“The difference between the son of Dasharatha and yourself is like the difference between gold and a base metal, sandalwood water and mud, and an elephant and a cat in the forest.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.46)
The material world is a place full of dichotomies. There is hot and cold, pain and pleasure, and strength and weakness. In some instances, simple dualities are insufficient in accurately describing a particular object’s potency or power. In this regard, more detailed comparisons are necessary, where certain objects or creatures are compared to others. For example, there is a common expression used to describe heavy rain. People will say “It’s pouring outside”, meaning that the rain is flowing down so steadily that it appears that someone is pouring the water out of a container. These types of comparisons better illustrate certain situations and predicaments. In a similar manner, comparisons are also used to describe both the strengths possessed by God and the limited powers possessed by human beings.
Now this may seem like a needless task. “Of course God is great. Why would we need to describe His greatness?” This seems true in theory, but in reality we see a different situation. The Vedas tell us that the current age we live in is known as Kali Yuga, or the dark age. It is characterized by the overall lack of adherence to dharma, or religiosity, in society. If we do a quick study, we’ll see that this is indeed true. How many of us spend time thinking about God during the course of the day? Among those of us who do, how much time is spent thinking about God versus time spent thinking about our daily needs arising from work, school, or family? If we answered these questions honestly, we’d see that the majority of our time is spent worrying about our necessities and our future fortunes. The rest of the time may be spent lamenting over misfortunes of the past.
This is the effect of Kali Yuga. The Vedas tell us that man was almost completely pure at the beginning of creation, during the period of time known as the Satya Yuga. Each creation is divided into four time periods, or Yugas, and dharma reduces by one quarter with each successive time period. Kali Yuga is the last Yuga before the ultimate dissolution of the earth. People today are committed to adharma instead of dharma. Dharma is religiosity or occupational duty. There are different dharmas assigned to different people based on their personal qualities and the work they perform, but all dharmas share one thing in common: their aim is to help the soul return to the spiritual world. Though many of us falsely identify with our body, the real source of our identity comes from the spiritual spark, or soul, residing within us. Dharma involves performing those duties which help the soul avoid having to assume a material body again.
Something is designated as material if it possesses gunas, or the material qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. The world we live in is not meant to be our permanent home. It’s a sort of playground for the wayward souls who want to falsely enjoy the senses. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and one of His names is Hrishikesha, meaning the master of the senses. Since He is the master of all the senses, real pleasure can only come from serving Him. In the conditioned state, the living entity becomes a servant to their own senses, or go-dasa. Dharma is a set of law codes and recommended activities that allows one to please the master of all the senses, thus becoming a master of their own senses in the process. The goal of human life is to go from being the slave to the master of the senses. By controlling our material sense urges, we can execute pure devotional service to the Lord. At the time of death, those who wish to associate with Krishna will get to return to His spiritual kingdom immediately, never having to take birth or assume a material body again.
“Whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
When almost everyone around us is so committed to adharma, how can we go about pleasing Krishna? Well, before we can please Him we have to understand who He is. God is omnipotent and omnipresent, and therefore can never be fully understood by the human mind, which is itself a part of the material creation. The mind represents a subtle element of nature, so it’s not something we can necessarily see, but it certainly does exist. Though the mind doesn’t come with us to the spiritual world, it is still important since it can help shape our consciousness. It is this very consciousness that needs purification. Though God can never be truly understood, the Vedas try to describe some of His glories. In order to describe God in a way that people can understand, Vedic authorities use techniques such as comparison and quantification.
These techniques are helpful because we have a limited understanding of the universe. Great scholars and scientists of today are very proud of their knowledge. They believe that they are on the cusp of discovering immortality, thinking that if they do enough research, they will find a way for man to live forever. Using a little intelligence, we can understand just how foolish these thoughts are. For starters, all of us were born into ignorance. The human infant is so helpless that it can’t even feed itself. It’s not even intelligent enough to know where, when, and how to go to the bathroom. Babies are forced to wear diapers and have them changed at regular intervals by their guardians. As children get older, they take in more information through the discovery process. Gradually they become educated enough to become self-sufficient adults who can meet the demands of their bodies.
Some adults take it a step further. In every society there will be an intelligentsia, a group of people prone to cultivating knowledge. Nevertheless, knowledge can only be acquired through personal experience and learning from others. Then there are the geniuses like Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton who make great discoveries. Yet if we apply a little intelligence, we’ll quickly discover that even the greatest scientist in the world has a very paltry understanding of things. This should make sense to us. How much intelligence can a person really have if they had to acquire all their knowledge? In the grand scheme of things, human beings don’t live that long, so they don’t have the time to study each and every person and geographic area in the world.
No matter how intelligent we may think we are, no one in the world is smarter than God. He is the oldest person, so He has seen all there is to see and experienced all there is to experience. Lord Krishna is the original person, adyam purana-purusham. God is also the only person in the world who never had to be taught anything. He has always been God; He didn’t need to take any college courses, read any books, or perform any experiments. God is always God; it is not a title one can acquire.
These facts seem simple enough to understand, but we see that many people either forget God or don’t spend any time thinking about Him. Then there are those who are openly atheistic, thinking that there is no God. Once they acquire enough wealth, fame, and intelligence, they take themselves to be the supreme controller, the ruler of the world. This was precisely the case with the Rakshasa demon Ravana many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. He too was a mortal living entity, born as a son of the sage Vishrava. Yet through the performance of severe austerities, Ravana was gifted with many power augmenting boons by the demigods. He then used his newly acquired powers to wreak havoc throughout the world, defeating many great kings and stealing away their wives.
