“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।।
It may seem ridiculous, upon first learning of it. There is no registry to consult. There is no official book of record. There is no compendium, with a table of contents or an index to quickly look up the transcript for a particular individual.
The information has to be accepted on faith, at first. There is a cause and effect loop with action. This is known as karma in general conversation, but Vedic culture provides a more substantial definition. Any activity which produces a consequence relating to the body, whether positive or negative, expected or unanticipated, preferred or loathed, is karma.
Where is the evidence that this system is in place? How do we know for sure that if we do something bad today, in the future we will suffer the same? Isn’t it possible that there is no system, that everything occurs at random?
Proof is there in the present. We see variety in circumstances. We see some people suffering and some people enjoying. One person lives to a very old age, while another tragically leaves us too soon. One person is in poverty while another is in wealth.
These are the consequences. This is the after to the before. There was work in some previous instance. At the most basic level, you have something like eating. A person decides to indulge in more pizza than they are accustomed to. The next day, they feel lethargic. Their stomach expands. They feel weighed down.
These are consequences to action. Vedic culture simply provides more detail. At the largest possible scope to fathom, the cycle of action and reaction continues. There is information on when to expect the consequences, as well.
For instance, Shri Rama explained to a fighter named Khara that the reactions to horrible deeds arrive at the appropriate season. It is not that a thief suddenly gets away with a crime. A person who terrorized innocent sages will one day have to pay for those misdeeds.
अवश्यं लभते जन्तुः फलं पापस्य कर्मणः।
घोरं पर्यागते काले द्रुमाः पुष्पमिवार्तवम्।।
avaśyaṃ labhate jantuḥ phalaṃ pāpasya karmaṇaḥ।
ghoraṃ paryāgate kāle drumāḥ puṣpamivārtavam।।
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
The proper time merely has to arrive. Like with the flowers blossoming on trees, the result cannot be rushed. As much as a person may wish, the flowers will not emerge during the cold of winter. This is the way of the material world.
A person should feel fortunate to be forewarned of the disaster headed their way. Shri Rama’s wife once gave such a warning to the leader of the Rakshasas in Lanka. Sita Devi told Ravana that he wouldn’t be able to survive long for having taken her away from Rama’s side.
Even if Ravana were to find amrita, that would not save him. That Sanskrit word literally means “without death.” Amrita typically refers to nectar, a kind of drink. The immortals are in possession of this beverage.
Shri Rama is above such dualities. Birth and death do not apply to Him. If someone drinks amrita, it does not make them safe from His wrath. He will protect those who are dedicated to Him. Rama will not let Ravana off the hook, so to speak.
Sita Devi tried to visualize the horrors that lay ahead, for Ravana seemed ignorant to the truth. He was too blinded by lust to understand that there was a countdown clock over his shoulder, ticking away. In a short amount of time, everything would come crashing down.
It can be argued that the same is true for every person, that whatever we have will eventually be crushed under the wheels of time. When there is birth, death eventually follows. This is a law of nature that cannot be broken.
पार्थ नैवेह नामुत्र विनाशस्तस्य विद्यते ।
न हि कल्याणकृत्कश्चिद्दुर्गतिं तात गच्छति ॥
pārtha naiveha nāmutra
vināśas tasya vidyate
na hi kalyāṇa-kṛt kaścid
durgatiṁ tāta gacchati
“The Blessed Lord said: Son of Pritha, a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities does not meet with destruction either in this world or in the spiritual world; one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.40)
The difference is that auspicious activities have a lasting benefit. The kalyana is something like protection against destruction. Time still operates. There is the eventual exit from the body. The difference is that the future circumstances are always favorable.
While Ravana represents the extreme in sinful deeds, there is the example of Vibhishana. Ravana’s brother did not engage in sinful activity. Vibhishana was in favor of correcting the wrong of stealing Sita Devi.
Vibhishana was spared the initial wrath of fury from Hanuman’s burning tail. He was not affected by the destruction of Lanka at the hands of Rama and the army of Vanaras. Vibhishana eventually became king of Lanka. More importantly, his life of auspiciousness continued, whereas the life of illusion has no lasting benefit.
Horrors that will lay ahead,
Trying to visualize the dread.
That you and your city burned,
From wealth to destruction turned.
Warning Sita directly giving,
That consequence of sinful living.
Vibhishana following auspicious way,
His devotion winning the day.