Sanandana Paramarshi narrates an incident to Narada Devarshi about a time when Shuka Paramarshi went to his venerable father, Veda Vyāsa Maharshi and asked him about moksha and dharma.
“‘Bhagawan! I offer my salutations to you. You are an exponent in the subject of moksha and dharma. Please give such an upadesha (instruction) where my mind will get supreme bliss.”
Vyāsa Maharshi hearing the profound words of his beloved son said, “Vatsa! Learn about the fundamentals of various types of dharma and do the self-study of moksha. Inquire about moksha and to whom moksha is attributed to.”
Shuka then studied all the yoga shastras and Sankhya shastra of Kapila Maharshi. When Vyāsa realized that his son is complete with Brahma Tejas, is strong and well-versed in moksha shastra, then he said, “Son! Now you go to the king of Mithila. Raja Janaka will be able to tell you about the subject of moksha in entirety.”
Shuka immediately headed towards Mithila to seek answers about the tenets of dharma and the refuge of moksha.
Vyāsa had a few words of caution for Shuka, “Son! Travel in the path that is used by ordinary men. Do not give place for amazement or pride in your mind. Do not ever travel through space using your yoga shakti. Go there in simplicity. Do not search for comforts on the way, do not search for important people or places on the way because they increase attachment. Raja Janaka is both a disciple and a sage – do not display ego in front of him. Be calm. He will clear all your doubts. Raja Janaka is an exponent of dharma and proficient in moksha shastra. He is my disciple and obey any instructions he will give you assiduously.”
Contemplating on the words of his father, Shuka left for Mithila. Even though he could have crossed the oceans had he chosen to travel in space, he chose to walk on foot to Mithila. When he arrived at the outer gates of Videhanagar, the gatekeeper requested him to wait outside but he was unbothered by this. Shuka was devoid of hunger and thirst and sat down for dhyana in that blazing heat. The gatekeeper was anguished over his own conduct. He saw Shuka Muni sitting in the mid-day heat and offered his salutations and escorted him into the palace with honour. There was a magnificent garden that spread across a vast area. The gatekeeper showed him the garden and finally led him to a beautiful seat and sent word to Raja Janaka.
When Raja Janaka heard that Shuka Muni had come to him, he tried to understand the true purpose of the visit and sent many beautiful women to cater to his needs. All the women were stunning to look at adorned in lovely garments and wearing jewellery that only enhanced their dazzling beauty. All those women offered to wash his feet, offered him water, food and refreshments in accordance with the produce of the land and the time. After his meal, each and every youthful lady took him for a walk in the garden and laughed, teased and made small talk with him.
Shuka Muni’s antahkarana (inner organs) were pure and he had already conquered krodha and the sensory organs and immediately became seated in dhyana. His mind had neither joy nor anger.
As it was dusk, Shuka did the sandhyopasana after washing his feet and hands. He sat on a sacred seat and began contemplating on matters of moksha and dharma. In the first part of the night, he was engaged in dhyana and in the second and third parts, he accepted sleep. Then, he woke up in Brahmamuhurta and had a bath. Even though the women were sleeping close by, he sat down for dhyana. This is how he spent his time in the palace.
Then Raja Janaka approached Shuka Muni along with his ministers and after honouring him accordingly offered him a magnificent bejwelled throne. When the son of Vyāsa sat on the throne, then Raja Janaka offered him paadya, arghya and cows. Shuka Muni accepted the offerings of Raja Janaka graciously and made kind enquiries of him and his entourage.
Raja Janaka then asked, “Brahman! Why have you come here?”
Shukadeva replied, “Hey King! May you prosper! My father informed me that you are well-versed in the subject of moksha and dharma. Hence, I have come to you. He said that whatever doubts I have regarding predisposition and renunciation will be quickly cleared up by you. Therefore, I come here on the instruction of my father to remove all the doubts that exist in my heart. You are foremost among the advocates of dharma. Please be kind to give the necessary upadesha (instructions). What is the duty of Brahmans in this world? What is the form of moksha? Through which sadhana is it to be attained – dhyana or tapaha?”
Raja Janaka replied, “Hey Brahman! Listen to the lifelong duty of a Brahman from the moment he is born in this universe. After the upanayana, the young Brahmans must engage in study of the Vedas. He should follow tapasya, Guruseva and Brahmacharya. He should liberate himself of the debt of the devathas and forefathers through homas and shraddh tarpana. He should not condemn anyone. After completing the study of the Vedas in entirety and appropriately, he should give the Guru dakshina and then he should seek his permission to return home.
