“Generally there will be affection for that which is visible. And for that which is not visible there is no affection. The ungrateful are capable of destroying their affection in this way, but not Rama.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 26.43)
dṛśyamāne bhavetprītiḥ sauhṛdaṃ nāstyapaśyataḥ ||
nāśayanti kṛtaghnāstu na rāmo nāśayiṣyati |
It is said that man inherits four defects at the time of birth. He has a tendency to cheat. Knowing full well his inability to rule everything, there is always some insecurity. This fear manifests in cheating to some level. Man commits mistakes; he is not perfect. He is also easily illusioned; things and people are always tricking him. That pizza pie on display in the store looks so tempting, but in fact eating the whole thing will lead to discomfort later on. Still, casting aside all the previous bad memories, the person goes ahead and orders the whole pie for himself.
The fourth defect is imperfect senses. We can’t perceive everything. We have no idea what is going on in the room next to us unless someone tells us. We don’t know what our son or daughter is thinking at this moment. Since they are full of life, we know that they are indeed thinking something. We can’t even remember our own perceptions. “What did I eat for breakfast a year ago today? How did that verse from the Bhagavad-gita go that I was supposed to memorize for my weekly class?”
With imperfect senses we rely on sight alone for observation and emotion. Sita Devi here references one of the results of that reliance. There is the general tendency to have affection only for that which is seen. If I see my dog, I think about it. If I see my parents, I remember all the sacrifices they made for me while growing up. If I see my friends on a daily basis, I try to do good for them. Once the objects are no longer within sight, however, the affection diminishes. The more ungrateful a person is, the easier it is for them to lose their affection in this cause-and-effect circle. One person has His eyes everywhere, however, so He is never ungrateful in this way.
The “what have you done for me lately” saying is another way to describe the same tendency. We ask our friends for favors. This is only natural. If you can’t ask your friend to lend you some support every now and then, who can you ask? So our best friend picks us up from the airport. They run to the house when we have forgotten something. They look up something online when we are in an emergency situation. They come to pick us up when our car has stalled out and we are stranded on the side of the road.
Ah, but that one time that they fail to grant us a favor, we get upset. The many past sacrifices are no longer visible. They are distant memories only. What is perceivable in the present is their failure. Indeed, another issue is that by coming through for us so many times in the past our friend raised the level of expectation in us. We just assume that they will always get the job done. We don’t think that they may not like bailing us out all the time. We don’t consider their feelings as much. It becomes “what have you done for me lately” instead of “thank you for all that you have done for me in the past.”
This attitude may or may not apply to us completely. It depends on how ungrateful we are. All of us have imperfect senses, so there is no way to always remember everything that someone has done for us. Sole reliance on sight isn’t the right way to go all the time, but it is indeed a habit. The husband of Sita was not ungrateful in the least. He remembered every single good deed done for His benefit. Goswami Tulsidas makes particular mention of this quality in Rama. The poet remembers how Rama gave so many wonderful benedictions to those who did only a single good deed for Him. In contrast, others quickly forget a host of benedictions offered to them, ungrateful souls that they are.
Sita knows Rama’s nature. Here she is in a very difficult situation. Female ogres surround her and threaten to eat her up. They regularly ate all kinds of flesh, so these weren’t empty threats. The king of the land, Ravana, wanted Sita for his chief wife. She refused him completely, over and over again. Therefore the king resorted to threats of abuse. He ordered his grim-visaged female attendants to harass the innocent Sita until she caved.
Sita is here addressing those ogres. She is letting them, and the world for that matter, know that though man is generally only affectionate towards that which can be seen, in Rama there is no such defect. This is because Rama is the Supreme, the personality behind the concept of an attributeless energy of truth. Only a personality can remember. Only an individual can be without ungratefulness and have full affection for both the seen and the unseen.
Technically, there is nothing unseen by Rama. His eyes are everywhere, though He has no eyes. This is how the Upanishads describe Him. There is no limit to the transcendental qualities of the Supreme Lord. He is described as nirguna since no material quality could ever be attached to Him, as there is duality in every quality that we encounter. There is grateful and ungrateful. There is happy and unhappy. The Absolute Truth is above duality.
At the same time, Rama is saguna. He has spiritual attributes which are visible to man with imperfect senses. There is no difference between the nirguna and saguna; just the latter helps to give an idea of what “attributeless” really means. Rama is supremely grateful. He remembers everything done for Him and does not let sight play a role in determining His disposition.
He has eyes, but they are not material. The range of perception in His eyes is not limited. He can see millions of miles away. He can see the microscopic and the macroscopic. Moreover, He remembers all that He sees. He always remembers the boundless affection that Sita has for Him. He remembers every devotional act of the sincere spiritual seekers. He remembers a single utterance of His name made in innocence by even a young child who has yet to fully understand the dualities of the material world.
Indeed, there is none more grateful than Rama, and so it is not surprising that the people of the world who are the most pious are forever devoted to Him. The ogres in Lanka could not understand Sita’s nature, and so they harassed her and tried to get her to move her attention away from Rama. They also couldn’t understand Hanuman, who was secretly perched on a tree at the time watching what went down. As Rama is grateful, Hanuman and Sita never stop loving Him. As such, anyone who follows the devotional path is assured of remaining in the good graces of the Supreme Lord, whose transcendental eyes see everything.
Stuck at work, can’t get free,
Can you do a favor for me?
All thanks to them now to give,
But in future forgetful to live.
Not the case with Sita’s husband indeed,
To remember forever just a single deed.
His eyes anywhere and everywhere to go,
As most grateful of all devotee’s know.