“To a man who is not satisfied with his own wives, fickle and mean-minded and of diverted senses, others’ wives lead him to ruination.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.8-9)
atuṣṭaṃ sveṣu dāreṣu capalam calitendriyam ||
nayanti nikṛtiprajñaṃ paradārāḥ parābhavam |
The wives of others shouldn’t lead to ruination. They are just human beings after all. They should have no different an effect than the husbands of others or the children of others. From this verse from the Ramayana we see exactly what factors must be present in order to shift the effect of the wife of another man. As these factors contribute to a negative outcome, whatever can be done to prevent their emergence is good. Indeed, those factors are not good under any circumstance, whereas the converse factors bring the best results.
Here Sita Devi describes a generic truth, where it is implied that the recipient of her words should take note. At this time she was being held against her will in the Ashoka grove in Lanka by the king of the area. Each person has a choice as to what kind of person they want to be. In the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the dividing line is pretty simple. You’re either a devotee or not. The devotee acknowledges the supremacy of the highest being, who also happens to be the original. The exact name of that being isn’t necessarily important, as His position is something that can be understood scientifically.
We all have a mother and a father. My mother and father may not be the same as yours, but we both have a set of parents nonetheless. No person can say that they just appeared from nowhere. If you start traversing up the chain of parents, you’ll eventually reach a point where information of origin isn’t available. Perhaps three or four generations up you start to lose track. But just because you don’t know the names of those ancestors doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist. Indeed, if you go back thousands of years, you can still find an ancestral link. The highest being is the original. Before Him is no one. Obviously we can’t get our minds around this. The human being cannot think beyond the bounds of the infinite time and space.
Fortunately, fully understanding infinity isn’t necessary. Acknowledgement of the existence of the original being alone is a great step forward. One who knows of this highest being, addresses Him in some way that is authorized, and takes some steps to think of and please Him is known as a devotee. In Sanskrit, the word used is sura. There is also a sura race described in the ancient texts, but it is the qualities which really matter. The non-devotee is the opposite of a sura. For this reason they are addressed as asura, or the negation of sura. The word “asura” is translated into English as demon, but note that the root word is just a negation of the term that describes someone who believes in God. Sometimes a person with the qualities of a sura is born into the race of asuras, as was the case with Prahlada Maharaja. Thus race isn’t as important; the qualities of the individual are what count.
“Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)
Though his father was a brahmana, Ravana was born a Rakshasa, which is a race that is even lower than the asuras. One of His younger brothers, however, who was also a Rakshasa, had the qualities of a sura, so again race wasn’t the sole contributing factor to character. Ravana had a choice in his actions. In this instance, he chose to keep the wife of another man away from her husband. He tried every which way to make her his own. The woman was married to a prince who was renounced at the time. And even though the prince was living in the forest, the king Ravana did not try to fight with Him.
Taking the conditions described by Sita above, know that the opposite applied to her husband. He was satisfied with His own wives. In His case He only had one, the best one at that. No one is more beautiful than Sita. No one is kinder, no one is more dedicated to God, and no one is more concerned with the plight of the devotees of the Supreme Lord, who happens to be her husband. This also means that Rama’s qualities are the godly ones. He is the universal Lord, though in a visible manifestation specific to a time and circumstance.
Rama was also very steady of mind. When He had to do something, He did it. He was easily satisfied by whatever came His way. He was living in the forest in order to uphold a promise made by His father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. Not that Dasharatha had promised to kick Rama out of the kingdom. The wonderful king actually had the opposite mentality; he loved Rama very much. The promise, which was more generic, was made on a previous occasion, and it was offered to the king’s youngest wife Kaikeyi. She cashed in on that promise at a very inopportune moment for Dasharatha, and so to remove any doubt from the picture, Rama agreed to her wishes. Sita came along because she wouldn’t let Rama suffer in exile alone.
Rama is also kind-hearted and of fixed senses. It’s easy to understand why being kind is good, but the senses aspect may seem a bit confusing. Think of it this way: Say that you have to study for a test. Is it good to get drunk beforehand? Is it good to have your senses desiring this food and that? Is it good to have your senses calling you to chase after this member of the opposite sex or that? Obviously not. You want your senses controlled so that you can focus on the task at hand. In Vedic culture so much emphasis is placed on sense control because only the human being has the ability to control the senses. If you can get by eating very simply, why not do it? If you can get by without sleeping so many hours every night, why not give it a try? If you can fulfill your sexual desires by having a single spouse, why waste so much time jumping from partner to partner?
Such truths are brought to light in this wonderful statement by Sita, which was a response to Ravana’s advances. The positive attributes are inferred from her statement, and the result of lacking them is also clearly stated. One who is the opposite in qualities from Rama can find ruination through associating with the wives of others. This situation especially applied to Ravana. Since his senses weren’t under control, since he was mean-minded and fickle, Sita was going to cause his ruination. Ravana already had so many beautiful wives, why did he need another? Why did he need to take someone else’s wife? Why was he so driven by lust?
Observing this conversation from a perch on a tree above was Shri Hanuman. He was working at Rama’s behest to look for Sita. She had been taken away by Ravana in secret. Hanuman had the same qualities as Rama. As a pure sura, he had the same level of devotion to Rama that Sita had, except his mood was a little different. Know that in devotional service there is plenty of diversity of action. Leaving home and sitting in front of a tree all day long are not required.
Hanuman was connected to the wife of another, but her association didn’t bring him ruination. In fact, just the opposite occurred. He is famous today for being a heroic warrior who serves the Supreme Lord without outside motivations. He is famous, though he has no desire to be. He is worshiped, though he only relays worship of him to worship of Rama. Instead of leading to the destruction of everything he has, Sita’s association guarantees that he has whatever he needs to serve Rama. Thus the godly qualities always lead to a better end, something the residents of Lanka would have to find out the hard way.
“Why on another’s wife set is your mind,
When so many already in your kingdom to find?
Fickle you are and surely of a mind that is mean,
Thus in ruination your entire world to be seen.
Devoted to another already is my life,
To Shri Rama, I am His chaste wife.
These bad qualities quickly turn around,
And then make judgments morally sound.“