Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – II, Laukika and Vaidika
June 24, 2014
My intention in this series is to analyze Vālmīki’ Rāmāyaṇa and to understand if we can appreciate the conduct that he is advocating. As Vālmīki says in the preface of his work, we are in search of good moral conduct that we can emulate. Apparently Rāma is such a personality. A personality is a dynamic attribute, we learn from the decision making and the performance of the tasks in life. We have to analyze the moral conduct in life, one applicable to operate life and another to create a model of life. We analyze if idealism and practice can converge. We follow Vālmīki in the analysis.
In any culture, people’s beliefs would trump any idealistic moral belief. An idealistic belief is designed to meet larger circumstances than our immediate setting. Early culture was called Laukika (“Earthly”, “terrestrial”) because it served the style of a group of people who lived together. Quite a bit of empirical codes of life can be obtained from a limited setting since everyone wants to live in peace and wishes to be healthy. Respect the sun, do not pollute the water, grow your food, propagate a family, nourish the children are some of the conservation principles which are discovered easily. In such a society, it is easy to think that the human woes and happiness are linked to the feminine forces and one conceives various women forms to assist us in our daily operations. Though it might sound primitive, such conceptual understanding has retained its place in Indian society. Here the effect is physical; the result is quantitative.
In such an understanding, the metaphysical reasoning of life rests with the mother. Mothers show unselfish attention to children, mothers nurture and remain as life-long friends. They teach language and skills, they share food. The bondage between the mother and the child is umbilical and becomes the connector of life. Transferring the concept to a larger scale we can say that the Earth is like a mother; it provides us food and gives us rest. It is easy to add animation to Earth by attaching various other physical phenomena like rain, storms, floods, tides or disease. Just as we must not upset our mothers, so we must respect the Earth as the most powerful force.
Somewhere to this thinking, a new idea entered in the flow of time. This had to do with the discovery of human mind. The exact articulation of the potential of mind in our daily life came much late, but the discovery of mind as an organ had profound changes in people’s thought process. Actually “thought” itself becomes a word now and there was a transition from the physical objects to pure thought objects. .Possibly, it is the time of expansion of language in India, with new word formations and development of a literature. The discovery that we can imagine concepts or be happy or unhappy by a mere whim, is a major step forward in human civilization. The life may not be fully physical - inquiry into the role of mind on life must have been a major obsession of many thinkers for hundreds of years in India.
Further examination of mind showed that mind operates in two ways. In its pure form it looks for wisdom, it blends with the cosmic flow of events; it lets the body melt away in the play of the universe. In its local form, it gets obsessed with the body and tries to safeguard the individual’s interest at all costs. In this mode, the individual does not care about what has happened before or what might happen in the future, but looks toward to his or her immediate neighborhood and finds security in claiming a personal superiority among the local objects. The individual rationalizes that his or her extra privilege was an earned attribute through some hard work or some self-assumed virtue. Though the inner mind knows, the outer mind tries to ignore the fact that the assumed privilege is inconsequential in the cosmic play of the universe.
Since most of the mind remains unknown and indeterminate, it fails to take a gender test. Bṛhadāranyaka Upaniṣad declared mind to be neuter. Though neuter, it has an attribute of creativity in the form of “wish” which can be powered by the generality of the mind. Through the daily observations, one notices that the strong desires can convert to “will power” where the entire cosmos may channel through one’s mind. So one can say that there is something called cosmic mind that tallies with the local mind to develop one’s willpower. We would not know how such an alignment might come to be, but we can state that such alignment is possible and we can prescribe empirical methods to go towards it. Such thoughts and the empirical methods for possible alignment are the basis of Vaidika conduct, compared to Laukika conduct above. To accommodate the Laukika conduct we can say that the “wish” can convert itself to “desire” for low level interactions.
While it is difficult to pin down what the Vaidika conduct ought to be, we settle for instructions imparted by teachers who practice the conduct. It boils down to saying that the Vaidika conduct is what is prescribed in the Vedas enunciated by of the bright minds over a period of time. Unlike the object worships in the Laukika style, here the worship is to the unseen forces that are interacting to determine the events in the universe. These forces are given the name “deva” who live in space and who monitor our life; and may give rewards. “deva”s originate from Brahmā who originates from the cosmic mind in some mysterious way. All cosmology is conjecture; this cosmology though lacking rigor has caught on to the imagination of people making it part of the Vedic religion.
The important part of the practice of Vedic religion has been to respect the traditions as stated through the Vedic hymns. Since we would not know our moves at any situation, we simply should follow what was done in the past. Respecting the elders and the tradition becomes the cornerstone of such a belief system. The system would support you if you follow the tradition, because tradition is designed by the cosmic mind we discussed earlier. Following a tradition is hard. In case you succeeded in following, you join the tradition and others would follow you! Vasiṣṭha is a teacher of this school and is convinced about his own potential to channelize the cosmic force through him if he so “wishes.”
In the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa nomenclature Vasiṣṭha is called a Brahmarṣi because he has mastered all the “deva”s through his mind. Each “deva” brings a skill and the technique. To master all “deva”s is to master the mind such that one has direct communication to the cosmic mind. There may be a local pleasure in mastering one “deva” or some “deva”s; and one can get approved by Brahmā on such accomplishment. Brahmā’s approval is the objective and is achieved through hard work and sincerity of purpose. In Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa, Brahmā would show up from time to time, which is a poetic description of our own objective approval of our work. We have the faculty to know when something works. When we accomplish new skills with sufficient potency, Brahmā manifests through Vedic cosmology. With sufficient skills, a person can be entitled as Maharṣi as Viśvāmitra was. All creation and labels are due to Brahmā.
The transition from Rṣi to Maharṣi can be abrupt as Vālmīki shows himself. Through sheer creativity, Vālmīki sets tune to a new prosody and becomes nervous that he failed to take Brahmā’s permission before entering into the creativity pursuit. The kind Brahmā does show up with his wife Sarasvatī and blesses him for his work. Rationalization through cosmic approval is the essence of Vedic conduct. As interpreted by Rāma himself in Rāmāyaṇa, one’s action is never one’s own. Some “deva” is involved. We just do not know. We accept. What Vālmīki wants to show that sooner or later you must accept and the Vedic methods would triumph!
In Vedic way of conducting life, the decision making is done as guided by the Vedas. Any decision has repercussions, but one keeps faith. Rāma’s conduct follows such path. He compromises Laukika to Vaidika. We will return to this when we analyze Rama’s characterization further. What does his father do? I plan to explore the character of Dasaratha in the next article.
Let Sai bless all.