Shrimad Bhagavatam & Advaita Bhakti - 7
The story of JaDa-Bharata
The history of Priyavrata, the first son of Manu Svayambhuva, is taken up in the fifth skanda. Privrata’s son was Agnidhra and his son was Nabhi. Nabhi was a great and devout ruler and to him was born another avatar of Mahavishnu, by name Rishabha. Rishabha, also called Rishabhadeva had 100 sons of whom the eldest was Bharata whose story we are going to see elaborately.
(Incidentally it is this Bharata after whom this country was called BhArata-varsha; before that it was called aja-nAbha varsha).
Rishabha on retirement from the duties of the state called his sons before him and gave them all a long sermon on the need to lead a spiritual life. This sermon constitutes the first 27 shlokas of the fifth chapter of the fifth skanda. It is sometimes called Rishabha-Gita. For a sample we take the first shloka here.
This body is not meant to be used for sensuous enjoyments as done by lowly animals. There are two doors out of this life. One is the door for moksha and the other is the door for the darkness of hell.
Mahat-sevAM dvAramAhur-vimukteH tamo-dvAraM yoshhitAM sangi-sangaM / (V – 5 – 2 –first half).
The door to moksha is by service to great people.
But the door to hell is the association of those who have association with women of easy repute.
Note the words *yoshhitAM sangi-sangaM*. To go upward on the spiritual path one needs a direct contact with great people. But to cause a slide downward even a secondary contact with the vile ones will do – that is, a primary contact with those people who have themselves a direct contact with vile women.
In the second line of the same shloka he demarcates who those great ones are:
mahAntas-te sama-chittAH prashAntAH vimanyavaH suhRRidaH sAdhavo ye // (V – 5 – 2 – second half)
Great ones are those who are equanimous, peaceful, angerless, friendly and noble and pious.
By the union of man and woman attachment arises to home, family, sons, wealth and property. Those who want to reach God must see to it that they should advise their children as a father, train their people as a boss or a leader, and teach their diswciples as a Guru. A father who does not do so is not a father; a king who does not do so is not a king; a guru who does not do so is not a guru.
After giving such teaching in very forceful words King Rishabhadeva relinquished his kingdom, left his palace and roamed about as one intoxicated with God and the Godly, completely nude, with dishevelled hair and uncouth appearance. Actually he moved about as if he were senseless, blind, dumb and deaf, a ghost or a drunkard; even though others spoke to him he did not speak, because he was observing total silence:
*jaDAndha-mUka-badhira-pishAchonmAdakavat avadhUta-veshaH abhibhAshhyamANo’pi janAnAM gRRihIta-mauna-vrataH tUshhNIM babhUva* (V – 5 – 29).
This avatara of the Lord is to teach us worldly minded people to change our ways and reach Moksha.
*ayam avatAro rajas-opapluta-kaivalyopa-sikshhaNArthaH*
Incidentally Shuka adopts a prose style of narration for most of this fifth skanda. Earlier in the third and fourth skanda it was all verse; probably he wanted to stick to the way the narration was given by Maitreya to Vidhura. But now in the fifth skanda he is himself telling the story and this time it is about two great brahma-jnAnis – Rishabha and Bharata – and as a brahma-jnAni himself Shuka probably did not want to be bound by meter, prosody etc. which usually are obligatory restrictions in the verse form of narration.
Bharata, his son, ruled the country for a long, long time (“for one crore years!”) in the most notable manner, without ever swerving from the dharmic path. And his people were also following dharma in a remarkable manner. The yajnas and pUjAs that he performed incessantly purified his mind to such an extent that the Lord was residing in his heart almost visibly. Finally he distributed his kingdom to his sons, left all his wealth and possessions and went over to distant pulahAshrama for a period of penance and whole-time spiritual pursuit. Entirely devoid of any mundane desires or attachments, he was worshipping the Lord with all the flowers, leaves and fruits that he could get in the forest there. His bhakti towards the Lord increased day by day and he was living all the time in a state of total bliss in the company of the Lord in his heart. The constant contemplation of the lotus feet of the Lord generated a superlative joy of devotional experience. In that joy he forgot himself as well as the very worship he was doing. He just lost himself in divine contemplation in a kind of spiritual trance.
And then it happened one day.
ekadA tu mahA-nadyAM kRRitA-bhishheka-naiyamikA-vashyakaH bhrahmAkshharam-abhigRRiNAnaH muhUrta-trayaM udakAnte upavivesha // V – 8 - 1
Once after his daily routine bath he was sitting on the bank of the river for four and a half hours doing the japa of AUM. A solitary doe approached the river for drinking water. Suddenly there was a terrifying roar of a lion. By nature the doe trembled with fear on hearing the roar; frightened and shaken by that roar, the doe jumped across the river. In that frightful jump she gave birth to an young one which fell into the river. The mother doe, due to shock, delivery, and the act of springing, fell dead on the other side of the river. The King Bharata saw all this and overpowered with compassion at the poor little deer that had now lost its mother and was about to be itself lost in the current of the river. Instinctively he caught hold of the little one, brought it to his own ashram and started taking care of it. Very soon he felt it was ‘his’!. From that day onwards he started feeding it, searched for the proper grass for its food, protected it from wild animals and was doing everything for its care, nourishment and growth. Slowly and gradually his time was more and more occupied with caring and tending to the needs of the infant deer; the time that he usually allotted for his spiritual disciplines got reduced steadily to almost a nothing!
