Dualities which give meaning to each other...
I remember reading (devouring is more like it) the story of the Mahabharata from my Amar Chitra Katha comics. The same Mahabharata which inspired in me the road ahead for Sai devotees, is also inspiring this hub on the so called ‘God-critics’. My heart is able to instantly relate the Lord’s leelas or sport in the Dwapara age with those in the Kali age! Krishna and Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) remind you so much of each other! The episode of the Chedi king, Shishupala was the most enlightening in understanding the truth that, even the so called ‘critics’ and ‘God-bashers’ are a part of the cosmic plan.
It is a very interesting and uplifting story apart from being enlightening. Before that, just one thought. We appreciate pleasure and joy only because of pain and sorrow. Otherwise, there is nothing like a reference point! We appreciate light only because of darkness. Darkness as such does not exist - it is only the absence of light. So too, everything that we consider ‘God’ and ‘anti-God’ are the dualities that exist and give meaning to each other. God cannot be appreciated without the ‘anti-God’. Now, let us proceed to the story. Even as you read the story, every devotee will be able to empathise with the Pandavas and Lord Krishna reminds one so strongly of one’s dear Lord!
The senior-most among the Pandavas, Yudhishtra, has just completed the Rajasooya yagna ( a sacrificial undertaking where a king conquers all the other kings and unifies the whole world into a single kingdom). At the end of the ceremony, the ruler is to offer worship to all the other kings and sages in the kingdom, an act which symbolises that he is a ruler merely as an instrument. So he seeks everyone’s blessings. The Pandava brothers unanimously decide to offer the first libations to their Lord Krishna.
Even as they do so, the Chedi king, Shishupala (the son of Krishna’s aunt and thus His cousin), rises. He has been jealous of Krishna all the while. And this jealousy is seen as he speaks out in anger,
“Oh Pandavas! This is a wilful affront of the honor of kings. And I cannot be party to this violation of Dharma (righteousness). If you have chosen to revere Krishna first because he is an elder, then why do you ignore Vasudeva, Krishna’s father? If you choose him as a well-wisher, then what about Drupada, your father-in-law? If you consider him as your teacher, then why do you neglect the great Drona who has taught all of you all your skills? If you think of him as a godly man, then how can you insult the great Ved Vyasa (son of Brahma and the composer of the Mahabharata itself)? “
How can the Pandavas tell Shishupala that for them, Krishna is God and hence, beyond all these worldly ties and honors?
And then, Shishupala proceeds to condemn Lord Krishna in the most vile and virulent manner. And this too is common experience of every devotee of the Lord who has faced the wrath of people who criticize and condemn without the least sensitivity!
In fact, I remember when I was a teenager, when any of my friends teased me about Swami and used foul language to hurt me, I would retaliate by hurling back the same abuses to their parents! That would anger them and I would explain that the ‘person’ whom they are hurling abuses at is more than a parent, friend and guide put together.
“He is my God!”, I would say, “And so please do not hurt me again for you have now experienced the irritation and anger that I have experienced.”
Sometimes it would lead to fistfights. I have many scars from such fights and have left behind even greater scars on those that criticized!
As I was reading the story, all these feelings welled up within me. Flashes of nostalgia were enough to make my blood hot. I thought it would be best to proceed with the story.
The reactions of the various personages in the assembly varied.
Yudhisthira, the eldest and humblest among the Pandava brothers, goes to Shishupala and speaks with great respect,
“Lord among men! Do not speak thus in anger. Behold the many kings here who are much older than you. They approve the worship of Krishna. So, it is not right to hurt so many people’s feelings thus with your outburst.”
The grandsire, the great and mighty Bheeshma, rises and thunders,
“I do not see in this assembly any person who is not subdued by the glory of Krishna. Therefore, I shall bow to Krishna alone and none other! Krishna is supreme in might and wisdom and I care nothing about what others feel in this regard.”
The youngest among the Pandavas, Sahadeva has quite another reaction. He shouts,
“I shall trample upon the heads of those that cannot tolerate my worship of Krishna! I shall fight such people unto death if necessary!”
