Some of us go through embarrassing situations in life for no particular fault of ours. It becomes increasingly difficult to take a stand, especially when the people involved are the next of kin, good friends or well-wishers. A story in the Bhagavatha Puranam speaks of one such predicament.
Naabhaaga, an erudite scholar, decided to find his own fortune. He was well versed in all areas of rites and rituals. He knew that he could earn a great deal of wealth if he offered his niche services. For starters, he went to the Yajna conducted by sage Angirasa as directed by his father Nabhaga. The sage was very happy with the arrival of the young man.
On the sixth day, ceremonies, which involved a lot of nitty-gritty, had been worrying the sage. Naabhaaga did the needful efficiently. The Yajna was completed successfully. Sage Angirasa was very happy and satisfied.
In a moment of gratitude and generosity, he offered every bit of his frugal possession as Dakshina to Naabhaaga. The latter accepted his fee thankfully and took leave of the sage. Naabhaaga was waylaid by Rudra. The angry god accused Naabhaaga of walking away with what rightfully belonged to him. The young man was confused. Nevertheless, he walked back to the site of the Yajna along with Rudra. The duo found sage Angirasa in conversation with Naabhaaga’s father. Rudra presented his case. Almost immediately, Angirasa and Nabhaga realised that they had goofed up. Strangely, both of them in their zeal had overlooked that the last portion of the Dakshina had to be lawfully offered to Rudra. They admitted their fault sheepishly, clarified the matter and apologised profusely. Both of them found it highly embarrassing to dictate the future course of action.
Naabhaaga and Rudra understood the nature of the faux pas. Naabhaaga decided to iron out the matter. He did not play the blame game nor did he cock a snook at Rudra for being angry with him for no reason. Instead, he handed over the entire amount to Rudra. Angirasa and Nabhaga were overwhelmed with the turn of events. Rudra was touched by the integrity of Naabhaaga and blessed him with unlimited prosperity.
If any of us happen to inadvertently get involved in a slip-up, we will do well to display a generous and forthright spirit like Naabhaaga.
Life often scatters obstacles in our path. Some of us sidestep them while others overcome them. Yet, if we are riddled with difficulties from time to time, we tend to give up. A story from the Mahabharatha says that if one tackles problems intelligently and with integrity, it will stamp our success with moral satisfaction and happiness.
Princess Sukanya had to marry the old sage Chyavana whom she had blinded inadvertently. Though there was no equivalence of any sort in the marital ties, the young bride did not have any complaints. She was quite cheerful and sincere in carrying out her conjugal duties.
A couple of years later, the handsome celestial twins, the Ashwinikumaras, happened to sight the beautiful Sukanya. They were smitten by her ethereal beauty. They tried to wean her away from her marriage and make her theirs. The principled lady refused to comply to their wishes, politely, yet firmly. The demigods were struck by her loyalty to her husband despite his shortcomings. They offered to cure him and restore his youth as a reward for her steadfastness.
Sukanya and Chyavana were ready to accept a lease of normal and healthy life. Just when things seemed to fall in place, the divine twosome laid out their condition. The clause said that Sukanya could continue in her marriage if only she could identify her husband in his new Avatar. The lady accepted the challenge without batting an eyelid.
Accordingly, the sage was taken to a nearby lake by the duo. The trio immersed themselves in the waters. When they emerged, Sukanya was startled to see that the three of them were identical in every single way. She was stressed but gathered her wits and observed the threesome walking towards her. She recollected from her vast repertoire of knowledge that Godly entities never came into physical contact with earth. She noticed that only one of the three men was leaving footprints on the wet banks of the lake. She walked demurely towards her only love in life and stood by him. The Ashwinikumaras were highly impressed by her integrity and intelligence and blessed the couple a happy and a fruitful life of togetherness. Sukanya had every reason to flounder, but she chose to overcome it.
There is a sea of difference between bravado and an earnest promise meant to be kept. People make tall promises in a moment of generosity or false pride.
When they do keep their word, they end up compromising on their well being or losing their possessions and peace of mind. If we are afraid of going back on our promises, we must give considerable thought to the commitments that we make, lest we end up feeling frustrated or shortchanged for lack of pragmatism.
