“I have brought this ring, given by the high-souled Rama, for the purpose of gaining your trust. All good fortune unto you. Please have confidence that the fruit that was your distress has ended indeed.” (Hanuman speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 36.3)
pratyayārtham tavānītam tena dattam mahātmanā |
samāśvasihi bhadram te kṣīṇa duhkha phalā hi asi ||
“Why am I suffering so much? How could this be happening to me? It’s one thing after another. I don’t remember having done something bad. It must be from a previous life. My chickens have come home to roost. The suffering is finally hitting where it hurts. I wish it would just end already.”
This lamentation is not uncommon, as man has an inherent understanding of right and wrong. It’s called the conscience; the little voice inside your head that tells you that what you are doing is not a good idea. “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.” After stealing, the thief is in constant panic, wondering if they will get caught.
The idea of getting punished later for something you did before is known as karma in general conversation. The word is of Sanskrit origin, and it actually just means “work.” The more complete definition is “fruitive activity.” Action-reaction. Do something and see the result in the future. Two seconds from now is just as much the future as two hundred years from now.
Phala is the word that describes the results to karma. The literal translation is “fruit.” The use of the word is intentional. You plant a seed. You nurture it. You watch it grow. The result is fruit of some kind. From the beginning that was the intention with planting the seed.
The same applies for all kinds of work that produce a result. The phala of karma don’t necessarily manifest right away. Indeed, sometimes the results go unseen for a very long time. And the results don’t stay around forever, either.
“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
Still, nothing happens just randomly. The initial cause is always work. And so Sita Devi attributed her great distress, duhkha, to some work she did in the past. She wasn’t exactly sure what that bad thing was. She was practically sinless since birth. She never hurt anyone. She married according to the rules of the bow contest held by her father. She didn’t cause trouble in the home of the in-laws.
Indeed, in following her husband to the forest for fourteen years, she was just trying to be supportive. She yelled at her husband’s brother one time, but that was out of love. She didn’t have malice towards anyone. She had reached the foreign land of Lanka after being too trusting of a visitor to their hermitage. He was dressed like an ascetic religious man. Sita was kind to him at first, and that kindness was repaid in the form of being dragged away from her temporary home against her will.
In the verse from the Ramayana quoted above, Hanuman informs Sita that her distress is over. The result of whatever she did in the past has now ended. She should take confidence from Rama’s ring, which Hanuman has brought for her. Rama is her husband, who is mahatmana. This means “great-soul.”
From further study of Vedic teachings, we learn that Sita is actually the goddess of fortune and Rama the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore karma doesn’t apply to either of them. Fruitive activity is exclusively for the development of the material body, both in this life and future ones. God and His eternal consort are not subject to reincarnation.
Sita is so innocent and humble that in her earthly pastimes she thinks karma applies to her. The real cause of the temporary suffering was to put the wheels in motion for the demise of Ravana, the king of Lanka who had terrorized the world long enough.
Still, the words of Hanuman are applicable to the modern day. We too have been suffering for very long, even though we may be unaware. For some past mistake we took birth in this lifetime, and through continued consciousness of the material, more reactions to fruitive work are scheduled to manifest.
Confidence should come through the holy name. The ring Hanuman gave had Rama’s name inscribed on it, and today the acharyas give us the maha-mantra. This is like a ring of sound whose authenticity is proven by the content. The holy name, chanted with love, faith, and attention, signals the end to the fruit of our distress. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Here because some past mistake done,
But confidence from holy name should come.
That in reincarnation spinning no more,
Acharya with key for heaven’s door.
Sita so humble for herself thinking,
That from karma into despair sinking.
But Hanuman her spirits to save,
When Rama’s ring to her gave.