Although it may be hard to believe
when we first look at its thousands of Gods and Goddesses, Hinduism is essence
monotheism. Its core belief is that all is Awareness, and that Awareness is
One. “Sub ek,” Maharajji used to say – it’s all one.|
But out of its creativity, or its
lila, or its who-knows-what, the One begins the game of hide-and-seek with
itself, partitioning itself into different aspects. Its first division is into
the three major deities: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Brahma, Vishnu &
In Hindu cosmology, the powers,
or energies of the One are divided into three primary expressions: Brahma, the
creative power; Vishnu, the energy of preservation; and Shiva, the force of
change. Creation arises, is sustained for awhile, and then things change.
That’s the dance.
In that dance, whenever evil
overtakes creation, Vishnu, to fulfill his role as the preserver, incarnates
to save the world. Those incarnations are called “Avatars,” and they appear in
different forms during different ages. Some are animal forms, like the fish
and the tortoise incarnations. Some are semi-human, like Narasimha, the
man-lion incarnation. And some are fully human, like Ram and Krishna.
Ram and Krishna, who are the
two primary incarnations of Vishnu, are Avatars during two different time
periods, or “yugas”: Ram is the Avatar of the second yuga, and Krishna of the
third. In the Hindu view of the universe, the cycle of creation passes through
four of these yugas. The first is called “Sat Yuga” – the time of Truth. It is
said that in the Sat Yuga, the Bull of Truth has all four hooves on the
ground; justice and right action prevail. In the second, or treta yuga, the
Bull of Truth has only three feet on the ground; an element of untruth and
injustice has entered the world. That evil must be counteracted, and so Vishnu
incarnates as Ram to fight the demons of that era. In the third yuga, the
dwapara yuga, the Bull of Truth has only two legs to stand on; things are
getting pretty bad, and Vishnu incarnates as Krishna to struggle against the
wickedness of that era. The fourth yuga, Kali Yuga, is the one in which we
currently find ourselves. The Bull of Truth is now standing on only one leg
(as you’ve probably noticed); evil and injustice prevail. At the end of the
Kali Yoga, Shiva, the changer, stands up from his meditation, dances his
Pralaya dance, and the world dissolves (to be created yet again in a new
Satyuga, of course).
The Story of Ram
The story of Vishnu’s
incarnation as Ram is recounted in >>The Ramayana<<, a tale which has been
told and re-told, from the time it was first composed more than two millenia
ago, right down to the present. It is a story enacted at more than one level:
at the external, exoteric level, it’s a wonderful story of gods and demons and
great battles with magical weapons. But it is so written that it also awakens
us to the esoteric level, where it is the story of the soul’s separation from
its Beloved, and of their ultimate reunion.
In the story of The Ramayana,
Ram incarnates in order to save the world from a race of demons led by the
ten-headed, twenty-armed demon king, Ravana. The story tells how Ram’s wife,
Sita (who represents the shakti, or energy, of God), is abducted by Ravana
(the epitome of ego). To conquer Ravana, Ram enlists the help of an army of
monkeys and bears, and chief among them is the monkey Hanuman.
Hanuman is the symbol of total,
selfless service. His only wish is to be allowed to serve Ram, and they are so
close, so intimate, that Hanuman is known as “the breath of Ram.” When he is
doing Ram’s work, no obstacle is too great for Hanuman. He leaps an ocean to
bring Sita the news that Ram has not forgotten her, and he carries a whole
mountain through the sky to bring healing herbs for Ram’s brother. Hanuman is
the essence devotee; his service is the outward expression of his love for
God, of his total surrender.
The story of The Ramayana is
important in Neem Karoli Baba’s lineage. Maharajji, Ram Dass’ guru, was a
devotee of Ram, and he is thought by many of his own devotees to have been a
reincarnation of Hanuman. The image of Hanuman’s utter surrender in service to
God is the context for Maharajji’s instructions to Ram Dass to >>“Love, Serve,