(2) As the Avatars have specific tasks in the evolution of the race, they themselves appear sequentially for interventions that follow one after another in the progressive growth of consciousness in existence. Actually, Avatars herald the important transitions from one developmental stage to another. That is why the Indian tradition speaks of the procession of Avatars:
- First the Fish Avatar,
- then the amphibious animal between land and water,
- then the land animal,
- then the Man-Lion Avatar, bridging man and animal,
- then man as dwarf, small and underdeveloped and physical but containing in himself the godhead and taking possession of existence,
then the rajasic, sattwic, nirguna Avatars, leading the human development from the vital rajasic to the sattwic mental man
- and again the overmental superman. (Ibid, pg388)
In this scheme of things, the figure of ‘Rama’ represents the development of the sattwic man – i.e. the TRANSITION FROM THE INFRA-ETHICAL TO THE ETHICAL STAGE OF HUMANITY. The sattwic man is a predominantly mental man who lives according to his reason, will, ideologies and morality. Rama’s task is to fix the prototype of such a sattwic man SO THAT THE FOUNDATION OF A SOUND SOCIAL ORDER IS LAID IN THE WORLD. To do so, Rama has to act at two distinct levels:
(1) LEVEL I: The ‘mental’ man and sound social order must be protected from infra-ethical and anti-ethical forces. This is the real reason for the Battle of Ramayana. The Rakshasas and Asuras represent the infra-ethical and anti-ethical forces. Rama himself also befriends a portion of the non-ethical forces (represented in the animals who are supporting him) and the infra-ethical forces (represented in the Rakshasa who defected from the rakshasa-kingdom) so that they are subservient to the Higher Forces. After all, in a battle, one needs to plan and work in various ways and Rama does that with clarity, tact and wisdom.
(2)LEVEL II: The moment ethical values are accepted, a problem arises. As ethics itself is a transitional phenomenon, it cannot be perfect.The Indian tradition considers ethical values as relative and not absolutist ( hence did not give arise to fundamentalism). As such, the ethical duties of a person in his role as a husband clashes with other roles-viz. the role of a father, the role of a son, the role of a brother, the role of a comrade, the role of a king. We all play multiple roles in our lives and the conflict between different roles is the reason why we need counselling, psychotherapy, social action and revaluation in life. It is to be appreciated that the author of Ramayana who was dealing with ethical conflicts for the first time in the literature of the present earth-civilization, could take the conflicts to their peaks. (Good luck to counselors and psychotherapists! Valmiki, the author of Ramayana set the ball rolling!) Rama’s unique work as an Avatar was to work through these conflicts, resolving multiple conflicts simultaneously. He however does not act from the same level of consciousness from which these conflicts arise. Actually that is what we tend to do leading to circling within the same circumstances. Instead, he works from a higher level, bringing the Divine Will to solve existential issues. At the same time he was not impractical as he employed solutions that were relevant at that point in time. As this is difficult for the ordinary mind to grasp, there is a trend to misinterpret Rama’s actions.
Sri Aurobindo writes: ‘...it was his business to typify and establish the things on which the social idea and its stability depend, truth and honour, the sense of Dharma, public spirit and the sense of order. To the first, to truth and honour, much more than to his filial love and obedience to his father--though to that also-- he sacrificed his personal rights as the elect of the King and the assembly and fourteen of the best years of his life and went into exile in the forests. To his public spirit and his sense of public order (the great and supreme civic virtue in the eyes of the ancient Indians, Greeks, Romans, for at that time the maintenance of the ordered community, not the separate development and satisfaction of the individual was the pressing need of the human evolution) he sacrificed his own happiness and domestic life and the happiness of Sita. In that he was at one with the moral sense of all the antique races, though at variance with the later romantic individualistic sentimental morality of the modern man who can afford to have that less stern morality just because the ancients sacrificed the individual in order to make the world safe for the spirit of social order.’ (Ibid, pg401-402). ‘It was not his business to play the comedy of the
chivalrous Kshatriya with the formidable brute beast that was Bali, it was his business to kill him and get the Animal under his control. It was his business to be not necessarily a perfect, but a largely representative sattwic Man, a faithful husband and a lover, a loving and obedient son, a tender and perfect brother, father, friend – he is friend of all kinds of people, friend of the outcast Guhaka, friend of Animal leaders, Sugriva, Hanuman, friend of the vulture Jatayu, friend of even Rakshasa Vibhishana. All that he was in a brilliant, striking but above all spontaneous and inevitable way, not with forcing of this note or that like Harishchandra or Shivi, but with a certain harmonious completebess.’ (Ibid, pg401)
However, today, with the ethical edifice crumbling all over the world, we need to develop our supra-ethical poise in an universalized way so that it becomes meaningful to the human race as a whole and not only to exceptional individuals. It is no longer sufficient for one single representative man to solve ethical dilemmas. The human race itself has to progress to a higher poise and open to a broader perspective. What was called ‘Rama-rajya’ was the establishment of the ethical rule and social order. Today, we need to go to a higher poise of consciousness that surpasses Rama-rajya.
