ITIES in the Ramayana

Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati (Switzerland)

The 18 ITIES of Swami Sivananda are part of the fabric of human life and experience. The Ramayana is also a story of the unfolding of human life and destiny. The heroes of the Ramayana are people living and acting out their destiny in their own individual way. Throughout the epic the 18 ITIES are evoked. They are the golden thread through the story of the Ramayana. Fixity and tenacity are lived by the many tapasvins who spend years and lifetimes in hardship in order to attain a boon or a goal. Kings are generous and noble. Kings are humble while in the company of gurus and saints. The heroes are full of sincerity, simplicity and integrity and the queens of Ayodhya show a high degree of regularity and equanimity. Serenity and adaptability are necessary for all of the protagonists. The counter-ITIES, the dark and destructive attitudes and character traits like anger and jealousy, greed and arrogance, or the lack of ITIES are also a part of the epic. One speech from the Ramayana has shown the ITIES in a very concentrated way.

Rama's grief at Lake Pampa

Aranyakanda, Sarga 75, (text taken from Kamala Subramaniam, Ramayana, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay 1998) shows the inherent potential of the ITIES to change a situation for the better. At this stage in the story, Sita has been abducted and Rama and Lakshmana, hoping that she is still alive, are trying to discover her whereabouts. Rama and Lakshmana arrive at Lake Pampa. The beauty of the natural surrounding reminds Rama of Sita's beauty and he loses himself in grief: "I am drowned in sorrow and no one can comfort me except Sita and she is far away." Actually, in this situation help doesn't come from Sita but from Lakshmana who is able to motivate Rama to act. With the ITIES he helps his brother to change his attitude and state of mind, so that he can view his circumstances with clarity and decide upon the best course of action.

"Lakshmana was looking at Rama and was listening to his words. He said: 'Rama, I can see how unhappy you are. I know what a jewel Sita is, and it is not possible to find another woman like her. Her qualities are incomparable. But you should not give way to sorrow like this."

Serenity is not denying the fact that things go wrong, that the situation is not perfect, but it is the effort to find the one positive angle, the one drop that may make the glass half full. And the item tipping the balance is regularity - or the sense of duty.

"Remember, we have a duty to perform. Rama, there is nothing which is greater than Dharma. If a man is devoted to the observance of Dharma nothing is impossible for him."

Here Lakshmana reminds Kama of his duty to find Sita and to overthrow the unrighteous Ravana. To carry out this duty fixity and tenacity are needed. Personal duty is not isolated. It is a piece in the puzzle of a greater picture, a wider dimension. Once we can see that our individual duty is part of a whole, it is therefore easier to bear.

The secrets of living

"Steadfastness and firmness are needed for it. A man of intelligence will know how to overcome sorrow with the help of his Dharma. An ordinary man who does not know the secret of living will be unable to bear the reverses of fortune. But a man like you will know that this misfortune is the result of Fate, and he will bear his unhappiness bravely".

The secrets of living are many. Each teaching or political, philosophical and spiritual system of thought lays claim to knowing the 'secret of living'. One such secret of living is the 'Song of the 18 ITIES' by Swami Sivananda, and an ordinary person knows not of it. But an aspirant, a person striving for perfection, will know of the 18 ITIES and will do everything to apply them in life. Rama is such a man, and therefore with the knowledge of the 18 ITIES he knows what part of his life is fate, destiny, the doing of the gods, and which part depends on his own effort. Lakshmana is telling his brother that he is no ordinary man, but a man on the path towards perfection.

"Without a second thought, you have given up the kingdom and the many comforts to which you were accustomed. Like a mountain which stands firm and unmoved by the lashings of storm after storm, you have stood, serene and unmoved, unaffected by them all."

Lakshmana is reminding Rama of his ability to face adverse situations with serenity, equanimity, adaptability and a sense of duty or regularity. He advises Rama to recognise his inner resources and use his inner strength.

"Remember who you are, my dear brother. Even you are becoming blinded by this ignorance of your Atman, and you are allowing yourself to be deluded by it."

Lakshmana's advice is clear: Remember the path of the 18 ITIES, which has shown you the interplay between your actions and a force higher than you to which you have to bow in acceptance and humility. Remember the 18 ITIES and the message of non-identification that lies therein. Remember to be the empty flute.

The charioteer

"Even as a charioteer knows how to pull the reins skilfully so that the horses go in the right direction, the path which he has chosen, you should control happiness and sorrow with the help of your intellect. You should not succumb to sorrow like this. Your courage is as great as that of a turbulent ocean."

The charioteer is a master of adaptability. He is able to control each horse that is causing the turbulence of the mind. The path one follows by following the ITIES is the right direction, and through this process, the intellect becomes sharp and is able to sail the waves of happiness and sorrow smoothly. Having chosen the path of 18 ITIES is a sign of courage equal to that of the ocean of the mind. With absence of vanity, with non-identification, Rama will become a good charioteer.

"You will fulfil the promise you made to your father and go back to Ayodhya. You will rule the kingdom and you will earn the praise of the gods and the world of men. You will find peace and happiness. You are certain to be happy soon."

