To Transcend Your Emotions and Proceed is the Spiritual Accomplishment
While the car was racing forward my mind was galloping backwards loaded with past memories on a horse.............!
The village folk at Kamsagara in Honnali Taluk were skeptical of my arrival for their village function due to my mother’s demise. I came to know about it after the function started. The disciples in the village were sympathetic on learning from our community leaders about my mother’s passing away. Overcome by emotions, one of my disciples, Shantanagowda, a descendant of Holebenakanahalli Siddappa Gowda who had donated a silver palanquin in the early days of the past century to the Math, openly posed a disturbing question as to why the Guruji did not consider his mother Gangamma as one of his disciples and attend the rituals for her when she died, just as he would have for his other disciples when there was a birth or a death. The audience at the event seemed to approve his logic. This unexpected jolt of a question took me to my emotional highs and made me to self evaluate myself. A tussle was going on between my heart and my intellect. It was inevitable that I had to come up with a reasonable explanation. My mind was churning fast to come up with a reasonable response as other speeches were going on. Soon, I realized the answer to Shantanagowda’s question was latent in his question itself. “It is true that I have gone to my disciple’s houses, consoled and comforted them in the event of birth and death. But realistically, how many times I have done that? The number of times I have denied such requests outnumber the number of times I have acceded to their requests. So, why not consider the request to attend this event as the one which I would have denied? It could be argued that this case is different than the others. In that case, please tell me what is different and what sets this apart from the others? Seriously, It is nothing different other than that it involves my birthmother – a worldly relationship?”. The assembly fell silent at my response either because they saw the reasoning or because they did not want to argue further and add to my anguish. After the function, I returned to Sirigere without consideration for the last rituals that were going on at my birthplace!
I was told later that my mother’s body was buried in a tomb next to my father’s tomb in my absence. I came to know that people talked about how I had missed my father’s burial as well. Later, lot of people from everywhere came to persuade me to attend at least the Kailasa Samaradhane, the last ritual for the dear departed. Everyone had assembled at the spacious “Divine Judicial Court” of our Math. Only I was not seated on the “Seat of Justice”, instead I chose to sit with the audience. Hebbandi Basavarajappa, the senior lawyer from Bhadravati was the first one to speak. He said, “Gangamma, the sacred soul who merged with the Lord, was the mother who gave birth to you. She is a saint that sacrificed her only son for the service of the Math. Since we were the beneficiaries of your guidance, she also happens to be our Great mother. Please be kindly considerate and attend the Samaradhane for the great mother. You might recall that even the great saint Shankaracharya did perform the last rites for his mother himself leading from the front when she passed away.” He was pretty persuasive in his appeal which sounded like the one from a defense counsel in a court proceeding. Several other disciples spoke as well in support of his appeal. I listened to everything silently. It is normal for the defense lawyers or in turn for the prosecuting attorney to cite previous case histories in support of their arguments and in legal language they are called, ‘citations.’ But for me it seemed like my disciples who put forth the above argument did not know the circumstances in which Sri. Shankaracharya attended to his mother’s last rites.
Shankaracharya was born to a poor Namboodri Brahmin family in a village called, ‘Kaaladi’ in Kerala. After his father died when he was young, his mother Aryamba brought him up with extreme care and love. She made him a scholar in all Vedashastras (scriptures relating to Vedas). The boy Shankara showed an intense inclination to accept monkhood. But Aryamba was not for it. She would argue: “Who would look after me when I get old? Who would perform my last rites when I die? Like it is said, ‘aputhrasya gathirnasti’, if you become a monk, I would be without a son, even having one. Do you want me to go to hell?” But Shankara consoled and promised her that he would take care of her in her old age and would perform her last rites himself. Even then Aryamba did not agree. Shankara was extremely disappointed. One day, Shankara had accompanied his mother to the river. Shankara got into the water to swim and went a little farther than usual into the deep waters. A crocodile got hold of one of his legs and started dragging. Shankara yelled to his mother, “you should at least agree now to let me die peacefully instead of letting me die of disappointment of not being allowed to become a monk.” Feeling helpless and sad, the mother agreed. Somehow, Shankara managed to escape from the crocodile and reached the bank. The mother was happy. But she had given her consent for him to become a monk! Shankara left his home in search of a good teacher. He toured far and near after becoming a celebrated monk of a very high order propagating his Nonduelistic Vedanta principles. After learning that his mother was on the death bed, Acharya Shankara returned to his home at Kaaladi to fulfill the promise given to his mother. But by the time he reached home, his mother had breathed her last. As Acharya Shankara was taking the lead to perform the last rites, there was a unified opposition from traditionalistic orthodox society, kith and kin, for him to perform the last rites citing that he was a monk and as such was not qualified. No one co-operated. But Shankara did not heed to their opposition, instead he hauled his mother’s body on his shoulders, cremated and performed the last rites to fulfill his promise to his mother.
