Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 26 Jan 2019


Significance of The Three Epics

Smt. Bh. Kumari asked: Swami! Can you please explain the significance of the three holy epics of Hinduism, namely, Raamaayanam, Mahaabhaaratam, and Bhaagavatam?

Swami replied: There are three stages in the spiritual development of any human being in this world. They are dushpravrutti, pravrutti, and nivrutti. They are related to a person’s fascination (overattachment or Moha) to worldly bonds. The three main worldly bonds of a soul are the bond with money, the bond with one’s life-partner and the bond with one’s child. A limited attachment to these worldly bonds is acceptable as long as it does not cross the boundaries of justice. Excessive attachment to these bonds causes the soul to commit injustice.

Dushpravrutti is the lowest stage in which the soul is completely affected by the six vices. The six vices are lust, anger, greed, overattachment, ego, and jealousy. Such souls always support injustice and are severely punished by God here as well as after death in hell. They are attached to illegitimate worldly bonds and they often neglect or even cause harm to their legitimate bonds. In other words, they engage in illegitimate relations and illegitimate ways of earning money. Pravrutti is the middle stage in which the soul possesses good qualities and always supports justice. Such a soul is blessed by God with happiness here and happiness in heaven after death. This soul rejects illegitimate bonds while maintaining a limited attachment to the legitimate bonds. Nivrutti is the stage in which the soul is completely filled with the real love for God. Such a soul goes beyond justice and injustice. This soul rejects all worldly bonds, both legitimate and illegitimate, and is totally fascinated with having a single bond with God (Ekabhaktirvishishyate—Gita). In this stage, all the worldly bonds drop off naturally, as a result of the divine bond to God. There is not the slightest force involved in this detachment from worldly bonds. Nivrutti means total detachment since all worldly bonds are totally dropped in this stage.

If a person leaves his lawful wife due to his attraction for a prostitute, he is on the downward journey from pravrutti to dushpravrutti. If a person leaves his lawful wife due to his attraction for God, he is on the upward journey from pravrutti to nivrutti. A soul starting from the lowest stage of dushpravrutti must first reach the middle stage of pravrutti before proceeding to nivrutti. The first part of the journey, from dushpravrutti to pravrutti, is described in the Raamaayanam and the Mahaabhaaratam. The second part of the journey, from pravrutti to nivrutti, is described in the Bhaagavatam. The Bhagavat Gita speaks about both these parts of the journey in both the upward and downward directions. Hence, it is recognized as the total authority for both ethical knowledge (pravrutti) as well as spiritual knowledge (nivrutti).

True Nivrutti

Nivrutti does not mean the dropping of all bonds since the mind cannot remain without any bond. Nivrutti means the natural dropping off of all worldly bonds due to the formation of a single, extremely strong bond with God. If the mind is forced to not have any bond, it is both unnatural and impossible. A person’s soul is awareness and the thoughts and qualities in the awareness are the mind. The mind naturally seeks objects and develops bonds. Forcing the mind to be without bonds or thoughts is forcing oneself to become inert, like a stone. It is a pity that Advaita philosophers take a lot of effort to attain this unnatural forced state. They try to drop all their worldly bonds, feeling that the world is unreal and illusory. If all the worldly bonds drop off naturally due to the strong bond with God, then that state is correct. But these Advaitins do not have any bond with God because they feel that they are already God. Having a bond with oneself is meaningless! They neither have a bond with God nor do they have a bond with the world. This is a forced state of the mind which they call as the state of Advaita or monism. But unfortunately, it is neither the true state of monism nor can it be sustained for a long time.

The Advaita philosopher Totaapuri criticized Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa for His inability to reach this forced state of ‘monism’. Later, one day, Totaapuri developed a severe stomach-ache. It was so unbearable that he even tried to end his life. But even that failed. Then, the universal Divine Mother appeared to him and preached to him the path of devotion to God, which is based on the fundamental dualism between God and the soul. It was the path that Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had followed all along. Hence, in all the three stages of dushpravrutti, pravrutti, and nivrutti, the soul always remains in a state of dualism with God. It cannot reach the state of God in which this world becomes unreal to the soul. Therefore, nivrutti does not simply mean the dropping of all bonds. It only means the dropping of all worldly bonds due to the formation of a very strong bond with God, which is based on a fundamental dualism between God and the soul. From the angle of the soul, this fundamental dualism alone is true at all times. Monism is true only from the angle of the absolute God.

