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The Embodiment of Dharma

Lord Rama incarnated in the Treta Yuga (age or period) to teach humanity the values of Sathya (Truth) and Dharma (Right Action). Lord Krishna incarnated in the Dwapara Yuga to foster the principles of Shanti (Peace) and Prema (Love). In 600 BC, Lord Buddha incarnated to advocate the path of Ahimsa (Nonviolence). Now, in this Kali age, the Lord incarnated as Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba to teach humanity all the five fundamental human values: Sathya, Dharma, Shanti, Prema, and Ahimsa.

Rama could establish dharma because he was the very embodiment of dharma. As an ideal son, He loved his father, Dasharatha, and implicitly followed his commands even though it meant relinquishing the kingdom and going into exile in the forest. Rama was also an exemplary disciple in following his gurus, Sage Vasishta and Sage Vishwamitra, and obeyed their commands with faith and sincerity. The uniqueness of the Rama Avatar is that He did not openly reveal his divinity as an Avatar. He wanted to show humanity how to live an ideal human life based on truth, right conduct, and love.

Sri Rama Navami, the birthday of Lord Rama, falls on the ninth day of the bright moon fortnight in the month of Chaitra (March or April). In 2023, Rama Navami falls on March 30th, which is celebrated by devotees all over the world.

Sai and Rama are One and the Same

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has written a beautiful series of articles on the magnificent story of Lord Rama, first published in Sanathana Sarathi. These articles were later released in a book form as Ramakatha Rasavahini, considered an autobiography of Rama because Sai Rama wrote it–the same Rama, come again. Swami revealed this fact to the Raja of Venkatagiri, a great devotee of Lord Rama, when the Raja was blessed to see the tall and handsome form of Lord Rama in place of Swami’s beautiful form. He prostrated at Swami’s feet in bliss. Swami also showed that He is the same Rama to the chosen mother, Easwaramma, enthralling her with the darshan of that form. Another great devotee of Swami, Sri Dhoopati Tirumalachar, who composed Sri Sathya Sai Suprabhatam, blissed out when he saw Swami as Rama in Ayodhya, Rama's birthplace, when he was in the entourage with Swami.

Swami always gave a lot of importance to the life and message of Lord Rama. On every Sri Rama Navami day, Swami elaborated on the message, glory, and life story of Lord Rama. Swami also detailed the inner significance of the Ramayana, the story of Rama, in a series of discourses He delivered in the summer of 1977 in Brindavan. They were compiled in a Telugu book, Atma Ramam, which delves into how Rama is the indweller in everyone.

The Inner Meaning of Ramayana as Narrated by Sai

Rama is considered the indweller of all–Atma Rama. Swami explains that each person’s life is a Ramayana. King Dasharatha, the father of Rama, represents the physical body with the ten sense organs–the five organs of action (Karmendriyas) and the five organs of perception (Jnanendriyas). These organs are associated with the three queens representing the three qualities (gunas)–Satwa (serenity), Rajas (passion), and Tamas (inertia).

Their four children stand for the four fundamental human values: Rama for truth, sathya; Bharata for right action, dharma; Lakshmana for love, prema; and Shatrughna for peace, shanti. Further, describing other characters in the Ramayana, Swami explains that Sugriva stands for discrimination, Viveka, Vali for despair, and Hanuman for courage. The journey across the bridge built over the ocean is compared to crossing the ocean of Samsara.

In the Ramayana, the bridge is built to find Sita, the consort of Rama, who represents the universal, absolute Brahmajnana (the knowledge of Brahman), which each individual must acquire. But to do that, one must always desire God and only God. When Rama renounced the kingdom, Sita chose to be with Rama. But when she developed a desire for the golden deer, she lost the company of Rama. That is why Swami said that where there is Rama, there is no kama (desire); where there is kama, there is no Rama. Therefore, we should not have selfish or worldly desires. The only desire we should have is the desire for God. Undergoing sufferings in Lanka, Sita rid herself of her desires and thus purified herself to represent Brahmajnana. Then she was reunited with Lord Rama, represented by the coronation ceremony.

The message of Ramayana is that we need to be established in Atma Rama to live in bliss. For that, we need to control our ten senses, go beyond the three qualities, or gunas, overcome despair, and cross the ocean of delusion with courage, discrimination, and detachment. Then we will realize our true nature, which represents Brahmajnana.

