Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Ramayana: On Compassion for the Wicked

Once upon a time a hunter was being pursued by a tiger. The hunter clambered up a tree. On reaching the top of the tree, he found that a bear was perched on one of the branches. Both realized that the tiger was more powerful than them and they entered into a pact that they would not push each other down. When the tiger arrived, he asked the bear to push the hunter down. The bear refused. Then the tiger asked the hunter to push the bear down. The hunter tried, but he failed to dislodge the bear. 

The tiger addressed the bear for the second time, “O bear, your pact with the hunter is broken, since he violated his pledge and tried to push you down. You must punish him by pushing him down.” The bear refused and chanted a hymn which is translated as: “The wicked acts committed by others are evil committed by others. They do not touch you. A pledge must be honored. For virtuous people, good conduct constitutes ornaments.”  

This story of hunter, bear, and the tiger was told by Sita to Hanuman in the Ramayana (in the section called Yuddha Kanda (the Book of War)). After Rama had killed the demon king of Lanka, Ravana, and won the war, he asked Hanuman to go to Sita, who was being held as a prisoner in Lanka, and inform her of his victory. When Hanuman met Sita, he first gave her Rama’s message and then asked her permission to kill the demon women who were guarding her and had oppressed her during the period of her captivity in Lanka.  

Sita told Hanuman that the wicked should not be killed. She narrated the story of the hunter, bear, and tiger. She insisted that it was virtuous to show compassion to the wicked. Hanuman accepted Sita’s teaching and spared the life of the demon women.

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