Bhakti Stories – Part I

AJAMIL

The Supreme Soul always mentions that one should not become a sinner like Ajamil.  A ‘sinner’ means one who is influenced by the vices, such as lust, attachment, anger, ego and greed.  When there is the influence of one vice, it is usually accompanied by another.  Ajamil symbolises a soul caught very tightly in the grip of the vices. 

Prior to becoming such a sinner, Ajamil was a pious brahmin who worshipped God daily.  He was very regular in his duties, frequently observing fasts and doing penance.  He was a praiseworthy man and a great devotee of Lord Narayan.  He worked as a businessman and his youngest son was named Narayan.

One day Ajamil went to the forest.  There he met a beautiful woman, fell in love with her and ultimately married her.  From that day onward, being very attached to his wife, he neglected his worship and prayer.  Eight sons were born to him.  He had now become an ordinary man.

At the time of his death the messengers of Yama, the Lord of Death, appeared to him.  Frightened, he cried aloud, calling especially to his youngest son, Narayan, whilst at that same moment realising how pure this son was in comparison to himself. 

He began to reflect on the many sins he had committed and thought, “I must ask for God’s forgiveness.”  Ajamil then kept asking God to forgive him.  By continually calling out for God’s forgiveness he was able at the last moment to link himself with God.  Because of this last-minute link, he became pure and attained liberation.

The story tells us that one should not become a sinner like Ajamil.  However, if one has made a mistake, one should ask for forgiveness from God and not keep repeating it.  Because Ajamil kept calling out to Narayan, a pure soul, his eye of knowledge opened.  The Supreme Soul says that, by understanding the godly knowledge that He imparts, even sinners like Ajamil are able to attain liberation and liberation in life.

If one is able to attain liberation by having a last-minute link with God, how much greater the reward will be of one who remembers the Supreme Soul with faith and devotion over a long period of time. 

ASHTAVAKRA AND KING JANAK

Detachment is one of the qualities developed in the art of meditation.  It is only possible to be detached if one practises soul-consciousness.  In the following story, taken from the Mahabharata, we are shown how one is able to conquer attachment in life.  In this story Ashtavakra proves that neither appearance nor age are indications of one’s knowledge.

King Janak of Videha was a king well-known for his knowledge, charity and sanctity.  He lived in a splendid palace but wished to live the life of a renunciate.  He wanted to live in the world but remain detached from it.  He made it known that he would listen to anyone in his kingdom who could tell him the method of receiving liberation in life (jeevenmukti) within a second.  All the brahmins and scholars from far and wide came to visit him and gave very learned discourses and lectures but no one was able to provide the King with real insight and a practical method.  He was disappointed and thought of giving up the whole idea, for the scholars had not given any concrete solutions to his problems. 

Just as the King was about to give up hope a man, short and ugly with disfigurement, entered the palace courtyard.  Almost crawling along the ground, he moved slowly to where the sages were sitting.  All of them laughed scornfully on seeing this unwanted visitor with his deformed body.  His body was bent and twisted in eight different places and that was why he was called ‘Ashtavakra’ – a person with eight deformities. 

Ashtavakra, also known as Ashtamukan, was the son of Kahoda and Sujata.  Kahoda was a good disciple and so his guru offered his own daughter, Sujata, to him in marriage.  After a short time Sujata conceived a child and, while this was still in an embryo in the womb, Kahoda pointed out some faults his father-in-law had made while reciting the Vedas.  Extremely annoyed, the guru cursed the child in the womb to ensure that it would be deformed at birth.

At the King’s palace the discussions were still in progress and open to all.  Having listened to all the sages and scholars, the King had announced that anyone else who thought he might have the correct answer to the problem and who could satisfy his thirst for knowledge was welcome to speak.  He then asked Ashtavakra whether he had anything to contribute.  “Yes”, said Ashtavakra.  “But, Your Majesty, before I reveal to Your Highness the words of God’s wisdom, I must say something about this gathering.  I hope that none of you will be angered by my frankness.  I must say that this is not a gathering of royal sages but one of dealers-in-skin!  I must call a spade a spade!”  The sages looked a little tense.  Some of them grinned, others were seen grinding their teeth, and others were gnawing their fingers or nibbling at their nails.  In contrast, the King sat calm and composed, listening attentively and patiently.

