Nilanjana retells the story of the son of Rishabhah, King Bharata, an ideal king, a righteous man and a perfect ruler. How Bharata remembers his past lives and the wisdom that he imparted to King Rahugana. Read more in the regular column, on Bhagavatam, exclusively in Different Truths.
Bharata was Rishabhah’s son. He was an ideal king, a righteous man, and a perfect ruler. All his subjects were so happy under his rule that the land was called ‘Bharatvarsha’.
After Bharata had led a successful tenure as a king, he divided the kingdom amongst his sons, crowned his eldest son as the king and renounced everything. In the ashram of the sage Pulaha at Haridwar, Bharata chose to dedicate the last days of his life to Narayana. He spent his days in sadhana (seeking the divine).
One morning when he was sitting on the banks of the river, pondering about the cosmic beloved, his eyes captured the sight of a pregnant deer being chased by a lion. The mother deer out of sheer fear jumped across the river. In her panic, the baby thrust out of her body onto the waters; she lay panting on the opposite side of the river and eventually died.
Bharata helped the baby deer out of the water and took it to his hermitage. He took care of the deer just like a mother. Gradually Bharata, who had renounced everything in quest of the Divine, got attached to the deer. He would tend the deer like his child. He would not keep the deer unattended and would wander along the forest with the deer. His sadhana (quest for the Divine) was forgotten in his attachment for the deer. In his meditation, instead of the Divine, he would remember the antics of the deer. As death took over him, Bharata’s last thoughts were of the deer.
It is believed that one’s last thought determines the next birth. Since Bharata’s last thought was of a deer, he was born as a deer. But he remembered his previous birth. He was full of self-pity as he understood that his renunciation of life as a king and subsequent sadhana (spiritual quest) was over-shadowed by the attachment for a deer. Instead of achieving salvation, he was re-born as a deer. In this form, he was cautious to avoid any kind of attachment. He travelled towards Shalagrama, where a lot of sages usually congregated. He stayed in the ashrama (retreat) feeding on grass and water, waiting for death to relieve him from the body of a deer.
After being relieved from the body of a deer, Bharata was born again. He remembered that he was the son of Rishabhah in his last-to-last birth and was blessed with atma vidya (knowledge of the self). But owing to prarabdha karma (actions from past life that has already begun to bear fruits in the present) he got attached to a deer and had to be reborn as a deer.
In this birth, he was born in the house of a pious man. Since he retained the memory of his past births and follies, he was not keen to get attached to anybody. He, therefore, just did as instructed. He tried his level best to be free of earthly bondage, so the comments of people around him did not bother him. His father as very unhappy that he could not make a “Brahmin” out of his son! Once his parents passed away, his brothers did not know what to do with him. They began ill-treating him. But their bad behaviour did not affect him at all. He would do all the menial labour, as they demanded of him, and would he happy with whatever food they offered him. He would focus his attention on the Divine all the time.
Meanwhile, a robber chieftain was pining for a child. He was misguided that offering human sacrifice to Goddess Kali (a form of the Mother Divine) would fetch him a son. He asked his attendants to find a human who could be sacrificed. The human had to be young and strong without any scars, wounds, or deformities. They came across Bharata as he kept vigil on the field, protecting it from wild dogs. They tied him and dragged him on. Surprisingly, he did not resist being taken away. He was then bathed in holy water and dressed in clothes meant for sacrificial victims. Sandal paste was smeared all over his body. After offering him a wholesome meal, they proceeded to sacrifice him. Bharata was still as the priest proceeded to pronounce the incantations to sacrifice him.
The Goddess could not bear the sight of the pure energy that was emanating from Bharata. She was angered by the intensity of the crime – an innocent child of God, who was not resisting anything was about to be murdered by bloodthirsty villains in her name. She sent forth her attendants who vanquished the robbers.
Bharata was again on the road by himself.
The King, Rahugana, was travelling in a palanquin. There were only three bearers that day and they hoped they’d locate a fourth one on the way. Bharata was wandering around and was summoned to fill in for the fourth. He looked strong and well-built. Bharata, as always, accepted the situation and became the fourth bearer. However, he would examine the path very carefully, so that he did not step on any insects and worms. That made the rhythm of the palanquin very irregular and upset the pace of the other bearers. So the king experienced a rather bumpy ride. His regular bearers complained about Bharata’s pace as the king stepped out of the palanquin to examine the reason at such inefficiency.
