The Vishnu Purana (abridged)

27,616 words

The Vishnu Purana (Viṣṇu Purāṇa) is a religious Hindu text and one of the (most important) eighteen Mahapuranas. It is also known as Puranaratna ("gem of Puranas"). Presented as a dialogue between Parashara and his disciple Maitreya, the major topics discussed include creation, stories of battles fought between asuras and devas, the Avat...

The Story of Jadabharata

Many years ago there used to live a king named Bharata. He was the son of Rishabha and used to live in a place known as Shalagrama. He thought of Vishnu all the time, even in his dreams and he had given up all thought of violence.

Once Bharata had gone to bathe in a river. A deer had also come to drink water there. While the deer was drinking water, there was the terrible roar of a lion. The deer gave a frightened leap and gave an untimely birth. The baby fell into the river. The mother deer died as a result of the leap. But Bharata rescued the baby deer from the water and brought it home to his ashrama (hermitage). Every day, the king fed the baby and slowly, the deer grew bigger. It wandered around the hermitage. Sometimes it even wandered out, but returned quickly as it was frightened of tigers. Asit grew older, the deer would leave the ashrama in the mornings and return in the evenings.

Bharata grew attached to the deer and forgot everything else. He had given up his kingdom, his sons, and his friends and forgotten them all. But he could not forget the deer. If the deer was late in returning to the ashrama, he would worry that it might have been eaten up by a wolf or a tiger or a lion. He would be happy only when the deer returned. And because Bharata thought about the deer so much, he forgot to think of Vishnu.

Many years passed. Bharata died watching the deer and thinking of it. Since he thought of the deer while dying, he was born as a deer in his next life. The only difference was that he was born as a jatismara deer, that is, a deer that remembered the incidents of its past life. As a deer, Bharata left his mother and came again to Shalagrama because he remembered his old place. He lived on dry leaves and dry grass and eventually died. He was reborn as a jatismara brahmana. In this life he was truly learned, well versed in all the shastras.

Since he had attained the supreme knowledge, he saw no point in reading the Vedas or in doing work. He kept to himself and spoke little, only when he had to. His body was dirty, his clothes were filthy and he never cleaned his teeth. Because of this, people treated him badly. But since interaction with people was an obstacle to attaining supreme knowledge. Bharata kept up this pretence of beigh slightly mad. He moved so little that he came to known as Jababharata. He ate whatever was available to him. And when his father died, his brothers, nephews and friends, gave him only dirty food to eat. Since he was strong and stout, they used him in their farming work.

The sage Kapila had an ashrama on the banks of the river Ikshumati. One day, the King of Soubira wanted to go there on a planaquin to learn words of wisdom from the sage. The servant of the king looked for palanquin-bearers who would carry the palanquin free of charge and found Bharata. So Bharata bore the palanquin along with the other bearers. But he walked slowly while the other bearers walked fast. The result was that the palanquin did not move smoothly. When scolded, the other bearers naturally blamed Bharata for this difficulty.

“What is wrong?” Asked the king of Bharata, “Haven’t you borne the planquin only for a little while? How is it that you are tired? Can’t you bear a little burden? You look quite strong to me.”

Bharata’s answer was this. “Who am I and who are you? What you have seen is only my body and your body. I am not my body and nor are your your body. Our atmans or souls are what we really are. My atman is not strong or tired, nor is it carrying your palanquin upon its shoulders.”

Having said this, Bharata was quiet again. But the king got down from the palanquin and fell at his feet. He wanted to know who Bharata really was, for such words of wisdom do not come from an ordinary man. Bharata then told him the truth about the atman, which is never destroyed and takes up different bodies from one life to another. This is the jivatman. In additon, there is the paramatman, which I s Vishnu and is everywhere. There is no difference between the jivatman and the parmatman and the person who has realized this is truly wise. To think that the jivatman is different from the parmatman is to suffer from maya or illusion.

Bharata also told the king a story. Many years ago Brahma had a son known as Ribhu. Ribhu was very learned and his disciple was Nidagha, the son of Pulastya. The teacher and the pupil used to live in the banks of the river Devika, near a city known as Viranagara, but Ribhu realized that Nidagha was still not ready for the supreme knowledge. So he sent the pupil to live in the city, although he continued to live in the forest.

One day, Ribhu decided to pay Nidagha a visit to see how the disciple was getting on. After Ribhu had washed his hands and feet, Nidagha offered him food. “Please eat,” he said.

“What have you got to eat?” asked Ribhu. “Is it clean food?”

“I have rice and cerals and fruit and sweets.” Replied Nidagha.

“That is unclean food,” said the teacher. “Make me rice pudding, curds and wine.”

Nidagha asked his wife to prepare the desired food. The food was prepared and Ribhu had his fill.

“Are you content now?” asked Nidagha . “Where are you going and why did you come here?”

Ribhu replied as follows. “Those who are hungry become content on eating food. I was not hungry, so the question of my being content after eating does not arise. Why ask me a silly question? The body feels hungry, I do not. I am not the body. You asked me where I was going and why did I come here. These are meaningless questions. My atman is everywhere, it cannot go or come. I am not really what you see. Nor are you what I see. I did not care at all about what you gave me to eat. I said all that just to see what you would say. Since all food is made of the same elements, it all tastes alike. Learn this, for this is true knowledge.”

Threreupon, Nidagha bowed down before Ribhu and said that his illusions have now been destroyed.

After one thousand years had passed, Ribhu came again to Nidagha. And he found that Nidagha now lived outside the city, eating grass and straw. He didn’t mix with other people and had become frail and thin. Ribhu again gave him a lesson on true knowledge, which does not distinguish between all things and paramatman.

And Bharata said that this was the knowledge that the king should learn. The sky sometimes looks blue and sometimes white, but it is the same sky. These who suffer from illusions look upon different atmans separately. But they are truly all part of the same atman. There is nothing in the world except this atman and all of us are parts of the same atman.

This is the end of the second section of the Vishnu Purana.

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