Overcoming the Six Vices in the Journey

Dushpravrutti is the result of the attachment to illegitimate sex (kaama), illegitimate anger (krodha) and illegitimate greed (lobha). The three are said to be the three main gates to hell in the Gita. Naturally, pravrutti means rejecting the above three vices and adopting the opposite good qualities, which are legitimate sex, legitimate anger, and legitimate greed. Overattachment (moha) to illegitimate worldly bonds leads to dushpravrutti while limited attachment to legitimate worldly bonds leads to pravrutti. Excessive attachment even to the legitimate worldly bonds is a danger because it provokes the soul to commit sins. The attachment to legitimate worldly bonds can be reduced by developing attachment to God. The attachment to illegitimate worldly bonds can be completely eliminated with a combination of the fear of hell and the faith in God. Faith in God, the fear of hell and the development of devotion to God together completely reform the soul. The soul then rises from the first stage of dushpravrutti, through the middle state of pravrutti, all the way to the third stage of nivrutti.

The last three vices are illegitimate attachment (moha), ego (mada) and jealousy (maatsarya). They automatically get associated with the first three vices which are illegitimate lust, anger and greed. Moha is the over attachment towards worldly bonds. But the worldly bonds are related to lust and greed. So, overattachment is related to lust and greed. Similarly, one develops pride or ego due to materialistic achievements, which are related to greed. One also develops jealousy (maatsarya) towards fellow humans based on their worldly achievements. So, the last three vices are based on the first three vices. Therefore, only the first three are stressed in the Gita as the three main gates to hell.

In the Raamaayanam, the illegitimate lust of Ravana is condemned, while the legitimate desire of Rama for His wife is appreciated. Ravana also had illegitimate anger towards Rama even though the entire fault lay with Ravana’s sister, Surpanakha. Surpanakha, had illegitimate lust for Rama, even though He was already married to Sita. When rejected by Rama, she tried to kill Sita and hence was injured by Lakṣmaṇa. The anger of Ravana at his sister’s insult and injury was thus illegitimate. Ravana was very greedy and had even robbed the wealth of the angels. On the other hand, Rama even refused to claim His rightful kingdom for the sake of the word given by His father. Even though Rama was actually an Incarnation of God, He is considered to be only an ideal human being. The very purpose of His Incarnation was to become an example of how a human being should ideally live in pravrutti. So, He strictly lived within the boundaries of worldly justice, without showing any miracles.

Ravana had a fascination (moha) for beautiful ladies. He was extremely proud (mada) of his materialistic achievements. He was jealous (maatsarya) of Rama. These vices in Ravana are condemned in the Raamaayana. On the other hand, Rama never had excessive attachment to His own wife Sita. In fact, when forced by circumstances, He even left her to fulfill His duty as an ideal king. Rama was an Incarnation of God, yet He never showed ego. Even though sages praised Him as God, He replied that He was just a human being named Rama, the son of Dasharatha. Rama was never jealous of Ravana who ruled the golden city of Lanka. Rama rejected illegitimate lust even though Surpanakha who had assumed the form of a very beautiful lady was forcing herself upon Him. Throughout His life, He remained loyal to Sita and did not marry again even after leaving Sita.

Rama was also against illegitimate anger. All His life, He remained patient and calm. He only expressed legitimate anger and that too on very few occasions such as to condemn sage Jaabaali and Vaali for their unjust arguments. Rama was never greedy. He unhesitatingly left His rightful claim over the kingdom to keep His father’s promise. Rama was the embodiment of all good qualities without even a trace of a single bad quality. Ravana was an embodiment of all the bad qualities without a trace of any good quality. The results of the dushpravrutti of Ravana and the pravrutti of Rama were clearly shown to both on earth during their very lifetimes.

In both the Raamaayanam and the Mahaabhaaratam, terrible wars took place. The wars are violence, which is the practical form of anger. The anger of Ravana and Duryodhana was unjust and hence, both were destroyed. The anger of Rama and Dharmaraja was justified and hence, both won the respective wars. The Raamaayanam stands mainly for condemning the illegitimate lust of Ravana and the Mahaabhaaratam stands mainly for condemning the illegitimate greed of Duryodhana. Rama refused illegal sex by rejecting Surpanakha and by advising Ravana to return Sita on the first day of the war after He defeated Ravana. Dharmaraja avoided illegitimate greed. He took every possible effort to resist going to war with Duryodhana in order to take back his rightful share of the kingdom, which Duryodhana had cunningly taken from him. Dharmaraja finally even begged to be given just five villages in place of his rightful share of half the kingdom. He finally fought the war only when all his requests were denied by Duryodhana.

Duryodhana tried to undress Draupadi and ordered her to sit on his lap. It shows his desire for illegitimate sex. Duryodhana was overattached to wealth in the form of the kingdom. He even tricked Dharmaraja and took over Dharmaraja’s rightful share of the kingdom. Dharmaraja, however, never aspired for the share of Duryodhana. Duryodhana had a huge ego. He brutally insulted his own brothers and treated them like slaves after cunningly defeating them in an unfair game. Dharmaraja never had an ego. Even after being cheated, insulted and abused by Duryodhana, Dharmaraja freed Duryodhana when the latter was captured by a gandharva (angel). Dharmaraja never even spoke a single word of insult to Duryodhana after freeing him. Duryodhana was jealous of the wealth and fame of Dharmaraja whereas Dharmaraja was never jealous of Duryodhana. Thus, both the Raamaayanam and the Mahaabhaaratam are related to the first part of the journey from dushpravrutti to pravrutti. They preach to a person to reject injustice and follow justice.

The Bhaagavatam shows the second part of the journey from pravrutti to Nivrutti. In this part, the devotee must overcome not only all illegitimate worldly bonds but also all legitimate worldly bonds for the sake of God. In other words, the devotee’s devotion must exceed the desire for anything and everything in the world. Prahlaada rejected the legitimate bond with his father for the sake of God. He regarded God to be above even all legitimate bonds. The Gopikaas showed the climax point of nivrutti by rejecting all worldly bonds for the sake of God. Among the worldly bonds, the three strongest bonds called as Eshanas, are the bond with wealth, the bond with one’s child and the bond with one’s life partner. Krishna, the Incarnation of God, tested the Gopikaas for their ability to overcome all these three bonds in their love for Him. He stole their butter, which was the wealth of the cowherd ladies. He observed who among the Gopikaas was pleased with His stealing and eating their butter, and who was annoyed about it. Those who loved Him more than their wealth were pleased with His stealing. Some even willingly fed Him. Also, the precious butter was meant for the children of the Gopikaas. So, stealing it from them tested not only whether their bond with Krishna was stronger than their bond with wealth, but also whether it was stronger than their bond with their children. Later, by asking the married Gopikās to dance with Him on the banks of the Yamuna at midnight, He tested whether their bond with Him was stronger than the bond with their husbands.

Contemporary Human Incarnation of God

One important point in all the three epics is the focus on the contemporary Human Incarnation of God. The Human Incarnation is crucially important for the first part of the journey from dushpravrutti to pravrutti as well as the second part of the journey from pravrutti to nivrutti. God Rama’s main focus was the first part of the journey, while God Krishna’s main focus was the second part of the journey. Even though this is generally true, Rama was also involved in the second part of the journey or nivrutti when He tested Lakshmana and Hanuman to find out whether their devotion to Him was stronger than their attachment to their worldly bonds. The test given to Lakshmana and Hanuman was especially severe since Rama Himself appeared to be attached to worldly bonds, but Lakshmana and Hanuman were expected to overcome their attachments for His sake. For example, during the period when He was in the forest, Rama would be enjoying with His wife Sita in the hut. Lakshmana, who had left his own wife back in faraway Ayodhya, would be standing outside the hut like a watchman. Similarly, Hanuman had remained unmarried for the sake of serving Rama and that Hanuman was employed by Rama in searching for His kidnapped wife!

Krishna was also involved in pravrutti. In the Mahaabhaaratam, it is described that He helped the Pandavas in the war which was fought to win back their rightful share of the kingdom, which had been unjustly taken from them by Duryodhana. But the main focus of Rama was on the journey of the soul from dushpravrutti to pravrutti, which is described in the Raamaayanam. Similarly, the main focus of Krishna was on the journey of the soul from pravrutti to nivrutti, which is described in the Bhaagavatam. The most important essence of both pravrutti and nivrutti is recognition of the contemporary Human Incarnation of God. In these epics, the devotees recognized, developed devotion and served the living Human Incarnations during their times, namely Rama and Krishna respectively. The contemporary Human Incarnation of God alone is relevant to human beings on earth.


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