eça paro dharmo yad ràjà rakçati prajàã |


bhùtànàm hi yathà dharmo rakçanaë paramà dayà || [Éànti Parva, 71.26]

The protection of the people, this is the highest dharma of the king. Indeed, the protecting of all living beings
with compassion towards them is the highest dharma.

Principle 2:
Protection Not Enough, Create an Environment Where the People Can Flourish

prabhavàrthàya bhùtànàm dharma-pravacanaë kätam |


yaã syàt-prabhava-saëyuktaã sa dharma iti niécayaã || [Éànti Parva,109.10]

All the sayings of dharma are with a view to securing the prabhava* of all living beings. Whatever creates
prabhava is dharma, without a doubt.

* Prabhava means flourishing–nurturing, cherishing, providing more amply, endowing more richly, prospering, increasing,
enhancing, etc.

Principle 3:
Not Only Should the People Be Protected, They Should Live Without Fear

putra iva piturgehi viçaye yasya mànavàã |


nirbhayà nicarisyanti sa ràjà ràjasattamaã || [Éànti Parva, 57.33]

That king is the best in whose realm the people live without fear, just as the sons live without any fear in the
house of their father.
Principle 4:
Fear Keeps the Citizens in Line

daåáaécenna bhavelloke vinaéyeyurimàã prajàã |


jale matsyànivàbhakçyan durbalàn balavattaràã || [Éànti Parva, 15.30]

It is without doubt, the fear of rule alone that keeps the people on the path of proper conduct towards each
other. In its absence, just as in the waters the big fish swallow the small fish, those who are powerful would
feed on those who are weak.

Are principles No. 3 and No. 4 a contradiction? Principle 4 declares that social order is maintainable
only when the citizens know that sure and just punishment will follow the breaking of a law. Yet,
principle 3 declares that the citizens should be allowed to live without fear. Certainly, fear of one’s
own government can be one of the most debilitating forms of oppression. This is witnessed in current
and past fascist regimes. If fear is the basis of governance, and the purpose of governance is to secure
for the people freedom from fear, isn’t this a paradox? Can these two be resolved?

On one level, it is an irresolvable paradox. The sages of ancient Indian allowed such seemingly
contradicting realities–one reality confronting the other–to serve as a system of checks and balances.
Balance is the only key. But on another level, it is not irresolvable at all. Because the fear that keeps
man in line is, ultimately, not fear of the ruler but fear of committing adharma and the results of such
actions. In fact, the primary person kept in line by this fear was the ruler himself.

Principle 5:
Drying the Tears of the Poor, the Weak, the Sick, the Widowed and the Downtrodden is the
Ruler’s Top Responsibility.

käpaåànàthaväddhànàë yadàéru paribhàrjati |


harçe saëjanayan nänàë sa rajño dharma ucyate || [Éànti Parva, 91.38]

When the king wipes the tears of the poor, the dispossessed, and the old, and creates happiness among the
people thereby, such conduct on his part is called the king’s dharma.

In fact, in Bhìçma’s advice to Yudhiçâhira, taking care of the poor, the sick, the weak and the exploited
is stressed again and again. Furthermore, it is presented in an impassioned language: “Do not ever
think that the weak and the helpless are always to be despised. Take care that the eyes of the weak do
not burn you and your relatives to death [91.15]. Nothing remains in the family of the one destroyed
by the anger of the weak, not one sprout of life ever germinates there, not a blade of grass. Therefore,
never oppress the weak and the poor [91.16]. The weak are, in actual fact, much stronger than the
strong. They have in them decidedly greater strength; for nothing is left of the strong that have been
burnt by the weak [91.17]. Where the insulted, the hurt, and the rejected with a heap of abuses, do
not find in the king their protector, there the law of governance will surely destroy the king [91.18].
The tears that fall from the eyes of those who are accused falsely, and are helpless can destroy an entire
kingdom [19.20]. Harassed and oppressed, when a person is left defenseless and unprotected, there
the oppressor is punished severely by some higher power [19.22].”

Principle 6:
The King Should Be Impartial, Seeing All With Equal Vision

pàpam-àcarato catra karmaåà vyàhätena và |


priyasyàpi nà mäçyeta sa ràjño dharma ucyate ||[Éànti Parva, 91.35]

Should someone even dear to the king commit an offence by act or speech, the king shall punish him too.
That behavior is called the king’s dharma.

Cronyism–showing preferential treatment for friends and family–is a serious problem throughout in
politics. It is also rampant in other fields, like art and business. Here, Bhìçma makes it very clear that
it is the dharma of a leader to see all with an equal eye when it comes to crime. Today, we are seeing
just the opposite. A company donates 10 crore to help a political part attain power. Then that political
party unofficially agrees to turn a blind eye to that company’s illegitimate and adharmic business
practices. The laws of a country are not chosen at random. They are there for a reason–to protect
individuals, to protect society, to protect nature, etc. If a leader shows favoritism and ignores the
offenses of his friends and family, he is indirectly allowing others to suffer at their hand. He will be
failing to protect his subjects. In fact, it is this abheda buddhi–seeing all with an equal eye–that is
demonstrated by Érì Ràma when he sends Sìta to the forest near the end of the Ràmàyaåa.

Principle 7:
Balance Must Be Struck Between Forgiveness & Force

mädurityavajànanti tìkçåa ityudvijanti ca |


tikçna-kàle bhavet tìkçno mädu-kàle mädurbhavet ||[Éànti Parva, 140.65]

If he is always gentle, the people ignore him; if he uses force always, they become agitated. He should be
gentle when it is time for gentleness and be forceful when it is time for force.
Principle 8:
Cultivate Mutual Trust Between the Various Groups of Citizens

akasmàt krodha-mohàbhyaë lobhàd vàpi svabhàvajàt |


anyonyaë nàbhibhàçante tat-paràbhava-lakçaåam ||[Éànti Parva, 107.29]

When out of anger, confusion, fear or greed, the various peoples of a republic can no longer communicate
with each other, it is a sure indication that they are already defeated.

Understanding this principle, the British were able to exploit it and use it to colonize India. They
sewed the seeds of conflict between the various kingdoms, religions and social groupings. But now
more than 50 years after independence, we find politicians and political parties still trying to divide the
people.

Principle 9:
A King Must Confine Himself to his Lawful Sources of Income

A king must confine himself to his lawful sources of income.

As detailed in Mahàbhàrata, the Dharma Sùtras of Jaimini, and Kauâilya’s Artha Éàstra, we see that the
king was given a tax on one-sixth of the produce from individual lands as well as an irrigation fee on
them; tax on the products of artisans, tolls and duties on all kinds of merchandise, protection tax on
caravans of traders, fees on use of waterways, monies collected as fines for wrongdoings. Furthermore,
there were provisions for special taxes on very wealthy merchants. And during emergency times, the
king was allowed to call on the subjects for further funds, which were treated as a loan and later
repaid. The royal revenues were to be collected diligently, but without harshness; they were to be spent
with equal diligence, but with prudence in protecting the people and in their welfare in every possible
way.