Continuing on, Ashtavkra said, “Forgive me for my rudeness, your Royal Highness!  Royal sages, I respect you all for your learning and wisdom but may I ask you why you all laughed so scornfully, when you saw me entering the courtyard?  Wasn’t it because of my crawling and the deformity of my body?  I am sure it was my ugly body with its bends and twists that made you mock me.  Doesn’t this then speak rather eloquently of your body consciousness?”  They now all appeared to be realising their mistake but the expressions of scorn had not yet disappeared totally from their faces.

The ugly man continued, “Am I wrong to point out that soul consciousness is the means for spiritual progress and enlightenment?  Therefore, if anyone looks at the body, without seeing the soul, and instead of feeling sorry for another’s fate, hatefully laughs at his condition, would you call him a sage?  No.  He looks only at the outer flesh, the skin, and therefore, I would have to call him a dealer-in-skin”.  

Following a request made earlier, King Janak’s horse arrived having been brought to grounds of the royal court.  Deciding to go riding, King Janak started to mount his horse.  He had one foot on the stirrup and other foot on the ground when Ashtavakra asked him, “Oh King, where are you?”  King Janak replied, “On the horse and on the ground but not fully on either”.  Ashtavakra said “What you are now saying is brahma gyan, the knowledge of jeevanmukti.  The conqueror of attachment will be in the world but not of the world.  While living in the world, the soul will be mentally detached.” 

On hearing this, King Janak achieved enlightenment and became even more respected than the many famous sages around him.

When the murlis refer to ‘jeevanmukti in one second, like King Janak’, this refers to that split second when Janak is mounting the horse, his second leg is swinging over to mount, and Ashtavakra gives the understanding of detachment in that same moment.

BHASMASUR

Meditation is one method through which we can attain divine powers from God.  However, attaining the divine powers is just one aspect; how to use the powers is quite another.  The Supreme Soul reminds us firstly to keep our intellect divine and then, whatever attainments we achieve, will be used for a beneficial and selfless purpose.  If we mix selfishness with our godly attainments, their strength will eventually diminish.  The following story illustrates this very effectively. 

Once there was a demon called Bhasmasur.  ‘Bhasm’ means ‘ash’ and ‘asur’ means ‘devil’.  Even though he was famous for his devilish nature, he did intense meditation (tapasya) in order to receive a boon from Shiva.  God Shiva was pleased with his meditation and asked him what he wanted.  The demon was very happy and asked for a blessing from God Shiva.  He wanted a person to turn into ashes if he put his hand on that person’s head. 

The demon’s mind was filled with devilish ideas.  He wanted to marry Parvati, the wife of Shankar (Shiva).  Vishnu came to Shiva’s rescue by incarnating in the form of a beautiful woman and appearing in front of Bhasmasur.  The woman (Vishnu) persuaded him to dance with her and showed him some steps that involved putting his hand on his own head.  He followed her lead and thus burnt himself to ashes.  In this way Vishnu helped Shiva revoke the boon by making Bhasmasur use it against himself.

The significance of this story is that you must use blessings accurately to self and others. If the motive is misplaced, the blessing can backfire and seem like a curse. Baba says that a blessing will only bear fruit if no ego is involved.

CHURNING THE OCEAN

In Hindu mythology it is believed that one of Vishnu’s incarnations is that of a tortoise, Kurma.  Perhaps it was actually a turtle because it lived in the sea but it was always said to be a tortoise. ‘Kurma’ can mean ‘deed’ or ‘act’, that is, ‘the act of creation’. 

It is believed that many treasures from the Golden and Silver Ages were lost. ( According to the myth, Vishnu descended to earth as a tortoise to help recover these lost treasures).

It is also believed that in those days the ocean was made of milk. Gods and demons together set about churning the ocean of milk, using Mount Mandara as a churning stick.  Such was the weight of Mount Mandara that the operations would have been impossible if Kurma had not lent his curved back as a pivot on which to rest it while Vishnu shouldered most of the weight. 

The gods and demons divided into two teams.  With the help of the potent herbs, which they threw into the ocean, and using the serpent, Vasuki, as a churning rope, they proceeded with the task of churning.  In due course all the precious objects rose up out of the milky ocean.

  The ocean gave forth the following:

 (i)       Amrit, ambrosia, that is, the nectar of immortality, reserved for the gods.

(ii)     Dhanvantari, the physician of the gods, the second most precious thing in life after immortality.

(iii)   Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and good fortune who was to become Vishnu’s wife.

(iv)   Chandra, the moon, which Shiva took.

(v)     Ucchaishrava, a beautiful white horse which was given to the demon, Bali, but seized by Indra.

(vi)   Parijata, the miraculous, celestial wishing tree that grows in heaven. 

