Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Personality Analysis of Lord Rama

Today is Rama Navami, the festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the Hindu god who is the hero of the historical epic of Ramayana. Rama is an important deity in Hinduism because he is considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu, the Supreme God in the Vaishnav tradition of Hinduism. In this article, I do a personality analysis of Rama.

Why Analyze Rama's Personality?
Before I analyze Rama's personality, it is imperative that I explain why I am doing this analysis. Hinduism is one of the very few religious traditions where all spiritual practices are ultimately aimed towards helping us realize our true self. The Hindu tradition recognizes that we are much more than our body and mind, the things that we typically identify with. According to the Vedas and Upanishads, we are actually the Supreme Spirit that we worship. This is reflected in the Sanskrit maxims such as अहं ब्रह्मास्मि (Aham Brahmāsmi) and शिवोहम (Shivoham). The goal then is self-realization (आत्मबोधः), and through it our ultimate liberation (मोक्ष).

However, self-realization is easier discussed than achieved, because we are not simply talking about  intellectual realization, but experiential realization. Intellectual realization, at best, could be small step in the direction of experiential realization. In any case, even intellectual realization may be difficult. How do we go beyond our identification with the body and mind, and realize that we are actually the Supreme Spirit (ब्रह्म)? Extremely difficult, right? This is where the millions of gods and goddesses within the Hindu tradition--including the Vishnu Avatars--come into play. Vishnu is considered the Supreme Spirit within the Vaishnav tradition of Hinduism, but how do you understand and grasp Vishnu who is so abstract? As described in the Vishnu Sahasranama, the Supreme Spirit is Nirgunah  (without any properties), Adrishyah (imperceptible), Ajah (unborn), Amoortih (formless), Anantah (endless or infinite). Vishnu may be formless, imperceptible and infinite, but Rama should be much more easy to comprehend and realize simply because he was also a human being like us. The purpose of analyzing Rama's personality then is to understand him, so that we can first become better human beings. How can we expect to realize the divinity within us if we haven't even succeeded in realizing our human potential? In other words, we first need to become a great human being (उत्तम पुरुष) before we can realize that we are the Supreme Spirit (पुरुषोत्तम). So how do we become a great human being (उत्तम पुरुष)? Modern psychology gives us some insights.

Rama's Personality on the HEXACO Dimensions
HEXACO is a foundational model of human personality that extends the original Big 5 personality model. It discusses six personality trait dimensions:
  1. Honesty-Humility (H): Honesty-Humility refers to the tendency to be either honest, sincere and humble as opposed to being greedy, pretentious and deceitful. From all the stories in Ramayana, we can easily conclude that Rama was very high on the positive end of the honesty-humility dimension. Rama was committed to Dharma, and was always humble despite being a king and an Avatar of Vishnu.
  2. Emotional Stability (E): Emotional stability refers to the trait of not being easily perturbed under stress. The opposite end of the emotional stability is called as neuroticism and is manifested in form of being oversensitive, sad, sentimental, anxious, fearful and hostile. Rama again was very high on emotional stability. In fact, it could easily be argued (as has been done by Sadhguru) that the primary reason we worship Rama is because he always kept his cool and dignity even though a lot of unfortunate events happened in his life. Emotional stability was also a strong characteristic of Lord Krishna, another Avatar of Vishnu. And he describes the importance of it in great detail in the Bhagavad Gita when he discusses the characteristics of a Stithaprajnya (स्तिथप्रज्ञ) or an emotionally stable person.
  3. Extraversion (X): Extraversion refers to the trait of being outgoing, social, talkative. The opposite end of extraversion is called introversion and refers to the trait of being reserved and quiet. Based on my analysis of the stories in Ramayana, I think Rama was more on the introversion side than on the extraversion side of the spectrum. Rama's personality here is a stark contrast to Krishna's personality, who was a strong extrovert. Given that Rama and Krishna were so different from each other on this dimension means that the extraversion-introversion dimension is not as critical to realizing the best within ourselves. We can be a great human being either way.
  4. Agreeableness (A): Agreeableness is the tendency to be caring, compassionate and lenient. The opposite end of this spectrum describes people who are selfish and lack empathy. Again according to me, Rama was a person very high on agreeableness, perhaps even a little too high. I think many of the difficulties that he faced in his life (from having to go on 14 years of exile  in the forests and later having to relinquish his wife) were all because of his extreme agreeableness. Krishna also was on the agreeableness side of the spectrum, but was not too high on agreeableness, and consequently didn't have to endure as much pain as Rama did.  And perhaps that is the reason, only Krishna is considered a Poorna Avatar and not Rama. Krishna had mastered the art of being caring and compassionate without being a pushover. Agreeableness, then may be a good quality to have, but only in small dozes. Otherwise, it can cause a lot of difficulties, at least in our worldly life.
  5. Conscientiousness (C): Conscientiousness refers to being hardworking, industrious and organized. People low on conscientiousness tend to lack self-discipline and are lazy and sloppy. Rama and Krishna were all undoubtedly a very conscientious individuals. This is not surprising, because no greatness is ever possible (even for the Avatars) without a lot of disciplined hardwork.
  6. Openness (O): Openness refers to the trait of being imaginative, creative, intellectually curious, and being attentive to one's inner feelings. People on the lower end of this trait tend to conventional and rigid in their outlook. Given that Rama was a learned man who was well-versed with all the tenets of Dharma, he was surely high on openness, if not necessarily as high as Krishna was on this dimension.
This is just a blog post, not a book or even a book chapter, so I couldn't go into too much detail in my analysis. However, I hope that my analysis of Lord Rama's personality and the comparisons with Krishna's personality provided you with some insights about which personality traits you should focus on developing if you were to actualize your human potential. My conclusion is that conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness and honesty-humility are the most critical facets. Extraversion-introversion dimension is irrelevant in the sense that both extroverted and introverted individuals can achieve greatness, albeit in different ways. Agreeableness is perhaps the most controversial trait in terms of its role in our development. It is certainly good to be caring and compassionate, but evidence suggests that these same qualities could also potentially cause us to be a pushover, especially especially if we are too agreeable.

Ultimately, we need to remember that actualizing our full human potential is just a necessary step, and not a sufficient step, to realize our true spiritual self. People often turn into spirituality as if it was a refuge for the losers. However, we can never realize our true self as losers. Spirituality then is about working and succeeding in cultivating oneself to our highest levels of being so that it becomes easier to gain self-realization. Understanding our personality traits and striving to cultivate more positive ones is a small step in that direction.

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