Immortal Lessons From The Srimad Bhagvatam

The Srimad Bhagvatam revolves around the description of Lord Narayan's incarnations and his countless exploits, especially those of Shri Krishna. This Purana consists of 18, 000 verses in all. Through its stories of the lives of avatars, sages and kings, it communicates some of the most essential teachings of the Vedas. Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa said of the Bhagvatam: "It is fried in the Ghee of knowledge and steeped in the honey of Love."

This particular excerpt from the Bhagvatam is taken from the seventh chapter of Book Eleven. The following story is related by Lord Krishna himself to his disciple Uddhava, who has just realized that Lord Krishna has decided to leave Dwaraka and the world, having accomplished all his tasks on this earth. The parable is specifically meant to explain how keen observance of nature and its patterns around us, can sometimes serve to teach us the eternal truths that we have forgotten. It is a beautiful illustration of how profound and abstract ideas were condensed into simple examples, in order to aid the common person to understand these truths. Following is about the Gurus of Nature, whose actions taught the enlightened ascetic the lessons of spiritual wisdom and knowledge.

Krishna cautions Uddhava about the onset of the Kali Age where ignorance will rule, and advises him to give up all attachments in order to focus his energies on attaining Self-Realization.

Lord Krishna says:
"It is true, even as you said, that I am about to leave this earth as my task has been accomplished and my return to Heaven is imminent. As soon as I depart, the age of Kali will begin on Earth and people will progressively turn to Adharma. Such a world is not fit for you to live in. Give up all attachments. Know that the entire world is none other than a projection of one's own mind; the appearance itself has no true validity. One who is not inwardly at one with the true reality, perceives diversity here and becomes subject to right and wrong action and inaction. Know through self-restraint (yoga) that the whole world is none other than your own Self and has me as its source. When you renounce all ideas of good and evil, you will stop being motivated by the good and evil of your actions. You will not give up evil only because of fear, or do good only out of desire for good results. Your actions will be free of these attachments and spontaneous as those of a child. Then you will never fall in error; seeing the entire infinite universe as your own eternal Self, and you will enjoy inner peace knowing yourself to be the friend of all." At this, Uddhava replies: "Lord! The path of renunciation that you have expounded is impossible for those who have not completely overcome the instinct of pleasure and who are not whole-heartedly devoted to you. Kindly tell me how I can reach such a state of detachment and renunciation. I take refuge in you, O Narayana, O True Friend of Man!." Krishna's response although addressed to Uddhava, is a treasure trove of wisdom and insight which can guide all of us who struggle like Uddhava to achieve just such a state of enlightenment even as we live in this day and age. Krishna: "In this world, one has to uplift one's own Self by oneself. One is one's own Guru, for one discovers the path to supreme blessedness by examining what is perceived and what is inferred. Among all creatures, it is the human being who is dearest to me, for it is the human , who by vigilant observation alone, can immediately realize me (the eternal Self).

To illustrate this, I shall narrate the legend of a dialogue between Yadu and an ascetic. One day Yadu noticed a young man who seemed to be of uncouth appearance, but his face shone with the brilliance of wisdom, roaming the world fearlessly. Approaching him with devotion, Yadu asked him the following question.

'What is the source of this luminous wisdom which enables you who are an able bodied man, to be so immune to sensual attractions, and move about as if you a child, madman or a ghost??'

To this the ascetic replied, 'My awakened intelligence received wisdom from twenty four Gurus - earth, air, space, water, fire, moon, sun, dove, python, sea, moth, bee, elephant, apiarist, deer, fish, the prostitute called Pingala, osprey, infant, young girl, maker of arrows, snake, spider and wasp!

From the earth I learnt forbearance on being trodden upon - one should not abandon one's task even if subjected to humiliation, just as the earth steadfastly adheres to its task. The earth through its unswerving nurturing of trees and mountains, has taught me that life is for unselfishly and humbly serving all.

From Air I learnt how to be free, just as air is untainted even as it moves among all the objects of the world. Air as life breath taught me the art of being content with only that which is needed at the moment. Because life is for living and not for frittering away in sensual enjoyment, so that while one should not starve to death, one need not live to eat and become a slave to hunger either.

From space I learnt that the eternal Self like space is also all-pervading and remains unchanged although the physical forms(bodies) that may contain it, appear and disappear.

From water I learn the art of remaining transparent, sweet and pure.

From Fire I learnt that all impurities should be burnt at the altar of detachment and that like fire the reality is hidden in the appearance. Like fire, the enlightened person who is full of light, remains unaffected by the impurities that he/she come in contact with. And like fire, the enlightened person's real nature is sometimes manifest and sometimes hidden, to the admiration of all.

The Waxing and Waning phases of the moon revealed to me that birth and death do not affect the Self, just as the Moon only appears to wax and wane, but in reality stays the same, constant and true.

The Sun which vaporizes water and later showers it as rain, without being involved in either activity, is the model for the enlightened being. Similarly the realized being too does his/her work, without being involved in the consequences of the task.

I once saw a dove with its mate and offspring living on a tree. When a hunter caught the young ones and their mother in a net, the male dove also jumped into it, blinded by his attachment and was caught. From this dove, I learnt that attachment is like a blinding darkness.'"

The ascetic's account to Yadu continues: "Sensual pleasure as well as pain is had in both heaven and hell; therefore the wise one should not desire it.

From the python, I learnt to be content with whatever comes unsought in his/her way.

From the sea a soul who seeks renunciation, learns to be peaceful, calm, unfathomable, impenetrable and unaffected by the currents of likes and dislikes. Just as the Ocean remains the same whether the rivers that flow into it are empty or dry, so too should the sincere seeker remain even minded whether he/she gets one thing or its opposite.

