Powers Of Rama!— Quotidian — 393
(Transcript of video originally posted on 12 May 2022)
There was a book like this, called “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. And, we all know, the classic Valmiki Ramayana! Is there a connection between these two? Can we learn a lesson from cross-referencing these two books? That is exactly what our attempt is, this time, let’s get going!
Powers of Rama — is the title I have given this Quotidian. For, we are going to draw the laws from this book, but we are going to compare them with the story of Maryadha Purush Shri Rama! I have liberally extracted tidbits and side-stories from the Ramayanas that I have known, it might be that you have a different opinion, a different explanation for what happens, forgive me! But, this book, 48 Laws of Power, is just a sequence of 48 Laws. And, each Law is laid out as a single statement, followed by the judgement, followed by some observations, followed by some examples, followed by some counter-examples, followed by a beautiful final note called The Reversal. Mistakes committed by ancient kings like Alexander The Great, all the way to bunglings of modern day presidents and prime ministers like Queen Elizabeth and Jawaharlal Nehru… this book covers them all. What we are going to do is go a little earlier. To a book written about 2500 years ago! The Ramayana! Is there a reference to such Laws of Power!? Let us see!
Law Number 1:- Never outshine the master! Immediately flashing on to my mind is the scene where Hanuman gets a bit over-enthusiastic after seeing Sita in Asoka Vana. Why don’t you let me take you to Rama all by myself?
I can lift all of Lanka on to my palm! I can lift the marketing streets, lift the forts, the arches, all of them! Come along! — He asks. To which, Sita responds, quite respectfully, but still with a snub.. in the story of The Ramayana.
So, never outshine the master. You derive your power from your loyalty to Ram. Don’t forget that! — is the beautiful observation there.
Law Number 2:- Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies! Instantly we are reminded of Vibhishana. Ravana’s younger brother! And, this brother has told Ravana that he is no longer going to support him, and he comes over to Rama with complete surrender. And Rama says, “I take you for who you are, I don’t care if you have other intentions to somehow become the next King of Lanka, come, I will trust you… and, tell me more about the strengths and weaknesses of the Rakshasas”… thus immediately getting into a strategic fact-finding mission about enemy’s power!
Law Number 3:- Conceal your intentions. What are you thinking, what do you want to do, hide it from plain view. Wasn’t that what Kaikeyi did? Give me three boons, she had asked Dasaratha. She says, “There is something I desire my Lord, If you promise to grand my wish, I shall tell you what they are!” How fair is that? But, the whole starting point for The Ramayana, the turning point so to speak, was Dasaratha, because of the love he had for Kaikeyi, says, “Ask me whatever you want! Consider them granted!” So, be careful when people conceal their intentions.
Law Number 5:- So much depends on reputation, guard it with your life! But, that’s what Rama did! Some promise Dad has given Mom… why does that matter to me after all, could have been his stance! But what Rama did, “I respect my Dad. His word has to be preserved. And, if, for that, I have to go fourteen years into the jungle, so be it! That is how it is ordained, and that is how I will follow it! My Dad’s word is my word!” That is why, Rama’s word, the act of giving a word and following it, is embedded so indelibly in our minds.
Law Number 6:- Court attention at all cost! A bit selfish, this one sounds. Most of the laws in this book sound like that, by the way. They will sound like “It doesn’t matter if everybody else suffers, all that matters is me winning it!” But, that’s okay! We will deal with that later! Courting attention at all cost… Have you seen the colour of Rama’s skin? They call the colour various names. “Shyaama”, “Megha Shyaama”, “Krushna”, “Neela”… varnams. He is actually black in colour. Krushna actually means Black in Sanskrit. But, our folks have something against “dark colour” and so they call it “blue skin”, and anybody who acts as Rama in dramas and movies ends up getting a deep blue paint all over their body! He stood out! From everybody else, he stood out, didn’t he! So, we can even say, he courted attention!
Law Number 7:- Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit! But, isn’t that what happened in The Ramayana, when they had to build a ocean-spanning bridge of rocks and stones? Did Rama lift and place even one stone? No! Those small and large monkeys, the squirrels, the bears, those are the ones that did the “heavy lifting”! But the bridge is called “Ramar Sethu”, the place is called “Rameshwaram”… Yes, it does sound a little bit immoral… he took the credit!
Law Number 8:- Make other people come to you, use bait if necessary! Once, during the Vaali-Sugreeva duel, Sugreeva returns beaten nearly to death. But, Rama apologises that they both look alike, he couldn’t make out who was who… And then, the next time, Rama says, “Vaali will come quite boldly this time because of the thumping he gave you the last time, (in other words, bait!), but, on the way, take these flowers, wear this garland of white flowers, and thus I will know which one of the two is you, and I will be able to send my arrow towards Vaali.” That is the interesting twist. He made other people come to him. He used bait!
