What’s more important; having power and control, and attaining perfection or having the right attitude? In fact having the right attitude is in itself a rare and matchless power! It’s the only perfection worth seeking.
The myth of power and perfection
When we see people fail, slip and commit blunders, almost instantly they fall from our vision of a perfected being. We are looking for super heroes, the infallible ones who never falter. Not only is such a search futile in this material world of imperfections, it’s also frustrating as we’d never be happy with either ourselves or our friends and relatives. That’s because rather than accept and love them for what they are, we’d contrast them to our imaginary conception of a perfect person.
Instead let’s seek to cultivate the right attitude, and help others also develop it.
The right attitude
A lesson from the ancient history of India reveals how one may make a mistake, but if his attitude is right, he could be a sterling example for all to emulate.
Parikshit Maharaj is an inspiration for the Bhakti yoga practitioners. His attitude was always in the right place, although externally he erred on an occasion.
Parikshit was the emperor of the planet earth. He had successfully averted a major disaster that threatened to strike during his reign. The personification of the terrible age of, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy was all set to inflict terror. King Parikshit not only subdued this formidable enemy, and thus proved his own excellence, he even went a step ahead. He offered a place to in his kingdom. So magnanimous was the king that when sought shelter, he too was offered asylum. The king feared no one except God, and was kind to the weak and poor. He had bought fame and prosperity all over, and piety and righteousness reigned supreme in his kingdom.
One day however, the king erred, albeit it was a small mistake. While on a hunting expedition, he felt tired and thirsty, and entered a sage’s hermitage. Normally in the Vedic times, any stranger would be offered hospitality, and here was the emperor of the whole planet who was visiting the ashram. Yet the sage, being absorbed in his meditation, ignored the king, who in turn was furious by what he momentarily perceived as a mark of disrespect. Despite being requested by the king, the sage refused to open his eyes and greet the king. Parikshit, angry at this cold response, picked up a dead snake lying nearby and placed it on the neck of the sage, as a mark of tit for tat. He then left the ashram immediately.
Is being vindictive justified?
Commentators on the Srimad Bhagavatam over the past two millennia have explained that this was not a major fault of the king, and in fact they declare this was an arrangement of the Supreme Lord Himself for He had a divine plan to get the king back to His own abode. However the king on returning back to his palace, felt deep remorse over what he had done. Meanwhile the sage himself found it trivial, and made no issue of it. However the sage’s young son, a mere boy, Shringi, was incensed at the king’s audacity, and being extremely powerful in his yogic powers, he cursed the king to die within seven days.
Externally when you see this incident, it may appear that the king had blundered, and the boy was only justifiably vindictive. But one needs to see the background to this incident as well. The king was the grandson of Pandavas, the pure devotees of Lord Krishna, and he himself had rendered unparalleled service to the Lord, devotees and the citizens of his kingdom. He never deviated from any religious, moral or spiritual principles, yet on one occasion that he slipped, he was awarded capital punishment. Even that he welcomed happily, affirming that this was the just punishment for he had failed to properly serve and honour the sage. Shringi on the other hand had overlooked all the good qualities of the king, and made a mountain out of a molehill. A small, one off incident was taken as indicative of the king’s pride and arrogance, and he was meted a harsh punishment.
Do we ignore the complete picture?
Often we see a particular behaviour in others that may upset us or appear to be a deviation from moral or religious principles. But have we considered that person’s past record and his present lamentation at his deviation. What if he is sincerely atoning his aberration and also having the right attitude, is it justifiable to then punish him? How conveniently we ignore the past good and the future possibility of a person’s improvement when we condemn him for his wrongdoings? Isn’t it tragic that often like Shringi we condemn others who stand wronged, while ignoring their attitude of repentance, and the desire to serve?
When the emperor heard the news of this young, powerful brahimin boy’s curse, he immediately accepted it as a blessing of the Lord, and an appropriate punishment. He renounced all his kingly opulence and went to the bank of river Ganges, to fully absorb in remembrance of Lord Krishna at the final moment of his life. Meanwhile the sage lamented at his son’s folly, rebuked him, and begged the Lord to pardon him and his son for cursing such a noble and pious king. Yet the king bore no grudges; there was no question of forgiveness as the king considered this whole incident to have been orchestrated by the Supreme Lord Himself.
Humility v/s correctness
The news spread fast, and during those days when inter planetary communication systems were well developed sages from various planets came to associate with the king. They knew he had displayed unparalleled devotion and detachment from material life, and to seek his blessings they arrived. Parikshit on the other hand, refused to take credit; he immediately offered prostrated obeisances to the visiting sages, and expressed that he is a sinful king who needs to be ignored by all these holy men. Yet the fact that they chose to visit him only proves their compassion on him, and also the merits of his forefathers and grandfathers stand vindicated. It’s their glory that Parikshit claims has helped him get the audience of such great sages. He begged them to bless him so that he could remember the Lord at this final moment. He also humbly enquired from them the duty of a man about to die. Not taking any credit for his incredible renunciation, he ascribed it to his own fear of death that had impelled him to give up all his worldly opulence.
Earlier while Shringi cursed the king, he had declared the king to be uncivilized like a crow, and had exclaimed that the king is a watch dog, who doesn’t deserve to ‘eat from his master’s plate’. Although this harsh speech was in poor taste, and only exposed the boy’s immaturity, the king took no offense, and now he called himself as a person who needs to be kept far away from the sages who came to visit him. This mood of the king endeared him to the Supreme Lord and the great sage Sukadeva Goswami then visited the king to enlighten him on the subject matter of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Srila Prabhupada writes in this section that in one sense Shringi was right in saying the king is a watch dog, because technically the king cares for the citizens and protects the kingdom from external enemies. Yet Srila Prabhupada asserts its bad culture to say so, especially to a pure devotee like Parikshit who considered himself as a servant of all. Shringi was right, but Parikshit was humble, and humility is a bigger right than being right!
Seeing the essence
In this entire episode, an apparent fault of the king caused the immortal scripture Srimad Bhagavatam to descend. Therefore externally what appears to be a mistake needs to be overlooked by all sincere practitioners of Krishna consciousness, and instead let’s chose to see the humble mood of Parikshit, and try to emulate his footsteps. On the other hand, Shringi was a powerful boy, so much so that even at a young age, he had acquired enough powers to be able to curse such an advanced and powerful emperor. Yet we are not impressed by him, rather it’s the king who is an inspiration for all sincere devotees.
In his prayers to the sages, the king expresses that even if he were to take birth again, he wishes to get association of devotees and develop friendly dealings with all living entities. Shringi on the other hand had declared that since Lord Krishna had gone back to the spiritual world, upstarts like Parikshit were flourishing, and he would now take upon himself to punish this wicked king.
It’s not the power of Shringi that we wish to develop; rather we aspire to develop the humility of the pre devotee Parikshit. It’s no big deal to see the wrong, and take upon oneself the onus of setting things right. But it’s really rare to see the essence of devotion and humility in a person who has committed a wrong. Next time you see a person hurling abuses, or throwing a temper tantrum, before you instinctively react, ask yourself do you know this person. Does he always behave like that or what if he is a poor victim of circumstances? Could you give him another chance?
Pause, ask if you would want to be a Shringi or rather see the good in a prospective Parikshit?