As told by Ramana Maharshi
Scattered throughout the religious scriptures of India, parables and stories abound, weaving a colourful thread around the most profound spiritual truths of mankind. Handed down from parent to child these religious treasures of India remain a relevant force today.
In Sri Ramana's own words the beauty and wisdom contained in such stories are made ever more beautiful and the essence made even clearer. Sri Bhagavan would not only tell the story but would act out the part to the delight of His devotees. If the story was particularly moving, tears would flow freely from His eyes. "Such was the attraction of these stories".
While Bhagavan was reading and explaining a story about Tara Vilasam His eyes became full of tears and His voice became tremulous. It looked as if the whole drama was being enacted in His presence. Noticing this Suri Nagamma remarked, "Bhagavan appears to have been transformed into Tara herself". Pulling Himself together the Master said with a smile, "What to do? I identify myself with whosoever is before me, I have no separate identity. I am universal".
D: I fear that Self-realisation is no easy thing to attain.
M: Why impede yourself by anticipating failure? Push on. Self-realisation will come to an earnest seeker in a trice. To illustrate this, Sri Bhagavan told the following story.
King Janaka was listening to a philosophical treatise read by the state pandit, where in a passage occurred to the effect that a rider who had placed one foot in the stirrup, contemplating upon realisation. could realise the Self before he lifted the other foot to place it in the other stirrup. That is, the passage taught, that when realisation comes, it comes in an instant. The king stopped the pandit from proceeding further, and ordered him to prove the statement. The pandit admitted that he was only a book-worm and was unable to impart practical wisdom. Janaka suggested that the text was either false or exaggerated, but the pandit would not agree to this. Though he himself was unable to impart practical wisdom, he maintained that the text could not be false or exaggerated, since it contained the words of wise Sages of the past. Janaka was annoyed with the pandit and in a fit of rage condemned him to prison. He then inflicted the same punishment on every pandit who passed for a wise man but was unable to prove this scriptural text.
For fear of being imprisoned, some pandits fled the country in voluntary exile. While two or three of them were running through a thick forest, a Sage called Ashtavakra (Ashta means 'eight' and vakra means 'bends'. Ashtavakra was so named because his body had eight deformities), who though young in age was wise in learning, happened to cross their path. Having learnt their plight, Ashtavakra offered to prove the text true to the king and thereby have the imprisoned pandits released. Impressed by his bold assurance, they took him in a palanquin to the king. At the sight of the Sage, the king stood up and saluted him with great reverence. Ashtavakra then ordered the king to release all the Pandits. Janaka thought that such an order could come only from one who had the capacity to set his doubts at rest, and hence he released all the pandits and asked the Sage whether he could summon the horse. The Sage advised him not to be in a hurry and suggested that they should go to a solitary spot. Thereupon the king on his horse and the Sage in a palanquin went out of the city towards the forest.
When they reached the forest the Sage asked the king to send back the retinue. The King did as he was asked, and then placing one of his feet in the stirrup, he requested the Sage to prove the scriptural text. But the Sage replied by asking whether the position in which they stood indicated a proper Master- disciple relationship. The King then understood that he should show due reverence towards Ashtavakra, and prayed to him for Grace. The Sage then addressed him as 'Janaka', since he was no longer a king and told him that before being taught Brahma-Jnana, a true disciple should surrender himself and all his possessions to his Master. "So be it", said the king.
"So be it" replied the Sage and disappeared into the forest. From that moment Janaka stood transfixed with one foot in the stirrup and the other dangling in the air, as if he were a statue. (Saying this Sri Bhagavan imitated the posture of King Janaka).
Time passed by, and the citizens, finding no signs of their King returning, grew anxious and began to search for him. They came to the place where Janaka was standing transfixed and were dismayed to find him unaware of their presence and indifferent to their earnest enquiries. They therefore began searching for Ashtavakra who, they thought, must be a charlatan that had cast a spell upon their king, and vowed vengeance upon him. At the same time, being concerned with the king's condition and wanting to minister to him, they brought him back to the city on a palanquin. The king, however, continued to remain in the same condition.
At last, having found Ashtavakra, the ministers entreated him to remove the alleged spell and bring the king back to his normal condition. At the same time they charged him with the responsibility for having cast the spell. Ashtavakra treated their ignorant remarks with contempt and called the name of Janaka, who immediately saluted him, and responded to his call.
The ministers were surprised. Ashtavakra told the king that he was being maliciously accused by the people of having brought him to some sad plight and asked him to tell the truth. On hearing this, the king angrily asked, 'Who said so?' The Ministers were taken by surprise and pleaded for mercy. Thereupon, the Sage advised the king to resume his normal functions, adding that Brahma-Jnana could be taught only to competent persons and that since the king had successfully passed the test, he would now impart it to him.
Then the Sage remained alone with the king during the night and taught him the ultimate Truth, saying "Brahman is not anything new or apart from oneself and no particular time or place is needed to realise it". He finally concluded by saying, "That Thou Art" (tat tvam asi). That is the Self, eternal and infinite.