A story from the Vishnu and Vamana Purana, deals with this aspect of promises in a telling manner. Once Mahabali, an Asura king, wanted to gain power over the three worlds performed a related Yajna. He gave away rich gifts of the receivers’ choice when they came to attend the rites. Then, Mahavishnu manifested himself in front of the king as a dwarfed Brahmana.The Asura king welcomed him with due respect and rituals and requested the lustrous young man to seek gifts from him. When Vamana sought land measuring three times his feet, Mahabali could not help feel amused.
He urged the recipient to ask for more. After all, he was a mighty sovereign, hoping to have the whole universe under his custody. He could certainly afford to give more than three feet of land measured by the tiny feet of the celibate who stood in front of him. The young man refused to alter his stance.The king set out to fulfill his promise in a ceremonial way, much against the counsel of his Guru Shukracharya who thought something was fishy. Mahabali was also intelligent enough to understand that the young midget who stood in front of him was no ordinary boy. Yet, he did not want to retract his vow. When the time came for the mysterious midget, to measure out his land, he grew magically. His giant feet measured the earth in one pace, the heavens in the other. When there was no other place to gain his third measure, Mahabali kneeled humbly before Mahavishnu, offering his head for the third pace.
Nevertheless what needs to be commended is that he made good of his promise even at the cost of his own life, which cannot be expected of mere mortals.
Most misunderstandings and rifts in personal and social relationships can be resolved if people start discerning the difference between having self respect and being egotistic. Oftentimes the two traits are confused for one another. While the former is commendable, the latter can prove to be detrimental. The Mahabharatha chronicles the tale of the foremost Guru Drona who rose to great heights because of his self respecting nature and fell from grace because of his bruised ego.
The immensely talented man of humble origin gained employment as the teacher of martial arts to the princes of Hastinapura. Though the royal household came forth to sponsor his living expenses and that of his family, he politely but firmly declined the offer. Drona had a son about the age of the Kuru princes. Yet never once did the self respecting teacher encourage his son to partake or enjoy the privileges of his highly placed peers. He lived and provided for his family within his means.
Once, his child Ashwaththama saw his regal friends drinking milk. The curious child longed to taste the white liquid. When he expressed his desire to his parents, he was given a tumbler of wheat flour mixed with water which the child drank happily thinking that it was milk. Drona could have had all the milk his son needed. Nevertheless the self respecting man would not accept any help from his employers before it was time to collect his rightful Gurudakshina.
It was around this time Drona’s wife Kripi reminded him of his childhood friend who had become the king of Panchala and requested his friend to seek his help. Drona was reluctant in the beginning, but went along all the same to meet his friend for old times’ sake.
Unfortunately for him, Drupada refused to take cognizance of him and behaved high-handedly. Drona was deeply hurt when his erstwhile chum offered him cows by way of charity to a Brahmin as against the token of friendship. Drona vowed to trounce Drupada’s arrogance.
One thing led to another and to make a long story short when the master’s self respect manifested itself as his ugly ego he failed miserably, to the point that his dead body was beheaded by Drupada’s son Dhrishtadyumna.
It is not what we do, but how we do it that makes all the difference. Perhaps, this is the reason why, we are often counseled to work with passion, dedication and discipline if we hope to achieve success. This concept is also expounded as Karma Yoga by Lord Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita. Sage Dhaumya reiterates this tenet by narrating a story to the exiled Pandavas in the Mahabharata.
Once, Sage Kaushika sought alms of a housewife. She happened to be serving lunch to her husband. She requested the holy man to wait till she completed her job. The enraged Kaushika glared at her. The lady of the house told him very calmly that she was not the crane which was burnt down by the sage’s ire. Kaushika was taken aback. The lady had just referred to the incident that had happened on his way to her doorstep. A crane had relieved itself on the sage. It was burnt down to ashes in a moment when the sage had glowered at it. The sage who was proud of his yogic power could not figure out how the lady came to know what had transpired. When he could not contain his curiosity any longer he blurted out his question. The lady told him to meet the butcher Dharmavyadha to clear his doubt.
More surprise awaited Kaushika, when the butcher enquired whether the former had been sent by the lady especially when the sage could not figure out any medium of communication. The sage spelled out his confusion. The butcher gave him a long look, asked the sage to wait and slipped inside his shop. Apparently, he had to attend to the needs of his elderly parents. He emerged after a while and then told the sage that he was committed towards his duty just as the lady was committed towards her husband. The sincerity of purpose with which each of them carried out their duties bestowed them with a superior spiritual power. This in turn helped them to anticipate and understand the events that take place in and around their lives.
