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Attachment – The Supreme Trap

The Supreme Trap

Uddhavagītā is a section of the eleventh canto of the Śrīmadbhāgavata. The section that describes Bhāgavatadharma or the code of conduct recommended for the sincere seeker. The section unravels as a dialogue exchanged between Uddhava and Kṛṣṇa, towards the end of the avatāra. The earthly mission that the Lord had intended to accomplish during His sojourn at earth was at an end. The celestials who had descended upon earth in order to serve the Lord too needed to return to their celestial duties. The līlā of annihilation of the Yadu clan was therefore conceived of, employing the curse of the sages as a ruse. Troubled by the turmoil of strife, Uddhava resorted to the presence of the Lord, seeking counsel. The dialogue that ensued between them spans twenty-three chapters of the eleventh canto of the Bhāgavata (7th-29th chapters).

In the avadhūta-upākhyāna, the Lord relates an anecdote to reiterate His admonishment that man must check attachments that spring from the delusion of multiplicity. Said He to Uddhava, “Wise one, I have decided to relinquish earth for my permanent abode. With my exit, the earth will be consumed by the vagaries of the Kali Yuga that stands glaring us in the face. Stay not much longer, Uddhava, for the effects of Kali will gradually change people into self-serving wretches. Relinquish notions of I and mine, and roam about the earth, your focus on perceiving my subtle presence.” Uddhava responded, “Lord, such is the potency of Thy māya, man stands powerless against it. Notions of I and mine assail him to never loosen their grip on him. Battered by the vagaries of the mind, I seek refuge in Thee, ineffective against the onslaught.”

The compassionate Lord provides Uddhava with an anecdote that enlightened him of the adverse effects of attachment. He relates to Uddhava, an encounter between the king Yadu and an avadhūta. Said Kṛṣṇa, “Yadu once chanced upon an exceedingly handsome and blissful avadhūta and became wonderstruck. He posed, ‘Where does your wisdom spring from, revered one? You engage in the world and are yet untouched by desire and unfazed by misery. You have no goal in mind and yet engage in action.’ Responded the avadhūta, ‘King, I have been blessed with countless Gurus who have illumined my path and have ignited the flame of wisdom in me. Listen as I enlist the illustrious Gurus. I have twenty-four Gurus including the earth, wind, sky, water, fire, moon, a pigeon, a serpent, the ocean, a moth, the honeybee, an elephant, and so on. The earth taught me to hold on to my identity, even in the face of hostility. Irrespective of how people treat her, dig a trough into her, she remains true to her nature. I learned one of the most important lessons from the pigeon; the lesson of detachment –

नातिस्नेहः प्रसङ्गो वा कर्तव्यः क्वापि केनचित्।
कुर्वन् विन्देत सन्तापं कपोत इव दीनधीः॥

nātisnehaḥ prasaṅgo vā kartavyaḥ kvāpi kenacit|
kurvan vindeta santāpaṁ kapota iva dīnadhīḥ||

Śrīmadbhāgavata, 11.7.52

Blind love or attachment must never be indulged in, lest one falls prey to misery,
as is evident from (the anecdote of) the unwise pigeon.

There was once a pigeon that lived in the forest along with his lovely wife. Engrossed in each other, the birds roamed about the forest joyously. The husband provided the wife with every whim and fancy, intoxicated with her. In due course, the wife produced handsome fledglings that filled the parents with immense delight. They rejoiced at the developing plumes of the fledglings, their immature caws and coos, and were besides themselves with pride. Once, when the parents were away foraging, a hunter who was passing by chanced upon the nest and trapped the fledglings in a net.The parents returned to find their precious little ones cawing piteously. Distraught at the plight of the fledglings, the mother flew right into the trap and was enmeshed in the net. The husband lamented, ‘Alas, my handsome children are trapped and my faithful wife too has followed my children to her death. Of what purpose if life to me now? How do I bear to live in this wretched nest bereft of my family? I too shall offer myself up to the cruel end the hunter had intended for my children. I shall at least be by their side when death claims me!’ Rambling thus, the pigeon who was unable to sunder his mortal attachment flew into the net to be claimed by the hunter.

Continued the avadhūta, ‘king, such are folks who enjoy a mortal frame but do not endeavor to rise above the drag of attachment, an endeavor to attain liberation.’

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Yakṣapraśnaḥ – A Dialogue between Yudhiṣṭhira and a Yakṣa


Yakṣapraśna is a section of the Āraṇaya-parva of the Mahābhārata, specifically designed to explicate the subtle nuances of dharma. Once, while living in exile from the kingdom, the Pāṇḍavas were importuned by a particular brāhmaṇa to retrieve his fire-stoking sticks that were imperative for his daily fire sacrifice. The sticks had gotten entangled in the horns of a stag, and the frightened beast had galloped like the wind, the sticks glued to his horns!

