Thursday, April 18, 2013

the sage and the king

Verse 2.61: One who restrains his senses, keeping them under full control, and fixes his consciousness upon Me, is known as a man of steady intelligence.

Once there was a great sage by the name of Durvasa. He was a great lover of God and would travel near and far visiting various kingdoms and cities. In his travels, he once visited a king by the name of Ambarish. Ambarish was not only a great king who was beloved by his people, but an incredible role model. He exemplified what it meant to lead by example and although having all riches and opulence at his disposal, his greatest source of joy was in practicing bhakti yoga.

Ambarish would observe all festivals and auspicious occurrences which sometimes consisted of fasting. The purpose behind such fasting was to utilize that time, which was normally spent in eating, in increasing one's spiritual practices. Those practices that remind one of their spiritual connection with the Supreme such as mantra meditation, reading bhakti texts and hearing from advanced bhakti practitioners. Just when the time came to break the fast, the sage Durvasa came to visit.

Ambarish received Durvasa and his students with great happiness. With sincere hospitality, the king offered the sage and his students food which had been cooked and offered to the Supreme with great love and affection (in sanskirt this is known as prasadam). Durvasa accepted but expressed the desire to bathe first since he was coming from travelling. When Durvasa left, the king was informed by his ministers that the time to break the fasting period had come. Ambarish, being the best of hosts, expressed his discomfort and stated that, "It is the duty of the host to ensure that their guest has eaten to their full satisfaction before entertaining any thought of eating themselves."

His learned bhakti ministers, understanding that it was important for the King to break fast, suggested that he take a drop of water. This would count as breaking the fast, but at the same time since it was not a foodstuff, would technically mean that the king was still honouring the etiquette of serving his guest first. On the suggestion of his elders, Ambarish took a drop of water and waited patiently to personally serve the sage his meal.

Durvasa, who was in possession of great mystical power, immediately realized what the King had done and took offense. Hurtling insults at the king and saying that the Ambarish had no sense control, the sage invoked a great demon by the power of mantras to kill the king. All the while, Ambarish simply remained calm. Remaining composed, he prayed to the Supreme, "If you want to kill me or protect me, please do so as your will is my will."

This demonstrates such a valuable and important lesson for all of us - aspiring to become a true practitioner of yoga and learning how to accept any situation with gratitude and dependence on the Supreme is not restricted to a select few. It wouldn't be surprising for one to normally consider a sage to be a greater bhakti yogi than a king, but here we observe an example of what could arguably be the opposite.

Practicing the principles of yoga have nothing to do with power, prestige, position, background, Country or religion. It has everything to do with heart and consciousness. The yogi demonstrates that their heart and consciousness is filled with gratitude not by artificially controlling their senses, but reposing them in the service of the Divine.

As has been mentioned several times - it's about a transformation of consciousness, not an artificial repression of the senses. When one's consciousness is filled with gratitude and longing to reconnect with the Supreme, who has given us all individual and special gifts, then the natural inclination is to utilize all we have (i.e. our senses) in bringing pleasure to the Supreme.

Interested to know how the story ends? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Can't wait to see how it ends! I so enjoy your thoughtful, inspirational writing, Vrndavana. Such a joy to read!

  2. Thank you Martha! I only hope that I can live up to your sweet blessings!

  3. I love the light that flows from your spirit through your writing. I can see how the Gita has permeated your life. So beautiful. And yes, I want to know how the story ends!

    1. Thank you so much Galen! Ok....end of the story, here goes! :)

      As the King prayed, the demon which the sage had invoked arose. However, at the same time, the personal weapon of the Lord, known as a chakra or disc immediately came and burned the demon that had been summoned to ashes. However, it didn't end there. The disc started going after the sage Durvasa!

      Shocked, the sage fled and went to various various elevated personalities in the heavens and sought refuge. Wherever he went, he received the same answer. "Although we are empowered beings, our power comes from the Supreme, Narayana (another name for God or Krsna). This weapon is his and we cannot do anything for you."

      Pursued doggedly by the disc, finally Durvasa had no choice but to go to the Narayana himself. It should be remembered that the king was a great lover of Narayana and so this was certainly an interesting predicament. Praying to the Lord, Durvasa asked for forgiveness. At that time, the Supreme replied, " I am completely under the control of My devotees. Indeed, I am not at all independent. Because My devotees are completely devoid of material desires, I sit only within the cores of their hearts." Isn't that just beautiful? The Supreme, all powerful being is captured just by our love.

      At this point, one could ask, "But Durvasa is a great lover of God, so why is he not being saved." To this, the great bhakti yogis reply that although that is a fact, the sage did not act in a way that is befitting one who loves God (i.e. he insulted a fellow lover of God). Wen one insults a lover of God, no one can save him from that offense, not even God himself. The only way one can nullify it is by going to the person one has offended and begging forgiveness from them.

      And that's exactly what the Narayana said. The only way the sage could escape the disc's fury was to apologize to the king.

      And that's exactly what Durvasa did. He ran to the king and with true humility and repentance filling his heart, he fell at the king's feet and begged for forgiveness. The king was so humble that he felt ashamed that a great sage such as Durvasa was asking for forgiveness and started praying to the Lord's personal weapon, asking it to stop pursuing Durvasa. The weapon stopped its pursuit and Durvasa continuously praised and glorified the king, recognizing how advanced and elevated he was.

      It should be noted that while Durvasa was running from the disc, another year passed and during that year Ambarish continued fasting. That's how incredible a personality he was. It was only after Durvasa returned and Ambarish was able to offer him a feast that the king himself ate.

      I love this story as it exemplifies that anyone, in any position, can attain the greatness of king Ambarish. It just takes purity of heart and character and complete dependence on the Lord to attain such a state.

    2. I loved the story! And especially your "lesson" from it. Thank you!

  4. Fantastic and so inspirational! Thank you for finishing the story for us! Blessings!