Sage Pareekshit, the recipient of Shuka Brahma’s grace in full measure and author of the unique Shuka Gayathri mantra described the son of Vyasa, the repository of Vedic knowledge and the patriarch of Puranas, as a Jeevanmukta par excellence and a personification of peace.
“Jeevanmuktam sadaa shantam”
Shuka, according to Pareekshit, was not only an epitome of peace and tranquility, but also a conferrer of freedom from fear (abhayapradaha) and harbinger of happiness.
Kashyapa Maharshi, the foremost among the great Saptha Rishis and composer of a rare Ashtothara (108 descriptive names) on Shuka, starts with an enumeration of the five basic qualities that go to make up his ideal of a superman (Pancha Maha purusha yoga) symbolized by Shuka: pure body, pure speech, pure intellect, pure thoughts and pure deeds as the constituent ingredients and the Rishis in general have hailed this harmonious conglomeration of pure sensory perceptions in Shuka.
“Jeevanmukti” literally meaning liberation during lifetime (Jeevath-kaalemukti) is the blissful period of interregnum between Brahmasakshatkara and Videhamukti (fall of the body). If realization of the nature of Brahman is through the instrumentality of Sruthi (“Brahma bhaavaha Srutherbalaath” as laid down by Vidyaranya), Jeevanmukti is the vanishing point of ignorance, misery, earthly pleasures and bondages that plague the non-jeevanmuktas in general. The Jeevanmukta is unaffected by fluctuations in fortune or misfortune, is untrammeled by fears and apprehensions and unfettered by shackles of utilitarian philosophies that are causes of birth and rebirth. The Jeevanmukta is absolved from all bondage of past and the future but presently sports a smile of serenity engendered by manifestation of divinity within himself. The only seeming bondage which he carries is the residuum of prarabdha karma up to the day of Videhamukti. Videhamukti signals the disappearance of prarabdha karma and of the apparent limitations of even the corporeal appendage.
If the jeevan looks like the Brahman with some seeming limitations, then the moment the cause of limitation is removed, the jeevan becomes the veritable Brahman. This is the true import of the Vedic proclamation in Mundakopanishad, “Brahmavid Brahmaiva bhavati” (Mundaka 3-2-9)
“When desires cease to have a place in the human heart,” says the Brihadaranyakopanishad, “the person becomes a Jeevanmukta through sakshatkaara and by cognition of Brahma-bhava.
Sometime during Vyasa’s sojourn in Badarikashram at the foot of the Himalayas, it occurred to him that he should have a son who could pervade even the five elements of matter, water, fire, air and ether. He went over to the Meru mountain and performed penance. Lord Shiva, pleased with his penance, manifested before Vyasa and assured him that he would himself be born as his son!
Shuka was born with a physical frame but outside the physical barriers of a womb, as an “ayonija”. Supernatural things were witnessed soon after his birth. Shiva himself manifested with his consort and initiated him to the highest spiritual lore as part of the sacred thread ceremony. Although the whole knowledge of the Vedas had sprung within himself, Shuka chose to study everything systematically under his Guru Brihaspati and mastered the shastras, the epics and Vedanta. At the end of his studies, he went over to the Meru mountain to perform thapas as a brahmachari. There his penance won the admiration of Devatas and Rishis in general and of Vasishta in particular.
Shuka Rishi later met his father and said, “Great father, expert as you are in the lore of liberation that brings fulfillment, kindly initiate me into the principle of dharma that promotes a higher order of tranquility. Vyasa Maharshi taught him Sankhya Yoga, but asked him to undergo training under Janaka, the King of Mithila, for achieving complete mastery in his progressive march towards mukti. In Mithila, however, Shuka spent his time in dhyana unaffected by pangs of hunger or thirst. The royal comforts or pleasures did not provoke his anger or approbation. He was oblivious to surroundings.
Shuka conveyed his father’s message to Janaka and requested him to put him on the path of liberation. “You are endowed” said Janaka to Shuka, “with all the qualities present in a Jeevanmukta. Hence there is nothing that needs to be taught to you.”
Shuka’s qualities as a Jeevanmukta:
If Bhagavad Gita extols the qualities of a yogi who finds peace and fulfillment within himself, of one who knows the Brahman and becomes a Jeevanmukta, Kashyapa describes Shuka as a yogivaraagrani, exalted among great yogis. A Jeevanmukta like Shuka, apart from being a repository of the wealth of wisdom, was always disposed to give and was well-known as a conferrer of boons. As a brahmachari, he was wedded to the welfare of the world. He was a master of the Maha Vakyas like “Tattvamasi”, himself having known the fundamental truths about the Brahman. Probably the most significant quality attributed to Shuka is that he was “Smritimaatrena santushtaha”, one pleased by mere remembrance.
Kashyapa’s concept of Jeevanmukti as exemplified in Shuka’s life is shared by Shankara. While Kashyapa extols Shuka’s quality of being a “Sangavarjitha”, Shankara brings in an element of “Nissangatvam” in Bhaja Govindam. The qualities of self-effacement and absence of pride (Nirmamo nirahankaaraha) were attributed by Kashyapa to Shuka, while those of Nirmohatvam (non-delusion), Nischalatattvam (changeless reality) were attributed by Shankara to Jeevanmuktas in general.
Kashyapa found Shuka a “Nityaanityapadaarthanjnaha” the discriminator of permanent and the impermanent. In “Jeevanmukti Viveka”, Vidyaranya underlines “Nitya-anitya Viveka”.
Shuka, according to Kashyapa was a Sarvajna (Omniscient) and Sadhu-sammataha (accepted by saints).
Shuka was radiant (thejasvi), bereft of illusion (Gatamaayascha) free from prejudices and was an ocean of kindness (Veetarago dayaarnavaha). He was a destroyer of pride (madanaashanaha). He was free from the trinity of desires pertaining to wealth, women or progeny (Ishanaatrayanirmuktaha).
He had conquered anger and enemies and commanded respect as a spiritual leader (Jitakrodho Jitaraatihi netaa). He was dedicated to truthful tenets (satya vrataha), was a protagonist of dharma (satyadharmaha), dedicated to establishment of truth (satyasandhaha) and a symbol of ancient wisdom (sanaatanaha).
Kashyapa concludes the inimitable qualities of Shuka as a “Bhakavrindasuradrumaha” – one who could bestow fruits like the Kalpa Vriksha (the wish-giving tree) on all devotees.
The Jeevanmukta revels ever in the Supreme reality featured by truth, consciousness and bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda) through constant meditation.
It is significant that the term “Jeevanmukta” is introduced in the Upanishadic literature and is directly related to Shuka.
“… Jeevanmuktaha sadaa dhyaayannityastvam viharishyasi”
Shukarahasyopanishad is emphatic that Jeevanmukti arises in one who ruminates over the expressed meaning of the Maha Vakya “Tattvamasi” and this alone brings Shivasayujya mukti.
Jeevanmuktas like Shuka transcend the Karunopadhi of Iswara and the Karyopadhi of the jeevan by assuming chinmayopadhi (which are no upadhi at all) that are transfigurations of Supreme consciousness from the field of vision.
Thus Shuka would merit the description of a Jeevanmukta par excellence, a chinmayaswarupa.
Thus the Supreme Reality has manifested as Datta to the Atris, as Yajnavalkya to the Devaratas and as Shuka to Vedavyasa, thereby meaning that all Vedic knowledge and its essence are identifiable with the celebrated Jeevanmukta, Shuka Brahma.
(Based on the author’s article in “Tattvaloka” in 1987, – reproduced with acknowledgements).