Ravana’s folly was that he took himself to be invincible. Though he had to work so hard to achieve his fame and fortune, he never thought that there might be a God who was more powerful than himself. Ravana thought the demigods were the most powerful living entities, and having outsmarted them, he believed he was the head honcho of the universe. His hubris deluded him into thinking that he could have the wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi.
At the same time that Ravana was terrorizing the innocent people of the world, Lord Krishna had appeared on earth in the guise of a human being, the warrior prince named Rama. As part of His pastimes, Lord Rama roamed the wilderness of India for fourteen years alongside His younger brother, Lakshmana, and wife, Sita Devi. Sita was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, so naturally she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Not only was she beautiful, but she was chaste and committed to dharma as well, thus making her a worthy spouse of the prince of Ayodhya. Ravana had hundreds of wives, but after hearing of Sita’s beauty, he insisted on having her. He set up a diversion which lured Rama and Lakshmana away from their cottage in the forest, thus opening the door for him to come and approach Sita.
Ravana’s plan was simple enough. He had carried away many beautiful women before, so he didn’t think this would be that difficult. After all, Rama was only roaming the forests due to the demands of His father, Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya. Ravana essentially thought, “What can this man do to me? He doesn’t even have a kingdom; He lives like a homeless man. This woman is way too beautiful to be His wife. I will take her without a fight.”
“The difference between the son of Dasharatha [Rama] and yourself is like the difference between a lion and a jackal of the forest, a sea and a brook, and fine wine and Sauviraka [a sour, fermented wheat drink]. The difference between the son of Dasharatha and yourself is like the difference between gold and a base metal, sandalwood water and mud, and an elephant and a cat in the forest. The difference between the son of Dasharatha and yourself is like the difference between Garuda [son of Vinata and king of birds] and a crow, a peacock and a diver bird, and a swan and a vulture [flesh-eating bird]. Even if you steal me away, Rama, standing against you in battle with His bow and arrows, having prowess equal to that of Lord Indra, will make sure that you will not live very long, like a mosquito that has swallowed ghee.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.45-48)
Sita vehemently opposed Ravana’s advances. In the above referenced quote, she is comparing his strength to that of Rama’s. She is reminding Ravana of who God is and what He is capable of. Sita was an authority on God’s greatness, for she was a perfect devotee and servant of Lord Rama. If we want to understand the glories of the Lord, we should take instruction from someone who knows Him, i.e. the devotees.
Lord Rama is like a lion and Ravana is like a jackal. Rama is brave, courageous, and strong, whereas Ravana is a sneaky little thief. Rama is like the sea, while Ravana is a lowly brook. The brook has limited powers, especially when compared to the sea. Often times, the movements of the brook are directed by the more powerful sea. In a similar manner, Rama is God Himself, and is thus responsible for all the activities conducted by Mother Nature.
Lord Rama is like fine wine, while Ravana is like Sauviraka, a sour, fermented alcoholic drink. God is great, and everything associated with Him is beautiful and opulent. The living entities, especially the demons, are tiny and puny. The material objects that we derive enjoyment from can be thought of as cheap and tasteless when compared to God’s enjoyment. Rama is like gold, while Ravana is like iron or another inferior metal. Gold is very commonly used to describe something or someone’s greatness, thus making it an apt comparison to God.
Lord Rama is like sandal paste, while Ravana is like mud. Sandalwood scents and sandal paste are staples of Vedic rituals and traditions. The fragrance is both purifying and pleasant. Mud is just the opposite; it is considered dirty and something that needs to be removed from the body. God is completely pure and fragrant, while the living entities who associate with maya are considered contaminated. It is not until one associates with God in a loving way that they become purified.
Rama is like an elephant and Ravana is like a cat. During Vedic times, elephants played an important role, especially during military battles. An elephant is extremely strong and difficult to control, whereas a cat’s strength is miniscule. Rama is like Garuda and Ravana is like an ordinary crow. Garuda is the king of birds and the carrier of Lord Vishnu. Krishna is the original form of God, and Vishnu is His primary expansion. Rama was considered an incarnation of Vishnu, thus the comparison to Garuda was appropriate. There is no bird that is stronger or faster than Garuda, so by comparing Ravana to a crow, Sita is saying that he could never be stronger than God.
Sita also used two other bird comparisons, stating that Rama was like a peacock and a swan, while Ravana was like a diver bird and a falcon/vulture. Lord Krishna wears the peacock feather in His hair, so this automatically makes the peacock an auspicious animal. The comparison to a swan [hamsa] is also appropriate because Lord Krishna once incarnated as a swan. A swan has the ability to accept a mixture of milk and water and only drink the milk portion. This means that they can carefully extract the good things out of whatever is given to them. Similarly, exalted devotees are also referred to as great swans, paramahamsas, because they accept the essence of life, Lord Krishna. A vulture, on the other hand, is known for eating carcasses, so it was an apt comparison to Ravana, who as a Rakshasa was accustomed to eating animal flesh.
The lesson here is that there is a vast difference between the living entities and God. Our powers are both small and limited, whereas God’s are both large and unlimited. Rama would show His greatness by defeating and killing Ravana in battle after he had kidnapped Sita, thus proving her words to be true. Lord Rama is very nice, so there is no reason to have enmity with Him. There is no reason to be His competitor, for we will be much better served becoming His devotee. Sita Devi, Hanuman, and Lakshmana view Rama as their dearmost, well-wishing friend and thus they enjoy eternal happiness. We can do the same by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.