The Pāṇḍavas saw it as their duty as Kṣatriyas to restore the brāhmaṇa’s sticks so that his sacrificial rites may continue unimpeded. They set out after the stag and gave chase, but as fate would have it, lost the stag. They dropped to the floor under the cool shade of a mighty tree, exhausted and thirsty beyond expression.

Yudhiṣṭhira bade Nakula, the youngest of the brothers, to find a water source in the vicinity. He proceeds forth and chances upon a pristine lake filled with crystal clear water. Overjoyed he descends into the cool waters but is interrupted by a voice, “Touch not the water before you answer my questions, O’ child.’ Disregarding the voice, Nakula drinks from the lake and falls dead. Alarmed by Nakula’s delay in returning, Yudhiṣṭhira orders Sahadeva in pursuit of Nakula.

Sahadeva reaches the lake in due course to find his brother lying lifeless. Dismayed, he hastens towards Nakula. Tormented by insufferable thirst, Sahadeva decides to take a sip of water before proceeding and is met with the same ominous voice. Sahadeva too disregards the voice and ends up a heap in the waters, lifeless. Arjuna and Bhima too meet with the same plight and Yudhiṣṭhira is drawn to the lake seeking his siblings.

Pained by the sight of the lifeless frames of his siblings, he contemplates who could have effected such an end to the mighty heroes. Yudhiṣṭhira recognizes a celestial hand behind the mystery. He proceeds towards the waters to perform the last rites of the siblings when he is accosted by the same voice. Upon cajoling, the voice reveals himself to be a Yakṣa and states peremptorily that he would afford access to the lake only upon being answered. Thus begins a dialogue between the two, comprised of thirty-three sets of thought-provoking questions that encapsulate the dharmic sensibilities of Bhāratīya culture. Here are three sets of questions and answers exchanged between the Yakṣa and Yudhiṣṭhira –

किंस्विद्गुरुतरं भूमेः किंस्विदुच्चतरं च खात्।
किंस्विच्छीघ्रतरं वायोः किंस्विद्बहुतरं तृणात्॥

kiṁsvidgurutaraṁ bhūmeḥ kiṁsviduccataraṁ ca khāt|
kiṁsvicchīghrataraṁ vāyoḥ kiṁsvidbahutaraṁ tṛṇāt||

What is greater than the earth, and what sits higher than the sky? What is swifter than the wind, and what outnumbers grass?

माता गुरुतरा भूमेः खात् पितोच्चतरस्तथा।
मनः शीघ्रतरं वाताच्चिन्ता बहुतरी तृणात्॥

mātā gurutarā bhūmeḥ khāt pitoccatarastathā|
manaḥ śīghrataraṁ vātāccintā bahutarī tṛṇāt||

Mother is greater than the earth; father, higher than the sky. The mind is swifter than the wind, and thoughts outnumber grass.

कश्च धर्मः परो लोके कश्च धर्मः सदाफलः।
किं नियम्य न शोचन्ति कैश्च सन्धिर्न जायते॥

kaśca dharmaḥ paro loke kaśca dharmaḥ sadāphalaḥ|
kiṃ niyamya na śocanti kaiśca sandhirna jāyate||

Which of the dharmas is paramount, and which dharma leads to fruition inevitably? Restraint of what leads to cessation of misery and where does animosity not raise its head?

आनृशंस्यं परो धर्मस्त्रयी धर्मः सदाफलः।
मनो यम्य ने शोचन्ति सन्धिः सद्भिर्न जायते॥

ānṛśaṃsyaṃ paro dharmastrayī dharmaḥ sadāphalaḥ|
mano yamya ne śocanti sandhiḥ sadbhirna jāyate||

Being unsullied by cruelty is dharma-paramount. Adherence to Vedic injunctions is supremely fruitful dharma. Restraint of the mind leads to cessation of misery, and animosity does not raise its head amongst the noble.

किं नु हित्वा प्रियो भवति किं नु हित्वा न शोचति।
किं नु हित्वार्थवान्भवति किं नु हित्वा सुखी भवेत्॥

kiṁ nu hitvā priyo bhavati kiṁ nu hitvā na śocati|
kiṁ nu hitvārthavānbhavati kiṁ nu hitvā sukhī bhavet||

Relinquishing what does man become endearing? Relinquishing what makes man free of regret? Relinquishing what does man become wealthy? Relinquishing what makes man happy?

मानं हित्वा प्रियो भवति क्रिधं हित्वा न शोचति।
कामं हित्वार्थवान्भवति लोभं हित्वा सुखी भवेत्॥

mānaṁ hitvā priyo bhavati kridhaṁ hitvā na śocati|
kāmaṁ hitvārthavānbhavati lobhaṁ hitvā sukhī bhavet||

Relinquishing pride makes man endearing, while relinquishing temper leaves him free of regret. Relinquishing desires makes man wealthy, and relinquishing greed leaves him happy.