It is simplicity, sincerity and veracity that will help Rama. Lakshmana encourages his brother with very matter of fact arguments: Why complicate things, you know what you promised to do, so do it. Align head, heart and hands and live integrity. Don't lose yourself in prevarication, in useless speculations, don't indulge in this negativity. Do your duty, live regularity, and you will be happy.

"Let us not sit helplessly like weaklings. We must try and find the miscreant who stole Sita. He has not realised that he has chosen death when he chose to steal Sita. You will kill him and be with Sita very soon. I am sure of it."

This is a call for integrity and nobility - a call for action. It is acting on behalf of what is good and against evil, using fixity on the goal, adaptability of intellect, tenacity of devotion toward Sita and righteousness. Rama must shed doubt and insecurity and act the way he used to act.

"Please resume your old self. Be firm and strong. Let there not be any more sorrow in your mind. The pain and separation from it has been renewed by your dwelling on it again and again. Abandon this grief. The wick of a lamp, even if it is wet, will burn when soaked in oil."

Rama is told to look at veracity, to know who he is and to accept the responsibility of it. He is told to use fixity and tenacity to attain his goal. Serenity will show him the positive side, namely his own strength, his determination, the help of friends and the search which is already underway. There are many factors present, which if properly utilised, exist to help him. Rama must not limit himself to moaning, to self-pity, but expand and grow into the potential of magnanimity. The oil of the 18 ITIES will burn the tears of grief.

From grief to action

"Let us set about the search for Sita."

That is the task at hand, the duty, and the field for action.

"Ravana may have imprisoned her in the nether world, or in the next world, it is no matter. We will not let him escape alive. He will have to encounter us. He will either release Sita and run away or meet his death at your hands. He must return Sita and fall at your feet and ask you to pardon him or else, even if he hides in the womb of Aditi, I will kill him."

Here Lakshmana uses simplicity to decide upon the best course of action. Sita is either here or there, Ravana will either give her up or be killed. So why worry, the issue is clear. There is need for charity and generosity. Rama will create more goodness through his actions. He will no longer identify with the mental state of a loser, a victim. He will act as an instrument for the cause of righteousness.

"Do not let me see you grieving. It is unbecoming. You look like a man who does not know what his duty is. Come, shed this pain and be your real self. Undaunted, firm and serene under any circumstances."

Rama must choose serenity, regularity and be again a man on the path of righteousness, a man of courage on the path of the 18 ITIES. He must choose fixity and equanimity to overcome his present sadness and lack of motivation.

"Without effort, no man can achieve what he desires. Enthusiasm, repeated efforts, will grant you anything you ask for. There is nothing as great as constant striving."

Enough words, it is time to act. Theorising about the 18 ITIES will not achieve anything. They must be practised and the effort has to be made continuously. The practice will encourage further striving; the effort is its own reward.

"We will certainly find Sita because of our efforts and we will not let anything deter us and make us hesitant. Realise that you are a great personage and, forgetting this meaningless sorrow, make up your mind to fight the enemy whom we must hunt out as soon as we can."

Lakshmana entreats his brother: Let not the beauty of Lake Pampa make you forget non-irritability. Remember your duty. Apply serenity, sincerity and integrity. Remember the simplicity of the goal at hand. Take up the 18 ITIES and fight the enemy.

"Rama found great comfort in the words of his brother and with an effort he shed his despondency."

Putting the ITIES into practice

Rama has his brother, and Arjuna has Sri Krishna and the message of the Bhagavad Gita to help "shed despondency". But even if there is no friend, no brother, to help, the 18 ITIES are available to all at all times, providing a most efficient tool to dispel despondency and to live life in harmony with oneself and with others. Lakshmana's is a simple speech of encouragement and compassion, but it is guided by firmness and a clear direction. How often do we need to push a friend or ourselves? How often do we forget our goal, do we lack vision? With the 18 ITIES we are able to find what we seem to have lost. They put us back on track; they encourage and motivate us to act in the best possible way. The discipline and effort necessary to practise are the responsibilities of each and everyone.

Practice will make the ITIES part of our life. By trial and error we will learn to choose the ITY best suited to improve a given situation. Like Lakshmana did in his speech: "You feel down, look at the bright side (serenity), you feel weak and useless, remember the good things you've done, remember your strength (veracity), you feel at the mercy of your emotions, imitate the rock in the ocean (equanimity)." With practice the ITIES become an integral part of our being and our everyday life. Having vanquished the non-ITIES, they might become the means to help us transcend even the last trace of opposites.

How different if Lakshmana had joined his brother in grief and despondency, if he too had abandoned the task of fighting for righteousness. Sometimes the non-ITIES win, sometimes lust, anger and fear determine one's choice and the course of action. The outcome of such a choice is never happiness or peace of mind, only more desires, more anger tad fear. When the ITIES win, there is peace and wisdom. When the ITIES win, there is harmony in the ocean of life's experience and in the vast ocean of the mind.

Each ITY is an invitation to strive for understanding, for perfection. Each ITY is an invitation to root out its opposite. The 18 ITIES are an open invitation for all to be good in this lifetime.