(vii)   Kaustubha, Vishnu’s chest-jewel, a sort of brooch worn by Indian men as an amulet and which originally had the magic powers of healing and protecting its wearer. 

(viii)   Airavata, a wonderful white elephant, which became Indra’s mount after he stopped riding a horse.

(ix)   Kamdhenu or Surabhi, the cow of plenty which could feed multitudes with her milk.  This was given to the seven rishis.

(x)     Rambha, a most beautiful nymph.

(xi)   Sura, the goddess of wine.

(xii)                         Shankh, a large conch shell that guaranteed victory to the warrior who blew it during a battle.

(xiii)   Dhanush, a mighty bow with an arrow that always hit and killed its target.

(xiv)   Halahal Visha, the poison vomited out by the serpent, which Shiva nearly swallowed.  This was the last treasure to come out of the ocean.

The fourteen treasures, which rose to the surface of the ocean of milk when the gods churned it, were all very special.  Some of the treasures were used to save the lives of whole nations in times of crisis.  However, some treasures were also at times the cause of wars, as the demons coveted these possessions of the gods.

Let us see what the spiritual significance of this myth is and how it applies to our daily life. 

This story tells us the importance of knowledge at the transition period of the cycle known as the Confluence Age, that is, the period between the old world called the Iron Age, and the new world called the Golden Age. It is at the time of extreme darkness of the Iron Age  that the Supreme Soul, the Ocean of Knowledge, comes and imparts godly knowledge to humankind. At present in the Confluence Age there is a struggle going on in our minds.  It is by churning the godly knowledge that one is able to experience happiness and remove all sorrow. 

The ocean represents a metaphor for the knowledge bestowed by God.  Mount Mandara signifies the mind. The serpent, Vasuki, which works as a rope moving the mind in either direction, signifies the intellect.  In order to churn the deep and infinite ocean of knowledge, one’s mind has to be stable and unshakeable like the mountain.  One has to face storms, tests and obstacles in spiritual life.  One’s power of discrimination, developed in the intellect, has to be kept sublime and powerful.  One also has to make the mind and intellect work together, contemplate deeply on various dimensions of knowledge and assimilate it.  This is similar to separating the cream from the milk.

The deities and the devils are engaged in churning the ocean.  The devils, called asuras, represents the vices, namely lust, anger, attachment, greed and ego.  The deities, called devatas, represent the virtues, namely purity, peace, contentment, detachment, love and truth.  The significance is that when we churn, our intellect is constantly pulled in opposite directions by either good thoughts, represented by the deities, or bad thoughts, represented by the devils.

In the story the tortoise, Kurma, illustrates the process of turning within, just as a tortoise withdraws into its own shell.  By stabilising the mind, that is, by withdrawing from worldly distractions, one is able to extract the essence of knowledge.  The poison that emerges from the ocean signifies that, by becoming introverted and continuously churning  godly knowledge, all old tendencies and viciousness  of the vices are purged.

In order to destroy the poison it is said that God Shiva or Bholanath, the Lord of Innocence, comes to help remove the poison by drinking it, to prevent it from afflicting other souls. This signifies that God has come to remove sorrow from the world by giving spiritual knowledge to humankind.

The spiritual significance of the treasures that emerged from the churning is:

 (i)       Amrit, through the nectar of knowledge one is able to conquer death, to become immortal in the new world.

(ii)     Dhanvantari, the physician, represents health and healing.  Churning the knowledge means continuously thinking about pure and positive thoughts.  Through this, one is able to acquire complete health, wealth and happiness.

(iii)   Lakshmi signifies that one is able to acquire spiritual wealth and in turn a deity status.

(iv)    Chandra, the moon, means one is able to acquire coolness and tranquillity of mind, like the moon, becoming sixteen celestial degrees complete like the full moon.

(v)      Ucchaishrava, the white horse, is the most noble of horses.  This signifies listening to noble thoughts and sentiments and inculcating them.

(vi)    Parijata, the wishing-tree, signifies understanding the knowledge of the kalpa tree and the world cycle.

(vii)     Kaustubha, the jewel, signifies the firmness and stability of mind needed to enable the soul to inculcate divine virtues, often referred to in the murlis as jewels.

(viii)     Airavata, the white elephant, symbolises the sovereignty of deities in heaven, Indraprasth.

(ix)    Kamdhenu or Surabhi, the cow, means acquiring all one desires.  Knowledge is the means by which to achieve complete happiness.