Law Number 9:- Win through your actions, never through argument! With some people, you simply can’t make any progress with just words! You just may have to get down to blows! So, you are a monkey.. you follow completely different rules.. and if I have to reason out with you, “Hey, you have usurped his wife, and that’s not morally right, please return her”, you are not going to listen to me! This is the only way this can be handled. And that is how Vaali is “assassinated”. From a hiding vantage point, in fact. And, so sometimes, he wins through actions. And he doesn’t reason out “King to King”, and he reasons out “Man to Animal”, get it?
Law Number 10:- Infection.. Avoid the unhappy and unlucky! says Robert Greene. There aren’t too many stories that highlight this in The Ramayana, but they have this term “shakun”… where the universe conspires to send you a message, to wake you up, to stop what you are doing, to correct your action… that happens quite often in The Ramayana. One classic moment is when Ravana is preparing for war against Rama and the fire in the Yagna pit releases “smoke”… and that is considered inauspicious, a bad omen. It should be pure and a blazing white fire.
Something is wrong somewhere, it says. Bad smell starts emanating. Crows start congregating atop their buildings. This is pointed out by Vibheeshanan. These are all unlucky and bad omens. Let us take a message from those, he says. But, Ravana doesn’t listen. And we know what happened.
Law Number 11:- Learn to keep people dependent on you! Make them want you over everybody else! Don’t let them think it is you, and if not you somebody else. No biggie! That is what happens when Rama doesn’t go alone to the jungle. Wife says “I will come with you. Wherever you are, that’s Ayodhya for me!” Brother says, “I will leave my wife, and I will come with you. I will stay with you. I will protect you. I need you!” Another brother comes! Bharath! After a long time. Searching for Rama in the jungle. “If you are not going to be around, I don’t need the kingdom either. I will stay outside. I will pray for you. For your return. I will wait.” Somehow he makes himself inexpendable. And that’s one of the powers!
Law Number 12:- Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim! Basically what this means is cheating is allowed. And that is what Ravana does… In Asoka Vana, he uses black magic, brings Rama’s head on a platter to Sita. And he event tries reasoning with Sita — let me just do away with Rama, I will forgive everybody else, just be my wife… I will spare everybody else, he tries saying. Selective honesty and false generosity.
Law Number 13:- When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude! There is Sugreeva this side, there is Rama on the other side, Rama doesn’t say “My wife is missing, I need help”. Rama instead says, “Looks like your wife is missing. I don’t see her with you now. What happened? Where is your brother? Show him to me! Let me deal with him! And, probably win your friendship and eventually get help for searching for my wife…!” Isn’t that beautiful!
Law Number 14:- Pose as a friend, work as a spy! Probably the only spy we all know in all of Ramayana is Kooni, Manthara… She has had some good aspects to her character too… She comes from the Kingdom of Kekaya. She comes as Kaikeyi’s maid. She was originally a princess at the same level in the hierarchy as Kaikeyi. But, due to some problem when she was young, she gets deformed in her body, and she becomes treated as Kaikeyi’s maid. Perhaps because of that pent up anger, or perhaps not, she exacts revenge. And that is why Ramayana actually unfolds into the epic that it became! We know that!
Law Number 15:- Crush your enemy totally! That’s what Rama tries doing! He severs Ravana’s head, but a new one keeps sprouting! Rama shoots arrow after arrow but Ravana seems to have an inexhaustible supply of heads! “Oh my God!”, he exclaims, “This seems to be a completely different beast altogether!” and that’s when he realises his life is probably in the Amritha Kalash hidden somewhere in Ravana’s abdomen, and unleashes the Brahmasthra towards it!
Law Number 16:- Use absence to increase respect and honour! Immediately, I am reminded of Bharatha, taking Rama’s Paadhuka. Taking his footwear, placing it on the grand throne, making it rule in proxy! “In his honour, I will wait just outside. You come. And, if you don’t come within one day of the fourteenth year passing, I will jump into the fire” he says! Beautiful!
Law Number 17:- Keep others in suspended terror. Cultivate an air of unpredictability! That is what Ravana does! During the final clash, Ravana is fighting hard with Rama.. And Ravana’s charioteer suddenly whisks him away from the battlefield! Outside! Far and away! Ravana is livid! “How dare you remove my chariot from the battlefield, making me look like a coward!” he shouts..
And the charioteer responds, respectfully, “I did not act out of fear, negligence, or disloyalty.. I saw your exhaustion, I wanted to give you some time to rest, and some rest for the horses too. Now let’s go back!” he says! Immediately Ravana’s heart melts… (Imagine! Ravana’s heart? Melting?? That’s the thing. Keep people guessing!) He gives the charioteer a golden amulet as a gift, and bids him to take him back to the battlefield! It is around this time, the Aditya Hridayam prayer is given to Rama by Sage Agasthya. Interesting moment!
