The Mystical Power of the Name of Rama
Rama as Light
Over the years I’ve made it a practice to read the Ramayana by Tulsidas, also known as the Ramcharitmanas, which is a inspirational text about the life of Rama that was highly praised by Mahatma Gandhi. In the first chapter, the Balakanda, there are several places where Tulsidas explains the mystical power of the name of Rama. For instance, he says:
“I greet the name ‘Rama’ of the chief of Raghus, which is composed of seed-letters representing the sun-god, fire-god, and moon-god. (i.e. Ra, A, Ma respectively).”
In the footnote it explains that every letter/sound of the Sanskrit alphabet is a seed (bija) mantra that invokes a quality of the divine. The name Rama has two syllables, ‘Ra’ and ‘Ma,’ which can be broken down into three bija mantras: ‘Ra’, ‘A’,and ‘Ma’. ‘Ra’ represents the Sun (Ravi), ‘A’ represents fire (Agni), and ‘Ma’ represents the Moon. Since the three primary sources of light are the Sun, fire, and the Moon, repeating the name of Rama is a method for invoking light. God is often described as light in religious texts, for instance, in the Bible it says:
“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
Here are a few more quotes by Tulsidas indicating this luminous aspect of Rama:
“Sri Rama, who is Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss combined (Sat-Chit-Ananda) is like the sun; the night of ignorance cannot subsist in Him even to the smallest degree. He is the Lord whose very being is light.”
“Install the luminous gem in the shape of the divine name ‘Rama’ on the threshold of the tongue at the doorway of your mouth if you would have light both inside and outside, O Tulasidasa.”
“His Name puts on end to the devotee’s vain hopes along with his errors and sorrows even as the Sun terminates the night.”
Rama is primarily associated with the Sun, and the first syllable ‘Ra’ can be found in various languages representing the Sun. For instance, Ravi is one of the Sanskrit names for the Sun. Also, Raghu is the solar dynasty or lineage that Rama belonged to, which traces its origins back to the Sun. The ancient Egyptian God Ra was their Sun god and a major deity in the ancient Egyptian religion. There are also the English words radiate, radiance, and ray (as in the Sun’s rays), further suggesting an etymological origin with the syllable ‘Ra.’ Another example is that ‘raw’ food is defined as food that’s ripened by the Sun.
Rama as Androgynous
It’s easy to limit the meaning of Rama to the male Hindu God who lived many thousands of years ago. But understanding this inner mystical meaning of name itself invoking light, makes the practice universal. Also, when you take a deeper look at the qualities inherent in the two syllables, ‘Ra’ and ‘Ma’, you’ll see that the Sun and Moon, father and mother, the masculine and feminine principles, exist in perfect androgynous balance. ‘Ra’ represents the Sun, masculine, yang energy, which is radiated light. ‘Ma’ represents the Moon, feminine, yin energy, which is reflected light. Therefore, repeating the name of Rama helps to balance masculine and feminine energies within our being such as strength and courage along with sensitivity and compassion. This androgynous quality further makes the name of Rama unique as a name of God, since the divine is often described as containing both masculine and feminine qualities and representing light.
Here’s a famous quote by the poet Kabir that describes the name of Rama as vast and multifaceted in meaning:
One Ram is the son of Dasharath. (Ek Ram Dasharath ke beta)
One Ram resides in the heart. (Ek Ram ghat-ghat mein baitha)
One Ram is the Beloved of all. (Ek Ram sab ke pyara)
One Ram transcends everything. (Ek Ram sab se nyara)
Shiva as Repeating the Name of Rama
The Tulsidas Ramayana also draws from the classic scriptures of India to validate the mystical power of Rama’s name. Here’s one such quote:
“The scriptures maintain that Lord Shiva, the deity presiding over the holy city of Kashi (Varanasi), whispers into the right ear of every creature dying within its boundaries, the name ‘Rama’ and thereby brings emancipation to the dying soul.”
When I first went to Varanasi in 1992 I heard people chant “Ram Nam Satya Hai,” while carrying a dead body to the Manikarnika Ghat cremation grounds on the banks of the ganges river. This means, “The name of Ram is truth” in Hindi. At the time I wondered why they didn’t chant the name of Shiva, since after all this was Shiva’s city. It wasn’t until I read the Tulsidas Ramayana that I realized that Shiva is considered Rama’s best devotee, and incessantly invokes His name for the benefit of others.
“The saints as well as the Puranas and the Upanishads too declare that the potency of the name ‘Rama’ is unlimited. The Immortal Lord Shiva, who is the fountain of joy and a storehouse of wisdom and goodness, incessantly repeats it.”
