“It is My vow that if one only once seriously surrenders unto Me saying, ‘My dear Lord, from this day I am Yours,’ and prays to Me for courage, I shall immediately award courage to that person, and he will always remain safe from that time on.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 18.33)
At the most basic level, sin is the wrong way of doing something. The different individual misdeeds can be grouped together into what is known as sinful life. Think gambling, drinking, women hunting, lying, cheating, stealing, and the like.
There is sin because the individual gets pulled away from the ideal destination. That is to say it will take them longer to get back on track after the fact. Think of the person who must go to a rehabilitation center to shed addiction. If successful, they return to a state from which they already were prior to the initial indulgence; so much valuable time was wasted.
Piety and sin can change based on the objective. For instance, if I need to remove a screw, the proper way is to insert the screwdriver and twist in the leftward direction. This is piety, since the action will bring the intended result. Sin in this case would be twisting in the opposite direction. If you reverse the objective, where the screw needs to be tightened, then pious and sinful actions switch places.
Identifying the two is not always easy, especially when there are no immediate consequences to the behavior. Eventually, there will be a reaction; it might not be noticed and the duration may not equate to a considerable period of time.
Complicating matters is the issue of absolution. Like the state forgiving the burden of debt accumulated from borrowing money to pay for college, there is a way to prevent the negative reactions to even the worst kind of behavior. Naturally, the person who institutes the laws of nature would have the greatest ability in this area. In the Sanskrit work known as the Ramayana we get an example of how this works. Focusing on two brothers who both sinned, we see that the reactions weren’t the same.
The king of Lanka. He was in the Rakshasa species, which are like man-eating ogres. It is not sinful for animals to eat one another, as karma does not apply to them. They get sense enjoyment for as long as the life remains in that particular body type. Progressing, regressing, right and wrong, conscious thought and such apply to the human species only.
By nature the population in Lanka were sinful, and so it was not surprising that the leader chose the route of trickery and deceit in stealing another man’s wife. This was the blameless Sita Devi, who was in the Dandaka forest dutifully following her husband Rama, who had dissuaded her from accompanying precisely due to the increased vulnerability to enemy attack.
He is Ravana’s younger brother who broke from the norm in Lanka. He was pious since birth. He remained in the city because of loyalty and affection for the family. When he saw Ravana committing the horrible sin of keeping Sita in Lanka against her will, despite her many refusals of his advances, Vibhishana attempted to correct the wrong.
He gave wise advice to Ravana.
“Just return Sita to Rama. The incarnation of the Supreme Lord will forgive you. It is not too late to avoid calamity, as the reaction is sure to reach our shores. There are already beautiful queens living in the palaces. Why invite destiny in this way?”
Ravana, of course, didn’t listen. He was too consumed by kama, which is lust. Vibhishana then had a difficult choice to make. Should he stay in the place where everyone was against dharma or should he leave? He decided on the latter. To make matters worse for Ravana, Vibhishana went to the side of Rama.
Assessing the choice based simply on moral codes, Vibhishana committed a sin. He abandoned the elder brother. He turned his back on the family. He was a quintessential traitor. From one house we had two people committing sin. One took another man’s wife without fighting for her. The other betrayed the family.
The reaction for Ravana was devastation and destruction. The entire Lanka was destroyed, with the first signs of the eminent doom shown by Rama’s representative Hanuman setting fire to the city with his tail that was only burning because of Ravana in the first place. Later on Rama arrived, with Vibhishana in his camp, to defeat Ravana and rescue Sita.
The brother who turned to the supposed enemy became the new king. That initial sin was absolved immediately. Indeed, all the minutiae of right and wrong, good and bad, and rules and regulations become insignificant when there is pure devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the proper destination for every person, so once surrendered at His lotus feet there is full protection from any kind of danger, including the wrath of a sinful brother.
Both living in house the same,
Rakshasa brothers of Ramayana fame.
Different natures but sin in each to find,
Ravana taking another’s wife one time.
And Vibhishana from family turning away,
After with enemy camp to stay.
For ten-headed death and destruction,
For other Rama’s perfect protection.
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