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‘Gaṇeśa’ the word paints the following picture in the canvas of the mind – An inexplicably lovely form with winnow-like ears swaying gaily, a handsome trunk resting resolutely in a bowl of ‘modakas,’ eyes the dais of mischief, and belly as rotund as can be! Celebrated variedly as Agrapūjya, Vināyaka, Ekadanta, Heramba, Vighneśvara, Gaṇapati, and so on, He occupies a very important place in the Hindu Pantheon. Two aspects of Gaṇeśa-tatva serve as the basis for His preeminence – Gaṇeśa is both ‘vighna-kartā’ (creator of obstacle) as well as ‘vighna-hartā’ (annihilator of obstacles!) Any endeavor, even of the other manifestations of Gods, reaches fruition only by the grace of Gaṇeśa, and the undoing of any endeavor too is owing to His grace alone. The Nyāyendu-śekhara states,

अप्यन्यामरमारिराधयिषतां यत्पादपङ्केरुह-
द्वन्द्वाराधनमन्तरायहतये कार्यं त्ववश्यं विदुः।
तद्धेतोरिति नीतिवित्तु भजते देवं यमेकं परं
सर्वार्थप्रतिपादनैकचतुरो द्वैमातुरोऽव्यात्स नः॥

apyanyāmaramārirādhayiṣatāṁ yat-pāda-paṅkeruha-
dvandvārādhanam-antarāya-hataye kāryaṁ tvavaśyaṁ viduḥ|
taddhetor-iti nīti-vit-tu bhajate devaṁ yam-ekaṁ paraṁ
sarvārtha-pradipādanaika-caturo dvaimāturo’vyāt-sa naḥ||

The twin lotuses of His feet, even those desirous of adoring other manifestations of Gods resort to.

Hence do the wise celebrate Him as the peerless Supreme, the patron of all ends. May He,

Dvaimātura (Son to two mothers*, Gaṇeśa,) bless us.

The following Purāṇic anecdotes attest to Gaṇeśa’s roles as vighna-kartā and vighna-hartā, respectively.

The Mudgala-purāṇa relates the following anecdote. Once, Indra’s svarga-loka (heaven) became over-populated. Every soul that discarded the mortal-coils was given admittance to svarga-loka, and Yama’s Naraka (hell) lay empty. Indra was alarmed. He appealed to Lord Śiva most humbly, ‘Lord, not a single soul is being sent to naraka any longer. They all throng svarga. Admitting just one more soul into svarga will mean I may be displaced. Kindly intervene and send only the deserving souls to svarga.’ Lord Śiva responded, ‘Indra I am powerless to transgress the Divine Edict that whom-so-ever may step foot inside the temple of Somanatha will be afforded admittance to svarga. Parvatī is an adept in finding solutions to tricky situations such as these. Appeal to Her.’ Indra did as bade and Parvatī blessed Indra with a beautiful Boy fashioned out of the paste of Her body. She said to Him, ‘This handsome one will serve as the vighna-kartā (creator of obstacles) to those who have not qualified to attain to svarga!’

The second Purāṇic anecdote is as follows –

Once, Lord Śiva set out to destroy the tripuras (city-triad,) mounting His formidable chariot. The Three cities could only be destroyed by a single arrow that pierced through them all, and that could be achieved only when the three cities aligned in a row. Such an alignment was to occur only once in a thousand celestial years, and that time was now at hand. Intent upon the task at hand Lord Śiva rode forth in grave solemnity. All of a sudden, the peg of His chariot-wheel came undone! The all-knowing Śiva recognized the origin of this impediment. He had failed to seek Gaṇeśa’s grace for the endeavor at hand. He returned to seek the blessings of His son, vighna-hartā and succeeded in His cosmic endeavor.

Gaṇeśa is thus the composite of all auspiciousness (maṇgala-mūrti,) owing to His twin role as the destroyer of evil and the facilitator of the good. Gāṇāpatya treatise that adore Gaṇeśa as the Supreme personality describe Him as svānanda, as he embodies bliss. Personified, He is said to recline in an ocean of sugarcane juice, bestowing untold bliss on His devotees.

* Two different explanations are given regarding this particular appellation of Gaṇeśa. One Purāṇic account holds that Pārvatī is one mother while the elephant that afforded Gaṇeśa His head, is the other mother. Yet another account considers both Pārvatī and Gaṅgā to be Gaṇeśa mothers. He is as a result, referred to as Dvaimātura.
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Prāṇāyāma — the means to attain serenity of the mind!

