In the Ramayana, the epic story of Rama, the demonic king Ravana has made a fatal error: He’s kidnapped Sita, Rama’s wife. Despite his great wealth and power, Ravana’s appropriation of Sita, driven by his aspiration to possess and enjoy her for himself, has ensured his inevitable, destruction.
But Ravana has unknowingly kidnapped a counterfeit. Rama is an avatar of Vishnu, the source of creation, and Sita is Vishnu’s eternal consort, Laksmi Devi, the Goddess of Fortune. As such, they can never really be separated. But they can appear to be: at the moment of Ravana’s treachery, Sita manifests an illusory duplicate, allowing Ravana to abscond with a shadow version of her real self. Misled by his ego and bewildered by a facsimile, Ravana thinks he has captured the Goddess of Fortune, who will now surely succumb to his charms and fulfill his desires.
Meanwhile, the real Sita is hidden from him and, having turned away from Rama as he flees the scene of the crime, Ravana can only try in vain to enjoy a replica of Sita until Rama, time personified, catches up with him.
In his quest to find his beloved consort and punish the covetous interloper, Rama is aided by an unlikely alliance of forest creatures that band together to rescue Sita and reunite her with Rama. Foremost among Rama’s makeshift militia is Hanuman, leader of the monkey army.
Hanuman is often pictured with Sita and Rama together in his heart. As a pure devotee of Rama, Hanuman’s happiness is found exclusively in Rama’s happiness. Since Rama desires to be with Sita, Hanuman’s only business is to arrange for their reunion and he dedicates himself wholly and completely to this purpose. Hence Hanuman, in his love for Rama, is the opposite of Ravana who, motivated by envy and lust, tries to usurp Rama’s position.
Unfortunately for me, I’m a lot more like Ravana than Hanuman: my desire to enjoy the pleasures of the sensual world far outweigh any desires I have to offer the pleasures of the world back to their source. I want to be the enjoyer rather than the enjoyed, to be the consumer of pleasure rather than the facilitator of pleasure, and, as such, I remain bewildered by the facsimile. Embracing the shadow of happiness, true happiness eludes me, and I am doomed.
At least I’m not alone: the world is full of Ravanas, all thinking they can control and enjoy Sita while Rama is out of sight. We believe that to gratify our senses is the prime necessity of life and we participate in a society organized around this belief. But since time renders any success in such pursuits a Pyrrhic victory, our anxiety is immeasurable: is it any wonder that, when asked, students in my classes answer that the number one cause of death is stress?
So, how does sustainable happiness win out over perpetual stress? By following in Hanuman’s footsteps and being a catalyst for Rama’s enjoyment, by bringing Sita and Rama together rather than trying to enjoy her for ourselves.
Tomorrow is Dushera, the celebration of Rama’s victory over Ravana and his reunion with Sita, achieved with the help of Rama’s devotee, Hanuman. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on how we, too, can participate in the transcendental tryst and, in the process, become a source of pleasure for the source of everything, including pleasure itself!
This, of course, still leaves us with the conundrum of what to do about our own impulse to experience pleasure: must we resign ourselves to a false renunciation of our own pleasure-seeking propensity in favor of facilitating someone else’s happiness? However altruistic and abstemious one may be, is this not a formula for frustration and resentment?
The implications of the story of Rama set the stage for my next and final installment in this series, in which I’ll delve more directly into transcendental sexuality and how to channel our own erotic impulses in an authentically spiritual way.