Theosophical Light on The Ramayana

From the notes of a talk given at the
United Lodge of Theosophists in London, England

The vast writings of H. P. Blavatsky – totalling more than 10,000 pages in the form of books and articles – do not endeavour only to expound universal principles of ethics or to show how all religions have one esoteric system underlying them, as vitally important as these are.

In her writings, HPB also stated that she was making public certain teachings and information, certain knowledge and details, that had never before been publicly or clearly revealed.

Such knowledge, she said, was not the result of her own clairvoyance or of reading the so-called “Akashic Records,” as many later esoteric teachers and writers would claim to do.

On the contrary, she said, she was teaching only that which had been taught to her by living, physically incarnated, human beings, on this physical planet Earth. These were the individuals she called the Masters, the Masters of Wisdom, the Adepts, the Mahatmas, the Brothers. Prior to her embarking on her public mission of the Theosophical Movement, she had spent time in various parts of the world with Them, being taught, trained, prepared, and initiated by Them, into Their occult system, Their esoteric philosophy, which They claim to be the timeless Truth itself.

With this in mind, what can we learn from the Body of Knowledge which we call Theosophy about the Ramayana or about Rama or about the author of the work?

We can learn several interesting and important things, just as Theosophy also sheds valuable esoteric light on other scriptures, whether Eastern such as the Bhagavad Gita or Western such as Saint John’s Gospel and the Pistis Sophia, which HPB discoursed upon at great length for the Blavatsky Lodge of her time.

First, in “The Theosophical Glossary” we find some basic definitions. The entry for “Rama” says:

“The seventh avatar or incarnation of Vishnu; the eldest son of King Dasaratha, of the Solar Race. His full name is Rama-Chandra, and he is the hero of the Ramayana. He married Sita, who was the female avatar of Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, and was carried away by Ravana the Demon-King of Lanka, which act led to the famous war.”

In the entry for “Ramayana” HPB writes:

Ramayana (Sk.). The famous epic poem collated with the Mahabharata. It looks as if this poem was either the original of the Iliad or vice versa, except that in Ramayana the allies of Rama are monkeys, led by Hanuman, and monster birds and other animals, all of whom fight against the Rakshasas, or demons and giants of Lanka.”

These are standard details which any Hindu would give assent to. But let’s look further.

In Vol. 2 of “Isis Unveiled” she says on p. 436:

“We would remind the reader in this connection, that Ravan, the giant, who, in the Ramayana, wages such a war with Rama Chandra, is shown as King of Lanka, which was the ancient name for Ceylon [Note: we now once again call it Sri Lanka]; and that Ceylon, in those days, perhaps formed part of the main-land of Southern India, and was peopled by the “Eastern Æthiopians.” Conquered by Rama, the son of Dasarata, the Solar King of ancient Oude [i.e. Ayodhya], a colony of these emigrated to Northern Africa. If, as many suspect, Homer’s Iliad and much of his account of the Trojan war is plagiarized from the Ramayana, then the traditions which served as a basis for the latter must date from a tremendous antiquity.”

In “The Secret Doctrine” more light is shed, in a particularly interesting passage on p. 494-495 of the second volume on “Anthropogenesis” or human evolution:

“Throughout all Asia Minor, the Initiates were called the “trees of Righteousness,” and the cedars of Lebanon, as also were some kings of Israel. So were the great adepts in India, but only the adepts of the left hand. [Note: that means the Adepts in black magic, which is symbolically called the Left Hand Path, as opposed to the Right Hand Path of white magic and pure, good occultism] When Vishnu Purana narrates that “the world was overrun with trees,” while the Prachetasas – who “passed 10,000 years of austerity in the vast ocean” –were absorbed in their devotions, the allegory relates to the Atlanteans and the adepts of the early Fifth Race – the Aryans.  Other “trees (adept Sorcerers) spread, and overshadowed the unprotected earth; and the people perished . . . unable to labour for ten thousand years.” Then the sages, the Rishis of the Aryan race, called Prachetasas, are shown “coming forth from the deep,” and destroying by the wind and flame issuing from their mouths, the iniquitous “trees” and the whole vegetable kingdom; until Soma (the moon), the sovereign of the vegetable world, pacifies them by making alliance with the adepts of the Right Path, to whom he offers as bride Marisha, “the offspring of the trees.” This means that which is given in the Stanzas and Commentaries, and what is also given in Part II. of Vol. I., “The Sacred Island.” It hints at the great struggle between the “Sons of God” and the Sons of the Dark Wisdom – our forefathers; or the Atlantean and the Aryan Adepts.

