“Being under the influence of illusion, I underestimated Rama and took Him to be a mere child. Thus I ran towards Vishvamitra’s sacrificial altar. With that, Rama released an acute arrow capable of destroying His enemies. Upon hitting me, that arrow forcefully threw me away to an ocean one hundred yojanas [eight hundred miles] away.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.19)
tena muktaḥ tato bāṇaḥ śitaḥ śatru nibarhaṇaḥ |
tena aham tāḍitaḥ kṣiptaḥ samudre śata yojane ||
Vedic philosophy has something similar to the Satan of the Christian tradition, with a notable distinction. Satan is typically taken to be a worthy adversary, an almost equal to the Supreme Lord. The natural question is why such a person would be allowed to exist. If God is all good, why would He allow someone to compete with Him for attention? Why would that person be given so much strength as well?
Vedic philosophy has the concept of maya. She deludes living entities into viewing things, especially the most important matters in life, incorrectly. The literal translation to the word is “that which is not.” Maya makes me think that eating that extra slice of pizza will be good for me, when it really won’t. She makes me fall into the trap of dependency on drugs and alcohol. I can only follow the wrong path repeatedly if I am bewildered.
Maya is not an adversary to God, though. This is a key point to remember. Maya is an energy emanating from the Supreme Lord. He invests in her full potency to bewilder. The greatest illusion is to think that there is no God, that everything happens by chance. This illusion is so strong that even if a person sees the Supreme Lord in the flesh, right in front of their eyes, they may not realize His true nature. They may mistake Him for an ordinary living entity, fooled by the external vision. This happened one time to a very powerful Rakshasa named Maricha.
The people who are always under the sway of maya are known as asuras. This is a Sanskrit word that is a simple negation of another word. The sura is always devoted to God. We can think of the sura as a good guy. The asuras are evil. They are against the Supreme Lord and godly principles. The asuras can be considered to be Satan-like. They are completely under the spell of ignorance.
The source of maya once descended to earth in the form of a warrior prince. He appeared from the womb of Queen Kausalya, who was married to Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. The child was named Rama, and He was to follow in His father’s footsteps and rule the kingdom. The job of the king is to protect the citizens, and the greatest danger to the innocent is attack from foreign enemies.
Rama was no ordinary child, however. Since He was God in person appearing on earth, He retained the divine qualities. Therefore it was not surprising that the venerable sage Vishvamitra asked for Rama’s protection from wicked night-rangers in the forest. Known as Rakshasas, these ogre-like creatures would attack the peaceful sages during the times of religious observance known as yajna, or sacrifice. The modern day equivalent would be a terrorist coming into a church during the time of a sermon. The Rakshasas were so low that they would eat human flesh as well.
Maricha was one such Rakshasa. He was asura-like in mind, and so he took the sura-like sages in the forest to be his enemy. Indeed, the priestly class is known as bhu-sura, which means demigods of the earth. Maricha and his associates went to attack Vishvamitra one time expecting a typical result, but got something totally different.
Rama was there protecting Vishvamitra. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was there as well. As Maricha would later describe to his leader Ravana, Rama was so young that He barely had any signs of manhood on His face. When Maricha went to attack, Rama calmly drew an arrow to His bow. Without breaking a sweat, He shot that arrow into Maricha. The force from that weapon threw the Rakshasa one hundred yojanas away, dropping him in an ocean. The rough equivalent of that distance is eight hundred miles.
Rama is always God, despite what the external vision may or may not say. In the same way, He has full potency as the supreme soul living inside of every creature. The only difference is in His choice to withhold some of His potency. As the Supersoul He intentionally sits back as an impartial witness. When the individual makes the decision to turn to spiritual life, however, Rama breaks His neutrality and offers help. Maya works at His direction, and so it should not surprise us that through Rama’s grace the influence of maya can be nullified. The Supreme Lord creates situations for the devotion of His devotees to flourish. Even if they are attacked by Satan-like creatures, He protects them.
When upon His arrow to call,
Maricha into far away ocean to fall.
Though only as a youth appearing,
In Him no sign of Rakshasas fearing.
Despite Rama with the eyes seeing,
Since asura-like, maya her clutch not freeing.
Only through His mercy consciousness purified,
And influence of Satan-like maya nullified.