A Puranic tale and its contemporary relevance
Yoga and study of scriptures, and proper comprehension of knowledge attained, are essential to know the substance and quintessence of life as it imparts meaning to living. It is not self-perpetuation but here, one should make efforts to see everything as a part of the Supreme and the essence of the Supreme in everything because the Supreme exists in all and everything one sees, exists in the Supreme.
In ancient times, Dharmadwaja Janaka, a famous king ruled a vast kingdom. His sons Amritdwaja and Kritdwaja brought laurels to the country. Kritdwaja was always engaged in the study of scriptures and thus, was inclined towards spirituality. He wanted to know atma (soul) and its bona fide dimensions. His son became famous as Keshidwaja. On the other hand, the son of Amritdwaja was Khandikya Janaka. In the entire world, Khandikya was an ardent follower of the path of karma while Keshidwaja was a learned man of spiritual vidya (knowledge of the inner self and soul).
Each one was a master of a specific area of knowledge and was an authority, and rightly earned distinction from different regions and countries glorified. Even men of wisdom and tapa were not free from an element of rivalry and thus, an undeclared war existed as each one wanted to display superiority of knowledge. Thus, it was a kind of analysis, interpretation and serious debate as to who was superior or better for humankind. Whether a path of karma or attainment of knowledge of ‘the self’ was appropriate for humanity in order to attain liberation or mukti remained puzzling questions.
Which is better -path of karma or knowledge…is it true that men of austere penance and wisdom are free from a sense of jealousy or prejudice. Is it that men of karmas are suitable if a man wants liberation or moksa…however, a killing of a cow disturbs the king and the question of seeking forgiveness takes to various men of wisdom…?
Efforts continued to defeat each other. In the end, Keshidwaja unseated Khandikya and thus, he lost kingdom. It was a turn of events in the movement of time. The path of karma lost to the path of spiritual knowledge ‘the self or the soul’. After losing honour, land and kingdom, Khandikya left capital with purohits (royal priests and ministers) and went to a very dense and fearsome forest with very little material comforts. Keshidwaja was a man of knowledge even then, with sincere performance of karma, he kept eager eye of knowledge to go beyond death and thus, performed many yajnas.
One day, King Keshidwaja was engaged in the performance of a yajna and sitting devotedly before the sacrificial fire and continued offering oblations. At that time, in the dense jungle, a dreadful lion killed dharmdhenu, a cow whose milk he used for oblation in the yajna. He learnt about the killing of the cow and was disturbed.
He asked learned brahmins, “Now, the cow is killed… is it necessary to ask forgiveness?”
A genuine worry troubled a dedicated king immensely. Understanding the truth of king anxiety, the learned pundits said to Keshidwaja, “O king, we do not know anything. You may kindly ask Kasheru.”
King Keshidwaja agreed to the counsel of the pundits, asked Kasheru and explained the moral issue. Questions arose in the mind and Kasheru struggled to find appropriate answers. He was a man of scriptures, believed in the existence of spirit and soul, and thought spiritual knowledge as the mainstay of human life so, such questions were quite normal. Kasheru heard the question and said, “O king of kings, I do not know anything about the great subject. You may ask for solution from Sunaka, a son of Bhrigu. He must know the correct answer.”
King was deeply concerned about the teasing and agitating issue. No one was able to satisfy a natural curiosity disturbing him. He went to Sunaka, told him everything and now wanted him to guide properly so that he could repent in case it was imperative.
Sunaka heard about the anxieties of the king and said, “At the moment, no one exactly knows about it. Neither Kasheru nor I know a way out of the embarrassing situation. In fact, no one really knows how to feel sorrow or do anything else. Yes, I know of a person.” He looked at his face intently and then said, “He is the person, whom you defeated. Your foe Khandikya knows about it.”
Sunaka said and looked intently at him.
Keshdwaja said, “O great monk, I shall go to Khandikya and ask him to give me the right answer. If he kills me even then I shall get the fruit of the yajna and if he guides me to the path of atonement as desired then, again the yajna will be completed without any obstacle.” He offered reasons, for he thought he would be a beneficiary in either case.
Keshidwaja goes to Khandikya and seeks answer after Sunaka fails to satisfy…if he gets positive response from the wise man it is good and if he does not it will not harm…
Keshidwaja said softy, attired in a black skin of a stag, mounted a well-decorated chariot and arrived in the dense forest where the most wise man Khandikya lived in an ashrama. Khandikya observed Keshidwaja approaching the holy hermitage from a distance. He was very angry and eyes went red.