There are a few similarities and differences in the individual lives of Shankaracharya and myself. In fact, the topic for my doctorate thesis at Kashi was, “A Critical Study of the Suta Samhita.” Suta Samhita also happened to be the work that Sri Shankara is said to have read 18 times before preparing his thesis, ‘Shankara Bhashya based on the tenets of Vedanta.’ Shankaracharya also was the only son for his mother. But my mother never objected to my becoming a Swamiji like his mother did. Like Shankaracharya, I had gone to swim in the nearby Tunga River when my mother was washing the laundry on the bank. The water was about neck deep in most places except a bit deeper in the middle and the currents were strong. One could almost reach the other side of the river just wading with may be a bit of swimming. I just swam on with blind confidence. But my arms got tired and I got scared and shouted for help. My friends were already too far ahead. Ramajja, the washerman who observed me bobbing in and out of water from the bank jumped in and saved me. All of this seemed like God’s will!
There was no chance of anyone protesting my participation in my mother’s burial or the Samaradhane like it happened for Sri Shankaracharya. Instead, there was intense pressure for me to participate. But my decision to forego participation had to do partly for logical reasons and partly for the fear that my emotional currents might get out of control. None of the disciples thought about questioning me about my previous attendance for my father’s samaradhane. My disciples had anxiously hoped that I might attend the Samaradhane, if not the Samadhi. The way the heart feels is quite different to the way the intellect logically interprets! It is no secret that a mother’s heart feels a lot more than a father’s heart. ‘Jananee janmabhoomishcha swargaadapi gareeyasee.’ The disciples who had come to Sirigere to invite me were mindful of my dilemma and my feelings. The way they begged for pardon with folded hands asking me if they had hurt my feelings in any way brought back to my mind, the words my senior Guruji had taught me: “A Guru should conduct himself fearful of the feelings of the disciples and the disciples should be fearful of the Guru’s feelings towards them!”
A heart is not a rock, but a torrent of emotions! The effort to transcend them and remain steadfast brings the spiritual success. Even those that enjoy such success fall under the influence of bondage and a good example of that is provided by the incidence of Ajaganna and Mukthayakka. It serves as a mirror to reflect on the logical living. Seeing Mukthayakka sitting and crying in front of her brother Ajaganna’s dead body, the ultimate spiritualist Allama Prabhu asked her:
Unkempt head resting on your palm
Threading (tears) pearls from your eyes, Tell me who you are?
Do you not see the kinship between the Champak flower and the honey bee?
What is it you are grieving for?
From one came two, from two came one
Tell me, did you lapse in your awareness?
Tears for no grief, penitence with no tears
Is what is seen by our Guheswara linga
O! Mother, tell me who you are?
Her dearest brother had accidentally bumped his forehead into the top door sill and within seconds had dropped dead at the door. Shocked with the sudden death, Mukthayakka had embraced her brother’s head and overcome with emotion she was crying. Aware of this fact, the great saint Allama Prabhu had arrived at the scene. The tears flowing down Mukthayi’s cheeks appeared like threads of pearl drops to Prabhu. Prabhu had known about the spiritual kinship that existed between them which he compares to the kind of relationship that exists between the champak flower and the honey bee. While Mukthaayi is the champak flower, Ajaganna is the honey bee who is attracted to the champak here. The two bodies forking out from the same soul (from one came two). In spiritual accomplishment, if one resembles the sweet fragrance of a champak flower, the other one resembles the melodious musical tone of the honey bee. Champak is clearly different from the bee. But when the bee sits on the Champak flower to enjoy the honey, both forget themselves and unify into a single soul (from two came one). The intense attraction that existed between the brother and sister was an essence arising out of a divine spiritual awakening and pure co-born love. Brother Ajaganna who had tasted the sweet spiritual nectar of his sister had left her like a bee that flew away at dusk! Mukthayi was like a shriveled flower by his painful departure. Even being spiritually aware that the two of them were not separate, a momentary loss of cognizance had brought her into the worldly immature swirling circle of feelings and emotions. Mindful of this only, Allama Prabhu prods her to recall who she is and questions her why she imagines the spirit has detached and flown away from her? If so, what is the spirit that is within her? How is her spirit different from her brother’s?
This Vachana of Allama Prabhu is so full of substance that it can open our inner sight. That sacred soul - that gave birth to me, fed me, tended to my needs, watched me grow without expecting anything in return, like an unripe fruit masked by the shadows of the leaves leading an unblemished life finally ripens and gets detached and moved out of my sight – to that soul I would like to pose the question in Allama Prabhu’s words:
“O! Mother! Please tell me who you are?”