The Ramayana: A Myth to Live By
Myths get a bad rap these days. When we want to say that something is a lie or misleading we call it a “myth.” Do a google search for the phrase “The Myth of” and find a long list, not of myths, but of misconceptions.
This is rather unfortunate when you consider that myths are really great stories that have stood the test of time. They’ve lasted in the cultures of the world because they teach valuable lessons that are still applicable to our lives.
Recently I watched the Power of Myth series by the renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell. In it he discusses the importance of finding myths that we can live by. When a culture is devoid of its myths, its people, especially its youth, lack vision and purpose. Consequently, crime and corruption increases.
In India, myths have survived, and continue to guide people’s lives. Perhaps the most popular is the Ramayana, also known as the Ramacharitmanas in the Hindi version of Tulsidas, the story of the life of Sri Rama.
When I first went to India in 1992, I went to Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges River in north India. There I found a blind sadhu chanting the Ramayana which he apparently had memorized. Everyday he was in the same spot chanting, near the Rishikesh bridge. In 2000, when I returned he was still there chanting at the same spot as if no time had passed at all. See the photos above of the blind sadhu chanting the Ramayana in 1992, and 2000.
The Ramayana is popular because it teaches how to live in harmony with dharma or righteousness through the impeccable example of Sri Rama’s life. Each character represents aspects of our own nature, and the story is a metaphor of the soul’s evolution. For instance, Ram represents pure consciousness, Sita represents our inner peace, Hanuman represents devotion etc. When we lose our inner Peace (Sita) to the demon Ravana, which represents the ego, we need the help of devotion (Hanuman). It’s our devotion to an ideal that reunites our inner peace to our consciousness. When the ego (Ravana) is destroyed his brother discrimination (Vibhishana) rules over the kingdom of the ego, which is how it should be. I find these metaphors very useful as lessons to live by.
Watch a video of a sadhu chanting the ramayana in Allahabad