“He [Hanuman] saw in that great city seven and eight story buildings inlaid with crystal and decorated with gold. Those houses of the Rakshasas shone brightly with their surfaces studded with vaidurya gems and decorated with strings of pearls.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.52-53)
saptabhaumāṣṭabhaumaiśca sa dadarśa mahāpurīm |
talaiḥ sphatikasaṃkīrṇaiḥ kārtasvaravibhūṣitaiḥ
vaiḍūryamaṇicitraiśca muktājālavibhūṣitaiḥ |
talaiḥ śuśubhire tāni bhavanānyatra rakśasām
You work hard all your life, play by the rules, don’t bother anyone, and somehow manage to secure a high net worth full of valuable assets. When it comes time to protecting your wealth, you will go out of your way to ensure that the best possible care is taken and that all the potential pitfalls and areas prone to mistake are avoided. After all, it takes just one simple slip up, one move that is beyond the acceptable level of risk, to lose your entire fortune. One demoniac king in particular witnessed the devastating effects of improper wealth management, as one egregious transgression cost him everything, including the opulence of his kingdom. With all the wonderful palaces and their beautiful interior decorations adorning his city of Lanka, the king Ravana thought he was immune to loss. Yet due to his maltreatment of one particular individual, who also happened to be the source of all good fortune to not only him but to every single living entity in this world, everything would be lost.
Where does good fortune come from? Is not wealth rooted in our efforts of perseverance and unflinching dedication through adversity? If we take the risk of starting a new business, somehow manage to avoid having it be part of the ash heap of forgotten and failed ventures, and elevate it to a position of prominence in the world, should we not take some credit for the bountiful fruits that result? Surely there is reason to celebrate the rewards of material opulence that emerge from stiff competition in the business world, but taking ourselves to be the sole doers is a very short-sighted view. It is akin to the running back in football celebrating in the end zone after scoring a touchdown without acknowledging the hard work of the other ten members on the team. After all, if a running back had to face the defense, which consists of eleven players, all by himself, one against eleven, there would be no question of advancing to the goal line.
In a similar manner, success in any material venture requires the mutual cooperation of so many other entities, both large and small. A business that is successful at selling a product must have an appeal that makes the consuming public willing enough to peaceably and voluntarily part with their hard earned cash. Moreover, we know that many businessmen put in long hours at the office, play by the rules, and still don’t end up succeeding. Therefore there must be more to success and good fortune than just the actions of the doer. The actor in these cases is the individual, who gains his identity from the spiritual spark residing within the heart. The individual is the ishvara, or controller, of his body. He is the king of the castle. He decides what to do, where to go, and how to behave. But the other workings of the dwelling capable of action are out of the jurisdiction of the seemingly powerful and autonomous resident, the living entity. For instance, the spiritual spark has absolutely no control over the workings of the heart and the growth and appearance of the outer features. The heart, brain and vital organs operate involuntarily, as there is no conscious effort to keep them going.
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)
The Vedas, the sacred texts coming down from time immemorial in India, accurately note that there are two spiritual entities residing within every life form. One spirit represents the individual entity, who is localized and very limited in his potencies. The other entity is all-pervading, for He actually resides within every heart, remaining connected through a giant network of consciousness. The individual spiritual spark is incapable of being privy to the consciousness of any other form of life unless and until other entities reveal information of their thought processes. Still, this sort of secondhand information isn’t the same as if one actually got to experience the events described. Even with the individual’s own experiences, consciousness is not perfect, as memories quickly fade. We know that we survived within the womb of our mother for nine months, but we have no memory of this time in our life.
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.5)
The all-pervading soul, the one that has a unique, non-different instance in each life form, is conscious of not only every individual’s current life’s activities, but of every act that has ever been performed by any form of life existing past, present and future. In addition, this spiritual entity, which is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, is wholly responsible for distributing the results of action. Hence when we see two people train equally as hard for a specific race, with one person finishing the race more quickly than the other, we can understand that the worldly results and effects are due solely to the influence of the Supersoul and not the individual. As such, a wise man, one whose angle of vision has been purified through the acquisition of knowledge and dedication to the lotus feet of the original master of the universe, understands that all the assets he acquires are due simply to the grace of the most powerful spiritual entity, the owner of the divine consciousness.
The Supersoul, though a direct but subtle manifestation of the original Personality of Godhead, doesn’t personally take part in any of the activities of the individual or in the distribution of outcomes. Rather, the Supersoul directs other entities, empowered living beings, to take charge of controlling various elements like rain, water, fire, wealth, punishment, etc. As far as fortune goes, no one is more wealthy than the Supreme Lord. Since He is married to the goddess of fortune, He is addressed by names such as Madhava and Shripati. Though His wife, who is known as Lakshmi Devi in the spiritual sky, controls all good fortune, her benedictions are not intended to be used unwisely. One who takes himself to be the doer and his worldly objects as his own is certainly not acting under intelligence. If he follows such a mindset and continues to ignore the source of all his wealth, he will gradually slip into a hellish condition. Such was the case with the demoniac king of Lanka many thousands of years ago.
