Preface: So I was trying to explain Diwali to an American friend when this thought struck me – “How do you explain Diwali to someone who has no idea – whether he be an Indian or not?” I try here and this is the result.
We are now in Ayodhya, an Indian city and the time is sometime way back in the past something like 7500 years ago maybe (Scientific and astronomic dating are being attempted and an article is here.) A king with his three wives ruled the land. As things have their way, the king was incapable of producing children with all three of his wives. They booked an appointment with the best infertility clinic of the time. The ancient doctors had a good knowledge of infertility treatment and they helped the three wives conceive a total of four children. The four brothers were the ideal siblings – respect, trust, unity – you name the qualities, they had it. The eldest among them was called Ram. The brothers were tutored by a great philosopher who understood the ultimate truth – that which was heard and seen by ancient humans. He imparted this true nature of everything – the knowledge of “Self” to the brothers. For the purpose of this story, it suffices to say that the “Self”, “Consciousness”, “Atma”, “Brahmam”, “Al-Ruh”, “Holy Spirit” – whatever one calls it in their language is the ultimate reality – a knowledge of which leads us to a state in which we are at eternal bliss irrespective of external or internal forcings. The idea is that, whoever has realized the Self is “God”. Each one of us is not different from God, who is nothing but the Self – this is the main “teaching”, if we may call it that, of Indian philosophy.
Q: Wow, so does it mean you and I are also God? The person who hates you – is he also God?
V: Yes. Everyone and everything is Brahmam – the Self. Self is indestructible, omnipresent. You and I are beads connected by a thread – the thread of Self. It is just that the divinity is concealed by ignorance. The person who hates me is also a bead connected by this same thread. He hates only the outer covering. Do you like someone’s dress? No? It doesn’t mean you don’t like them. You just don’t like the damn dress. Go one step deeper. The person in question, just doesn’t like the outer manifestation – the gross body and its behavior. The Self is not what he hates.
Q: Sounds complicated.
V: That’s because I am not an authority to explain and also we are trying to understand this from our current basis. In this basis, this function is not easily defined. It requires a certain line of thought. However, whatever question you may have has already been asked and answered. It has been proved beyond doubt. Moreover, it is not something which is explained but something which is experienced. For now, let’s just understand that there are a lot of people who have attained this state. Even today, the whole world, especially India, has a lot of people who are steadfast in Self – they are the Gods or ideals which we can see. Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda to name just two who you might know. Paul Brunton in his book, “A search in Secret India” tries to introduce these ideas to the West. Now let us just proceed with the story.
The brothers being absorbed in the Self, learnt their trade – warfare and governance so that they can perform their duty without expecting anything in return, a quality of one who is absorbed in the Self. As the retirement of the king approached it was decided that Ram, the eldest son be the next king. Ram was the ideal human being. He was steadfast in Self and performed his duty according to the strictest norms of the time – he was God.
The youngest wife of the king was out of place in the entire family. She neither realized the Self nor could she control her emotions. She was an ordinary human being clouded in ignorance. She wanted her son to be king and wanted Ram to be banished into the forest for 14 years. The king constrained by promises he made to the youngest wife had to order Ram to leave the kingdom and go into forest. Ram being the ideal son obeyed his father readily. His wife, Sita, even more steadfast in Self being raised by another great man, Janaka readily joined Ram in his journey. Laxman (One of Ram’s brother) also joined Ram and Sita in their journey. They roamed throughout the Indian subcontinent for 13 years. By this time, a king from southern Island nation of Sri Lanka becomes interested in Sita and abducts her by treachery. This guy, called Ravan, was also a great scholar. Engineering, architecture, science, music, art flourished in his island nation. However he was arrogant in his knowledge, very much like us who study in the “best” institutions in the world. This led him to do terrible things. So he is the evil guy of the story. See, the difference is a thin line. If you think you are God and be arrogant about it, that is not what the Vedas tell you. If only he was not arrogant, but humble and devout in his knowledge he would also be God. This is a big moral of this story.
Further ahead in the story, Ram and Laxman started their search for Sita. During this search they met and befriended different people – at various stages of evolution. The most notable among them were monkeys, who were most probably the (n-1)st iteration of human beings. So with an army of monkeys, Ram and Laxman attacked the army of Lanka, killed Ravan and brought back Sita. By that time 14 years had passed and they went back to Ayodhya. This homecoming of Ram was celebrated by everyone lighting lamps outside their homes. This event is remembered as a festival. And this is one of the legends associated with the festival of Diwali.
Another legend happened 4000-5000 years ago (maybe 3000 years after the first story). Another realized person – called Krishna killed another demonized person – Naraka. And the festival celebrates this event. Indian history is divided in an ancient time scale and these time scales are characterized by one major realized person – considered God or an incarnation of Atma. Ram was the incarnation in the 7th time step (of the ancient scale) and Krishna in the next time step. It is said that we are now in the time step after Krishna. (There are some overlaps where two major realized souls emerge which is beyond the scope here)
Closure: Strong influences of NSV lectures on Vedanta should be visible throughout. Mistakes are bound to happen as a lack of correct approach from my side is highly possible proving once again that there is a lot more to be done to end this cycle.