On Making Pragmatic Promises


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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.

When Wit Goes Wrong


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Good humour is a very sensitive emotion. It succeeds only when both the perpetrator and the person or the people in the receiving end are both sensible and sensitive about the contents of their joke. In other words, a healthy joke will steer clear of vulgarity or exploiting a weakness of a person or a community. Sometimes, the most well intended humour can go awfully wrong creating resentment and even enmity for the humorist.

A tale from the Shiva Purana recounts how even the mighty Lord Vishnu was not spared for having played a practical joke on his dearest devotee Narada. Once, Narada was besotted by the beautiful princess Shrimathi. He wanted her to choose him during her Swayamvara. He realised that if he wanted his dream to come true, he must be the most attractive suitor. Narada was also aware that Mahavishnu possessed the most charismatic face in the universe. Therefore, he sought to be blessed with Harimukha (the face of Vishnu also known as Hari) for the Swayamvara. The amused Lord decided to play on the pun on the term Hari which also meant monkey. Narada’s visage was transformed to that of a simian, but he was unaware of the joke. He went along to the Swayamvara only to be laughed and jeered at.

When Narada realised that he had become the laughing stock at the court, he was deeply hurt. He cursed the Shiva Ganas who prompted him to look into the mirror and embarrassed him. He marched to Vaikunta and confronted Lord Vishnu angrily about the breach of trust. He cursed the very Lord he adored to experience separation from his spouse. Once Narada gave vent to his rage, Mahavishnu explained that he had made Narada the butt of his joke to make him realise that he had swerved from his chosen path of eternal celibacy. In fact, the whole episode was structured to awaken the sage from his disillusionment. Narada understood his mistake and made haste to retract the unreasonable words blurted out in a fury. However, Mahavishnu accepted the curse gracefully because it would facilitate him to play out his manifestation as Rama, but more so because he wanted to establish the fact that when humour does not go well with the recipient then things can sour up.

Human and Divine


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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!

Many Dimensions of Life Skills


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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.

Selflessness or Helplessness


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We are living in times when most people refrain from or at least think twice before helping one another. People, who do help, fall into two categories. One set of them help in the hope of reaping returns later. Another set of people are Samaritans for whom helping is their second nature.

The Samaritans’ natural instinct to help is often exploited by the people who are at the receiving end of the good deed.This lopsided equation leaves the helper braving the brunt of his action, while the receiver is sometimes not even sensitive to the fact that he has plucked his benefactor to the bones. A tale from the Upanishads elaborates the different dimensions of unquestioning helping nature and its impact on the helper.

Once, the Devas decided to perform a Maha Yajna. Protocol dictated them to abstain from possessing arms during this spiritual activity.They requested sage Dadheechi to become the caretaker of their valued possessions. The sage, who led an altruistic life, did not want to get involved. The Devas impressed upon the sage that their rivals would never dare to incur the curse of the sage at any cost.

Dadheechi understood the magnitude and might of the weapons, so he took up the responsibility of safeguarding the same. The Devas completed the Yajna successfully, but did not come back for the weapons. Meanwhile, Dadheechi found it difficult to concentrate on his penance because of this liability. He liquefied the lethal weapons and consumed them.

Several years later, the Devas felt the need for weapons when they were badgered by Vritrasura. When Indra, their leader, came to know that the weapons lay in the bones of the sage, he realised that he could retrieve them only when the sage passes away. Indra did not hesitate to request Dadheechi for the bones, because his need was urgent.

Dadheechi understood the emergency. He gave up his life to honour his promise. Indra created the infallible Vajrayudha using the bones of the sage and slayed his enemy. Dadheechi immortalised the concept of selflessness with his deed.

Helping one another is the only way forward. However, the helped must be conscious not to bleed the helper white and push him to a state of helplessness.

Key in Integrity for Better Results


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The next time we catch ourselves on a typical “Why me?” mode, it will do us well to remember that we and we alone are the architects of our destiny. The little joys and sorrows that envelop us from time to time find their roots in our doings.

A story from the Vishnu Purana makes this point abundantly clear. Maha Vishnu quelled the pride and sovereignty of the Asura king Mahabali by measuring out the three paces of land across the heavens, earth and the head of the Asura king with his giant footsteps. Nevertheless, the lord was pleased with the truthfulness of Bali. He blessed him with the position of Indra, but not before the king paid for his misplaced pride.

Hence at the end of Vaamana Avatar, Maha Vishnu blessed Bali to be the uncontested ruler of the Asuras in Suthala, the nether region. The lord also identified the king to receive his energy from the negative activities of the people on earth. Bali would get the vibrations of all the gifts given to undeserving Brahmins during death ceremonies.

He would receive the fruits of studies of students who manage to skirt around the fringes of knowledge without following the associated disciplines. He would get the fruits of Yajnas performed without giving dakshina or the appropriate fee to the master of the ceremonies. The benefits of Homa performed without the presence of Ritwijas or the knowledgeable souls would reach Bali. The consequence of gifts given without earnestness would descend on the king. The offerings made to the gods without culture and faith would add to Bali’s kitty.

When one observes the inventory of lackluster responsibilities of Bali, it is easy to see that the lord disapproves of any action that is devoid of earnestness, discipline and Truth. Nevertheless the activity would be given some credit. Maha Vishnu made Bali realise that every activity would be reckoned with. The Asura king accepted the lord’s verdict unquestioningly, because he understood that he was being used as an instrument to cleanse the earth of mental and spiritual impurities. His new role also emphasised on the significance of integrity in any activity that is undertaken. It can never be too late for us to observe, evaluate and amend our actions accordingly.

Team Work For Success


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Radha Prathi, Jan 20, 2016

All of us know that the world is presently riddled with umpteen number of problems. If we want to redress them, no single person, team or organisation can hope to claim success. If we have to bring about a radical change in the world, we must do it unitedly. Everybody without exception must contribute his or her mite for the mighty cause.

In other words, team work is the panacea for all our ills.

The Vishnu Purana catalogues the importance of coming together despite differences in order to achieve a common goal.

The natural enemies, Devas and the Asuras were hankering to become immortal. They were keen on consuming the nectar which was at the bottom of the ocean.

They were aware of the colossal work involved, hence they decided to work on the project together and share the yield. They approached Lord Maha Vishnu and apprised him of the situation. They worked on a strategy to churn the ocean.

Accordingly, Maha Vishnu would metamorphose into a tortoise and form the base, the Mandara mountain would be placed on him as the churning pole, Vasuki, the celestial serpent would serve as the rope, the Devas and Asuras would assemble on either side to churn the ocean. And churn the ocean, they did.

They were rewarded with divine invaluable gifts at regular intervals. Nevertheless, the team continued to churn away till they roused the toxic gases of the sea.

Though they were famished, they were reluctant to give up before they achieved their set goal. They invoked Lord Shiva for help.

The lord appeared and consumed the poisonous fumes and cleared the air for them. The team was rewarded with the much-sought nectar after another bout of energetic hard work. That Maha Vishnu intervened in the imbalanced distribution of the nectar is another story.

The takeaway from this episode of Kurmavataram happens to be thus: Whenever we take up a micro or a macro project, we must make sure that each one of us puts aside our differences and work with complete commitment.

We must ensure that we are in a harmonious equation with Mother Nature, lest we are shaken up rudely for our apathy.

Remember, how the representatives of nature mountain and the serpent chipped in to help out? If obstacles come our way, they should be handled practically and confidently, for, we will turn into losers if we buckle down to the hassles.

When we consider our work to be worship, no impediment can stop the blessings of the Almighty to percolate down to us and ensure our success.