“Take your mind away from me and put it back on your own wives. Like a sinner asking for the highest perfection, it is not appropriate for you to pray for me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.3-4)
nivartaya mano mattaḥ svajane kriyatāṃ manaḥ ||
na māṃ prārthayituṃ yuktaṃ susiddhimiva pāpakṛt |
“I just want my son to be married. He’s reached that age where he should settle down. After having studied for so long, he now has a good job. If he gets married and starts a family, I will no longer have to worry about him. Then he will be settled and secure. Otherwise he will remain an irresponsible bachelor, with no one to take care of him. How will he cook for himself after my wife and I are gone? Who will maintain his living quarters? Where will his social interaction come from if everyone else he knows is married with children? Therefore his marriage is top priority.”
It is natural for the father of a mature son to feel this way, but from the above referenced verse from the Ramayana we see that marriage alone doesn’t suffice for quelling desire. Desire in the material sense is known as kama, and strangely enough the more one tries to satisfy it, the stronger it gets. The recipient of the cogent words from above was a king who had many wives, all of the utmost beauty. And yet he had to be reprimanded, told to keep his attention on his existing wives instead of drawing it towards someone who is already married.
“I don’t understand why people ever break up. If you meet someone and there is mutual attraction, what can go wrong after that? I’m especially puzzled by the relationships that fizzle after many years of being together. If you love someone, live with them, and maintain some type of association, why is there ever a need to break up? Do not the people involved realize that the same cycle will repeat itself in the future with a new partner? Do they not think that the new relationship will have the same vulnerabilities?”
If you really think about it, it is kind of odd that relationships sever after so many years. That is never the intention going in. No one goes into marriage thinking: “Okay, so I’m marrying this person. In twenty years’ time they will be my greatest enemy. Eventually there will come a day when I will celebrate their weekends away from home. I will be so happy to be free of their association that I will purposefully stay late at the office during the week. And after I divorce them - this person whom I love now but will hate in the future - I will have to buy them a house. Seems like I should just pick someone that I despise today, buy them a house, and be done with it.”
Obviously the hopes of the people entering the marriage are quite different. They expect to be happy in each other’s company, especially if the marriage was arranged through mutual consent. The expectation is similar in the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, and yet we still see break ups all the time. From the study of shastra, or scripture, we understand that the cause of the later tensions is the nature of desire. Material desire is known as kama, which can also be translated to lust. The purified form of kama is prema, which is the real kind of love.
Real love is not dependent on any outside factor. In an amorous relationship, the perceived love is based on some type of affection received in return for service. Indeed, as soon as the flow of reciprocation stops, the relationship breaks down. In prema, there is unconditional love, offered without halt. Case in point Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Since she is married to the Supreme Lord in His avatara form, her love directed at Him is accurately described as prema. Despite being far away from Rama in the Ashoka grove in Lanka, where she is held captive against her will by the evil king named Ravana, she still loves Him. She certainly hopes that He arrives to come and save her, but that has no bearing on her feelings toward Him. If Rama should fully renounce her association, she will continue to love Him.
Technically, reciprocation is present in prema as well, but it is subtle. Indeed, you couldn’t love someone all the time unless there was some sort of return on your investment. The secret with prema is in the nature of the person loved. He is all-pervading, antaryami. Loving Him within the mind is as good as loving Him when He’s standing right in front of you. Offering Him a glass of water to His visible physical manifestation is as good as offering water to His deity representation or His form remembered within the mind. The same is impossible with any ordinary living entity; giving us another way to distinguish between kama and prema.
In prema you only need the name of the beloved. Rama is one of those names, and it means one who holds all transcendental pleasure. Sita feels that transcendental pleasure when serving Rama, so she cannot be enticed by any other man’s advances. Ravana foolishly thought of Rama as an ordinary living entity, and a poor one at that. At the time, Rama was living in the forest as a recluse, kicked out of His home after an order delivered by his step-mother. Rama’s decision was unfathomable to Ravana. In his life, no one told him what to do. If someone ordered him to leave somewhere, he would have that person killed. If no one else did the work for him, Ravana would fight that person himself. Thus he took Rama’s acceptance of the order to be a sign of weakness. This mistake would cost him dearly in the end.
In kama not only is the name insufficient in providing pleasure, but even direct physical association for prolonged periods does little to bring satisfaction. In Ravana’s case, there was not one, but hundreds of the most beautiful princesses in the world as queens. And he still desired someone else, a woman he by the way couldn’t have. If all we know is kama, we would think that Ravana should have been happy in his opulent life in Lanka. In the sections immediately preceding this one in the Ramayana, it is described how Ravana would awake every day. Attendants would sing songs from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, and then carry canisters filled with wine. He was fully immersed in the hedonistic lifestyle, and based on his burning desire to have Sita as his chief queen, we understand that he didn’t have his senses under control. One who is controlled by the senses is not considered very powerful, for dogs and other similar animals are the ones driven by the sense demands. The human being is supposed to be more intelligent, for they can use discrimination, choosing inaction over action when appropriate.
Inaction was appropriate here for Ravana, but despite the best counsel he would not listen. Sita here made it abundantly clear that there was no way for her to be with him. He shouldn’t have even prayed for her, for it was like a sinner asking for liberation from the cycle of birth and death. If you are impious in mind and action, why should you expect good results? If God is all-good and you are all-bad, why should you expect Him to give you the highest reward?
Interestingly enough, Ravana could have been satisfied living in opulence with his many wives. Sita here begins to tell him how. If he kept his focus on his own wives and in the process returned Sita to Rama, he would have been fine. This is because it would have been an act of service, the beginnings of a life spent in prema. In love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one can be fully renounced, living with family, or somewhere in between. In any situation, there can be love of God.
Only in service to the divine, which is known as bhakti-yoga, can the raging flames of kama be doused for good. This is because in the divine consciousness desires are purified. Rather than lead to ultimate misery, they bring all good things. Watching these proceedings from above was Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant sent by Rama to look for Sita. His whole life is spent in prema, and so he is one of the most honorable figures in the world. Ravana, on the other hand, never fulfilled his desires, including the one to have Sita as his wife. And since he rejected a life of prema offered to him on so many occasions, he ultimately found doom.
When son reaches mature stage in life,
Father looks to find him a good wife.
Only then will settled his life be,
From worries the good father to be free.
But from Ravana’s actions know,
That material desires not easily to go.
So many wives always by his side,
But senses within him did preside.
Towards proper action Sita tried to draw,
Ravana ignored, all this Hanuman saw.