Of Perceptions and Responses


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Many of us respond to a situation as we perceive it. Our perceptions are usually based on the situation, venue and our state of mind. We could be right most of the times, yet there are instances when we can go wrong horribly very simply because we have no clue about the other person’s circumstances.

The Mahabharata lays out one such instance which proves to be fatal to Parikshit the king of Hastinapura. Once, the Kuru king went on a hunting spree. He was lost and exhausted after an energetic chase. Soon he reached a clearing. There he found a sage immersed in a serene state of meditation. The royal scion bowed to Rishi with great reverence and offered the customary respects. Then he asked the Rishi if he could have some water. The Sage did not respond. The king’s repeated queries and request for some water seemed to fall on deaf ears. Parikshit was frustrated. The disgusted king looked around. He found a dead snake lying in the whereabouts. He picked up the carrion with one of his arrows and tossed it around the neck of the sage, mouthed some inanities and insults at the still silent sage.

When Parikshit self righteously turned to go away from the scene, another sage entered the scenario. He happened to be Shringi the son of sage Shamik. The virtuos son was infuriated to see his father insulted with a  dead serpent round his neck. He did not care that the perpetrator of this great sin was the king of the land. He pronounced a terrible curse on the ruler saying that the emperor would die of snake bite in a week’s time. Parikshit became jittery. He was aware of the potency of the curse. He hastened back to Hastinapura and got a royal quarters built on a tall column and moved in, in the hope of averting death. That he was overcome by death is another story.

This episode shows that each man did what he perceived to be right based on his experience and the given situation. It is easy to see that both of them did not act justifiably.

Most of us behave in more or less the same manner and end up wondering about what went wrong when matters turn sour.

Quality of Mercy is Twice Blessed


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Many of us carry a mental baggage. Injustice and wrongs meted out to us at different points of life continue to bog us down. We either wallow in self pity or very simply crave to settle scores.

Both options can prove detrimental to our physical and mental health. Religion and psychology say that the only way forward is to forgive and forget. This lofty concept is easier said than done. This is because we are not as large-hearted as we believe ourselves to be. Secondly, we forget the times when we have been pardoned for our sins by generous souls. The sum and substance of the quality of mercy can be identified in one of the key episodes in the Ramayana.

Rama killed Ravana, the king of Lanka and the abductor of his wife in a gory battle. Hanuman hastened with the news to the Ashoka Vana where Sita was held captive.

The distressed princess felt elated. Hanuman told Sita that he could punish her offenders. Sita gave Rama’s messenger a long look. She looked around her at the faces that were no longer menacing. She simply told Hanuman to leave them alone. When Sita saw the quizzical expression on Anjaneya’s visage, she explained that the female ogresses who guarded her and intimidated her were mere instruments in the hands of their leader. They had been carrying out their assignment out of dread of their king. Hence they were not to be faulted or penalised for simply carrying out their duties.

Besides, her redemption from the clutches of her abductor happened to be a red lettered day in her life. She had no earthly possessions to give away to signify her joy. Her royal lineage prompted her to be generous. Her intrinsic nature chose to forgive the malefactors. Hence it was but natural for her to let bygones be bygones and carry on with life.

Shakespeare reiterated the same sentiment when he said, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes. The throned monarch better than his crown;—”

True Love is Immeasurable


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We promise God money, gifts and sometimes harsh penance as a token of our thanksgiving for fulfilling our wishes. We praise, clothe, feed and entertain God as we see fit.

A lot of us who go out of the way to please God simply forget that God – – our creator does not expect anything from us either in cash or kind. We are only expected to extend sincere affection towards our maker and he will take care of all our needs.

An incident from the Bhagavatha Purana reiterates this viewpoint. Satyabhama, the spouse of Krishna, once lost her husband to Narada in a game of dice. The distressed wife beseeched the celestial sage to let go of her husband.

She offered to give gold that equaled the weight of her dear husband. The sage agreed to alter his condition. Accordingly, Satyabhama sheepishly poured out the details of the awkward bet to the king of Dwaraka.

Then she requested him to sit on one plate of the balance. She placed all her jewellery on the other plate of the scale. The gold did not measure up to the weight on the other side. Then she ordered that the gold from the household and then even the treasury.

To her despair, she found that her best attempts failed. At that point of time Krishna gently told Satyabhama to seek help from his senior wife Rukmini. Satyabhama nurtured envy towards the said co-wife and generally steered clear of her. Yet, in the given circumstances, she approached Rukmini in order to redeem their husband.

Though the senior queen was aghast to hear what had transpired, she rushed to the spot. When she saw the scale in a state of gross imbalance, she quickly plucked a leaf from the Tulsi plant and placed it reverentially on the gold uttering the lord’s name.

Lo and behold! The plate holding the lord rose high immediately. Krishna helped himself out with a knowing smile that said it all. Immediately, Satyabhama felt ashamed but also felt enlightened. She realised that true love is immeasurable in worldly ways.

Beauty is Only Skin Deep


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People often get distracted. They start paying attention to the flimsy and the mundane aspects of life which are fleeting by nature. This can prove to be a great impediment in achieving one’s target.

