“It is not possible for me to be tempted by opulence or wealth. I am undeviatingly with Rama, like the radiance with the sun.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.15-16)
śakyā lobhayituṃ nāhamaiśvaryeṇa dhanena vā ||
ananyā rāghaveṇāhaṃ bhāskareṇa prabhā yathā |
“I don’t really desire anything. That’s probably why it’s so easy to persuade me in so many directions. I don’t need to be encouraged. A simple invitation will do, as I enjoy pretty much everyone’s association. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t have many needs. I get to worship the Supreme Lord every day. I do so with my primary work, and then I continue on with my thoughts. No one sees those thoughts and no one can stop them from coming. They are completely mine. Since they are of the best person in the world, I am satisfied in my existence. Nothing can tempt me.
“What will I do with tremendous wealth? I’m at the point where I actually prefer eating less. I remember the previous times when I was excited to eat something. I remember when I travelled far to have a specific dish at a specific restaurant. I also remember the discomfort I felt afterwards. I didn’t like that feeling of having eaten too much. From memory of past experiences, from the observations that constitute informal scientific experiments, I know that I don’t care so much about food. I know that I can go a long time without needing to stuff myself.
“If I had wealth would I buy a large house? What need do I have for that? Whether I’m sitting in a tiny room or on a large patio, what difference does it really make? I need something to do. I need something to think about. I already have those two things. Therefore where I live doesn’t really matter. Sure, I need a place to live, as does everyone, but as long as there is a roof I’m okay.
“What will opulence gain me? Do I want attention? In the past I thought I did, but the attention only made me feel worse. I felt so guilty that others would think I am superior or something. I hated being praised for things I am not really good at. I still hate it. I would rather praise others. I would rather others take the spotlight when they deserve it. In opulence, others will adore me, and I wouldn’t like that. It is not in my nature to be worshiped.”
Such a mindset is possible to reach for an ordinary human being. There are people in the world right now who have such sentiments. In the ancient time period of the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, there were many such people around. The fiendish king of Lanka, Ravana, encountered many of them. As he was consumed by lust, which was a fire fueled by his ignorance strengthened by his regular intoxication, he was not able to understand the nature of such people. He also wasn’t able to properly identify it in the woman he tried to seduce with opulence and wealth.
Ravana was a Rakshasa, which can translate to mean a man-eater. We don’t think such people roam the earth in abundance today, but in the age referenced here there were many such people. They exist today, but their habits are a little more refined. They don’t have to necessarily eat humans. Eating any kind of animal flesh in large quantities, where the animals are not killed in a religious way, makes one Rakshasa-like. The behavior is symptomatic of the mode of ignorance, which is the lowest mode of material nature. Activities can be in goodness, passion or ignorance. Passion is most commonplace, while goodness is rare. Ignorance is the most dangerous, as it leads to destruction.
Ravana and his Rakshasa friends would regularly attack peaceful sages living in the forests. These sages had sentiments similar to those mentioned above. They didn’t desire anything materially. To make sure they couldn’t act on those desires if they should happen to arise, they would live in remote areas. They were forced to worship God. Sort of like having an alarm clock just in case you sleep too late, the wilderness was conducive to an austere lifestyle. These sages were quite happy. They would perform sacrifices regularly without any distraction. That is until the Rakshasas came.
The sacrifices had rules to them. They needed to be completed in order to bear fruit. The Rakshasas would attack in secret, at the last minute, to foil everything. Think of working hard to build a house and then having it knocked down just before the final pieces are put in. This is what happened to the sages. The saboteur Rakshasas didn’t leave right away. They would kill the sages and then eat them. Seems unspeakable, but this was becoming more and more common.
Ravana and his attendants didn’t notice that these sages didn’t require material opulence. The sages voluntarily gave all that up. They weren’t weak either. Austerity brings strength. One needs an extended vision, that sees beyond the immediate term, to understand. I see that eating that pizza pie will satisfy my hunger right now, but I don’t foresee the pain of a stuffed stomach later on. Austerity requires one to foresee; otherwise faith in vows will be lacking.
Because of their strength acquired in austerity, the sages could curse the Rakshasas. The problem with this route is that their accumulated spiritual merits would diminish. So instead they asked the protector of the citizens of Ayodhya to come and protect them. At the time He happened to be in the forest with His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. He was actually their worshipable object. He came to earth to delight the pious and protect them. Part of that protection involved annihilating the miscreants.
“By the powers gained through our performance of religious austerities, we are certainly capable of killing these Rakshasa demons. But at the same time we don’t want to waste our ascetic merits, which took such a long time to achieve, on these demons. Oh Raghava [Rama], these demons are always putting obstacles in the way, making it impossible for us to concentrate on our performance of austerity and penance. Therefore, even though we are being eaten away by the Rakshasas, we do not curse them.” (Sages speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.13-14)
The mindset of the sages could be discovered quite easily; it was not a secret. Sita’s mindset was pretty easy to read as well. If she voluntarily went to the forest for fourteen years with her husband Rama, she obviously didn’t place too high an importance on money and fame. In fact, one of her favorite activities was going to the forest with her husband and distributing charity to the brahmanas, the sages of the priestly order. She loved to give. She had no desire to take fame or credit. She didn’t care where she lived, as long as she was able to worship her husband, who is the Supreme Lord Himself.
Therefore in the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita’s words don’t mark the first time anyone discovered her characteristics. Anyone who cared to understand her quickly realized that she was like Rama’s shadow. She could never be separated from Him. Why would she be tempted by wealth and opulence, if it came with the price of having Ravana’s association? The fiend had taken her away from Rama in secret while she was in the forest. After committing such an unspeakable act, he was under the illusion that she would become his chief queen. That illusion was first symbolically knocked down by Sita’s words and then physically removed by Rama’s arrows.
That from material desires she was free,
Any person with interest could see.
To the forest with husband she went,
After full charity to brahmanas spent.
What would opulence and wealth to her mean,
When lotus feet of Supreme Lord previously seen?
From offer to Rama’s wife one could tell,
Ravana completely under illusion’s spell.
Categories: ravana threatening sita