Class Summary: MON 24 APR 2006
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KSU   -   English 2110/09, 40 & 42     Mr. Hagin   -   Revised: 25 April 2006
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Today's Topics: 

The Ramayana, chapters 5-7

When Soorpanka returns to the realm of demons, she informs Ravana that she was maimed by Rama, thus sending Ravana into a rage, wishing to kill Rama in an act of vengeance.  However, after Soorpanka tells her brother about the beautiful Sita, Ravana suddenly becomes smitten with the love bug, and can think only of marrying Sita. We should find it funny that he falls in love with a brief verbal description of Sita. He must have a wild imagination because he falls so hard in love with Sita that he becomes tormented by his own desires.  In his confusion, he changes the weather (page 82), although he is not satisfied with any weather at all.  What Ravana is doing here is creating chaos, pure chaos, since he is the demon force of chaos and confusion.  In fact, he is so confused that he will curse the moon for being unpredictable and fickle, yet his personality embodies the exact same mutability as is demonstrated by the moon.  Ravana is playing a feminine role here, being wavering and undecided about himself and about which actions to take.  One by one, his demon family members will try to counsel him about his foolish behavior, but he is so ignorant that he is blind to his own ignorance to the point where he can never "see the light." This type of chaos and confusion is called maya, and it is the way that the demons operate. Watch for this term to appear later in the story.

Ravana forces Mareecha (his uncle, an evil demon who is attempting to become good) to assume the form of a jeweled deer, which tempts Sita to the point where she begs Rama to fetch it for her.  Although Lakshmana counsels against this, Rama willingly (and foolishly) attempts to capture the deer.  Further trickery lures Lakshmana away from the cottage, leaving Sita all alone to be kidnapped by Ravana.  When Ravana arrives (in the form of a hermit beggar), Sita is unaware of his demon nature, and she allows herself to be kidnapped to the far away island of Sri Lanka.

Did Rama not know that he was being tricked?  Did he willingly let his wife be captured by the great demon?  As Vishnu (the Protector), he has failed in his task.  Now he will need to thwart not only Ravana, but also set on another quest to find Sita and bring her back safely.  We saw a similar change of plans in Gilgamesh, when Gilgamesh thought that attaining the cedar wood was the end of his mission, only to embark on a greater journey after Enkidu's death.  In order to accomplish this more complex task, Rama enlists the help of the monkeys, beginning with a passerby named Hanuman, who is dressed as a scholar, but is really the king of the monkeys with superhuman abilities to fly and change sizes.

There is a scene on page 99 where Hanuman, the king of the monkeys, begins to bow down to Rama upon their first meeting.  Rama, however, tells Hanuman that Rama himself should bow down to Hanuman, since Hanuman comes from the higher priestly caste, while Rama is a "mere warrior."  This story would have been very different had Rama been incarnated into the body of a priest or holy man.  By taking the form of a warrior, Rama can serve as an example for people beneath the priestly caste.  He still recognizes his place, even to the point of realizing that a god in a monkey form is still a god.

Sugreeva can gather the magic monkey army for Rama, but first Rama must settle a bitter family dispute amongst the monkey kingdom so that Sugreeva can command this army.  Therefore, before setting off to find Sita, Rama must help Sugreeva to re-establish himself as a leader of the monkey tribes.  This can only occur by conquering Sugreeva's brother Vali.  Vali was present during the creation of the universe, so he is essentially a god character in the form of a mighty monkey.  Vali has a unique power that drains his opponents of half of their strength, while transferring it to him.  His story is narrated throughout chapter 6.

When Vali was fighting a great demon, Mayavi, he took the battle into a deep cave that stretched to the center of the Earth.  He asked his little brother Sugreeva to guard the mouth of the cave so that the demon wouldn't escape.  Sugreeva did as he was asked, but after many months of waiting, Sugreeva left his post on the word of his advisors, assuming that his brother had died.  Twenty-eight months later, however, Vali returned victorious, but now irate that Sugreeva locked him inside the cave by rolling a boulder in front of the entrance.  Furious at Sugreeva, Vali burst out of his prison and chased Sugreeva away, vowing to kill him if he ever saw him again.  Vali then proceded to steal Sugreeva's wife, Tara, and to keep her as his very own.