From the moth I learnt that even as this hapless insect is lured by and killed by the beckoning fire, so too is the foolish one attracted by the transient illusion of beauty and mired in the flame of indiscriminate lust. Surrendering self-control to temptation is tantamount to spiritual suicide.

From the bee, one learns that just even though the bee sits lightly on a flower and collects the nectar without injuring the flower, it pays for the nectar by spreading the pollen to help the flower to reproduce. So too should we deal with day to day transactions in our daily lives, taking a little and giving as much in exchange, helping each other to coexist and never leaving any burden of debts to weigh down another in this life. Just as the bee collects nectar from different flowers, so too should we gather wisdom from several sources, making it one's own and refining it to produce thoughts as pure as honey.

From the apiarist we learn that the bee suffers due to its proclivity to hoard, for which reason it perishes at the hands of the apiarist.

From the elephant in heat we learn that uncontrolled lust leads one to destruction, just as it leads the fevered elephant to become incoherent and blind to the traps set to capture it.

From the deer I learnt the value of resisting temptation, for it is the deer's greed for fresh grass which leads it to danger.

From the fish, I learnt that the sense of taste is hardest to control, for the one who has conquered this sense, can easily control all the others. One who cannot control his or her sense of taste will one day pay for it, just as the fish gets caught on a hook in order to taste the bait.

From the prostitute called Pingala, I learnt detachment from physical form. One evening Pingala the prostitute, who had adorned herself attractively, sat outside her house waiting for a rich customer. Vainly and anxiously, she walked to and fro until midnight when she was tired and dejected. Pingala said to herself: "I am indeed fortunate that my foolish hope has thus been thwarted and I am even more fortunate that at this time my heart and mind turn towards the Supreme Self. Alas, I have thus far foolishly been running after foul matter clothed in skin and conventionally described as man. To this man I have sold my body for a little money and a lot of suffering. In time this body that I feel so vain about will crumble and turn into the very dust I walk on. What then is the point of deriving such pointless and temporary pleasure from the pursuit of such filthy things. From now on I shall take refuge in the glory of the eternal and supremely powerful Self that resides within me. This spiritual fulfillment alone can bring me the bliss that I so desperately seek."
Thus resolute of mind, the prostitute Pingala gave up her foolish hopes and attained a state of detachment and wisdom which leads to self-realization. Without experiencing such disgust, one cannot renounce body-consciousness, and without the dawn of such wisdom, one cannot give up the sense of possessiveness which leads humans to ruin."

"I saw a powerful osprey attacking a weaker one which had a morsel of food in its mouth. In the same way, a man who owns a lot of material wealth is constantly hounded by people who covet his possessions. As I watched, the osprey simply dropped the food from its beak and flew happily away. From this we learn that that a person who can renounce worldly objects and be detached from them without a twinge of regret, finds true happiness and peace, for it is attachment to the transient pleasure of owning material things which bring us sorrow sooner or later.

From the infant, we learn to be free from honor or dishonor, cares or anxieties. An infant is never afraid to try and experiment new things, the child's mind is pure as a crystal stream and free of the false fears which hold us back from being true to ourselves. Only the innocent child and the child like wise one are happy in this world.

From the young girl, I learnt the value of solitude. The young girl was attending to guests who had come with a marriage proposal for her. While she was preparing refreshments, the bangles on her arms kept on making a loud noise, which disturbed her attention. To suppress the sound, the girl began to take off her bangles one by one to lessen the sound. But even when she was left with only two bangles, they still made too much noise. Finally when there was only one bangle left on her wrist, there was the peace that comes with silence. From this I learnt that where many are gathered, there is often chaos, and even with two, there is gossip. It is only with solitude, that total peace and tranquility come. One should therefore understand the harmony of being alone.

Once there was a large kingdom ruled by a brave king. As he ventured out to battle many times, the king noticed that he had one set of arrows which due to their sheer quality always found their mark. Upon querying, the location of the arrow maker who made these special arrows was found and the king set out to meet him in order to discover his secret. When the king arrived at the arrow maker's hut, he was angered to find that the man accorded him no respect or attention at all by rising. Just as the enraged king was about to strike the arrow maker, it dawned on him that this was precisely the reason why the arrow maker's arrows were so special. The arrow maker gave every bit of his utmost attention and concentration to the task at hand. So absorbed was he that he did not notice what was going on around him. From the arrow maker we learn that the result of any effort which is done with the complete concentration, dispassion, steady practice and focus of the worker, is bound to be the best.

From the snake we learn that nothing in the world goes to waste, for the dwelling that is abandoned as unfit by others is utilized as ideal by the snake.

From the spider we learn the secrets of this cosmic creation. Just as the spider projects the web from itself and can withdraw the web back into itself at will, so too does the Supreme Self create the universe and withdraw the web into himself/herself; because it is the Self alone which is the reality, not the projection.

Whatever one contemplates with all of one's being, either through affection, hate or fear, that is what one eventually becomes, just as a larva stung by a wasp thinks constantly of the wasp and therefore eventually becomes the wasp.

All these are the lessons that I learnt from these twenty four Gurus. I learnt a lot from my body, which belongs to others, not to me. Tormented during its life by the senses which drag it in different directions, its possessions possessing it, the body dies after sowing the Karmic seeds for its future life. Yet it is this body that serves as the divine vehicle which will help me in my quest for self-realization. For it is the human being alone who can realize the Self, and that alone is his special faculty. Unto this end have we all taken human birth.

Firm knowledge is not had from one Guru alone; the Truth is one, sages call it by different names, just as the Self is one, but sung variously by different sages."

"And hearing this, Yadu was enlightened", said Lord Krishna.

"Truth is one, sages call it by different names"

"All religions lead to the same Truth".