Chapter 1 — Introduction: Sutikshna & Agastya; Karunya & Agnivesya; Suruchi & Divine Messenger; King Arishtanemi, Indra & Valmiki

Hail the Eternal.

Om, salutation to that Reality from whom all beings proceed, by whom they are manifest, upon whom they depend, and in whom they become extinct. He is the knower, the knowledge and all that is to be known. He is the seer, the act of seeing, and all that is to be seen. He is the actor, the cause and the effect, therefore salutation to He who is all knowledge himself. Salutation to He who is supreme bliss itself, from whom flow the dews of delight both in heaven and earth, and who is the life of all.

One Sutikshna, a brahmin whose mind was full of questions, went to the hermitage of Agastya and respectfully asked the sage, “O great sage! You are informed in all the ways and truths of virtue, and know all the scriptures with certainty. I am in a great doubt, and I pray you will kindly remove it. Tell me, in your opinion, whether liberation results from a man’s acts or his knowledge or both?”

Agastya replied:—

As the birds fly in the air with both wings, so the highest state of emancipation is attained through both knowledge and acts. Neither our acts nor knowledge alone produces liberation, but both together are the means. I will recite to you an example from old traditions, a story of a brahmin named Karunya, who was learned in the Vedas in the days of old.

10 He was the son of Agnivesya and accomplished in the Vedas and all their branches. After finishing his studies with his teacher, he returned to his own home. 11 He remained a skeptic at home, reluctant and impassive to do anything. When his father Agnivesya saw his son so slack in his duties, he upbraided him for his good. 12 Agnivesya said, “My son, why do you not discharge your duties? Why are you not observing the daily rituals and the injunctions of the holy scriptures? 13 Tell me how can you succeed in anything if you remain inactive? How can you attain salvation? Tell me why you are not doing anything.”

14 Karunya replied, “The offering of daily oblations, and performance of morning and evening devotions during life, are inculcated in the Veda and law as the active duties. 15 But it is neither by acts or riches, nor by means of children that one obtains his liberation. It is solely by self-denial that the great souls taste the ambrosia (of emancipation). 16 Tell me my father! Which of these rules am I to observe? Doubtful of this I have become indifferent to acts.”

17 Agnivesya said, “Hear me, my son.” After so saying, Karunya held his silence. His father seeing him quiet, continued speaking. 18 “My son, let me tell you a story. When you have fully considered its meaning, you may do as you like.”

Agnivesya speaking:—

19 There was a lady named Suruchi, the best of the apsara nymphs, who was seated on the mountain peak of Himalaya, surrounded by peacocks. 20 Here kinnaras inflamed by love sported with their mates, and the fall of heavenly streams (Ganga and Yamuna) served to cleanse the gravest sins of men. 21 She saw a messenger of Indra making his way through the sky. Then Suruchi, this most fortunate and best of apsaras, addressed the messenger.

22 Suruchi said, “O you messenger of gods, tell me kindly from where you come and what place are you going at present?”

23 The divine messenger replied, “Well have you asked, O pretty browed maid, and I will tell you all as it is. The royal sage, King Arishtanemi, has given his realm to his son, 24 and with religious indifference to the world, has set out to the forest to practice asceticism. He is performing his austerities on the Gandha-madana Mountains. 25 I am now coming from there after discharge of my errand, and returning to Indra’s palace to report the matter.”

26 Suruchi said, “Tell me, my lord, what has taken place there? I am humbly very curious. You should not cause me the pain of anxiety.”

27 The messenger replied:—

Hear me, gentle maid. I will describe everything as it has occurred.

28 On hearing that the king was practicing the utmost rigors of asceticism in that forest, Indra, the lord of gods, asked me to take this heavenly car and proceed at once to the spot. 29 “Take this car,” said Indra, “bearing the apsaras equipped with all their musical instruments, and furnished with a band of gandharvas, siddha spiritual masters, yakshas and kinnaras. 30 Convey them,” said Indra, “with all their string instruments, flutes and drums to the woodland mount of Gandha-madana. 31 There, having placed King Arishtanemi in the car, bring him to the enjoyment of heavenly delight in this city of Amaravati, the seat of immortals.”

32 The messenger added:—

Receiving this instruction from Indra and taking the car with all its equipment, I proceeded to that mountain. 33 Having arrived at the mountain and advanced to the king’s hermitage, I delivered the orders of the great Indra to him. 34 Hearing my words, O happy lady, King Arishtanemi reluctantly spoke to me saying, “I wish to ask you something, O messenger, which I hope you will answer. 35 Tell me what good and what evil are in heaven, so that I may decide whether I want to settle there.”