Compassion and affection are not wrong; in fact they are very noble qualities. But when they become an attachment, then the spiritual fall is imminent. Affection ennobles, but attachment enslaves. Love elevates but desire entraps. This is what happened in the case of this great King Bharata.
With the attachment to the deer growing in intensity day by day , he began to be thinking all the time only of this deer that was now dearest to him. *Asana-shayana-aTana-sthAna-ashanAdishhu* -- whether he was sitting or sleeping, wallking or standing, or was eating, he was not wanting to be separated from the young deer. In short he was already bound to it in thought and deed. If the deer even for a little time was away from him he worried about its safety and began to wail over the matter. Even when he was trying to do his daily japa the deer would come near him and cuddle around him and he would take pity on it and put it on his lap and appreciate how this pet of his behaves like an own son!
This great king who renounced his vast kingdom and all the riches which he acquired as well as his family and people, for the sake of pursuing a life of total renunciation and tapas – how could such a renouncer fall into the trap of worldly affection for just a deer-cub and forget even his daily spiritual routine like this? What else could it be but his prArabdha in the form of this deer? Time passed like this and all his Atma-vichAra had come to a dead stop. But the hour of Death would not wait for him; it came when it was due. He knew the end was coming. And he worried about what would happen to this poor deer-cub when he was gone! He was thinking about it, when he breathed his last.
And he was born as a deer!
But because of the intense pUjA and tapas he had been doing all his life, even in the body of the deer, his mind, by the Grace of God, remembered his previous life as Bharata and the calamity that had befallen him at the end of that life. So now he decided that he would not develop any more attachment or VAsanA. The deer Bharata deserted his surrounding deer-family and somehow went over to the same Pulahashrama where he was doing his tapas in the previous life. The deer Bharata did not eat tasty green grass or any of the other things that deer are fond of. He only subsisted on a minimum dried grass and lived aloof from any of his own species. He lived in the company of Sadhus who were doing tapas in the Ashrama and was waiting for this life to pass and his prArabdha to spend itself. He was decided not to acquire any more vAsanA even if he got a human life. The end came and when it came, the deer Bharata went to the river and stood up in neck-deep water and for the first time as a deer, raised his voice and ‘spoke’ God’s name, dipped in the water and died!
His next birth was in a noble Brahmin family. This was his last birth. His father was a great, scholarly Brahmin with purest intentions who led a religious life, with his nine sons from his first wife and a twin-child from his second wife. Of the twins one was male and the other was female. The male of the twin was JaDa-bharata, our hero. The name that applied to him in this birth is not mentioned by Shuka. So, to continue our story we shall still call him Bharata. But expositors who refer to him as JaDa-bharata. ‘JaDa’ means inert; from his very birth he remained totally silent and was behaving like an idiot, not responding to any provocation. By the Grace of God he had all the memory of his two previous lives, one as King Bharata and the next as the lone deer of Pulahashrama. So he was scared of any accumulation of any more vAsanA. So he showed himself as mad, inert, blind, deaf and dumb.
The father, wanting to discharge his responsibilities, and hoping that this jaDa nature of the boy might be cured by a proper samskAra, performed the Upanayanam (thread ceremony) for the boy and prodded him on to do the daily Sandhya worship. But the boy would do no such thing! He was already a Brahma-jnAni and was in that state all the time, though the outside world, including his own family, could not recognise him as such. All their teaching of the Vedas or the Gayatri was a failure as far as they were concerned! The father died in due time and the second wife, the mother of JaDabharata also followed him immediately.
The nine brothers of JaDa-bharata who were knowledgeable only about the karma-kANDa of the Vedas and had no idea of the Brahmavit among them treated him as a good-for-nothing fool. Consequently they simply extracted work from him and fed him only some rotten food, that deserved to be thrown in the garbage. He came to grow in the entire neighbourhood as a robust young man but a confirmed idiot. Whatever menial work anybody gave him he did it, but not intelligently. They put him as a sentry in the fields to ward off birds and he sat there unendingly. Some one gives him instructions to dig and he digs ; someone else comes along and asks him to stop and he stops. Some one gives him a beating for not doing his work properly and he receives it without murmur or protest. Whatever he gets he accepted it, without ever caring whether it is more or less, good or bad. Whatever they gave him, be it rice flour, oil-cake, chaff, spoilt pulses, or charred food – he ate up everything as if it were nectar.
YadA tu parata AhAraM karma-vetana IhamAnaH sva-bhrAtRRibhirapi kedAra-karmaNi nirUpitaH tadapi karoti kintu na samaM vishhamaM nyUnaM adhikaM iti veda kaNa-piNyAka-palI-karaNa-kulmAsha-sthAlIpurIshhAdIny-api amRRitavad-abhyavaharati // V- 9 – 11.
