10 Lessons from Ramayana on Life & Relationships

Lesson 1: Clarifications need to be sought in a non-accusatory way.

If others don’t have inkling of where we are coming from, then our voicing the suspicion itself may hurt them grievously. So instead of making a value judgement of any kind, we can just present facts and seek explanation. If Kaikeyi had gently asked Dasharatha why he was appointing his successor so hastily in the absence of Bharata, Dasharatha would have explained how he had had jolting reminders of his mortality. And Kaikeyi’s apprehensions would have been allayed without her needing to even voice them, leave alone act on them.

To counter the mind’s insinuations, we need to meticulously avoid the two mistakes Kaikeyi made.

  1. Avoid hearing the mind uncritically.
  2. If the mind’s persuasion starts swaying us from our moral and spiritual principles, we need to counter it with the enlightening voices of sacred texts and their saintly teachers. We can take both these precautions by conscientiously engaging ourselves in bhakti-yoga practice.

Lesson 2: Trying to decrease the anger of those who have grievously wronged us, at whom we have every right to be angry requires a remarkably selfless level of love.

Lord Rama didn’t get angry on Kaikeyi or Dasharatha after hearing the order of exile. He could have opposed or rejected their order but he didn’t do any such thing. Instead he said to Kaikeyi “If you had accepted me as your son, you would have directly asked me for the kingdom instead of having to go to and through my father” as it severely hurt Dasharatha.

Lesson 3: Love is sometimes conveyed by expressing our emotions and sometimes by concealing them.

At the time of farewell from our loved ones, we may feel aggrieved, but if expressing that grief will aggravate their feelings of separation, delay the departure, and thereby jeopardize an important and urgent service, then we need to conceal our emotions. Such keeping of our emotions within our heart is a testimony to our love. It demonstrates that our love is not just about our feelings but also about the well-being of our loved one whose distress we wish to minimize.

Lesson 4: Sticking by our loved ones in times of their distress is an enduring test of love.

Rama stood by his father and inspired others, including his mother to do the same, even when he could have blamed his father for whatever was happening (exile) and got other family members to join him in this blame game. To remove thorns from the path of those who have filled our path with thorns – that is summit of selfless love.

Lesson 5: Duty comprises the best response to destiny

Ramayan’s message is not that we passively give into destiny but that we stick to our duty and if in the course of duty some inconceivable calamity strikes, we can attribute it to destiny and continue to do our duty. For example, farmers ploughing the field is the duty, where as the occurrence of timely rains is destiny, both are needed for a good harvest. So fulfilling our duties in the present even when it doesn’t produce any result doesn’t go in waste, it comprises good Karma and there by contribute to the congenital destiny that we bring good results in future. In relationships we have to fulfill our responsibilities and duties of the role that we are playing. 

Lesson 6: Rights don’t trump responsibilities

When we are faced with problems we can deal with them better if we approach them with a positive attitude focusing on the positive. Rama responded to his banishment by stating that he didn’t see any cause for distress. He had the satisfaction of ensuring that his father’s word is honored, he had the joy of facilitating the enthronement of his younger brother who was like a son to him and he had the opportunity for spiritual growth by association of sages in the forest. An opportunity that he would otherwise have got only towards the end of this life when he retired to the forest. If we focus too much on our rights we may end up beating our head against a wall trying in vain to get things which we think are our right but which have been taken away by unchangeable circumstances by the will of destiny. On the other hand if we focus too much on destiny we may end up doing nothing at all and thereby depriving ourselves of our authentic rights and letting the world walk all over us.

Lesson 7: Choosing higher emotions

Laxman introspectively asked Rama why am I so short tempered? Rama replied, because you are an emotional person. Perplexed Laxman asked, are emotions undesirable? Rama answer, no not at all. Emotions are the ornament of life but we need to choose the emotions that bring out our higher side not our lower side.

Bharat and Shatrughan become furious after hearing that mother Kaikeyi had sent Rama to exile, wanted to throw her out of kingdom and abused her out of anger. But realized that Rama wouldn’t like such behavior towards their mother so they controlled their anger. For Bharat and Shatrughan what matter most was who they were angry for not who they were angry with. They countered the lower emotion of anger by holding on to the higher emotion of Love for Rama.

Lesson 8: Place relations over possessions

Valuing relations over possessions is the foundation for the sustenance of family. Bharat considered the affection that he relished in his relationship with Rama far more meaningful and fulfilling than the gratification of ruling the Kingdom. So he kept Rama’s sandals on the throne and served under his kingship. Even if we can’t be as selfless as him still a slide increase in  selflessness in our relationships and significantly improve them and substantially decrease conflict. Selflessness is enriching not impoverishing.

Lesson 9: The battle between the head and the tongue

When Ram followed the demonic deer and hunt him down,  the deer shouted out a cry for help in disguise of Rama’s voice. When Sita heard her husband’s cry she requested Laxman to go and help him. Laxman refused as he assured Sita that Rama will be fine. In a Frenzy of anxiety she accused him of having ill intentions towards her “o, Laxman now I understand why you are not going to help Rama, you have an Evil eye on me. You have come to the forest just to wait for an opportunity to act on your lusty desires. You think that if you don’t go to help then he will be slain and then you can have your way with me. Speaking in anxiety and anger she said, I will die before you can touch me. Sita’s word cut Laxman deeper then had the sharpest arrows of demons. When he had always venerated Sita like his mother to be accused of having such lustly intentions towards her was horrifying. Laxman knew that Rama was in no danger and that Sita would be in danger if he left her alone yet he could see no other way to stop her from any more unbearable acquisitions so he left her and went to search for Rama. We can reduce our agony by meditating that words spoken in tension seldom reflect intention. Tension often makes our head loose the battle with our tongue and we end up speaking hurtful words without really meaning what we are saying. Just as we are prone to this human weakness so are others, just as we want others to excuse us for such lapses we too should excuse others’ similar lapses.

Lesson 10: The divine center for relationships – letting go of un-characteristic lapses

When we have been badly hurt be may need to convey in some appropriate way the magnitude and gravity of the wounding words. Further, the healing of our emotions and the restoration of our trust may need time – time during which the hurting party demonstrate the absence of any ill-intention through consistent actions. Depending on the situation the specific measures we take to help heal the relationship may vary. But underlying these varying specifics is the common denominator of the willingness to let go of the past. By holding on to something that might have unintentionally spoken during a tense situation, we poison our consciousness and paralyze are capacity for loving interactions. By choosing instead to focus on the good side of our loved ones and overlooking any “un-characteristic”  laps we can preserve the steady relationship that can help bring out our higher side and their higher side too. 

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