Episodes from the Ramayana – Chapter 8

The Guru and the Pupils…Continued

Rama stayed mostly indoors. He did not bathe at fixed hours as he was doing so far. He had a dislike to wear royal robes; he desisted from delicacies; he never sat on the golden throne; he appeared as if he was immersed in the contemplation of the Absolute, of something beyond the senses and the mind. Since their brother appeared so morose and was ostensibly sulking, the three younger brothers always kept near him. They never left his presence, for games or for any other reason.

The four used to gather in a room and holt themselves in. The mothers had to tap the door at intervals to bring in their food! However hard they tried to discover why they behaved so, they never revealed the reason! Rama alone deigned to answer their queries thus: “This is my nature; why seek to know the reason for my being so?”

The mothers soon felt that this state of things could no longer be kept away from gaze; they informed Dasaratha; he sent word that the boys be brought to his apartments. But, finding that the sons, who previously would have rushed in, took a long time to come, he was filled with wonder and worry. He made ready to proceed to their room himself. Just then, the attendant announced that the princes were approaching! The father was overwhelmed with bliss; he embraced them and held them tight to his breast; he sat, with the sons on both sides; he enquired from them about things, light and serious. Formerly, if he asked just one question, the boys used to reply to ten: but, that day, when he asked ten, they scarce replied to one.

Dasaratha drew Rama on to his lap, and pleaded fondly with him, “Son! Why this refusal to talk? Why this silence! What is it that you desire? What else have I than you in the world? Tell me what you need? I shall fulfil it immediately, without fail. Since you do not mix with the brothers and play with them as formerly, they too are unhappy.” Though the King lovingly stroked the chin and looked at the face of Rama, Rama did not say anything more than that he was quite content and needed nothing! Watching this strange behaviour, Dasaratha grew anxious and agitated; tears welled up in his eyes. The boys remained unaffected by his grief. The father spoke some soft words to them about how sons should conduct themselves and sent them to their apartments in the Palace.

He called Sumanthra so that he might confer with him; he asked him whether anything had happened during the pilgrimage to put the boys out of gear or whether he had brought them back too soon when they were themselves eager to visit a few more places of interest to them. Dasaratha plied him with so many questions that Sumanthra was filled with surprise and apprehension. His lips quivered as he replied: “Nothing happened during the journey to displease the Princes, no difficulty was encountered. Every wish of theirs was honoured and carried through. I gave away in charity as much as they wanted; I got built, wherever they suggested, houses for pilgrims; there was no hesitation or delay. They never told me about any happening which they did not like. Nor did I notice any such. The pilgrimage was one long journey of joy and adoration”.

Dasaratha knew his minister well. He said at last, “Sumanthra! You are a great good man. I know full well that you are incapable of neglect or error. But, for some inexplicable reason, I find the boys have undergone a transformation after the pilgrimage; they have developed distaste for food and fun.

“However much the people around persuaded him, Rama did not answer, nor did he indicate the reason for his strange behaviour. He was immersed in his own awareness of the falsity of things. I am surprised at this. The queens, too, have taken this so much to heart that they are being consumed by anxiety”. When Dasaratha spoke thus to Sumanthra, the loyal Minister replied, “If permitted, I shall meet the children and try to diagnose the ailment.” Dasaratha said, “Quite right! Proceed at once. Once we find the cause, the remedy isn’t difficult, the cure isn’t far”.

Sumanthra hurried to the children’s apartment, heavy with a load of anxiety in his heart. He found the doors bolted from inside, the guards standing outside them. When Sumanthra tapped, Lakshmana opened the door and let him in. He closed the door behind him and conversed with the boys for long on various matters, in order to draw out from them the reason for their malady. But, he could not delve into the mystery. He noticed the difference between the confiding spirit of camaraderie which he enjoyed during the months of pilgrimage, and the distance that had grown in recent months. He pleaded with Rama with tears in his eyes, for revealing to him the reasons for his melancholy. Rama smiled and said, “Sumanthra! What reason can be given for something which is my very nature? I have no wants; I have no desire. You need have no anxiety on that score”.

Unable to do anything else, Sumanthra came to where Dasaratha was and sat beside him. “I feel it will be good to invite the Guru tomorrow and consider which measures are proper”, he said and departed from the presence, after taking the King’s permission to leave.

The King was sad; he neglected everything else; he ignored the demands of empire and spun many theories in his mind to account for the behaviour of the children. They are entering the years of adolescence and so, such temperamental revolutions are natural, he surmised. He shared this opinion with the Queens and set his mind at rest, for a little while.

When they learnt that the Preceptor Vasishta was arriving at the Palace, the queens made the preparations necessary, and waited for him at the family altar. Just then, the Guru arrived; all fell at his feet; they showered eager questions on him about the peculiar malady of the boys and the change that had come upon them. They were all in tears. Noticing the agitation of the King and the Queens, Vasishta turned his attention inwards and sought the reason for the sorrow, through inner Vision. The truth was quickly revealed to his penetrating purity.Within seconds, he  turned towards the Queens and assured them. “There is nothing wrong with the boys. These are not just ordinary children. They are free from the least trace of worldly desire. Their minds are untarnished. Do not get anxious. Bring them to me; you can retire now to your apartments.” 

