“You are not ashamed to speak against the Lord of the Ikshvakus, for as long as He is not within your vision.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 22.17)
sa tvamikṣvākunātham vai kṣipanniha na lajjase |
cakṣuṣorviṣayam tasya na tāvadupagacchasi ||
You’re at the office late one day. Things have been sketchy there in recent times. It doesn’t look like the company will survive for much longer. Not many employees are left, and the boss doesn’t seem to be telling the truth. One day he says he will do this, and the next he changes his mind. He makes promise after promise, only to break them later on. In a situation like this, it’s understandable if the employees complain.
You have one coworker who is a kind of informant. He seems to know everything about everyone. He fills you in on the details every day. He is not afraid to speak brashly about the boss. He gives him curses, calls him names, and vows never to trust him again. Similar sentiments are echoed by other employees, but interestingly enough, the behavior is noticeably different when the boss is around. No one dares to say any of this to his face. They instead pretend to be loyal employees, ready to work hard to help the business.
The difference in behavior is understandable, for if the boss heard all the complaints then the jobs of the employees would be in jeopardy. If the employee wanted to lose their job, they would quit outright. Obviously they must want to keep their position if they are willing to restrain from giving voice to their negative sentiments when the boss is around. By choosing to speak only when the company leader is not around, the employee subtly acknowledges their subordinate position. A long time ago in Lanka, however, the tough-talker said that he was better than everyone else. He didn’t think there was anyone superior to him. Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Rama, correctly pointed out the flaw in the assertion.
The puffed up man was the leader of Lanka. Named Ravana, he boasted of exploits constantly to draw the attention of Sita, who was the most beautiful woman in the world. Ravana wanted her very badly. He took her physically to his kingdom of Lanka, but in spirit she was never with him. She refused to give in to his advances. With each rejection, he tried harder. Typically, if in a negotiation neither party wishes to break from their stance, the talks go nowhere. Here Ravana kept inching closer to what any woman should want. He offered Sita opulence after opulence. He boasted of his fighting prowess, while at the same time diminishing the rest of the kings of the world.
Ravana did not understand that Sita is not a typical woman. Externally she is a female, but in devotion to God external designations do not matter. Any person can be under the protection of the Supreme Lord, provided they are sincere. No one is more sincere than Sita, so she is always under the care of the Lord of the Ikshvaku dynasty, Shri Rama. Featured in surrender to the Divine is a shift in priorities. No more is the temporary assigned higher status than the permanent. No more is garbage preferred to real gold. Sita had Rama’s association. She had the ability to practice devotion to Him at all times. There was nothing that Ravana could offer as a suitable exchange. Her gift was priceless, as was her association. Only Rama can have it in the way that Ravana wanted.
Ravana spoke ill of Rama, but only when the Lord wasn’t around. Just like the employee with the boss, this inherently meant that Ravana was inferior to Rama. Otherwise, why the need to hide from the son of King Dasharatha? Rama was living in the forest at the time. He had humble surroundings and wasn’t bothering anyone. Ravana, meanwhile, supposedly had so much. Why would he have to fear Rama?
Sita knew why. It is one thing if you’re in the middle of a crime and your conscience is telling you to stop. It’s another if someone else calls you out on your mistake after the fact. The rebuke stings even more when the other person brings attention to your character flaws. The pain is made worse when the insults come from someone you are trying to please.
Ravana’s behavior is symbolic of the atheist attitude. Since they cannot see God, they feel free to speak ill of Him. They either rail against His injunctions or they deny His existence outright. They meet Him nevertheless, at the time of death. In that tense moment, the bravado takes a backseat to outright fear. Instead of speaking against God, the dying atheist begs for only a few more moments in their temporary existence, not realizing that the Supreme Lord, in His all-pervading feature of time, has come to defeat them.
“The Blessed Lord said: Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.32)
The devoted soul, on the other hand, has no reason to alter their behavior. When God is apparently not within the vision, they chant His names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. At this time, Rama was far away from Sita, and yet she still praised Him to no end. Her determination in denying Ravana reflected well on Rama; it was an extension of His potency. When the Lord is in front, the devoted soul offers direct service, often composing wonderful prayers also. Thus in all situations they remain dear to Him, who is the sun of the solar dynasty.
To jokes and curses to give sound,
All fair when boss is not around.
But when he’s there never to say,
Instead with a smile “how was your day?”
Ravana of his prowess so often to boast,
But never in front of Rama, of glories a host.
Devotees the same, whether far or near,
Omnipotence of God to them always clear.
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