Principle 10:
Before One Can Rule Others, He Must First Rule Himself

àtma jeyaã sadà ràjñà tato jeyàéca éatravaã |


àjìtàtmà nara-patirvijayeta kathaë nipùn || [Éànti Parva, 69.4]

When the king has conquered his own self, he has conquered his enemies too. The king who remains defeated
by his own self, how can he be victorious against an enemy?
Unless we conquer the inner enemies, we have no chance of conquering the outer enemies. This
means we must gain control over our minds. The inner enemies are unrighteous desires, anger, greed,
jealousy, over attachment, pride, etc. These are all reactions of the mind. If we don’t have control over
our mind, when adverse situations arise, we will suddenly find ourselves fighting not the external
enemy (in the form of the situation) but also the internal enemy (in the form of the negative reaction).
When this happens, success is twice as difficult to achieve.

In the key note address Amma delivered at the 2004 Parliament of World’s Religions in Barcelona,
Spain, Amma spoke along these lines. Amma said:

“Every country spends huge amounts on building security systems. Security is indispensable; but the
greatest security of all comes when we imbibe the spiritual principles and live accordingly. We have
forgotten this. Today the enemies that are attacking us from both within and without cannot be dealt
with just by increasing the power of our weapons. We can no longer afford to delay the rediscovery
and strengthening of our most powerful weapon, spirituality, which is inherent in us all.”

To defeat these inner enemies, we need to strengthen the army within us. Discrimination, humility,
service and love for God constitute this army. If we use these positive forces effectively, we will be able
to attain victory and experience real happiness.

Conclusion
At the end of the Mahàbhàrata we find the five Pàåáavas and their wife embarking on a pilgrimage to
heaven. It is a long arduous journey, because in order to reach heaven they have to climb to the top of
the Himàlayas. And on their way, one by one, they start dying off. Finally, only Yudhiçâhira is left.
Eventually, low and behold, Yudhiçâhira does reach heaven. But upon arriving, he is shocked to find
that his brothers are not there. He immediately asks where they are, and in response is led down a
dark corridor. And as he walks along, the environment starts becoming more and more dark and
creepy. He passes lakes of boiling fire and vultures dining on piles of human bodies. And the worst
part is the stink. The place is permeated with the smell of rotting flesh. Thinking this must be some
cruel trick–because surely his brothers could not be in such a foul place–Yudhiçâhira decides to turn
back. But as soon as he turns around, he hears disembodied voices calling to him, begging him not to
leave. “Don’t go!” they say. “Don’t go! Your presence here is like a cool breeze, providing us with at
least some relief from this torturous existence.” Yudhiçâhira asks, “Who are you?” And the answer
comes back: “We are your brothers.”
It’s at this point that Yudhiçâhira says, “If my brothers are in hell, then I am not interested in heaven!
If my presence provides even the slightest amount of comfort to them, how can I consider returning to
heaven? I refuse to go without them.”

And as soon as Yudhiçâhira says this, the whole scene disappears. And the next moment he finds
himself back in heaven surrounded by his brothers. In fact, the whole thing had been a drama set up
as test to see if Yudhiçâhira was really fit to be a king. It was in this moment that we see the extent to
which Yudhiçâhira had imbibed all Bhìçma had taught him. He had become the embodiment of the
perfect king. He refused happiness for himself unless it included the happiness of others. This is a true
leader: one who willingly renounces his own personal comfort for the sake of others. And this is the
true heaven: Not some world up in the clouds but the eternal heaven of a compassionate heart–the
paradise known to a beautified mind.

|| oë tat sat ||
|| oë amäteévaryai namaã ||

VARÅA VYAVASTHA

The primary aim of the scriptures is to help the human beings to accomplish the four-fold puruçàrthas
of dharma, artha, kàma and mokça–the human goals of righteous action, financial security, fulfillment
of desires and, ultimately, liberation from all suffering. For assisting us in accomplishing these four
goals, the scriptures provide a particular infrastructure. Infrastructure is important. If a country is to
progress, it requires the necessary conditions and atmosphere. You cannot progress without roads for
transporting, without communication systems like the Internet, etc. Veda, or the scriptures, has also
understood the importance of infrastructure. And the infrastructure presented by the Veda is called
varåa àérama vyavastha.

According to the scriptures, varåàérama vyavastha is the ideal scheme for society to accomplish all the
four puruçàrthas. When Veda provides a scheme, the Veda keeps in mind both the spiritual and
material goals of life. Western society specializes in providing the infrastructure for material success–
making money and providing entertainment. However, an infrastructure that suits only material
success is not enough for the accomplishment of spiritual goals. Therefore the scriptural infrastructure
keeps in mind both the material and spiritual goal of humanity because, according to the scriptures,
mere material success is absolutely worthless. That is what Arjuna discovered on the battlefield. Even
though he was a materially rich and accomplished person, his spiritual bankruptcy came to the fore
when he faced a crisis in life. And therefore the scriptures say that material success is important, but it
should be equally balanced and complimented by spiritual success also. And ultimately what matters is
spiritual success.

The infrastructure–or social design–given by the scriptures to attain this material and spiritual success
is called varåa àérama vyavastha. It consists of two schemes: varåa vyavastha and àérama vyavastha.

Varåa vyavastha is a social scheme that is meant for the upliftment of, the growth of, the prosperity of
the society as a whole. It is a macro-scheme, taking a society into account. Whereas àérama vyavastha is
a scheme in which the individual growth and success are kept in mind. According to Sanàtana
Dharma, both society and the individual must be considered. Therefore, a balance must be struck
between the individual and the society. The varåa vyavastha is Veda’s social scheme.

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In varåa vyavastha, the society is classified into four groups. Each group is called a varåa. If society is
taken as one body, each group serves as an organ. Thus, society is seen as an organic whole having
these four-fold organs. The four groups are: bràhmaåa varåaã, kçatriya varåaã, vaiéya varåaã and éùdra
varåaã.

What is the basis upon which this varåa division is made? There are three different bases or
conditions on which the society can be classified. Based on the norm we use for classification, the
groups will change and so will our place within them.

GUÅA VIBHÀGAÃ: DIVISION OF VARÅA BASED ON CHARACTER


The first norm on which society can be classified is character–personality, inclination, trait. In
Sanskrit, it is called guåa vibhàgaã. In such a division, four types of personality are specified. And
based on the type of personality, the person will be called guåa bràhmaåa, guåa kçatriya, guåa vaiéya or
guåa éùdra. Now the next question is: What makes one a guåa bràhmaåa or guåa kçetriya, vaiéya or
éùdra. The four traits given in the scriptures are given as follows:

GUÅA BRÀHMAÅA–THE SPIRITUAL PERSONALITY


The first personality is the spiritual personality–the personality in which the person gravitates primarily
towards spirituality. The one who loves spiritual pursuits, withdrawal, solitude, silence, contemplation
and pursuit of the ultimate reality. These are what primarily appeals to such a mind. All the other
things in life such as money and luxury and pleasure–which other people consider as very important–
appear insignificant to this person. Such a spiritual-oriented personality is called guåa bràhmaåatvaë.
Such a person is called guåa bràhmaåa. Sannyàsa appeals to such a mind. Renunciation appeals to
such a mind. For other people, solitude appears as terrible, depressing loneliness, this mind loves
solitude. In essence, guåa bràhmaåa means a spiritual personality.

