“O Rakshasa, It might be possible for a person to live for a long time after forcibly taking away Shachi Devi, a woman of unmatched beauty and wife of the wielder of the thunderbolt [Indra]. But a person who abuses me shall not be released from death even if they were to drink amrita [nectar which grants immortality].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 48.24)
जीवेच्चिरं वज्रधरस्य हस्ताच्छचीं प्रधृष्याप्रतिरूपरूपाम्।
न मादृशीं राक्षस दूशयित्वा पीतामृतस्यापि तवास्ति मोक्षः।।
jīvecciraṃ vajradharasya hastācchacīṃ pradhṛṣyāpratirūparūpām।
na mādṛśīṃ rākṣasa dūśayitvā pītāmṛtasyāpi tavāsti mokṣaḥ।।
“I often see a distinction made between nirguna and saguna. This is in terms of Brahman. They say that the avataras of Vishnu are the saguna Brahman. Then I have heard that God is actually nirguna, since He never has interaction with the material world.
“The same people say that the deity worshiped in the temple is the saguna form. If the deity is supposed to be non-different from the person it represents, then this means that God is saguna. How is that possible? The whole thing seems contradictory. What is the reason behind confusing us in this way?”
The two terms apply only to the external point of view. The simplest comparison is to the sun. In the morning we say that the sun is rising. After a few hours, it will be high in the sky. The day will be known as “sunny” in terms of a weather description.
Later in the day, the sun will set. Darkness follows. We will say that the sun is not out at the moment. There is a similar description on an overcast day. The clouds are dense in formation to the point of blocking the sunlight. We say that the sun is not out that day.
In reality, the sun is not affected. The sun is the same whether shining bright in the sky or completely out of vision. The sun remains the same. Its qualities are steady, to the extent that we know.
Nirguna and saguna have the same applicability with Brahman, in that there is no distinction. Nirguna is how we see the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Saguna is His mercy upon us, to help us understand His transcendental qualities, within the limits of the mind.
We require help in understanding because there is a tendency to measure. This is the mentality of the asura, who is against God. If they believe in God at all, the asura will want to know how great their adversary is. They are always in competition with others, to reach the heights of supremacy.
Saintly people will make comparisons in order to help the asuras understand. For instance, in ignorance a person might assume that the king of heaven, Indra, is the strongest person in the world. If Indra can be defeated, then there is no stronger force in this world.
Sita Devi reminds the demon-class that the same cannot take place with her husband. Shri Rama is the Supreme Lord. He is both nirguna and saguna. A fiend like Ravana may think that Rama is a poor person who has been kicked out of His kingdom, that He won’t put up a fight to protect the innocent.
The saguna form is visible to Ravana and people he knows. Yet, it still does not provide the complete picture. Rama is simultaneously nirguna, in that no binding or limiting qualities can ever be applied to Him.
The warning from Sita should be enough. Her authority is the highest. Her word carries the most weight. Her beautifully composed words of insult to Ravana provide the dual purpose of instructing a villain and glorifying the Supreme Lord in a way no other person can.
Sadly, it is in the nature of material living that the challenging spirit continues. Despite abundant evidence available in front of them, the asuras carry the spirit of wanting to measure the greatness of God. In special circumstances, avataras like Rama arrive to show that Vishnu is more powerful than even those favored directly by Mahadeva, the great benefactor to those who worship him.
Nirguna or saguna to choose,
By the terminology confused.
Understood when to sun comparing,
Same whether cloudy or rays blaring.
Simply difference in point of view,
Applied to Shri Rama too.
Never of qualities that bind,
But in Him all glories to find.