Stories From Shrimad Bhagawad

Before Bharata was born as Jada Bharata, he was King Bharata, the eldest of the hundred sons of Rishabha Deva, who was himself an incarnation of the divine and a great king. After Rishabha Deva had ruled over his kingdom for many years, he made Bharata the king, and gave up the world to become a wandering holy man. Thus, Bharata became King Bharata. King Bharata was a wonderful ruler. He loved the people of the kingdom very much and ruled over them with great affection. In fact, he was such a great ruler that India is named Bharatavarsha after him. He performed many sacrifices and dedicated all the fruits of them to the Lord, Vasudeva. As a result, his heart became purified, and intense devotion for the Lord grew in him.

After many years, it came time for him too, like his father, to renounce the kingdom and spend his last years in worship of and meditation on God. So, he divided the kingdom amongst his five sons and went to live in a secluded ashram called Pulaha Ashram. Pulaha Ashram was a beautiful and holy place on the banks of the river Gandaki, with forests on all sides. Many holy men had the vision of God there. In that holy atmosphere, King Bharata began his austere life of worship and meditation. How much joy he felt! While worshipping the Lord, meditating on him, and praying for his vision, tears would flow from his eyes out of longing and joy. His mind became fully fixed on the Lord.

One day Bharata was repeating the sacred syllable Om on the banks of the Gandaki after his morning worship. A pregnant doe came to the river banks to drink. Suddenly, the terrible roar of a lion echoed through the ashram. The doe was terror-stricken, and sprang to the opposite bank, trying to flee. But her fear and effort were too great; as she jumped, she gave birth to her young one. The little fawn, then fell into the flowing water of the river. Meanwhile, the mother doe died of shock. All this happened before the eyes of the royal sage. Bharata was filled with pity for the motherless fawn. He rescued it from the flowing waters and brought it to the ashram. Now Bharata started to take care of the motherless fawn. He said to himself, “This poor fawn has no one to look after him. He has no one in this world but me. It is my duty to look after him.” Day by day, Bharata’s love for the fawn grew more and more. He would gather grass and other things for him to eat, protect him from dangerous animals, and take him on his lap and fondle him. If the fawn was out of his sight for a moment, he would wonder, “Oh where is my little deer?” Bharata spent less and less time worshipping Sri Hari, and more and more time thinking of his deer and looking after it. Soon Bharata forgot all about his meditation and worship. All his time was spent looking after the fawn, and thinking about it.

When the fawn wandered off, Bharata would search everywhere for it, fearful that something might have happened to it. His whole thought, his whole life, was centred on that little deer. At last, the hour that must come to all came upon King Bharata: the hour of his death. He lay helpless, looking at his fawn sitting by his side, and with his whole mind fixed on the fawn, he left his body. What happens to a person after death is determined by the thoughts that are in his mind at the time of death. King Bharata was thinking of his deer when he died, so he was soon reborn as a deer. However, by virtue of his meditation and devotion, Bharata could remember his past life, even though he had a deer’s body. Now he was extremely remorseful. “Alas!” he thought, “I was completely devoted and dedicated to God alone, meditating only on him, when somehow I became attached to a deer, so now I have been born as a deer.” The deer-Bharata then left his deer-mother and went to the Gandaki river, near Pulaha Ashram. There he lived alone, waiting for the day when he could leave his deer-body behind. At last, Bharata was able to give up his deer-body in the waters of the river.

Bharata was soon reborn to noble Brahmin parents, who were wise and devoted to God. This time, Bharata was determined not to be caught by the world. To avoid people, he behaved as if he were deaf and dumb and of low intelligence, though in his mind he was always meditating on Sri Hari. Because he seemed so stupid, people called him Jada, inert. His father tried to teach him the various duties of a Brahmin boy, but to no avail. Jada Bharata would not be taught. After his parents died, his brothers briefly tried to teach him, but in vain, so he was sent away to fend for himself. Many people abused him. He was made to work very hard in various jobs, and sometimes he even had to go without food. But he was unaffected by any hardship, since within he felt the bliss of the Self and was always meditating on Sri Hari.