He picked up bow and arrows and in terrific fury, said to Keshidwaja, “O Keshidwaja, you wear clothes like Krishna. Do you wish to kill? Is it your armour? Attired in a black skin of a stag as you are, so you think, I shall not attack you. Is it so?”
After a few moments, he said again, “O fool, do you think that the stags do not have black skin? You know we showered a deadly rain of arrows on stags in the past. Therefore, I shall definitely kill you. You cannot escape now. O foolish man, you are a man, who snatched my kingdom. You are an enemy and a man of tyranny.”
Keshidwaja kept cool and said, “O Khandikya, I came here to get a clarification about which I am troubled. I did not come to kill you. Kindly think over and do not get angry. Please do not aim arrow at me.”
It was a difficult situation. To believe or not to believe an old enemy was a big question. Khandikya thought for a while and then, called purohits and ministers and held serious deliberations.
After some time, the ministers counseled, “At this moment, the enemy is under control. He is vulnerable and therefore, you should kill him. After killing an enemy, the whole of the world will come under your sway and control. You will be the king.”
Khandikya listened to the advice of the wise men, thought over and then said, “No doubt, it is a right advice. After the death of Keshidwaja, the entire kingdom (the whole earth) will come under me and I shall be the unquestioned king. However, it will grant him victory over the extra-terrestrial world. It will give spiritual victory. I do not consider victory on earth of any consequence. A victory of the world beyond death has meaning and substance and it is the real path to liberation and moksa. O wise men, victory of the world beyond death is eternal but victory on earth is transitory one ought to know. Therefore, I shall not kill him. Whatever he asks, I shall tell.”
Khandikya seeks counsel of the ministers, who suggest killing of the helpless and unprepared enemy but does not agree…believes in victory beyond death is eternal and…but transitory on earth
He knew the eternal meaning of life and life after death and therefore, abandoning fleeting thoughts of enmity, he went to Keshidwaja and said, “O brother, whatever you wish to ask, ask me. I shall definitely satisfy you.”
Keshidwaja felt relieved and he was now tension free. He thought and told Khandikya, “A lion killed a cow in the jungle. I was engaged in a yajna and so could not provide protection to the holy cow. I failed. I want to repent as it is a grave sin. I understand I did not provide proper security to the cow when the attendants took it for grazing. How to atone is a big question.” Khandikya learnt everything and without a shred of hesitation revealed the truth. He also told him of the way of sincere repentance. Afterwards, knowing about the meaning of whatever he asked, he took permission from Khandikya and returned to the capital and completed yajna.
After completion of yajna (Kalkrama) King Keshidwaja took bath at the end of the religious act and felt enormously happy at the fulfillment of a great karma. He thought loudly while he sat alone.
“I worshipped all the learned brahmins. I honoured people properly and religiously, who attended the sacred festival. I bestowed desired gifts on people, who came and asked for. I acted gracefully and properly as was expected from the social point of view and the expression of grace was a moral duty. Despite performing obligatory duties, I felt I lacked in something. It appeared I left out something. It gives trouble.” He thought deeply and apparently, was sad and disillusioned.
Keshidwaja is appropriate in the holding of yajna and so, completes it religiously and feels satisfied but forgets to give gift (dakshana) to the guru, who suggest a solution he recalls and this proves distressing…goes back to Khandkiya
As he thought over the entire sequence of events from the beginning to the conclusion of the great yajna, he remembered that he did not give guru-dakshina (offering of gifts or token money to a guru) to Khandikya, who revealed a great truth. Without wasting time, he boarded a royal chariot and went to the most dense and difficult forest where Khandikya lived. Khandikya observed him fully armed, took up bow and arrows, and was prepared to attack.
Keshidwaja said, “O Khandikya, do not get angry. I did not come to harm. I arrived to offer guru-dakshina. Please understand. I completed a huge yajna as you advised. Now, I wish to offer guru-dakshina to you. Please ask whatever you wish.”
Khandikya was unable to react immediately but thought for a while and then, held closed-door consultations with the wise men and ministers to arrive at a decision.
He told, “He wants to give me guru-dakshina. What should I ask?”
The ministers said, “You may ask for the whole of kingdom. Wise men often demand the entire state from the enemy without giving any trouble or injury to the soldiers.”
Khandikya heard the advice of the ministers, thought and then said with a smile, “O wise men, how a man like me can ask for a kingdom and its throne. Everything is transitory. It is correct that you are capable of offering suggestion on the fulfillment of one’s self-interest. Nevertheless, what is the ultimate objective (paramartha) of life and what is its nature? Do you have any special knowledge on the subject?”
