Ramayana is an unimaginably ancient epic poem, translated here into beautiful English prose. It does not present Hindu theology-- to glimpse Hinduism's ancient essence, one must attempt to understand the more impenetrable Upanishads. Rather, Ramayana presents in a literary, or fictional, work all of the values of right conduct, or "dharma," that are essential to happiness in all the worlds. The story so remarkably resembles Homer's The Illiad that it is difficult to believe some ancient wandering poet did not export the story to the near eastern culture of ancient Greece, many centuries after it began being told amongst Indian poets. Consequently, the values of Ramayana reverberate throughout three millenia of Eastern as well as Western literature. Honoring your father, fogiveness, loyalty to wife and husband irrespective of the hardships, devotion to God, knowing God when you see him, rejection of earthly wealth, and reverence for all of nature. These are but a few of the values, dharma, that revisit the reader through one beautiful character after another. Ramayana is essential reading for any ersatz scholar or well-read mind.
In King Lear, a promise given by a foolish old man brings catastrophic changes to the world around him. Likewise, a foolish promise by an elderly king launches the epic Ramayana. Both stories bring forth the depth and strength of the human spirit. King Lear is a tragedy. The Ramayana is also; the author places his noble characters in harm's way to demonstrate their greatness. The Ramayana's chief purpose is to demonstrate the proper exercise of Dharma, the Hindu principle that is often loosely translated as "Law". The protagonist, Rama, his wife, Sita, his brothers and the army of animals they enlist show through their actions how life is to be spent in the service of truth.
Here's the plot (not to give away too much). Rama's father, King Dasratha promises two boons to his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Dasratha abdicates, intending to make Rama king, but Kaikeyi uses her boons on the eve of Rama's ascension to the throne, one to make her son Bharatha king in Rama's stead, the second to banish Rama for 15 years. The king wants to renege on his promises, but Rama refuses to let this happen. He leaves the kingdom willingly.
Rama, Sita and Rama's brother Lakshmana live in the jungle for 15 years, in the course of this time, Sita is kidnapped by daemons bent on destroying the world. Rama enlists the help of the bear and monkey kings to recapture her and this is the heart of the story.
Now, what makes this story is its characters and their courage. Rama will never break a promise, even when it may cost him his life. Sita and Lakshmana leave the palace for a life spent wearing the bark of trees. The animals, especially the immortal monkey, Hanuman, inspired by the love between Rama and Sita, fight ferociously against their much more powerful foes. They all obey Dharma and their difficult task is the moral lesson of this religious text.
What's interesting about Hinduism and the Ramayana in particular is its existential nature. The daemons are masters of Maya, the illusion of the material world. Maya is the daemons' most powerful weapon, they create a disorienting world in which there is precious little grounding. Where does a person find roots in such a world? The Ramayana gives us the example of Rama and the adherence to whatever truth we can find. Practice truth, fight deception, join in the struggle of the world to be conscious of itself. So what is real? For me, the most dramatic incident is one in which the fierce, brave, Hanuman answers the question. Rama gives Hanuman a bracelet as a gift. Hanuman tears it to bits. Rama asks why. Hanuman says, "though this bracelet looks expensive, it was really worthless, for nowhere on it did it bear your name." Someone asks Hanuman, "Why don't you destroy your body as well?". Hanuman rends his flesh and there, on his bones are the words, "Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama".
So, too, your computer has become an instrument of truth. Read this book, it is incredible.