Rishi Vyasa is said to be the author of the Mahabharata. It would be impossible, historically, to say anything about this great seer. As our study of this great epic goes deeper, the hidden mysteries start unravelling; then, we can only but bow down in astonishment as to what kind of a super human could have written this magnum opus. Today, let us try to look into the story of this great rishi and see what we can learn from it.
Rishi Parashara, the father of Indian astrology, wanted to cross the river Kalindi. As the ferryman was having lunch, his daughter Matsyagandha ferried the rishi across. She was called Matsyagandha because she was born from the stomach of a fish and her body always had the odour of one. When the boat reached the middle of the river, Rishi Parashara realised that at this point in time all the planets were in their houses of exaltation and degree-wise perfect. This point in time was the most powerful ever and a child conceived at that moment would go on to become a spiritually highly advanced super-human. He created a fog around the boat and asked Matsyagandha to embrace him. He created an artificial island in the middle of the river where the play of love was enacted.
The minute the act was over the smell of fish left her body and was replaced with the fragrance of musk. Matsyagandha became pregnant immediately and the rishi blessed her saying that even after giving birth to a son, she would still remain a virgin. The rishi took a bath in the river and then took her leave. He told her that her son would be born with a divine essence, that he would become a famous teacher and would compile works of the rishis called the Vedas. He would be called Vyasa.
There was no time gap in the completion of Matsyagandha’s pregnancy and Vyasa was born immediately. He grew up immediately into a radiant young ascetic; taking leave of his mother he went away into the forests to do penance. Before leaving, he promised her that whenever she wished to see him, he would be there. Since Vyasa was born on an island, he was also called Krishna Dwaipayana, or the ‘dark one’ of the island.
When we go into the root of the word Vyasa, we can derive many meanings:
Vi + as: the one who has a ‘vishesh asana’ or is sitting in a special way, a special posture. Man is a three brained being; he has a thinking centre, a feeling centre and an instinct/ moving centre. In today’s age, the thinking centre is overactive and hence, a lop-sided development of the centres exists. We think about everything, even if it is not meant to be a function of thinking. For instance, love is a function of feeling, but we think about it all the time. Eating is a function of the instinct centre and body intelligence, but we keep calculating how much we should eat and how many vitamins we would need. It is very rare to see a person whose is centred or is in balance. Vyasa or a special way of sitting is personification of a person whose posture (among the centres) is totally balanced.
Diameter: That which divides a circle into two or gives rise to the duality of life. Everything in life is cyclical but we normally look at things in pairs, for instance happiness and sorrow, love and hate, hot and cold. The one that can see both simultaneously is called Vyasa. We think day is different from night but the reason they seem different is because one cycle is divided into two. When times are bad we cannot see good times, but both are part of one cycle and the one who can see the other end from one is called Vyasa.
Vyasa also means the compiler or distributor. He compiles the Vedas. The inner intelligence that knows where to use attention and how to direct and control the subtle energies in our body-brain system is also called Vyasa.
Vyasa was born of Rishi Parashara. We discussed how the rishi realised that it was the most valuable point in time, a point unique in the history of mankind, and so he entered into a union. Hence, Vyasa was not born out of excitement but his birth was a conscious act based on what Rishi Parashara foresaw. Parashara is a combination of the words ‘par’ and ‘shru’. Par means beyond and shru means to join, that is to join with the beyond. Parashara is a saint whose arrow of attention has joined with the divine or the very source of attention. He meets the ferry woman who smells of fish and she is the one who takes the boat from one shore to the other. In the Mahabharata, we see that Vyasa is the one who balances both, the spiritual and material sides (or the two shores of life).
Smell is a sign of the astral world. After death, the astral body feels hungry, and that is why we offer food to the departed. The purpose behind this is that the departed satisfy their hunger (or desire) through smell and had nothing to do with physical consumption of the food. Matsyagandha losing the smell of fish and gaining the fragrance of musk reveals to us that she was then free of passions and desires that lie in the lower astral and psychic worlds, and rises above all of these, symbolised by the divine fragrance of musk.
Vyasa is born on the island, Dwaipa, created by Rishi Parashara. Dwaipa means the spiritual path that can only be travelled alone. Sage Patanjali calls the ultimate experience as ‘kaivalyam’ or that aloneness which is connected with everything in the universe or ‘all + oneness’. Vyasa is also called as Krishna or ‘the dark one’, symbolising the ultimate experience as to that of a black hole where everything dissolves and total emptiness remains. This shows that Vyasa was born in the highest spiritual state possible for man.
This ultimate experience is both our right and destiny and the Mahabharata shows the different paths available for us to attain this experience. No words are enough to describe the greatness of Rishi Vyasa; we can only bow down in humility to this great rishi who created such an immortal scripture.
Next week, we shall look into the interaction between Lord Ganesha and Rishi Vyasa and how the Mahabharata came to be.