The Brahman should then marry and live as a householder. He should not see faults in anyone. He should behave appropriately with all. He should perform agnihotra everyday diligently. After the birth of children and grandchildren, he should take up vanavasa and should make offerings to the fire previously invoked. He should serve any guests who come to his hamlet with love.
Then, he should keep all the fires within himself while residing in the forest through perception and contemplate on the Supreme Brahman in sannyāsāshrama and should bear cold, heat and other difficulties with courage.”
Shuka Paramarshi said, “Hey King! If one receives the knowledge and wisdom of the Immutable Brahman in the Brahmacharya stage itself and all feelings of hate, animosity and dualities are removed from his heart, then is it still necessary for him to go through the next three stages? Please be kind enough to clear this doubt of mine.”
Raja Janaka replies, “Brahman! Just like how moksha is not attained without knowledge and wisdom, similarly, knowledge is not attained without the association of Sadguru. Guru is the one who is beyond the influence of this worldly ocean and the knowledge bestowed by him is comparable to a boat to cross the ocean. As the dharma of the universe must not be transgressed and the tradition of engaging in rightful duty must also not be destroyed, it is therefore imperative to follow the four ashramas as prescribed.
In this manner, one should engage in good deeds and renunciate any attachment towards good and bad deeds. When one has done good deeds in many births and when all the sensory organs are pure, then a person who is pure inside will attain knowledge in the form of moksha in the first stage itself. When that man attains sakshatkara (coming face to face with the Immutable Brahman) in the Brahmacharya–ashrama that is he attains mukti, then what is the need for that jeevanmukta who adores Paramātma to go through the remaining three stages?
It is necessary for scholars and the wise persons to forsake rajas and tamas and adopt the path of sattva and have darshan of the ātma through their intellect. One who sees all the elements within himself and sees himself in all the elements will remain in this universe without being besmeared by its flaws and attain the akshaya pada.
Listen to what Raja Yayati has to say on this matter – The ātmajyothi that is effulgent within a Brahman who is proficient in moksha shastra is the light that also exists within all beings. Only a man who keeps his sensory organs, mind and intellect concentrated on that ātmaprakasha in samādhi will see that light within himself. One who is not frightened or instils fear in others, one who is devoid of desire and animosity attains the Brahma bhava.
When a man does not find fault in another through mind, speech and action, then he becomes that Brahmarupa. When a man forsakes jealousy, desire and greed that causes one to become deluded and instead engages in tapaha, then he experiences Brahmānanda. When he sees equanimity in all matters that are worthy of being heard and seen and in all beings and his mental state remains unaffected by happiness, sorrow, dualities and others, then he attains Brahman.
When the man sees criticism – praise, iron – gold, happiness – sorrow, cold – heat, good – disaster, desirable – undesirable and life – death with equal vision, then he will attain the Brahma bhava.
Just like how a tortoise withdraws itself into its shell, similarly a sannyāsa also should withdraw his sensory organs with his mind. Just like how a house engulfed in darkness becomes visible when a lamp or light is lit, similarly one should have darshan of the ātma with the help of the leffulgence of the intellect. You are foremost among the wise ones O Shukadeva! I can see all the aforementioned subjects within you. Besides this, whatever else is worthy of being known, will be known by you well. Brahmarshi! I understand you very well. You have gone beyond all matters and discussions because of the blessings of your father and your education.
It is because of that great Rishi who is also my revered Guru that even I have attained this illuminating knowledge and wisdom and therefore, I can recognise your state. Your wisdom, your progress and your fortune is all in abundance. But you are not aware of this. Brahman! You have already realized and your intellect is also silent and also there is no greed in you but without genuine resolve no one can attain Parabrahma. You do not see any difference between happiness and sorrow. There is not even an iota of delusion in you. You neither have any enthusiasm to see dance or to hear music. There is no malice in you.
Neither do you have any attachment towards relatives nor do you have any fear of frightening things. Mahabhaga! I see that criticism and praise are equal to you. I as well as other venerable persons think that you are seated in an imperishable that is undecaying plane. Hey Great One! The fruit of being a Brahman in this world and the form of moksha is your state.”
Sanandana Paramarshi said, “Narada! On hearing the words of Raja Janaka, Shuka Paramarshi reached the resolute certainty and through his intellect attained ātma sakshatkara and remained immersed and absorbed in that successfully. At that time he experienced paramānanda and parama shanthi. Then he set off quietly towards the north heading to the Himalaya Parvat where he saw his father Vyāsa who was sitting with Paila and his other disciples studying the quintessence of the Vedas.
Shuka Paramarshi was radiant like the sun because of his inner effulgence. He prostrated in front of his father with great respect and then narrated the entire conversation of moksha to his father. Vyāsa hearing the profound words became overcome with joy and hugged his son.
[Excerpt from Narada Purana]