The inner frame of mind that has surrendered itself at the Lotus Feet of Sri Hari who is a repository of soundarya (beauty) should not be carried away by delusions of female beauty. Your idea of capturing him to gratify your earthly desires is, therefore nothing but a mirage”.
“How is that? As if this man is a bigger renunciation than even Viswamitra and Parashara! When even great ones have fallen victims to my charms, where is the need for special mention about this youthful thapasvi? Are there any princes who have not been infatuated with my beauty? How many people come down in disguise to my doors and beg of my love? When I have myself fallen in love with this man, I will positively see how he is going to reject me”.
“Sinners with sensual desires and of ordinary intelligence may fall a victim to your pretensions of love. But do you think an akhanda-vyagrashaali (complete renunciation), a personification of kindness and a treasure-house of handsomeness like him, especially when he has the blessings of the handsomest of male forms, namely Sree Ranganatha, will ever be carried away by your machinations and protestations of love?”
“The female of the species is like a pot of fire. The male is just a vessel of ghee. Do you think the moment, the vessel of ghee is placed near the flames of fire, the ghee fails to melt? It is generally not possible for a man to refrain from surrendering his mind, to the looks of a beautiful lady”.
“If you make him fall a prey to your snare besides conquering and capturing his mind, I will serve you as your dasi for six months”.
“If I fail to ensnare him, I will be your dasi and serve you for six months”.
Thus Devadevi, the prostitute of incomparable beauty and her elder sister called upon each other to witness a terrible vow. The force of their dialogue drew heat and each of the sisters threw a challenge on the other.
A great devotee called Vipranarayana had been performing thapas in a hut in a thulasi garden in the scared kshetra of Sriranga on the banks of the river Cauvery. His daily discipline consisted in collection of thulasi leaves and various flowers of fragrance while indulging in nama-sankeertan of Bhagawan and offering a round, four feet garland of flowers interspersed with leaves to the Sesha-sayi, Sri Ranganatha.
By the time he prepared and offered the thulasi garland after his morning bath and ablutions, the sun would have risen to mid-heaven. Whatever prasadam he got in the temple would itself be his food for the day. If he sat down for dhyan, he would not open his eyes for hours. If he stood up for bhajans in the evening, the stream of devotion would flow incessantly without impediment till the early hours of the morning. A kind of vigorous vairagya had been ruling his inner frame of mind which had been rendered pure and scared by virtue of Vedic studies and his birth in a good Brahmin family. He had known that life of a man was as transient and momentary as bubbles on the surface of water. Besides, he had also known that in such an impermanent human life, half the time was spent in sleep and out of the other half, boyhood in ignorance and old age in worry and sadness. He had therefore concluded that youth was the appropriate period for realization of God. Accordingly, he had been doing rigorous thapas.
Devadevi was the prostitute living in Sriranga but endowed with a heavenly beauty. Several princes of that time were eager to get the benefit of her endearing looks. One evening, she set out with her sister for a walk and chanced to enter Vipranarayana’s garden and there she saw him seated firmly on a rock in deep meditation. It was only when she was attracted by the youthful thapasvi’s thejas that the foregoing conversation between the sisters took place.
Devadevi thought over for a long time after returning home. In the heat of the argument with her elder sister, she had taken a vow. Now, her sister’s words filled her with fear. Dealing with bhaktas and jnanis was like playing with fire and if the strength of their thapas was more, she could be asking for trouble. If on the other hand, the level of his mental ground was low, he could fall into her net. In any case, she resolved that she must fulfil her mission with great diplomacy, care and caution.
Her sister knew that woman herself was an exact reflection of Mayadevi. If she made up her mind, she had the innate strength to make heaven out of hell. If the same mind stood on the cross road, it would reduce a palace to a position worst than the graveyard.
On a certain evening, the sun had set and darkness had begun to envelope, it had also started to rain slightly. Vipranarayana who was meditating on the rock in front of his hut got up. A sanyasini was standing before him. She was clad in saffron robes. Fresh youthfulness! A mass of beautiful form! The long flowing hairs had enhanced her beautiful looks. Since it was raining, her robes were wet, making her look more beautiful as though – as he imagined – she was the cynosure of neighbouring eyes.
