Ramayan & Leadership through Service

When I launched my crowdfunding campaign to record a kirtan album I received two auspicious messages about leadership.

The first was a tarot reading given by my friend/ coworker Claude who has been reading tarot cards for 10 years. The reading revealed that the campaign would be a success if I led by serving and served by leading.

The other message came through my friend Julie who contacted me out of the blue from Korea to tell me she had a dream about me that she felt was important for me to hear.

In the dream we were walking across a floor full of crickets, and while she was tiptoeing carefully as to not step on any of them I was carelessly crunching right over them. She said it meant I needed to focus on the people around me instead of the goal. Crickets are a symbol of fortune/ success.

On this very human path, it’s often tricky to know the difference between service-oriented leadership and ego-oriented leadership.

India’s oldest epic, The Ramayana, contains wisdom about how to navigate this territory.

In the myth, prince Rama’s stepmom cruelly asks for him to be sent away because of a boon his father promised her years ago in return for her saving his life (and the boon is she wants Rama gone and her son to be king).

Rama sets an example by peacefully letting himself be exiled into the forest for 14 years. It’s his duty as son/ disciple/ descendant of the Raghu clan to honor his father’s tradition of keeping promises. When he does this his wife Sita and brother Lakshman follow him. In this sense Rama is leading by serving.

Later in the story Sita is kidnapped by the evil demon Ravana. Rama quickly recruits an army of monkeys, retaliates and starts a war to rescue his wife- now his duty as husband/ protector/ devotee/ friend. Here Rama is serving by leading.

Imagine if Rama led with ego- if he had chosen to defy the queen and disregard his family’s truth in keeping promises. Or if he had just been passive when Sita was kidnapped.

He would have never slain the world’s biggest demon Ravana. Him and Sita wouldn’t have reached the level of love and friendship & devotion that they did. We wouldn’t be chanting these names and telling this story! Hanuman wouldn’t have been known and we wouldn’t know that example of great devotion.

There was a bigger fate that needed to be played out.

When we are clear about the roles we play then we can examine more deeply the parameters/ limits they hold and what’s possible in them. We learn to make choices and take actions in those roles that are the most aligned with our heart while staying true to dharma.

Hanuman, monkey deity/ most devoted warrior in the Ramayana, is another character who shows us how to lead from a place of service vs a place of ego.

My favorite story is the one in which Hanuman, in his youth, jumps up and flies toward the sun and tries to take a bite out of it thinking it’s a mango. He gets the smack down from the sun god, leaving him with a broken jaw (‘hanuman’ in Sanskrit means broken jaw).

Later he flies again, except this time with the mission of rescuing Sita for Rama, in total devotion to Rama. In this state he is able to leap across the entire ocean effortlessly.

This story shows the difference between grasping for something because it ‘looks good’ or seems appealing and leaping from the depths of our heart’s intelligence/ grace.

I feel it was by grace that my friends shared the dream and tarot card reading, and the message ‘lead by serving and serve by leading.’

I listened and obeyed, and the making of Nourishment turned out to be one of the most aligned, gratitude-filled experiences I’ve had in my life.

This is post #2 in a 6-part blog series to recap insights discussed during dharma talks at Inner Warrior yoga studio in Louisville, KY.