“It must be that either there are no saintly people here to follow or that you do not follow them, for your mind is perverse and devoid of etiquette.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.9-10)
iha santo na vā santi sato vā nānuvartase ||
tathāhi viparītā te buddhirācāravarjitā |
When someone does something very stupid, we may emphatically ask them: “Have you lost your mind? What on earth are you thinking? Are you drunk? Are you taking drugs? Why are you doing such a stupid thing? Where is your head?” From these questions it is assumed that one should not behave in such a way. The person in question should already have the necessary intelligence to know how to act properly. When the reverse is seen, it is natural to question what has caused the turn in the wrong direction. This was the reaction of Sita Devi as well, as she couldn’t believe why a king of an opulent land was behaving so against the rules of propriety.
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sita presents some options as to why the king Ravana was showing signs of having an intelligence perverted. He also had no etiquette, for he was propositioning a married woman who wanted no part of him. The two options Sita presents lead to the same condition. The first possibility is that there are no saintly people around. The saint here is referred to as a santa, and such people are described in many places in the Vedic texts. They do everything for God. Society requires at least some people with such behavior.
It is natural to get distracted by the demands of the body. The first demand is maintenance. You have to maintain what you have. The most important thing you have is your life. There is no question of anything else if the life isn’t there. To maintain the body requires food. You also need clothes and shelter. To procure these things, you have to work. Therefore work tends to take the primary focus in the human being. “How will I earn a living? How will I maintain my body?”
It’s easy to get lost in the cycle of dependency. You get one thing and think that you’ll be safe once you get it, but then later on you want to improve upon it. Your ego kicks in as well. You want to have better things than others. You want to have more enjoyment. In reality, though, you don’t need that much. You could actually survive living in a cave, eating fruits that fall from trees, and wearing torn rags. You don’t want to choose this option, but it is there for you all the same.
The santas live with the bare essentials. Not that they all live in caves, but even if they live in a house, they are not so concerned with what kind it is or whether or not it is more spacious than the neighboring house. The santas are fully devoted to God. They read, they write, they teach, and they worship. As all of their activities are a kind of worship, their life is a symbol of sacrifice.
“For the devotees there is no need for performance of prescribed sacrifices because the very life of the devotee is a symbol of sacrifice.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.16.20 Purport)
There is no reason to envy such people; rather society is so fortunate to have any such individuals around to set the best example. I may not be able to devote my life fully to God, but does this mean I should envy and belittle someone who can? Should I not instead applaud their effort and thank God that such a person is around?
From Sita’s second option, we learn what should result from having a santa around. Sita says that perhaps Ravana is not following the saints if they are in his kingdom. If I have a refrigerator full of food, but I don’t know it, what good is it to me? If I’m sitting on the couch starving in such a situation, is that very wise? I can easily walk into the kitchen and get something to eat, but if I ignore the food that is right there, it won’t do me much good. In the same vein, if there are so many devotees around but I don’t approach them or listen to what they say, what good will their close proximity do for me?
From this we also learn that the association of the devotee automatically should build character. If there are saints around you, you shouldn’t be running around stealing other people’s wives and trying to force them to become your chief queen, which is what Ravana did. You shouldn’t try to torture them into submission. You shouldn’t have your attendants harassing them day and night in order to scare them into giving in. Since Ravana did such things, Sita naturally wondered whether there were any saints in his community.
Interestingly, Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishana was a santa. He was pious from the time of his birth. Therefore the second option is what held true in Ravana’s kingdom. Vibhishana was there, but Ravana did not follow him. He did not listen to his younger brother even after he gave so much good advice. Therefore Ravana was doomed. His fate was sealed through his horrible behavior.
The santas inform us not only that there is a God but also that He is a personality. He can thus accept worship from both within and without. If you see Him in front of you, you can offer worship. If you don’t see Him, you can still offer worship. You can honor Him with your thoughts, words and deeds. The Ramayana is a lengthy work which pays tribute to Him through describing His deeds and His qualities. The work also describes the qualities of His devotees, the foremost of which are Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman.
Sita is the focus of this verse, and from it we see that she has perfect knowledge. She is a saint of the caliber of which she mentions, and she offered Ravana the best advice right to his face. She instructed him to return her to Rama and be absolved of all sin. Like a president granting a pardon, Sita’s husband Rama, who is also the Supreme Lord, would immediately forgive Ravana for what he did. Sadly, the fiend would not listen. He thought that God didn’t exist or that he himself was God.
In the same way, those who are bereft of the association of real santas or who refuse to listen to their good counsel come up with faulty philosophical conclusions, such as that God is impersonal, that there is no God, or that you only get one life to live so might as well fill it with as much sense gratification as possible. The spirit soul is eternal, and so there is no rush to cram in sense gratification right now. If there is any cause for urgency, it should relate to the turn to devotional service, as tomorrow may not come as planned. We could be somewhere totally different in the upcoming days, with a different corresponding consciousness. We could end up in an animal body, or worse, a place where there are no santas.
Through the influence of saints who follow in Sita’s line so much knowledge of God and His personal form is available today throughout the world. There are continuing efforts to spread the word even more, allowing everyone to act off real intelligence and follow the proper etiquette. The best etiquette is to always think of God by chanting His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This brings the best conclusion to life, commencing the brightest tomorrow.
Since logic not on solid ground,
Perhaps no santas around.
Even if some happened to be there,
Perhaps for their counsel no care.
After her to Lanka Ravana brought,
This Sita Devi, wife of Rama, thought.
Still, best counsel to fiend she gave,
So that his present and after life to save.
Didn’t listen, showed himself a fool,
Soon to drown in misfortune’s pool.