“Neither the demigods nor any exalted personalities were there helping Rama, for He acted alone. You should not entertain any doubt on this matter. Indeed, Rama shot feathered arrows, plated with gold, which turned into five-headed serpents that devoured all the Rakshasas. The Rakshasas were oppressed with fear, and wherever they went and wherever they turned, they saw Rama in front of them. In this way, O spotless one, have your Rakshasas been destroyed in the forest of Janasthana by Rama.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.18-19)
नैव देवा महात्मानो नात्र कार्या विचारणा।
शरा रामेण तूत्सृष्टा रुक्मपुङ्खाः पतत्रिणः।।
सर्पाः पञ्चानना भूत्वा भक्षयन्ति स्म राक्षसान्।
येन येन च गच्छन्ति राक्षसा भयकर्शिताः।
तेन तेन स्म पश्यन्ति राममेवाग्रतः स्थितम्।
इत्थं विनाशितं तेन जनस्थानं तवानघ।।
naiva devā mahātmāno nātra kāryā vicāraṇā।
śarā rāmeṇa tūtsṛṣṭā rukmapuṅkhāḥ patatriṇaḥ।।
sarpāḥ pañcānanā bhūtvā bhakṣayanti sma rākṣasān।
yena yena ca gacchanti rākṣasā bhayakarśitāḥ।
tena tena sma paśyanti rāmamevāgrataḥ sthitam।
itthaṃ vināśitaṃ tena janasthānaṃ tavānagha।।
“Deep down, I think every person believes in God. I have no factual basis for this claim; simply observation and experience. Public polling says the same, but any person can conduct a similar survey using their sphere of influence.
“In other words, ask around. See how your friends and family think. Colleagues at the office. To me, even the ones who are steadfastly against a particular kind of faith at least acknowledge the existence of a higher being. They understand, to an extent, though they may not be conscious throughout the day.
“Nevertheless, it still bothers me when I hear someone refer to God as an imaginary friend or an invisible entity. The trigger for my complaint is seeing a recently published political cartoon. It was about lockdowns and how a certain local government was banning association once it reached a certain number of people.
“But the churches could continue. So the joke was that if you have over fifty people meeting with an imaginary friend, then there is no risk of contracting a virus. What is the counterargument to that? Is there a way to get through or should we just let it go?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that every person sees God eventually. By God, we mean the Divine, a distinct person, someone who is above the dualities of this world like heat and cold, light and darkness, up and down, and birth and death.
What would be considered the nonbelievers, the ones who staunchly deny the existence of any intelligent creator or any Divine interference in generating the world that we live in, eventually see God. It is a face-to-face meeting, but there is nothing pleasant about the experience.
The timing of that meeting is the end. Death. Known as kala in Sanskrit, death is also time, the great debilitating agent, crushing everything in its path. I may foolishly think that a mortal being can rise to eternal prominence and fame, enjoying to the limit, but undefeated time will eventually humble them.
There is substantial evidence from shastra. The scripture that is the Ramayana of Valmiki documents an encounter between man-eating ogres and the prince of Ayodhya. The bad guys, who were of a species called Rakshasa, had been operating under the “imaginary friend” model for a long time.
They had good reason to believe in their lie. They had been harassing innocent sages living in the remote forests. The harassment was the worst kind. Attack at an unsuspecting moment, destroy a religious observance, and then eat the victims.
The Rakshasas somehow thought they would continue to get away with this scheme, that no punishment would be forthcoming. It is said that the Supreme Lord, Bhagavan, arrives in the mortal realm when there is too much of a burden. When the behavior in ignorance gets to be too much, He descends Himself to clean up the mess.
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य
ग्लानिर् भवति भारत
तदात्मानं सृजाम्य् अहम्
yadā yadā hi dharmasya
glānir bhavati bhārata
tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
“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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)
It is important to note that when the Rakshasa-like deniers see God face-to-face, they still fail to believe. They continue to resist what is true before them. To deal with the Rakshasas, Bhagavan descended as Rama, the prince of Ayodhya.
He once went to the forest of Janasthana and was attacked by fourteen thousand of these Rakshasas, who came from Lanka, where their leader was named Ravana. Rama successfully defended Himself using arrows released from His bow.
From the eyewitness testimony later given to Ravana, we learn that these arrows were something like heat-seeking missiles. They chased the target, no matter how much they tried to flee. At the last moment, the arrows showed the image of a five-headed serpent.
This was death. This was the image of God, but in a gruesome form. This was the imaginary friend suddenly becoming visible. The believers benefit from acknowledging His omnipresence from the very beginning. They bask in the sweetness of His transcendental vision, knowing that He is always close by, ready to protect and give shelter to whoever seeks it.
From seated in devotion steady,
Shri Rama to protect ready.
Like lesson the Rakshasas found,
Everywhere those arrows to hound.
Imaginary the Divine first thinking,
So deeply into sinful life sinking.
At the end finally to see,
Splendid in all glory is He.