The young Rama perseveres with questions about ideation and creation of the Universe. What exists, and how does that come into being? What is its nature? Here, Sage Vasishtha tells the story of Rishi Bhirgu, his son Sukra, and the God of Death.
bhokta: a consumer of goods or a recipient of pleasures and suffering
gyan and agyan: wisdom and ignorance
kalpa: Day of Brahma; era
karta: the doer of action
nirvikalpa: freedom from illusions or modifications or errors
samadhi: Samadhi is a state of profound and utterly absorptive contemplation of the Absolute that is undisturbed by desire, anger, or any other ego-generated thought or emotion. It is a state of joyful calm, or even of rapture and beatitude, in which one maintains one’s full mental alertness and acuity.
sankalpa: ideation; modification of chitta or consciousness; idea, resolve, volition (will);
swayamvar: the public choice of a husband by a princess or a girl from amongst a number of suitors assembled for the purpose
vasana: tendencies or desires
vidyadhar: one who possesses knowledge
yuga: cycle of time period; an age
Question 140: Sir, how did Sukra, son of Rishi Bhirgu, partake of the pleasures of heavens and experience illusions of the world, as a
Answer: Ramji, I shall now narrate to you the story of Sukra, son of Rishi Bhirgu. Listen carefully. Once upon a time Rishi Bhirgu undertook penance at a pleasant spot on Mandrachal Hill and his son Sukra was in attendance upon him. When the rishi attained nirvikalpa samadhi, Sukra retired to a quiet place. At that time he was wearing, around his neck, a garland made of kalpa tree flowers, and was fixed in the intermediary state between gyan and agyan. Suddenly, he saw a beautiful nymph crossing the sky, and felt very much attracted to her. Closing his eyes and extending the realm of his mind, he thought of winning her. Following her with his ideation (sankalpa), he reached the heavens. There he saw many kalpa trees in blossom and gods sporting with goddesses. He was delighted to see many other attractive sights and places.
Seeing mentally many other creations like these, he arrived at the court of Lord Indra where he was warmly received and invited to spend some time there. Sukra accepted the invitation happily. Forgetting his true self and his body at Mandrachal Hill, owing to his vasana, he assumed another body and continued to brood over the idea of the nymph. When he decided to leave Indra’s court, the gods beseeched him to see the creations in the heavens. Visiting many places, Sukra reached the spot where that nymph was in the company of her friends. As soon as he saw her, he was hit by Cupid’s arrow and was overcome with a desire to win her and the nymph, too, was attracted to him. Both of them were then engaged in merriment. Sukra was happy to have her and enjoyed sporting with her for a very long time under the kalpa tree. Both of them lived together and roamed around in the heavens for thirty-two yugas.
When the account of their good deeds was exhausted, they were deported to the earth where they took births according to their destiny. Sukra was born in the house of a brahmin by name Daksharnya and the nymph was born to the King of Malwa. When this girl attained the age of sixteen, she undertook worship of Lord Shiva with a desire that she should be remarried to the husband of her previous birth. In due course, the king arranged for his daughter a swayamvar to which kings and brahmins were invited.
Daksharnya also attended the swayamvar with his son. The princess who was naturally attracted by the husband of her previous birth, instantly garlanded him and selected him for her match. After the marriage was solemnised, the king abdicated in favour of his daughter and son-in-law and retired to the forests to devote himself to spiritual pursuits. After ruling for many years when the brahmin’s son (Sukra) attained old age, he realised that (his) wife was a cause of great misery. A tendency of renunciation developed in him but due to his old age he was left with no energy to practise. He was still full with desires but could do nothing, and died one day.