“Who are you? Where do you hail from?”
“I am on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram. Evening has set in. I cannot spend the blissful time of the night among groups of people wedded to family life. I need solitude. This thapovan appeared to me to be eminently suitable. I shall spend the night resting on this bed of rock”.
“I happen to be alone in this place. You are a lady, it is not therefore proper for you to stay here for the night”.
As they were talking, it began to rain heavily. Monsoon rain! The force of thunder and lightning increased. It rained torrentially and the downpour filled the whole area with water making it look like a lake in a matter of minutes.
What should Vipranarayana do? Standing before him was a woman! A youth! But she was a sanyasini. She had come in search of solitude. It was night and the town was far away. There was no house anywhere in the vicinity. Her body was trembling with cold. In such a situation, how could he keep her out and how could he go in alone? However cruel was one, one would relent to offer dry clothes and food and render help as part of dharma and duty.
But this one was a young lady. She was a beacon of beauty above all. How could one who was a wealth of vairagya and who was serving God in rigorous thapas, sleep alone in solitude with a woman without anyone else for company?
His mind was wavering between these swings of thought. The rains intensified.
“Your whole attire is completely wet; your body is trembling with cold. How will you spend the night on this bed of rock?”
“Ävashyam-anubhoktavyam. Should not one receive with a smile on the face whatever comes to one’s lot? I have spent many nights like this. May be, several more are in store for me. Haven’t I become a sanyasi to tolerate with equanimity the vicissitudes of happiness and sadness? How can the mind acquire maturity if these conflicts cannot be countenanced?”
“That is true! But your whole attire is wet and you do not have any other robe with you for replacement”.
“This body belongs to Iswara. To me it serves as a sheer cover. I am not the body. I am not conscious of the body. Whoever has created this body has also the function of protecting it. I do not therefore care to bother about anything. Whatever comes to my lot, it is my duty and dharma to receive it with patience and equanimity”, so saying she sat down on the bed of rock itself.
Vipranarayana was filled with wonder! He said to himself; “What vairagya! What a gem of renunciation is hidden in the heart of this youthful tapasvini!”
He took four steps, got into his hermitage and put on rob that had dried, in place of the wet. As soon as he saw another dhoti that had dried on the stick, he took pity on the lady seated on the rock as she was shivering with cold on the rock. He thought it appropriate to extend hospitality to the damsel in distress.
“Aren’t you feeling cold?”
“I am, inevitable for the body. What can be done?”
“I have a dhoti to spare which you can wear. Come in and change your attire which is wet all over.”
“You need not take any trouble for me. I shall stay here alone”, she said casting her lurid looks on him from the corner of her eyes.
“You are now my guest. Come in”, invited Vipranarayana.
“If you bring pressure on me, I have to consent”.
The woman got in. He gave her piece of cloth (a towel) to wipe the wet face and limbs and a dhoti to wear. She smiled at Vipranarayana, slipped out of her wet cloths and wrapped the dhoti around herself. She warmed herself a bit in front of the fire, took the milk and fruits he gave her and stretched on the mat.
Vipranarayana did not get sleep. He engaged her in conversation:
“The Atman is devoid of relations, is Nitya and Nirvikalpa, is indestructible and divorced from papa and punya. Just as an ant cannot touch fire, so all the facts of papa and punya cannot impact on the Atman. Whatever actions are performed by the sensory of the body are actuated by Prakriti. The Purusha is not responsible for Prakriti’s deeds”.
Continuing, he said, “The Lord of the Universe, Jagadeeswara is the Supreme Being, the Paramapurusha. The Mother of the universe – Jaganmatha Mahalakshmi is the Prakriti. Creations of the universe are attributable to these two alone. If we have to free ourselves from the bondage of bodily consciousness and pride in order to become totally detached – the bondage of bodily consciousness and pride which has been bothering us through several millions of incarnations of life – we have to worship Sri Ranganatha, the Jagadeeswara and also Devi Mahalakshmi through our trinity of mind, intellect and body. The mind should be filled with dhyan of the handsomely divine figure of the male attribute. The whole universe is a flowery instrument dedicated to his service. All the beautiful and best things should be surrendered to his service. Everything belongs to him. There is nothing that we can really call as our own”.
