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Maxwell School
Maxwell / Moynihan / South Asia Center

Moral Dilemmas

hanumanbringsDASARTHA'S CHOICE

"'You have promised me the granting of two boons, and you have sworn to it in the name of Rama -- your darling son Rama. And now I'll speak out my mind. If you reject my demand, you will be the first of the Ikshvahu race, proud descendents of the sun god himself, to go back on a promise for the sake of convenience.' She took breath and demanded..." (from Valmiki, trans. R.K. Narayan)

Moral Dilemmas

The Role of Dharma

Definition
Dharma is defined as:

  • good and righteous conduct in performing your life's roles
  • performing your role correctly given a certain situation and time

Dharma is a major concept in Hindu culture. It is a complex idea of cosmic moral order underlying all existence. Correct actions reinforce this moral order, are acceptable to the gods and bring auspicious consequences. Actions that are not right violate dharma and bring personal, and sometimes cosmic, suffering. Therefore, the moral choice for a Hindu is doubly important. Bad actions (incorrect choices) can not only harm those who make these decisions, but they can actually trigger cosmic tragedies like floods and droughts. Good actions bring cosmic harmony; bad actions bring cosmic suffering.

Introduction
The following five lessons will give substance to the discussion of moral dilemmas in the Ramayana. Each character faces a distinct dilemma in which he must make choices most in line with righteous behavior. The correct choice depends on principles, circumstances, and individual personality. It is not easy to act according to dharma; thus the dilemmas the characters face present thought-provoking problems.

Dasaratha's Choice

Dasaratha, king of Ayodha and Rama's father, has to choose between a promise he has made to his son or a promise made to his wife.
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Lakshmana's Loyalty

Lakshmana, brother of Rama, must decide to stay and protect his sister-in-law or to save his brother's life.
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Rama Chooses Sides

Rama has to decide whether to follow through on a hasty promise to support the younger brother, Sugreeva, against his older brother, Vali, in a battle to the death.
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Hanuman Burns Lanka

Hanuman, monkey general and devotee to Rama, is faced with the decision to punish the city of Lanka, both the innocent and the guilty, or to flee without harming anyone.
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Sita's Ordeal by Fire

After Sita returns from being held captive in the home of the evil Ravana, Rama must decide whether to accept her back or to put her through a trial by fire to prove her chastity.
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Full lesson Plan
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REFERENCE AND CLASSROOM MATERIALS