Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Lessons in humility

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"It's good to be proud, it's bad to be vain"

There are times when arrogance creeps into our minds and hearts, when we begin to think that we are the greatest and none come close to us. And this could be due to your qualities - be it wealth, beauty, talent, popularity or intellect. But what we fail to understand is that there's always someone better right around the corner. If you think you are rich, there's someone richer... And even if you are the richest, how long will you be like that? For, like Ozymandias and his fate, this too shall pass. Both good and bad are passing phases in the eternally volatile time. Let's read a couple of short stories and pick some nice pearls of wisdom along the way.

Bhima humbled
Bhima was the strongest among the Pandavas and indeed one of the most powerful warriors. He could easily overpower anyone without breaking a sweat. And as is the theme of this post, he had grown quite arrogant. One day, while the Pandavas (who were in exile) were walking through the jungle, they came across a sleeping monkey whose tail was in the way of the Pandavas. Bhima shouted - "You, monkey! Get your tail out of our way so we can pass" But there was no response. "You insolent monkey! How dare you! Do you know whom I am? Get your tail out of my path so that I can pass through" roared Bhima. The old monkey said - "Dear sir, I am an old monkey. I don't have the energy to move my tail. Why don't you move it aside yourself?" Bhima looked flustered and went ahead in a huff. He tried to lift the tail with one hand, but he couldn't move it by even an inch. The perplexed warrior tried with both hands but in vain. Naturally he was surprised. He then attempted to move it with all his might, grunting and panting but he found that while all his energy was merely getting drained, the tail couldn't even be budged.

The mighty Vanara was none other than Hanuman. He then stood up and revealed himself to the Pandavas. Hanuman incidentally is Bhima's half brother (Both are sons of Vayu). Bhima was humbled in this way - and Hanuman agreed to be on the side of the Pandavas (not as a warrior, but in spirit) and thus the flag on Arjuna's chariot is Hanuman.

Ravana humbled
Ravana was a very powerful emperor who had defeated even Indra. (Incidentally so had his son, hence his nickname was Indrajit) Ravana however was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Once he went to the base of Mount Kailasa to pray to Shiva, but felt that travelling all the way from Lanka to Kailasa was too tiresome to do regularly. Thus he thought - why not take the Kailasa back to Lanka? He thus proceeded to pick up the mountain. The entire mountain began to tremble, the animals and birds were frightened. Even Parvati, Shiva's consort began to be scared and asked the Lord to make it stop. Shiva merely pressed his big toe to the ground and a loud scream was heard, as the mountain came crushing on his hands. Ravana then begged Shiva for mercy and was forgiven.

In another story, Ravana attempts to insult Vali, the mighty Vanara by holding his tail. Vali goes flying around without even realising that the hapless Ravana was clutching his tail, shouting, begging Vali to stop.

Indra humbled
In this story from the Brahmavaivarta Purana, Indra defeats Vṛtrá and releases the waters. Elevated to the rank of King of the gods, Indra orders the heavenly craftsman, Vishvakarma, to build him a grand palace. Full of pride, Indra continues to demand more and more improvements for the palace. At last, exhausted, Vishvakarma asks Brahma the Creator for help. Brahma in turn appeals to Vishnu, the Supreme Being.

Vishnu visits Indra's palace in the form of a brahmin boy; Indra welcomes him in. Vishnu praises Indra's palace, casually adding that no former Indra had succeeded in building such a palace. At first, Indra is amused by the brahmin boy's claim to know of former Indras. But the amusement turns to horror as the boy tells about Indra's ancestors, about the great cycles of creation and destruction, and even about the infinite number of worlds scattered through the void, each with its own Indra. The boy claims to have seen them all. During the boy's speech, a procession of ants had entered the hall. The boy saw the ants and laughed. Finally humbled, Indra asks the boy why he laughed. The boy reveals that the ants are all former Indras.

Another visitor enters the hall. He is Shiva, in the form of a hermit. On his chest lies a circular cluster of hairs, intact at the circumference but with a gap in the middle. Shiva reveals that each of these chest hairs corresponds to the life of one Indra. Each time a hair falls, one Indra dies and another replaces him.

No longer interested in wealth and honor, Indra rewards Vishvakarma and releases him from any further work on the palace. Indra himself decides to leave his life of luxury to become a hermit and seek wisdom. Horrified, Indra's wife Shuchi asks the priest Brihaspati to change her husband's mind. He teaches Indra to see the virtues of both the spiritual life and the worldly life. Thus, at the end of the story, Indra learns how to pursue wisdom while still fulfilling his kingly duties.

What you see in these short stories is that - Bhima, Ravana and Indra are no ordinary people - they are incredibly strong and powerful, but yet there's someone stronger and greater than them. We too are no different. Thus we should remember this whenever we feel success begins to go to our heads. There's always someone better. It's good to be proud, it's bad to be vain.

Do you want to share some mythological stories? Visit https://sites.google.com/site/indianheritagesite/

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