Hazrat Inayat Khan here gives insight into the essence taught by the example of the Hindu avatar (that is, incarnate Divinity) of the god Vishnu known as Rama. He does not attempt to retell the legendary life of Rama, which is very long and complicated; the epic poem to which the text refers, the Ramayana, written by the poet sage Valmiki, consists of 24,000 verses in Sanskrit, and is about four times as long as the Iliad. Needless to say, there are many stories within the story, and an abundance of symbolic images and events that still enrich Hindu religion and culture today. Those unfamiliar with the Ramayana might wish to explore it further on their own.
Rama, the great prophet and ideal of the Hindus, was at the same time the example of the Godhead. The character of Rama is said to have been foretold by Valmiki. At the same time the training which was given to Rama by a great rishi [a Hindu sage or saint, ed.], whose name was Vashishta, was a training to bring out that kingdom of God which is hidden in the heart of man. In this respect Rama was not only an ideal of the Hindus of that particular age, but was a model to mould the character of those who tread the spiritual path in any age.
Rama was a prince by birth, but was given to be trained under a sage, where he lived in the solitude, the life of study and play together. He was not only taught to read and write, but he was trained in athletic exercises, in sports, and had a training in all the manner of warfare. This shows what education the ancient people had, an education in all the directions of life. And being so trained, Rama completed his course of study about the time he came to the prime of his youth.
The story of Rama has been always considered as the most sacred scripture for the Hindus; it is called the Ramayana. The Brahmin recites this story in a poetic form to which the devotees of the master listen for hours without being tired of it, for they take it as their religious training.
The most interesting part of Rama’s life is his marriage. In the ancient times there was a custom that the husband was chosen*. This custom came owing to the tendency to warfare. At every little trouble the princes of the time were up in arms, even in such matters as marriage.
In order to avoid war, the father of Sita invited all the princes and potentates of his land and gave the right of selection to his daughter. There was a time appointed when they all gathered in the royal gallery, all adorned in their regal ornaments and garbs.
Rama lived a simple life. He had not yet known what princely life means, for he was being trained under a saint, where he ate the same food as the sage did, wore the same simple clothes as the sage and lived in the woods in the solitude. Yet the brightness of the soul shines out even without ornaments. When Sita entered among this assembly, with a garland of flowers in her hands, her first glance fell upon Rama and she could not lift her glance from that ideal of her soul to anyone else, for her soul recognized the pearl in his heart. Without a moment’s pause Sita came immediately to him and put the garland around the neck of that youth, so simple and unassuming, standing with an innocent expression behind all the shining hosts.
Many marveled at this choice, but many more became as glowing fire, burning with envy and jealousy. Among them, the one who was most troubled was the king of Lanka, Ravana. For Sita was not only known as the most beautiful princess of the time, but also was called Padmani, the ideal maiden. As Rama was an example in his character, so in Sita the ideal character of woman was born. Then came the separation of the two: Sita, who had followed Rama in his twelve years of roaming in the forest, was once left alone in the woods, while Rama went to fetch some water. At that time Sita disappeared. After great difficulty and great grief, the trace was found: she had been taken prisoner by Ravana. But in this captivity she steadily lived for Rama and would not yield to Ravana’s temptations and threats. In the end victory was won. Rama fought a battle with Ravana and brought Sita back home.
This story gives the picture of life being a struggle for everyone, in a small way or a big way. The outer nature of the struggle may be different for everyone, but at the same time no one can live in the midst of this world and be without a struggle. In this struggle, the one who wins in the end has fulfilled the purpose of his life; who loses in the end has lost.
The life of Rama suggests that, spiritual strife apart, the struggle in the world is the first thing to face; and if one keeps to one’s own ideal through every test and trial in life, one will no doubt arrive at a stage when he will be victorious. It does not matter how small be the struggle, but victory won in the end of every struggle is the power that leads man further on the path towards life’s goal. The life of a person, however great and spiritual, has its limitations. Before the conditions of life, the greatest person on earth, the most powerful soul, will for a moment seem helpless. But it is not the beginning that counts, it is the end. It is the last note that a great soul strikes which proves that soul to be real and true.
*In other words, in a special ceremony, the young woman would herself choose from among a gathering of her suitors, usually by placing a garland of flowers around the neck of the one she would accept.