Chapter 2 — That Night Rama Ponders Vasishta’s Lectures

Valmiki continued relating the story to Bharadwaja, saying:—

After the moon-bright princes returned to their residence, they performed their daily services according to the daily ritual. Vasishta and the other saints, sages, and brahmins, even the king and princes, were all engaged in their holy services at their own houses. They bathed in sacred streams and fountains filled with floating lotuses and other aquatic plants, their edges frequented by reddish geese, cranes and storks. After they had performed their ablutions, they made donations of lands, cattle, seats and beddings, sesame grains, gold and gems, and food and clothing to the holy brahmins. Then in their own houses, they worshipped the gods Vishnu and Shiva in their temples and made offerings to the sun and the rulers of the skies with offerings of the gold and gems that are sacred to the particular gods and planets.

After their offerings were over, they joined with their sons and grandsons, friends and relatives and their guests also in partaking of their lawful food. Shortly after this, daylight faded away at the eighth watch of the day and the charming city scene began to disappear from sight. People employed themselves with their proper duties at the end of the day and took to their evening service with the failing beams of the setting sun. They recited their evening hymn, repeated their japa mantras, and uttered their prayer for the forgiveness of sins. They read aloud their hymns and sang their evening songs of praise.

10 Then rose the shade of night to allay the sorrow of lovelorn ladies, as the moon arose from the Milky Ocean of the east to cool the heat of the setting sun. 11 Then the princes of Raghu’s race reclined on their downy and flowery beds sprinkled with handfuls of camphor powder and appearing like a sheet of spreading moonlight. 12 The eyes of all men were folded in sleep and they passed the long night as if it were only a short interval.

But Rama kept awake in his bed, meditating on all things he had heard from the sage. 13 He continued to reflect on Vasishta’s lectures which appeared as charming to him like the cry of a parent elephant brings joy to its tender young.

Rama’s thoughts:—

14 What does this wandering of ours in this world mean? Why are all these men and other animals bound to make their entrances and exits in this fleeting theatre? 15 What is the form of our mind and how is it to be governed? What is this illusion (maya) of the world? From where did it rise and how is it to be avoided? 16 What is the good or evil of getting rid of this illusion, and how does it cover and overpower the soul? Can it be made to leave by any means in our power? 17 What did the muni say with regard to the means and effect of curbing the desires of the mind? What did he say regarding restraining of our organs? And what about the tranquility of the soul?

18 Our hearts and minds, our living souls and their delusion tend to stretch out the phenomenal world before us. Our own souls make a reality of unreal existence. 19 All these things are linked together in our minds and are weakened only by the weakening of our mental desires. But how are these to be avoided in order to get rid of our misery? 20 The slender light of reason is over-shadowed, like a single crane in the air, by the dark cloud of passions and desires. Then how am I to distinguish right from wrong, like a goose separates milk from water?

21 It is as hard to shun our desires and it is impossible to avoid our troubles here without the utter annihilation of our desire. Here is difficulty in either of two ways. 22 On the one hand, the mind leads us to spiritual knowledge. On the other, the mind seduces us to worldliness. We know not which way to be led by it. The difficulty is as great as a man climbing a mountain or a child escaping from his fear of a yaksha spirit.

23 All worldly turmoil ends upon attainment of true joy, just as the anxieties of a maiden are over after she has obtained a husband. 24 When will my anxieties become still and when will my cares come to an end? When will my soul have its holiness and my mind find its rest from acts of merit and demerit? 25 When shall I rest in that state of bliss which is as cooling and complete in itself as the full moon with all her digits? When shall I wander about the earth at large, free from worldly cares and ties? 26 When will my fancy stop from its flight and concentrate on the inner soul? When will my mind be absorbed in the Supreme Soul, like a turbulent wave existing in the breast of the quiet sea? 27 When shall I get over this wide ocean of the world, which is disturbed by the turbulent waves of our desires and is full of the hungry crocodiles of our greedy greed? When will I rid myself of this feverish passion? 28 When shall I rest in that state of complete, unemotional stillness of mind which is the goal of those who seek liberation and of the all-tolerant and indifferent philosopher?

29 Ah, when will this continuous fever of my worldliness decrease? It has irritated my whole body by its inward heat and has deranged my humors out of their order! 30 When will this heart of mine cease to throb from its cares, like the light of a lamp ceasing to flutter without wind? When will my understanding gain its light after dispersing the gloom of my ignorance? 31 When will these organs and body parts gain their respite from their constant functions? When will this parched frame of mine get over the sea of greed, like a garuda crossing oceans with ease? 32 When will the light of reason, like the clear atmosphere of the autumn sky, dispel this dark cloud of my ignorance that envelopes my heavenly essence under the veil of this sorry and miserable form?

33 Our minds are filled with the weeds of mandara plants of the Nandana pleasure-garden of paradise. But my soul yearns for its restitution in the Supreme Spirit. 34 The dispassionate man is said to be set in the pure light of reason. Therefore, I long to attain that passionless state of my mind. 35 But my restless mind has made me a prey to the python snake of grief, and I cry out in my sorrow, “O my father and mother! Help me to get out of this difficulty!”

36 I also exclaim, “O my sister understanding! Consent to comply with the request of your poor brother, and consider well the words of the wise sage for our deliverance from misery. 37 I also call you also to my aid, O my good sense, and beg of you, O progeny of your virtuous mother, to remain firm by my side as I struggle to break the bonds of the world.”

38 Let me first reflect on what the sage said about renunciation (vairagya), then on the conduct of one who longs for his liberation, and next about the creation of the world. 39 Afterwards let me remember all that he said on the existence of the universe, together with his beautiful illustrations, all of which are filled with sound wisdom and deep philosophy. 40 Although a lesson may be repeated a hundred times over, it proves to be of no effect unless it is considered with good understanding and the right sense of its meaning. Otherwise, it is like the empty sound of autumn clouds without a drop of rain.