Chapter 98 — Story of the Origin of the Heart; Deluded Men Punishing Themselves in the Desert

Vasishta speaking:—

Whatever may be the origin and nature of the human heart (which some take to be the mind), it should be always inquired into if seeking one’s own liberation.

The heart fixed in the Supreme becomes purified of its worldly desires and attachments. Then, O Rama, it perceives in itself that soul which transcends all imaginations of the mind. The province of the heart is to secure the stillness of the world in itself. It lies in the power of the heart either to become trapped or get its freedom from the desires and troubles of the world.

On this subject there hangs a curious tale relating the legend of the heart. Brahma himself told me the story a long ago, which I will now share it with you, Rama, if you will listen with attention.

There is a long, open and dreary desert named Ramatavi that was quite still and solitary and without an inhabitant. It was so vast that a pace in it was equal to a league. In it stood a man of a terrific and gigantic figure, with a sorrowful face and troubled mind, having a thousand arms and a thousand eyes. He held many clubs and maces in his many arms, and he was using them to strike his own back and breast, then running away in this direction and that. Having struck himself fast and hard with his own hands, he fled a hundred leagues for fear of someone laying a hold of him. Thus striking and crying and fleeing, he became tired and spent and lank in his legs and arms.

10 He fell flat with his languid limbs in a large blind pit, amidst the deep gloom of a dark night and in the depth of a dire dark cave. 11 After a long time, he scrambled out of the pit with difficulty, and again continued as before, running away and striking himself with his own hands. 12 He ran a long way until at last he fell upon a thorny thicket of karanja plants that caught him tightly in its brambles, like a moth or grasshopper caught in a flame. 13 With much difficulty, he extricated himself from the prickles of the karanja thickets and began to beat himself as before, and run in his wonted course as usual.

14 Having gone a great way off from that place, he arrived at a grove of plantain trees under cooling moonbeams, where he sat for a while with a smiling face. 15 Then he left the plantain grove and went running and beating himself in his usual way. 16 Going again a great way in his hurry, and being exhausted in all his limbs and his whole body, he fell down again in a great and darksome ditch. 17 Rising from the ditch, he entered a plantain forest, and coming out from that spot, he fell into another ditch, then in another karanja thicket. 18 Thus he was falling into one ditch after rising from thorny bushes, and repeatedly beating himself and crying in secret.

19 I saw him going on in this way for a long time, then with all my force, I rushed forward and stopped him. 20 I asked, “Who are you, sage, and why do you act in this manner? What business have you in this place, and why do you wail and trouble yourself for nothing?”

21 O Rama, he answered me saying, “I am nobody, O sage! Nor am I doing any such thing as you are saying. 22 You have stricken me here and you are my greatest enemy. You have seen me here and you persecute me, both to my great sorrow and delight.” 23 Saying so, he looked sorrowfully at his bruised body and limbs, then cried aloud and wept a flood of tears that fell like a shower of rain on the forest ground. 24 After a short while he ceased weeping, then looking at his limbs, he laughed and cried aloud in his joy. 25 After his laughter and loud shouts were over, hear, O Rama, what the man next did before me.

He began to tear off and separate the members of his big body, and cast them away on all sides. 26 He first let his big head fall, then his arms, and afterwards his breast and his belly also. 27 Thus the man, having cut off the parts of his body one after another, was now ready to remove himself elsewhere with only his legs, by the decree of his destiny.

28 After he had gone, another man appeared to my sight. He had the same form and figure as the previous one, and striking his own body like the other. 29 He kept running with his big legs and outstretched stout arms until he fell into the pit, from where he rose again and resumed his flight as before. 30 He fell into a pond, then rose and ran with his body wringing with pain. He fell again in hidden caves, then moved to the cooling shade of forest trees. 31 For some time, and to my horror and surprise, I watched him now ailing, now regaling, and now torturing himself with his own hands. 32 I stopped him and asked what he was doing, to which he answered by returning to crying and laughter by turns. 33 Finding at last his body and limbs losing their strength, he thought upon the power of destiny and the state of human lot, and was prepared to depart.

34 I saw yet another following him on the same desert path. He also had been flying and torturing himself in the same way as the others before him. 35 He fell into the same dark pit in his flight. I stood there for some time watching his sad and fearful plight. 36 Finding after a long time that this wretched man was not climbing out of the pit, I advanced to help him up when I saw another man following his footsteps. 37 Seeing him to be of the same form and hastening to his impending fall in the doleful pit, I ran to stop him with the same question I had asked the others before. 38 But, O lotus-eyed Rama, the man paid no heed to my question and only said, “You must be a fool to know nothing of me. 39 You wicked brahmin!” he said to me, then went on in his course. I kept wandering in that dreadful desert in my own way.

40 I saw many such men coming one after the other to their unavoidable ruin. Though I addressed each and every one of them, yet they softly glided away by me, like phantoms in a dream. 41 Some of them gave no heed to what I said, like a man pays no attention to a dead body. Some among the pit-fallen had the good fortune of rising again. 42 Some were unable to get out of the plantain grove for a long while, and others were lost forever in the thorns and thistles of karanja thickets. 43 There were some pious persons among them who had no place for their homes, even though that great desert was so very extensive, as I have told you already.

44 This vast desert still exists, together with these sorts of men in it. That place is well known to you, Rama, as the common range of mankind. Do you remember it now, with all the culture of your mind from your early youth? 45 O that dreadful desert is this world, filled with thorns and dangers on all sides. It is a dark desert amid a thick spread darkness. Nobody who comes here finds peace and quiet in his heart except those who have acquired divine knowledge, which makes it a rose garden to them.