The King and Queens were happy at this assurance; they sent for the princes and left. Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna quickly got ready to meet the Guru, when the news that he wanted them reached their ears. But, Rama evinced no haste. He was immersed in himself, as usual. So, Lakshmana touched his feet and prayed, “It is best we go without delay; or else, our parents will grieve that we dared disobey the command of the Preceptor”. Lakshmana pleaded with Rama insistently for a long time, advancing various arguments. Finally, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna were able to proceed to the altar room, with their eldest brother. There, they fell at the Feet of the Guru and reverentially stood before him.

Seeing them, Vasishta asked them with great affection to draw near and sit beside him. They all sat close to him, but Vasishta wanted Rama to come still nearer. He fondled Rama lovingly, playing with his hair and patting his back. He said, “Rama! Why have you thus become quiet and silent? Your mothers and father are suffering from grief and fear, unable to explain this inscrutable change. You have to pay heed to their happiness too, isn’t it? You have to demonstrate the validity of the precious axioms, Mathr devo bhava (Treat the mother as God) Pithr devo bhava (Treat the father as God) by your own action, isn’t it?” Vasishta placed before Rama many such lessons and truths for his consideration.

Rama sat smiling, listening to the Guru. When he had finished, he spoke calmly, “Master! You speak of mother; but, who exactly is ‘mother’? Who exactly is ‘son’? Why, what exactly is ‘body’? And what is the ‘Jivi’ (the individual)? Is this objective world real? Or is the Supreme Soul real? This body is but the image of the Supreme Soul isn’t it? The five elements that comprise the substance called ‘body’ are also the substance of the entire Universe. This Universe is but the concatenation of the five elements, isn’t it? The elements persist, in spite of all permutations and combinations. They have also a deeper base. Without realizing this, if this created Universe is itself assumed to be real, and if one yields to the fascination of this falsehood, if the truth be discarded for the sake of the lie, what are we to say of such colossal ignorance ? What can the individual gain by ignoring the Eternal Absolute Real Reality, the Atma?”

When Vasishta observed Rama raising such profound philosophical problems, he noticed also a halo of bright rays of spiritual splendour that emanated and surrounded his face! He knew that the Light was an indication of Divinity, attempting to surge outwards! So, he wanted Rama himself to provide the answers to the questions that Rama put forward. And the replies and explanations Rama gave were verily the Voice of God. Vasishta could see this fact clearly. He bowed his head before him, mentally, for fear of being noticed. He said, “Son! I shall see you again in  the evening”, and left the palace, without even meeting Dasaratha; he was so overcome by the illumination of the occasion. He fondled the children with a joyous sense of gratitude and love.

Dasaratha saw the princes after some time; he too saw the strange Glow of Divine Awareness shining in their countenances. He could not understand how, it happened and he awaited the arrival of Vasishta in the evening. No sooner did he enter the shrine than the children, the mothers and Dasaratha fell at his feet and sat in their places with palms folded in prayerful humility.

All of a sudden, Rama surprised every one by asking a series of questions: “The Jivi, the Deva, the Prakrthi (Soul, God, Nature) what is the inter-relation between these? Are these three, One? Or are they distinct entities? If One, how did it become three and for what purpose? What is the unifying principle underlying these? What benefit is gained by recognizing them as different, giving up the cognition of the Unity?” The parents were aghast at the profundity of these questions and the tender age of Rama. They became fully merged in that stream of instruction and inquiry, that showered precious axioms which shed light on the problems raised, as if Heaven answered the questions raised by Earth! They forgot that Rama was their own child; the hours of the night rolled by in the analysis and understanding of the great monistic wisdom.

Vasishta saw that the words that flowed from the lips of Rama were indeed drops of the Nectar of  Immortality,  which can ensure Peace for mankind; he blessed the King and Queens and returned to the hermitage. The dialogues between Rama and the Preceptor form the text of  ‘Yoga-vasishta’, a treatise which is meaningful and mellow. It is also referred to as the Ramagitha.

Rama spent his days immersed in Vedantha, communing with himself, talking while alone to himself, silent in company, and often laughing at nothing in particular. Dasaratha grew concerned. He was worried what would happen to the brothers; he sought to keep the younger three apart; but, they never agreed to be isolated from Rama; so, they had to be left in his company always.

The King and the Queens were very much depressed, for all their dreams of joy and glory had come to naught. They became desperate, for they saw no sign of recovery or transformation in the sons. They counted hours and minutes, passing the time in anxiety and prayer. Rama had no interest even in food and so with irregular and indifferent meals, he appeared weak and wasted in health.

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