Rama explaining Subtle aspects of Dharma to Vali

The bitter rivalry between the monkey brothers Vali and Sugriva is well documented and dramatized in Valmiki Ramayana. The manner in which Rama gets entangled in their affairs is also equally sensational.
Here is a brief account of how they turned into sworn enemies:Vali got into a bitter fight with a Rakshas ‘Mayavi’. As the fight went on for an year or so inside a dark cave,Sugriva mistakenly concluded that Vali got killed and therefore blocked the cave opening with a huge piece of Rock so that Mayavi would never exit out of the cave. Sugriva returned to ‘Kishkinda’ and started ruling the kingdom. Eventually,Vali got back victorious and gravely misunderstood the intentions of Sugriva in blocking the cave. Seeing Sugriva occupying his throne,he threw him out instantly,banished him into the forest and even abducted Sugriva’s wife.
Sugriva was rendered homeless and was confined to a small mountainous region called ‘Rishyamuka’. By divine coincidence,Rama and Sugriva met and got into a grand alliance through the good offices of Hanuman. Rama,on his part, promised Sugriva that he would kill Vali and restore his kingdom along with his wife. In return Sugriva assured Rama that he would use his entire army of monkeys to search for Sita.
In keeping with his promise Rama killed Vali hiding behind a tree ,as the two brothers were engaged in a bitter fight.
The killing of Vali by Rama from behind a tree is one of the unresolved controversies in Ramayana. In Valmiki Ramayana,the dialogue between Rama and Vali before the latter’s death provides a lot of insight into the subtle aspects of ‘Dharma’.
Vali was forthright in questioning Rama about the propriety of killing him. Vali raises the following basic issues with Rama before dying:
1. Why did Rama kill him hiding from behind which is against the basic dharma of any warrior
2.As Vali did not commit any sin or offense against Rama,where was the need to kill him?
3.There can possibly be no area of conflict between a monkey (dwelling in a forest and subsisting on roots and fruits)and Rama who is a king and a great soul. Even the flesh of a monkey is not fit to be consumed by a righteous man following dharma.
All are very relevant questions which needed to be addressed by Rama.

In a perfect display of humility,Rama listened to all that Vali had to say without interrupting him. As soon as Vali finished his speech,Rama chose to answer him point by point as follows:
1.At the outset Rama states that Vali is completely ignorant of Dharma and that has led him to denounce His actions with harsh words.
2.Then He goes on to explain that the kings of Ikshvaku rule the entire globe including all the forests,mountains and rivers. Their sovereignty extends to all inhabitants like humans,animals,beasts,trees,plants etc. And Rama himself is acting on behalf of the king Bharata who has the responsibility to punish sinners and establish Dharma.
3. He then tells Vali without mincing words that he had committed a grave sin by coveting his brother’s wife who is to be treated like his daughter-in-law. Such a sin is punishable by death as per Dharma.
4.A king by punishing such a sinner achieves two objectives: The sinner’s sin is neutralized which will facilitate his passage to the heavens. And secondly the king redeems himself by carrying out his duty. On the other hand,a king who soft pedals and turns a blind eye to a sinful act becomes a sinner himself and fruits of the sin accrue to him. These subtle aspects of dharma from ‘Manu dharma shastra’ were explained in detail by Rama.
5.Kings,according to Dharma,are entitled to hunting animals and beasts even as a sport and under such circumstances,it is irrelevant whether the hunter is facing or hidden from the view of the prey.
6. Finally,Rama says that he had given a word to Sugriva (in presence of all the monkeys after forging an alliance with the latter) that he would punish Vali and restore his thone. And there is no way he would let it go in vain.

Two interesting aspects get highlighted in this dialogue:
1. To start with,Rama has clearly shown that he is a great listener. Although he knew right from the beginning that Vali was ignorant of Dharma,He still listened to him without any interruption.
2.Rama also felt obligated to enlighten Vali(instead of brushing him aside as an unrepentant sinner) on all points raised by him. He takes pains to quote from ‘Manu Smriti’ also to justify his killing of Vali. This is a great exhibition of His humility as well as thorough understanding of His rights and obligations as per ‘Dharma shastras’.

I was discussing this particular episode with a friend of mine and he said we are all victims of circumstances and as such are propelled to act instinctively under a given situation. He seemed to imply that even Gods are not exempt from it.
Let us see the relevance of this thesis. Rama had given a promise to Sugriva to finish off Vali. He saw Sugriva being grievously injured with fatal blows from Vali in his fight. Under these circumstances,it appears Rama had no choice but to act the way He did.
But such such a view,precludes the operation of Free Will and Dharma. Therefore I choose to look at the episode slightly differently.
Dharma is basically a matter of perspective. The broader the perspective,better our understanding is of what is right and what is wrong. Conversely,narrower the perspective,poorer is our understanding of Dharma.
Rama’s perspective,as the proxy King of the globe, is certainly much broader and richer than that of a monkey king confined merely to forests and mountains.
In fact it is for this reason we say Dharma is too subtle to understand. To understand Dharma we should have the knowledge and wisdom of seers who possess a very broad perspective. Don’t we often say “God only knows what is right”. The implication is that since God is,by definition omnipresent and omniscient,He knows fully all the equations and with the broadest possible world view. Therefore,He alone knows what is righteous action(or ‘dharma’). It is impossible for common mortals to decipher Dharma in all its dimensions.

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Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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