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Friday, August 24, 2018

Sulabha and Janaka - Completed

Sulabha continues: “Although you say you are emancipated, you are still attached to sleeping, eating, dressing and enjoyment. You are the king and yet you can live in only one palace, in only one room and in only one bed. Even that bed you have, you share with the queen. Now you know, how little a king’s share is of his kingdom. The same is true of food and clothes. You are attached to your duties of rewarding and punishing. You are always dependent on others. Even in sleep you cannot have too much freedom since you will have to answer urgent calls. People come to you to receive gifts. But you cannot give to everyone who deserves since you have to be responsible with the treasury. If you do not give, some go away with bad and hostile feelings. Even when there is no cause for fear, a king is always anxious even of those who wait on him. In fact a king is no different from ordinary folks who have also spouses and sons, money and friends and same kind of realities to face.”

A king is also not exempt from fears and grief. Indeed he has causes for more of them. He suffers from consequences of desire and fear like everyone. He is also afflicted by aches and diseases. He suffers from pleasures and pain. Sovereignty does not come with much happiness. How can one who has acquired sovereignty hope to win peace and tranquility? “You think this land and the army and the treasury are yours. In reality who owns them?  Do we really own anything in this world?”

“Things exist not solely by themselves. There are usually several items which make for a functional unit. They depend upon each other, similar to three sticks standing with each other’s support. How can you choose the best among them? When some important function is served by one of them at a particular situation, then that one may be regarded as more distinguished. Superiority is defined by the purpose and the efficacy.” This seems to be Sulabha’s answer to the arrogance of Janaka and the reference to Ksahtriya and Brahmana.

She continues: “ I have no real connection with even my own body. How can I be accused of having contact with the body of someone else? You cannot say that I have brought about mixture of castes (varnas). If you have no attachments, why are you still using the umbrella and scepter? I do not think you have learned the scriptures. You are still bound by the bonds of property and family, like any other person. If you are truly liberated what harm have I done by entering your mind with my intellect? I have not touched you physically. Besides, whether what I did was good or bad, I did it privately. I am staying in  you like a drop of water on a lotus leaf. Are you still attached to physical contact? Just as Purusha and Prakriti cannot truly intermingle, two emancipated creatures cannot make contact with each other. Only those who regard the soul to be identical with the body will erroneously consider intermingling possible. My body is different from yours. But my soul is not different from yours. I realize that my intellect is not staying in your soul although I have entered into it by yogic power.”.

“Think this way. I have a pot in my hand. There is milk in the pot. And, on the milk is a fly. Although the hand and the pot, pot and the milk and the milk and the fly exist together, they are different from each other.  The condition of each is dependent on itself and is not altered by something else with which there is a temporary association. Same way, varna ( you being a kshatriya) and the practices (holding a scepter or an ascetic’s stick) do not really attach to an emancipated person. How can  intermingling be possible.”

“All of this should have been discussed in private between the two of us. By publicly talking about in this court you made it public. Is that correct?”

“I am not superior to you in varna, because I am also a kshtriya by birth (Janaka assumed otherwise, just out of habit and not thinking).  My name is Sulabha. In the sacrifices performed by my ancestors, no suitable husband could be found for me. Having been instructed properly I wander over the earth practicing ascetism. I do not practice hypocrisy. I know the duties of different ashramas and I practice mine faithfully. I did not come here without thinking through. Having heard that you have great understanding of the “religion of emancipation” (Samkhya system) I came to learn more. I did not come to glorify myself or humiliate you. One who is truly emancipated will not indulge in intellectual disputation for the sake of victory”.

Now that our discussion is over I will follow the ways of the mendicant and stay just for this one night in your person, which is like an empty chamber to me. You have treated me with honor like you should any guest. I will leave in the morning”.

Now Bhishma ends with the following words: “having heard these well-chosen words full of meaning and based on reason, King Janaka said nothing in reply”.

This episode touches on the role of women in society in ancient days, the varnahsrama dharma, semantics and logic in reasoning, details of Samkhya philosophy and of moksha dharma. The only good scholarly discussion of this episode is in the reference* given below.

* Vanita, Ruth, "The Self Is Not Gendered: Sulabha's Debate with King Janaka" (2003). Liberal Studies Faculty Publications. Paper 1.

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