The other reactions all lie somewhere in between these in the spectrum. But none of these convinces Shishupala who refuses to accede. One can take a horse to the water, but it is the horse that must drink. One can offer scientific, emotional and spiritual explanations but the critic must have the willingness to accept! Now, Shishupala speaks in a vein that nobody ever imagines. He presents all the glorious feats of Krishna - feats for which he is worshipped - in a light that only the crooked in the mind can think about. He says,
“People worship you for killing demons. They were nothing but horses, bulls and birds. What is so great in that. The love of the people made a mountain of a molehill. You raised an anthill and people say you lifted the Govardhana mountain! You killed Kamsa, the king of the place where you grew. Is that not disloyalty to the king? Shame on you. You do not have the might to be a man nor the modesty to be a woman. You are a eunuch.”
Hearing this, another reaction arose, this time in Bheema - the second Pandava brother. He rushed forward without speech to tear open Shishupala. He was restrained.
Even as I read these reactions, I was reminded of my own reactions to criticism of God at various points in my life. I was also reminded of the reactions of different people.
But wait! What was the reaction of Lord Krishna to all this?? Krishna just sat on the throne, smiling. He seemed the least perturbed or affected. For Him, it was all part of the Divine play.
When someone criticizes our beloved God - Jesus, Rama, Sai or the Great Spirit - we never spare a thought to think about how the Gods would have responded. Their response should actually form the basis of our response too. Isn’t it?
What was the reason for such a reaction from Lord Krishna? It was because he knew the past - the story of Shishupala’s birth.
Shishupala was born with three eyes, four arms and the wail which sounded like the braying of a donkey. When the parents decided to abandon the child beholding the terrible appearance, an incorporeal voice was heard which said,
“The child will not die. It is meant to be killed only by its destroyer who has already taken birth.”
The terrified mother prayed to know the slayer of her son when the voice again boomed,
“He will be slain by him on whose lap his extra appendages fall off and third eye disappears.”
That happened when Lord Krishna had picked up the child. Fearing for her son, the mother, Krishna’s aunt prayed,
“Krishna! Promise me you will not get angry on Shishupala and forgive him even when he angers you to the level of killing him.”
“Even when Shishupala angers me to the point of slaying him, I shall forgive him a hundred times.”
Thus, the Lord only has a smile on his face. Feeling protected by the promise, Shishupala goes on and on, unhindered. The whole court is angry and want to kill Shishupala but since Krishna does nothing, they do nothing.
But Shishupala is cunning. He stops exactly at a hundred abuses. Krishna smiles and says,
“I have borne all these insults out of concern for my father’s sister. Let us ignore Shishupala and go about the proceedings.”
“In forgiving the vile-tongued one as Shishupala, Krishna shows his greatness and love. Even Shishupala’s criticism is Krishna’s will. The king of Chedi, Shishupala, has no will of his own.”
Shishupala is unable to bear this anymore. His ego is hurt and his lashing tongue continues. But alas! The hundred insults are up and Lord Krishna instantly beheads him with the discus.
What happens next is beautiful.
The Lord walks up to the corpse and pay His respects. The soul of Shishupala rises like a ball of light and merges into Krishna! Krishna repays the foul words the Shishupala showered with the greatest gift a devotee seeks - merger in Him!
Ah! How much I remembered Swami at this time. He showers love on everyone - irrespective of whether they love Him or hate Him. The devotee gets agitated on seeing the Lord criticized but the Lord does not - because He is aware of the past, present and future. Everyone is but a character in the grand drama called life for which He is the director.
The ‘devotee’ and ‘critic’ both have their roles. The final result is same for both - merger in the Lord. For, think about it, often the ‘critic’ thinks about God more intensely and passionately compared to the ‘devotee’!
Swami says, “If you need me, you deserve me.”
Those that fail to recognize God and turn away and criticize Him - don’t they need Him the most? So, I resolved, the next time someone condemns and criticizes my God, I won’t get angry. I shall sympathise with the ‘critic’ and pray for him/her. Just as Krishna showered the ultimate love to Shishupala and just as Swami showers His love on all, I too shall try to send my love to the ‘critic’. And if I cannot do that, the least I can do is just ignore him/her just like everyone in the king’s court that day ignored Shishupala. The Lord will take care!
If you enjoyed reading this article, please have a look at these too:
4. Thus Spake Lord Sai - 1 (Heart to heart with students on their good fortune.)
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Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on June 03, 2020:
Point well taken. I enjoyed the comic pictures as well.