Enter Rama, who shoots an arrow into Vali at the moment that he seizes his brother by the throat.  As the arrow is penetrating Vali's chest, he pulls it out with equal force, and begins to die slowly.  In a very Shakespearean way, Vali spouts a long dialogue with Rama and Lakshmana for 5 full pages before finally keeling over and dying.  In this speech, Vali criticizes Rama's actions, calling them cowardly and evil.  Rama has never before been spoken to this way (such as being addressed as "young man"), yet he patiently listens to Vali's tirade.  Vali blames Rama of having selfish motivation and a corrupt nature inside that places the younger brothers on the thrones of power while allowing the more capable leaders to lose their might.  He further blames Rama for failing to act heroically and for breaking the rules of war.

Why did Rama attack him from a hidden location, he wonders?  Don't real heroes fight face-to-face and without weapons?  He cannot understand Rama's behavior until Rama explains to Vali that Rama's actions were not only justified, but that Vali was smarter than his physical form suggests.

After Rama explains that he sees the god inside of Vali's animal exterior, Vali begins to realize that Rama was really treating him as a god, not as an animal.  In essence, Rama has praised Vali by shooting him with an arrow.  By enlightening Vali's mind, he can die with his karmas resolved and can attain a higher incarnation in his next life.  Without Rama's feat, Vali would have eventually died with a great amount of bad karma (through the act of murdering his brother), forcing this god into lower and lower levels of life.  Vali quickly explains that he understands what has now happened.  Vali has been elevated to the status of a god by the greatest of gods, Vishnu.  What looks like an unfortunate sneak attack actually becomes Vali's greatest day of salvation.  He is glorified by the way that Rama treats him, therefore preserving Vali's soul and his efforts throughout his many incarnations.  Rama's arrows enlighten Vali rather than kill him.  Vali's exterior monkey form is killed, allowing his next birth of his inner soul to become more glorified.  In many ways, this is Vali's best day of all of his lives!

As we have learned, Eastern beliefs prioritize the mind over the body.  Easterners will typically view this world as one filled with illusions (also called maya).  We cannot trust our eyes or our senses, since they can be so easily fooled.  We have all seen the "water" on the road on a hot summer day, and we all have said "Hi" to a stranger that we thought we recognized as a familiar face!  Eastern followers will meditate to clear their minds of their conscious thoughts (their earthly passions and connections), in favor of tapping into the deeper spiritual essences of our inner beings.  Watch for characters who act in each of these three states, especially during the battle between good and evil at the end of The Ramayana.

Notice that Rama is consistently in a state of lucidity from this point in the story until the end.  Although he slipped into passion when he chased the golden deer (and also when he griped to Lakshmana about Sugreeva's failure to arrive after the rains), Rama will now demonstrate his clearest thinking, such as he did when he killed Vali.  All passions distract us from our intellectual or spiritual pursuits, so we must learn to detach ourselves from them in order to become lucid.

I will preview three terms here that we will discuss next time when we look at The Bhagavad-Gita. As you make your way to the end of the book, keep the following three states of the soul in mind (which will be further explained in The Bhagavad-Gita):

lucidity -- the state of clear thinking
passion -- emotional connection to the earthly world / suffering
dark inertia -- the state of delusional thinking and confusion

As we have learned, Eastern beliefs prioritize the mind over the body.  Easterners will typically view this world as one filled with illusions (also called maya).  We cannot trust our eyes or our senses, since they can be so easily fooled.  We have all seen the "water" on the road on a hot summer day, and we all have said "Hi" to a stranger that we thought we recognized as a familiar face!  Eastern followers will meditate to clear their minds of their conscious thoughts (their earthly passions and connections), in favor of tapping into the deeper spiritual essences of our inner beings.

Notice that Rama is consistently in a state of lucidity from this point in the story until the end.  Although he slipped into passion when he chased the golden deer (and also when he griped to Lakshmana about Sugreeva's failure to arrive after the rains), Rama will now demonstrate his clearest thinking, such as he did when he killed Vali.  All passions distract us from our intellectual or spiritual pursuits, so we must learn to detach ourselves from them in order to become lucid.

Ravana, on the other hand, consistently demonstrates both passion and dark inertia.  Falling in love/lust with a verbal description of Sita shows his propensity for passion, which has therefore clouded his judgment, allowing him to slip into dark inertia.  He changes the weather, draws faulty conclusions, and creates a lot of confusion about nothing of consequence.  He is hopelessly lost in the dark, spinning wildly out of control (inertia), with no reasonable direction or destination.