The next morning the ministers found that the king called the assembly and performed his functions as usual. In the assembled Court Ashtavakra asked the king whether his former doubt about whether Brahma-jnana could be attained as suddenly and as quickly as mentioned in the scriptures was cleared, and if so to bring the horse and demonstrate the truth of it.
The king was all humility now and said: "Lord!, Because of my immaturity, I doubted the correctness of the scriptural text. I now realise every letter of it is true". The ministers thanked the sage.
A devotee asked, "Can anyone get any benefit by repeating sacred syllables (mantras) picked up casually?"
Sri Bhagavan replied, "No, He must be competent and initiated in such mantras". To illustrate this he told the following story.
A King visited his Premier in his residence. There he was told that the Premier was engaged in repetition of sacred syllables (japa). The King waited for him and, on meeting him, asked what the japa was. The Premier said that it was the holiest of all, Gayatri. The King desired to be initiated by the Premier but the Premier confessed his inability to initiate him. Therefore the King learned it from someone else, and meeting the Minister later he repeated the Gayatri and wanted to know if it was right. The Minister said that the mantra was correct, but it was not proper for him to say it. When pressed for an explanation the Minister called to a page close by and ordered him to take hold of the King. The order was not obeyed. The order was often repeated, and still not obeyed. The King flew into a rage and ordered the same man to hold the Minister, and it was immediately done.
The Minister laughed and said that the incident was the explanation required by the King. "How?" asked the King. The Minister replied, 'The order was the same and the executor also, but the authority was different. When I ordered, the effect was nil whereas, when you ordered, there was immediate effect. Similarly with mantras".
One day a Sage called Pakanar was weaving a basket in from of his house. Hearing a loud voice chanting, "Hare Ram", he asked his sister who it was that was chanting. His sister replied that it was a Brahmin who is keeping his own daughter. Pakanar replied, "You are the hundredth person to repeat the scandal!" Meanwhile, the Brahmin having come to that place, the Sage told the Brahmin that his curse was lifted and that he could return home. Later, he explained to his sister thus: "This Brahmin was living with his widowed daughter. They were generous and kind hearted. They would invite sadhus and feed them with love. On hearing their generosity a sadhu came to visit them. He was well received and fed. The sadhu was immensely pleased with their devotion and decided to bless them. He just glanced once and knew what was in store for them when they die. He called the Brahmin and told him that after his death he would be tortured by a mountain of leeches in hell. On hearing this, the Brahmin fell at his feet in terror and implored him for some means of escape. The sadhu told him, 'Once while you were cooking food a leech fell from the roof into the cooking pot and died, unobserved. You offered that food to a realised Sage. Since whatever is given to a Sage will be received back a thousand fold, a mountain of leeches are in store for you'. The sadhu then advised the Brahmin that in order to escape this fate he should conduct himself towards his grown- up widowed daughter in such a way, as to provoke a scandal that he was having illicit intimacy with her. He assured him that when a hundred persons had uttered the scandal the sin would leave him completely, having been distributed among the scandal-mongers. The Brahmin did accordingly and you are the hundredth person to tell the scandal. So I say that the Brahmin's curse is now removed."
Sri Bhagavan drew from the story the following moral: "Have the best intention, but act in such a way not to win praise, but to incur blame. Resist the temptation to justify yourself even when you are just".
Swami is Everywhere
Seeing that Sundaramurthi was going away on a white elephant which had come from Kailas, the Raja of Chera whispered in the ear of his horse the panchakshara mantra and got upon it to go to Kailas. Avvaiyar, who was at the time doing puja to Lord Ganesar, saw them both going to Kailas and so tried to hurry up her puja as she too wanted to go to Kailas. Seeing that, Ganesar said: "Old woman, don't hurry. Let your pooja be performed as usual. I shall take you to Kailas before they reach it." Accordingly, the puja was performed in due course. Waving his hand around, he said: "Old lady, close your eyes". That was all. When she opened here eyes, she found herself seated in Kailas in front of Parvati and Parameswara. By the time Sundaramurthi and Chera Raja reached the place, they found her already seated there. Surprised at that, they asked her how she had got there and were overjoyed at her bhakti!
After all, she was very old. So she sat opposite to Parameswara with her legs stretched out like me. Parvati could not bear that sight. She was worried because to sit with legs stretched out towards Swami, she felt, was a great insult. She respectfully suggested to Parameswara that she should be permitted to tell the old lady about it. "Oh, don't speak, don't open your mouth. We should not say anything to her." How could Parvati put up with that insult? She therefore whispered into the ear of her maid to tell the old lady, who said: 'Grandma, Grandma, don't keep your legs outstretched towards Ishwara". "Is that so?" She replied "Tell me on which side Ishwara is not present. Shall I turn this side?" said Avvaiyar. So saying, she turned her outstretched legs to another side and Ishwara got turned to that side; and when again she turned to a different side, He also got turned to the same side. Thus Swami got turned to whichever side she turned her legs. Looking at Parvati, Ishwara said: "Do you see now? You would not listen to me. See how she turns me this side and that. That is why I told you not to open your mouth". Then Parvati requested the old lady to excuse her. It is similar to that when people are asked not to stretch their legs towards Swami. Where is He not present?
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