“Although, O Ravana, you may be incapable of being slain by either the demigods or the demons, since you have created a very great enmity with Rama, He will not let you get away alive.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.8)
Sita Devi, the glorious wife of Lord Rama, is here informing the demon Ravana that his days are numbered. Whatever good fortune he had in the past was about to end due to one despicable act. What crime was Ravana guilty of? He kidnapped the wife of Lord Rama and forcibly brought her into his custody on the island of Lanka. For this transgression, Ravana would have to pay dearly. Sita’s words would certainly hold true, as Lord Rama didn’t let Ravana escape with his life.
The first portion of Sita’s statement refers to the immunity Ravana had from attacks from demigods and asuras. Since the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing struggle between the demigods, or suras, and the non-devotees, the asuras. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, don’t mention anything about a devil, but they do tell us that every living entity possesses different material qualities. A devotee lives primarily in the mode of goodness, which consists of knowledge, self-control, and peace. Asuras live primarily in the mode of ignorance, which can be characterized by any activity that goes against the injunctions of the revealed scriptures and which also is devoid of any intentions for fruitive gain.
“The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)
Essentially, the battles between the suras and the asuras are those between the forces of good and evil. Suras understand that God exists and that the purpose of life is to serve Him. Asuras identify solely with their gross material body, not believing in any sort of higher power or an afterlife. They believe that the ultimate aim is to enjoy as much as possible for the short duration of their time on earth. To this end, they will do whatever it takes to satisfy the sense demands of their body, including taking to sinful activity. Ravana, though born of a brahmana father, was a Rakshasa in quality from his birth. A Rakshasa is a specific type of asura, specializing in certain activities. Rakshasas love to eat meat, and they do not discriminate when it comes to the type they’ll eat. For example, they have no problem eating human flesh, for Ravana and his associates used to regularly terrorize the saints living in the forests.
“And that sacrifice performed in defiance of scriptural injunctions, in which no spiritual food is distributed, no hymns are chanted and no remunerations are made to the priests, and which is faithless—that sacrifice is of the nature of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.13)
The events of Ravana’s life took place during the Treta Yuga, which by most calculations occurred millions of years ago. During those times, the religious class of society, the brahmanas, used to migrate to the forest since it was more conducive to performing austerities, or tapasya. The forests were actually referred to as tapo-vanas due to their spiritually welcoming environment. Rakshasas were expert in black magic and witchcraft. They would perform ghoulish sacrifices aimed to pleasing ghosts and spirits.
Ravana was a crafty Rakshasa, however, and he knew that to get anywhere in life, he needed to please more than just ghosts and goblins. He took to worshiping various demigods, or suras. This is rather ironic, for the Rakshasas and demigods were great enemies, so how could Ravana worship them? As stipulated by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the demigods are required to grant benedictions to whoever pleases them properly. The material world which we live in is a sort of neutral playing field. On the highest level, there is no such thing as good and evil.
What do we mean by material? Material refers to matter, which is God’s inferior energy. Matter is inferior because it is controlled by spirit, which is superior. Constitutionally speaking, we are all spirit souls, so we are superior to matter. At the same time, there is a supreme spirit known as God. Since He is the most powerful spirit, we are subordinate to Him. When a person has material desires, it means they have a desire to increase something related to matter. For example, Ravana wanted to achieve great wealth, fame, and fighting prowess. These are all considered material things because they aren’t related to helping the spirit soul.
How do we help the soul? The Vedas tell us that the soul is happiest when it is in its natural home, its most comfortable environment. That home is in the spiritual world, where Lord Krishna and His various expansions reside. The soul is meant to be a lover of God, to be in constant union with the supreme spirit. This union is achieved through the yoga process. Yoga means acting for the benefit of the soul, a soul which is superior to matter. The soul represents our real identity, for the gross body is created at some point in time, performs some activities, and is then ultimately destroyed at the time of death. The spirit soul, however, never takes birth nor dies. It is unbreakable, indestructible, and immutable.
