Chapter 1 — The Liberation of Shukadeva: His Need for Confirmation

After Rama delivered his speech before the assembly, sage Vishwamitra, who sat before Rama, tenderly said, “Rama, you are the best of the most intelligent, and you have nothing more to learn that you have not already come to know by your own observation. You have an understanding clear like a mirror, and your questions serve to polish and reflect your understanding to others. You have a mind like that of Shuka, the son of the great Vyasa, who knowing the knowable by intuition, was yet in need of some teaching to confirm his belief.”

Rama said, “How was it that Shuka, son of the great Vyasa, did not at first rest assured of his knowledge of the knowable, but then came to be settled in his belief?”

Vishwamitra answered, “Hear me relate to you, Rama, the story of Shukadeva, whose case was exactly like yours. The narration of this story prevents future births.”

Vishwamitra speaking:—

There is the great Vyasa sitting on his seat of gold by your father’s side, swarthy in his complexion like a coal-black hill, but blazing in brilliance like the burning sun. His son named Shuka was a boy of great learning and wisdom, of a moon-like countenance, with a stature sedate as a sacrificial altar. Like you, he reflected in his mind on the vanity of worldly affairs and became equally indifferent to all its concerns. 10 It was then that this great minded youth was led by his own discriminative understanding to a long inquiry after what was true, which he found at last by his own investigation. 11 Having obtained the highest truth, he was still unsettled in his mind, and could not trust his own knowledge. 12 His mind grew indifferent to its perceptions of the transitory enjoyments of the world, and, like chataka cuckoos, thirsted only after the dew drops of heavenly bliss.

13 Once upon a time the clear sighted Shuka finding his father, sage Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, sitting quietly alone, he reverently asked him, 14 “Tell me, O sage, where does this commotion of the world arise, and how can it subside? What is its cause, how far does it extend, and where is its end?”

15 Sage Vyasa, who knew the nature of the soul, being asked this by his son, explained to him clearly all that was to be said. 16 Shuka thought that he already knew all this by his good understanding and therefore did not think much of his father’s instructions. 17 Vyasa, understanding the thoughts of his son, replied that he himself knew no better than his son about the true nature of these things, 18 but there was a king in this land named Janaka who well knew the knowledge of the knowable, and from whom Shuka could learn everything.

19 Being thus directed by his father, Shuka went to the city of Videha at the foot of Mount Sumeru, which city was under the rule of Janaka. 20 The door keeper informed the high minded Janaka of his coming, telling him that Shuka the son of Vyasa was waiting at the gate. 21 Janaka who understood that Shuka had come to learn from him, gave no heed to the news but held his silence for seven days afterwards.

22 The king then ordered Shuka to be brought to the outer compound, where he had to remain irritated in spirit for seven more days. 23 Shuka was then commanded to enter the inner apartment, where he continued a week more without seeing the king. 24 Here Janaka entertained the moon-faced Shuka with an abundance of food, perfumes and lusty maidens. 25 But neither those vexations nor these entertainments could affect the tenor of Shuka’s mind, which remained firm as a rock against the blasts of wind. 26 He remained there like the full moon, tranquil in his desires, silent and contented in his mind.

27 King Janaka, having come to know the disposition of Shuka’s mind, had him brought to his presence, where seeing the complacency of his soul, he rose up and bowed down to him. 28 Janaka said, “You have accomplished to the full all your duties in this world, and you have obtained the object of your heart’s desire to its utmost extent. What do you now desire for which you are welcome from me?”

29 Shuka said, “Tell me, my guide, what is the source of all this bustle (of worldly life), and tell me also how it may soon subside.”

30 Vishwamitra said:—

Being thus asked by Shuka, Janaka told him the same things that he had learned from the great soul that is his father. 31 Shuka then said, “All this I have come to know long before by my own intuition, and then from the speech of my father in answer to my question. 32 You sage, who are the most eloquent of all, have spoken to the same effect, and the same is found to be the true meaning of the scriptures. 33 That the world is a creation of will and loses itself with the absence of our desires, and that it is an accursed and unsubstantial world after all, are the conclusions arrived at by all sages.”

34 “Now tell me truly, O long armed prince, so that you may set my mind may be set at rest from its wandering all about the world. What do you think this world to be?”

35 Janaka replied, “There is nothing more certain, O sage, than what you know by yourself and have heard from your father. 36 There is but one undivided intelligent spirit known as the Universal Soul and nothing else. It becomes confined by its desires (mental conditioning) and becomes freed by its lack of them.”

37 “You have truly come to the knowledge of the knowable, whereby your great soul has desisted from attachment to objects of enjoyment and vision. 38 You must be a hero to have overcome your desires for the lengthening chain of attractive enjoyments while still in your early youth. What more do you want to hear?”

39 “Even your father, with all his learning in every science and his devotion to austerities, has not arrived to the state of perfection like you. 40 I am a student of Vyasa and you are his son, but by your abandonment of the taste for the enjoyments of life, you are greater than both of us. 41 You have obtained whatever is obtainable by the comprehension of your mind. You take no interest in the outer and visible world, so you are liberated from it and have nothing to doubt.”

42 Being thus advised by the magnanimous Janaka, Shuka remained silent with his mind fixed in the purely supreme object. 43 Being devoid of sorrow and fear, and released from all efforts, exertions and doubts, he went to a peaceful summit of Mount Meru to obtain his final absorption. 44 There he passed ten thousand years in a state of unalterable meditation, until at last he broke his mortal coil, and was extinguished in the Supreme Soul like a lamp without oil. 45 Thus purified from the stain of rebirth by abstention from earthly desires, the great soul Shuka sank into the holy state of the Supreme Spirit (nirvikalpa samadhi), just like a drop of water mixes with the waters or merges into the depth of the ocean.