GUÅA KÇATRIYA–THE SELFLESSLY MOTIVATED & DYNAMIC PERSONALITY


Then the second personality is a dynamic personality, which heavily loves activity. It is outgoing,
active, planning, energetic, dynamic, highly motivated mind. And this motivation itself is selfless
motivation. It is interested in activity, but not self-centered activity. It is not selfish dynamism, but
interested in contribution, serving, uplifting, helping the society. Such a selflessly motivated mind is
called guåa kçatriya mind. A personality that heavily contributes to the material upliftment and
protection of society. This is guåa kçatriya: a selflessly motivated mind.

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GUÅA VAIÉYA–THE SELFISHLY MOTIVATED & DYNAMIC PERSONALITY
The third type of personality is equally dynamic and motivated. But this personality is different from
the previous one. Whereas the previous personality was highly selfless, this personality is highly self-
centered. We can call it ‘selfishly motivated personality.’ This personality thinks “Every activity has to
produce the benefit only for me and my family. I would like to amass wealth. I will not think of
contributing to society.” Such a mind is guåa vaiéya mind: selfishly motivated and dynamic mind.

GUÅA ÉÙDRA–MOTIVATIONLESS PERSONALITY


The fourth personality is guåa éùdra–a personality which is passive, lethargic, which has no motivation
at all. Many people complain, “There is no motivation in life. I don’t care about material success or
spiritual success. No puruçàrtha appeals to me. Dharma, artha, kàma, mokça–none of them appeal. The
mere goal of life is what? Eating, surviving and dying.” Such a mind that is very close to the animalistic
mind. Such a lethargic, passive, motivation-less personality is called guåa éùdra personality.

In essence, the guåa bràhmaåa is one who lives only for others; guåa bràhmaåa lives for himself and
others; guåa vaiéya only lives for himself; guåa éùdra lives neither for himself nor for others. This four-
fold division is based solely on a person’s character. It has nothing to do with birth or occupation
whatsoever.

KARMA VIBHÀGAÃ: DIVISION OF VARÅA BASED ON PROFESSION


The next norm of division of the four varåas is called karma vibhàga–division of the four-fold varåas
based on profession. Here, all the possible professions are broadly classified into four. These are all
not watertight divisions, but for the sake of convenience, they are divided into four types of works.
Each work is important for the growth and functional harmony of society.

KARMA BRÀHMAÅA–SCRIPTURAL TEACHING


The first group when we divide the varåas by profession is karma bràhmaåa: scriptural learning and
teaching. This is being neglected in today’s world. It is a very important work, which requires
specialization and dedicated pursuit. Because the scriptures of Sanàtana Dharma are enormous–both
extensive and intensive. They are extensive in that they deal with a large range of topics–philosophy,
ethic, rituals, astrology, grammar, etc. They are intensive in that they have commentaries that delve
deeper into each text. And there are subcommentaries that go even deeper. And we have sub-
subcommentary, sub-sub-subcommentary, sub-sub-sub-subcommentary, etc. Sometimes six, seven
generations deep! And all these scriptures are in Sanskrit. Learning Sanskrit itself is an enormous task.

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From all this, we can see that if one is going to really be able to learn the scriptures and teach them to
others, a lifetime dedication is required.

All of society cannot dedicate itself to the study of scriptures. Therefore we require a separate group
that specializes only on that. This group should not have any other job. Their only job should be
studying all the scriptures and teaching them to the next generation. And they have to teach society
also in a simplified manner, in a contemporary language, and interpreting them in a way that is
suitable to the present society. Everything contained in Brahma Sùtras need not be taught to the
public. The whole society does not require that. Whatever is required for the society, that much
knowledge someone must give. And this group’s vision of the scriptures must holistic. They must be
able to see the entirety because they will be the one’s called on to interpret the scriptures when
question arise related to the modern world, which are not directly answered in the scriptures
themselves. So karma bràhmaåas are the scriptural teachers of society. They are the scriptural
consultants of the society. And they even have to serve as psychiatrists of society because the scriptures
deal with psychological problems also.

In fact, when one is bràhmaåa by profession, he is not supposed to amass wealth. Traditionally, he
was to remain poor. He survived by the dànaë of the kçatriyas and vaiéyas. His life was one of austerity
and rigorous spiritual discipline. He ate very little and enjoyed very almost no material pleasure
whatsoever. His knowledge and selfless attitude, made him the ideal advisor. There he gave guidance
to the king or government–without pay. So, the bràhmaåa karma is to understand the true knowledge,
and to be an expert in applying them in different places and at different times.

KARMA KÇATRIYA–PUBLIC SERVICE


The second type of profession is public service: administration of the country, governing of society,
maintenance of law-and-order, policing the society, defending the country, etc. All of these things will
come under those activities that are meant for providing the peaceful and appropriate atmosphere for
the citizens to pursue their goals. Otherwise, there theft will be pervasive. The citizens will always be
frightened. If the individual should pursue his goal, the atmosphere of the society must be maintained.
In those days this was the job of the king and his court and soldiers. Now, we have to call it all forms
of public service. Their life is dedicated for the society. Whoever has taken to public service, or karma,
is called karma kçatriya.

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KARMA VAIÉYA–COMMERCIAL BUSINESS
The third type is all forms of commercial activity–business or trade. This includes farming. This is
very important for the production, distribution and sharing of the wealth of the requirement of the
society. That karma is called vaiéya karma, and whoever takes to that activity is called karma vaiéyaã.

KARMA ÉÙDRA–UNSKILLED AND SEMI-SKILLED LABOR


The fourth and final is all forms of labor–unskilled or semi-skilled. This person cannot think very
independently, but he can serve others. He assists the karma bràhmaåa, the karma kçatriya and the
karma vaiéya, following their leadership. And whoever takes to such activity is called karma éùdraã.

Therefore, based upon my profession, I can be a karma bràhmaåa, karma kçatriya, karma vaiéya or
karma éùdraã. This is the second division called karma vibhàgaã.

JÀTI VIBHÀGAÃ: DIVISION OF VARÅA BASED ON BIRTH


The third division is purely based on birth–the family into which one is born. In Sanskrit, birth is
called jàtiã. Jàtiã means janma, which is derived from the root jan–to be born. And based on birth,
one is a jàti bràhmaåa, if he or she is born into a bràhmaåa family. Similarly, one can be born a jàti
kçatriya, jàti vaiéya or jàti éùdra.

Therefore, from three different norms, the society can be classified. As such, a person can be born into
a bràhmaåa family (jàti bràhmaåa), take up the job of a MLA (karma kçatriya), and exploit the position
for amassing wealth, thereby turning it into a business (guåa vaiéya). Thus, one person can be a jàti
bràhmaåa, a karma kçatriya and a guåa vaiéya. It all depends upon the norm that you base varåa upon.

VARÅA TÀRATAËYAË: GRADATIONS IN VARÅA


Are there gradations between the varåas in terms of superiority, inferiority, etc? In Sanskrit, the word
is tàrataëyaë. As far as jàti vibhàgaã is concerned, all the four are equal by birth. Birth cannot give
superiority to anyone or inferiority to anyone. No one should claim superiority from the standpoint of
jàti. “I am a jàti bràhmaåa! Therefore I demand respect!” That is called the caste system, which is a big
problem. Caste system is the problem caused by the tàrataëyaë attributed to jàti vibhàga. And the
teaching of Sanàtana Dharma is: In jàti classification, there is no superiority; all are equal.