Devadevi sought to give a twist to the argument and said, “This body then also belongs to him. He is the Lord of this body. The amsa of the Lord who pervades the whole universe is in fact the jeeva inside this body. The son’s ancestry follows from his father alone. A tigress cannot beget a mouse! One who is an amsa of God should belong to the family of God; isn’t such a one divine like the Lord?”
“True!”Said Vipranarayana, “But, the Lord is Sarvajna, knower of all, the jeeva is kinchijna knower of little. The Lord is Sarveswara – the ruler of everything and everyone: his ruler ship extends to the whole universe. The jeeva’s ruler ship is restricted to the boundaries of the body. The Lord is Lord of maya or illusion. The jeeva is subservient to the spell of maya or illusion. The Lord is the repository of self-manifest soundarya while the jeeva’s beauty is just given to him. Therefore the jeeva has to depend upon the Lord’s grace every moment for his progress. He himself cannot achieve anything”.
“That is true!” admitted Devadevi and asked him, “Where is the Lord?”
“The Lord of Vaikunta “ said Vipranarayana “has descended to the earth as Sri Ranganatha and has been blessing the devotees”.
“Vaikunta”, continued Vipranarayana, is a place devoid of sorrow and noted for Nityananda. The Lord pervading the universe pervades all atoms and molecules, feather and fuel. In stone and tree, in animals and birds, in divine and human bodies, the Lord exists in exuberant state. All bodies are indeed his temples. In the scheme of creation, animate creation (like animals and birds) is superior to inanimate creation (like stone, mud etc). Man is superior to both. Even among men, the wise, the educated, the devoted and the jnani are far superior. Janana recognises God who is resident in the human body. It throws light on the fact that the Lord is more manifest in the human body than any other. Identification of the Lord of the body and the Lord of the universe and looking at the universe and the body with the same frame of mind constitutes service”.
“Everything depends upon the frame of mind. Everything depends upon the beholder. If we behold the world with a divine frame of mind, if the frame of mind which recognises God residing in the body grows strong and matures, then this world becomes a heavenly garden. The trees will all become Kalpa-vrikshas. All rivers become sacred like the waters of Ganga. The deeds of the sensory organs of the body turn out to be righteous ones. The sounds emerging from the mouth will be Vedantic quotations of great personal experience. The world will then become a Vaikunta”.
“If we look at the world in proper perspective”, said Devadevi, “There is nothing that we can really call our own. Everything is God, everything is God’s. Where the separate thing is called Vaikunta? This body itself constitutes Vaikunta. One who resides in it is the lord of Vaikunta. If the body is a temple, then the one inside it is Sri Ranganatha himself. So according to my view, you are yourself Ranganatha. Service to you is service to Ranganatha”.
“If that is so”, said Vipranarayana, “it is equivalent to saying that you, having the female form, constitute the embodiment of Lakshmi”.
“Oh!”, exclaimed Devadevi, “Is there any doubt? You see God in the motionless idol in the temple. I see God in the beautiful human form. Knowing that I do not constitute the body, I see the detached-nirvikalpa alone inside the body. I consider that the body is merely auxiliary to the functions of the sensory organs and sensory perceptions and that I do not have bodily connection whatsoever. Sat-chit-ananda-atmas like me experience real bliss with that frame of mind”.
Vipranarayana fell asleep as the conversation progressed.
When he was in deep sleep, it appeared to him that a youthful sanyasini flaunting her charms and brandishing her inviting looks stood before him like a picture.
When he woke up, he found himself in the arms of the lady of charms! What was in store for him next was the brink of a bottomless pit.
The common saying, “Agnikunda samaa naaree, ghrutha-kumbha samo naraha, “was literally proved. Demonstration of daily devotion and abiding interest in the service of God – all disappeared in the life of Vipranarayana. There was no one to bother about thulasi leaves. The garland of fragrant flowers found a new focus of decoration in Devadevi!
Ascending a steep hill is easy but a single slip will bring one crashing down to several thousand feet below!
Sweets and spicy foods besides other delicious dishes brought about changes in the demands of Vipranarayana’s palate. There was a terrible piece of treachery latent in the patent smiles and laughter which the beautiful face of Devadevi was sporting. The initial success of her mission had made Devadevi look as though she was drunk with the irresistible power pride. Within a week, Vipranarayana found himself helpless as the prize-animal captured by a hunter. Whatever he did, it appeared to him that the whole world mirrored female beauty ascribable to Devadevi!
Poor Vipranarayana! Never having known what deceptive association was, the devotee who was a plain liver was caught in the whirlpool of attachment and illusion. By advancing erroneous arguments of Vedanta to his straight-forward devotional and enlightened propositions of truth, Devadevi had fooled him completely and made him a tool in her hands! She appeared first as a gem of detachment but soon pushed him in a pit by dainty expressions of detachment.
It is true that in accordance with the famous words, “Kalou Vedantinah Sarve” the auspicious and inauspicious things, matters of virtue and vice, besides pure and impure aspects cannot touch a jnani-an enlightened being. However, ordinary sadhakas who cannot reach the topmost peak of an ascending mountain of detachment are likely to end up as double failures both on the material and spiritual planes like Trisanku or on account of spineless arguments and beliefs and knowledge like a half-baked pot, bereft of advaita content and advaitic experience. Once a sadhaka swerves from the path and slips, it is true he will take a long time to rise again.
There is a vast difference between the enlightened (jnani) and the unenlightened or the ignorant (ajnani). The distance between the two is analogous to the difference between earth and the heavens. There is one sadhaka in a thousand! After one becomes a Siddha Purusha there is no cause for fear. Only till such time as one becomes a Siddha Purusha, no excessive care and caution against possible deception will be too much.
The foregoing considerations do not mean that we are trying to put down the enlightened or impair their fair name and fame. The path of knowledge is like crossing the subtle bridge of slender hair connecting two gigantic oceans. A stormy force can cut asunder the hairy link. If walking along such a bridge of a slender hair connecting two gigantic oceans. A stormy force can cut asunder the hairy link. If walking along such a bridge or crossing it is difficult, the path of the knowledge is even more difficult. But it should not be forgotten that knowledge is the only secret and sadhana for dispelling delusion and maya. One should be careful about going to illogical extremes in extending the doctrine of advaita in exterior calculations. If the enlightened Siddha Purusha can freely drink the somarasa from the pot tied to the lata, he can with equal freedom but greater relish drink molten iron and digest it also. But ordinary sadhakas should not become laughing stocks just like the lesser birds show their ugly feathers by trying to emulate the peacock. The sadhana of knowledge is universal advaita. The sadhana of universal outlook of Brahma, it should be remembered, as subtle as the sharp edge of a razor.
It is a fact that human birth is designed to enjoy the mixed fruits of virtue and vice. It is equally true that appropriate situations will emerge for enjoyment of such fruits. Human indebtedness is a very strong factor in relationships. Several enlightened people have in the past been caught in illusory relationships but have also succeeded in raising themselves again to become instruments of universal purification. More than anything else, it is a fact that one who indulges in righteous deeds will never face disaster in life.
If there is realization on the part of the wrong doer and if there is repentance, whatever may be the intensity of the wrong, he can purify himself through God’s grace and effortlessly cross the ocean of the samsara. But it is necessary to remember one important aspect.
Repentance removes sin. An experience of the result of karma begets sorrow. If sorrow increases, wisdom may also dawn due to Divine Grace. Wisdom generates vairagya which in turn dispels the cloud of illusion. When illusion disappears, the reality of Paramatman will be obvious. The attainment of Godhood is all from the primary turning point of repentance. For the sinful person to become self-purified, this is the sole remedy.
The Paramatman, just as he gives sight to the blind man, gives sorrow to the erring person to make him wise. The Paramatman, by giving sorrow removes the sorrowful cycle of life and death.
Isn’t God full of kindness? In addition to conferring boons commensurate with Vipranarayana’s japa, dhyana and sevas, he created a sorrowful situation which would give him the recipe for immortality.
After Vipranarayana was robbed of all his possessions like wealth, youth and wisdom, it transpired that Devadevi began to lose interest in him. She even displayed indifference when in dropped in. Inspite of this, his infatuation for her was ever on the increase.
Though he was disgusted once with her discourtesy, he was so attached to her that he plunged himself in sorrow helplessly.
Someone appeared to knock at the door at Devadevi’s house around midnight time. Expecting the caller to be Vipranarayana, she did not care to come down from her storied building. When the knock on the door continued incessantly, she had the door opened through the maid.
“Madam! Here you are! My Lord has asked me to hand over this gold cup to you”. Saying, a dark-complexioned servant placed in her hands, a beautifully carved cup studded with gems.
“Who is your Lord?” asked Devadevi enchanted by the beauty and shape of the cup.
“There he is… the bearded man living in the hut garden in front of the village”, said the man pointing to the place where Vipranarayana lived.
“Right!” said she, “Tell him I have an abiding love for him and ask him to come down at once. I shall be waiting for him”.
The messenger left the place.
She waited that night for a long time for Vipranarayana. Neither the messenger returned nor Vipranarayana made his appearance.
The gold cup was the one which adorned the daily pooja accessories for theertha prasadam in the sanctum sanctorum of Sri Ranganatha Temple. It was one with which the king of Nigalapura used to make his offerings with devotion. The most precious thing as it was, he used to keep it safely for the night in the royal treasury and customarily bring it again for the pooja in the morning.
When the doors of the royal treasury were opened as usual, the cup was not to be seen. The king’s men got the entire city searched. As it was natural for the thieves stealing such precious things to make them over to either money-lenders or prostitutes, within few hours, the cup was located in Devadevi’s house.
Devadevi was handcuffed and dragged to the palace courtyard. Vipranarayana was also hand cuffed and brought to the same place. His eyes were moist and bore the hall-mark of repentance.
He was the first to be questioned: “Gentle one! Where did you get this?”
“Swamin! When I do not have anything to eat, how can I afford to have a servant? This woman came to my hut disguised as a thapasvini and ruined me. She has robbed me of everything and made me a beggar. My thapas, prestige, devotion, status and righteous path – all suffered a serious blow on account of her. To crown it all, I have now been burdened with the charge of stealing”.
“It is true”, said Devadevi, “That i fell in love with him. I belong to the profession of prostitutes. I have only fulfilled the demands of dharma appropriate to my profession. Yesterday at about twelve midnight, his servant brought the cup to me, I took it. What wrong have I committed?”
“It is stolen property”.
“May be it is. I did not steal it nor induce anyone to steal it”.
The king said to himself, “The thapasvi who has been living in solitude, might have fallen prey to the spell of maya – to the charms of Devadevi and exposed him to the kind of blame natural to all human beings. But it is ever possible to imagine him stealing the gold cup from the temple to commit the sin of making over to her – is he capable of this crime? No. Definitely not..”. The king was on the horns of a dilemma. He said:
“Right. Let us examine it tomorrow morning. Hand over the cup to the temple. Keep these two in separate prisons. Their handcuffs shall stay as they are”.
Vipranarayana was consigned to the prison cell. His head was reeling under pressure and tension. All his experience of life appeared and passed before him one after the other like vivid pictures of photography. He recapitulated the chronological order his boyhood, education, righteous conduct, disciplined detachment, solitude, hermitage and unwavering faith and bhakta. He recounted the supreme happiness he used to derive from preparing the four feet thulasi garland as he indulged in nama-sankirtan of the Lord and remembered the bhava-samadhi he would get into during bhajans. He recollected that the deceptive Devadevi had fooled him through perversions of Vedanta to fall into a quagmire of quackdom and the quandary of a quadrupedal world, bringing about in the process a slur on his brahmacharya following the flight of bhakta and wisdom. His wavering mind had succumbed to temptation. Once, his freedom knew no bounds. But now! He would perhaps have put up with any amount of active exertion in an open field in an atmosphere free from any kind of moral turpitude, but he appeared destined to waste away his unbounded energy in wretched captivity. Where were Vipranarayana and his days of spiritual splendour and where were Devadevi and her downright material life of abysmal depth? Only the prison wall separated the two, one a paragon of virtue and the other a personification of vice! When he realized that a false charge had forced him to languish in jail, his conscience began to burn under the impact of repentance and sorrow and he started crying like a child:-
“Oh God! For one who considered that scared love towards you was everything in life and who considered himself blessed by service rendered accordingly, this prison cell has proved to be no better than tragic fate and destiny, isn’t it? Haven’t I got into this unfortunate state by falling into the clutches of a clever charlatan and charmer? Lord of orphans! Protector of the poor! Aren’t you, known as the champion of the fallen folk? You made an incomparable poet from an ignoramus. You went to the rescue of Ajamila and raised him from his fallen state. You went to Draupadi’s rescue when her honour was at stake? For such a glorious rescuer, has there been any difficulty in pulling me out of this vicious circle? It is true that I fell victim to the enchantress. But why did you provide such a situation to me? Who sent the rakshasi in the form of a lone guest to my ashram for robbing my fortune especially when it was raining incessantly in the night? It cannot be but your own test and contrivance to capture me through a damsel pretending to be in distress, a damsel combining both charm and cheating in the same way as a cobra combines in its hood both charming vivacity and lethal venom.
“It is true I have fallen – fallen into a pit. Kind-hearted as you are, please come to my rescue”.
“You have yourself said, ‘Mama Maya Durathyayaa’. When big thapasvis and jnanis have perished after being caught by the spell of your maya, what is the fate of ignorant people like me? Deva! I am feeling very unhappy. Youth, strength, energy, wealth and prestige have all gone. You are the only one remaining so far as I am concerned. I do not have any one except you to come to my rescue. If only you redeem me this time from this sorrow, come what may, I shall not fear any kind of severe test in future. One thing is also certain that I will never fall again into such situation”.
Sorrow and exhaustion seemed to overtake Vipranarayana and he fell into sleep. Sri Ranganatha stood before him in a dream and the Lord spoke with a smile on his face:
“Child!” said the Lord, “Sorrow and repentance have burnt the impurities and purified your inner frame and conscience. Rise! Have no fear! Vipranarayana distinctly heard these words and he got up. He was in the same dark cell of the prison with the same iron handcuffs adoring him as before!
On the same night, the king also witnessed a dream. The celestial figure of the Lord of Vaikunta stood before him with a smiling face radiating serenity.
“King! Vipranarayana is free from blame and innocent. It is that sinful Devadevi who practised deception on him and she was responsible for his straying away from his path. It is only ordinary human weakness that exposed him to the machinations of the enchantress! It was only in order to save and deliver him from the bondage of illusion that I contrived a plan and disguising myself as his servant. I handed over the gold cup to her. Vipranarayana has come to know the reality. Free him forthwith. It is that rakshasi who was responsible for impeding his thapas. Pull her to the courtyard and put her to shame by awarding open punishment. Take cudgels against her to cut the vanity of her beauty. Give her the traditional procession of disrepute to mark her glorious end and expel her from the city. Let all her wealth be confiscated by the Government”.
The king was awakened. The day was dawning, driving away the darkness of the night. He immediately ordered Vipranarayana to be freed. He made arrangements for his return to his ashram with royal honours.
Peace and tranquillity ruled Vipranarayana’s mind, enlightenment qualified his intellect and purity characterised his body. People thought that only poetic justice overtook Devadevi whose beauty was as much without a parallel as her arrogance. What happened to her after banishment? Did she migrate to the forest for thapas for expiation her misdeeds? She was neither seen nor heard of after her downfall and expulsion from the city.