“O Ravana, all living entities take great pleasure when a short-sighted person of sinful work meets destruction on account of their own deeds.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.13-14)
svakṛtairhanyamānasya āvaṇādīrghadarśinaḥ ||
abhinandanti bhūtāni vināśe pāpakarmaṇaḥ |
“I can’t stand my boss. He is the worst person in the world. Seriously, I’m not just saying this because he orders us around. He has a terrible character. He’s always intoxicated. He promotes the wrong people and belittles the ones that are actually valuable. He has been this way ever since I’ve known him. Now that the company is doing poorly, he’s on the verge of collapse. He’s gotten rid of the most valuable people, and so now he’s left with hardly anyone who knows what they’re doing. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I’m pretty happy. He deserves everything he’s getting. He was the king of the castle before, and now he’s blaming everyone else for his demise. In the end, he’s left without his crown, forced to suffer the results of his own work.”
We know we shouldn’t feel pleasure over someone else’s misfortune, but if they have it coming to them, we can’t help but rejoice. Imagine if that someone took stock in what other people thought of them. If they came to know of the happiness their downfall caused, they surely wouldn’t like it. Here Sita informs Ravana that he will indeed fall down and meet destruction and that others will take delight in seeing this.
She’s not being mean. She’s not trying to hurt his feelings. She’s merely telling him the truth. She gives the prediction in the form of a general truth. She also explains the specific circumstances that lead to the result. The person must be shortsighted. We see the negative consequences to shortsightedness all the time. If we feel tired in the morning and decide to sleep some more, there is shortsightedness because we’re only thinking of the fatigue at the moment. We’re ignoring the work that has to be done the rest of the day. We’re ignoring the responsibilities we have.
The negative consequences will be due to our own deeds. No one else will be to blame. Sure, we can try to blame others. “Oh, they gave me too much food last night. I thought it would be rude saying ‘no’, so I just kept eating. When I eat too much, I have a difficult time sleeping. When I don’t sleep enough, I can’t wake up in the morning. Therefore someone else is to blame. Not me.”
Actually, in this situation no one forced us to eat. We made the decision. In fact, overeating the night before is another example of shortsightedness. With a vision that extends out longer, we could have predicted the future negative outcome. We could have thought, “Oh, I won’t be able to sleep well if I eat too much. I won’t be able to get up in time the next morning. Therefore let me control my eating tonight.”
Sita says that the enjoyment of the living entities here comes from the destruction of someone who is sinful. Papa-karma is the exact term used, and it translates to one who does sinful work. We tend to think of sin in terms of harsh restrictions like “no sex before marriage” and “no missing church.” At the rudimentary level, a sin is just something that leads to a negative consequence. In the previous example, the overeating was a kind of sin, propagated by a lack of foresight. It is surely difficult to do pious work, which is the opposite of sin. In pious work, others may not be so favorable. They will not like the restrictions you put on yourself. If you are not shortsighted, however, then the vision of the future will help to keep you on the straightened path.
From Ravana’s example, we see that the shortsightedness and sinful work went hand in hand. He stole Sita away from her husband Rama in secret. It was a sinful act because she was already married to another man. It was shortsighted because he didn’t think that Rama would ever find him. He also only looked at Rama’s present situation, where He was living in the forest as a recluse. Ravana thought that Rama was a poor man, someone who couldn’t maintain a wife, let alone defend her.
If his vision was a little extended, Ravana would have realized that Rama voluntarily left the kingdom of Ayodhya. He did so to maintain the promise of His father, King Dasharatha. Rama also had defeated the fiercest creatures in the world, which included 14,000 of Ravana’s own soldiers. Rama did all of this while in the forest. He did not have His chariot with Him, nor did He rely on an army.
Ravana’s destruction was going to arrive soon enough, and all the living entities would rejoice in that. If you’re a king who is puffed up by a false ego, if you hear that others will be happy over your demise, you will not take too kindly to those words. That was the purpose to Sita’s statement, after all. By being truthful, she hoped to make Ravana concerned over something that he took a great interest in, namely fame. Who wants to be famous for their downfall and the subsequent elation of the people of the world over it? Rather, you want others to be somewhat saddened by your death. This way it shows that they miss you. If they are happy, it means that they really didn’t like you.
The worst sin is to get in the way of someone’s devotional service, which is the highest occupation for man. This is symptomatic of the strongest shortsightedness, as it ignores the Supreme Lord’s interest. In karma, or ordinary work, God is more or less neutral. There is a system in place to hand out the rewards and punishments for such work. The system works smoothly, so there is no direct effort required on the part of the Supreme Controller. With the fate of His devotees, however, there is an interest. Sita is the Supreme Lord’s eternal consort, therefore Rama always takes in interest in her wellbeing. Ravana’s most grievous sin would indeed cost him everything, and in that demise the saintly people of the world would rejoice in Rama’s victory.
If you are a person of deeds bad,
At your death others not to be sad.
Instead with elation to rejoice,
To your bad qualities give voice.
This to Ravana Sita pointed out,
Fame his legacy would be without.
To shortsightedness and sin this due,
Of his eventual destruction Sita knew.
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