“You will get all blessings if you act thusly towards Rama, the best of the Raghus. Doing otherwise you will certainly obtain death, O Ravana.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.22-23)
evam hi te bhavetsvasti sampradāya raghūttame ||
anyathā tvam hi kurvaṇo vadham prāpsyasi rāvaṇa |
The King of Lanka a long time ago went on a worldwide fighting tour to cement his position as the best warrior. He challenged the rival kings from the different lands, including in other planets, and came out victorious due to the boons he received prior from offering sacrifice. One of the kings he defeated belonged to the Raghu dynasty. As he was leaving his body, the slain king vowed to avenge his death through someone in his own family. Here Sita Devi hints at that prediction by mentioning that her husband, Shri Rama, is the best of the Raghus.
For Ravana, this means that though he previously defeated a king in the dynasty of the Raghus, he had not yet faced the best one. Indeed, no one is a better fighter than Rama. You may use a machine gun to defeat many opponents singlehandedly. With a naval ship you can attack from the water. With a tank you could defeat so many others while fighting on land. With a fighter jet you can attack from the sky and remain more or less safe. And yet Rama, a single man, could do all of these things by shooting a single arrow from His bow.
His arrows were empowered by mantras, or sacred chants. This was the external cause for their potency, but in reality they were powerful due to their source. They originated from the wonderful bow carried by Rama, who is an incarnation of God. We know that the Supreme Controller can create a giant banyan tree from a tiny seed. With a little earth, water and sunlight He makes a giant field capable of producing so much food for consumption. With His superior brain He creates the beautiful lotus flower. Paint, a brush, a canvas, perfect vision and dexterity in artistic talent are required to merely recreate that same flower. If the person who simply copies the flower needs talent, why would it be absent in the person who first created it?
Though His arrows were so potent, Rama hardly used them. He would not fire unless circumstances called for it. At this point Ravana deserved to be slain by those arrows. He deserved to have one shot at his chest, and he deserved to have it rip through his heart. This is because he stole Sita away from Rama in secret, against her will. He then tried to win her over instead of returning her.
Despite his offenses, Ravana had a chance to get Rama’s mercy. All he had to do was treat Sita well and bring her back to Rama. Nothing else was needed. Rama wouldn’t even punish him. Rama is very forgiving, for that is the Supreme Lord’s nature. Who among us hasn’t sinned? Who among us has not told a lie, stolen from someone else, or spoken ill of someone who was undeserving of it? All such actions violate the righteous principles. The original sin is the forgetfulness of God, which first happened so long ago that we can’t even remember.
“The child cries to have the moon from the mother, and the mother gives the child a mirror to satisfy the crying and disturbing child with the reflection of the moon. Similarly, the crying child of the Lord is given over to the reflection, the material world, to lord it over as karmi and to give this up in frustration to become one with the Lord. Both these stages are dreaming illusions only. There is no necessity of tracing out the history of when the living entity desired this. But the fact is that as soon as he desired it, he was put under the control of atma-maya by the direction of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.1 Purport)
Through all our offenses, with a single kind gesture that is genuine the slate can get wiped clean. It’s difficult to believe, but it is true. Otherwise Sita would not have made the offer to Ravana. She would have told him, “There’s no hope for you. You are a horrible person. Rama will never forgive you for what you did. He will destroy you and your entire city. You might as well end your life now, because the clock is ticking.”
Instead, she gave him sound words of advice on how to reform. If he chose to ignore that advice, if he did anything else, he would obtain a slaying at the hands of Rama. In this way the eventual calamity would be Ravana’s fault; not Rama’s or Sita’s. This is instructive for our own lives as well. The calamities we see befall us or others on a daily basis are due to personal actions, not the Supreme Lord’s vengeance. If He is all-powerful, why would He require worship from anyone? What would be in it for Him to look to punish others? Rather, the punishment is automatic from ignoring the righteous principles.
The core righteous principle is love for God. Violation of this then leads to all the negative conditions we see in life. For Ravana, the reformation process involved surrender to Rama through returning Sita to Him. For everyone else the same surrender is available, and it best occurs through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This chanting brings about a change in consciousness, which is the goal. Surrender cannot be real unless it exists within the consciousness. A mere physical gesture is meaningless if the attitude of the person is still inimical. Through chanting, hearing, remembering, offering prayers and other processes of bhakti-yoga, the consciousness changes for the better, attracting the divine mercy of the best of the Raghus.
At dying breath’s time,
Vowed revenge through line.
Along would come another king,
Of whose glories world would sing.
With arrows from bow released,
King of Lanka soon to be deceased.
Easy to prevent imminent attack,
If Sita to Rama returned back.
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