He raised certain questions relating to life on earth and life beyond. Now, his chief anxieties about the ultimate objective of life became obvious and he appeared least interested in life, its ephemeral nature and futility. He was thoughtful after he heard the wise men and then, returned to Keshidwaja and said, “Do you really wish to give guru-dakshina?
“Yes, I want to give guru-dakshina.” Keshidwaja said without a second thought.
Khandikya told serenely, “You are a pundit of spiritual knowledge and comprehend the real meaning of the ultimate objective of life. If you wish to give guru-dakshina then kindly let me know about karmas, which grant peace and liberation from agonies and pains of life.”
From the words of sage Khandikya, it appeared he was no more interested in material life but was keen to attain something supreme for which he appeared to struggle. He wanted to find a solution so that sufferings of life end and peace descends on earth.
Essence and objective of life and existenceis different for Khandikya –he wants to know about the reality of material enjoyments –a ephemeral phenomenon
Khandikya’s words were meaningful and carried substance of life. Keshidwaja was in a reflective mood.
He thought deeply and said, “O Khandikya, possession of kingdom and material comforts are dearest to the hearts of ksatriyas and they find nothing important other than worldly gains. Knowing the truth, you did not ask for the kingdom. Why is it so?”
Khandikya told, “O Keshidwaja, I tell you the reasons why I did not ask for the kingdom. Please listen. Only fools care for an ardent desire of a kingdom.” He said, thought a while and added, “Dharma of ksatriyas is to protect and look after the people, follow tenets of dharma and destroy enemies in a war.”
A long pause encouraged to think profoundly. After a few moments, he said, “I was not strong and therefore, you usurped kingdom. It is also possible that I was unable to look after the people. However, it is doubtful. If you took what belonged to me, it is not my fault. On the other hand, if you have a right over the kingdom and you do not look after the people well, you are responsible. Because, a self-act is also avidya (ignorance) and if one abandons duties and acts against the principles, it causes sufferings and is adharma. Wish of a king is the fruit of karmas of previous births and so it is for the enjoyment of pleasures of life. It also arises out of the shortcomings relating to infatuation and greed to have ministers and wise men but definitely, such attainments are not causes of acts, which are against dharma.” He continued to say.
He argued well for some time and thought seriously. After a long pause, he resumed, “O Keshidwaja, it is not dharma of true ksatriyas to beg for kingdom, mahatmas (great virtuous souls) often opine. Therefore, I did not ask for the kingdom because of avidya born of karma. Pride and ego of kingdom intoxicate men of power. Men of insanity or craze arising out of drinking liquor are not good for the country. Only foolish people enjoy. Again, people obsessed with the thoughts of love and affection for material comforts are fools. Like a mother blind in love for the children, such people are stupid because they foster desires of a kingdom. People like us do not harbour ambitions for a kingdom.”
Wise words of Khankiya delighted the king, who admired virtuous thoughts, which entertained no desire for material things.
He felt gratified and said affectionately, “Please listen. I am trying to gain victory over death through avidya (ignorance). O sage, I believe that if a man lives in the world and performs one’s karma, he can attain moksa. It is untrue. If I enjoy the pleasure, power and glory of a kingdom and then, perform yajnas it is with intent to attain the ultimate truth of life. However, such efforts are not helpful. If you take recourse to such karmas, acts of charity (punyas) get depleted. It means I exhausted punyas because I did not adhere to a life of karmas originating from ignorance.” He was silent and seriousness reflected genuine anxieties about the purpose of life after death.
He said after a long pause in slow and low voice, “O son of a great dynasty (kulnandana), it is matter of great fortune that your mind is full of knowledge of the self and soul (spiritual attainments). Now, you listen to the reality of avidya. Avidya is the created seed of the tree-like world. Avidya has two categories. To nurse thoughts, feelings and insight in the absence of self-knowledge means that you try to find vidya in avidya. Vidya is the knowledge of self or soul. Avidya means absence of knowledge. It is one kind of avidya. A human being of avidya is enamoured of the world made of five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether –akash) and it drives him to darkness (avidya) and he tries to nourish feelings and knowledge of ‘I and mine.’ Whereas in truth, soul is different from the sky, the air, the fire, the water and the earth one should know. Then, tell me about the wise man with the knowledge of ‘the self or soul’ in the body. I find no such man. Atma (soul or the self) is beyond the body. The pleasures of home or the world a bodied wise man enjoys and considers such comforts belonging to him, in truth, has no right over material possessions, for material comforts are also transitory.” He told him.