The Noble Qualities of Lord Rama

Rama was known as a man of One Word, One Arrow, and One Wife. He adhered to the truth at all costs. He said He would give up His life but not the promised word. He discharged only one arrow when He took aim, which never missed the target. Finally, He had only one wife, whom He loved unwaveringly till the end.

Rama was a Sathyabhashi, who spoke only the truth. He was Mithabhashi, who talked in moderation. He was Madhurabhashi, who spoke very sweetly. He was Hithabhashi, who said only what helped others. Dasharatha, His father, promised his third wife, Kaikeyi, that he would give her son, Bharata, the kingdom. Though Rama had no obligation to fulfill His father’s words, He honored His father’s words and went into exile in the forest, despite His right to the throne. That is the importance He gave to the promised word. When Vibhishana, Ravana’s brother, sought Rama’s refuge, Rama pledged to make him the king of Lanka even before the war! When someone asked, “How are we sure we are going to win the war?” the reply was that once Rama gives the word, it always comes true. But what if Ravana came and surrendered to Rama too? Rama, the epitome of generosity, says, “In that case, I will give up my throne to the kingdom of Ayodhya to Vibhishana.” Such was Rama’s implicit adherence to dharma and the truth.

Another noble quality Lord Rama had was equanimity. The greatness of a spiritual seeker is seen in treating the pairs of opposites alike. In His historical letter of May 25, 1947, Swami defined devotion, saying that those who are devotees of Sai will treat pleasure and pain, profit and loss, success and failure, heat and cold, all the pairs of opposites with equal-mindedness. That is called equanimity–and what better example than Lord Rama? The day He was to be coronated as the king of Ayodhya, He went into exile wearing the ochre robes of a renunciant. Rama went to the forest with the same joyful, calm attitude and benevolent smile that He possessed when He was going to be coronated. There was no reluctance, only pure joy. Swami says that more important than any other spiritual practice is to: ‘Always Be Cheerful’–the ABC of life. We come closer to God by always being happy.

Rama also showed the world how to be an ideal king. Every day He used to listen to citizens’ grievances, address their concerns, and take care of them. He was an ideal brother for Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna. He loved and cared for them as a father would love and care for his sons. He was an ideal friend to Sugriva. He promised Sugriva He would help him win back his kingdom, and true to His word, He made him King.

Even to His enemies, Rama was equally truthful and good. When the demon King Ravana was exhausted in the war but still wanted to fight, Lord Rama, instead of attacking him, said, “Go rest and come back; let us fight then.” He wanted to give a fair chance even to the enemy. If Ravana had repented and surrendered, Rama was ready to forgive all his sins. He was an ideal husband who showed how to love a wife. Even though He is the Supreme Brahman, when Ravana kidnapped Mother Sita, He pined for her and made every effort for her safe return.

Rama Nama–The Name of Rama

Swami sang many bhajans, but the one He sang most frequently was “Prema Muditha Manase Kaho Rama Rama Ram,” which exhorts one to sing the name of Rama with love and joy and thus cross the ocean of Samsara. One should understand its meaning to enjoy the bhajan and benefit from singing the name of Rama.

The name Rama denotes the one who confers bliss (ananda) (also called Ramyate iti Ramaha).

The name “Rama,” with the first letter ‘Ra’ and the second letter ‘Ma’ combines the benefits of two powerful mantras: the Astakshari mantra, or eight-syllable mantra, Om Namo Narayanaya, and the Panchakshari mantra, or five-syllable mantra Namah Shivaya. The ‘Ra’ from this eight-letter mantra and the ‘Ma’ from the five-letter mantra combine to form ‘Rama.’ Chanting Rama is thus equivalent to chanting both of these powerful mantras, each one powerful by itself.

When you analyze the word, Rama is Ra-aa-ma. ‘Ra’ signifies the seed letter for Sun God. Sun removes darkness, which is our ignorance. ’Aa‘ represents the Moon, which gives coolness and removes agitations. ‘Ma’ represents the seed letter for the Fire God. Fire destroys negative tendencies, bad karma, and sins.

Swami also says that when we say ‘Ra,’ we open our mouths, which drives away all negative things within us. When we say ‘Ma,’ we close our mouths, which prevents anything negative from returning. This is the power of Rama.

