HAVING committed a sin and run into danger, Ravana did not see how to extricate himself. Like other kings in a quandary, he called a council for consultation. Many spoke flattering words. Only two spoke harshly.
One said: "You have committed a fault. But I will give up my life for you." This was Kumbhakarna.
The other, Vibhishana, said: "You have committed a sin, but there is still time for repentance and escape from consequences. If you take this right and wise course, we shall all escape destruction and live happily. Restore Sita and seek pardon of Rama."
"Never," said Ravana.
"Then our ways part and I leave you," said Vibhishana.
In a conflict of duties, each one follows his own nature. All cannot follow one and the same path.
Ravana's self-indulgent vanity would not let him admit his error or retrace his steps. Very rarely does one who has committed a sin confess defeat. It requires some courage of a bad sort to commit a sin. But it requires much greater courage of a noble kind to confess it.
It was this noble courage that Ravana lacked. When an evil is being perpetrated, the friends of the evil-doer face a difficult problem. Some are constrained against their better judgment to espouse the wrong cause through gratitude for past kindness, a sense of loyalty, or affinities of blood.
Others think it their duty to try and reform the sinner, regardless of his anger and hatred and consequent danger to themselves and if their efforts fail they part company from the sinner, rather than abandon dharma and give their support to the sinner who persists in crime. They bold that it can never be one's duty to support or cooperate with adharma.
It would indeed be adharma to refrain from doing one's best to reform the sinner or to cooperate in his sin. In the Ramayana, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana represent these two different types. If Ravana had told Vibhishana: "Come, let us go to the Dandaka forest and carry off Sita," it is inconceivable that Vibhishana could have complied. That is why we respect Vibhishana.
"At least now restore Sita and be happy," Vibhishana said and tried to persuade Ravana. "Rama will surely forgive you. Take the way of dharma." But Ravana would not listen, and Vibhishana, as an enemy of sin, had no alternative but to part company from the perverse wickedness of Ravana. Hence it would be wrong to find fault with Vibhishana. And if we find fault with him, it is because our concern for dharma is weak.
But can we find fault with Kumbhakarna? We cannot do this either. He is one of those noble soldiers of lost causes whose faults we forgive for their selfless loyalty and sublime acceptance of death.
But, because we cannot condemn Kumbhakarna, it does not follow that we must condemn Vibhishana. There are some people today who rejoice in arguing against dharma and against Vibhishana; hence this elaboration of a simple point.
Men are restrained from evil by the wholesome fear that if they commit sin they would forfeit the affection and goodwill of their friends and kinsmen. This fear is a strong incentive to good behavior and its removal would be a serious loss in society.
All this is forgotten by those who argue that Vibhishana was a traitor. Ravana was the first, unfortunately by no means the last, to dub him by that name. Those who are anxious to retain the support of kinsfolk while pursuing evil ways disapprove of Vibhishana's conduct. But Vibhishana was not afraid of being a traitor. He would have nothing to do with adharma. His course was, however, not easy as we shall see.
The Vanara chieftains standing on the northern seashore saw all of a sudden the sky lit up with a golden glow like the summit of Mount Meru. It was too steady to be a flash of lightning.
In the brightness could be distinguished the forms of five big Rakshasas. Sugriva, the king and commander of the Vanaras, looking at them said: "There is no doubt these are Rakshasas come from Lanka with hostile designs."
On hearing this, the Vanara warriors armed themselves with trees and boulders and said: "Let us go. We shall intercept and slay them and bring them down to earth."
Vibhishana, hearing these words of the Vanaras, showed no signs of fear but from above with calm courage spoke out in a clear voice:
"Vibhishana stands here before you, the brother of Ravana, the wicked king of the Rakshasas. I am here before you, none other than brother to Ravana, who killed Jatayu and carried off Sita by force and is how keeping her a prisoner in Lanka. In vain I strove to turn him from his wicked designs and counselled him to restore Sita and seek Rama's forgiveness. All the response I got was disdain and public insult. Hence I am standing here before you. Renouncing kingdom, wife and children, I seek service and sanctuary at Rama's feet. I pray you, convey this information to Rama."
Sugriva mistrusted the good faith of the Rakshasa king's brother and reported thus to Rama: "Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana, has come here with four Rakshasa friends seeking sanctuary at your feet. They are standing there in the sky. Consider well, you who are skilled in affairs, what should be done now. These Rakshasas are adepts in duplicity. They can make themselves invisible and do many other tricks. They have all the skill and courage of the wicked. One cannot trust them. I believe that these Rakshasas have been sent by Ravana himself. They have come here to mix with us for subversive purposes. Or else they intend seeking an opportunity to assassinate the leaders in our camp. Whatever Vibhishana may say, we cannot forget that he is the brother of our foe. By birth he belongs to the wicked Rakshasa race. How can we trust him? This is some trick of Ravana, I have no doubt. It is best to kill Vibhishana and his companions right now. If we admit him into our camp, he will betray us at the first opportunity and return to his own people. Permit us, therefore, to destroy forthwith Ravana's brother and his followers."
Having thus frankly expressed his feelings at the sight of the Rakshasa, Sugriva stood in silence, awaiting Rama's reply. Rama listened and turned to Hanuman and other leaders and said:
"You have heard the words of the King who is well-versed in policy. Ravana's brother has come and waits there for our pleasure. I wish to know your opinion on this matter. In times of crisis, one should ask for the advice of friends. Tell me without reservation what you feel in your hearts."
Angada, the Vanara prince said: "He has come from our enemy's camp. We do not know whether he has come of his own accord or was sent by our foe. While perhaps it would not be right to reject him out of hand, it would be dangerous to accept him without testing him. Let us at least watch his behavior carefully without giving him any opening for mischief. If his movements are suspicious, we can throw him out. If they are friendly and show good faith, we shall accept him." Thus spoke the son of Vali.
Sarabha said: "I do not think it safe to admit him now or to decide later what to do with him. Even now, let us test him through skilful questioners and decide once and for all what to do with him."
Jambavan said: "Nothing can be discovered by testing such persons. If he is come here hiding treacherous intentions, no test can discover the truth. Ravana is our inveterate foe. His brother says that he has all of a sudden broken with him and come over to us. This sudden rupture with a brother is hard to believe. We have not yet crossed the sea. What is his motive in seeking safety with us while we are on this hither shore? All this is very suspicious. They are a deceitful race. I think we should not admit him."
Mainda said: "How can we reject a man on mere suspicion? Only after careful examination can we decide how to deal with him. He says that he has forsaken Ravana and come over to us. We can find out the truth of this statement. Some of us should talk to him and then decide. Surely we have enough ability to do this."
Then Rama turned to Hanuman the wise.