Selling Your Soul

sun and radiance“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 |

When someone says that they sold their soul to get what they want, it is understood that they traded long-term benefit for short-term benefit. This is usually not what you want; hence the negative connotation to the expression. The full expression is “selling your soul to the devil,” with the devil being someone who behaves opposite of how one should. The devil is bad, and by giving in to him, you’re essentially tricked into getting that something that you want, when what you’ll end up with later on won’t be good for you at all. In this verse from the Ramayana, the devil is the King of Lanka, Ravana. There was no selling of souls, but the request was made. The recipient of the offer would never think of such a thing, for ignorance cannot touch her.

“The sage Agastya is of such a purified nature that in his hermitage a liar cannot live, nor a deceitful person, nor a wicked person, nor one that is committed to sinful activity.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.90)

In an earlier section of the Ramayana, Shri Rama explains to His younger brother Lakshmana some of the glories of Agastya Rishi. In the Vedas, this rishi, or sage, is very famous. His name means one born of a jar, and it is a literal meaning. The rishi’s father one time was accidentally too aroused by the sight of another woman. The bodily fluids he released divided, with one part going in a jar. Agastya was thus born, and keeping in line with his family lineage, he was of a very high character.

High birth alone doesn’t make a person respectable. You have to have the good qualities in order to be considered good. I may be the son of a doctor, but that doesn’t automatically make me a doctor. I need training in order to treat patients. I need to prove my ability through work in order to earn the right reputation.

Similarly, someone in the priestly order should exhibit the qualities of compassion, honesty, cleanliness and austerity in order to make their title mean something. A governing board can elect them to a high post, but at any time someone can fall down. We elect a person to run the country, but the election doesn’t automatically immunize them from sinful reactions. If they do something bad, they suffer the consequences. Their high post enables them to act properly for the betterment of everyone, and the ability exercised is what is used to judge their character.

Agastya RishiAgastya lived up to his status from birth and then some. He was so powerful through his austerities that the sinful were afraid to come near where he lived. This is possible if you are really strong in your spiritual life. Upon the mere sight of you, the most sinful will be terribly afraid. The strong prey on the weak; this is nature’s law. If the spiritually inclined are weak, they will be susceptible to the attacks of the non-spiritually inclined. They will be defeated if the non-spiritually inclined are set on changing their ways. Agastya was so strong that no one even thought of trying to mess with him.

The same strength was there in Sita. From serving the Supreme Lord one’s resolve becomes very strong. Though it may not be visible to all, there is a reciprocal benefit to such service. The service cannot continue if there is no benefit; that only makes sense. The object of service in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is full of the best qualities. He is kinder than the kindest. He is gentler than the gentlest. He is smarter than the smartest. He is more beautiful than the most beautiful. He is also stronger than the strongest. That strength appeals to those who need protection.

The wife is protected by the husband. This is also nature’s arrangement. In serving her husband, Sita derived great pleasure in being protected by Him. His strength in battle nicely complemented His other features. He was also very beautiful and very kind. He was the most renounced, though He never gave up His concern for those devoted to Him. Since He is eternal, those attributes exist in Him to this day. Never was there a time when He was divested of any of these attributes. Nor was there a time when they came into being. Because of this, He is God.

You can only sell your soul to the devil if you don’t know any better. If you are in knowledge, then nothing can entice you to go down the wrong road. This applied to Sita, and she more or less said the same to Ravana. This was in response to his repeated advances. Sita was already married to Rama. Ravana wanted her to be his chief queen. He used the most force that he was allowed to. He tried force through words and conditions as well. None of it worked.

Sita and RamaHe tried to entice her with wealth and opulence. It would be like if the devil came up to us today and asked us to abandon our friends and family in order to enjoy a palatial building and fancy cars. What would we do with such things if our family wasn’t around? If we were ignorant, we would sign up for the deal, not foreseeing the pain and misery of loneliness that awaited us. If we were wise, however, we could not be enticed.

No one is wiser than the devotee of the Supreme Lord. This is because they engage in the best activity, that which is most worthwhile. All living entities are looking for something to do. This is a byproduct of being alive. To be means to have the potential to act. The point of contention is on exactly how to act. Should we try to eat as much as possible? Should we drink until we are “bombed” or “hammered”? Should we chase after members of the opposite sex? Should we look for thrills in gambling?

Shastra, or scripture, says to make your life dedicated to God. This is easy in theory, but difficult in practice. Therefore a wise five-year old son of a king one time gave nine different ways to live out that dedication. Only one is necessary to constitute a life of service, but an additional eight processes are there to account for variety in desire. Hearing and chanting are the foremost of the processes. We already hear and we already repeat things, so why not shift them towards the divine realm? With that transition, ignorance slowly dissipates and knowledge prevails.

Sita here compares herself to the sunlight. She is always with the sun, who is Rama. It is like having a magnet that cannot be removed from the object it is attracted to. The Supreme Lord is all-attractive, so He is known as Krishna as well. There is only one God; the different faiths of the world speak of the same person, though the respective followers may be unaware. Ravana saw God’s eternal consort right in front of him and couldn’t recognize her. He thought she was as dumb as he was, that cheap fame and meaningless wealth would be the only things she cared about. Just like Agastya Rishi, nothing could touch her; not even the vile Ravana.

In Closing:

Fiends from his ashrama stay away far,

Powerful is sage who was born in a jar.

 

Because of her dedication so much,

Ignorance in Rama’s wife not a touch.

 

Same power as Agastya sage,

Not afraid of terrible Ravana’s rage.

 

Like devil soul attempting to buy,

To lure Sita Ravana tried.

 

Failure for him only to be found,

Victory of Sita’s husband soon to abound.

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