“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 |
How you live your life matters. You can’t just do this and that and expect to find every auspicious result. Just from ordinary work alone, we see that not everything arrives right away. You graduate college and expect to have an expensive home and six-figure salary, but that isn’t the case. You can get angry about it and try to blame everyone else in the world for what you don’t have, but the fact is that you have to work to achieve things. In this instance, Sita Devi reminds us that for someone who is sinful their entire lives, asking for the highest reward, the perfection of all perfections, is not appropriate. It is quite silly, actually.
Let’s say that you’re working at an office for a company. There are other employees there as well. Let’s say that for some reason or another, you are mean to everyone. You make accusations that are false. You do this all the time because you’re not thinking clearly. You blame everyone else for your problems, so naturally any issue that arises at the office your first instinct is to find fault with someone else. While being mean is second-nature to you, others will not like it. When the time comes for hanging out after work, why would others want to invite you? If you’re not doing a good job and nobody likes you, why should you expect something favorable? Perhaps through their kind nature they may invite you on occasion, but this is the exception. At the end of the day, your actions have consequences.
In this verse from the Ramayana, Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, makes reference to a papa-krita, or someone who does sinful acts. A sinner is someone who sins. The word “sinner” may rub some the wrong way, as it seems overly judgmental. In the case of the Vedas, the sins are designated as such because of the detrimental effect they have. It’s not that the pious go around just looking for people to put down. If I take a screwdriver and turn it left to right in order to loosen up a screw, I’m obviously doing the wrong thing. In this realm my act constitutes a sin. It’s not decided as such just because of what others say. There is a real-life consequence. “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” is the saying, which means that the way I’m doing it here is only making the screw tighter, which is the opposite of what I want.
In the larger scheme, if I want to reach a higher destination, to find a better lot in life, I should avoid the sins that are delineated in the scriptures. All those things we know to be sin are in accordance with some guiding system to better one’s situation. Sex before marriage is bad because the human being has a higher potential for intelligence. Surely there would be no reason for God to create a regulatory system that would make sex life less inhibited and more frequent. No one needs to be taught how to eat or how to have sexual relations. Yet these are mentioned in scripture anyway, meaning that the ultimate purpose to the mention is to limit the behavior.
“I am the strength of the strong, devoid of passion and desire. I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles, O Lord of the Bharatas [Arjuna].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.11)
Sex life within marriage and for the purpose of procreation is not sinful. It ideally does not have a detrimental effect on the consciousness. On the other hand, illicit sex leads to so much trouble. Case in point Ravana, the recipient of these words from Sita. He was married already to many women. This was allowed in ancient Vedic culture for kings who could support and protect more than one woman. Having multiple wives itself wasn’t sinful, but here we see that Ravana still covets another woman. She is not his wife either. She belongs to Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Rama is very generous. He will give practically anything to anyone who is surrendered to Him. Ravana could have received so many more beautiful women as wives if he wasn’t inimical towards Rama. He couldn’t have Sita, though. She is Rama’s and only Rama’s. Sita conveys that message here to Ravana by ordering that he take his mind away from her and place it back on his own wives. He was already married; he had no reason to commit sin to satisfy his desires.
The fruit of pious life is known as a siddhi, or perfection. The prefix “su” means auspicious or great, and so susiddhim means the most auspicious perfection. We can equate this with liberation, or the release from the cycle of birth and death. We are in the midst of this cycle right now, as each day passes and our body continues to die. We take birth in the next womb, and the cycle starts anew. The purpose of pious life is to gain release from the cycle. That is the highest perfection, and in the human form the spirit soul has the best chance of achieving it.
Through their behavior the sinner basically conveys the message that they don’t want the highest perfection. They may ask for it later on, but it’s a silly request, a day late and a dollar short. It’s like not studying for any of your exams all semester and then expecting to ace the final exam. It’s like eating cheese and butter all the time and expecting to have low cholesterol. It’s like taking in so many calories every day, not exercising, and expecting to lose weight.
Here Sita takes the two extremes to emphatically make her point. She doesn’t mention a person who may have sinned just once. She refers to a papa-krita, which is a person of sinful deeds. She also doesn’t refer to just any siddhi. The “su” in front refers to the best perfection. In essence, she is the best perfection and Ravana the lowest sinner. You have two opposite ends of the spectrum. The distance apart is so great that it cannot even be measured.
It was stupid for Ravana to pray to have Sita as a wife, but this doesn’t mean that her association is totally off-limits. Watching these proceedings from his perch on a tree was Shri Hanuman, who is a dharma-atma, or pious soul. He is completely without sin, as evidenced by Shri Rama’s trust in him. Rama is the Supreme Lord in His avatara as a warrior prince and Hanuman is Rama’s greatest servant. As a reward for his piety, he gets to see Sita and serve her. Hanuman doesn’t have to ask for this specifically; Rama knows what will be good for him. Thus in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, one doesn’t even have to worry about praying for this thing or that, for the very acts of chanting and hearing and serving in general bring the guiding hand of the Supreme Lord, who distributes the just rewards in all circumstances.
Ravana already had many wives,
With them should have been satisfied.
To take another’s wife he tried,
Laws of decency he defied.
Sita could be his wife never,
Devoted to Shri Rama forever.
Impossible to fulfill was his request,
Like sinner wanting perfection the best.