Similarly, nothing really belongs to man, even people, who are born of the body. Each has a predetermined end. Still, a man does not know the truth. Thus, Keshidwaja tried to explain momentary existence. It is the knowledge of ‘the self or soul,’ which is permanent and eternal and grants peace and joys. He further told that a man performs acts at the physical level simply to benefit the body. The fruit of karmas benefits the body.
He said. “If a man understands that body is different from ‘the self or soul’ then, he will understand that karmas are merely causes of giving birth to bindings and infatuation.” He told Khandikya.
He continued to exhort, “A man plasters a house made of mud with earth and water, and similarly a body is stable and breathes with the help of mritika (grain and water). If a man made of five elements is nursed with the help of these elements, he enjoys on earth, and that is a great truth on earth. A created being, for thousands of years continues to enjoy worldly pleasures and the desires of the pleasures overwhelm and so, he remains perennially tied up with karmas out of infatuation for physical joys and pleasures and thus, gains nothing.”
He said, “Dust of karma carries him from birth to birth traveling through various yonis but he finds no deliverance from sufferings born of karmas.”
He emphatically told monk Khandikya, “When a man washes out the dust of ignorance with the hot water of vidya (knowledge) then the path of transitory world becomes calm for the traveler as he would be free from the passion for worldly joys.”
He went on telling about the gripping influence of karmas on the life of a man. Freedom from karmas leads a man to a steady mind. Knowledge of the self or soul is pure and it is an image of salvation. From the purity of the knowledge of soul, a man attains liberation. Sufferings are born of ignorance, and such are the features of nature and not ‘the self’ he tells. Then, he tries to explain the relationship between ‘the self’ and avidya and gives the example of a big pan in which water is poured and heated up. Now, the water in the pan never touches fire but the qualities of fire enter water.
Lastly, he told, “I told you about the seed of avidya. Yoga destroys sufferings arising out of avidya and so one finds no other way.” When Khandikya wanted to know about the yoga, Keshidwaja appeared ready to oblige.
Keshidwaja told, “O Khandikiya, I shall tell you about the yoga where a monk situates and forgets in the memory of tapa of Brahma and then, he can never be distracted from the mental state. Please listen, O great monk.”
He said, “Mind of a man is the only cause of infatuation and moksa. If a man remains attached to worldly pleasures, he feels tied up and if a man is detached and lives life, it helps him to attain moksa. Attachment to karma leads a man to sufferings where joys of the material world create attachment. Therefore, a monk of sagacity and knowledge drives away the mind from the pleasures of the world and he concentrates on Brahma and attains deliverance.”
He tried to explain slowly. Monk Khandikya listened to him attentively without interrupting. He further told, “A monk lost in meditation on Brahma ultimately gets unified in the Supreme Lord as ayaskantmani (magnet) attracts iron towards it and thus, it is united and one notices no apparent division. Likewise, a soul assimilates with Brahma in meditation. To be united with the Supreme Brahma is yoga.”
It becomes obvious that to achieve a detached state of mind while staying away from the material world is difficult. If a monk is interested in the yoga of detachment while involved in karmas on earth, he should abandon any interest in the fruit of karma. A desire to enjoy fruit of karma ensnares a man to worldly ties and allows no time for salvation. Keshidwaja cites a number of examples so that he conveys the message properly. It is possible that during the period, a yogi is disturbed when he finds the mind polluted because of worldly enticements. A man engaged in the practice of yoga should never abandon efforts and continue to do practice from one birth to another. If he does so, he would be free from the sufferings of the world.
“It is expected of a yogi that he tries to make mind free from contaminations so that it is fit for meditation, and so he can fix mind on Brahma. To become eligible to concentrate on Brahma, a yogi ought to follow the principles of celibacy, non-violence, non-injury and truth without a desire or wish to aggrandize someone else’s land and property for pleasure and reward.”
Thus, he tried to impart full knowledge on yoga and described each detail so that a man attains moksa and follows the path of yoga. It is a life of discipline, restraint, concentration and penance. If all senses are under control, yoga and meditation are possible. In other words, people, who are interested in the science of yoga ought to delve deep into the thoughts of Keshidwaja, which appear so realistic and yet demand tremendous amount of study and self-discipline.
To achieve a clear state of mind, a man must find some refuge or shelter he exhorted. Again, a question arose about the nature of shelter or refuge a yogi must seek, who is a student of yoga and therefore, a man ought to find an object of devotion or tapa before embarking upon a journey to yoga for the attainment of moksa.