“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।।
“I understand that Bhagavan possesses the six opulences in full. Beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation. He has them simultaneously. This is impossible to comprehend. There is no accurate way to measure, either.
“For instance, we know someone is the wealthiest person in the world based on a net worth figure. An estimated dollar amount, usually involving hypothetical liquidation of their physical assets and stock holdings. This value could change at a moment’s notice, as markets are known to shift dramatically based on the world news.
“Since Bhagavan owns everything, He is wealthier than anyone. There is no accurate net worth figure attached. He is beyond our comprehension in so many ways. Through His pastimes, we gain slight insight into the degree of magnitude.
“One question I had relates to the simultaneous possession of the attributes. We know that God the person always has beauty, wealth, strength and so forth, but is everything there in His pastimes? For instance, if there is a military conflict, does beauty get suppressed? Is that more an exhibition of strength?”
There is a similar issue when viewing the four objects carried by Lord Vishnu. This is one version of the personal God, who is always a singular personality. He manifests differently before the eyes, based on the role, the time, the circumstance, the viewpoint of the person interacting, and so forth.
Vishnu is the four-handed form, opulently adorned, and generally worshiped in awe and reverence. In other words, there is both close proximity and distance. We are worshiping God, and thus acknowledging His existence and presence.
At the same time, we are a little afraid of Him. He is respected so much that we don’t want to behave in an informal way. We don’t like it when others get too close to Him, either, for it indicates lack of appreciation. At least this is how we view things when worshiping in awe and reverence.
Vishnu carries four objects. A lotus flower, a conch-shell, a disc and a club. This generates two obvious categories. Two items of peace and two items of conflict. The flower and the conch-shell for those who are friendly, the devotees. The disc and the club are for the enemies, the people who are against dharma and try to suppress the natural yearning to worship the Almighty.
In truth, all four items are of the same nature. To the devotee, the person with the heightened level of awareness, who has deep insight into the workings of the material world, Vishnu’s punishment and Vishnu’s peaceful interactions are the same. They both ultimately have the same purpose.
The pastimes can be viewed with a similar lens. For instance, when Shri Rama, an avatara of Vishnu, drives away fourteen thousand attacking Rakshasas from the forest of Janasthana, beauty is not lacking in any way.
The enemies may not think so. The victims run for their lives, with Rama’s arrows chasing them wherever they go. In the end, the Rakshasas see five-headed serpents. The arrows represent all-devouring death, which is the only way the atheists ever acknowledge God. They are forced into submission, after having denied for so long.
Yet to the devotees these arrows are the most beautiful sight in the entire world. They uphold the righteous principles. They maintain a level of sanity in an otherwise insane playing arena. They highlight Rama’s amazing dexterity, intelligence, and strength. Those arrows pay homage to the spiritual guides like Vishvamitra. They rescue the entire world, and nothing can be more beautiful.
Beauty in that image to see,
Where Rama arrows to free.
With enemies following through,
Nowhere hide or run to.
Since proper punishment giving,
That limit to sinful living.
So devotees always pleasure taking,
Most splendid pastime making.