Sri Aurobindo, while referring to Rama, speaks of the representative cosmic man heralding the transition from the infra-ethical to the ethical stage of humanity. He uses the name ‘Rama’ as that is the name used in literature. The name is not important, it is the ‘action’ that is important. He writes:
‘…when I read the Ramayana I feel a great afflatus which I recognize and which makes of its story—mere faery-tale though it seems—a parable of a great critical transitional event that happened in the terrestrial evolution and gives to the main character’s personality and action a significance of the large typical cosmic kind which these actions would not have had if they had been done by another man in another scheme of events………All the same, if anybody does not see as I do and wants to eject Rama from his place, I have no objection—I have no particular partiality for Rama—provided somebody is put in who can worthily fill up the gap his absence leaves. There was somebody there, Valmiki’s Rama or another Rama or somebody not Rama………..It was not at all Rama’s business to establish the spiritual stage of that evolution –so he did not at all concern himself with that. His business was to destroy Ravana and to establish the Rama-rajya—in other words, to fix for the future the possibility of an order proper to the sattwic civilized human being who governs his life by the reason, the finer emotions, morality, or atleast moral ideals, such as truth, obedience, cooperation and harmony, the sense of domestic and public order, -- to establish this in a world still occupied by anarchic forces, the Animal mind and the powers of the vital Ego making its own satisfaction the rule of life, in other words, the Vanara and Rakshasa. This is the meaning of Rama and his life-work and it is according as he fulfilled it or not that he must be judged as Avatar or no Avatar’ (Ibid, pg 400-401).
Actually, the Asura and Rakshasa are planes of consciousness that are in-built in the matrix of the human psyche.We all have our infra-ethical and anti-ethical elements which at times can get the better of us.This is why in Ramayana we find the same individual who becomes a rakshasa from the human being or a god and can again be made to switch roles by providence in accordance to one’s karma. That the ethical role is not the highest achievement is also explicit in the Ramayana stories. Thus Marich who became a saint from a demon again reverted back to his demoniacal poise when lured by Ravana. The seeds of demonhood that remained in his subconscious (or Freudian unconscious) could not be effectively and permanently tackled by the ethical poise of his sainthood. This is not unexpected as the secret of the Supramental Consciousness that alone can completely surpass the subconscious (which Sri Aurobindo unveiled in The Life Divine) was not known earlier.
Sri Aurobindo poetically depicts the transvaluation of the ethical perspective in evolution. The animal soul (the Vanara) has to be replaced by the violent kinetic ego -- the infra-ethical Rakshasa who in his grandiose stride does not care for values. The sense of guilt comes with ethics and therefore there is no guilt at the infra-ethical level. Eventually, he will be replaced by the anti-ethical Asura--the intellectualized but unregenerated Ego who will again be replaced by the ethical mind. However, each such type has a unique place in the cosmic scheme and sees the Divine in its own image. Excerpts from the poem are given below.
In reply to the sage Atri’s prayer that as the Rakshasa had outlived his utility and thus should be allowed to ‘rule a season and be slain’, God answers:
“………it is long decreed,
The Rakshasa shall rule the peopled earth.
He takes the brute into himself for man
Yielding it offerings, while the grandiose thoughts
And violent aspirations he controls;
He purifies the demon in the race
Slaying in wrath, not cruelty. Awhile
He puts the Vanara out of the world,
Accustoming to grandeur all mankind;
The Ifrit* he rejects. Were he denied
His period, man could not progress. But since
He sees himself as Me, not Me in him,
And takes the life and body for the whole,
He cannot last. Therefore is Atri’s word
The Rakshasa knows his days are outnumbered. But he has also emerged from the Supreme and has a right to go back to the Supreme. Even in defeat, he does not lose his grandiosity. After all, the infra-ethical stage had no guilt. Therefore, he can glorify his pride. He seeks a boon in defeat:
“Let this be mine then, when at last I sink,
Nor brute nor demon, man nor Titan’s hand,
Nor any lesser creature shall o’erthrow,
But only God himself compel my fall.”
That boon was decreed and that is how the infra-ethical Rakshasa surrendered in defeat to Rama—The Avatar of the ethical mind.
However, when the Rakshasa was praying for this boon, the Creatrix, in the form of Goddess Kali had commented
“…neither thou nor I are best nor last”.
Therefore, even Rama himself has to be outlived en route a greater manhood. The ethical poise has to be surpassed by the supra-ethical poise.
(Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems, Pg 78-79)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu