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Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Story of Virupa and Vikrita - Maha Bharata Series 23


The story of a conversation between a Rishi who recites Gayatri  Japa, a King, Yama, Mrtyu, Kaala, Virupa (desire) and Vikrita (anger) is a fascinating one. Bhishma is answering a question on the merits of performing japa (mantra meditation or recitation). This is from Section 192 (Sanskrit) or Section 199 (English) of Book 12.

The most interesting part to me is a set of slokas (61 to 69) which emphasize the role of Truth in one’s life. You may wish to go to the original and taste the majesty of the language. I just give a brief summary in the following paragraph. 

"Dharma (virtue) is Truth. Everything grows out of Truth. Truth is Brahman. Truth is penance (tapa, ardor). Truth is sacrifice (yagna). Truth is wisdom (gnana). Truth is OM. It is because of Truth that the sun shines, wind blows and fire burns. When compared to yama and niyama (self control and rituals), Truth is more important”.

Now, to the story. A rishi (son of Pippalada) performs Gayatri Recitation (japa) with great intensity for several years. Gayatri and Savitri show up and offer him whatever he wants.  He says: “I just want to be able to recite and feel the pleasure of reciting and be able to merge in Samadhi”. The way I interpret is that the rishi is doing japa not for any worldly rewards, but for experiencing and merging with Brahman. The rishi gets his request. Gayatri also says that "one day Dharma, Yama, Mrtyu and Kala will come to you and have a discussion on dharma (morals)".

Sure enough one day Dharma, Yama, Mrtyu and Kala do come. Each one of them tells him (the rishi) that he has earned a reward because of his recitations and that they have come to take him to heaven. He says that he has no use for heaven when he has the bliss of meditation.  Therefore, he does not want to “leave” his body and go.

At this time the king (Ikshvaku) arrives. The rishi receives the king as a honored, unexpected guest (athithi) and says: “You have come to my abode. What can I give you?”  The king says: “No, I am kshatriya whose duty is to give. I am the one who should give to you,. so you may continue with your japa, yagna etc”. Here we can see the duties of two varnas, as known in those days, being told.

The rishi says: “I have stopped accepting gifts (daana). You can give your gifts to those who are still working (vaisyas, sudras) and still accepting gifts (brahmanas). I do not need anything. Therefore, what can I give you?”. The king says that the only thing he asks for is a “battle” (Kshatriya duty). The rishi says that they are both in an equal status since "they are both content with performing their respective duties as a kshatriya and as a brahmana”. He concludes by saying: “ Do what you wish to do”.

The king says: “Since you initiated this discussion by offering me a gift, please give me the rewards of your recitation of the japas”. The rishi says: “Please take half of it; but if you want, all of it”. The king says: “It is so good of you to do this. But, I do not need the fruits of your recitations, since I do not know what they are. What are they?”.

The rishi says he does not know what the fruits of his recitation are since he did not perform them for any particular result. This is another major point for me in this episode. One has to perform these recitation with concentration for the bliss and not seeking worldly rewards. If so, the usual recitation of “phala stuti” (rewards of recitation) that comes at the end of several puranas and prayers are only to make people believe in those results, hoping they will do recitation at least for wealth and progeny and prosperity.

The rishi says that the king should accept it since he made the offer and the king accepted it in the presence of Dharma, Yama, Mrtyu and Kala as witnesses. If they do not, both of them will be abandoning the Truth. This is where the slokas on Truth listed earlier come on.

Dharma addresses the rishi and the king and says: “By the king accepting the gift of the rishi, both of you keep the Truth and get your merits. Therefore, go ahead and settle the dispute”.  The king says: “I have no need for heaven. If the rishi has a need to go to heaven, let him keep the merits and go”.

The rishi says: “ I will not accept gift from no one. I will recite the Gayatri, do my duties and study the Vedas and earn my merits”.  The king says: “OK, let me accept half of your merits as gift and give you back half of the merits I have won by my work”.

At this time, two ugly creatures show up. Note the word “ugly”. Their names are: Virupa and Vikrita. They are arguing among themselves because each of them owes a cow to the other but the other will not accept. Each one of them says: “I gave it as a gift. How can I take it?”. They come to the king for arbitration. Now, the king realizes how difficult to judge any situation. In this case the two factors to the judge are: giving and taking; between keeping a promise and maintaining truth (in my interpretation, the varna dharma).

Now, Virupa and Vikrita show themselves to be Desire and Anger. Dharma, Yama, Mrtyu, Kala, Desire and Anger point out that they have observed the rishi and the king maintaining their duties according to their varna and at the same time keeping the truth. They invite both of them to the land of Bliss.

Finally, Bhishma gives his comments.  He says: “ By performing recitations (japa) and sacrifices (Yagna), one can reach the abode of the Sun and of the Stars and Heaven. But, it will be a temporary stay (implies that one has to come down to earth again). But, if one performs one’s duties, without attachment to the results and meditate, one can become one with Brahman,  that state of bliss in which there is no desire, anger, time, disease and death or a separate consciousness”.  Bhishma uses the words: “He becomes Brahman’s self free from the opposites”. Such a person is in that immutable state, which is beyond the external knowledge which requires proof, and free of hunger, thirst, grief, delusion,, diseases and death. He gets absorbed in that one Supreme Soul.  To me these statements mean that pure meditation is a superior method if we do not want rebirth and samsara cycle.

There are also statements to suggest that the meditator (yogi) can reach one of several states, whichever he desires. One is full absorption and another is separate existence so that he can be aware and enjoy the Supreme. This seems to suggest a starting point for the Advaitha,Dvaitha and Visihtadvaita philosophies. Or, he can go to one of the heavenly abodes.

In the next section, there is another interesting statement. Both the yogi and the one who recites japa reach Brahma’s abode. The difference is that the Yogi reaches Brahman during this life, in this world. But, the one who recites Japa reaches Brahman after death and is received by Him.   

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