As per his tendencies and karma, he was born a hunter and spent his life-time catching birds. During his last years he developed a spirit of renunciation and started worshipping the Sun-god. Thus he took rebirth as a king in Suryavanshi (Sun) dynasty. Due to the force of his tendencies, he developed some knowledge, tried to study the Vedas and practised yoga. In his next birth he became priest and advanced in his study and practice of the Vedas. In the next birth he became a vidyadhar and lived like that for one cycle (kalpa). After this, he was born as a son of a rishi where he practised various penances and stayed at Mount Sameru. After a very long time, owing to his desires, he was born in the house of a robber where he suffered due to attachment to his son. In due course, he had to leave that body too and his next birth was as a king in Madhyadesh where he ruled for some time. Before his death he had an urge for penances (tapasya) and his next birth took place in the house of an ascetic (tapasvi) where he lived without joy and sorrow and practised penance on the banks of the Ganga. Ramji, Sukra thus wandered in this cycle of rebirths owing to his ideations. Just as a lump of clay keeps revolving on the potter’s wheel, so did Sukra keep wandering owing to the ideation in his mind. His former body on Mandrachal Hill had become inert, but no insect or a beast had damaged it.
When three hundred sixty thousand years of this mortal land passed, Rishi Bhirgu woke up from his samadhi. Seeing the inert body of Sukra he inferred that he had been devoured by death. Instantly, he flew into rage and questioned why death had taken away his son. “My son was a great tapasvi and was expected to live up to the end of the creation. How could he have an untimely death? This is injustice by Death for which I shall curse him to reduce him to ashes,” he said to himself.
Instantly, Death God appeared before Rishi Bhirgu and seeing him in a fury addressed him saying,”O great sage, the men of principles who know Paramatma do not lose temper and they are unruffled even when others are angry with them. Why then are you so furious without reason under the inﬂuence of your attachments ? You are an ascetic (tapasvi) and a knower of Brahman. I am bound by the law. Pray, do not get angry. I cannot be destroyed by your curse. Even the devastating fire of doom cannot destroy me. I have consumed many and rishis like you are no exception. This has been the prime rule.
“Viewed with right understanding (gyan), it will be realised that there is neither a doer (karta) nor a consumer (bhokta ), neither a cause nor an effect; only the non-dual Atma is established in itself. But when it is viewed with ignorance (agyan), both the subject and the object are perceived, and illusions, too, are experienced owing to dual cognition. When non-dual cognition is attained, all the illusions vanish and Atma only is established in itself. Kindly do not get enraged. Your son is facing his destiny; I have not killed him. Like an unwise person you are trying to curse me in vain.
“On this plane, everyone has two bodies. One is mental or subtle, and the other is gross made of bones and flesh. The latter is perishable, it functions with the aid of mind and is without intelligence. If the mind is on a virtuous path, it takes it on to a superior plane. The objects that are assumed as unreal by the mind are cognised as unreal, and those that are assumed as real, are cognised as real. This shows that everything is an ideation of the mind. The chitta is the purusha. Things materialise as the chitta functions. This body, too, is an illusion of the mind and is an aspect thereof. Jiva, too, is another name for the mind. When the ideation takes the form of conviction, then it is called intelligence.
When the mind acquires a feeling of ‘I’, it is called ego. Body is the result of firm conviction in mind. When the mind abandons body-idea, then it attains the supreme state. The entire web of the universe exists in the ideation of the mind. Your son has visited various places due to the ideation in his mind. While you were in samadhi, he (Sukra) followed with his subtle (mental) body the nymph, called Aswachi, and reached the heavens. Then he assumed to be a god and sported with the nymph under a kalpa tree, and enjoyed various pleasures according to his sankalpa. When his account of good deeds (karma) was exhausted, he was cast upon the earth. His godly body disappeared on the way, and with his subtle body he entered food grain and then had numerous births. Presently he has been engaged in penance for eight hundred years on the banks of River Ganga. As you examine this narration with wisdom, you will understand the entire episode. With great endeavours your son has controlled the illusion of the senses and is presently engaged in a great penance. You can see everything with your inner eye.” Thus concluded Death God.
Rishi Bhirgu then closed his eyes and was surprised to see all that had transpired. Seeking pardon of the Lord of Death, he said, “Sir, I lost my temper because of a misunderstanding. Since I knew that my son had a long life, I sensed that he had met with an untimely death without reason. I felt this was injustice and, therefore, lost my temper. But when you guided me to be thoughtful, I could see that my son had been wandering due to the various delusions and was presently in penance on the banks of River Ganga.”