At the end of the Vishnu Sahasranamam (one thousand names of Lord Vishnu), it is narrated that Mother Parvati asks Lord Shiva for the easiest way to repeat a thousand names because everybody cannot do this feat. Lord Shiva replies, “Just repeat the name Rama, and it is equal to chanting a thousand names of Vishnu.” That is the power of Rama Nama.

We are blessed that in chanting Swami’s name, ‘Om Sri Sai Ram,’ we have ‘Om’–the seed letter, the Pranava Mantra or Omkar; ‘Sri’ signifying auspiciousness; Sai, the embodiment of Shiva and Shakti; and ‘Rama,’ which we have described above.

Living a Life Based on the Teachings of Rama

Swami says there is no use in simply repeating “Rama, Rama” if we do not follow His teachings because Lord Rama’s teachings are His life and His message. Many devotees have lived exemplary lives of love and sacrifice in carrying out the Lord’s work. When Mother Sita was taken away by Ravana, a bird called Jatayu chased and fought the demon king and gave up his life. Lord Rama touched and caressed the fallen bird before he died and even performed his final rites when Jatayu breathed his last. Rama gave him liberation because of the sacrifice he made. That was a privilege that even Rama’s father did not receive! Similarly, Lord Sai Rama performed the final rites for the great devotee Sai Gita, the blessed elephant.

Another exemplary devotee is Shabari, a tribal lady who was not well-versed in the scriptures but had the noble qualities of faith and patience. Her guru had told her that the Lord would pass that way and bless her one day. She had complete faith in that prediction and waited every day, cleaning the path and plucking fruits for Lord Rama. This went on for many years, and finally, Lord Rama visited her hermitage to meet her. Shabari wanted to ensure that each berry she offered to Rama was sweet; therefore, she bit into each one before offering it to Him. But Lord Rama enjoyed those half-eaten fruits and relished them very much. After only one darshan, Shabari merged with Lord Rama.

Once, when asked why despite so many darshans of Swami, we do not have such a blissful union, Swami said that Shabari had complete and absolute faith that the Lord would come to her and had the patience to wait for so many years.

Finally, there is Hanuman, the greatest example of a devotee. That is why Swami gave him so much importance. The 65-foot Lord Hanuman statue Swami inaugurated on Vidyagiri hill towers over all other figures of other deities, showing Hanuman’s greatness. The most outstanding quality of Hanuman is that he demonstrates all three aspects of spirituality–devotion, wisdom, and service. In one of his wonderful compositions, Saint Tulsidas relates how Hanuman is very scholarly, highly intellectual, and well-versed in all material sciences, spiritual sciences, fine arts, and music. But it is not just education; Hanuman also has good character. That is why Swami says the end of education is character. When he went to Lanka in quest of Mother Sita, Hanuman never yielded to the temptations of the mesmerizing worldly luxuries he saw there.

At the same time, Hanuman was very astute. He knew how to act and respond in a challenging situation, as seen in how he handled the enemies in Lanka. He was always interested in how best he could serve his Lord and was possessed by Rama Consciousness. In fact, at the time of the coronation of Rama, Mother Sita wanted to give her precious pearl necklace to the best among those present. She gifted it to Hanuman, who, to everyone’s astonishment, began to bite the pearls. When asked to explain, he said that he was trying to see if they contained the holy name of Rama, and anything that did not reverberate with the name of Rama was useless to him. Then he was asked, “What about your body? Do you think you have Rama there?”

In response, Hanuman plucked one of his hairs and placed it next to the ear of the one who posed the question. Lo and behold, the hair reverberated with the sound, “Rama, Rama, Rama!” Every cell of his body was saturated with Rama. Such is Hanuman’s love for Rama that it is believed that wherever people sing bhajans or narrate the divine stories (lilas) of Lord Rama, he is assuredly present incognito. When asked about his attitude toward Rama, Hanuman beautifully says, “Lord, I think I’m your servant when I have body consciousness. When I think I am the embodied soul, I am part of You. And when I have Atmic awareness, I experience You and I are one.” That is why Swami says, “Be like Hanuman and you will be one with God and live in bliss.”

Let us follow the example of the greatest devotees on how to love God. Let us follow the message of Lord Rama, follow His example, follow His life, and thus sanctify and redeem our lives.

Jai Sai Ram