Kaushika was enlightened with a new dimension of knowledge. He realised the value of dignity of labour. He learned that whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. He had indeed stumbled on a universal truth that being duty conscious can uplift our spirituality quotient.
The Dashavatara, which chronicles the ten manifestations of Lord Vishnu, defines the Lord’s role very distinctly. Parashurama Avatara happens to be an exception. The manifestation as Parashurama which precedes Ramavatara finds presence in Krishnavatara also. Parashurama’s appearance in both Ramayana and Mahabharata has made some people wonder whether the two epics speak about the same person or different person who lived through the Treta Yuga and Dwapara Yuga.
Towards the end of Parashurama Avatara, Maha Vishnu had completed his mission and was reborn again as Rama. It is believed that in the last portion of Parashurama Avatara and the first portion of Ramavatara there was a combination of the human and the divine. The manifestation of Lord Vishnu as Parashurama lasted till he met Rama. An incident in the Ramayana speaks of a time when Rama was returning to Ayodhya with his bride Sita after his wedding, he was confronted by Parashurama.
The axe wielding Brahmin knew that Rama had broken the Bow of Shiva in the process of stringing it in order to win Sita’s hand in marriage. He was aware that the power of Maha Vishnu was split between the two Avataras. Parashurama waylaid Rama and challenged the prince of Ayodhya to prove his prowess by stringing the bow of Maha Vishnu. Rama was struck by the temerity of the Brahmin. He took the bow quietly and did the needful in a trice.
In that moment, the component of Maha Vishnu in Parashurama merged with that of Rama. However, the body of the Brahmin in which the Lord resided continued to live as sage Parashurama. As Raghava handed over the bow to Parashurama, he laid a condition. He told the ascetic that the latter could forfeit the merits of his penance or his physical mobility as a sign of his penitence.
Interestingly, Parashurama surrendered the Punya he had garnered over his lifetime and opted the power to be on his feet so that he could retire to the Mahendra mountains and spend his days in prayers. He went on to tutor great pupils like Bheeshma and Karna as he went on to live as the contemporary of Sri Krishna. The Lord reiterated the theory of Karma was applicable to one and all himself included!
Once sage Bhrigu planned to conduct a very great Yajna on the banks of river Saraswathi. He decided to dedicate the Yajna to the best among the trinities. The debate in his peer group failed to arrive at any result. Bhrigu set out to figure out the answer by himself.
He first went to Satya Loka and found the creator Brahma and his consort Saraswathi immersed in their own world. They did not notice Bhrigu. The sage ventilated his temper and walked away from their doorstep. In Kailasa, Shiva and Parvathi did not even recognise the presence of the sage as they were in the midst of an interesting conversation. The sage threw a tantrum and walked out. At Vaikunta, the scene was no different. Mahavishnu was relaxing on Adishesha and Mahalakshmi was pressing his feet. They failed to acknowledge the sage.
The affronted sage kicked Vishnu in his chest much to the chagrin of his divine spouse.
The Lord immediately apologised to the sage and held his feet. Bhrigu was born with an eye on the sole of his right foot. Vishnu gently shut the eye symbolic of the bloated ego of the sage, when he rubbed the area and the eye disappeared. The suitably chastised Bhrigu realised that he had gone overboard in conducting his test.
This episode from the Bhagavatha Purana has covered many facets of human behaviour and life skills.
Bhrigu wanted to honour the best among Gods. He meticulously charted out a test of patience and executed the decision consciously.
The process involved a great deal of risk, but the sage would not settle for anything, but the best. And cost him, it did, for he did cross his limits when he thrust his foot on Mahavishnu’s chest.
The erasure of his third eye which was keeping him from being humble helped the sage to recognise the importance of not stretching his zeal too far.
The righteous anger of Mahalakshmi about the episode highlights the need for the emotion, especially when one’s self-respect or that of a dear one is at stake.
Perhaps, that is why the Lord did not stop her, but it was also because he knew that his true love for her and his fortitude would prompt her return at the earliest.