Chapter 136 — Story of the Asura Cursed to Become a Gnat: He Becomes a Deer and a Hunter

Bhasa said:—

O lord of the earth (King Dasharata), now hear what I then said to the god of fire as I sat under the wing of his riding parrot, and the god’s answer to my question. I said, “O Lord of the sacrificial fire and sacrifice, please explain the mystery of the carcass and the accompanying events.”

The god fire replied:—

Listen, O prince, and I will explain everything that has happened about the carcass, as it is well known in all the three worlds. Know there is an eternal formless and transcendent Consciousness in the form of boundless and formless emptiness in which there are countless worlds existing as minute atoms in endless space. This intellectual void, which contains all and everything in itself, happened of its own spontaneity to be conscious of its contents in course of time. By its innate knowledge, it conceived the abstract idea of fiery particles in itself, just as you find yourself traveling in your dream by thinking of it in your state of waking. It was thus that Divine Consciousness saw particles of fire, like in the unconscious state of its dream, and like one sees lotus dust before him in his imagination.

Then, as this Consciousness reflected on the expansion of these particles of fire, it became assimilated with them. In its thought, it evolved itself into the shape of the powers and organs of sense in those particles of its body. Then it saw the sense organs as receptacles of their particular faculties. It saw the world with all its beings appearing before it as in its dream, just as we see a city in our dreaming state.

10 An asura among those living became haughty and proud of his dignity. He was vain and addicted to vanities. He had no parents or forefathers of his own. 11 Being elated with giddiness, he once entered into the holy hermitage of a sage and destroyed and defiled the sacred asylum in his anger. 12 The sage pronounced a curse upon him saying, “Because you have demolished my home with your gigantic figure, die immediately and be born as a contemptible gnat under my curse.” 13 The anger of the sage created a burning fire which immediately reduced the asura to ashes on the spot, just as a wildfire consumes woods, and as an undersea fire dries up a channel.

14 Then the asura became like air, without form or supporting body. His heart and mind became as unconscious as in a swoon. 15 His consciousness fled from him and became mixed with the ethereal air. They were hurled up and down by the course of flying winds. 16 They existed in the form of the intelligent and airy soul, which was to become the living soul that is connected to the body composed of particles of the undivided elements: earth, fire, water, and air (and space). 17 The quintessence of five elements, being joined with a particle of the intellect, creates a motion of their own accord just like the empty sky produces wind by its breath and of its own nature. 18 At last, the particle of intellect is awakened in the airy soul, just as a seed, in course of time, germinates when it contacts earth, water and air.

19 The understanding of the asura became obsessed with the thought of the sage’s curse of becoming a gnat. It brooded over thoughts about its body becoming a gnat, and the asura became a gnat, 20 a tiny, short-lived insect born in dirt by daylight and blown away by the breath of wind.

21 Rama asked, “If living animals are only creatures of our dream, as you said before, how can they be born from other sources? Please tell me, are they really born or is it otherwise?”

22 Vasishta replied:—

Rama, know that all living beings, from the great Brahma to the small animal and vegetable below, have two kinds of birth. The first is that they are all full of Brahman. The other is that they are the creatures of our errors.

23 The false but deeply rooted knowledge of the previous existence of the world, and of all creatures besides, leads to the belief of the reincarnation of beings from memories of the past. This is called the false conception of births in the visible world. 24 The other is seeing the image of Brahman in all things appearing to exist in this nonexistent and unreal world. This is called the pantheistic view of the world, and not as a production either by birth or creation. 25 Thus the gnat, produced by its delusive knowledge of the world and continuing in that same blunder, did not allow itself to see the one Brahman in all, but led to different views and attempts, as you shall hear just now.

Presumably, Bhasa continues to relate the story narrated to him by Agni, but it becomes Vasishta’s story to Rama about the unnamed sage’s story to the asura reincarnated as a hunter :—

26 It passed half a day of its lifetime whistling its faint voice among the humming gnats in the bushes of reeds and long grass. It merrily drank their juice and dews, and played and flew all about. 27 The next day it kept fluttering over a pool of mud and mire, in company with its female partner. 28 Then being tired of its swinging, it rested on a blade of grass some place. There it was trodden upon by the foot of a deer, which killed him on the spot, as if a rock had fallen upon it.

29 Now, because it died looking at the face of a deer, it was reborn in the shape and with the senses of a deer. 30 The deer was grazing in the forest when it was killed by a hunter’s arrow. As the deer saw the face of the hunter in its dying moment, it came to be born next in that same form. 31 The hunter was roaming in the forest when he happened to enter into the hermitage of a hermit, by whom he was rescued from his wickedness and was awakened to the light of truth.

32 The muni said, “O foolish man! Why did you roam so long, afflicting the innocent deer with your arrows? Why do you not rather protect them and observe the law of universal benevolence in this transitory world? 33 Life is only a breath of air in the shadow of clouds of disasters, frail as a drop of falling water. Our enjoyments are a series of clouds interspersed by fickle and flickering lightning. Youth is fleeting and its pleasures are like gliding waters. The body is as transient as a moment. Therefore, O my child, attain your happiness while in this world, and look for ways to free yourself from the bondage of the world and attain nirvana at the end.”