36 I answered, saying, “In heaven there is ample reward for merit, conferring perfect bliss (to all); but it is the degree of merit that leads one to higher heavens. 37 By moderate virtue, one is certainly entitled to a middle station. Virtue of an inferior order leads a person to a lower position. 38 But one’s virtue is destroyed by impatience at the excellence of his betters, by haughtiness to his equals, and by joy at the inferiority of others. 39 When one’s virtue is thus destroyed, he must enter the abode of mortals. These and the like are the effects of good and evil in heaven.”

40 Hearing this, O good maiden, King Arishtanemi answered, “O divine messenger, I do not like heaven that has such conditions. 41 Henceforth I will practice the most austere form of asceticism and abandon this my unhallowed human frame in the same way as a snake abandons his time-worn skin. 42 Be pleased, O messenger of the gods, to return with your heavenly car to the presence of the great Indra from where you came. Travel in good fortune.”

43 The celestial messenger resumed:—

Thus being bid, I went, O good lady, to the presence of Indra. When I reported the matter, Indra was struck with great wonder. 44 Then the great Indra again spoke to me with a sweet voice saying, “My messenger, go again to that king and take him to the hermitage of Valmiki. 45 Valmiki is well acquainted with every truth. Tell him my errand, which is to instruct the dispassionate king, saying, 46 ‘O great sage! Plead with this king who is humble and dispassionate and dislikes the enjoyments of heaven 47 so that this king, who is aggrieved at the miseries of the world, may gradually come to attain his liberation.’ ”

48 I went and explained my mission to the royal hermit, then took him to sage Valmiki. I delivered great Indra’s charge so that the king may practice for his final liberation. 49 Sage Valmiki welcomed the king with gentle inquiries regarding his welfare. 50 The king replied, “O great sage, you are informed in all the truths of religion. You are the greatest of those who know the knowable. The very sight of you has given me all that I desired, and therein is all my welfare. 51 Great sage, I wish to learn from you how I may escape the miseries that arise from one’s connection with this world. I hope you will reveal this to me without reserve.”

52 Valmiki said, “Hear me O king! I will relate the entire Ramayana to you. By hearing and understanding you will be saved even while in this life. 53 O great and intelligent king, listen as I repeat the sacred conversation that took place between Rama and Vasishta relating the way of liberation, which I well know from my own knowledge.”

54 The king replied, “O best of sages, tell me precisely who and what this Rama was. What was his bondage and how did he become free of it?”

55 Valmiki said, “Vishnu was cursed to take the form of a prince with an assumed ignorance like that of men of little understanding.”

56 The king said, “Tell me who was the author of that curse, and how it could befall Rama, who was the personification of consciousness and joy, and the very image of wisdom.”

57 Valmiki replied:—

Sanatkumara, who was devoid of desires, had been residing at the abode of Brahma, to which Vishnu, the lord of the three worlds, was a visitor from Vaikuntha. 58 The lord god Vishnu was welcomed by all the inhabitants of the Brahmaloka as well as by Brahma himself, except by Sanatkumara. The god Vishnu addressed Sanatkumara, 59 “Sanatkumara, it is ignorance that makes you forsake your desires for fear of rebirth, therefore you must be born under the name of Sara-janma to be troubled with desires.”

60 In return, Sanatkumara denounced Vishnu by saying, “Even as all discerning as you are, you shall have to sacrifice your omniscience for some time, and live as an ignorant mortal.”

61 There was another curse pronounced upon Vishnu by the sage Bhrigu who, seeing his wife killed by Vishnu, became incensed with anger and said, “Vishnu you shall have also to be deprived of your wife.” 62 Vishnu was again cursed by Vrinda to be deprived of his wife, on account of his beguiling her (in the form of her husband). 63 Again, when the pregnant wife of Devadatta was killed from fear on seeing the man-lion figure of Vishnu (Narasimha), 64 the leonine Vishnu was denounced by the husband who was sorely afflicted at the loss of his wife.

65 Thus cursed by Bhrigu, Sanatkumara, Devadatta and Vrinda, Vishnu was obliged to be born on this earth in the figure of a human being. 66 I have explained to you the causes of all the curses passed on Vishnu. Now I will tell you other things, and you will have to listen carefully.