Shrimad Bhagavatam and Advaita Bhakti 8
The story of Ajamila
The story of Ajamila occurs in the sixth skanda of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Parikshit asks Shukacharya how to avoid naraka (hell) and the horrid experiences of hell that Shukacharya narrated in the fifth skanda. Shuka says the practice of spiritual discipline is the remedy. By means oif austerity, celibacy, control of the mind and the senses one can overcome great sins. Some rare persons however, by the path of devotion, eradicate sins entirely like the sun clearing off the mist :
Kecit kevalyA bhaktyA vAsudeva-parAyaNAH /
aghaM dhunvanti kArtsnyena nIhAramiva bhAskaraH // VI 1 15
If a man, with a
feeling of passionate attachment, unites his mind with
sakRRin-manaH kRRishhNa-padAravindayoH niveshitaM tad-guNa-rAgi yairiha /
na te yamaM pAsha-bhRitashca tad-bhaTAn svapne-pi pashyanti hi chIrNa-nishhkRRitAH //
And, sparked by this statement of himself Shukacharya narrates the story of Ajamila.
Ajamila was once a very noble brahmin, performing his duties and prescribed rituals most sincerely and was also a good husband, good son and good father. Once when he was in the forest to gather the fuel-wood for his rituals, he fell for a woman, heart and soul. Actually the woman was one of very low morals. From that time onwards he lived with her, abandoned his family and his own parents. He got ten children by her, made a living and supported this large family by blackmailing rich people, by cheating, fraud and gambling. He was particularly fond of the youngest child, Narayana, by name. The attachment to the child was so pronounced that whether he was eating, drinking, relaxing or working, he would always want Narayana to be by his side and partake of his food or participate in his enjoyment. When finally the call from Yama, the God of Death, came, it came suddenly and in his agony he called his child to his side and cried: O Narayana. He called aloud with great fear, *plAvitena svareNa ucchaiH* (VI 1 29) says Shuka.
The messengers of Yama who almost got him in their noose suddenly found from within his heart four well-clad beautiful angel-like figures, each with four hands, preventing the messengers of Yama from discharging their duty. An intense conversation ensued between the messengers of Yama on the one side and the messengers of Narayana - because that is what they were - on the other side. They asked: You are the emissaries of Dharma-raja; then you should know what dharma is and what rules apply for punishment. The messengers of Yama replied: (VI 1 -40 to 68):
What is declared by the Vedas is dharma. What is prohibited by Vedas is adharma. The one God who has created this entire world and who has allotted the different duties to varnas and ashramas is Lord Narayana. He has ordained that our Lord Yama take the lives of people when their time is over and punish them according to sins committed by them. There are several witnesses to whatever a man does in his life. They are:
sUryogniH khaM marud-gAvaH somaH sandhyA-hanI dishaH /
kam kuH kAlO dharma iti hyete daihyasya sAkshhiNaH // (VI 1 42)
They are the Sun, Agni
the Fire-God, Space, the Wind-God, Animals, the Moon, the God of SandhyA the
twilight, Day, Night, the eight quarters, Water, Earth, Time and the God of
Dharma, who is Yama himself. Nothing can be hidden from any of these. Sitting
there in the town of
Back came a pretty long rejoinder from the messengers of Vishnu: Your Master who must show to the world what right action is, has sent messengers like you who do not seem toi know the rules! This Ajamila, though he has forgotten his real divine nature, has pronounced the four-syllabled name of God Narayana at the time of death and by that very action has done the prAyascitta (repentance act) for all his sins.
A thief of gold, a drinker of wine, a betrayer of a friend, a killer of a brahmin, one who commits adultery with the wife of his Guru, a killer of a woman or of a king, or of a cow or of his father -- all these worst sinners have been declared to be absolved by the recitation of God's name because by that very act he becomes God's protege and deserves to be under His care.
Not all the penitence-rituals of the scriptures can wash a man's sins off as much as the name Narayana can. The repentance acts only purify past sins; they do not guarantee the non-commission of future sins or the non-repetition of the same acts for which the atonement-ritual was done. But taking God's name on the tongue will eradicate the vAsanAs that are the causes of sinful acts and so the future actions and his entire character will change. There are rituals and rituals (for atonement and purification) of different degrees -- easy ones for elementary sins and difficult ones for deeper sins. But as far as taking the Lord's name is concerned it is only one. The one name of God absolves and purifies sins of all kinds, small or large. Even when he has uttered the name without really intending to call the Supreme Lord, it purifies him just as wood is burnt by fire, irrespective of the intent.
After all this explanation by the messengers of Vishnu the messengers of Yama felt overpowered and they went back to their overlord. In the meantime Ajamila came back to his senses and remembered all the conversation that went on in the presence of his subtle body between the messengers. He was about to say something, when the messengers of Vishnu also disappeared. It was quite a while before he could take stock of the situation. Here he was. alive and kicking, by the mercy of God Narayana, whose name he had just taken on the point of death, not in remembrance of the Lord but in passionate affection of his child. If this single act of the utterance of a four-syllable word Narayana can make such a difference to life after death, what larger worlds of fullness and majesty he may not conquer by really leading a noble life of Dharma in the memory of the Lord? -- so thought Ajamila. And that very moment he renounced everything to which he was attached, went to Benares and engaged himself in austerities and meditation and in due time reached the abode of the Lord.
Copyright © V. Krishnamurthy Oct 12, 2005 Onward to page 9