“The avatara, or incarnation of Godhead, descends from the kingdom of God for material manifestation. And the particular form of the Personality of Godhead who so descends is called an incarnation, or avatara. Such incarnations are situated in the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. When they descend to the material creation, they assume the name avatara." (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.263-264)
The uniqueness of God’s incarnation as Lord Rama was His dedication to dharma, or religiosity. The Lord appears on earth periodically, each time for a specific purpose. Each avatara exhibits specific qualities and traits which appeal to different groups of people. All incarnations share one thing in common; they appear to give protection to the devotees.
There is a class of pseudo-transcendentalists who don’t believe that God can appear on earth. The Vedas tell us that God can be realized in three distinct aspects, with one of them being Brahman, or the impersonal effulgence. Brahman is also described as the Absolute Truth since it is non-different from God. It is the all-encompassing energy. Everything material or spiritual can be thought of as Brahman. Yet in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells us that the Paramatma, or Supersoul, is more a complete feature than Brahman.
“The Supersoul is the original source of all senses, yet He is without senses. He is unattached, although He is the maintainer of all living beings. He transcends the modes of nature, and at the same time He is the master of all modes of material nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.15)
Still, the Paramatma is not the ultimate source of everything. It is merely an expansion of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavan is God’s original form who is known by various names such as Krishna, Ishvara, Achyuta, etc. Bhagavan is a person, an individual just like us. We are equal to God in quality, but far inferior to Him in quantity. God is great, and we are His subordinates. Yet many atheists and impersonalist speculators take Brahman to be the Supreme Absolute Truth, the beginning and end of everything. For this reason, they don’t believe that God can personally appear on earth. Rather, they believe that everything merges into Brahman at the time of universal dissolution, and then releases again when the next creation commences. Yet Lord Krishna definitively states in the Bhagavad-gita that He appears on earth from time to time in His personal form.
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)
Lord Krishna is so smart that He knew that many would consider Him to be an ordinary human being. For this reason, He made sure to mention these people in His teachings to His dear friend and disciple, Arjuna.
“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.11)
We see that this is certainly true, for there are many fools who take to either criticizing Krishna or to labeling Him as a prophet. The Vedas tell us that Krishna is unequivocally God Himself. Since the Vedas represent the ultimate authority, one must accept the statements contained within.
“…The last class of duskritina is called asuram bhavam ashrita, or those of demonic principles. This class is openly atheistic. Some of them argue that the Supreme Lord can never descend upon this material world, but they are unable to give any tangible reasons as to why not.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 7.15 Purport)
This material world isn’t meant to be our permanent home. The question may then be raised, “Why are we here?” One can ask the “why” question an unlimited number of times until they reach a point where the question can no longer be answered. This is because the mind itself is part of the material creation, meaning its capacity for knowledge and intelligence is limited. By definition, something is considered material if it is temporary and flawed. Everything in this world is subject to creation and dissolution. This is why the first teaching of the Vedas is aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul”. Though we may think otherwise, our bodies are temporary, for they must be given up at the time of death. Yet our souls are eternal, meaning they are completely spiritual in quality.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.20)
God created this material world so as to allow the spirit souls to enjoy false proprietorship over nature. Since God is so great, He has many imitators. Those who want to pretend to be God are allowed to take birth in the material world. Of course we can never be God since He is infallible, achyuta, and we are not. Therefore this world is a place full of miseries, dukhalayam.
In general, God is neutral towards every living entity. This is because, by default, we all act on the platform of karma, or fruitive activity performed with desires. “I act in a certain way because I expect a certain result.” This is the basis of karmic activity. Since everyone else also acts in this way, not all desires can be accommodated. There are bound to be collisions. For this reason, we see both good and bad results to our actions. God is completely aloof from such activity. The material world is a sort of playing field, with the demigods serving as the umpires or referees. A referee has no stake in the game; his only duty is to make sure the rules are properly adhered to. The demigods, God’s chief deputies, handle all issues of fairness as they relate to karma.
