“O King Parikshit, as the Lord sat on His airplane of flowers, with women offering Him prayers and reciters chanting about His characteristics, He appeared like the moon with the stars and planets.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.10.44)
puṣpaka-stho nutaḥ strībhiḥ
stūyamānaś ca vandibhiḥ
vireje bhagavān rājan
grahaiś candra ivoditaḥ
With pride Ravana took over Lanka. Beating his chest, ready to keep track of every accomplishment, with ease Ravana took over the land previously governed by his half-brother Kuvera. One of the items changing possession was the Pushpaka, a car that was a thing of legend. On the occasion of Diwali, we celebrate the return of Shri Ramachandra to His home of Ayodhya. Rama arrived on the very same aerial car, but without any false pride. He took His closest friends along for the ride, for the Supreme Lord never forgets even a single deed done in His favor.
Is it bad to be prideful? Isn’t self-esteem a good thing? In modern times, parents are cautious to chastise their children for fear over this very issue: low self-esteem. From Vedic literature, we learn that self-esteem equates to ego. By default, that ego is false, ahankara. It is an aspect of the subtle body, accompanying mind and intelligence. These are the elements that we can’t see with the naked eye. The subtle elements cover the living being, along with the gross elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)
Ahankara is due to forgetfulness only. There are so many examples in life that show this. We can take a marriage for analysis purposes. The older brother helps the younger brother to find the perfect match. It is through his efforts primarily that the younger brother, following something that resembles the original Vedic system of matchmaking, meets with an ideal family.
After a year or so of marriage, the younger brother is quite proud. His wife gets along much better with the mother than his older brother’s wife does. He thinks to himself, “Wow, I have the best wife. How can others even compete? She is kind, gentle, and well-behaved. She supports me in everything. She does not give me any trouble, and we are generally happy in each other’s association.”
Swayed by ahankara, the younger brother does not remember that the marriage took place through the efforts of others. He takes pride in something that he has no business being proud over. A similar thing occurred with Ravana, except on a much larger scale. He completely denied the existence of God, and his achievements would make the leaders of today seem like paupers. Ravana literally had a city of gold. He didn’t require the advanced technology of today to live in opulence. He didn’t have to spend top dollar to dine at a fancy establishment. He had more than enough meat and wine to consume on a daily basis. He didn’t have just one beautiful wife; there were many.
On the other side you had Shri Rama, the powerful, yet honest and simple prince from Ayodhya. He could defeat the entire world if they should attack Him. Indeed, He once defended against 14,000 of Ravana’s men. They were aggressors in the forest area of Janasthana. They didn’t fight fairly, either. Imagine going up against someone who could change their shape at will. Imagine if they could appear and disappear whenever they wanted. These were some of the powers of the Rakshasas, and Rama defeated them singlehandedly, using only the arrows shot from His illustrious bow.
Ravana was falsely proud, and soon even those things of which he was proud would leave him. This is the real tragedy of ahankara. The living being forgets that everything belongs to God. Even if I take great effort to construct the tallest building in the world, the ingredients necessary existed before my time. I didn’t make the earth. I don’t get to take everything with me, either. Eventually I will pass on. This means that eventually everything will leave my possession.
Ravana was fortunate in that God Himself took everything away. First, Rama’s messenger Hanuman came to Lanka and set fire to the city. Then Rama and Hanuman’s friends invaded the city and took it over. This was with just cause; Ravana had unfairly stolen Rama’s wife Sita. Ravana was very proud of his accomplishments, but since he didn’t recognize the supremacy of God, he lost everything in the worst possible way. He had a historic rise to power, which was followed by an epic fall.
Diwali commemorates Rama’s return home to Ayodhya. The conflict with Ravana occurred while Rama was away from the kingdom, fourteen years in total. When Rama returned, He arrived on the aerial car known as the Pushpaka. This was originally the property of Lord Brahma, who gave it to Kuvera. Ravana took it over and used it in his reign of terror that spanned the three worlds.
Shri Rama is the Supreme Lord, so there is no such thing as false ego in Him. For God there is no difference between matter and spirit, and so there are no subtle elements covering Him. For others He gives the example of real ego by showing appreciation for work. With Him on that aerial car were Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana, and other leaders of the rescue team. Even Sita, who did not know Hanuman and his friends very well, felt it necessary to bring along some important people who provided support.
“Seeing the city of Kishkindha, which was formerly protected by Vali, Sita, who was feeling shy out of love, then spoke the following humble words to Rama: ‘O King, I wish to enter Your capital city of Ayodhya with You, accompanied by the beloved wives of Sugriva, headed by Tara, as well as the wives of the other Vanara leaders.’” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 123.23-25)
The people of Ayodhya celebrated in grand fashion. Part of that celebration was spreading lights across the city, which was a sign of welcome. They welcomed Rama and His closest associates, as the Supreme Lord never forgets a good deed done in His favor. He remembers everything, and the person who always remembers Him never loses in the end. They always win by remaining conscious of Him, keeping the association of the always grateful Supreme Lord.
By fear of him three worlds shook,
The Pushpaka with pride Ravana took.
Ahankara only because of Lord to forget,
From own accomplishments in ignorance set.
Sita and Lanka by Rama easily won,
Remembered helpers, each and every one.
With Him on aerial car back to Ayodhya taking,
With arati lamps people homecoming making.