Sometimes I fall to criticism by so-called Christians, who, because I have mentioned something about astrology or the name of God other than Jesus (whose Hebrew name was actually Yeshua), I am told that I am following false prophets. I do not feel anger toward these people, but sometimes can feel the energy become less vital at my heart. Yes, there is one God, but so much diversity in that one. People living in duality are the only ones who judge others. When one is enlightened, there is the realization that everything is but a reflection of that one light.
Bharad on September 17, 2015:
Sairam Brother, beautiful narration. Just one small comment - swami has told that Krishna actually threw a plate which came like a chakra to cut shishupalas head :-) I forgot the source or date when Swami quoted this story but I clearly remember the story
Uma on June 17, 2014:
Amazing write ups Aravind. Thank you. You are bringing Swami deeper into our lives. Please continue to post write ups/ experiences as I love to read your posts before going to sleep at night. Brings such solace and joy! May Sai bless you!
Aruna Sai on November 17, 2012:
By Swami's Grace since childhood this has been my reaction always with people who criticize or talk ill of God and anybody.
Sometimes inspite of ignoring, moving away and wishing well for the other person who does this, they continue to come behind and keep insulting or bragging about the same thing and I just pray to Swami to grant me that level of tolerance not to react in any circumstance whatsoever.
adarsh on November 16, 2012:
swami has said that krishna threw the agra tambula plate which transformed as chakra slaying shishupala
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 24, 2012:
@ Dominicanjoe27 - :)
Perfect - one reaps what one sows!
@ Anush - I too totally agree with you... :) I feel the Mahabharata is the most exciting of them all.... I only wish that it is made into a movie with the picture quality like some of the Hollywood blockbusters - Lord of the Rings for example. It can then be made into a 50-parts movie and each one will be gripping... Hope someone gets the idea... :)
Anush on July 17, 2012:
only Swami knows how many dozens of times I have read, heard, narrated, quoted this anecdote, but it never ceases to remain fresh. I find is a subtle beauty in this story. Shishupala's hatred for Krishna was so intense that he constanly thought of Him... This incessant 'Vishnu smaranam' led to his becoming one with Krishna at the end. Moreover, Krishna is Gunaatheeta... beyond all attributes. It is our naivete that makes us believe we praise or insult God. As we have observed with Bhagawan, Newton's laws don't work, 'Every action has only ONE reaction- LOVE!'
And the Mahabharata is such a timeless epic... It is actually a part of our course, here in IIM-A! You did compare it to a thriller... I disagree with you. I am a voracious reader and have yet to come across any book (fiction or non-fiction) which is as exciting as the Mahabharata!
Madhavi Alapaty on July 05, 2012:
Beautiful..simply marvelous in putting your thoughs and mixing with the situation..it reminded me of the scene (the whole) from the BR Chopra's Mahabharatha. we watch these stories in our busy life, but we really don't get the subtle meanings from those scenes. After reading anything a snippet, story, real story about SWAMI, all these scenes come in front of me and gives the inner meanings. I believe it is a way for me to get these messages from our beloved LORD but keep remembering these are the difficult things when i encounter a situation..But it is true..when you hear bad or not likable things..it is always best to keep calm and think about SWAMI and try to remember what will SWAMI do in this kind of situation. I like the comment where it said..along with ears, GOD gave us two legs to walk away from such things..I need to remember that. Thanks again.
poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on July 04, 2012:
I remember that from prof Kasturi'a write up.. For some reason I was thinking "Ghanta Narayana"...:D
Did you happen to see that during your trip to North India recently?
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on July 04, 2012:
@ Poornima Srinath -
That is a reference to Ghantakarana. According to the myth, the demon wore bell earrings in order to drown out the name of the god Vishnu with their jingling. He was a devotee of Shiva however! So, he was told that he would get redemption only when he became a guard at the temple of Vishnu!!
Talk about karma...
He stands today at the exit door of the Badrinath temple...
poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on July 04, 2012:
Swami has told one such a chinna katha to us..don't remember the name of the character ..the name will have "Ganta" ..He will have a bell and every time he hears the name of the lord he will ring the bell...he would be more alertly waiting not to miss to ring the bell...such aversion for hearing the name of Lord!
One of my brothers is dead against Swami along with him my two other cousins would join and start teasing Swami. I had to fight for a place for Swami until I got married..lol...nostalgia for me too!!!
