Everybody loves Rama

21 04 2021

If there is one difficult thing about reading Vedic scripture as a modern Western person (aside from all of the many-headed cosmic snakes and superhero powers), it’s how differently we have come to perceive protagonists in a story. In the Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam in particular, Lord Ramachandra and Krishna are pure unadulterated heroes, or at the very least, they have a cartoonish and irresistible charm. Their enemies are only their enemies for the sake of the story, but everyone else seems to love them. Lord Rama in particular is the Perfect Man who can do no wrong. He doesn’t even sigh a hint of displeasure at being banished to the forest or when He has to banish Sita, nor does He ever lament His hardship. His family, on the other hand, blame themselves for not collapsing dead on the spot from witnessing Lord Rama’s misfortune. Krishna, on the other hand, tries to misbehave as a child and as a youth, but people still love Him anyway. They even love Him because of His misbehavior. In both cases, we are faced with an inexplicable charm and attraction. Something I think we very modern people can’t really imagine at this point.

Being a member of the tail end of Generation X in the United States, I was conditioned to take the world with a huge grain of salt. My generation’s favorite films don’t follow standard “good guy vs. bad guy” narratives, we have come to love and appreciate anti-heroes who we’re are drawn to but aren’t 100% comfortable admiring. If a plot doesn’t have a number of twists and turns complete with moral paradoxes and subversion of classical narratives, we think the writers are lazy or gullible. In other words, we have trust issues. The thought of things going too well makes us uncomfortable. The saying is if you walk into a room not knowing who the mark is, you are the mark. We sort of live in fear of that.

I might say here that this is a bad thing, but that doesn’t really matter. Maybe as latchkey kids or children of divorce, we’re too afraid of having real heroes, of thinking there is someone or something out there that is really that pure; something worthy of our unthinking and unconditional love. So even if we’re not completely cynical about the story of Lord Ramachandra or Lord Krishna, it can’t really register with us as with “simpler folk”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just is. Faith isn’t about changing who you are to commit yourself to something, it’s about committing yourself to something as you are, and agreeing to grow in that relationship as needed. I am still at the beginning stage.

I should say that I am not completely cynical. There are figures in my life who I have followed and still admire. In truth, I can’t really find fault in them at least in the relationship I have had with them. As a young man, I felt this way about political leaders like Lenin and Trotsky, but honestly I more pity these people now as tragic figures. The two main people who I feel some allegiance to who have shaped my life are (paradoxically) Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Srila Prabhupada. In the case of Lefebvre, there is a distinct underdog aura around him. Some would see him as a tragic figure, but from my perspective it seems that he was sticking up for the religion he was raised in against those who would change it. Sometimes being on the wrong side of history is being on the right side of history.

As for Srila Prabhupada, even before I tried being a Hare Krishna, everything I read about him attracted me to him. Even if ISKCON has subsequently had a turbulent history, its founding and explosive growth is nothing short of heroic and supernatural. Prabhupada literally started with nothing, coming to the U.S. at the age of 70 only with the command of his guru who had been dead for decades. Only divine intervention could have made any of it work. And that’s the only reason I am typing this.

So while I still may have minor qualms about the stories of Lord Ramachandra and Krishna, I am not completely hopeless due to affiliation with those closer to me in time and space, those who have shown me the divine path of virtue in a world that seems to have none.

Blessed Rama Navami.

Hare Krishna!



One response

6 05 2021
Krishna D

I can understand you have made good progress in your faith. Hare Krishna.

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