“The whole History of that period is allegorized in the Ramayana, which is the mystic narrative in epic form of the struggle between Rama – the first king of the divine dynasty of the early Aryans – and Ravana, the symbolical personation of the Atlantean (Lanka) race.  The former were the incarnations of the Solar Gods; the latter, of the lunar Devas.  This was the great battle between Good and Evil, between white and black magic, for the supremacy of the divine forces, or of the lower terrestrial, or cosmic powers.”

So from that paragraph it becomes apparent that –

(1) Rama was a real, actual, person.

(2) The real Rama was, and therefore still surely is, a highly advanced spiritual being, who was the very first king of what’s known as the “divine dynasty,” which began right at the start of our present Root Race or Epoch – the Aryan or Indo-Caucasian Race – this divine dynasty being intended to provide firm, noble, and elevated foundations at the time when the new human civilisation was being born, which was the time when the old civilisation, the Atlantean Race, was coming to its close and had sunk down into ever worsening spiritual and moral degradation.

(3) Ravana did not exist as a literal particular individual person but represents the collectivity of those particular Atlanteans who then occupied Sri Lanka and who on the whole were given over to black magic and darkness.

(4) The events that are thus allegorised in the Ramayana occurred a very very long time ago; not just a few thousand years ago but, following the dates and chronologies given in the Theosophical teachings, hundreds of thousands of years ago. The great battle, leading to the main destruction of Atlantis, occurred around 850,000 years ago according to “The Secret Doctrine” . . . although in the same book it’s repeated that the real exact dates and figures are not permitted to be made public, so 850,000 may not be as accurate as we might like but still, it was a very very long time ago. The Atlantis that Plato famously speaks of was only the very last surviving island, a remnant which held on until as recently as 11,500 years ago and then met the same watery fate as its original parent continent.

Elsewhere in “The Secret Doctrine” we read, “No one can fail to recognize the Atlanteans of the Secret Doctrine in the Rakshasas of Lanka – the opponents conquered by Rama,” (Vol. 2, p. 276) and she also quotes Wilson, the respected Orientalist of that time, as saying “The traditions of Southern India uniformly [ascribe] its civilization and the settlement of civilized Hindus (the Fifth Race – HPB) to the conquest of Lanka by Rama” and then she adds “the victory of the “Sons of God” over the Atlantean sorcerers, says the true tradition.” (Vol. 2, p. 224)

Now, Sri Lanka is in the Indian Ocean and one might wonder how this connects with Atlantis, which we’re used to thinking of as being the continent which once occupied the Atlantic Ocean, hence the name. But this is clarified elsewhere in Vol. 2, where it says:

“That not only the last island of Atlantis, spoken of by Plato, but a large continent, first divided, and then broken later on into seven peninsulas and islands (called dwipas), preceded Europe, is sure. It covered the whole of the North and South Atlantic regions, as well as portions of the North and South Pacific, and had islands even in the Indian Ocean (relics of Lemuria). The claim is corroborated by Indian Puranas, Greek writers, and Asiatic, Persian, and Mahommedan traditions.” (p. 405)

So we shouldn’t think of what we call “Atlantis” as having just been in one place for in actuality it was in many places . . . and the Atlanteans also colonised various places; the Greek island of Crete is named by the Masters as having been an Atlantean colony. (“Five Years of Theosophy” p. 334)

Now back to Rama: as well as being a living historical figure he is also symbolic at the same time.

If you’ve attended a number of meetings at the ULT, you’ll most likely have heard the idea that there are seven keys of interpretation to every great scripture and ancient esoteric treatise.

One is the literal, matter of fact, physical plane key, and one of the others is a metaphysical key in which characters and places symbolise and represent different aspects of the human being and his or her seven Principles. We all know that the main Theosophical approach to the Bhagavad Gita is to read Krishna as representing our Higher Self, the Seventh Principle, Atman, the pure eternal universal spirit which we all share and which is the innermost essence of every being and every thing. So, not surprisingly, Rama also represents that.

In an article titled “Do The Rishis Exist?” HPB states: “Hanuman was neither a human being nor a monkey: it is one of the powers of the 7th principle of man (Rama).”