One day, King Rahugana was travelling by a palanquin to the ashram of Kapila. One of the palanquin bearers was ill and couldn’t work, so the bearer’s captain was looking for a replacement. He saw Jada Bharata sitting under a tree and asked him to take the place of the sick bearer. Jada Bharata did not reply, so the bearers grabbed him, placed the palanquin’s pole on his shoulder, and continued on their way. But Jada Bharata, though strong, moved very slowly and unevenly. He was carefully watching the ground beneath his feet so as not to step on any insects or worms crawling there. King Rahughana became annoyed at the uneven movement of the palanquin and asked the captain about it. The captain told him that the new bearer was not walking properly.

The king then mocked Jada Bharata: ‘Oh, you must be so tired because you have been carrying this palanquin all by yourself for such a long time. And you are old and sickly!’ The king’s words had no effect on Jada Bharata, who continued to walk in the same way. Then the king became angry and said, “You fool! You living corpse! I will turn you into your proper state of a corpse! I think you need a good beating.” Then, finally, Jada Bharata opened his lips, and for the first time in his life spoke. “O King,” he said, “whom do you call a fool? Whom do you say is tired? Whom do you call “you”? If you mean by “you” this body, it is made of the same materials as your body, and is unconscious. Being unconscious, it cannot feel pain or feel tired. But I am not this body; I am the Atman, the Self. You call me a living corpse. That is true of this body, and indeed, of all things which have a beginning and an end. Our relative positions as king and servant are temporary. Except for convention, there is no difference between you and me. We are both the Atman. O King, if I am acting strangely, it is because I am established in the knowledge of the Atman, then any beating would have no effect on me. And if I am truly an idiot, then, likewise, a beating would have no effect on me!”

Though Jada Bharata seemed to be an idiot, within, he was an inexhaustible storehouse of knowledge. King Rahugana was himself a devotee of God. When he heard Jada Bharata’s words he was astonished, and he realized that he must be a great saint. He quickly got down from the palanquin, prostrated at the feet of the tranquil sage, and begged for his forgiveness for insulting him. He said, “Revered Sir, I could not understand who you are. You must be a great sage. Hearing your words, I feel a strong desire for spiritual knowledge. Please be gracious to me. Feeling proud at being a king, I lost my discrimination. I have insulted a great soul, a holy man, which is surely a great sin. Please save me from this sin. O wise one, please instruct me in the knowledge of the Atman.”

Jada Bharata then began instructing the king, and also told him about his past: ‘In a previous life, I was King Bharata. I spent my last days in prayer and meditation, but at the end I became attached to a fawn whose life I saved. In my next life I was born as a deer, but thanks to my earlier life of prayer and devotion, I remembered my previous life. Now I have again taken birth in this body you see before you. I keep aloof from people to avoid attachment. ‘There is only one Truth, the Supreme Lord, and one goal, knowledge of Him. You cannot attain this knowledge without the holy company of saints and sages. O King, this world is like a dense forest where people, roaming about looking for happiness, lose their way. There are six terrible thieves in this forest — the five senses, and their evil leader, the confused intellect. They attack and rob travellers of their possessions. Wandering around, lost in this forest, they become entangled in the creepers of worldly attachments, and suffer from various sorrows and afflictions. O King, you too are in this jungle. What is the way out? Love all beings, practice detachment, offer all your work to the Lord, and with the sword of knowledge, sharpened by the worship of Sri Hari, cut your way out of the jungle of ignorance. Finally, you will gain the knowledge that you are the Atman and not the body, and will attain to Sri Hari.’

After instructing King Rahugana, the great sage Jada Bharata left to roam about the country. And the king, practicing what he had been taught, realized himself to be the Atman, and eventually attained to Sri Hari.