“Then the ten-necked one, who was hiding nearby, quickly assumed the form of a wandering mendicant and approached Vaidehi.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 46.2)
तदासाद्य दशग्रीवः क्षिप्रमन्तरमास्थितः।
अभिचक्राम वैदेहीं परिव्राजकरूपधृक्।।
tadāsādya daśagrīvaḥ kṣipramantaramāsthitaḥ।
abhicakrāma vaidehīṃ parivrājakarūpadhṛk।।
Friend1: Among the many heinous acts of Ravana is the deceit he employed in the forest of Dandaka.
Friend2: This was where Sita and Rama were staying. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was there, too. There is a history to the area, described in the Ramayana. I think Danda was a king descending from the Ikshvaku dynasty. Through some series of events the place came to be named after him. As a forest area it was known to be conducive to tapasya; hence a tapo-vana.
Friend1: A forest area where austerities are practiced. Just like it is not easy to stick to a diet while seated at a table full of food, it is easier to limit the interactions of the senses while in a place that doesn’t have much.
Friend2: And the two most difficult restrictions are on the tongue and the belly. The tongue speaks and tastes. The less you speak and the less you are concerned about taste, the better off you will be. The less you listen to the belly, which fools you into thinking that you need to eat more than you should, the better the health will be. At least that is the general case.
Friend1: I understand there are always exceptions. Anyway, it was like Ravana kept with the tradition of the place by showing up in the guise of a wandering mendicant.
Friend2: The Sanskrit word is parivrajaka. The person who has renounced the world in a formal way is known as a sannyasi. There are different stages to the spiritual institution, ashrama, and one of them is wandering from place to place. The opposite of the hoarding mentality. Intentionally don’t save for tomorrow. Leave it up to the will of the Divine.
Friend1: Leave what up?
Friend2: Eating. Shelter. The basic necessities of life. Survival. The parivrajaka visits different places and begs. They don’t take more than what is needed for that day. They are not supposed to go somewhere they know to be overly generous. It is not like choosing your favorite restaurant and asking that they give you a free meal.
Friend1: Yeah, so we’re talking about a fake mendicant here. Really the worst kind of cheater, if you think about it, because it makes others less apprehensive. Who can turn down a beggar who is trying to advance spiritually? This is not like the homeless person addicted to drugs and alcohol. This is not the person who simply doesn’t want to work because they are lazy.
Friend2: Ravana had other intentions. He was controlled by the senses, instead of the other way around.
Friend1: Okay, so I was thinking about this. Doesn’t that interaction, the historical incident described in the Ramayana of Valmiki, show that sadhus shouldn’t be trusted?
Friend2: Because they might be a fraud like Ravana?
Friend1: They don’t necessarily have to be at such a level of intent. I’m just thinking of how easy it is to transform. This guy was grim-visaged. Ten heads and twenty arms. He wasn’t innocent looking, at all. Through the kama-rupa-siddhi he was able to quickly change his shape, while hiding nearby. It’s much easier today, I think. Just shave your head, put some markings on your body, wear a certain color robe, and beg from place to place.
Friend2: Speak some platitudes, with a hint of Vedic principles mixed in, and you might attract many followers.
Friend1: Who have money and will keep your belly full for the rest of your life. These sadhus will fool so many innocent people, in the same way that Ravana did.
Friend2: I wouldn’t say that Sita Devi was necessarily fooled. She is generally nice to everyone. Ravana’s false guise worked for an introduction, but the ruse quickly ended.
Friend1: Okay, but others may not be so discerning. They might give up everything to serve a cheater. Their lives get ruined.
Friend2: And you want to condemn all sadhus, then?
Friend1: I’m asking what is the benefit of the institution if it can be so easily infested with frauds.
Friend2: Just because something fake exists doesn’t mean that the real thing diminishes in value. You have fake jewelry. Imitation gold and silver. In one sense this is a compliment to the real thing. Genuine spiritual life is so valuable that others want to use it to their advantage. We are supposed to discern between Brahman and maya. The material world is like a shadow copy of the spiritual world, a perverted reflection. Just because there is illusion doesn’t mean that the real thing is flawed. If you find a genuine saint then your life will become perfect. The meeting with them is so valuable, like the case of Parikshit sitting at the banks of the Yamuna River and hearing Hari-katha from Shukadeva Gosvami. This was how the last seven days of the king’s life were spent, and so just imagine the benefit of spending every day in the same way.
Finding cheaters many so,
That genuine difficult to know.
But not meaning for all to condemn,
Since highest benefit meeting when.
That saint of Hari’s glories speaking,
Giving exactly what everyone seeking.
Like Parikshit at banks of Yamuna seated,
Seeing liberation as life’s days retreated.