“She, who is forgiving like the earth, has lotus-like eyes, and was previously protected by Rama and Lakshmana, is now guarded under the tree by Rakshasis of deformed eyes.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 16.29)
kṣiti kṣamā puṣkara samnibha akṣī |
yā rakṣitā rāghava lakṣmaṇābhyām |
sā rākṣasībhir vikṛta īkṣaṇābhiḥ |
samrakṣyate samprati vṛkṣa mūle ||
In the Bhagavad-gita, there is a section where Lord Krishna reviews the qualities of both the demons and the saintly people. This review is nice because it allows us to properly assess others as well as ourselves. In addition, we learn what these various qualities lead to. If you are envious, mean, and selfish, your future isn’t too bright. On the other side, the godly qualities of truthfulness, forbearance, kindness, and knowledge of right and wrong lead to your benefit. The above referenced verse from the Ramayana seems to tell the opposite story, but from it we actually learn another way to tell the difference between a saint and a villain.
“The transcendental qualities are conducive to liberation, whereas the demonic qualities make for bondage. Do not worry, O son of Pandu, for you are born with the divine qualities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.5)
The saint is ready to die for others, while the demon gladly sees others die for them. The saint doesn’t want to purposefully suffer, but they are so compassionate that they don’t mind a little inconvenience if it is for the good of someone else. The demon, on the other hand, is so selfish that they don’t care if the innocent have to suffer endlessly. The demon wants what they want, and they want it now. Who cares what others have done for them? And who cares whether or not the demon is worthy of what they are asking for?
Shri Hanuman here describes Sita Devi as being as forgiving as the earth. She is the beautiful wife of Lord Rama, the prince of the Raghu dynasty. Prior to her marriage she was affectionately known as Janaki, the eldest daughter of the virtuous king Janaka. Her father rightly taught her the proper role of a wife in marriage. At the time of her wedding, Janaka gave her away to Rama and asked her to always stay by His side, like His shadow almost. Sita took these words to heart; she didn’t discount them as being formalities tied to a ritualistic tradition.
“I have not seen anyone in this world, not even an enemy or someone expelled, who would speak ill of Rama, even behind His back.” (Lakshmana speaking about Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.5)
Rama was also virtuous. As His younger brother Lakshmana points out in the Ramayana, not even those Rama had to punish from time to time could find anything wrong with Him. As the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Rama was groomed to follow in His father’s footsteps and be a capable administrator. The kings were the law in essence, so they had to punish people from time to time. Rama was known for being so virtuous that even those who were punished by Him knew that He didn’t play favorites. Therefore how could they find fault with Him?
You had the virtuous couple of Sita and Rama, and though they never did any harm to anyone, they had to suffer greatly for others. Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, had three wives. The youngest, Kaikeyi, once grew envious over Rama. She wanted her son to become the next king instead. So she used her influence with the king to get Rama kicked out of the kingdom for fourteen years. Rama accepted the punishment without objection. As a saint, He was ready to suffer for others. In this case His suffering would uphold Dasharatha’s virtue.
Sita also suffered for Kaikeyi. She didn’t want to let Rama go it alone in the forest. In fact, she refused to remain home alone. Bearing no resemblance to the miserly wife who simply lives off her husband’s hard work without giving anything in return, Sita considered Rama’s punishment to be her own as well. She went to the forest with Rama, as did Lakshmana. The devoted younger brother was even ready to attack Dasharatha and anyone who was going to get in the way of Rama’s coronation, but Rama talked him out of that idea.
In the forest, the trio was suffering due to the selfishness of Kaikeyi, but they were still okay. The three saintly characters were happy in each other’s association. The time in the forest afforded them the opportunity to meet with the many sages who had set up hermitages in the remote areas. The real benefit of visiting a place of pilgrimage is the association of the saints, or sadhus. They stay at the holy places to keep focused on their religious practice. When others get a chance to meet them, they can get divine wisdom. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana did not need such association, but as they were of the godly nature they enjoyed such association.
Here Sita is suffering for the selfishness of an outright demon named Ravana. He heard of Sita’s beauty and wanted her for himself. Never mind that Sita was already married or that Rama had done no undue harm to anyone. Ravana couldn’t fight with Rama one on one because Rama was more powerful. So he instead created a diversion that allowed him to steal Sita away and bring her back to his kingdom situated far away.
Sita refused to even look at him. Ravana could have given her back to Rama, but as he was of the demoniac nature, he made her suffer for his selfishness. Here Hanuman sees her and remarks that while she was previously guarded by the saintly Rama and Lakshmana, she is now surrounded by Rakshasis, vile female creatures of the same nature as Ravana. She didn’t deserve any of this. Her situation was the result of the selfishness of both Kaikeyi and Ravana.
Hanuman too is of the godly nature. He risked his life to find Sita. No one knew where she was, so the Vanaras in the Kishkindha forest scoured the earth to find her. They were allied with Rama through the help of Hanuman. Sita’s suffering was Hanuman’s suffering as well. So in this way Ravana’s demoniac nature inflicted pain on Hanuman too. There is no limit to the number of people the demon will harm. They have no conscience, so what care do they have for what others feel? It never occurs to them that they couldn’t tolerate even a second’s worth of the same suffering for someone else’s cause. Their foolishness knows no bounds.
Of course Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman are divine figures, so their suffering is a little different. The events of the Ramayana are a coordinated play meant to give the association of the Supreme Lord to countless future generations. Those who are devoted to them are of the saintly nature, and those opposed are of the demoniac. The devotees will tolerate anything to please the Supreme Lord, while the demons cause untold suffering to others in order to chase their illusory happiness. The devotees always win in the end, as they are on the side of Hanuman, who never fails in his service to Shri Rama. This incident is an example of one of his triumphs, as he found Sita after he was asked to do so.
If for them countless die,
Demon not to bat an eye.
For reflection there is no pause,
For own sense pleasure just cause.
Saint works for countless others to save,
Like Hanuman, to whom mission Rama gave.
All good qualities in Lord’s devotees reside,
Victory for those on Hanuman’s side.