Friday, September 15, 2006

Early learners?

Ashtavakra and Abhimanyu – both from the Mahabharata – come to mind. The latter learned the right way of penetrating into a chakravyuha (but not the way out of it) by listening to Arjuna from his mother Subhadra's womb. Partial knowledge was his undoing in the war. Ashtavakra’s case is even more fascinating. He was a Vedic scholar, a jnani – not a warrior. He was deformed (‘vakra’) in eight (‘Ashta’) joints of his body. I came across two versions of how his body got deformed. In the first version, his ambitious mother, Sujata, the daughter of Sage Uddalaka, was married to Kahor, his star pupil. When she was pregnant, she had high hopes for her child. She wanted him to be far above the ordinary. So, she began to attend the Vedic discourses given by her father and her husband. The unborn baby in her womb was so intelligent that, one fine day, he corrected his father’s chanting of a verse. Kahor apparently had a prima donna mindset. He couldn’t stand the humiliation of being publicly chided by his unborn child. Had he an ounce of common sense and humility, he would have felt proud that he had sired a super brilliant brat. Instead, he chose to stand on his dignity and his seniority like a father in a Bollywood flick. He cursed his progeny saying that he be born deformed in eight parts of his body. In the second version, though, Ashtavakra did not speak out his mind publicly. Instead, he bottled his discomfiture and displeasure at his father’s faulty rendering of the verses. He winced with embarrassment and his body twisted inside the womb at every slip of his worthy sire. King Janaka became Ashtavakra’s disciple. The dialogue between the two of them went on to become the celebrated Ashtavakra Gita or Ashtavakra Samhita. Here are a few quotes to get a feel of it.

“You do not consist of any of the elements – earth, water, fire, air or even ether. To be liberated, know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these .” (1.3)

“Righteousness and unrighteousness, pleasure and pain are purely of the mind and are no concern of yours. You are neither the doer nor the reaper of the consequences, so you are always free.” (1.6)

“Since you have been bitten by the black snake, the opinion about yourself that ‘I am the doer’, drink the antidote of faith in the fact that ‘I am not the doer’, and be happy.” (1.8)

“If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so’.” (1.11)

“Pure illusion reigns in samsara which will continue until self realisation, but the enlightened man lives in the beauty of freedom from me and mine, from the sense of responsibility and from any attachment.” (18.73)

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