Snake Oil Salesman

Sita Devi“The more sweet a man is towards a woman, the more agreeable she becomes. Yet in this case the more dear words the speaker has used, the more disregarded he has been.” (Ravana speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.2)

yathā yathā sāntvayitā vaśyaḥ strīṇāṃ tathā tathā |
yathā yathā priyam vaktā paribhūtastathā tahā ||

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“Listen pal, I’m not buying what you’re selling. You can keep doing your pitch, but the more you talk the more convinced I am of my stance. If what you are selling is so great, it shouldn’t take so much convincing, should it? If a person is thirsty after walking through the desert, they don’t need to be convinced to purchase a drink of water. The initial glimpse alone is enough to make the sale. Since you’re talking so much, I’m only becoming more skeptical.”

Indeed, if a highly anticipated electronics gadget is released, customers flock to the store in droves to purchase them. Sometimes they will camp outside of the store for days just to be the first in line. The same goes for movie releases and concert tickets. The customers understand what they are getting. They don’t need to be convinced further to make the purchase.

Line outside apple storeIn the scene of the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, a person was selling something that didn’t appeal to the potential buyer. The more the seller made their pitch, the more the buyer was turned off. This makes sense to us in the exchange of goods and services, but here the offer was for material opulence at a very high level. Think of it like someone offering you millions of dollars. Here there was more than just money. The buyer would get comfort, protection, jewels, riches, housing, and above all else, control. She would be in control of the king of Lanka, who was feared throughout the world.

Yet to her this was the equivalent of snake oil. “Snake oil” is an expression used to describe something that lacks authenticity or that is not really needed. The seller knows that the product is bogus, but in their desire to earn a profit, they go ahead with their pitch. Here Ravana didn’t necessarily know that material opulence was unnecessary. Since he cherished it so much, he figured everyone else did as well.

The stereotype is that women can be persuaded with flattering words and expensive gifts. Actually, who isn’t softened by kind words offered their way? It is certainly preferable to hear someone say nice things about us than not. Here Ravana is perplexed that Sita has bucked the trend. The kinder he is to her, the harsher her rebuke of him becomes. She cannot be bought off with expensive jewels. Flattering words will not soften her stance.

Sita DeviThis is the behavior of the wise souls. They analyze what is being offered to them to see if it can be utilized for the highest purpose in life. That purpose is serving God. Real progressive values are those which help the consciousness stay fixed in thoughts of the all-attractive Personality of Godhead. Sita is the eternal consort of that personality, so she is incapable of straying from the devotional path. During her earthly pastimes, through her behavior in different situations she shows how the devotee’s behavior is unique.

It is easy to say that such and such person is devoted to God, but that doesn’t give a complete understanding. If we say that the same person rejects material opulence if it comes at the expense of association of the beautiful Lord, then we have a better understanding. If we say that the same person becomes more opposed to the idea of separating from God the more it is presented to them, we pay them an even higher compliment.

Therefore Ravana here flatters Sita, though he doesn’t know it. He might as well be saying, “For some reason you are really devoted to this Rama, your husband. I’ve basically offered you the post of queen of the world, and you have rejected it. I thought that maybe you didn’t understand me at first, so I went into further detail about exactly what I was offering you. And who would ever think of turning down such an offer? A woman is attracted to beauty, strength and riches. Any of my other queens would have jumped at the chance. For some reason, you only seem to be getting more upset with me.”

Sita and RamaOf course the actual nature of the offer is what determined Sita’s stance. Ravana wanted her to forget her husband Rama. Ravana wanted her for himself; which is not possible. Therefore the opulence he offered was really an illusion; something not what it appeared to be. It was like snake-oil to someone who already had the real medicine. When in the pure devotional consciousness no amount of money can make the devotee abandon the lord of their life breath, their prana-natha. This staunch resolve indicates real strength, which can be found in any person, even a beautiful princess. Sita appeared weak to Ravana, but she was stronger than any person he had ever met.

In Closing:

With persuasion thought to his side could get,

But Sita stronger than any person he’d met.


Her intense rebuke his grand plan to foil,

Knew his offer for power just like snake oil.


Devotion to Rama the only opulence real,

To wise nothing else comes close in appeal.


Take Sita’s example as life’s lesson gift,

And to maya’s allures give rejection swift.

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