The Mahabharata is full of mysterious stories, one of which is that of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. We will look into this story and try to unravel the mystery behind this story over three articles, starting today.
Generations before the Great War the ever-victorious Dushyanta was king; his kingdom encompassed the four corners of the earth and his subjects were happy. During his rein the earth and the sea overflowed with gems and precious metals, people were peaceful and worshipped the Gods. There was no fear of any kind, neither from thieves nor violence. It rained at the right time and there was plenty for everyone. Dushyanta was a powerful king and proficient in all kinds of warfare.
One day the king went hunting, accompanied by a huge army. They marched deep into the forests blowing conch shells and striking drums. That day, Dushyanta killed many lions, tigers, deer and birds. With a small part of his army, he followed one particular deer into a completely different forest. This forest was totally calm and quiet devoid of any animals or birds. There was absolute silence; not even the sound of breeze could be heard. It was so empty that he felt a deep vacuum-like effect in his whole being. All his energies started centring automatically. He had entered the realm of ‘shunyata’ or emptiness.
From this forest he went into a deeper and greater jungle. Here, he was shocked to see great ashrams dotting the beautiful scenery. The whole atmosphere was positively charged and resounded with the chants of Vedic hymns and mantras. The scene brought great joy to both, his eyes and mind. There were green meadows through which the cool breeze carried the scent from divine flowers. Every single tree was covered with flowers and fruits. All kinds of birds were chirping harmoniously and the bees hummed in rhythm. No thorny plant could be found in the whole region. Wild lions, tigers, and deer all played together without a hint of violence or fear.
Then, he saw the most picturesque ashram – right on the banks of the Malini river. It was covered with trees and foliage, the air was filled with the singing of birds, and the river’s water danced around filling the atmosphere with foam and spray. Within the ashram were many sacrificial fires burning and the smell of the incense-sticks filled Dushyanta with such overbearing peace and tranquillity that he bowed and worshipped the spot. This was the ashram of the sage Kanva. Dushyanta asked his army to wait at the door while he went in to have a darshan (pay homage) of the sage.
Before we try and understand the deeper aspects of this story so far, let us look at an unrelated but a very similar story my teacher used to tell us.
There was a kingdom with a custom that when the king died, the royal elephant would garland someone and whomsoever the elephant garlanded became the next king. On one such occasion, the elephant garlanded a passing hermit. He was forced to become king. All he did was to sit in meditation all the time. In seven years, the kingdom prospered and the people were very happy. The neighbouring king felt jealous and collected his army to attack this kingdom. The ministers went to the hermit citing that the neighbouring army was at the borders. The hermit requested to see the king. When the king arrived, the hermit handed over the kingdom, saying he had never wanted it in the first place. The king realised that all prosperity was because of the higher level of being of this man. The neighbouring king ran behind him, fell at his feet and asked him to rule both their kingdoms. Dushyanta had reached a similar high level of being and so without any effort on his part, his country was full of plenty and his subjects very happy. Dushyanta’s very presence invited prosperity.
The word Dushyanta means that which is difficult to calm, but in a positive way. When deep spiritual fervour arises in a student, it is difficult to calm the student and the energies of the body start rising rapidly, with spiritual consciousness descending very fast. Such a state brings about a tremendous transformation not only in the being of a person but also in the kind of life and events that come to meet one.
When the energies rise up the backbone, they first encounter a whole area of animal tendencies. These tendencies force the energy downward again. They have to be overcome and this is symbolised in Dushyanta killing so many animals. He then enters the realm of emptiness symbolising the energies free of all conditioning and active in their pure original form. This is the time when a student experiences centring, no forms or tendencies fragment the energies now. The student then enters the beautiful forest where there is beauty in abundance. This symbolises that the energies have now come close to their divine source. Here, there is the Malini River, meaning the river that holds the pure. Dushyanta now merges into his divine centre by entering the ashram of the rishi Kanva. Kanva means to sound. He has reached his celestial home and is sounding ‘I have come home’. This is the goal of all students.
In the next episodes we will see how that divine experience can be brought into normal living.