Ravana, as a powerful Rakshasa leader, had tremendous opulence in his kingdom. We know many of the details of his extravagant position from the Ramayana, the beautiful, transcendental poem compiled by Maharishi Valmiki. The descriptions of Ravana’s kingdom and his palaces are found in the Sundara-kanda, or the book of beauty, of the Ramayana. Upon first glance, it may appear that this section is titled as such because of its inclusion of the descriptions of the interior of Ravana’s kingdom. But the beauty in this particular book lies solely in the feats of strength and exhibitions of undying love shown by Shri Hanuman, the servant of Lord Rama. As many waves as there are in the ocean are how many non-different incarnations of the person most of us refer to as God exist. His original form is described as exquisitely attractive and providing of unmatched transcendental bliss. Hence in the Vedic tradition He is known as Krishna. As Lord Rama, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Personality of Godhead, took on His warrior prince form, which was not devoid of any of the opulences belonging to the Supreme Person, including the ability to enchant others. Hanuman was one of the enchanted, as he dedicated his life to Rama as soon as he met the Lord. Rama needed some help from Hanuman, as His wife Sita Devi had gone missing. Just as Krishna, who is also known as Narayana in the spiritual world, had descended to the phenomenal world as Rama, Lakshmi had come as Sita Devi, the beautiful princess of Videha. As the most fortunate individual in any situation He finds himself in, Rama could not be married to any woman except Sita.
The miscreants are always jealous of God’s power and supreme position. In fact, this envy is the root cause of the existence of the material world. Ravana was unique in that his envy was at the highest level, for he was tasked with playing the role of God’s greatest enemy prior to his descent from the spiritual sky. Every individual is a spirit soul at the core, so by constitution everyone is a lover of God. When the loving propensity remains dormant or forgotten, attachment to worldly objects and opulence ensues. For as long as the delusion remains, the individual soul stays separated in terms of consciousness from the supreme loveable object. In reality, there is never any separation even after the descent of the purified soul from the spiritual sky. The Supersoul always accompanies the individual soul, but in the conditioned state, one takes their wealth as the object needing the most management and protection, while neglecting their actual valuable relationship with the divine entity residing within the heart.
Envious of Rama’s position, Ravana hatched a scheme to kidnap His wife. Rama is antaryami, or the supreme witness, so He knows all that goes on. As such, no one can cause Him any harm without His sanction. He is the Supersoul after all, so the ability that man is so proud of is actually sourced to the Supreme Spirit. Ravana’s taking of Sita set the wheels in motion for his demise. What’s ironic is that he already had tremendous opulence in his kingdom. He even had hundreds of beautiful wives he could cavort with regularly. Yet the benedictions provided by Lakshmi weren’t enough; he had to have her for himself. He had all the wealth in the world, and he protected it very well, but due to his maltreatment of Sita Devi, his fortune would be lost.
Hanuman bravely made his way to Lanka as part of a reconnaissance mission performed for Rama’s benefit. Hanuman’s task was to find Sita, and in order to succeed, he had to infiltrate Lanka. Deciding to assume a stature the size of a cat, Hanuman prepared to enter the majestic city. From the above referenced passage, we see that Hanuman saw seven and eight story mansions whose floors were bedecked with jewels and gold. It is one thing to have a high rise apartment or office building, but it is another to have the floors and surfaces fully inlaid with the most valuable jewels and crystals. This shows that Ravana indeed had tremendous wealth in his kingdom, opulence that he was very keen on protecting. His island was far away from any mainland, so its strategic location provided protection against enemy attack.
But Hanuman was no ordinary enemy to Ravana. The demon had managed his wealth very well, but he neglected to take care of the source of all good fortune, that princess staying as a prisoner in the ashoka garden. Sita Devi was not treated very well in Ravana’s kingdom, as she was given an ultimatum that if she didn’t agree to become Ravana’s wife after a certain period of time, she would be killed. In addition, Ravana’s female Rakshasa associates were instructed to instill fear into her and harass her throughout the many days and nights she spent in separation from Rama. Because of his offenses, no amount of wealth management could protect Ravana from losing his assets which he originally had no claim to.
The tremendous opulence of the city was also meant to serve as a deterrent for anyone who thought of attacking. The spiritually disinterested and ignorant always take their mundane wealth and education to be indications of a highlife, one that is superior to the religious systems adopted by those considered destitute and poverty stricken. What the materially intoxicated don’t realize is that the highest class transcendentalist, one who understands the workings of the soul and the temporary nature of matter, sees excessive opulence not used for a tangible purpose as the greatest punishment. Ravana’s palaces were part of an illusion; they masked his high level of ignorance in regards to the supremacy of God and the temporary nature of life. By showing off their opulence, the demoniac hope to instill fear and awe in the saintly class.
Hanuman was impressed by the decoration of the city, but this didn’t stop him from proceeding forward. No amount of illusion can derail the train of spiritual freedom that is bhakti-yoga. Hanuman would eventually make his way to Sita, give her Rama’s ring, and then return back to Rama and inform Him of Sita’s location. But just before leaving Lanka, Hanuman gave Ravana a parting shot, a hint of what was to come. After Ravana set Hanuman’s tail on fire, the monkey-warrior decided to make the best use of the situation by expanding to a massive size and using his tail to burn the city. When Hanuman entered Lanka, there was a facade of opulence masking the demoniac nature of the king and his citizens. Upon leaving, Hanuman shore the city of its brilliance, exposing the Rakshasas for who they were, spiritually poverty-stricken individuals wholly deluded by illusion. Ravana’s high-story palaces fell like houses of cards. Rama would march to Lanka with millions of Hanuman’s closest friends and defeat Ravana and the Rakshasas. Sita would be rescued, and all would end well. Wherever Sita is well-protected and kindly served, there is never any chance of losing the most valuable asset one can attain in this life, love for God.