Like its original source, the Adhyatma Ramayana also has seven kandas or or books, named in the same manner, except for the sixth, the Yuddhakanda, which is sometimes designated Lankakanda. The total number of verses is 4200 spread over 65 sargas or chapters. Written in mellifluous Sanskrit, the work admirably sums up the main events of the Ramayana of Valmiki omitting only the minor details, or descriptions of war and nature. On the other hand new material pertaining to Vedanta philosophy, the cult of Bhakti in general and Rama-bhakti in particular and several hymns in praise of Rama have been literally added.
A few the changes and innovations made, departing from the original may be noted here: The major alteration in the facts of the story is the introduction of a shadow Sita throughout the period of her abduction, the real Sita having disappeared into the fire just before the golden deer episode. She re-emerges from the fire at the end of the war when the shadow Sita enters into it. The whole drama is pre-planned and enacted at the bidding of Rama himself (vide 3.7). Other alterations though minor in nature, are: the earth accompanies the gods in the form of a cow (1.2); Sumitra gets more of the sacred pudding than Kausalya and Kaikeyi (1.3); Ahalya after being cursed by her husband, the sage Gautama, becomes a stone (1.5); Ravana treats Sita with the respect due to a mother (3.7.65); Rama establishes a Shiva Linga at the site of the bridge to Lanka (6.4.1-2).
Coming to additions to Valmiki’s story, five pauranic episodes need be mentioned: the stories about Valmiki himself (2.6), Suka (6.5) and Kalanemi (6.6) who warn Ravan about Rama’s divinity and the need to propitiate him, Vali and Sugriva (7.3). The dialogue between Ravana and Sanatkumara is another addition (7.3).
But the major contribution of the Adhyatma Ramayana lies in its casting of Rama in the role of a spiritual teacher and in the role of a spiritual teacher and in the several exquisite hymns sung in praise of Rama. There are four occasions when Rama assumes the role of the teacher gives philosophical disquisitions. In response to Lakshmana’s questions on three different occasions he teaches knowledge, devotion, detachment (vide 3.4), methods of worship (4.4) and the way of emancipation (7.5). In reply to Kausalya’s query, he teaches the three yogas of karma, jnana and bhakti (7.7).
The well-known Rama Gita is part of the Adhyatma Ramayana and is the teaching given to Lakshmana on the last occasion already referred to (7.5). It contains a rather strong dose of Advaita Vedanta though couched in beautiful poetry.
As reagards the laudatory hymns, we find quite a good number of them: by Brahma (1.2;6.13). Kausalya (1.3), Narada (2.1), Valmiki (2.6), Jatayu (3.8), Vibhishana (6.6) and all the gods (6.15)
However the real contribution of this work is in its repeatedly propounding the doctrine that Rama is Brahman the Absolute and that Sita is his Mayashakti or Prakriti, thereby raising he personality of Rama to the highest level and providing a firm base to the cult of Rama. No occasion that gives a chance to do this is missed. Not only sages, gods and devotees, but even the enemies of Rama-not excepting Ravana himself! – recognise his divinity and divine mission. Their only duty is to cooperate in the cosmic play of the Divine and be blessed. This task has been admirably fulfilled by the book.