Chapter 10 — Bhrigu’s Anger Evokes Yama Who Describes Shuka’s Many Lives

Vasishta continued:—

After the lapse of a thousand years, the great Bhrigu suspended his holy meditation, disengaged his mind from its meditation of God, and rose from his holy trance. He did not find his son lowly bending down his head before him, the son who was the leader of the army of virtues and who was the personified figure of all merits. He saw only his son’s body lying like a skeleton before him, like wretchedness or poverty personified in that shape. The skin of his body was dried by the sun and his nostrils snored like a hooping bird. The entrails of his belly sounded like dry leather-pipes with the croaking of frogs. His eye sockets were filled with new-born worms, and his rib bones had become like bars of a cage with the thin skin over them resembling a spider’s web.

The dry and white skeleton of the body resembled the desire of fruition, which bends it to the earth to undergo all the favorable and unfavorable accidents of life. The crown of the head had become as white and smooth as a Shivalinga anointed with camphor at an indu-varcha ceremony in honor of the moon. The withered head erected on a bony neck bone was like the soul supported by the body. The nose had shriveled into a dry stalk for lack of flesh, and the nose bone stood like a post dividing the two halves of the face.

10 The face, standing erect over the shoulders on both sides, was looking forward towards the womb of the empty sky where its vital breath had fled from the body. 11 The two legs, thighs, knees and arms had doubled in length and lay slackened with the fatigue of a long journey. 12 The shriveled flesh and skin of the belly, lean like a thin strip of wood, showed the emptiness inside of the ignorant.

13 Seeing the withered skeleton of his son lying like a worn-out post, Bhrigu reflected and rose from his seat. 14 At the sight of the dead body, he began to question in his mind whether it could be the lifeless carcass of his son or any other. 15 Thinking it to be the dead body of his son, he became angry at the god of death. 16 He prepared to pronounce his curse on the god of fate as vengeance for snatching his son so prematurely from him.

17 At this Yama, the lord of death and devourer of living beings, assumed his figurative form of a material body and appeared in an instant before the enraged father. 18 He appeared in armor with six arms and as many faces, accompanied by an army of his adherents and holding noose, sword and other weapons in his hands. 19 The rays of light radiating from his body gave it the appearance of a hill filled with heaps of crimson kinsuka flowers growing in mountain forests. 20 Rays of living fire flashing from his trident gave it the glare of golden ringlets fastened to the ears of all sides of the sky. 21 The breath of his host hurled down mountain ridges hanging about them like swinging cradles. 22 His dark sword flashed with somber light and darkened the disc of the sun, as if by the smoke of the final conflagration of the earth.

23 Having appeared before the great sage, who was enraged as the raging sea, he soothed him to calmness, as after a storm, by the gentle breath of his speech.

Yama speaking:—

24 The sages are acquainted with the laws of nature and know the past and future as present before them. They are never moved with a motive for anything, and they are far from being moved without a cause. 25 You sages observe the many rules of religious austerities, and we observe the endless and immutable laws of destiny. We honor you for your holiness and not from any other desire.

26 Do not defame your righteousness by your rage, nor think to do us any harm. We are spared unhurt by the flames of final dissolution and we cannot be consumed by your curses. 27 We have destroyed the spheres of the universe and devoured legions of Shivas, millions of Brahmas, and multitudes of Vishnus. Therefore, what is there that we cannot do?

28 We are appointed as devourers of all beings and you are destined to be devoured by us. This is ordained by destiny herself, and not by any act of our own will. 29 It is the nature of flame to ascend upwards and that of fluids to flow downward. It is destined for food to be eaten by its eaters, and that creation must be destroyed by us.

30 Know this form of mine to be that of the Supreme Being, whose Universal Spirit acts in various forms all over the universe. 31 To the unstained sight, there is no other agent or object here except the Supreme, although the stained sight sees many agents and objects. 32 Agency and objectivity are terms coined only by the short sighted. They disappear before the expanded view of the wise. 33 As flowers grow on trees, so are animals born on earth. Their growth and birth, and also their fall and death, are of their own spontaneity and mistakenly called their causation. 34 As the motion of the moon is caused by no casual cause, though the unwise falsely attribute a causality to it, such also is the course of death in the world: its own spontaneous nature. 35 The mind is falsely said to be the agent of all its enjoyments in life, though it is no agent of itself. It is a mistaken belief like the false conception of a serpent in the rope where there is no serpent at all.

36 Therefore, O sage, do not allow yourself to be so angry for your sorrow, but consider the course of events that befall humankind in its true light. 37 We were not moved to any act by desire of fame or influenced by pride or passion. We ourselves are subject to destiny which predominates over all our actions. 38 Knowing that the course of our conduct is subject to destiny appointed by Divine Will, the wise never allow themselves to be subject to darkness of pride or passion at our doings.