As you complete this story, look at the methods of fighting that Rama and Ravana employ.  Rama plays strictly by the rules of fair fighting, while Ravana will make many mistakes and blunders, especially misinterpreting the heroic characters in this story.  On many occasions, Ravana (and many of his demon siblings) will view Rama as people, relying on their exterior forms to cast this judgment.  However, we have seen in the Eastern literature that one's inner soul is the only thing that is real, making our physical bodies mere illusions.  While Rama and Hanuman can see a person's soul, Ravana cannot, since demons work with looks, not substance.  The same situation occurred in the Hindu creation story, The Churning of the Milky Ocean, where the gods (Vishnu) tricked the demons with the elixir of immortality. 

In chapter 7, Rama patiently waits for the monsoon season to end so that he can be met by Sugreeva and his monkey army.  This will allow them to look for Sita by covering the countryside with more sets of eyes.  Unfortunately for Rama, Sugreeva has forgotten about his duty to Rama, and instead parties in his palace after Rama had reinstated him as king of Kiskinda.  Sugreeva is basking in wine, women, food, and pleasure, all the while Rama waits patiently for his arrival.  On page 119, Rama displays anger and frustration at Sugreeva, at one point threatening to kill the little monkey.  Rama quickly clarifies his tone with Lakshmana, sending his brother on a quest to locate Sugreeva.

Lakshmana finds our little monkey friend inside his palace, and he angrily knocks some sense into this slacker, who can't believe that he became lost in his own drunkeness.  Upon returning to Rama's exiled location, Sugreeva apologizes and scolds himself for having a "monkey mind" (page 124).  This concept of a monkey mind is a popular one in Hindu literature, and it refers to the turbulent mind that is overtaken by earthly desires.  Rama is quick to forgive Sugreeva, deciding instead to focus on what Sugreeva can do for him now rather than dwelling on his past folly.  Apparently, Sugreeva is now prepared to perform his duties to Rama by gathering the monkey army.  Remember that in Eastern philosophies, the current moment is more important than the past or present, mainly because you can control your actions right now.

Along the way, Lakshmana stumbles upon Sampathi, the older brother of the eagle god, Jatayu.  Jatayu had been killed in the previous chapter, and Sampathi had been rendered powerless by the demon armies.  Lakshmana simply states Rama's name to allow Sampathi to regain his lost eminence.  Sampathi has some good news and some bad news: he has seen where Ravana took Sita (Sri Lanka), but he can't join them in the battle since he has to sit on the throne and lead his people in his brother's stead.  Why does he do this?  Notice that Sampathi has a dharma that must be satisfied.  Everyone has his duty, and Sampathi's duty is first to his people, then to Rama.  Other characters (such as Sugreeva) are bound to serve Rama directly, so you can see that each creature has its own dharma to fulfill.

Hanuman uses his size-changing powers to take a single step from India to the island of Sri Lanka, then shrinks himself back down to monkey size to look for Sita.  Apparently none of the demons notice a giganto monkey stepping onto their island.  (Do you see why these demons just don't "get it"?)  On page 132 Hanuman thinks he sees Sita, but notices her unflattering sleeping position, therefore drawing the conclusion that she is not Sita (but rather Mandodari, Ravana'a wife).  We had learned that one's physical appearance is not an accurate reflection of his soul, so why does Hanuman use physical features to identify this woman?  Well, he's not really looking at her physical features as much as he sees her subconscious reactions while sleeping.  Apparently, one's true nature can be seen during sleep, since we don't control our own subconscious thoughts and actions.

We'll debate this next time.

Good luck completing the book. The rest of the story is packed with action scenes and battle wounds, making it easier to follow. As you enter the great battle, notice how each of Ravana's family members counsels him and how many argue with him. They are all demons, and so their attitudes are bordering on the comical, filled with arrogance and self-assured ego.

We will also look at The Bhagavad-Gita, a poem that shows Vishnu's next incarnation as Krishna.

 

 

Announcements:

The Final Exam Study Guide is now available.

I will also hold extended office hours on April 24-28. These are open-door hours, so just stop by (no appointments necessary). Please knock on my door if I am working with another student. I will be mostly unavailable during the exam week due to personal appointments, so I recommend seeing me as soon as possible if you need some extra help.

The KSU final exam schedule is also available, so check your calendars for your exam times. Remember that exams are schedules for two hours, so you will be arriving and leaving your exams at slightly different times than usual.

 

 

Due Next Time:

The Ramayana, chapters 7-14 (Narayan, 115-171) / READING GUIDE (527-533)
The Bhagavad-Gita: Triad of Nature's Qualities (534)
The Bhagavad-Gita (535-558)
Quiz 11

 

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