Tuesday, February 19, 2013

a requested verse on forbearance

Recently I posted up beautiful verse from one of the most amazing bhakti texts we are fortunate to have, the Srimad Bhagavatam. One of my friends liked the verse so much that she asked me to write about it. I eagerly took the opportunity since the Bhagavatam has always been there for me like a trusted and loyal friend and deserves to be honoured and recognized for being so invaluable.

The reason why I love the Bhagavatam so much is that it explains philosophy through stories. For someone who doesn't like to be told what to do (i.e. me!), this is such an effective teaching tool. Instead of saying "Do this," the reader gets to hear about great personalities who faced the consequences of making certain choices (whether they be positive or challenging) This way, if the aspiring bhakti wants to, (remember, we always have free choice!) they can learn from someone else's experience and benefit greatly. In essence, they won't have to realize things the hard way!

The verse I posted was this one: The devotees of the Lord are so forbearing that even though they are defamed, cheated, cursed, disturbed, neglected or even killed, they are never inclined to avenge themselves. Srimad Bhagavatam 1.18.48

There are so many things that could be said about this verse, but you know what? One can only speak/write according to one's realization. I am in NO position to say anything on this verse from the application perspective since I can only hope to aspire to become like this one day. One thing I can do, however, is give the back-story to this verse so that I can remember and honour a very great bhakti yogi - King Pariksit.

The story of his birth, in fact, is so incredible that I'm tempted to start there, but we'll save that for another day. Once, King Pariksit was out in the forest hunting. After a long day and feeling incredibly fatigued, he and his entourage started searching for water. In his quest to relieve his thirst the King happened upon the hermitage of a well-known sage called Samika. There the sage, along with many others, were sitting in deep meditation.

The king, who was incredibly thirsty, approached the sage and requested for some water. He was met with silence. I think everyone can relate to this, right? You've had a long day at work, waited for your bus for an hour, trudged through a blizzard and all you want when you get home is a glass of water and as you're taking off your shoes you ask a family member to get you a glass and you're totally ignored. Well this is how the King felt. In fact, he felt extremely insulted as the sage didn't even get up to properly welcome him or offer him a seat. Instead, the King felt that he was being ignored. Feeling insulted and angry, the King picked up a dead snake and lay it on the sage's shoulders and left.

Returning to his palace, the King being greatly pious and a sincere bhakti yogi, started contemplating his actions. Just like we often get confused and start pondering our actions after doing something rash, the King too started wondering if the sage actually had been in meditation or had simply been ignoring him. This is the consequence of anger. It robs us of our intelligence.

During this time, the son of the sage Samika heard about what had happened to his father. He, although young in age, had great power. He could not tolerate this dishonour done to his father and out of anger, cursed the King saying " On the seventh day from today a snake-bird will bite the most wretched one of that dynasty [King Pariksit] because of his having broken the laws of etiquette by insulting my father." He returned to the hermitage where he saw his father and out of grief started crying.

The sage slowly came out of his meditation hearing his son's cries and when he saw the snake lying around his neck, casually brushed it aside and asked his son what was causing his distress. This reaction by the sage is so telling. He did not ask why the snake was around his neck, but casually brushed it away as though nothing had happened.

When the sage found out what his son had done, he started to lament. The sage said, "The Emperor Pariksit is a pious king. He is highly celebrated and is a first-class devotee of the Personality of Godhead. He is a saint amongst royalty, and he has performed many horse sacrifices. When such a king is tired and fatigued, being stricken with hunger and thirst, he does not at all deserve to be cursed." The sage predicted, "Due to the termination of the monarchical regimes and the plundering of the people's wealth by rogues and thieves, there will be great social disruptions. People will be killed and injured, and animals and women will be stolen. And for all these sins we shall be responsible."

The sage knew that due to his piety the King actually had the ability to counter-curse his son and somehow save himself from his fate. However, the sage also knew that the King would never do such a thing since he was a first-class bhakti yogi who would never use such power for his personal benefit.

This is where this verse comes in. These are the words spoken by the great sage Samika in glorification of King Pariksit. Just see. Normally it is the sages who are glorified, but here a sage is glorifying a King. This is the power of bhakti yoga. Anyone can become exemplary and a great lover of God despite one's station.

As for King Pariksit, can you imagine being in such a position? You are condemned to death actually have the power to do something about it, but you choose not to? Instead, you accept your fate as being deserving of the action that you performed. In fact, what does Pariksit do after hearing of the curse? He abandons everything, goes to the forest and seeks out a bona fide spiritual master who teaches him the purpose of life. The Srimad Bhagavatam that we now hold in our hands are the words that were spoken to King Pariksit in his quest to know the highest purpose of life.

So, how does this apply to us? Well if you're like me, just hearing these stories over and over again is so helpful. One day, by constantly hearing and remembering such exemplary acts, we can pray that it will sink in and we can actually implement this lesson at a time when we are tested. The situation may come in the form of someone speaking ill of us, when we are neglected or even if we are cheated etc... Instead of becoming upset and looking to avenge the wrong that has been done to us, we'll remember King Pariksit and patiently endure. We'll choose forbearance.

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