Tuesday 24 January 2012

Cleaning before Viewing

Today I happened to come across one of my all-time favourite books while cleaning my library. It is a simple collection of stories of some of the greatest sages of the Himalayan lineage. From Vashisht to Madhusudana Saraswati, the book essays some key stories from the lives of each sage and I often turn to it when I need strength or am in need of clarity. 

The lives of the sages, the great masters has always fascinated me. I have often wondered about what it took for ordinary people (seemingly so) to develop superhuman abilities and strength, and to me nobody portrays this better than the Himalayan sages and masters. They started out like us, full of fears, apprehensions, prejudices and weaknesses and then rose to overcome all of it to become a "Seer" one who sees and lives the Truth. Their examples paved the way for many who came after them. Some had loftier ambitions while some just wanted to deal and come to terms with the many struggles that one faces in everyday life.

I, happen to be amongst the latter. While the loftier ambitions have tempted me many a time, I often found myself entangled in the challenges of every day life, unable to proceed on to loftier ambitions. However, each time I struggle with a weakness or a conflict I return to the stories of the Sages, wondering how they had responded to the many challenges that were thrown at them. Desperate to find a common ground, a common thread, that I can hold on to and find an answer to some, if not all, the questions that plague me I read and re-read the stories of these ancient Sages that remain a mystery to so many of us even today.

I am almost constantly drawn to the story of the mighty Parshurama each time I face one of my weaknesses. Parshurama is known to be the most skilled warrior there ever was. He had obtained and mastered the knowledge of every form of warfare known to mankind, which is why, all warriors, before going into battle, sought his blessing. Besides being a skilled warrior, he had also received the highest spiritual education from his father, who himself was a known and respected Sage. Parshurama, was also known to be a kind and loving son, who worshipped his parents as God. One day, a greedy king visiting the ashram of Parshurama's father asked for the Sage's wish-fulfilling cow to be handed over to him, as everything within his kingdom, by law, was owned by him. Upon being refused by the Sage, the King ordered both the Sage and his wife to be killed. 
Parshurama, upon seeing the corpses of his beloved parents, flew into a rage and stormed the king's palace, killing him, his entire family, and all his subjects. When he returned to his father's ashram, he was filled with guilt at his actions, knowing fully well that his spiritual education did not permit the killing of another human being. Saddened and tormented, he took over the reins of running his father's ashram and returned to his spiritual practices to overcome his pain and guilt. A few years later, news reached him that some of the King's relatives had escaped to a distant kingdom, and this angered Parshurama to such a great extent that he stormed their palace and killed each  one of them. Once again, when he returned to the ashram, he was filled with guilt and remorse at his actions and fell at his teacher's feet, asking why, he was taken over by such rage and felt unable to control himself. Once again, his teacher consoled him and asked him to stay focussed on his spiritual practices. 

A few years later, word got to him that a few of the deceased King's subjects had escaped to a distant land where they had begun life anew. Once again, filled by rage and a need for revenge, Parshurama rode out alone and killed all of them. This continued twenty-one times. Each time, Parshurama was overcome by the need for revenge and each time he would be overtaken by guilt and despondency soon after. Finally, his teacher sent him out to the great sage Dattatreya, telling Parshurama that if there was anyone who could help him, it was Dattatreya. 
Eager to overcome his weaknesses, that he realized, had now got a firm grip on him, Parshurama rode out to meet Dattatreya. Dattareya welcomed Parshurama and told him that he was now ready to finally confront his weaknesses and assigned him to an intense, long practice in the forest. Parshurama grateful to have found a true Guru, persisted with his practices and after many long years of sadhana (spiritual practice) overcame his weaknesses
and became a 'Master' (one who has mastered his emotions and mind) and is looked up to and revered even today.

Parshurama's story has been an inspiration for many. His struggles with his anger and his need to hit back feel so real to me. We encounter it every day of our lives. And I can vouch for this. As also, for the intense remorse that overtakes me after having hit back at someone, knowing fully well how unnecessary it actually is. Sometimes, my weaknesses feel like a web that I can't free myself from but Parshurama's story gives me hope. And faith. Faith that if he could do it, I can do it too. 

I am also struck by how the Gurus assigned their students to intense practices in the middle of nowhere (in order to remove all distractions and temptations), so that they could engage in deep introspection and sadhana, developing their internal strength to counter what the external world threw at them. It seems they understood, that one can't fight a war with half of one's strength. Hence, students were advised to retire, rebuild their strength through intense practices and then return to the world. I like to think of it as Debugging and Rebooting your internal system. You withdraw into your own space for a while, introspect, overcome and then come back into the world, armed with your internal strength to face what comes your way. Such an intelligent way to respond to Life ! We all need that time to withdraw and we should give ourselves that. There's no need to retire to a cave, just sit your room, or in front of your altar, close your eyes and try to go within. Perform a 'system scan' and see what comes up. Then face what you see and work at overcoming it. This is how the examples of the perennial Sages can be brought to life in the twenty-first century. And given our stressful lives, I think we are in desperate need to retire and withdraw to our own place to reorganize our mind, our emotions, just so they work positively for us and not makes us their slaves. 

Our mind, our emotions and our body were given to us to experience this world. And they can either help us enjoy it or make us abhor it. Retiring to our own space and going within, especially when we feel broken or despondent, enables us to clean our instruments of perception -- the mind, emotions and the body.

So why is it so important to clean our instruments of perception? Imagine putting on a pair of spectacles that has a layer of dust on it. What would you perceive, if anything at all, through such an instrument of perception ? Wouldn't you spontaneously pull out a piece of cloth and wipe it clean ? Why ? Simply because you want to perceive correctly. Yet we pay such little attention to our internal tools of perception. Not realizing the value of cleaning them, or understanding how they affect our 'worldview' and our life at large.

If you want to see what lies within you and realize all that you can become, you have to clean the tools that were given to you -- the mind, the emotions, the body. The process of cleansing will help you develop clarity of thought and purity of heart -- both of which enabled the Sages to become conduits for the knowledge that was revealed to them -- both about themselves and the world they lived in. And armed with clarity of thought and purity of heart, they went on achieve superhuman strength and the ability to influence the world. 
Parshurama is simply an example, and who knows maybe even a myth. A myth that can definitely help us achieve our potential and realize our goals, should we decide to embrace it and apply its lessons in our everyday life. 

So each time you feel lost or despondent, don't lose heart. Just think of Parshurama and take some time off to go within. Face your demons and confront your weaknesses. Don't become their slave and live a life of fruitlessness. Use the gifts that were given to you to achieve all that you can. It will take herculean strength, but in the end, it will all be worth it. Just like it was for Parshurama.  


  1. Kyaa baat hai Aditi. Thank you for reminding that every body is Parsh - U - Rama.

  2. A very inspiring note :) Let us all find the Parshuram of action within and surrender to the wisdom of Guru Dattatreya inside all of us. Thank you for motivating us. keep up the good work.

  3. Very inspiring post. If I ever get a spiritual name it should probably be Parshurama ;-). I just spent 4 month at the Bihar School of Yoga and all my demonds came out, i felt like a puppet of my negative emotions, fully aware of my negative behavior but unable to do anything. Yeah, many times I felt discouraged, I mean after so much Sadhana I still wasn't able to do much, it felt like all my efforts have been fruitless. Of course that's not the case. Your writing motivates me to keep working on myself. Thank you!

  4. Thanks Aditi, an excellent reminder to "clean" from the inside. Perhaps a timely reminder as I'm considering a 10 day silent retreat which really scares me but I feel it is something I need to do. Om Om x