What about with regards to profession? Karma vibhàga? Also according to Sanàtana Dharma, karma
vibhàga-wise also, all are equal. No profession is inferior; no profession is superior. All jobs are equally
important. And it is from this angle that the well-known Puruça Sùkta mantra occurs:

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bràhmaåo’sya mukham-àsìt | bàhù ràjanyaã kätaã |
ùrù tadasya yadvaiéyaã padbhyàë éùdro ajàyata || [Äg Veda]

[His mouth formed the bràhmaåa; his two arms were made of the king [kçatriya]; his two thighs
the vaiéya, and from his two feet the éùdra was born.]
This example is for karma vibhàga. Just as four organs have got four different functions, similarly four
varåas have four different functions. Bràhmaåa mukha àsìt means teaching profession, scriptural
teaching. Bàhu ràjanyaã means maintenance of law and order. And ùrù tadasya yat vaiéyaã means
taking care of the economic strength of the society–support system. And padbhyàë éùdro ajàyata
means all forms of labor–running here and there.

And by saying that all of these are the four parts of the Lord, we say all of them are equally sacred. You
cannot say pàdas [feet] are less sacred than mukhaë [head]. In fact, we worship the feet of the Lord.
Éaêkaràcàrya is called Bhagavat-pàdaã, not Bhagavat-éìraã. We talk of pàda pùja, not ùrù pùja or hasta
pùja. Therefore profession-wise there is no tàrataëyaë.

So we see that society was conceived of as the fourfold manifestation of God. Each member of society
was considered divine–all varåas. Each was to worship God through his work, according to his
capacity. If a bràhmaåa became great by imparting knowledge, a kçatriya was hailed as equally great for
destroying the enemy. No less important was the vaiéya who fed and sustained society through
agriculture and trade, or the éùdra who served society through his art and craft. Together and by their
mutual interdependence in a spirit of identity, they constituted the social order.

The only division in which there is gradation is guåa vibhàga. A guåa bràhmaåa is superior to guåa
kçatriya, who is superior to guåa vaiéya, who is superior to guåa éùdra. Because guåa éùdra is unrefined
character, and guåa bràhmaåa is so refined it is approaching divine status. And therefore character-
wise, superiority we have to accomplish. And whoever has the higher character deserves namaskàra.

So, even though Prahlàda was the son of the notorious ràkçasa Hiraåyakaéipu, he is still one of the
most revered people in our culture. And what type of family was Prahlàda born into? To a ràkçasa
family. Which means birth does not matter; character alone matters.

Along these lines, it is said in the Mahàbhàrata: “Bràhmaåa is one in who can be seen truth,
generosity, forgiveness, humility, absence of cruelty, austerity and kindness. But these qualities are
found in a éùdra as well. If they are present in a éùdra, and are absent in a bràhmaåa, then that éùdra
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is not a éùdra, and that bràhmaåa is not a bràhmaåa. Only that person who has those qualities is to be
regarded as bràhmaåa, and the one who does not have them is to be regarded as a éùdra.”
[Mahàbhàrata, Vana Parva, 180.21-23, 25-26]

Therefore no gradation in the first two, but gradation in the third.


VARÅA & CHOICE
Do we have choice in determining into which group we fall into? In terms of jàti, we do not have a
choice with regards to this birth because we are already born. But the scriptures say we do have a
choice with regards to the next birth because just as our past actions have dictated the fated
circumstances of our present, so too our current actions dictate the circumstances of our future.
Therefore, this birth we have already chosen. Our next birth will be chosen by our lifestyle in this life.
So, is choice there? Partially. With regard to this birth, no; with regards to next birth, yes.

Then, as far as profession is concerned–karma vibhàgaã–we also have a choice. We can choose our
profession. And we can choose our profession from any angle. I can choose my profession based on
my svabhàva–my character; character-based, trait-based choice of profession. Or I can base it on
heredity–birth-based, family profession. Or I can base it on money. So, we have character-based
choice, family-based choice and money-based choice.

Our scriptures point out that the ideal profession is character-based because you will then love your
profession. It will not be a burden. Monday will not be a nightmare for you because you will like
going to the office. And even salary will not matter for you because you love the very work itself. In
fact, karma yoga can be ideally practiced if you love what you do. Because the very performance gives
you contentment. Therefore, character-based profession is ideal.

But if you are not sure about your character, then the next best choice is family-based or hereditary
profession.

TRADITIONALLY, KARMA WAS BASED MAINLY ON JÀTI


Traditionally, in India, profession was based on jàti. If one was a bràhmaåa by birth, they said his
profession was fixed; he is to take to priesthood. And if you one was a kçatriya by birth, the karma was
also kçatriya. If one was a vaiéya, yet was inclined to bràhmaåa karma, it was not allowed. Similarly, a
bràhmaåa was not allowed to take to vaiéya karma, etc. There were some exceptions, but for the most
part this was how it was. And this has lead to a lot of controversy. Because clearly the best indicator of
profession should be guåa, not jàti. Bràhmaåa guåa will suit bràhmaåa karma because he is a sattvik

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person, for him religion and culture will be natural–like fish taking to water. And a kçatriya guåa, a
rajasic person, you cannot ask him to sit quiet and meditate. Etc. Therefore, profession should be
according to guåa, not jàti. That is the logical answer. But still in our tradition profession came
according to jàti. Why did such an intelligent culture commits such a mistake?

Certainly our saints and sages knew that profession should be according to guåa alone, but still they
assigned profession according to jàti due to several reasons. The first reason is that, generally, in those
days, when one was born a bràhmaåa’s son, he was generally born with bràhmaåa guåa also. Generally
janma and guåa coincided.

The second reason is that, for any profession, if it is to be well done, training should be from very
early age. For example, in Russia, girls are trained in gymnastics beginning at two years old. They
adjust the bones and flesh and muscles and all to suit gymnastics. So if will really want someone to
excel at their given profession, the training should start at a very early age. And at that very early age of
five, six or seven, how to know a guåa of a person? And since the guåa cannot be found out until
someone is older, they started the training according to birth itself.

Reason three is that even if one did not have that guåa–for example, a bràhmaåa by birth did not have
bràhmaåa guåa–if the training is done from an early age, it would come. If he is brought up listening
to Vedas, in the bràhmaåa atmosphere, etc., even if he does not have the guåa he can pick it up.
Likewise, a person who is deaf to music–put him in a music house for five years and he will also pick
up a musical aptitude due to his constant exposure from a young age.

And the fourth reason is that if the choice is given to the individual, the individual himself will not be
sure. We do not have the objectivity to decide which guåa we are. Some times we feel sattvik
[bràhmaåa guåa], some time we feel we are tamasic [éùdra guåa]. Our mind is so fickle that if we are
asked to choose our guåa and profession, we will not be able to. And furthermore no one likes to
accept that he is tamasic. Everyone wants to be sattvik only. And it will create a competition for certain
fields. Now we are suffering from this problem–competition for engineering in India. Then CA! Then
CSc! So, man, being fickle-minded, will not be able to determine his guåa and profession, and not
only that he will keep on changing. He will change from one field to another! So if choice is given to
an individual certainly a lot of advantages are there, but also a lot of disadvantages.