That's swami's way of testing the nail's stability....while practising the values taught by Him..
poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on July 03, 2012:
Here I am landed on the topic about which I commented in your previous hub. :) This requires repeated reading and would comment again once I assimilate the contents well...
Shruti on June 30, 2012:
An Impressed Reader on June 28, 2012:
And you are really tempting me to buy Amar Chitra Katha :)
Mahabharatha is my favorite epic .. As a child I read C.Rajagopalachari's book and really loved it ..
Mahabharatha narrated from a particular character's perspective also proves to be a very interesting and insightful read .. Just like you have put in your ruminations along with the actual story, the authors would have brought out such wonderful interpretations..
Someday if you get a chance, try reading 'Palace of Illusions' by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and 'Yajnyaseni' by Prathiba Ray ..
Both the books are Mahabaratha retold from Draupathi's perspective.. They beautifully convey the futility of war, Draupathi's devotion for Krishna amongst many other soul stirring insights..
An Impressed Reader on June 28, 2012:
Nice post brother .. Food for thought ..
I have always felt extremism in anything is not good..
Maybe we can adore God to the extreme but our conduct in the outside world should not get affected by our extreme adoration..It should not cloud our reasoning and drive us out of our senses while we still live a worldly life. Our behaviour in the outside world should be in line with the time, place and circumstances.. This is just my humble opinion..
Like you rightly said towards the end of your post, if someone is immature enough to censure what we believe in, we should only feel sorry for them and pray for their betterment.. Dharmaraja's reaction in the above situation was the ideal one ..
Am reminded of something that I read in a book .. It seems a person once told Swami that his companions were censuring Swami so badly that he wished he did not have ears .. Swami in his usual calm manner replies that not only has he been given ears to hear but also two legs that can carry him away from that place!
We should all realise that the foremost quality of our Lord beyond all the grandeur and miracles is the pristine calmness and equanimity .. If we cannot imbibe at least a speck of that, there will be no point in having known him and experienced him ..
A Sai Devotee on June 28, 2012:
This episode has another beautiful side to it.Lord Krishna very subtley coveys a potenet lesson.The actual version of Shishupala's insult to Bheeshma goes thus".......O Ye foolish Old One,Dare not to speak against this monarch....lest shall I slit your tongue into hundred pieces ". It is at this point thatKrishna gets infruiated and throws the silver plate that as kept by His side as a token of Agra Tamboolam.This slays Shishupala.As long as Shishupala insulted Krishna,he was silent and remained unconcered.But the minute he turnd to Bheeshma(his devotee) he apparently looses temper.This has been the quintessential lesson in Krishna Avatara.Same people who insulted Krishna,troubled even Droupadi,Panadavas,Bheeshma.As long as they hurled insults at Him he remainde unconcerened.The daya they chose to turn evil eye towards his devotees Krishna became instrumental in their downfall.At a cosmic level He stands beyond revenge and anger..but did He not saya in Geeta,"I merely act to set an example"...
Aarthi on June 28, 2012:
Barru, this is simply amazing! It is only God who can offer the same 'merger' to both a devotee as well as a critic. Both critics and devotees are part of Swami's mega plan in this stage called life. He alone knows the past, present and future of every person -- we don't. So, it's best that we don't judge anybody for what they are doing. We can ignore them or try to send love to them.
I was moved reading about "Sometimes it would lead to fistfights. I have many scars from such fights" You fought for God, Aravind. That's enough. You're a truly blessed child of Swami. :)
Thanks for this really beautiful post. Will share with many!
Ganesh on June 28, 2012:
only prayers for souls to realise God & Divinity at the earliest....
vaishnavi rao on June 28, 2012:
anna beautiful, thanks for writing it! many of us faced such embarrassing situation when Swami gave up HIS mortal coil. and many tv channels irrespective of what they were showing, they were all lietrally aimed at defaming our LORD's name. they just don't mind hurting millions of for whim HE is everything, He is just not swami, something more than that, HE is our Father, our beloved mother who takes care of us. HE knows us and HE gives us more than what we deserve. I was too upset by all this scenario by the media. for almost months none watched tv in our family. i don't understand as to why people just don't mind hurting others feelings! sorry anna i just poured my heart out!
elvis from Bronx NY on June 28, 2012:
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. A God basher will reap what he sows he is not hurting God just himself. To not know God is to be a fool one must study the Bible in order to understand God and how he works if not you do not know God and therefore are lost.