The king looked at the strong and well-built Bharata standing in front of him. Surely, he could be an efficient palanquin bearer.
“You look pitiable,” the king spoke in a sarcastic tone, “to carry the whole burden by yourself. You are so thin and tired, maybe you are too old to work.”
Without reacting, Bharata lifted the palanquin and went about the task assigned to him. However, he still maintained utmost caution to not hurt any beings that came on the way. The bumpy ride made the king very angry.
“You fool!” he roared, “How do you have the courage to disregard my command?” With his ego and his perception that he was the master of all, the king went on to verbally abuse Bharata for causing discomfort to royalty.
Bharata was observing the king silently. Gradually, his lips broke into a smile. Without any kind of reaction, he spoke softly, “You are angry with me because you think I have failed as a palanquin bearer. Your previous comments were dipped in sarcasm and now you are angry. But all this anger does not hurt me. Because nothing around is real. This body of mine is not real and the burden (in this case the palanquin I am carrying) is not real too. The real “I” in this body has no connection with the body, and the insult and injustice to the body does not impact the real “me”. The body is just the home of the atman (soul) and not the atman. Hence appearances of the body or desires of the mind do not impact the real “me”. The body is short-lived, while the atman is eternal. It is not that the process of birth and death are only limited to me. Everybody is subject to it. Power and wealth does not change it. Hence there is no superior or inferior person. Your attitude does not impact my behaviour, since it has not touched the real “me”. Bharata again went about his task of lifting the palanquin.
The king was drained of all pride and arrogance. He fell on Bharata’s feet, “Please tell me who you are. I was on my way to meet the great sage Kapila to learn Brahma Vidya (the ultimate quest that is the pursuit of knowledge). But it seems you know it all. Please help me.”
Bharata saw that the king was eager in his quest for knowledge. Bharata began imparting the knowledge of Brahma Vidya to the eager ears of the king. The king listened attentively as he spoke, “The mind of the human being either entangles him in the samsara (worldly drama) or frees him from it. The mind is dominated by three gunas (qualities or attributes) – sattva1, rajas2 and tamas3. Puzzled by these three, the mind keeps on acting and bearing the fruits of those actions. Therefore, the human being, attached to this world of objects, keeps his desires alive. What ensues is a cycle of birth-death-rebirth and the resultant pain with pleasure. The mind is often taken for a ride by the outward bound senses, and keeps getting lost in the wayward world. The six evils – Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (Delusion), Mada (arrogance), Matsarya (envy) – just add more pain to the entire journey. With the six evils dominating, one gets entangled in Maya (illusion that the world is for real). One gets involved in Grihasthaashrama (bondage of family). This is indeed a very sad state of affairs, since there is no escape from this vicious cycle. The Grihasthaashrama is like a box of camphor. Though the camphor gets sublimated, the essence remains in the box. Similarly if one gets involved in Grihasthaashrama, the essence of the senses and the six evils remain and will essentially lure one away from salvation. Hence, the life on earth has so much pain, loss, sorrow and other emotions that keep people going topsy-turvy all the time. Mankind has no time to reflect on the Divine. However, there is hope. If one can pull the reins of the mind, she/he can still move towards wisdom.
After pulling the reins of the mind, one can walk down the spiritual path to achieve salvation. Wisdom cannot be attained by penance or rituals, by charity, by chanting the Vedas or by worshiping deities. Only the grace of an enlightened guru (spiritual master) can lead one to salvation.
O King! Learn to renounce everything. Don’t get attached or entangled in this worldly drama. But be compassionate to all. With a free and pure mind, you will be able to move on from this world of delusion to salvation.”
The king, Rahugana, expressed his heartfelt gratitude to Bharata, “I realise that this human birth is the best blessing of all because we have the good fortune of meeting great souls like you. My momentary meeting with you has driven away all my ignorance. My pride, vanity and ego seem to have disappeared. The only duty is of unconditional surrender to the Divine. I bow down to you again and again since there is no other way to express my gratitude to you.”
Bharata blessed him and moved on. Since it was Divine will that determined everything, he would live till the Divine chose to free him of his mortal frame.
- Sattvagunaor sattva – This is the highest of the three gunas. It indicates goodness and purity;
- Rajoguna or rajas – This is the second, indicating activity(when on a positive swing) and restlessness(when negative);
- Tamoguna or tamas – This is the lowest one indicating rest (when positive) and lethargy (when negative). All the three take turns to dominate the human mind.
Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.
Photos from the internet.
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