“Then the ten-necked one, who was hiding nearby, quickly assumed the form of a wandering mendicant and approached Vaidehi.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 46.2)
तदासाद्य दशग्रीवः क्षिप्रमन्तरमास्थितः।
अभिचक्राम वैदेहीं परिव्राजकरूपधृक्।।
tadāsādya daśagrīvaḥ kṣipramantaramāsthitaḥ।
abhicakrāma vaidehīṃ parivrājakarūpadhṛk।।
Friend1: Based on the many discussions we’ve had, it would be safe to say that we are fans of the Ramayana.
Friend2: Which one?
Friend1: There is only one, in fact. The Hindi poem of Goswami Tulsidas is actually called Ramacharitamanasa.
Friend2: It was so wonderfully received, so much adored by the general public that people began to informally refer to it as the Ramayana.
Friend1: The Tulsi Ramayana, as opposed to the Valmiki Ramayana.
Friend2: The latter is the original written account of the life and pastimes of Shri Rama.
Friend1: Though the term original doesn’t really apply, since the lila of Bhagavan is as endless as He is.
Friend2: Anadi, without beginning, and ananta, without end.
Friend1: Whichever version you choose, as even Shrimad Bhagavatam has a summary account, we do hold the story in high regard.
Friend2: Yes; definitely. Though it is not a work of fiction. Valmiki did not imagine anything. These are beautiful descriptions of historical events.
Friend1: Put into verses which can be sung.
Friend2: Which are thus easier to remember. You do not need radio technology or smartphones if people can remember what they hear someone singing. They can pass on the same to others.
Friend1: The story then goes viral.
Friend2: Or something simpler, like the Hanuman Chalisa. The saints of the Vedic tradition are so wise in that way.
Friend1: You and I are fans, but let’s talk about getting others involved.
Friend2: Involved in what? Introducing them to the work?
Friend1: Sure. Getting them to have the same level of appreciation. There are so many valuable lessons to take.
Friend2: Absolutely. Recognizing proper family life, duty, honor, betrayal, perseverance, attention to detail, good and evil, the dangers of greed – pretty much every issue that man has dealt with since the beginning of time gets covered.
Friend1: Here is a problem, as I see it. A few of the main characters are not your ordinary human beings. Hanuman is in a monkey-form, though he talks like a normal person. Ravana, the king of Lanka, has ten heads and twenty arms.
Friend2: Don’t forget that the people you mentioned can change their shapes at will, also. Ravana assumed the guise of a parivrajaka mendicant when attempting to deceive Sita Devi in the forest of Dandaka. He was hiding nearby, not showing his true, hideous form. Then he quickly transformed into the vision of a holy man. Hanuman several times became gigantic in size to help in the mission to please Shri Rama, who is Sita’s husband.
Friend1: Yes, and so someone hearing this story for the first time is bound to think it is fiction. A ten-headed guy? There’s no way they will find that believable.
Friend2: They may think that everything needs to be understood for the symbolic significance.
Friend1: Which I know is a mistake. How do we get around the issue?
Friend2: That is why Bhagavad-gita is a better introduction. Ramayana is more for people who are already devoted. Bad people touching the accounts won’t get any benefit. They will then try to cheat others, interpreting according to their faulty worldview.
Friend1: Bhagavad-gita also has the amazing in Krishna showing the virata-rupa, the universal form.
Friend2: Yes, but there are basic principles to understand. The changing of the bodies. The identity of the individual as spirit soul, which is imperishable. The nature of time. How lust and wrath combine to devour a person of an otherwise rational disposition.
Friend1: Listen, I get what you are saying. Read Bhagavad-gita first. Then Shrimad Bhagavatam. Understand this universe and how nature works. Then go to the source. Learn how He creates. Then jump into His lila.
Friend2: Because you will have the proper understanding. If I know that material bodies are nothing more than combinations of the different material elements, then a person having ten-heads is not a big deal. A monkey-like species can surely appear. It is nothing astonishing, considering that the planets stay in orbit, that the sun continues to provide heat and light, and that the seasons arrive on schedule.
Friend1: Okay, but we are in the age of the internet. Anyone can find anything they want in a matter of seconds. If they stumble upon the Ramayana or a discussion about it, won’t they fail to understand properly?
Friend2: Absolutely. There is nothing you can do about that. If a person is sincere in their endeavor, they will get help from the Almighty. He will remove their doubts, just as He did for the bow-warrior named Arjuna. If they are with ill-intent, then they will never understand, even if God appears right in front of their eyes, as He did with Ravana.
Only when sincere effort making,
Bhagavan then impetus taking.
To help complex subject to understand,
Otherwise to reject out of hand.
Like from ten-headed king reading,
Or a talking-monkey over ocean proceeding.
Best with Bhagavad-gita as foundation,
And then to other texts rotation.