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Exceprts from the book Sita – Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik – Part I

Posted on: December 27, 2013


Here are some excerpts that appealed to me from the book Sita – Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik.

Yagnavalkya’s statements in Janaka’s court based on his learning from Surya

The fear of death makes plants seek nourishment and grow towards sunlight and water. Fear of death is what makes animals run towards pastures and prey. At the same time, yearning for life makes animals hide and run from predators. But human fear is unique: fuelled by imagination it seeks value and meaning. “Do I matter? What makes me matter?” Every human creats his own imagined version of the world, and of himself. Every human is therefore Brahma, creator of his own aham. Aham Brahmasi, I am Brahma. Tat tvam asi, so are you. We knot our imagination with fear to create aham. Tapasya and yagna are two tools that can helps us unknot the mind, outgrow fear and discover atma, our true self.
Atma is the brahman, a fully expanded mind, Atma is the mind that does not fear death or yearn for life. It does not seek validation, It witnesses the world as it is. Atma is ishwar, also known as Shiva, who performs tapasya, is self-contained and self-sufficient. Atma is bhagwan, also known as Vishnu, who conducts a yagna to nourish everyone even though he needs no nourishment.
The traditional Advaita interpretation of Aham Brahmasi and Tat Tvam Asi is “I am God and so are you”. This is a completely different interpretation of the same quotation.

Kaushika becomes Vishwamitra

Vasishta refuses to part with Nandini, a cow similar to Kamadhenu, which is capable of feeding any number of people to the king Kaushika. Kaushika tries to take it away by force of his army but fails. He realizes that he has to become a rishi like Vasishta to be able to gain access to Nandini and sets about doing tapasya to gain siddha. During this time a man called Trishanku managed Kaushika’s kingdom. Once Kaushika attained a level of siddha he tries to send Trishanku to heaven as a gift, but Trishanku is pushed out by Indra and Trishanku finds himself hanging between the two worlds. Now Kaushika performs austerities with the aim of toppling Indra, who sends Meneka and Kaushika falls for her and his austerities is broken.
He resumes his austerities, but is disturbed by a king called Harishchandra. When he is about to curse the king and his family, the king offers his entire kingdom as a compensation. Kaushika accepts is but demands a dakshina for liberating him from the karmic obligation of his crime. With nothing to give the king sells himself and his wife and son as salves and gives the money thus collected to Kaushika.
The king is bought by a chandala and is asked to help in burning dead bodies at the crematorium. The queen were bought by a priest who has made them servants in his household. The son dies of a snake bite and the queen brings him to the crematorium. Harishchandra asks for a fee for burning the body. Having nothing to offer the queen offers the clothes on her body. Harishchandra accepts that and cremates his son. In the light of the funeral pyre, Kaushika sees that naked queen and the stoic king, weeping for their son, but neither blaming nor reproaching anybody for their terrible situation. Kaushika asks the king “Wherefrom comes this wisdom that enables you to be at peace even in tragedy?” and Harishchandra answers, “From my guru Vasishta.” Hearing Vasishta’s name engrages Kaushika even more and he goads aman-eating rakshasa to devour Vasishta’s son. The grandson of Vasishta seeks revenge, when Vasishta tells him “Every action has consequences. Why blame the instrument of karma for what is determined by our own past actions? By denying Kaushika the Kamadhenu because he did not deserve it, I ignited rage in his heart, which led him to goad the man-eating Rakshasa to kill your father. I am as much responsible for your father’s death as are the Rakshasa and Kaushika. I wish I had more sons that Kaushika could kill until he has his fill of anger”.
Hearing this, Kaushika realized that it is not siddha that makes a man a rishi, it is the ability to care for others. To care for others, we have to first see them, understand them truly.
Kaushika realizes that the purpose of yagna and tapasya is not to increase the wealth and power. It is to make one unknot one’s mind, move from aham to atma, see the world from another’s point of view. Only then can one be a Rishi.
With this realization Kaushika stops being a Vishwashatru and becomes a Vishwamitra.

Vasishta to Dasaratha

When Vasishta tells Dasaratha that he will try his best to make the princes brahmins, Dasaratha says that his sons need to be warrior princes and not brahmin. Vasishta explains.
Vasishta: “You confuse brahmin-jati with brahmin-varna. He of brahmin-jati is a priest, transmitter of hymns, rituals of the Veda. He of brahmin-varna is one who inspires the Brahma of limited mind to move towards being brahmin of limitless mind. Whether priest of warrior, farmer, herder or trader, man or woman, everyone must expand their minds, rise from the shurdra-varna, the mindset of a follower, to vaishya varna, the mindset of a trader, to kshatriya varna, the mindset of a master, to brahmin-varna, the mindset of seer.”
Dasaratha: “How can a king be a servant or a trader or a master or a seer?”
Vasishta: “A king is a servant when he mimics other kings without understanding. A king is a trader when he uses rules to get all the things that he desires. A king is a master when he uses rules to impose his thoughts on those around him. A king is a seer when he understand the thought behind the rules and so appreciates the many reason why a rule is followed and why another rule is not. For a king with a mind of a brahmin, rules are merely functional, they are never right or wrong, and like all actions they have consequences. For them rules are not tools fof power to dominate and control. For him rules are merely instruments of society that enable even the weakest to have what is otherwise cornered by the strongest.”

Vasishta to Rama

Conduct your yagna as only a tapasvi can. Ignite the fire, tapa, which needs no fuel, within your mind. Light the outer physical fire, agni, which demands fuel. Tapa will transform you while agni will tranform the world around you. Tapasya will burn your hunger. Yagna will feed the hungry. Tapasya will reveal fear that generates aham. Yagna will hep you discover love that reveals atma. Tapasya works on self so that we can focus on others. Yahna focuses on others so that we can work on the self. Tapasya helps you impose rules. He who understands this walks the path of Vishnu.

Rama is asked if theoretical knowledge or practical knowledge is more important

Rama replies “Neither is better or worse. The pursuit of theoretical knowledge develops the mind, while practical knowledge develops the body. Both have value and both come at a cost. It is aham that creates notion of better or worse. Atma observes it all, and smiles.
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