When it comes to our material aspirations, God does not take an interest. Whether we want to ascend to the heavenly planets or simply have good health, the Supreme Lord always remains aloof. This is because Krishna, or God, can never directly associate with matter. To meet the demands of the fruitive worker, the Lord has deputed many highly elevated living entities known as demigods. It is their duty to fulfill the desires of their devotees. Ravana, though a Rakshasa, was equally entitled to the rewards provided by the demigods. He performed great austerities that were so severe that several prominent demigods became very pleased with him. Lord Brahma, the first created living entity and demigod in charge of the mode of passion, granted Ravana the boon that no demigod or asura could defeat him in battle.
Ravana was thrilled by this boon. He didn’t believe in a God, so he thought that he had just outsmarted his main rivals. What’s interesting is that Ravana also asked for immunity from asuras, or his fellow demons. The conditioned living entity is forced to compete with his fellow man for sense gratification. Through ignorance, the non-devotees think that there is no God, so they in essence compete with each other to become the supreme living entity on earth. Ravana knew that his fellow asuras would compete with him over issues of sense gratification, so he made sure to ask for immunity from them. This meant that Ravana could take on any living entity on earth and not have to worry about being killed.
People in the mode of goodness will accurately note that Ravana wasted all of his hard work performing austerities. Devotees of God want nothing to do with temporary material rewards, which only provide fleeting happiness. An abundance of possessions can drive one to becoming a slave to the mode of passion, which when left unchecked can lead to anger, lust, and an overall lack of rationality. This is precisely what happened with Ravana. Through his newly acquired powers, he became the king of the island of Lanka. His kingdom was exquisite and filled with many beautiful gold-decked palaces, full of the most beautiful women in the world. Ravana had many wives whom he would cavort with regularly while drinking wine.
Yet this sinful life was not enough for him. Being informed by his sister that a beautiful woman was residing in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana decided that he had to have her. This woman was Sita Devi, the beautiful and chaste wife of Lord Rama. The demigods, realizing that they could not defeat Ravana in battle, petitioned Lord Vishnu to come save them. Lord Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead, and His chief expansion is that of Lord Vishnu. The avataras, or incarnations of God, that appear on earth come from Lord Vishnu. Realizing that the demigods were in a pickle, Vishnu decided to appear on earth in the guise of a human for the express purpose of killing Ravana. In his haste to outsmart the demigods, the silly demon forgot to ask for immunity in battle from human beings.
Lord Vishnu came to earth as a handsome and pious kshatriya warrior named Rama. He was married to the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila, Sita, and along with His younger brother, Lakshmana, the Lord roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. This excursion through the forest was no accident, for the Lord needed an excuse to take on Ravana in battle. Standard protocol stated that a king could not attack another without just cause. Ravana set up a diversion where Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from Sita, thus giving him an opportunity to kidnap her.
Sita’s kidnap sealed Ravana’s fate. Lord Rama had the excuse that He needed. As Sita states above, Lord Rama would not allow Ravana to get away alive. Stealing God’s wife will do anyone in. This is actually a great metaphor for how material life works. Since God is the creator of this and every other planet, we should assume that everything belongs to Him. If we act with this knowledge in mind, we aren’t committing any offenses. If we live under the false impression that everything here belongs to us, we are in a sense stealing from God in the same way that Ravana stole Sita.
Does this mean that we are all doomed? Does this mean that the Vedas don’t believe in private property? We certainly do have a claim to those things that we own, but we should keep in mind that everything is on loan from God. Not only do we have a right to own property for the execution of our regulative duties, but every other living entity also has a right to their property. In this way, we should live a peaceful life of mutual respect and understanding for all life that exists in this world. The best way to purify ourselves is to use the property that we do own for God’s service. This can be accomplished very easily by performing our prescribed duties and regularly chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
The lesson here is that we should not raise hostilities with God, nor should we encroach on His property. This human form of life is a great boon because we have the ability to understand God. We can see God in His deity form, hear Him by chanting His name, and taste Him by eating Krishna prasadam. These experiences can be relished by all human beings. Instead of competing with God, we should work with Him in a loving way and become His friend. This is the path to perfection adopted by all the great devotees past, present, and future.