by Shashank Rao, Sadhana member
Shashank is a student at New York University. Shashank is celebrating this Diwali in China, where he is doing a study year abroad.
On this occasion of Diwali, we gather in our homes, temples, and community centers to celebrate the victory of light over darkness. We have lit lamps, cleaned our homes, and chanted our prayers to receive blessings, gathering together to reflect on the story of Sri Rama. So, in the name of God, in whose name all is begun and in whose name all is fated to end, I submit this statement.
Year after year, we celebrate the victory of Sri Rama over the forces of evil, yet we see that there are still horrible things occurring throughout the world. On the news, we see the persecution of the Rohingya, casteism and religious conflict in India, and continuing strife in Syria and Middle East, all making the world and its future seem bleak. Sri Rama, too, was faced with war in order to rescue Sita. In his own time, Sri Rama complied with his dharma, to rescue and protect Sita from Ravana, who had wrongfully kidnapped her. Yet it is by no means the same struggle today. We should take the story of the Ramayana not as a literal representation of ideals or of historical events, but as an example, to take lessons from it and understand how it may or may not apply to us today. The lesson that I examine here is that of heeding dharma.
Diwali is not simply a festival for us to meet with our families, but also a time for us to reflect on the meaning of dharma. It is variously translated as “duty”, “morality”, “honor”, and “calling”. It is a little of all of these things, and it also exists in more than one place. We have our individual dharmas, which call us to do the right thing, and a communal dharma, one which calls the community to do the right thing. Whether we heed it or not is up to us. However, let us recall the verse: “Prosperity emanates from dharma, happiness emerges from dharma. Everything is obtained by means of dharma, for the world has dharma as its essence.” (Ramayana 3.9.30)
We celebrate the victory of Sri Rama, but his compliance with dharma does not absolve us of the need to do ours, but rather compels us to do the same. With so much suffering in the world, it behooves the Hindu community to help others escape suffering, to empower them to take hold of their destinies, and fulfill their own dharmas. Whether our acts are dāna (charity) or sēva (service), let them be to the end of ending suffering of all kinds. “They who see others in themselves, and themselves in others, feel no hatred in knowing thus.” (Ishavasya Upanishad, Verse 6). Let us see that others, too, experience suffering as we do, in varying degrees, and let us not be deluded that others are somehow intrinsically different from us in their capacity to suffer, overcome suffering, or understand suffering.
I invoke the story of Sri Rama not simply because it is Diwali, but also because his deeds teach us valuable lessons in doing what is right, not simply what is convenient to us or temporarily satisfy our needs. So, this Diwali, when you gather with your friends and family, take joy in that you are able to do this, and take some time to appreciate it by doing sēva.
May God shower blessings on those less fortunate, and show us the way to work together in the struggle against suffering. Jai Sri Ram.