(x)      The nymph, Rambha, signifies that those who churn true knowledge become God’s messengers, angels, fairies or nymphs.

(xi)    Sura, goddess of wine, represents spiritual intoxication.  One who churns the knowledge enjoys spiritual experiences.

(xii)      Shankh, the conch shell, means those who churn the godly knowledge can serve through their pure speech.

(xiii)      Dhanush, the mighty bow, signifies those who churn the knowledge can inspire self-realisation in others as surely as an arrow hits its target.

(xiv)      Halahal Visha, meaning ‘poison’, ‘power’ or ‘medicine’.  This was the poison, vomited out by the serpent, which God Shiva removed by swallowing it into his throat.  (This is why Shankar’s throat is depicted in pictures as discoloured).  This signifies God’s coming to free the world from sorrow by giving knowledge and removing us from the poison of the five vices.

DADHICHI RISHI

This is a story of Dadhichi Rishi, where a rishi is the name given to one who has renounced his worldly concerns and dedicated his life to God. 

Dadhichi had a lot of love for God, donating everything to Him.  In one version of the story he allowed himself to be eaten by a lion, piece by piece, in order to save a cow.  His entire body was eaten with the exception of his bones.  Then God blessed him with life once again. 

This shows how one can be rewarded for true dedication and surrender in order to benefit others.  When we surrender our worldly aspirations for a good cause, we don’t lose anything but actually gain.  God Shiva blesses us with a new spiritual birth and a future filled with health, wealth and happiness in heaven, if we surrender our mind, body and wealth in godly service like Dadhichi Rishi.

Another version of the story is that there was a battle between the devils and the deities.  When the deities went to Dadhichi for help, he sacrificed his life allowing his remaining bones to be then available for use.  The deities used the Rishi’s bones as weapons and defeated the devils.

The spiritual significance of this story is that Maya, in the form of the vices, confronts us in a variety of  ways.  However, if we take God’s help and maintain courage, we can conquer Maya. As we  dedicate ourselves in the service of God,  we receive the fruit of whatever we give. 

Dadhichi Rishi was such a dedicated person that he allowed his very bones to be donated and used in service.  Even though he was still alive, he sat in meditation and willed his soul to leave the body and donated his bones with happiness. Brahmins are Raj Rishis, meaning those who have royalty and purity. The spiritual significance is that whilst keeping the consciousness of trusteeship as we use our bodies in godly service, it helps to remove body consciousness and then conquer the vices. Through the practice of meditation we inculcate virtues and help create a world free of vice.

 THE DONKEY

Once upon a time there was a salt merchant who had a very lazy donkey.  Every day he would drive it, loaded with a bag full of salt to sell, to the nearest town and then drive it back home again.  To get to the town they had to cross a river.  One day the donkey slipped into the water.  When it stood up again, it immediately felt that the load was a lot lighter as much of the salt had dissolved into the river.  The donkey was very happy indeed!  The next day and the day after, the donkey purposely fell down into the river and so its master decided to teach it a lesson.

On the next trip the merchant loaded the donkey with a bag full of sponge.  The donkey duly repeated its trick, falling once again to the river.  Unfortunately, this time when it tried to stand up, the load was very heavy as the sponges had absorbed a lot of water.  The salt merchant beat the donkey again and again until it was finally standing and in great pain, the donkey slowly limped along.

This story signifies that we should not be lazy in making spiritual effort. 

Sometimes, after being made clean, donkeys also roll in the mud and dirty themselves.  Baba has said that we should not dirty ourselves by coming into body consciousness.  Otherwise we will lose all our decorations, that is, all attainments, virtues and powers.

 DRAUPADI

Draupadi was the wife of the five Pandavas and the daughter of King Draupada of Panchala.  She was considered a pure child because she was born out of a sacrificial fire.  Draupadi was a woman of great beauty and of a determined spirit.  She actively participated in the war that started over her, and incited her five husbands to take revenge.

One day King Drupada challenged all the kings in the world who wanted to marry his daughter to participate in an archery contest.  The contest was set up according to the following description.  In a water pool stood a pillar, on top of which a beam was balanced.  Each contestant had to straddle the beam with a foot placed at each end, keeping the beam balanced on the pillar at the same time as he kept his own body balanced on the beam.  Suspended above the pillar was a fish, spinning rapidly on a wheel.  While focusing attention on the reflection of the fish in the water, the contestant had to aim for and hit the eye of the rapidly spinning fish, suspended above him.  The one who succeeded in the contest would marry Draupadi.

