“Let Sri Rama be your ideal. Ideals are remembered and adored for the purpose of adopting them in your own life.” (Swami Sivananda, Hindu Fasts and Festivals. 55)
Ramnavmi is the celebration of the birthday of Rama, this year April 12th.
Krishnamacharya recounts that his first teacher was his father. Before his father died, he gave a copy of the Ramayana to Krishnamacharya and said “This is all that you need.” Swami Sivananda states that the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita are all one needs for spiritual study.
I was drawn to the story of Rama through the chanting of Krishna Das, before I even knew who Krishna Das was or who Rama was. I only knew the song “Sita Ram” which goes:
Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram/ Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram / Sita Ram/ Sita Ram / Sita Ram / Sita Ram / Sita Ram / Sita Ram /Sita Ram / Sita Ram
I knew the song only from hearing it as background music. Yet at a very important time, it spontaneously played in my head as loud as if I were sitting in front of a speaker. That lead me to read the Ramayana the first time and I knew that it was important for me.
In the story of Rama we find the teaching of the Vedas in a very accessible form.
The story of Rama is the story of how to do what is right. Rama is the perfect husband, king, brother, son; Sita is the perfect wife, Hanuman the perfect devotee. If we act for the greater good, even if that act causes us personal difficulty, we are acting according to our true nature. Acting for the greater good simply means acting in service. Easy to write, hard to live, which is why we have the Ramayana. It sets an example to guide us. This is not a purely Hindu story, it is a human story. Chanting “Rama” does not mean converting to anything, it is a reminder of the ideal which we are capable of achieving.
Another main theme of The Ramayana: The mind becomes what it focuses intently upon. In Hanuman, we have the ideal devotee, with Rama on every cell of his body. Ravana, the demon who Rama is born to destroy, attains the highest reaches of heaven upon his death. Why? His mind was focused intently upon Rama, even though those thoughts were of how to annihilate Rama. The story of the story further demonstrates this theme: The thief Ratnakara was directed by sages to chant Rama in order to change his ways and attain righteousness. Ratnakara was so corrupted that his mouth could not form the name of the Lord, and instead, the syllables came out reversed: “Mara,” meaning death. With constant repetition Mara became Rama, and the thief Ratnakara became the sage Valmiki, who was the world’s first poet and composer of the Ramayana.
Read the Ramayana (I recommend William Buck’s retelling). It is not full of Hindu dogma, it is universal. Keep a bookmark to the list of characters so if you become confused with the foreign names you can easily reference who is who. Read it as an adventure story and a love story. Read it for the flying monkey and the giant, the 10 headed and 20 armed demon and the shining image of the king in exile. Read it for the spider web of a plot; read it for the history. Just read it. Make the act of reading a practice.