God makes an exception to this rule of neutrality for His devotees. This is because devotional service is also known as bhagavata-dharma. Dharma is religiosity, or occupational duty. It is defined as such because the Vedas tell us that religion is not meant to be some flickering belief system, but rather it is mankind’s duty. The spirit soul, jivatma, is by definition subordinate to God, so its inherent duty is to act solely for the Lord’s pleasure. Those acting in this way are engaging in bhagavata-dharma. Bhagavan is one who possesses all fortunes, and bhagavata is a conjugation of Bhagavan, meaning that which is associated or connected with God. Bhagavata can refer to the book, Shrimad Bhagavatam, or to the devotee. Because devotional service is above karma, God takes an interest. The Lord makes sure to protect those who sincerely engage in His service. Usually He sends His authorized representative, the spiritual master, to come and help the devotees, but on special occasions, the Lord personally appears.
One such appearance occurred during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Taking birth as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya, Lord Rama was God Himself in the guise of a pious prince. Dashratha belonged to the exalted Ikshvaku dynasty. The sun god, Vivasvan, is one of the most important demigods in the Vedic tradition. His son was Manu, the first man on earth. Manu’s son was Ikshvaku, who served as the first king of earth. Thus Lord Rama took birth in the solar dynasty, famous around the world for its dedication to dharma. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others and this was certainly the case with Dashratha’s eldest son. Rama was loved and adored by all, even by the miscreants He would punish.
The details of His life and pastimes are described in the famous Ramayana, written by Maharishi Valmiki. One of the major events in Rama’s life was His exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya. His younger brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita Devi, both accompanied Rama during His fourteen year exile period in the forest. At the time, many great sages had taken to life in the forest since it was more conducive to the cultivation of knowledge and the performance of religious sacrifices. The Rakshasa demons had also risen to power at that time due to the strength of their leader, the ten-headed Ravana. Rakshasas are atheist by nature, so they viewed the sages as their greatest enemies. This is true not only of Rakshasas, but of all committed atheists. They cringe at the mere mention of God or religion. They take aggressive steps to root out religion from all areas of life.
“Indeed, I can renounce my own life, or even You, O Sita, along with Lakshmana, but never my promised word, especially those promises made to brahmanas.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.18)
The Rakshasas of that time were quite brutal. They would not only disrupt the sacrifices of the sages, but they would also kill them and feast on their flesh. God appeared as Lord Rama specifically to give protection to the sages and to kill Ravana and his band of Rakshasas. In the above referenced quote, Rama is describing His dedication to the brahmanas. The sages of the Dandaka forest had humbly approached Rama to ask for protection, and the Lord agreed to take up arms in their defense. Sita was concerned that Rama was maybe running the risk of committing unjustified violence. To allay her fears, Rama explained that He and Lakshmana were duty-bound to always give protection to the saintly class.
Rama’s comparing His love for the brahmanas to His love for Sita and Lakshmana is noteworthy. Sita and Lakshmana were so exalted that they were allowed to accompany Rama during the exile. None of the other members of the kingdom were this fortunate. Lord Rama easily could have said that He would never renounce the sages, but such a statement may not have been so believable. Everyone in the world knew how much He loved both Sita and Lakshmana. By stating that He would renounce either one of them before going back on the promise he made to the sages, the Lord stressed just how much He loves His devotees who surrender everything to Him.
Lord Rama is best known for His dedication to piety and dharma. When God personally appeared as Lord Krishna in the Dvapara Yuga, He didn’t always abide by established dharma. His advent was more intended for giving pleasure to His devotees in Vrindavana. In actuality, God’s activities can never be classified as adharma, since He is the very definition of virtue. The rules of piety and righteousness only exist to provide a way for people to understand God. By themselves, mundane pious acts are actually meaningless. Only when they are dovetailed with service to the Lord or the cultivation of spiritual knowledge do these acts become meaningful. Nevertheless, Krishna appeared to break many rules, and also many promises. Since Krishna was more dedicated to enacting pleasurable pastimes, and Rama more dedicated to abiding by dharma, there are often debates as to which appearance was better. In the end, they are both the same one and only God, so it’s really just a matter of personal taste.
“Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purifled by knowledge of Me-and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me. All of them-as they surrender unto Me-I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.11)
Lord Krishna’s ultimate instruction in the Bhagavad-gita is that if one surrenders to Him, He will protect them from all sinful reactions. This is the most important thing to understand. Those who take this instruction seriously will have nothing to fear. God will always protect His surrendered devotees, just as He protected the sages of the Dandaka forest.
Categories: protecting the saints