And a final argument for jàti vibhàga is there. If there is no superiority or inferiority with regards to
profession, why should we quarrel for this profession or that profession? If priesthood is superior,
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then all should quarrel over it. But what we say is that priesthood is not superior; business also is not
superior; what does it matter what profession you take? Therefore, take any profession that comes
traditionally and make use of that profession to become bràhmaåa in guåa, because any profession is
useful for karma yoga to attain bràhmaåa guåa.

So, for these five reasons–even though they knew freedom should be given in profession–karma was
most often settled by birth. And remember this is varåa vyavastha, which has one focus: the
improvement of the society as a whole. Àérama vyavastha is aimed at improvement of the individual.
But now that society has changed, we can never force a person to take a profession forcibly.

There is one more reason for choice of occupation other than guåa or heredity. And it is the worst and
most negative approach for choice of profession, which is money-based choice of profession. Because
when money is most important, corruption will come. In a society where money is God, corruption is
inevitable. Therefore, never should the profession be based on money. Either go by character or go by
family profession.

So, you can take to labor. You can take to business. You can take to service. Or you can take to
religion and culture. But whatever profession we take does not make us superior or inferior. A road
layer is just as important as scientist. Without the road, the scientist cannot get to his laboratory. He
has to repair his car with the help of a mechanic. His house is built by a mason. So all are sacred; all
are great. So there is a choice in the type of karma we take. But there is no superiority.

And as far as guåa is concerned, we also have a choice here. All the spiritual practices are to improve
our guåa to guåa-bràhmaåatvaë. We all should become guåa bràhmaåas ultimately. Whatever be our
birth, whatever be our profession, we should all gradually become guåa bràhmaåa.

As Swàmi Vivekànanda said, “Our solution of the caste question ... comes by every one of us fulfilling
the dictates of our Vedàntic religion, by our attaining spirituality and by our becoming ideal bràhmaåa.
There is a law laid on each one of you in this land by your ancestors, whether you are Aryans or non-
Aryans, … bràhmaåas or the very lowest outcaste. The command is the same to you all, that you must
make progress without stopping, and that from the highest man to the lowest pariah, every one in this
country has to try and become the ideal bràhmaåa. This Vedàntic idea is applicable not only here but
over the whole world.”

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Therefore there is choice also. So, you can choose your janma–of course, next janma. You can choose
your profession. You can choose your character, but your choice of character is ultimately what is
important. This is the varåa vyavastha.

ÀÉRAMA VYAVASTHA

Àérama vyavastha is the system a focused on the development of the individual. In this regard, the two
systems worked together checking and balancing one another, ensuring that both individuals and
society flourished hand-in-hand and never at the expense of one another.

According to the Vedas, there are four àéramas for humankind to progress through during life. An
àérama is a stage in life—a period of development. In fact, the word àérama is derived from the word
érama—effort; an àérama is a stage in life for a particular type of effort. Each effort bestows a particular
type of benefit. Therefore, each of these four àéramas is associated with a particular facet of human
development. Regardless of whether these stages of life are pursued formally, as they were in the past,
following them internally remains essential if one wants to fully blossom as a human being.

THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF HUMAN LIFE: MOKÇA

To appreciate the relevance of these four stages, one needs to understand the goal of human life
according to Indian spirituality–mokça. Mokça means ‘liberation’ or ‘freedom’. Freedom from what?
Freedom from sorrow. With a little introspection, one can easily see that all humankind is striving,
through each and every one of their actions, for happiness alone. The Vedas speak of four puruçàrthas
[goals of human life]: dharma, artha, kàma and mokça [respectively, righteousness and the spiritual
merit gained through righteous actions, financial security and sense pleasure]. In fact, dharma, artha
and kàma are only relative goals, not the ultimate. We hold onto dharma because being a good person
makes us feel good. (Similarly, we avoid adharma because otherwise our conscience pricks us!) We
want money because without it, we have tension. And we seek sense pleasure–films, meals at five-star
hotels, relationships–not for the objects themselves but for the happiness we gain through them.
When the sages and mahàtmas say that mokça is the ultimate puruçàrtha, they are acknowledging this
truth. But if mokça is happiness, why then is it said to be a separate attainment–something different
from dharma, artha and kàma? Because mokça is not attaining temporary happiness through dharma,

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artha and kàma. It is understanding that the true source of happiness is ‘I,’ myself–the consciousness
that is the center of my being. In other words, àtma jñànam—the knowledge that the Self is the source
of all bliss. The relevance of àérama vyavastha comes clear only when we understand mokça as the goal
ultimate goal of life. When this is understood, how the four àéramas progressively help us accomplish
this goal can be clearly understood.

THE FOUR STAGES OF HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

The four stages are brahmacàrya àérama, gähasta àérama, vànaprastha àérama and sannyàsa àérama. In
essence, these can be roughly translated as student life, householder life, reclusive life and
monasticism. In fact, these stages are reflected in the life of the butterfly. The butterfly begins life in an
egg. This is akin to student life, where one is fully protected and nourished. Then, it emerges from the
egg as a caterpillar. And what does the caterpillar do? It eats leaves all day. This is akin to householder
life, where one enjoys life, fulfilling their dharmic desires. Then, the caterpillar makes a makes a
cocoon. This is akin to vànaprastha, wherein one withdraws from worldly activities to spend time in
solitude and meditation. Then, finally, one day, a butterfly bursts free from the cocoon. The butterfly
represents sannyàsa—the culmination of life where one revels blissfully in the knowledge ahaë
brahmàsmi–“I am Brahman! The source of all bliss!” The butterfly not only is blissful himself, but also
makes others happy as well.

BRAHMACÀRYA ÀÉRAMA: STUDENT LIFE FOR EDUCATION

The first àérama is a called brahmacàrya àérama. In essence, this is student life. Traditionally, this
àérama was entered when one was approximately seven years old. At this point, the child would leave
his mother and father and go to live with a guru at his gurukula. There, the guru would educate the
child in both spiritual and material knowledge until he was approximately 20 years old. Here we see
education as it was originally intended. As Amma says, “There are two types of education: education
for earning a living and education for life. Education for earning a living teaches us a trade–how to be
a doctor, or lawyer, or scientist. Education for life is spiritual education–education about the nature of
the world and one’s own Self.” Without education for life, we may become financially successful, but
when we are forced to face challenging circumstances, we will find ourselves falling apart. Therefore, in
the gurukulas, the students were not only taught trades, they were also taught the nature of their mind,
the nature of the world and the proper and intelligent way to conduct themselves within the world.
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They were taught about mokça, the ultimate goal of human life, and the means to attain it. In fact, they
learnt every duty they would have to perform in the other three àéramas.