It goes on like this day by day, year by year. He is decided not to care for this body and so his body is filthy, his dhoti dirty, and his face, with a long beard, looks like a caveman. He was living a Brahmavit totally aloof from his body.
It turned out that some rich man wanted to give a nara-bali (sacrifice of a human) to Goddess Kali and had arranged for a captive intended for the nara-bali. But just on the previous night the captive escaped and they needed immediately a substitute for the next morning’s ritual. The rich man sent his assistants to look for a substitute. They roamed about and found our JaDa-bharata sitting alone in the fields. His robust appearance and youth tempted them to choose him as their victim for the nara-bali and they simply led him on to their boss. Never had a victim for nara-bali come along with them, as this man did, without the least protest. It appeared to them he was almost willing to die for them. The next day the ritual started in the presence of the Kali deity; he was bathed in oil, washed clean, dressed gorgeously, decorated with sandal paste and other cosmetics and finally they got ready to cut off his head. At that time Mother Goddess Kali Herself appeared from the deity, chopped off the heads of the entire gang and saved him. We don’t know where he went from there.
But the story is picked up by Shuka in another scene. There was one King of Sauvira country, by name Rahugana. He had great intentions to have spirituality lessons from Kapila Muni and so he travelled, carried in a palanquin, to the northwest corner of this country in the hope of meeting Kapila. On the way, one of his eight palanquin-bearers became unable to do his duty and so they needed a substitute. They looked for one and they found our JaDa-bharata roaming about as if for no purpose. Again his robustness and youth attracted them and he was used as the substitute palanquin bearer.
The strength of the vAsanAs that one inherits from the actions of the past is very great. Noble Sadhus, particularly in the Sannyasa-Ashrama, are so careful even while they walk to see they don’t trample on a living creature. It is an extreme discipline of this kind which is one of the reasons they have cAturmasya-vrata (the vrata during the rainy season of four months), the observance of which requires them, among other things, to stay in the same place and carry on their daily worship or meditation routine. Our JaDabharata must have gone through such disciplines in his previous lives. That VasanA of ahimsA (non-violence) was so strong in him that as he was walking along carrying the palanquin of King Rahugana in the woods, now and then he jumped forward, still carrying the portion of the palanquin resting on his right shoulder. The jumping was to avoid trampling on some small crawling creature on the ground below. But this jumping of one of the bearers, without the concordant activity or consent of the other bearers, naturally created a sudden jolt and jerk to the occupant of the palanquin. The King opened his window, looked out, and faulted the bearers for jolting him like that. All seven of them said it was not their fault; it was the newcomer who joined them just a little while ago who was jumping out of step unnecessarily!.
And that was the starting point of a remarkable dialogue between the King Rahuguna and our hero JaDa-Bharata. The King chastises him in a satirical way, referring to his robust health and youth. When a second time this chastisement happens, JaDabharata, for the first time in his life, opens his mouth and says:
My dear King, whatever you have spoken sarcastically is certainly true. Actually these are not simply words of chastisement, for the body is the carrier. The load carried by the body does not belong to me. There is no contradiction in your statements because I am different from the body. I am not the carrier of the palanquin; the body is the carrier. Certainly, as you have hinted, I have not labored carrying the palanquin, for I am detached from the body. Your words about my stoutness or otherwise are befitting a person who does not know the distinction between the body and the soul. The body may be fat or thin, but no learned man would say such things of the Atman. As far as the Atman is concerned, I am neither fat nor skinny; therefore you are correct when you say that I am not very stout. Also, if the object of this journey and the path leading there were mine, there would be many troubles for me, but because they relate not to me but to my body, there is no trouble at all.
Fatness, thinness, bodily and mental distress, thirst, hunger, fear, disagreement, desires for material happiness, old age, sleep, attachment for material possessions, anger, lamentation, illusion and identification of the body with the self are all transformations of the material covering of the Atman. Only a person who has identified himself with his body is affected by these things. Consequently I am neither fat nor skinny nor anything else you have mentioned. My dear King, you have unnecessarily accused me of being dead though alive. In this regard, I can only say that this is the case everywhere because everything material has its beginning and end. As far as your thinking that you are the king and master and are thus trying to order me, this is also incorrect because these positions are temporary. Today you are a king and I am your servant, but tomorrow the position may be changed, and you may be my servant and I your master. These are temporary circumstances. The differentiation is temporary, and it expands only from usage or convention. I do not see any other cause. In that case, who is the master, and who is the servant? Nonetheless, if you think that you are the master and that I am the servant, I shall accept this. Please order me. What can I do for you? You said you are going to punish me severely. What will you gain by punishing me? You will be only punishing my body; but I have actually punished this body by never tending to it. You are only powdering the already powdered chaff. There will be no effect.
The King was stunned and amazed when he heard this. He jumped from the palanquin, fell at the feet of JaDabharata and asked for being taught spiritual wisdom. There ensuesthen a three-chapter dialogue between the King and JaDabharata containing the essence of advaita. The King asks questions and JaDabharata answers them meticulously. This portion in the Bhagavatam is one of the most treasured pieces in the whole work.
Copyright © V. Krishnamurthy Dec.1, 2005 Onward to page 8