IN response to Rama's invitation, Hanuman expressed his opinion in clear, sweet and pregnant words:
"Why should you ask for our advice? Not even Brihaspati has anything to tell you that you do not already know. If it is dangerous to admit Vibhishana, how is the danger met by delay and trial? Where is the time or opportunity for a test? More over, Vibhishana has not approached us stealthily. He has come to us with frank openness and a clear object. What is there for scouts to discover about him? It has been said by some that his sudden advent is suspicious. But why? What wonder is there if Vibhishana became disgusted with Ravana and foresaw his certain disgrace and a defeat? What wonder is there if he recognised your heroic virtues and nobility and the certainty of your victory? To me the time and manner of his coming give no room for suspicion. It has been suggested that before admitting him our leaders should put him questions and examine his answers. But one who knows that he is suspected would cease to speak or behave naturally. He would be afraid that we are out to find only faults in him. And thus his real nature will not be revealed. I see no cause for suspicion in the face or speech of this Rakshasa suppliant. His carefree looks disclose a guiltless heart. The wise say that the face is a perfect mirror of the heart. I think that Vibhishana has come here honestly to seek sanctuary at your feet. And there is nothing strange in his action. He knows Ravana's real weakness. He knows that the lord of Lanka is fated to fall. He knows too that you have slain Vali and given his kingdom to Sugriva. Granting that his real motive is to secure for himself the sovereignty of Lanka, there is nothing wrong in it and certainly it is a guarantee that he will be loyal to us. Hence I feel that we should admit him."
The Vanara chiefs thus differed in their views. Kumbhakarna acted according to ordinary morality. This was a simple thing that everybody could understand. But Vibhishana followed a higher morality. The path he chose was more difficult and likely to be blamed.
He knew (how could anyone else know?) his inward suffering at the thought of Ravana's evil doings. Ordinary people could not sympathise with his situation. Hence the Vanaras failed to understand the conflict in his mind. Even today people find it hard, without elaborate explanation, to appreciate Vibhishana aright.
Patiently, Rama listened to the various views of the Vanara chiefs. When at last he heard Hanuman's words he was filled with joy.
Rama, steadfast in his own dharma, found satisfaction in Hanuman's utterance. A good man is glad when a friend's opinion supports his decision on a question of duty.
"If a man comes as a friend," said Rama, "how can I reject him? It is against the law of my life. All of you, my friends and helpers, should know this. Once a man surrenders himself, one should overlook all his faults."
But Sugriva was not satisfied. He said:
"This Rakshasa has on his own showing deserted his brother whose cause he considers lost. How can one put faith in a person who forsakes his own brother in his need?"
Valmiki records that on bearing these words of Sugriva, Rama turned to Lakshmana with a smile. Probably the smile was provoked by Sugriva's forgetfulness of his own fraternal conduct in his indignant condemnation of Vibhishana!
Rama said to Sugriva: "I see what you mean. But listen. It is natural for kings to suspect brothers and neighbor kings. Good kings who entertain no such suspicion are exceptions. Most kings imagine that brothers envy them. What wonder then if Ravana suspected and insulted Vibhishana? It follows that Vibhishana feared danger to himself if he stayed on in Lanka. I conclude therefore that he has no sinister motive against us in coming here for refuge. Let us go further and grant that he has eyes on the kingdom, expecting Ravana's defeat at our hands. Even in this ambition there is nothing wrong. Well, Lakshmana, can we expect all people to be like our Bharata?"
Having said this, Rama was silent for a moment, lost in remembrance of Bharata's selfless love. Then he spoke: "Who in the world is as lucky as I am? Who has a brother like Bharata? And what a father I had! His love for me was so great that his life fled when I came away to the forest. And my friends, who else is blessed like me with friends such as you?"
Having spoken thus he wiped the tears in his eyes, and went back to the subject on hand.
"I see no point in the argument that Vibhishana will forsake us, as he has forsaken his brother. He had cause for forsaking his brother, and can have none
for leaving us. We do not want Lanka, and if, as is natural, he wants it, he can get it only through our victory. From the point of view of policy, it would be a mistake to reject Vibhishana.
"But there is a stronger reason. When one comes to me for refuge, I cannot reject him. This is my dharma. It does not matter if as a result of this I suffer. Even at the cost of life I must do this duty of mine. Never can I deviate from it. Verily, I tell you, even if Ravana himself came to me for sanctuary, I would accept him without hesitation. How then can I reject his brother who has done me no wrong? Go and fetch Vibhishana."
"My Lord Rama! It is wonderful how clearly the right stands out demonstrated when you speak!" said Sugriva. "I see things clearly now. I shall go and bring Vibhishana. May he too become a loving friend of yours, even like us!" And Sugriva went to fetch Vibhishana.
In the Vaishnava tradition, this, episode, in which Vibhishana is taken by the prince into his camp and innermost council, is held to be as important as the Bhagavad Gita episode in the Mahabharata.
It illustrates the doctrine that the Lord accepts all who in absolute surrender seek shelter at his feet, regardless of their merits or defects. Their sins are burnt out by the mere act of surrender. This is a message of hope to erring humanity. It is the heart of the Vaishnava faith that there is hope for the worst of us if only we surrender ourselves to the Lord.
But why should I restrict this doctrine to the Vaishnava tradition? Is not this the heart of all the religious traditions in our land, yes, and of all the religions in the world? Every world teacher stresses this certainty of relief and redemption. It is not to Arjuna only that Krishna said: "Have no fear, cast off all doubt, I shall destroy all your sins." Wherever in the world God has spoken to mankind in a human voice, He has given this assurance.
There are two ways in which we can regard Valmiki's account of Rama's acceptance of Ravana's brother. The poet describes the rules of policy, the matters to be examined before one can accept a visitor from the enemy's camp.
This is shown in the speeches of the Vanara king, the cultured and accomplished Hanuman, and Rama, the firm upholder of dharma. But in addition to right policy, we see here Rama's character and personality due to nature and nurture.
He said: "I cannot reject anyone who comes to me for protection. This is my dharma. If Ravana himself came to me, I would not reject him."
Those who look on Rama as an avatar of God find in this utterance the essence of scripture. The solemn assurance which Krishna gives to Arjuna later in the Gita, that assurance the Prince of Ayodhya declares in the presence of Sugriva and others in this Vibhishana episode of the Ramayana.
This divine assurance is the life and light that a world filled with sin and darkness, needs.