“Smelling the fragrance of Rama and Lakshmana, like a dog smelling a tiger, certainly you will not be able to stand.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.31-32)
na hi gandhamupāghrāya rāmalakṣmaṇayostvayā ||
śakyaṃ saṃdarśane sthātuṃ śunā śārdūlayoriva |
“Oh, it’s great, I use it as my litmus test. If someone appears to be interested in me, then I have a great way of telling if we’re compatible or not. I could try explaining to them my philosophy and my foremost desires, but with a long-winded discussion people eventually tune you out. They’ll just say ‘Yeah, yeah, cool’ to everything without paying attention. If I really want to test their character, I will drop some names of significance. I will mention Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman. I will mention Krishna and bhakti-yoga. I will talk about devotional service, and how it is the highest form of yoga. Usually, I don’t have to go past Sita and Rama. If they are very materially inclined, they will run the other way. If they have demoniac tendencies, they will not be able to stand before these names. They will want to hear anything else first. If I talked about making money, driving a fancy car, owning a large property, or any other such material thing they would remain interested. But the name is so powerful that it drives away those who have no interest in transcending the vicious cycle of birth and death.”
From the Vedas we learn of the dichotomy between sura and asura, or the devoted and the non-devoted. In one sense this is similar to good and evil, except the nature of both is more clearly presented. Good and bad can change depending on interest and the situation at hand. If I am trying to lose weight, food is bad and starving is good. If I am really hungry, food is good and starving is bad. If I want to land this particular job, the hiring manager is good and the other candidates are bad. If I’m at the job, then maybe the same hiring manager is bad and the rest of the employees are good.
Sura and asura relate to the most important good and bad. Really, the only “good” is that which brings one closer to God. Everything else is automatically bad. Sometimes what appears to be bad in this context can eventually lead to the greatest good. If I learn how to read and write in a certain language during my youth, it may seem like this has no relation to God or godly principles. However, if in adulthood I have a strong desire to explain God to others, that previous education suddenly turns out to be unbelievably good. Thus some things which are “bad” actually act as seeds to provide “good” fruits at a later time.
The asura is bad based on the structure of the word alone. Asura is a negation of sura. It is not a word based on its own definition. You have the first definition of sura, and then asura is the complete opposite. What holds the sura together is their firm belief in God. This belief manifests in different ways. In some the belief is for a better afterlife, with more material enjoyments. In the most mature stage, the belief is what drives every aspect of the person. From that belief one always remains in the company of God, even if sometimes physically separated. Whether in heaven or in hell, whether relaxing at home or working hard at the office, there is a connection to God. Connecting with Him is more worthwhile than connecting with anyone else.
The foundational quality of the asura is their disbelief in God. No matter how much you persuade them or try to provide good counsel, the asura will still think that there is no God. They will thus naturally believe that in this one present body, in this current manifestation, they must enjoy as much as possible. Even when there is supposed God consciousness, sometimes this same belief is present. “God only gave me this one life, so let me live it to my heart’s content. Let me enjoy as much as possible, because who knows where I will be next?”
In adopting this mentality, how is the asura expected to hold true to any principles of virtue? What is it to them if they lie or cheat? Who is going to notice? As long as the governing authorities don’t find out, nothing bad will happen. The pious person will die eventually in the same way as the impious person. Since this body is the one life, why waste time being restricted by law codes given by a God that we cannot even see?
Ah, but there are plenty of ways to see Him. The suras know this for sure. The complex material nature did not suddenly appear through a random collision of chemicals. If it did, then the same reaction could be reproduced. Surely the human species is more intelligent than a bunch of chemicals. If chemicals could figure out how to create life, then surely the advanced human being could do the same. Moreover, it wouldn’t have to take him billions of years of failures. He would have figured it out right away. But alas, the human must rely on life to create life. There is no other way.
The original life is God. Thus His influence is seen everywhere. One way to see Him is to notice the reaction of the asuras to His presence. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita accurately compares the demon king of Lanka to a dog. She compares her husband and His younger brother to tigers. The dog runs away at the mere whiff of a tiger. It knows that it cannot stand against the more ferocious animal. Ravana, of the asura nature, would not be able to stay in the vicinity of Rama and Lakshmana, who are the Supreme Lord in two different incarnations.
Sita was able to stand in their presence just fine. What was the difference? She was not of the asura mindset. She basked in Rama’s glory. She saw Lakshmana as Rama’s devoted servant. She saw God directly through serving as His wife and also saw His influence indirectly in so many ways. One way was through the behavior of Ravana, who confirms the truth that the asura is the opposite in behavior of the sura. While the devotee has all good qualities, the demon lacks them completely. Their strong distaste for the mere presence of God actually glorifies the Supreme Lord, assigning His association a special status.
Ravana was known to be like the dog because he had previously failed to challenge Rama face to face. He took Sita away from the couple’s hermitage in secret. Taking her back to Lanka, he tried every which way to persuade her to join his side. She would not budge. Sita protected herself by always thinking of Rama, and to give further pain and discomfort to Ravana she kept mentioning her husband and His various qualities. Like showing Dracula the cross, Ravana was very unhappy hearing about Rama. The name of Rama perturbed Him, and soon the arrows of Rama would kill him.
With righteousness or sin to align,
Reaction to God’s presence a sign.
If immediately the other way to run,
Shows that good qualities in them none.
Ravana like dog scent of tiger coming across,
Or famed Dracula being shown the cross.
As asura, unhappy just to hear God’s name,
Rama’s arrows soon to bring end of life’s pain.
Categories: ravana threatening sita