I WILL CONCLUDE THE Jada Bharata story. If you remember, in the last column, we left him bearing the king’s palanquin, along with the other bearers.
Bharata stumbled along like an animal, without looking. The other bearers proceeded fast. The king noticed that the palanquin was being carried in uneven fashion. ‘What is this?’ he asked. ‘Please keep pace with each other.’ When the king said this many times, the other palanquin bearers responded, ‘This one is moving slowly.’ The king asked, ‘Are you tired? You have only carried the palanquin for a short distance. Can’t you take some exertion? I can see that you are quite stout.’ The Brahmana replied, ‘I am not stout, nor am I carrying your palanquin. O king! I am not exhausted, nor am I incapable of exertion.’ The king said, ‘I can see that you are stout and that you are bearing this palanquin. For all those with bodies, the carrying of a load causes exhaustion.’ The Brahmana replied, ‘Please tell me what you have seen of me. Strong or weak are adjectives that can be used later. The assertions that you are astride this palanquin and that it is being borne by me are false. Listen to my words. The feet are placed on the ground and the legs rest on the feet. The thighs are based on the legs and provide a foundation for the stomach. The chest finds support in the stomach and the arms and the shoulders rest on the chest. The palanquin rests on my shoulders. How is that a burden for me? There is a body that can be seen astride the palanquin. The words ‘you’ and ‘I’ are used because of that reason and not otherwise. ‘You’, ‘I’ and everything else is made out of the elements. All this is because the elements follow the flow of gunas. Sattva and the other gunas follow karma. Because of ignorance, all beings are subject to the accumulation of karma. The atman is pure and without decay. It is serene and devoid of gunas. It is beyond Prakriti. In all those with bodies, it is the only one that does not increase or decrease. It is not enhanced or diminished. That being the case, how could you have said that ‘I’ am stout? The palanquin rests on the shoulders, which rest on the stomach and other things, the waist, the thighs, the feet and the ground. Therefore, the burden is borne equally by you and me, because neither I, nor you are physical bodies. O lord of the earth! This is true of all other beings, not just those who are astride palanquins. Mountains, trees, houses and the earth have the same origin, in the elements. When men seem to be different, that is because of Prakriti. How does the question of me exerting, or not exerting, myself arise? The substance in the palanquin is made out of the elements. Even though we have developed differently, you, I and everything else are made out of the same elements.’ Having said this, he continued to bear the palanquin but was silent.
A man, a woman, a cow, a goat, a horse, an elephant, a bird, a tree-people apply all these different names to bodies because of their karma. A person is not a man, a diva, an animal or a tree. Karma is responsible for these differences in bodies and forms. In this world, the appellation of king or servant of a king does not apply to the atman
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Quickly, the king descended and clasped his feet. The king said, ‘O Brahmana! Let go of this palanquin and show me your favours. Please tell me. Who are you, present here in the form of a degraded person? Why have you come here? You must be the instrument for something. O learned one! Please tell me everything. Please do me this service.’ The Brahmana replied, ‘Please listen. I am incapable of telling you who I am. All arrivals at a place are for the sake of enjoyment. The body is generated for the sake of enjoying pleasure and pain. A living being desires to assume a body for the sake of enjoying the fruits of dharma and adharma. O king! For all beings everywhere, dharma and adharma are the sole reasons. Why are you then asking me about the reason?’ The king said, ‘There is no doubt that dharma and adharma are the cause behind all action. The enjoyment of their fruits is the reason for moving from one body to another body. But you have also told me that you are incapable of telling me who you are. I wish to hear the reason how this has come about. How can a person declare that he does not know who he is? There can be no sin in using the word ‘I’.’ The Brahmana replied, ‘Indeed, there is nothing wrong in using the word ‘I’ for one’s own self. However, if one knows about the nature of the atman, the use of that word for something that is not the atman can give rise to confusion. O king! With the help of the teeth, the lips and the palate, the tongue utters ‘I’. All of these are responsible for the articulation of speech. These being the causes, it will be inaccurate to say that speech constitutes one’s own self. That is the reason words like ‘stout’ should also not be used. A man possesses a separate lump of a body. The head and the feet are its signs. How can I possibly use the word ‘I’ for this? If something exists here, but not anywhere else, I can use the word ‘I’ for what is here and ‘that’ for what is somewhere else. However, the same atman exists equally in all bodies. That being the case, words like ‘I’ and ‘you’ have no use. Who are you? You are a king. This is a palanquin. These are bearers. These are the attendants. However, it is not correct to say that any of these companions belong to you. The palanquin that you ride is made out of wood from a tree. Will this palanquin be called wood or a tree? People will not say that the great king is seated astride a tree. Nor, when you are seated on a palanquin, will they say that you are seated on wood. This is despite the palanquin being constructed out of an aggregation of wood. But you decide: what is the difference between the palanquin and wood? In that way, differentiate between the separate spokes in your umbrella. When does it become an umbrella? Apply the same logic to you and me. A man, a woman, a cow, a goat, a horse, an elephant, a bird, a tree—people apply all these different names to bodies because of their karma. A person is not a man, a deva, an animal or a tree. Karma is responsible for these differences in bodies and forms. In this world, the appellation of king or servant of a king does not apply to the atman. All such appellations are the construct of our imaginations alone. With the passage of time, and as a consequence of that, is there any object that is not subject to a different appellation? You are the king of all the worlds. You are the father of your son. You are the enemy of your enemies. You are the husband of your wife. You are the father of your sons. You are the lord of the earth. What will I address you as? Are you this head? Are you the throat or the stomach? Are you the feet or other things? Are you these or something else? Is your existence distinct from all these limbs? Who am ‘I’? Think about this. That being the case and the truth, how can I separately determine and address myself as ‘I’?’
The king heard these words. He humbly bowed down and spoke to the Brahmana. The king said, ‘O illustrious one! The words that you have spoken are full of deep meaning. However, after hearing them, my mind is in a whirl. ‘I am not bearing the palanquin. The palanquin does not rest on me. I am other than the body, which is holding up this palanquin. Goaded by karma, it is the flow of gunas that urges action in beings. Since this is the result of the flow of gunas, who am I?’ This is what you have told me. O one who knows about the supreme truth! These words have entered through my ears. My mind wants to know about the supreme truth, but is bewildered. O Brahmana! Earlier, I was ready to go to the immensely fortunate rishi, Kapila, to ask him about what is best. But meanwhile, you have addressed me in these words. Please instruct me. In search of the supreme truth, my mind turns towards you. I have prostrated myself before you. Please tell me what is most beneficial. You are like an ocean, with its waters and waves consisting of all vijnana.’
The Brahmana replied, ‘O king! You asked me about what is best. There are many things that can be called ‘best’. O king! Worshipping the gods, desiring wealth and riches, wanting sons or a kingdom is also the ‘best’. Rites and sacrifices are also the ‘best’. Their fruits are a sign of this. But the ‘best’ among all these is one where the fruits are not asked for. For those immersed in yoga, meditating constantly on the atman is the ‘best’. However, among all these different kinds of ‘best’, the true ‘best’ is union with the paramatman.