The Pandavas attended the greatest assembly of hundreds of princes from near and far, including the Kaurava named Duryodhana, one of the 100 cousins of the Pandavas.  One after the other the princes came forward, and one after the other they failed.  Then Karna, the king of Anga, stepped forward and seemed destined to win the contest.  Draupadi, however, intervened, saying that she would never marry the son of a charioteer.  Unfortunately, Karna did not know at that time that he was really the son of Surya, the sun-god.  (Refer to the story of Karna).

Arjuna, one of the Pandavs, who had powerful concentration, stood on the balance, looked at the reflection of the fish and shot the eye of the fish above with his arrow.  King Drupada then had to fulfil his promise and so Arjuna married Draupadi.  Arjuna then returned to his mother in the forest and announced to her that he had won a great prize.  Without looking up, their mother, Kunti, who had always taught them the value of unity, said that the gift should be shared among all five brothers.  Arjuna agreed.   In this way Draupadi became the wife of five brothers rather than only the wife of Arjuna himself.

At the time Draupadi became queen, the Pandavas were facing many difficulties.  The Kauravas had the intention of taking away all the land and other property that the Pandavas had inherited from their father.  They had already devised many methods to cheat them or even get rid of them.  Knowing that the Pandavas had so much wealth, the Kauravas invited them to a game of dice.  The eldest Pandava brother, Yudhisthira, said that he would not go.  Then the Kauravas sent them invitation in the name of their blind father, the uncle of the Pandavas.  It was the custom among kings of equal standing to invite each other to such games of chance.  So, when the uncle sent the invitation, the Pandavas had no choice but to accept it.

Being very clever at gambling, the Kauravas cheated in the game while the Pandavas played honestly and kept losing as a result.  When Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava, was defeated in the game, he lost all the property and land, and finally even his wife, Draupadi, and his brothers were lost to the Kauravas.  At that time Draupadi was asleep in the palace and so Duryodhana, the eldest brother of the Kauravas, ordered his vicious younger brother, Dushashan, to go and wake Draupadi and bring her to the court.  Duryodhana asked Draupadi to sweep the floor.  When she protested that she was the daughter of a king and not a sweeper, Dushashan grabbed her by her hair and began to disrobe her pulling at her sari.  Draupadi begged all the elders who were sitting in the court to help her.  She begged her husbands, the Pandavas, to take revenge but Yudhisthira reminded them that they were slaves.  So no one could come to her protection.  Finally, Draupadi started calling out to God. 

Then a miracle began to happen.  As Dushashan kept pulling at her sari, it just continued unravelling, never coming to an end.  Dushashan’s hand became tired and so he went and sat down.  It was then arranged that the five Pandavas with Draupadi should go into exile for twelve years and stay in hiding for one year after that.

The above story is spiritually significant in a number of ways.  Firstly, Draupadi, the Shakti, is symbolised as the one who made effort to keep herself pure.  She was considered pure because she was born out of a sacrificial fire, although she had now taken human form.

In this story Arjuna was shown to have very powerful concentration.  He had been able to hit the eye of the fish while keeping his balance in a very unstable situation.  In reality, this implies that keeping balance in one’s spiritual life is very crucial while living in the old world.  Symbolically, to be able to shoot the eye of the fish while it was spinning rapidly refers to being able to have perfect yoga.  When one has a balanced and accurate love-link with the Supreme Father, the Supreme Light, one is able to focus the mind on Him.  Such people become like Arjuna, the one with powerful concentration. 

Arjuna was also depicted as the one who gave respect and was obedient to his elders.  He obeyed and respected his mother’s direction to share Draupadi with his brothers.  This shows that he had no attachment to any human soul.

The story of Draupadi’s never-ending sari illustrates that only the determined practice of purity will protect us from the lure of lust.  Only through a strong love-link with Baba will we be shown a miraculous way to escape from any threat to our spiritual well-being.  The Supreme Soul has also said this about the time of destruction when everyone will be under disturbing influences.  All support will be gone.  There will be no one to protect us unless we are able to reach God’s home in Madhuban or one of the Baba’s other houses, wherever they may be.  The outside world will be unsafe and at that time people as vicious as demons with evil intent in their eyes will try to take away our chastity. 

However, if we have developed powerful yoga, one pure glance at such vicious souls will transform their intentions and they will see only our subtle form of light.  This will happen because, when we are remembering God, we are in the highest state of soul consciousness.  So nothing can happen to us.  Such is the power of a fully developed love-link with God.

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