A story from the Shiva Purana highlights the importance of staying focused and also reiterating the fact that intrinsic beauty is a combination of truth and humility.

Once when the self-declared celibate Rishi Narada was wandering through the universe, he was smitten by the extraordinary beauty and grace of princess Shrimathi. He was seized by a sudden desire to marry her. Hence he decided to attend her Swayamvara. The sage realised that he could marry Shrimathi only if she chose him as her groom.

Since he had always led an austere life, he wondered whether the princess would choose him over the royal, youthful, good-looking kings and princes who had come to seek their luck. All the same, Narada felt that he could not pass up the opportunity. He appealed to Maha Vishnu to bestow him with Harimukha.

When he was granted the boon he went to the Swayamvara happily. Narada seated himself confidently because he knew that the princess could not reject him as he was endowed with the handsome face of Hari. The Swayamvara began.

When the princess entered with the garland, Narada stood up eagerly. The court laughed in unison. Narada was annoyed and disappointed when the princess walked ahead and garlanded a striking suitor.

When he expressed his displeasure, he was asked to look into the mirror. When he did so, he was aghast to see that he was monkey-faced. When he confronted Maha Vishnu furiously, he was told that he was bestowed with Harimukha as desired. Then the Lord clarified that Hari also meant monkey.

Besides, the Lord had to play a seemingly cruel joke on his most ardent devotee to awaken him from his disillusionment. Though Narada was hurt and angry, he understood that he was beleaguered by distractions that would serve him no purpose in the long run.

Teaching to Learn


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Over the years, I have realised that no matter whatever else I do, teaching is what keeps me ticking. I started teaching primary school children donkey’s years ago since the time I was in high school. This exercise made me realise that teaching made a…

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Bhikshatana-Soup for the Soul


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We live in times where begging is a sign of abject poverty or perhaps laziness coupled with lack of self respect. It is generally looked upon as the last resort of an individual who possibly refuses to lead a procreative life.

Yet going on Bhikshatana or a tour of begging was a part of student life and that of the men who belonged to the Brahmana sect of the ancient Indian society. A little trip down our traditional society will reveal that the practice finds its roots in the Varnashrama system that was propounded and followed during Vedic age.

Those were times when people contributed to society in which they lived on the basis of their physical and mental capabilities. The students and Brahmins who expended their time in rites and rituals, research, learning and disseminating knowledge, had little time to take care of the daily logistics of life. Hence, society took it upon itself to sustain such members in their community as and when their help was sought.

Thus, Bhikshatana or seeking of alms came into practice. The seekers of alms would arrive at the doorsteps of their potential donors and call out loudly and humbly for their requirement. The charitable household would take stock of their situation and then the lady of the house would give away one or two items. Usually it would be some food grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts or a length of cloth according to their financial strength.

Rarely though, there were times when the seekers of alms would receive very little or face rejection or derision from the public in general. This experience taught the seekers to accept discourteous or negative response without feeling offended or judgmental. They learned the valuable lesson of humility in the practical way.

Moreover they imbibed the value of curtailing the impulse to save up or hoard for a future time. In other words, Bhikshatana served as soup for the soul to evolve as a mature personality.

Indian culture introduced and included the practice of Bhikshatana variously, with the intent of inducing charitable and humble traits in our society.

Tactlessness Can Be Hurtful


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Sometimes, we end up saying or doing tactless things with the best of intentions in mind. Our idea boomerangs and shows us in bad light. A little introspection will reveal that lack of right approach and choice of wrong words land us in such unpleasant situations.

The plight of sage Jaabali is one such as recorded in the Ramayana. When prince Bharata knew that his mother Kaikeyi was the architect of the twin catastrophe that struck Ayodhya, he decided to go to the forest and impress upon Rama to return from exile.

An entourage of family, well-wishers and ministers followed him. Repeated requests by Bharata pleading Rama to return were turned down by the Ikshavaku prince.

At that point of time, Jaabaali, an advisor in the court of Ayodhya, took it upon himself to convince Rama. He pointed out that it would amount to folly if the prince turned down the kingdom, especially in the new scenario when Kaikeyi and Bharata wanted him to assume throne. When Rama refused to breach his promise, Jaabaali he discounted the value of the promise of Rama in the altered circumstances.

Jaabaali felt emboldened by the calm attitude of the exiled prince and started elucidating his point with a very insensitive example. He said that people perform Shraaddha for their forefathers and feed Brahmins in the belief of satiating their dead. If such a practice had any genuine value attached to it, one could also perform Shraaddha to people going away on a long journey and then there would be no need for them to eat on their way.

When Jaabaali tried to ply his point using such tactless examples, he ended up enraging Rama. Raghava who was unperturbed when his crowning ceremony was cancelled and sent on exile, was enraged by the insinuations of Jaabaali. Rama, who was determined to redeem his promise to his father, actually faulted his sire for having entertained an atheist and foolhardy advisor like Jabaali in his court.

Jaabaali confessed that he had resorted to nihilistic ways in the hope of changing Raghava’s mind following which he sought the latter’s forgiveness.