In the traditional Indian education system, a strong focus was put on memorizing texts. In fact, in the
old days there were no textbooks. The guru had memorized everything, and he passed it on to the
students orally. The children chanted scriptures daily and, during their 12 years in the gurukula, they
memorized both secular and non-secular texts by heart. This chanting and memorization served a
number of purposes. One, it ensured they would never forget their basic lessons. Two, it preserved the
texts so that they could be passed down to the next generation (as in those days there were no printing
presses). Thirdly, like meditation, it helped sharpen the students’ minds, making them brighter and
more intellectually dexterous. And, finally, the chanting of Vedas brings grace and protection.

Perhaps most importantly, in ancient times the students lived with the guru. They saw him not only in
the classroom, but also throughout the day. This was extremely important because the cultivation of
values was considered the primary aim of brahmacàrya àérama. And living with the guru helped the
students to develop good character because the guru was always the embodiment of dharma and divine
qualities. Their relationship was not just a head-to-head transfer of information, but a heart-to-heart
transfer of all the guru was as a human being.

When a teacher tells a student, satyam vada dharma cara [Do dharma, speak truth only], etc., it has
limited impact. But when the students lived with and constantly interacted with the guru, they learned
by his example. In this way, when one graduated from the gurukula, he was 100 percent ready to join
society and contribute to it in a righteous and meaningful way. In fact, it is only upon graduating from
the gurukula that one became what was referred to as a dvija–a twice born. The second birth indicates
saëskàra–the mental and culture refinement that comes from spiritual education in the gurukula. In
fact, it can be said that before brahmacàrya àérama, one is not really a human at all, but an animal,
living only according to his own selfish likes and dislikes. At the hands of the guru, the student is
reborn, replacing his personal likes and dislikes for those of God–i.e. dharma. He knows his duties
and is prepared to execute them.

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GÄHASTA ÀÉRAMA: HOUSEHOLDER LIFE FOR DETACHMENT

Traditionally, the very day one graduated from the gurukula, he got married, immediately entering the
second phase of development: gähasta àérama—householder life. In this stage of life, one is free to
pursue his desires–artha and kàma–as long as it is done so within the confines of dharma.

At this point, it is worth noting that gähastàérama is the only àérama in which one earns money.
Brahmacàris do not earn, neither do vànaprasthas nor sannyàsis. The responsibility of supporting the
other three àéramas rested on the shoulders of the gähastàérami alone. Furthermore, he had to support
his own children and wife as well. Therefore, it is obvious that this àérama is focused on action. As
such, it is the ideal àérama for the spiritual practicing of karma yoga.

In essence, karma yoga is performing all actions with the attitude as a means to worship the Lord and,
correspondingly, accepting all the situations that come to one in life as God’s prasàdaë. In fact, the
main benefit of performing actions with the karma-yoga attitude is that it one develops vairàgya
[detachment] towards all the so-called pleasures of life. One begins to see the inherent drawbacks of
worldly attainments. Specifically, he sees how much struggle is involved in attaining them, how their
attainment never provides lasting contentment, and how they easily make on dependent upon them.
Gaining this understanding and the resulting detachment is the main purpose behind the gähastàérama
stage of life. Therefore, traditionally, one enters householder life not to become mired in one’s desires,
but to use it as a vehicle to fulfill one’s desires to some extent, but also to purify one’s mind through
karma yoga. Thereby, one developed the maturity that comes with understanding that permanent
happiness can never come through fulfilling one’s desires.

VÀNAPRASTHA ÀÉRAMA: RECLUSIVE LIFE FOR ONE-POINTED CONCENTRATION

The next stage in life is called vànaprastha. If one has done karma yoga in gähastàérama, by the time his
children are grown, he should have developed the requisite dispassion to begin withdrawing from
family life. In the old days, one would hand over the family business to his son and leave the house
for the vanaë—the forest. The solitude of the forest was the ideal place to practice meditation and
thereby acquire citta ekagrata–the power of one-pointed concentration. His wife was free to come with
him into the forest or to remain under the care of their son. In modern life, hardly anyone is formally
entering vànaprastha àérama. But moving to the forest really isn’t required. What is required is

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gradually withdrawing from the extrovert affairs of family and work life and focusing on spiritual life,
which is introverted. This may be done in one’s own home. After retirement, one allows his children
to become the head of the household, withdrawing himself from both business and family
‘management.’ He begins to live like a guest in his own home. He uses his newly acquired free time
for spiritual practices, like meditation.

SANNYÀSA ÀÉRAMA: RENOUNCING OWNERSHIP AND ATTAINING SELF-KNOWLEDGE

The final stage of life is referred to as sannyàsa àérama. Here, one focuses on the final stage of human
development: àtma jñànam–understanding and assimilating the truth that one’s true nature is not the
body, emotional mind or intellect, but the consciousness that serves as their substratum. This is the
teaching found in the upaniçads.

Here we see the beauty of the àérama vyavastha. Because àtma jñànaë is the subtlest of all forms of
knowledge–“subtler than the subtlest,” the scripture say. However, if one has followed the àérama
dharma system, by the time they enter sannyàsa àérama the mind is totally refined. Our likes and
dislikes have been eradicated through karma yoga, and our mind has been honed to a razor-sharp
point through meditation. As such, our mind becomes capable of imbibing and assimilating the
upaniçadic teaching. The mind is subtle enough to assimilate the subtle teaching. Thus one attains the
ultimate: jìvanmukti–liberation while alive. He lives the remainder of his life reveling in the bliss of the
Self, spreading joy to all he meets. Understanding that he is not the body, but the àtma, death means
nothing to him. He simply sheds the body like a snake its skin, merging in his true nature: the all-
pervading, eternally blissful consciousness that serves as the substratum of the mind, the world and
God.

Therefore, mokça, the culmination of human life, is only possible through sannyàsa. As stated in
Kaivalya Upaniçad:

na karmaåà na prajayà dhanena tyàgenaike amätatvam-ànaéuã | [Kaivalya Upaniçad, 4]

[Not by actions, nor by progeny, nor by wealth, but by renunciation, immortality is attained.]

But, again, this does not mean one must formally take sannyàsa. What is essential for mokça is not
shaving one’s head, donning ochre-colored robes, and giving away all our possessions. Externally

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sannyàsa is not required, but inner renunciation–renouncing our sense of ownership is required. As
an antara sannyàsi, one must live accepting the truth that everything he “owns” is a merely on loan
from God, and that God is free to take all such things back at any moment, without prior notice.
When this happens, he must be able to return them to God with a smile on his face. This not only
includes possessions like money, houses, cars, etc., but also our family members and friends, as well as
our own body and mind. A sannyàsi in robes has both externally and internally renounced ownership
of such things, but the inner renunciation is the essential aspect.

The spiritual practice traditionally associated with sannyàsa àérama is jñàna yoga–pursuing of Self
knowledge. As already explained, it is assimilating Self knowledge–the knowledge that one is not the
body or mind but eternal blissful consciousness–which liberates one from all sorrow.