Prāṇāyāma is one of the eight limbs of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga, as propounded by Sage Patañjali. The word itself, is a compound word comprised of two Sanskrit words, prāṇa and āyāma. The words are loosely translated to life-breath (prāṇa) and elongation/control (‘āyāma.) Several explanations are offered in the Upaniṣads and Purāṇas, for the word ‘Prāṇa.’ Amongst the senses attached to this word are vital breath, energy, and embodiment of the Supreme. The Liṅga Purāṇa explains the word prāṇa as the vital breath that resides in the body – ‘प्राणः स्वदेहजो वायुः.’

The Nirvāṇa Prakaraṇa of Yogavāsiṣṭa states,

प्राणोऽयमनिशं ब्रह्मन्स्पन्दशक्तिः सदागतिः।
स बाह्याभ्यन्तरे देहे प्राणोऽयमुपरि स्थितः॥

prāṇo’yamaniśaṃ brahmanspandaśaktiḥ sadāgatiḥ।
sa bāhyābhyantare dehe prāṇo’yamupari sthitaḥ॥

[Yogavāsiṣṭa, 6.25.3]

That which moves incessantly within and without is Prāna. Within, it animates the body it pervades.

The word ‘āyāma’ means restraint or elongation. The Nārada Purāṇa states, ‘prāṇa is the vital breath that rests within the body, and the control of this breath is known as āyāma – प्राणो वायुः शरीरस्थ आयामस्तस्य निग्रहः।‘

The Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa summarizes the significance of Prāṇāyāma thus –

The Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa explains the significance of Prāṇāyāma as:

यथा पर्वतधातूनां ध्मातानां दह्यते मलम् ।
तथेन्द्रियकृता दोषा दह्यन्ते प्राणनिग्रहात् ॥

yathā parvatadhātūnāṃ dhmātānāṃ dahyate malam ।
tathendriyakṛtā doṣā dahyante prāṇanigrahāt ॥

[Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa, 30.10]

Just as metallic ore is purified to metal upon smelting, so too is man purified of impurities arising from absorption in the senses by the practice of Prāṇāyāma.

Maharṣi Patañjali states in his Yoga Sūtras, ‘with the proper practice of Prāṇāyāma that culminates in the utmost suspension of breath, the Yogi’s mind becomes free of wavering thoughts. He recognizes the pristine nature of the mind.’ With continued practice, Maharṣi concludes,

ततः क्षीयते प्रकाशावरणम् ।

tataḥ kṣīyate prakāśāvaraṇam।[2.52]

the veil which obscures the light of discerning knowledge is lifted.

P.S: It is advisable to practice Prāṇāyāma under the guidance of a spiritual master.

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How does one control the mind?

The human mind is notorious for its fickleness. So much so, it has earned itself the moniker ‘monkey-mind!’ Much like sand held in a tight fist or water borne in a cloth, the mind races, leaving man baffled. It engages with objects of the world, leaping from object to object with lightning speed. It embraces that which it mustn’t and relinquishes easily, that it shall do well to dwell on. Summarily, the human mind is an intractable mystery. Yet, our Scriptures exhort that it is only by the taming of the monkey-mind that man may progress. They speak endlessly of the immense possibilities of the stilled-mind. Summarizing the seemingly impossible task, Arjun states in the Bhagavadgītā,

चंचलं हि मनः कृष्ण प्रमाथि बलवद्दृढम्।
तस्याहं निग्रहं मन्ये वायोरिव सुदुष्करम् ॥

caṃcalaṃ hi manaḥ kṛṣṇa pramāthi balavaddṛḍham।
tasyāhaṃ nigrahaṃ manye vāyoriva suduṣkaram ॥

“O Kṛṣṇa! Indeed, the mind is fickle, turbulent, strong and obstinate. It appears to me that controlling it is as difficult as controlling the wind.”

Kṛṣṇa offers a simple solution.

असंशयं महाबाहो मनो दुर्निग्रहं चलम्।
अभ्यासेनतु कौन्तेय वैराग्येण च गृह्यते॥

asaṃśayaṃ mahābāho mano durnigrahaṃ calam।
abhyāsenatu kaunteya vairāgyeṇa ca gṛhyate॥
[The Bhagavad Gītā, 6: 34, 35]

“O mighty son of Kuntī! The mind is undoubtedly fickle and difficult to control, yet it can be controlled by practice and detachment.”

The inherent nature of the mind is such that it attaches itself to the senses. It identifies with the emotions of pleasure and pain. It courts the pleasurable and shuns the unsavory. Man gains mastery over the mind when he detaches himself from pain and pleasure, treating both with equanimity. Such detachment proceeds from discernment of the eternal and the ephemeral. When the mind is trained to treat sorrow and pleasures as passing clouds, the mind grows accustomed to identifying less with the passing emotions thus caused. When the mind is repeatedly refocused on the higher force that pervades all, a dispassionate force that lies within merely a witness to everything, the mind dawns to a stillness. When thus stilled, the mind allows for the experience of man’s true nature.