39 That we must do only our duties at all times is the rule laid down by the wise Creator. You cannot attempt to remove it by subjecting yourself to ignorance and idleness. 40 Where is that enlightened sight, that gravity and that patience of yours, that you grovel in this manner in the dark like the blind, and slide from the broad and beaten path laid open for everybody? 41 Why don’t you consider your case as the sequence of your own acts? Why do you, who are a wise man, falsely accuse me like the ignorant?

42 You know that all living beings have two bodies here, of which one is known as the intellectual or spiritual body or mind. 43 The other is the inert or physical frame that is fragile and perishable. The minute thing of the mind lasts until its liberation and is what leads all to their good or evil desires. 44 As a skillful charioteer guides his chariot with care, so this body is conducted by the intelligent mind with equal attention and fondness. 45 But an ignorant mind that is prone to evil destroys a good body, just like little children break their dolls of clay in sport.

46 The mind is called the ruler of the body (purusha), and the working of the mind is taken for the act of the man. It is bound to the earth by its desires and freed by its freedom from earthly attractions and expectations. 47 The mind is that which thinks in itself, “This is my body here, and these are the members of my body, and this my head.” 48 The mind is called life because it has the living principle in it. The mind is one and the same and identical with understanding. It becomes the individual ego by its consciousness, and so the same mind passes under various designations according to its different functions. 49 It called heart because of the body’s affections, and so it takes many other names at will. But all earthly bodies are perishable.

50 When the mind receives the light of truth it is called enlightened intellect which, being free from its thoughts relating to the body, is set to its supreme joy. 51 Thus, as you sat absorbed in meditation, the mind of your son wandered from your presence to regions far and wide in the ways of its various desires. 52 He having left this body behind him in the mountain cave of Mandara, he fled to the celestial region, like a bird flies from his nest to the open air.

53 This mind got into the city of the guardian gods and remained in a part of Nandana garden, in the happy groves of Mandara under a dwelling of parijata flowers. 54 There he thought he passed a revolution of eight cycles of the four yugas in company with Viswachi, a beautiful apsara maiden. He clung to her like a six-footed bee clings to a blooming lotus.

55 But as his strong desire led him to the happy regions of his imagination, so he had his fall from them at the end of what he had earned, like nightly dew falling from heaven. 56 He faded away in his body and all his limbs, like a flower attached to an ear or head ornament. He fell down together with his beloved one, like ripened fruit from trees. 57 Being deprived of his aerial and celestial body, he passed through the atmospheric air and was born again on earth in a human figure.

58 He became a brahmin in the land of Dasarna, then a king of the city of Kosala. He became a hunter in a great forest, then a swan on the banks of the Ganges. 59 He became a king of the solar race, then a king of the Pundras, and afterwards a missionary among the Sauras and Salwas. Next he became a demigod (vidyadhara), and finally the son of an ancient sage (muni). 60 He became a ruler in Madras, then the son of a devotee bearing the name of Vasudeva and living on the bank of Samanga.

61 Your son also has passed many other births to which he was led to by his desire. He also had to undergo some births in lower animals. 62 He repeatedly has been a hunter (kirata) in the Vindhya Hills and at Kaikatav. He was a chieftain in Sauvira and became an ass at Trigarta. 63 He grew as a bamboo tree in the land of Keralas and as a deer in the outskirts of China. He became a serpent on a palm tree and a cock on a tamala tree. 64 This son of yours had been skilled in mantras and he practiced them in the land of vidyadharas. 65 Then he became a vidyadhara magician himself and worked his jugglery of taking ornaments from women. 66 He became a favorite of females, just as the sun is dear to lotus flowers. Being as handsome as Kama, the god of love, he became a favorite among vidyadhara ladies in the land of gandharvas.

67 At the end of the kalpa age (of universal destruction), he saw the twelve suns of the zodiac shining at once before him. He was reduced to ashes by their heat, just as a grasshopper is burnt by falling on fire. 68 Finding no other world or body where he could enter, his spirit roved about in empty air like a bird soars on high without its nest. 69 After the lapse of a long time, as Brahma again awoke from his long night of repose and again commenced his creation of the world in all its various forms, 70 the wandering spirit of your son was led by its desire, as if propelled by a gust of wind, to become a brahmin again and be reborn on this earth.

71 He was born under the name of Vasudeva as the son of a brahmin. He was taught all the Sruti scriptures among the intelligent and learned men of the place. 72 In this kalpa age he became a vidyadhara again and committed himself to the performance of his tapas on the bank of Samanga, where he is still sitting in his yoga meditation.

73 Thus his desire for the varieties of worldly appearances led him to various births in the woods and forests in the womb of this earth, covered with jungles of the thorny khadira, karanja and other bushes and brambles.