"Those women that although having always tended by their husbands, do not regard them during the times of adversity are in this world reckoned as unchaste." (Kausalya speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)
Chastity is considered a very important trait in a woman, even more so than in a man. If a woman is unfaithful to her husband, she receives greater scorn and ridicule from society than a husband would for being just as unfaithful. It is no doubt a double standard, but it is a fact that the adulterous activities of men don’t have the same stigma attached to them.
In America, most fifth grade students are introduced to literature through reading classic novels, with one of them being The Scarlet Letter. The basic plot of the novel is of a woman who gives birth to a child through an adulterous relationship. She wears a scarlet cloth on her gown in the shape of an uppercase letter A, standing for adultery. In this way, she is publicly ridiculed for her unchaste act. This was quite customary during the Puritan period, as adultery was never taken lightly, for it even led to punishment by death for some. The Vedas also have a very strict definition of adultery. Up until recent times, if an unmarried woman spent a night at another man’s house, she was considered unfit for marriage. In the past, the concept of boyfriend/girlfriend didn’t exist, and if a man did have a female lover who wasn’t his wife, that woman would be considered a prostitute.
Adultery is never looked upon favorably in any religion. The Ten Commandments list adultery as one of the prohibited acts for man. The reasoning for this is pretty straightforward. Truthfulness and honesty are considered virtues. If someone is honest towards us, we know that we can trust them. Trust and fidelity form the basis of contracts and agreements, which allow for economies to function smoothly. Trust brings security, which leads to peace of mind, which leads to happiness. Marriages and friendships are relationships where trust is of utmost importance. If you can’t trust your friends, then who can you trust? The same principle holds true with our spouse. The husband or wife is our most intimate friend, someone we spend our nights with, the person we wake up next to in the morning. If we can’t trust them, then we might as well be sleeping with an enemy. People that trust each other and honor that trust at all times, they will have unbreakable bonds, whereas others will not.
When Lord Rama, the incarnation of God in the Treta Yuga, came to earth as the son of the pious king Dashratha, He was married to a beautiful and virtuous princess named Sita. An incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, Sita Devi was completely devoted in thoughts, words, and deeds to Rama. Twelve years into a marriage which they were enjoying very much, the Lord was ordered to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya and live as a recluse wandering the forest for fourteen years. Sita Devi insisted on accompanying Him, and right before leaving, Rama’s mother Kausalya gave Sita some words of advice. The above referenced statement was a portion of her words of wisdom directed at her daughter-in-law.
The husband, Lord Rama, had hit upon hard times, so Kausalya wanted to remind Sita to stand by Him now more than ever before. Her basic point was that the chastity of a woman isn’t only determined by faithfulness relating to acts of physical love, but also by faithfulness of mind and spirit. As the saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”, the wife is the better half of the husband. In times of adversity, the husband relies on the support of the wife to get through the rough patches. For this reason, the shastras, or scriptures, declare that a wife should always support her husband no matter what, and by acting in this manner, she becomes free from all sins. Sins can be negated in one of two ways. If one acts according to one’s dharma, or duty, then all sins are nullified. The other way is to devote all of one’s activities towards pleasing God.
Lord Rama was God Himself, so by supporting her husband, Sita was transcending sin in both of the above mentioned ways. God is our original friend, someone with whom we’ve had an eternal relationship. We have come to forget about this relationship due to our contact with material nature. Becoming embodied in this world, we are forced to live by the governing qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Instead of faithfully serving our Supreme Master, we have become accustomed to serving our senses, which are always pulling us in every which direction. This sort of behavior is the very definition of infidelity. God is by definition our master, and we are born to be His servants. Those honoring this relationship will bask in spiritual bliss for all of eternity, whereas others will be forced to repeat the cycle of birth and death.
By chasing after material wealth and prosperity, we have become unfaithful to God. Playing the lottery, slot machines at casinos, and high stakes poker are all ways that we seek to get rich quickly. However, those who have attained wealth are still not happy, for people are always hankering after things they want, and lamenting over the things they don’t have. That is the nature of desire. We cannot become free of desires, but instead, we can shift the focus. We don’t need to artificially renounce things, for if we keep Krishna at the center of our lives, we can be engaged in all sorts of activities and still be faithful to the Lord. The great kshatriya warrior and cousin of Lord Krishna, Arjuna, fought valiantly in a war that saw millions of casualties, yet he incurred no sin since He was acting in accordance with his prescribed duties.
Sita Devi was always there for Lord Rama, no matter what the situation. She would later be kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama easily could have let that go, choosing to find another wife, but He instead decided to march to Ravana’s kingdom and rescue His wife. If we are faithful to God, then He will always be there for us, either in person or in spirit, through the good times and the bad.