“O night-ranger, just as you protect your own wives, you should protect the wives of others. Making yourself an example, enjoy with your own wives.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.7-8)
yathā tava tathānyeṣāṃ dārā rakṣyā niśācara ||
ātmānamupamāṃ kṛtvā sveṣu dāreṣu ramyatām |
We protect our own family. We treat them well; at least this is the typical behavior. In the case where our family isn’t very large or we’re not very close with them, there are still others that we consider friends. We are nice to them when we meet them. We’ll pick up the check every now and then at dinner. We’ll buy them things for their birthday. Most importantly, we will be there for them when there is trouble. We will protect them in whatever way we can. That is what it means to be a friend. A public leader ideally should extend that fraternal attitude to all of society, especially to the helpless.
Why should the leader behave that way? What is wrong with holding affection for people who are good to the leader and harboring ill will towards those who are against him?
A leader is someone who is followed. This is the definition. If no one follows me, I’m not much of a leader. If others are going to follow me, it would make sense to try to set the best example. In the example that I set, the principles should apply to more situations than just my present one. If I play favorites and only help out those who I am friends with, others will follow suit. They will choose their friendly parties, who may or may not align with mine, and act only in their interests. This is not what I want, as the citizens are all under my guidance as a leader. The thief can justify their behavior by pointing to my partiality. “Hey, I’m just helping out myself and my family. Why should I care about others’ property? I’m in it for myself, just like you are, sir. Every man for himself.”
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
A righteous principle is one that applies universally; not just to an isolated circumstance or area. Respecting other people’s property is better than stealing because if stealing is invoked by others, I could lose my property without just cause. I wouldn’t like that, though at the moment I may not be so concerned. The thief thinks only in the short term and of their own interests. If they were the target of the same behavior, they wouldn’t like it. With a righteous principle, it is beneficial whether one is the party implementing it or the one on the receiving end.
An abducted princess from an ancient time once tried to impress this fact upon a king whose lust had driven him astray. The princess was already married to a capable husband. They enjoyed each other’s company and they were married in all righteousness. There was no question as to whether they belonged together. Indeed, to this day those growing up in the Vedic tradition use this couple as an example to describe an ideal match between a husband and a wife.
The evil king wanted this princess for a wife. Not that he was bereft of the company of women. On the contrary, he had so many beautiful wives who were faithful to him. They enjoyed with him nightly. Think of having a party to go to every night of the week, where they serve the finest wines and the most succulent meats. To the person lacking God consciousness, this seems like the high life, the pinnacle to an existence. But from the vile king’s uncontrolled senses, we see that such a lifestyle does nothing to bring long-term satisfaction, which is known as shreyas. Shreyas is superior to preyas, or short-term satisfaction, because it represents a higher goal, one that will bring real preyas much more often.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, the abducted princess is appealing to any decency that exists in the vile king. She also points to a source of pride in men, namely the ability to protect. Manliness is the sign of superiority in a man, and chastity in a woman. Manliness for a king is measured by his ability to protect. This vile king, named Ravana, had multiple wives, so if he could protect them well he would be considered manly. He indeed boasted of strength quite often, though he kindly omitted the fact that he had to steal the princess in question away from her husband in secret. Ravana wasn’t man enough to fight Rama, Sita’s husband. Just as the gambling addict only tells you of their victories, so too the cheating Ravana never dared mention his fear of Rama.
Sita, the princess in distress, here tells Ravana to protect her in the same way that he protects his wives. Implied in the plea is that Ravana already does a good job of protecting. This is a sort of compliment. She asks that his protection be extended to her as well. When the leader of a country constantly calls out this business or that, people of this income group or that, he essentially makes distinctions. “Certain people are good and certain people are bad, and it’s based on how much money they make.” This indicates unintelligence and a lack of proper leadership. A good leader extends his protection to all, not playing favorites based on spite or envy. Every innocent citizen is worthy of the protection of the government.
Sita also advises that Ravana make himself an example and enjoy with his own wives. This way others would not be tempted to steal women who were married to others. This is a basic etiquette that any rational thinking adult would not have to be reminded of. Ravana was under the sway of kama, or lust, so such advice was not only warranted, it needed to be repeated over and over again. And even still there would be little chance of it having any effect.
Sita’s husband was the opposite of Ravana. He didn’t even hate Ravana for having done what he did. Rama would eventually rescue Sita after defeating and killing Ravana in a fair fight. Rama, who is the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince, did not hold a grudge afterwards. To do so is not in His nature. He is the ideal leader, and His wife the ideal subject. She is protected by Him no matter what.
Example for others a leader does make,
Citizens proper behavior from him to take.
If favoritism to friends and family only,
Regard for others people not to have any.
Sita to his kingdom Ravana brought,
That he could win her over he thought.
Fixed in husband Rama was her mind,
That fiend had his own wives she did remind.
Better to enjoy with them alone,
And from that best example shown.