FOUR ÀÉRAMAS, FOUR PARTS OF THE VEDA, FOUR SPIRITUAL PRACTICES,

If we analyze the spiritual practices of the four àéramas–chanting, karma yoga, meditation and jñàna
yoga–we see that these correspond exactly with the four parts of the Vedas: saëhita portion, karma
kàåáaë, araåyaka and upaniçads. Saëhita is full of stotrams and sùktams for chanting. The karma
kàåáa explains all the various rituals (which in Vedic society were the primary field for the application
of karma yoga). The araåyaka sections enumerate hundreds of forms of meditation. (It is not a
coincidence that araåyaka and vanaë (vànaprastha) both mean ‘forest.’) And the upaniçads present
àtma jñànaë–the philosophical teachings regarding the nature of the Self. Thus, Veda truly was–and
is–the original handbook for life. (It should be noted that meditation is also a part of traditional
gähastàérama life also, but the main focus was on action. So, too, in vànaprastha, one can engage in
selfless service, but the main focus is traditionally meditation.)

SKIPPING ÀÉRAMAS

In Vedic times, the àéramas were followed both externally and internally by the majority of the
population. But as the goal behind the àérama system is mokça, highly mature and refined students are
allowed to skip gähastàérama and enter either vànaprastha or sannyàsa directly. Therefore, if one had
the dispassion to avoid marriage, they were allowed to “skip a grade or two,” so to speak. As said in
Jàbàla Upaniçad:

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brahmacaryaë parisamàpya gähì bhavet | gähì bhutvà vanì bhavet | vanì bhùtvà pravrajet |
yadi vetarathà brahmacaryàdeva pravrajet ... || [Jàbàla Upaniçad, 4]

[After completing brahmacàrya àérama, he should enter gähasta àérama. After gähastàérama, he
should become a vànaprastha. After vànaprastha, he should become a sannyàsi. Otherwise (if
the requisite dispassion is there) let one take sannyàsa from brahmacàrya àérama itself.]

ÀÉRAMA DHARMA IN AMRITAPURI

In his book The Timeless Path, Swàmi Ràmakäçåànanda Puri, one of Amma’s senior disciples,
discusses the àérama vyavastha in the light of Amma’s Amätapuri Àéram. He writes:

“For various reasons, [the àérama vyavastha] system has all but completely deteriorated during
the past couple of centuries. Amma says that trying to revive it would only result in failure.
Rather than trying to recreate the past, we should focus on how to move forward while
preserving our traditional values as much as possible. It is with this aim that Amma’s àéram
has come–creating a space wherein people from all walks of life can live and pursue the
various spiritual practices originally carried out in the four àéramas.

“Àéram life is not for running away from our responsibilities. Once we have committed to a
path in life, we should see it to its proper end. In Amma’s àéram, the main people who join as
brahmacàris or brahmacàrinis are college graduates who have yet to marry. Being in their
twenties, these people join with the intention of dedicating their entire life to the spiritual path.
They do not take external vows, but it is their intention. They are joining the àéram as opposed
to entering married life. Amma often recommends that those interested in such a life first
spend a year or so living in the àéram, seeing how their mind responds to its rules and
regulations. Afterward, if they feel they have the requisite dispassion, they can join. After living
in the àéram for many years, some of these are formally initiated into brahmacàrya and are
given yellow robes. The brahmacàris and brahmacàrinis are monks in training. They live
according to strict rules of conduct, study the scriptures and purify their minds through seva
and meditation.

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“Other than the brahmacàris and brahmacàrinis, Amätapuri is also home to hundreds of
families–both from India and abroad–who have decided to live and raise their children here.
Some of them maintain jobs outside. Others are in a position to dedicate themselves fully to
the àéram’s various seva projects and institutions. There are also many retired couples living in
the àéram as well. So the gähastàérami [householder] and vànaprastha àérami [retired hermit]
also have a home in Amätapuri.

“Finally, there are the sannyàsis, former brahmacàris who have been initiated under Amma’s
instruction directly into a life of total renunciation, no longer living for selfish motives but
completely dedicating themselves to serving the world. Amma’s opinion is that a sannyàsi
should make a vow to serve the world selflessly. He is supposed to understand that he is not
the body, mind or intellect, and therefore he should establish himself in the àtma [Self].
Speaking at a congregation of sannyàsis in 20071, Amma presented her vision of sannyàsa. She
said, “A real sannyàsi is one who can remain content even while performing any action. Àtma
samarpaåam [Self-surrender] is the secret to happiness. This means that a sannyàsi should be
able to perform actions without attachment. Such non-attachment is only possible through
surrender. A compassion-filled heart, the readiness to sacrifice one’s self spawned by such a
heart, and the happiness that ensues from thus sacrificing one’s comforts for the sake of others
make a sannyàsi’s actions unique and outstanding. Only a real sannyàsi can bring about a real
change in others.”

This is the àérama vyavastha–the system given by the Vedas for individual fulfillment in life.

Additional Reading:
• Swami Vivekananda India & Her Problems (Advaita Ashrama)
• Swami Paramarthananda Intro to Vedanta (audio lectures)
• Swami Paramarthananda Bhagavad-Gita Talks, Ch 4 & Ch 18 (audio lectures)
• Chaturvedi Badrinath Mahabharata: An Inquiry into the Human Condition (Black Swan)
|| oë lokàã samastàã sukhino bhavantu ||

1
The Sannyàsi Saêgha, as part of the 75th Anniversary of the Érì Nàràyaåa Guru Dharma Saêgha Éivagiri Pilgrimage, on
September 24, 2007, Éivagiri Maâh, Varkkala, Tiruvanantapuram, Kèraîa.

-17-
|| om amäteévaryai namaã ||

CULTIVATION OF DIVINE QUALITIES


Cultural Education S2 Mini-Project

As part of your evaluation for s2 Cultural Education, you are required to do a small project. The project will
count for 10 percent of your final evaluation. The project is as follows:

In the Bhagavad-Gìta, there are a number of sections wherein Käçåa enumerates various divine qualities–
compassion, patience, fearlessness, etc. To one who has attained àtma jñànaë [Self knowledge], such traits come
as natural as breathing. For people like us, who have yet to fully understand and appreciate our true divine status,
cultivating these qualities and values is an essential part of the process of our development as a human being. In
essence, what comes natural to the spiritual master should be taken as a spiritual practice for the spiritual
aspirant.

In the Gìta, élokas containing these values can be found primarily in the second, 12th, 13th and 16th chapters. In
Chapter Two, Käçåa refers to them as the qualities of a sthita-prajña–a person of wisdom. In Chapter 12, they are
called paràbhakta lakçaåa–the qualities of the ultimate devotee. In Chapter 13, Käçåa refers to them as jñànaë–
the qualities of a man of wisdom. And in the Chapter 16, Käçåa refers to them as daivi saëpat–divine qualities.

Your assignment is to form groups of four or five and make a poster. The poster must contain all of the
following:

• The specific virtue you have chosen to focus upon should be written at the top of the poster in English.
• The full Gìta éloka from which your chosen virtue has come should be written in devanàgiri script.
• An explanation of why this virtue is important to cultivate.
• A story from Indian history/legend about a mahàtma or God or dharmic individual demonstrating the virtue.
• Use pictures, drawings, illustrations, photographs, etc. to decorate.
• The names and student numbers of their group members should be written on the back of the project.
• Be Creative. Make it beautiful.