Narada’s Advice to Ganesha
There are other stories that point to the efficacy of the name of Rama. For instance, it’s common knowledge that Ganesha is typically worshipped first in the Hindu tradition before other deities. The Tulsidas Ramayana explains why in a footnote:
“We read in the Puranas how there was a scramble for precedence among the gods, each of whom claimed the first position for himself. They approached Brahma for a ruling. He told them that they should race around the world and that whoever finished the round the quickest of all would be accounted the highest. Ganesha, who rode on no better animal than a rat, naturally lagged behind. He met on the way the celestial sage Narada, who advised him to scratch the word ‘Rama’ on the ground and pace around It, since the word comprised in Itself the entire creation. Ganesha did accordingly and was naturally the first to finish the round of the universe. Brahma appreciated this act and conceded his title of precedence over all the other gods. Since then Ganesha has uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being worshipped first of all.”
The Name of Rama as a Remedial Measure
When people ask me about remedial measures I often first suggest reciting the name of Rama, or simply Ram, as a japa mantra, which is a mantra that’s recited repeatedly for at least 108 times. It’s the best general, all-purpose remedial measure that I know of. The other general all-purpose remedial measure that the classic Jyotish texts. like the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra, often recommend is the Vishnu Sahasranam, which is the thousand names of Vishnu. However, this is a long and difficult practice. Fortunately, there is a famous verse that is often sung after reciting the Vishnu Sahasranam:
Sri Rama Rama Rameti, Rame Rame Manorame,
Sahasranama Tattulyam, Rama Nama Varanane.
This basically means, “Chanting the name of ‘Sri Rama’ is equal to reciting the entire thousand names of Lord Vishnu.”
Any spiritual practice is useful as a remedial measure, but a japa mantra is very convenient in our busy lives. It can be done by anyone, anytime, anywhere, it costs nothing, and is incredibly effective. The word mantra means to protect the mind. “Manas” means the mind and “Tra” means to protect. Since mantras are sounds that invoke a vibration, to invoke the name of Rama will bring light and wholeness to the mind, which can only be beneficial. Here is a list of common Rama japa mantras:
Om Shri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram
Om Ram Ramaya Namah
Shri Rama Sharanam Mama
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
The Mahamantra and the Kali Santarana Upanishad
Regarding this last mantra, also known as the mahamantra or great mantra, the Kali Santarana Upanishad praises its effectiveness during the kali yuga, which is the current age we live in. Please see this quote from the text translated by K. Narayanasvami Aiyar:
Hari Om! At the end of Dvapara-Yuga, Narada went to Brahma and addressed him thus: “O Lord, how shall I, roaming over the earth, be able to get across Kali?” To which Brahma thus replied: “Well asked. Hearken to that which all Shrutis (the Vedas) keep secret and hidden, through which one may cross the Samsara (mundane existence) of Kali. He shakes off the evil effects of Kali through the mere uttering of the name of the Lord Narayana, who is the primeval Purusha”. Again Narada asked Brahma: “What is the name?” To which Hiranyagarbha (Brahma) replied thus:
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
These sixteen names (words) are destructive of the evil effects of Kali. No better means than this is to be seen in all the Vedas. These sixteen names destroy the Avarana (or the centripetal force which produces the sense of individuality) of Jiva surrounded by the sixteen Kalas (rays). Then like the sphere of the sun which shines fully after the clouds disperse, Parabrahman alone shines.” Narada asked: ‘O Lord, what are the rules to be observed with reference to it?” To which Brahma replied that there were no rules for it. Whoever in a pure or an impure state, utters these always, attains the same world of, or proximity with, or the same form of, or absorption into Brahma.
It’s interesting to note that some translations of the text will say something like, “There is no other means to liberation in any scriptures,” as opposed to what’s been given here: “No better means than this is to be seen in all the Vedas.”Personally, I prefer the less fundamentalist perspective that recognizes that there are many paths to the divine.
It’s also interesting to note that the original text starts with the name of Rama, followed by Krishna. However, the order was reversed by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the 15th century, who was primarily a Krishna devotee.
The Mystical Power of Any Name of God
Any name of God from any tradition has mystical power to transform our consciousness. No doubt reciting the name of Rama is a very effective tool, but it’s not necessarily the best name of God for everyone. Gandhi said:
“One may repeat any mantra one pleases. I have suggested Ramanama as I have been familiar with it since childhood, and as it is my constant support in my struggles. One must be completely absorbed in whatever mantra one selects. The mantra becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal.”
“Ramanama or some equivalent is necessary, not for the sake of repetition, but for the sake of purification, as an aid to effort, for direct guidance from above.”
“Any amount of repetition of Ramanama is futile, if it fails to stir the soul. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.”
Ram is existence, consciousness and bliss,
Unborn, wisdom incarnate, abode of all strength.
Pervading and pervaded, infinite and eternal,
Whole and perfect Lord of unfailing power.
Formless, spotless, immortal, imperceptible,
All-seeing, flawless, and invincible. . .
Untouched by matter but lives in every heart,
Desireless Brahman, dispassionate and endless.
Here’s a video of my Jyotish guru, K.N. Rao, chanting Ramnam: