Dino Spouse and I celebrated Valentine’s Day last week by going to a couple of second-hand shops and having an early dinner at a Korean restaurant. We have watched so many Korean movies thanks to Netflix that my husband was eager to try Korean cuisine, my own knowledge of which is limited to the bibimbap at the salad bar place near my office and kimchi. Given the wide availability of Korean salads in Almaty, I was surprised that he’d never tried kimchi before. But I digress.
During the shopping portion of our Valentine’s Day celebration, we visited a downright Gucci Goodwill in Annandale. I cleaned up on clothing there and found two things I really wanted to read: a 2007 novel about office life called Then We Came To The End (read it six years ago, wanted to read it again) and the Ramayana. Actually, it was an abridged prose “translation” of the great Hindu epic by an obscure American dude in the 1950’s with illustrations that would have been better suited to student copies of 1970’s album cover art. It is not the kind of literary translation I favor, but I am ignorant of Hindu epics and I have abandoned many august scholarly translations of ancient epics in my reading life. For 99 cents, I figured I could do worse.
I could definitely have done worse. Now I want to find his version of the Mahabharata. (Maybe it’s on Amazon’s loser imitation of Oyster – something’s got to be there besides vampire romantic fanfic, for the love of God. I need to remember to cancel my membership.) It was readable and it has a summary of the hero’s virtues which I love so much I am going to post the whole damned thing here.
Rama’s nature was quiet and free. He didn’t give good advice and tell others what he thought best and show them their mistakes. He knew when to save and when to spend. He could judge men finely and keep his own counsel. He could read hearts. He knew his own faults better than the failings of others. He could speak well and reason in a chain of eloquent words. Half a benefit to him was more to him than a hundred injuries. Bad accidents never happened near him. He could speak every language and was an expert archer who shot golden arrows; and he didn’t believe that what he preferred from himself was always best for everyone else.
Rama was kind and courteous and never ill. To harsh words he returned no blame. He was warmhearted and generous and a real friend to all. He tried living right and found it easier than he’d thought. He collected the King’s taxes so that over half the people didn’t really mind paying him. He was a remarkable prince and every Kosala loved him except for five or six fools. He was hospitable and spoke first to every guest in welcome words. He was a quiet strong man; he could bend iron in his hands or fix a bird’s broken wing. He would not scold the whole world not take to task the universe, and so his pleasure and his anger never went for nothing.
Rama would not work very long without a holiday; he wouldn’t walk far without stopping to greet a friend, nor speak long without smiling. His entertainments and dances were the best in the world. He loved Sita well; he lived his life for the sake of her being a part of it. He would often find a new gift for his friends. He did not fear to pass a whole day without work. Whatever he did, he ennobled it by how he did it. Rama’s way was noble.
This all sounds like a life well spent to me. At least some of these sound like virtues to which I might aspire. I even read this aloud to my children Friday morning. And then I step back and wonder whether this will have the same aftertaste as when I thought James Altucher was, like, deep. Virtues which serve a supernatural king who bests demons in combat and hangs around with talking bears and monkeys may not be of much practical use to me as a parent or a public servant. It’s probably a lot more effective to speak softly when you’re actually carrying a big stick than when you just wish you were.