Saturday, March 23, 2013

What compels us to keep a promise?

Lord Ramachandra, is often described as maryada purushottam - the ideal man - because of the way He led his life. He is best known for keeping the vow of 14 years exile - a promise He made to his father. On the day when He was to be crowned Emperor of the world, the young prince left the luxuries of palace life and entered the forest accompanied by His beautiful wife Sita and His brother Laxman. He carried with Himself, no worldly possessions except His bow and began to live an austere life with mendicants and rishis.

What possible reason did Dashrath, Lord Rama's father, have to send his beloved son to the forest? Dashrath and all the citizens of Ayodhya had wanted Ramachandra to be the next Emperor. Dashrath had been actively participating in all the ceremonies leading up to the crowning day. In fact, Lord Rama was Dashrath's life and soul and after banishing Him, Dashrath died, overwhelmed with grief.

Why then did Dashrath force his son to take this vow? Dashrath, himself was keeping a promise - a promise he had made to his wife Kaikeyi, years ago. Once,during a fierce battle, Dashrath's chariot wheel came lose. Kaikeyi, who was accompanying her husband, noticed this and stopped the wheel from coming off by putting her finger in the hub. The grateful Dashrath, granted her 2 boons or promises - "Ask anything of me and I shall give it to you."

When it was time for Rama to be crowned king, Kaikeyi began to feel insecure of her son, Bharat's and thus her own position in the kingdom. She invoked  the 2 promises and asked that Lord Rama be banished from the kingdom and Bharat be crowned Emperor.

Dashrath kept his promise and Lord Rama kept His promise and this eventually led to the unfolding of the great epic Ramayana.

Meditating upon this story, one can't help but wonder, what motivated them to keep their promise? And of course in our own day-to-day dealings, do we keep any promises?

As a child, my own world was full of promises. Mother - die promise and God promise were the highest grade of promises one could make. They were usual taken to absolve oneself of any accusations. "Mother-die promise I did not take your crayons!" - The accuser would then immediately start looking elsewhere. After all, if I had taken the crayons, my mother would die! They were also taken to guarantee something in the future. "God promise I will share my crayons with you tomorrow if you gave me your eraser today." The eraser was then given with blind trust, after all God was witness to the deal!

But what is the situation in the adult world? Often law is used to enforce any kind of promises or deals. All major promises are spelled out in carefully worded legal contracts - with heavy penalties imposed on the party that breaks the deal. Now- a-days, even marriage, where two individuals come together willingly, out of love, to share a life together, are preceded by pre-nuptial agreements. They may say to each other - "I promise to be with you in sickness and in health", but their lawyers have already worked out legal contracts which assure that they wont have to part with their individual wealth in case they are unable to keep that promise.

But are all promises made under fear of law? Dont we all make and keep promises in our life? What compels us to keep a promise?