Discussion Questions 6 — The Ramayana; The Bhagavad-Gita
1. Every epic work defines heroism differently, and many heroes are great of stature without being moral paragons. As the headnote to the Ramayana points out, Rama is a virtually perfect man. Do you find him less interesting than other heroes on that account? What indications are there in this portion of the text that his perfection may not be totally innate, but a state of being that he must work to achieve? How would this mirror the efforts we see his mother, Kausalya, make to discipline her feelings? How would that be consistent with the Hindu religious beliefs that imbue this work?
I don’t feel as if his journey for perfection and to uphold his beliefs in peace and being aware of ones self all of the time was in any shape or form to describe, “boring.” In fact, it was almost like I wanted to continue reading thinking, “There is no way he is going to be this perfect the whole time…something has to happen.” We entered the story when Rama was 25, had given his throne up to keep his father’s honor and the relationship he has with everyone around him.
We see that finally he his human and he has the ability to act out of his normal character when his wife is taken. Rama picks up his weapons and starts to act like how you think, Achilles would act when he was hurt. But Rama’s brother, Lasmana was like the little angel on Rama’s shoulder telling him to calm down and remember who he was and that violence won’t solve anything. He remembers to “take the road less traveled”.
After his actions get him fourteen years of exile to the forest, before leaving, Rama’s mother, Kausalya begs him not to go and tries to persuade her son to stay and tells him he is breaking the code of Dharma. “If, as you say, you are devoted to dharma, then it is your duty to stay here and serve me, your mother,’ (731). But he justifies that his exile will bring many great things and in fact, is not breaking Dharma. He takes his exile very calmly and peacefully with no more retaliation.
2. In The Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna speaks to Arjuna, a warrior afraid to fight: compare Arjuna’s dilemma with that of Achilles in the Iliad, or that of Medea as she struggles with her maternal emotions when she is about to kill her sons by Jason. Compare the code of behavior Krishna outlines to the view of violence in Homer’s poem or Euripides’ Medea. If appropriate, look for materials in other belief systems that reflect on these questions: consider “[The First Murder]’ (Genesis 4), the Beatitudes (Mathew 5), or “The Offering of Isaac,’ or the table (Sura 5 of the Koran).
In the Koran, Sura 5, it says, “Believers, be true to your obligations”. Which could really be taken differently depending on one’s culture or own separate journey. For example, for Achilles, he was a warrior, a very great one and that was what people knew him as. He was expected to live up to the Warrior Code, that was his obligation, so anything less would be frowned upon. He was part god, and so people feared his strength. His obligation was to protect his people but he also had a human characteristic of pride. He was always getting his pride hurt and acted out upon these things.
Medea’s obligation was a self-righteous one as well. She had so many flaws, maternally especially, that in order to fulfill her obligations she felt she needed to kill the children she had with Jason, who married someone else. She had no single code other than her own, but from her point of view, she was true to her obligations.
This is why I see almost no comparison for Arjuna. Arjuna was torn between being a warrior and listening to his heart. He wanted to serve but he wanted to follow his beliefs. Arjuna just wants to live up to Dharma but when he is looking at his kinsmen lined up for battle on both sides, he sees no good could come of this. Krishna had to come to show Arjuna the light, because he was in such a battle with himself.
The only thing I could see trying to tie them all together is the battle they had within themselves. Medea fought with herself upon the death of her children. Just like Arjuna in fighting and trying to serve Dharma and Achilles trying to avenge the death of his friend, maintain his pride and look at the weeping tears of a father.