Continuing, Rishi Bhirgu said, “Sir, you said that every jiva has two bodies, one mental and the other physical. But according to me there is only the mental body, because whatever happens in the mind, only that materialises and nothing is attained by the actions of the body.“ Death God replied, “O sage, you have rightly said that there is only a mental body. Just as a potter creates numerous pots, so does the mind create numerous bodies. As is the ideation in the mind, so are the bodies created. To a wise person, everything is an aspect of the mind. It is mind only that gives experiences of pain and pleasure and the variegated universe. All these ideations are of the nature of vasana. When the mind abandons vasana of the body and is directed inward, then it attains to the true state.
The entire universe is an aspect of Atma. The diversity of forms is experienced owing to ignorance, and the experiences of joy and sorrow are the results of an illusion. In reality, only Brahman is established in itself. The universe arises out of Brahman and it merges into Brahman. Just as a wave is an aspect of water, so is the universe an aspect of Brahman. There is no distinction between Brahman and the universe. Atma is like a mirror; as is the ideation-like image cast in it, so is the form experienced. A jiva creates objects by his desires and gets entangled in bondage. He attains liberation by his will only. In reality, the words ‘bondage’ and ‘liberation’ too are ideational; there is neither liberation nor bondage in Atma. Joy and sorrow, bondage and liberation are aspects of maya that has charmed the entire universe. When cognition in the chitta assumes the form of imagination, or when it becomes associated with the universe, then it casts itself into bondage; when it detaches itself from the world and is directed inwards, it is relieved of all illusions.
The entire expanse, including gods and demons, is not independent of Brahman; it is an aspect of Brahman. When a jiva conceives itself as a body of flesh and bones, and not as Brahman, and assumes an individuality with a name, then, because of this attitude, it is deeply entangled in maya. But, in reality, he is inseparable from Brahman. It is the primeval ideation (adi sankalpa) that assumes, by further modifications, diverse names and forms and undergoes numerous sufferings. As a result of his purushartha, when a jiva attains deliverance from illusions, then he crosses the ocean-like world. Some realise Brahman in the self. Others become forgetful of the true self and, therefore, suffer in the cycle of births of innumerable types. The gross body of flesh is a creation of ideation in the mind, and is like a dream object. As were the actions performed by your son with an imaginary body, so was the state obtained by him. How am I at fault in this regard?
Thereafter, Rishi Bhirgu and Death God, ﬂew together and came to the spot where Sukra was in penance. They found that he had attained to the non-ideational state of mind and was in peace in samadhi. Death God woke Sukra out of samadhi. Sukra paid obeisance to them and enquired who they were. Rishi Bhirgu then addressed him saying, “You are a gyani. Try to recognise us and also recall who you are.” Sukra shut his eyes and fixing his concentration for a while reviewed the entire situation. He opened his eyes and with an expression of amazement said, “Wonderful are the ways of nature. I realise that I had been wandering under illusions and have now attained knowledge and peace in the Atmic state. My illusions have vanished and I have no desire. But it appears that destiny demands that we must go where my former body is lying at Mandrachal Hill. Though I have no desire for that body, yet the order of destiny must be followed. Kindly advise me what I must do now.”
All the three decided to go to Mandrachal Hill, and ﬂying in the skies they arrived where the former body of Sukra was lying. Looking at it, Sukra said with great amazement, “While it was sentient, it was active in various ways, but now it is inert and dry.” Addressing it he said, “Now that you have attained to the non-cognitive state, you are free from all sufferings. Your false ideations have vanished and your mind is still. You are in peace and free from all wanderings and actions (karma). Therefore, I bow to you.” Continuing, Sukra said, “The chitta is the cause of karma and when it attains quiescence, one becomes free from all physical and mental sufferings and attains the supreme bliss.”
(At this stage Sri Ramchandra put another question to Sri Vasishthaji.)
Om Hamsaaya Vidmahe
Tanno Hamsa Prachodayat
“May we realise Hamsa that is our own Self as the Swan. Let us meditate on that Paramahamsa, the Supreme Self. May Hamsa illumine us.”