Lord Ramacandra has a special place in our pantheon and His appearance day is always a big thing. Yet our relationships with Him are not clearly defined. It’s not entirely clear what we need Him for, to put it bluntly.
In Gaudiya vaishnavism we should never think of how the Lord could be useful to us, it’s not our mood of devotion, but, being on the material platform, we still act in practical terms – service in exchange for benefits. We just can’t help it and I don’t think that we should – I think it’s actually compulsory to us to rely on the Lord for all our needs. We shouldn’t have any, if we were pure devotees, but since we still do we should approach no one else but the Lord with all our problems and desires.
In this sense Lord Caitanya is our eternal master and going to any other Lord’s form for anything would be betraying or thinking less of His mercy. He is also not alone in this because we are being looked after by Lord Nityananda, too. Sri Sri Gaura Nitai will always be our worshipable deities and our gateway to the spiritual world. They are the ones who arrange absolutely everything for our progress, they are the ones who fish us out of the material ocean, they are the ones who send us gurus and vaishnavas, and they are the ones by whose grace we might get love of Krishna.
Having said that, when we had a security problem in Mayapur and the temple was attacked our leadership decided to seek protection of Lord Nrisimha. Probably one of the best decisions they ever made because it’s hard to imagine our Mayapur temple without Him now, He is as central to our identity there as Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava and Panca Tattva. And it was all done in post-Prabhupada, zonal acarya time, I might add.
From this perspective it’s not clear what we would need a deity of Lord Ramacandra for. Lord Caitanya always worshiped Krishna and there were cases when He converted staunch devotees of Lord Rama to worship of Krishna, just as there were cases where He left devotees of Lord Rama alone. Lord Ramacandra is just not central to our doctrine and I’m not aware of any ISKCON temple that worships His deity. We never miss His appearance day, though.
If we check general knowledge of our devotees we might find that we know as much about Lord Ramacandra’s pastimes as we do about Krishna’s. We use examples from Ramayana all the time, when discussing the essense of Ravana or chastity of Sita or devotion of Laksmana or service of Hanuman. There were also a lot more miracles in Ramayana than in Krishna lila, which is always a good material for storytelling.
Having said that – what does Lord Ramacandra really mean to us? We should do better than use Him for simple storytelling and I actually have a little problem with that. When we describe His heroic deeds – is it important for us to talk about Lord Ramacandra or would any other “hero” do? Are we attracted by the Lord or by the stories? Stories are a dime a dozen nowadays and I’m afraid even Ramayana can’t compete if a good story is all we are after. There could be better battles, better romance, better scheming, better everything.
It’s not a competition but, if you were put in charge of “improving” Ramayana, you could hire some writers and get the job done. It would be a big undertaking and that’s probably why we’ll never have Ramayana the movie (not counting Indian attempts) but improvisations on some singled out Ramayana motifs could be endless. Take the story with Supranakha seeking revenge for humiliation at the hands of Lakshmana, an awkward moment that led to Ravana kidnapping Sita. It can be replayed again and again in so many settings with endless twists and a variety of endings. It IS actually being replayed again and again but we are not even sure the copyright should belong to Ramayana.
That kind of interest in the story is not devotional per se and so it plays on our material attractions. As Prabhupada said, people love to hear stories so let them hear stories about the Lord, implying that something good might eventually come out of it. It’s not where we should be in our devotional lives even though if we still have the taste for melodrama we should indulge it in Ramayana, Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata instead of Holly- or Bolly- woods. It would still be material interest, though, no excuses for that.
I don’t see how we can seek spiritual taste in killing of Ravana just as I don’t see how we can seek spiritual taste in Krishna’s sexual escapades with gopis. In both cases it’s way above our heads and has nothing to do with our spiritual reality. If we developed taste for completing sixteen rounds every day that would be great already, forget about taste for rasa dance for a moment.
There’s one area, however, where Lord Ramacandra presents us with the perfect presiding deity – varnasrama. Lord Caitanya famously didn’t consider following varnasrama as a big devotional achievement but as much as it is pleasing God, Lord Ramacandra is our “guy”. I don’t think there’s any other avatara that took such great care in maintaining principles of perfect daivi-varnasrama.
Whether it’s relationships between husband and wife or duties of the king or service of the subordinates or importance of following the rules and keeping promises no matter what – Lord Ramacandra did it all. It would be also great if He formally introduced varnasrama for the first time but still He is its most exemplary guardian.
So, maybe there’s a reason we can install Sita-Rama deities in ISKCON, and also Hanuman and Lakshmana because their service attitude is just as important in success of varnasrama. Having a sannyasi who left a very young wife and a mother without any male support and protection as our most worshipable deity does not really match with the goals of our budding varnasrama communities. He would be the wrong person for our married devotees struggling with their family lives to seek shelter of. What would be advice if you come to Him with your marital problems? Give it all up and dedicate your life to chanting and preaching?
Hmm, maybe we should forget chasing varnasrama if we need another deity to help us. In the meantime we could try to see us following our societal duties as a service to Lord Ramacandra, and not the image of the Lord shooting Ravana but the Lord as our ideal King and protector – pati, as in Raghupati. And when we fail in our duties we can seek His forgiveness as Patita Pavana. Maybe that will work.