“Beauty may leave the moon, Himalayas may become bereft of snow, the ocean may transgress its shores, but I will never violate the promise given by my father.”
– Lord Rama (in the Ramayana)
But the question remains: why did he banish mother Sita?
This requires us to understand the principle of Dharma- Duty.
The Dharma conflict
Each one of us is responsible for leading our lives in a way that helps human society sustain life, in harmony with cosmic laws. The word Dharma is derived from the Sanskrit ‘Dhr’ which means ‘to sustain, carry or hold’. When we uphold our duties (Dharma)- say a parent caring for the child, or a student sincerely practising his duties, we ensure the overall, proper functioning of human society. This universe is sustained by ethical and moral laws, and when individuals confirm to righteous behaviour, they ensure balance and harmony in nature.
The challenge however, for every human being, is when two duties conflict. Unlike the animals that act based on instinct, humans are bestowed with the gift of choice. The dharma conflict happens when you are challenged with two right choices; you could chose only one and each would have consequences contrary to the other. A man in US is in dilemma; his parents beg him to return to India, while his wife insists they stay there. What should he do? Your boss insists on working late hours, and that would guarantee better career prospects. But your child is repeatedly falling sick, and you need to give more attention to her. What’s the right thing to do?
Dharma is also relative; sometimes what is considered as truthful in one situation could become unrighteous in another. If an innocent man, being chased by assailants, knocks on your door for help, would you give him shelter? Let’s say you do, and then moments later, the muggers knock at your door and ask if you have seen a man they were chasing, come by. What would you say? The truth? – And allow an innocent man to be attacked? Or would you rather speak a lie and mislead the marauders so that an innocent life is saved?
Dharma is therefore personal. Although we are guided by many: the wisdom books, saints of the past, and the people we love now, it’s ultimately our conscience- the inner moral compass, which directs our day to day decisions.
Ram had a tough decision to make. His cabinet of ten trusted ministers confirmed that a large number of citizens scorned him for his blind love for Sita. That would not be a problem if Ram was an ordinary man. But he was a king, and given the fact that Sita was at another man’s house for a year, they indicted him of condoning adultery. The denunciation was not of Sita, but of Ram. And a king’s currency to rule, and serve his citizens, is their mandate.
Certainly, as a husband, what Lord Ram did is unacceptable, but considering his other role as a king, he was in the Dharma conflict. To declare his decision as faulty is being unfair to him. That’s because most of us naturally think and act on the level of self-centeredness; we are not kings, and have no idea of the responsibility and pressure of keeping all citizens happy. We can’t imagine someone could chose misery to serve others, and that’s what Ram did. After killing Ravana, Vibhishana offered Lord Rama the kingdom of Lanka. At that time the Lord told him, “Mother and motherland are greater than heaven.” To serve his country the best way he could, he sacrificed his love.
“But is Sita not a citizen also? How could he give her pain? Should Ram not protect her?”
To be continued…