Check with your Cultural Education instructor for your class’s due date.

|| oë lokàã samastàã sukhino bhavantu ||


VIRTUES
AS TOLD BY KÄÇÅA IN THE BHAGAVAD-GÌTA

FROM THE SECOND CHAPTER: “STHITA PRAJÑA LAKÇAÅAM”

prajahàti yadà kàmàn sarvàn pàrtha mano-gatàn |


àtmanyevàtmanà tuçâaã sthita-prajñàstadocyate ||2:55

When a man abandons, O Pàrtha, all the desires of the heart and is satisfied in the Self by the Self, then is he said to be one stable in
wisdom.

duãkheçvanudvigna-manàã sukheçu vigataspäâaã |


vìta-ràga-bhaya-krodhaã sthita-dhìrmunirucayte ||2:56

He whose mind is not perturbed by adversity, who does not crave for happiness, who is free from fondness, fear and anger, is the
wiseman of constant wisdom.

yaã sarvatrànabhi-snehaã tat-tat-pràpya éubhàéubham |


nàbhinandati na dveçâi tasya prajña pratiçâhità ||2:57

He who is unattached everywhere, who is not delighted at receiving good nor dejected at coming by evil, is poised in wisdom.

FROM THE 12TH CHAPTER: “PARÀBHAKTA LAKÇAÅAM”

adveçâà sarva-bhùtànàm maitraã karuåa eva ca |


nirmamo nirahaëkàraã sama-duãkha-sukhaã kçamì ||12:13

He who hates no being, who is friendly and compassionate to all, who is free from the feeling of ‘I and mine,’ even-minded in pain and
pleasure and forbearing...

saëtuçâaã satataë yogì yatàtmà däáha-niécayaã |


mayyirpita-manobuddhiryo mad-bhaktaã sa me priyaã ||12:14

... ever content, steady in meditation, self-controlled and possessed of firm conviction, with mind and intellect fixed on me, he, my
devotee, is dear to me.

yasmànnodvijate loko lokànnodvijate ca yaã |


harçàmarçabhayodvegairmukto yaã sa ca me priyaã ||12:15

He by whom the world is not afflicted and who the world cannot afflict, he who is free from joy, anger, fear and anxiety—he is dear to
me.
anapekçaã éucirdakça udàsìno gatavyathaã |
sarvàrambha-parityàgì yo mad-bhaktaã sa me priyaã ||12:16

He who has no wants, who is pure and prompt, unconcerned, untroubled, and who is selfless in all his undertakings, he who is thus
devoted to me, is dear to me.

yo na häçyati na dveçâi na éocati na kàêkçati |


éubhàéubha-parityàgì bhaktimàn-yaã sa me priyaã ||12:17

He who neither rejoices nor hates nor grieves nor desires, renouncing good and evil, full of devotion, he is dear to me.

samaã éatrau ca mitre ca tathà manàpamànayoã |


éìtoçna-sukha-duãkheçu samaã saêga-vivarjitaã ||12:18

He who is the same to foe and friend and also in honor and dishonor, who is the same in cold and heat, in pleasure and pain, who is
free from attachment...

FROM THE 13TH CHAPTER: “JÑÀNAM”

amànitvam-adambhitvam-ahiësà kçàntiràrjavaë |
àcàryopàsanaë-éaucaë stairyam-àtma-vinigrahaã ||13:8

Humility, modesty, non-injury, forbearance, uprightness, service to the teacher, purity, steadfastness, self-control...

indriyàrtheçu vairàgyaë-anahaëkàra eva ca |


janma-mätyu-jarà-vyàdhi-duãkha-doçànudaréanaë ||13:9

...dispassion towards the objects of the senses, and also absence of egoism, perception of evil in birth, death, old age, sickness and
pain...

asaktiranabhiçvaêgaã putra-dàra gähàdiçu |


nityaë ca sama-cittatvam içâàniçâopapattiçu ||13:10

...unattachment; non-identification of self with son, wife, home and the like; and constant equanimity in the occurrence of the desirable
and undesirable...

mayi cànanya-yogena bhaktiravyabhicàriåì |


vivikta-deéa-sevitvam aratirjana-saësadi ||13:11

...unswerving devotion to me in yoga of non-separation, resort to sequestered places, distaste for the society of men...
adhyàtma-jñàna-nityatvaë tattva-jñànàrtha-daréanam |
etajjñànam-iti proktam-ajñànaë yad-ato’nyathà ||13:12

...constancy in Self-knowledge, perception of the end of the knowledge of truth; this is declared to be knowledge, and what is opposed to
it is ignorance.

FROM THE 16TH CHAPTER: “DAIVI SAËPAT”

abhayaë-sattva-saëéuddhirjñàna-yoga-vyavasthitiã |
dànaë damaéca yajñaéca svàdhyàyastapa àrjavam ||16:1

Fearlessness, purity of heart, steadfastness in knowledge and yoga, alms-giving, control of the senses, yajña, study of scriptures, austerity
and straightforwardness.

ahiësà satyam-akrodhastyàgaã éàntirapaiéunam |


dayà bhùteçvaloluptvaë màrdavaë häìracàpalam ||16:2

...non-violence, truth, absence of anger, renunciation, serenity, absence of calumny, compassion to beings, uncovetousness, gentleness,
modesty, absence of fickleness.

tejaã kçamà dhätiã éaucam-adroho nàtimànità |


bhavanti saëpadaë daivìm abhijàtasya bhàrata ||16:3

...vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, absence of hatred, absence of pride—these belong to one born of a divine state, O Bhàrata.

||oë lokàã samastàã sukhino bhavantu ||


Class: ………………………………..

A Reg. No: ……………………………..

Amrita School of Engineering


Amritapuri campus
First periodical examination, February 2010
HU 102 Cultural Education-common to all S1 B-tech
Time: 1 hour Marks: 25
Instructions
1. Answer all questions
2. Only use the specified space for writing
3. For part A , blacken the circle corresponding to the most apt answer

Part A (1 mark each)

1. Ramayana is a
O Itihasa O Purana O Novel O TV Serial
2. Valimiki’s former name was
O Ratnasreya O Ratnakara O Ratnababu O Ratnapriya
3. Who narrated the story of Bharata war to the blind king Dhritarashtra
O Lord Krishna O Sanjaya O Arjuna O Karna
4. How many chapters do Bhagavat Gita has?
O Three O Six O Sixteen O Eighteen
5. The Gita was taught by Krishna to Arjuna:
O on the battlefield O in a gurukula O at Takshila O in the Himalayas
6. The philosophy presented in the Bhagavad-Gita is:
O The Vedic philosophy retold by Sri Krishna O The philosophy of Arjuna
O The philosophy of Pandavas O The philosophy of Kauravas
7. Ramasetu, the bridge mentioned in the Ramayana, connects the main land of India with
O Maldives O Lakshadweep O Sri Lanka O Andaman islands

Page 1 of 4 
 
Part B (3 mark each)

8. Why is the Gita such an important spiritual text?

9. Explain how a man perishes by “Brooding on the objects of the senses”?

Page 2 of 4 
 
10. What is the essence of karma yoga?

11. Write a short note on the relevance of Itihasas.

Page 3 of 4 
 
12. Other than the general message of the story, Ramayana has a mythical meaning also. Taking
the examples of Dasaratha, Rama and Lakshmana, prove the statement.

13. In spite of being the embodiment of dharma, Rama sends off Sita to the forest. Was Rama
right? Justify.

Page 4 of 4