Friday, May 28, 2010

Too many Ramayanas- the hindu and buddhist tellings

Rama’s story has been told in many religions. Although the Rama story is not, as such, a Hindu story, the Hindu versions are very ancient. In this article, I’d like to stress upon one thing- The characters and happenings of Ramayana can be looked from a variety of religious traditions including, and not limited to, Hinduism. The Hindu versions of Ramayana are attributed to authors recognized as religiously inspired sages or poets. According to Hinduism, everytime the order (social, political) of the world is threatened by sources of disrespect and disharmony, lord Vishnu incarnates in some form. One such form is Rama. His enemy is Ravana, who is a demonic figure who acts in ways that generate disorder in the cosmos and turbulence in society.

However, Buddhism presents with two well known tellings of Ramayana. The first is Dasaratha Jataka which is argued by many to be the first Ramayana. The second is the one written in the Phra Lak/Phra Lam. The teller of Dasaratha Jataka is believed to be Buddha himself, who preached stories of his previous births (Jataka tales) during his stay at the Jetavana monastery. Here, the enemy is not personified, and the “victory” is purely spiritual. In this distinctive crystallization of the Rama story, the enemy is the kind of desirous attachment that binds persons to this-worldly life; and the victory comes when the exiled Rama confronts the news of his father’s untimely death with an appropriately Buddhist attitude of equanimity and an appropriately Buddhist commitment to compassionate activity. In Phra Lak/Phra Lam, Ravana is identified as an earlier form of Mara, the personalized embodiment of desire and death whom the Buddha defeats again and again during the course of his final life as Goutama.

Sourav Roy

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