So there some light is shed on Hanuman too. The “Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Hanuman” gives a standard definition:

“The monkey god of the Ramayana; the generalissimo of Rama’s army; the son of Vayu, god of the wind, and of a virtuous she-demon. Hanuman was the faithful ally of Rama and by his unparalleled audacity and wit, helped the Avatar of Vishnu to finally conquer the demon-king of Lanka, Ravana, who had carried off the beautiful Sita, Rama’s wife, an outrage which led to the celebrated war described in the Hindu epic poem.”

As a side note, but relating in part to Hanuman, HPB says in an article (Editor’s Note to “Zoroastrianism”):

“Magnetic emanations are constantly radiating from every human being. Their influence is present in the person’s shadow, in his photo or picture as well as everything else with which his aura comes into contact. It is interesting in this connection to refer to the “Chhaya grahini” (Shadow-Catcher), mentioned in Ramayana which was able to arrest the aerial progress of Hanuman by seizing on his shadow on the surface of the Sea. It is a well-known fact that the figure of a person or his picture is a great help to a black magician who intends to affect him by his infernal art.”

That also explains one of the reasons why some students of Theosophy like to have photos in particular of HPB and William Q. Judge in their homes and in their rooms, on the principle that similarity of form attracts similarity of influence.

And what about Valmiki, who wrote down the Ramayana, this huge book of 500 chapters and 24,000 verses?

We don’t know when exactly he wrote it – although many Hindus say he was a contemporary of Rama and wrote the original Ramayana text in the Treta Yuga, the Silver Age, which by general Hindu calculations ended just under 870,000 years ago, so that does more or less tie in with the dates we mentioned earlier – but someone writing to HPB asked “Can Vishvamitra, Valmiki, Vasishtha and other Rishis be classed with the Yogis and Mahatmas?”

The question is really asking whether they were part of that Brotherhood of Masters of Wisdom which is said to be behind the Theosophical Movement.

And HPB answers, in that article entitled “Pertinent Questions”: “Many [Rishis] who are mentioned [in Hinduism] are more or less mythical . . . The three Rishis named by our questioner were historical personages and were very high adepts entitled to be called Mahatmas.”

Now depending on which part of India a person is from, they may be more familiar with the other version of the story of the Ramayana, which is called the Ramcharitmanas.

The Ramcharitmanas is known to have definitely been written only 460 years ago; it was written by Tulsidas, who was a Vaishnava Hindu with a strong sense of Bhakti or devotion towards Rama and Sita, and as the general public didn’t know how to speak or read Sanskrit, in which Valmiki’s Ramayana was written, he decided to write a Hindi version. This is similar in many respects but also has a number of differences in the story including a big emphasis placed on Rama being an Avatar of Vishnu, which was something not made a big deal of in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Most of the dramatic re-enactments of the story of Rama that take place in India are actually plays based on the Ramcharitmanas, as it lends itself more to fantasy and fiction than the real Ramayana.

We cannot close without a mention of the book titled “The Dream of Ravan – A Mystery” which is published by the Indian ULT. It’s 250 pages of a very deep, sometimes very abstruse, but sometimes very dryly humorous, commentary on what appears to be an esoteric and apparently publicly unknown Ramayana-related text. It begins with these words:

“In the caves of Eastern Sibyl, what curious leaves lie hidden, or go whirling in the wind! Written over with strange, hieroglyphic characters, not without deep meaning – akin to prophetic, – . . . Fragmentary – incomplete – hard to put together, yet furnishing here and there, when the attempt is made, a piece of chance mosaic that engages our attention like the forms in the moss-stone. Such a bundle of Sibylline leaves is the “Dream of Ravan,” of which we propose to put together and interpret some torn and ragged fragments.”

The author has remained unknown and curiously it was first published in 1853 in The Dublin University Magazine. The author shows extremely deep knowledge and mastery of Indian philosophy, metaphysics, and literature, and HPB wrote positively about this text and quoted from it. That fact, and also the style, has led some Theosophists to speculate that it was written by the Master K.H. But whether that’s true, we don’t know.

What we’ve hopefully shown though is that a knowledge and study of Theosophy enables one to approach the world’s great religious scriptures with a deeper degree of understanding, perception, and appreciation, than one could otherwise hope to have . . . and that in fact is the second of the three main Objects for which the great Adepts founded this Movement in 1875.

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You may also like to read Human Evolution in The Secret Doctrine, A Beginner’s Guide To Studying “The Secret Doctrine”, Who Wrote “The Secret Doctrine”?, How to successfully study the Teachings of H. P. Blavatsky, The Theosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, 12 Things Theosophy Teaches, and The United Lodge of Theosophists.