Law Number 18:- Do not build fortresses to protect yourself. Isolation is dangerous! Long ago, we used to hear stories of kings, and the huge fortresses they had, … but only recently I realised that the “Fortress” was actually a metaphor. It is not made of stones and rocks and cement and concrete. No. It is made of people. It is made of people who support you whatever wrong you do. A place without wise ministers who can criticise you in safety. And that’s what happens when Ravana plans his attack on the monkey army. “Bah, they are just disorganised monkeys. We can crush them like cockroaches! We have such a big army! Haven’t we won that war? Haven’t we done this? Didn’t we kill that?!” The sycophants. They are the fortress. They bring isolation. And that is dangerous.
Law Number 19:- Know who you’re dealing with. Do not offend the wrong person! That’s what the Samudhra God, the Ocean God, did. “Some small kid, this guy Rama, trying to cross the ocean. I am so massive. Why should I bother”… He thinks thus for just one moment. And Rama says, it is either Taranam or Maranam. Taranam is crossing. Maranam is death… to the Ocean!
And then he takes his bow, and strings an arrow on it..! At the last moment, the Ocean God comes running and begs, “I am sorry, all the living things in water will die, oh, please don’t do this.. You want me to give you way, fine! No problem! In this route, if you form a bridge, I will support it!” says the Ocean God.
Law Number 20:- Do not commit to anyone! Some of you might have heard of this story where Rama actually fights with Hanuman! Hanuman fights with Rama! The story goes that the King of Kashi commits a mistake, Sage Vishwamithra complains to Rama, and Rama says, “No problem, don’t worry, I will get that guy, I will bring his head”. The Kashi King doesn’t run to Hanuman. Instead, he goes to Hanuman’s mother! “You have to save me, a king is chasing me!” “No problem, my son will take care”, says Anjana Devi. And, that is when Hanuman realises that the King who is chasing the Kashi King is Lord Rama himself! But, having given his word to his mother, and realising that a word to one’s mother is bigger and greater than a word to anybody else, including to Shri Ram himself, … there is a fight! The lesson here is, do not commit before understanding what you are committing to, what you are committing for!
Law Number 21:- Play a sucker to catch a sucker. Seem dumber than your mark! Ravana performances a deep and long penance and extracts boons aplenty. Kinnaras should not be able to kill me. Asuras should not be able to kill me. Not birds. Nor animals. Nor even can the Gods themselves. He lists every living thing, but misses out on mentioning human beings. Humans are silly simple weak folk. Perhaps he saw them as inferior. Why would I even bother about being killed by a paltry human being… That was his thought process. And, so, Lord Vishnu appears as a paltry human being! And delivers the coup de grace! So, that’s what happened! Be careful. You may be playing a sucker, to catch a sucker! That’s what Ram did!
Law Number 22:- Use the surrender tactic. Transform weakness into power! There is this amazing movie called the Sampoorna Ramayanam. A song with lyrics that go “Indru poi naalai vaa ena enai oru manithanum pugaluvadho”… and “mann magal mugam kandey manam kalankidum nilai”… He sings it, playing his Veena, in front of the Shiva Linga. I saw the face of Goddess Earth. Till then, I had been bold and audacious, and head held high! A man, a plain man, did that to me! Meanwhile, Rama thought, “Ravana is a great king. Powerful king. What is the point killing such a king and leaving Lanka headless? If only Ravana changes his mind, he may be a great king! Why not give that chance”.. That is transforming weakness into power. That is a good attempt!
Law Number 23:- Concentrate your forces! When the plan was made to look for Sita, Sugreeva sends forces in all directions. He sends extra forces to the South. For that was the direction Jatayu flew towards. That was the direction Ravana took Sita in. So, he sends Jambavan. He sends Hanuman too. So, concentrating your forces on the narrow… Where is the maximum impact possible? Concentrating it there is probably better!
Finally, Law Number 24:- Play the perfect courtier! There is this nuanced concept of “Respect to the Court”. (The opposite of contempt of court!) Viswamithra asks Dasharatha — give me your sons, I want to train them, I want to use them to fight away some Raakshasas who are bothering me during my penance, during my Yagna. Sage Vashishta, who is at the level of Vishwamithra’s superboss, by the way, is seated next to Dasharatha.
But, instead of overruling, he says, Vishwamithra means well. He will surely have a reason. By asking King Dasharatha to act as per Vishwamithra’s desires, Vashishta, who is actually in a position to deny it, plays the perfect courtier, and that is one of the reasons The Ramayana happens, for that is why Rama is even able to meet Sita and get married to her!
So, we have done twenty four of the forty eight laws. Let me stop with a closing thought here. There are 24000 Shlokas in the Ramayana, incidentally. And interestingly, they are divided into 500 Sargas, or chapters. 24000 couplets in 500 chapters… What does that mean?! Hey! Do the math?! 24000 divided by 500! What number do you get?! Catch my point?! Probably there is a deep connection! Once again, we will meet with a Part Two of this! Thank you!