As of last Saturday, I have become a college graduate. I have been granted a Bachelor of Arts degree from an institution of higher learning. In America, most people think of this as a benchmark of success, an achievement of academia in a mundane world. Sitting in the Chicago airport, waiting for a flight home, I am thinking about Lord Ram.
Exiled from Ayodhya at the tender age of eighteen, Ram had no choice but to wander and settle in the jungle for what must have seemed, at its outset, an unknowable span of time. Maharjisi Valmiki paints such an intense portrait of His figure in exile, Ram’s image is not hard to call to mind. The crown prince, supreme God, sent away from comfort and friends at the peak of his adolescence, making a premature pilgrimage in the wilderness. Ram was someone brought up to rule a kingdom, and was undeniably worthy of the throne at the height of his education. To have come so far and accomplished so much, only to be sent into exile, be attacked by demons, and suffer the perils of the unknown, must have seemed a far fall from grace to some.
But the lesson is not so simple as that. The paths that we follow are not always necessitated by any evil will, nor any past actions come back to deliver their sentence. Sometimes God puts us on unexpected journeys to help us grow. Krishna and Balram went to Mathura and freed His parents from Kans. Vaman covered the three worlds with three strides and brought a proud king to his knees. Our scriptures are full of adventures, journeys, wild rides into the unknown to broaden spiritual understanding and increase devotional wealth. The very name of our religion, Sanatan Dharm, is a message about following the eternal path.
So, to go back to Lord Ram. He and Lakchman had many adventures trying to rescue Sita. After meeting many devotional personalities, building a bridge to Lanka with the help of an army of monkeys, and killing Ravan and his hundreds of millions of demons, Ram returned to Ayodhya at the end of his exile and was crowned king. His younger brother, who sat on the throne in Ram’s honor, gladly stepped down to the older, and now more-experienced, king. The great leela of the Ramayan takes place from Ram Bhagwan’s birth to ascension, and teaches us a great many things about proper conduct, honor and how to live devotionally. But most importantly, it teaches us to walk the eternal path, to honor God and to understand that our lives are being guided by Him for our betterment.