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Musings on Jatayu-episode

From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Sat Jan 04 1997 - 00:29:13 PST

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNe namaha
sri vedanta desika guravE namaha

Dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s',

Jatayu 'abandoned', as it were, its own 'sAdharaNa-dharmA' (that of a jungle
reconnoiterer) and instead, embraced that of a supremely courageous human

In that process the Great Bird, as we know from the story of the 'Ramayana',
pursued a path of "conduct" ("dharmA") that led to its eventual death.

Death, dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', is not a matter of personal choice for most
of us. Quite like birth, it is an act where we are directly "involved" but,
unfortunately, rarely consulted about ! We have simply no say in it !!

It happens to us, willy-nilly, when it has to. We have very little decisive
or peripheral influence on it.

So we seldom think of it very much. Most of us live in a way that would make
Death appear as a remote event in future undeserving of any urgent attention
or preoccupation --- a bridge which we can safely prepare to cross when we
come to it !!

None of us, if you think about it deeply, give Death a place in our
'calculations of life' as much as we do grant it to other events like, say,
"marriage", 'financial net-worth", "tax or immigrant status", "domestic
savings", "children's education or marriage", or "post-retirement pension" !! 

We usually plan for every "milestone" in our life except for the last great
one viz. Death !!

This was the " Great Wonder" that the 'YakshA', we know, shared with
'Yudhishtra' in the 'MahabharatA' !! 

In the world there are, however, dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', two or three kinds
of people who do "factor" Death into their careful "life-calculus" in a very
strong, clear and immediate way, indeed !! 

A) One group is the "enlightened yogi-s" -- men of extremely high wisdom.

B) The second group are "men of war" -- soldiers who go to the battle-front
fully aware that they may never return to their homes and family.

C) The third group are those not blessed with good health or good
circumstances in life or are severely demented ; they are an unhappy set of
people who contemplate death through "suicide" since they are unable to cope
with the pain of living.

We are not concerned with (C) whose members commit what is called an act of
"Atma-hatya" or  an act of "desperation" wrought by profound human ignorance.

But in the other 2 cases, (A) and (B) above, there is an element of what, in
our ancient literature, is called "Atma-nivedanam".

"Atma-nivEdanam" in ordinary English translation is termed "Self-sacrifice".

"Self-sacrifice" is correct but not comprehensive translation.

In its deep ontological sense, "Atma-nivedanam" refers not only to a single
or discrete act of supreme, climactic "sacrifice-of-self" for a greater,
divine cause (as "men-of-war", or as Jatayu too did, commit) but more
importantly to a "continuously-held attitude in life" -- as the "yogi-s" or
"upAsakA-s" uphold -- 
reflecting the following : 

*** that the event of personal death is "factored" into all 'calculations'
and preparations in life

*** that one is prepared for Death should It arrive in the next instant

*** that one lives every moment in life as if it were God-given eternity

*** and, last but not the least, one uses those moments of "God-given
eternity" in a self-less and "sacrificial" manner to further the Purposes of
that very God, the Creator. 

When all the above 4 elements are present in the "act" or "dharmA" of a
sentient being, then, we can say that an "attitude of Atma-nivEdanam" is
clearly exhibited.

Something of the above sentiment, dear friends, is what is echoed in that
great vedic hymn called "pUrUsha-sUktam" in the Rig-veda. In Rk #18 we read
the Suktam sing :

      yagnyEna yagnyamayajantA dEvA: thAni dharmANi prathamAn yAsan I
      thEha nAkam mahimAna sachanthE yatra pUrvE sAdhyA: santhi dEvA: II

In the above 'Rk' the Suktam talks of "sacrifice"; of how "dharmA-s" arise
from such sacrifice; and of how high-souled "upAsakA-s" (practitioners of
"dharmA") attained the Heavens. This 'Rk' essentially equates "sacrifice"
and "dharmA" and says that one cannot be conceived bereft of the other. It
also goes on to imply that the "heavens" ("mOkshA") are surely reached
through such "dharmA". 

Now if you examine Jatayu's "transcending" to a higher order of "human
sAdhAraNa-dharmA" --- i.e. when it prepared to play "sentinel" to Sita,
battle with Ravana and die, if necessary, in the process --- you can see
clearly that the Great Bird, indeed, was exhibiting to a remarkable degree
an "attitude of "Atma-nivEdanam" (sacrifice) common to all 'upAsakA-s' of
the same ilk and as fully echoed in that majestic and reverberating 'Rk' #18
of the "pUrUsha-sUktam" !!

Jatayu, thus, clearly was carrying out a higher order of 'sAdhAraNa-dhrmA'
that had all the 4 hall-marks, enumerated above, as belonging to
"Atma-nivedanam", the "sacrifice", hinted in the Vedas.

And that is what, dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', made Jatayu's act so sublime that
Lord Rama thought it fit to grant, unilaterally, 'mOkshA' to the Great Bird !!

And that is the sublime moment which Swami Desikan captures in but a few
glorious phrases in Stanza #39 of the "Raghu-veera Gadyam" !!

We next have to examine, dear 'bhAgavatOttamA-s', Jatayu's act of
"visEsha-dharmA" in this great episode in the 'araNya-kAndam'.

But before we do that we have to first quickly examine Lord Rama's
transcending of His "sAdhAraNa-dharmA" and His "viSesha-dharmA" too !!

It is only when we have understood Lord Rama's act of 'visesha-dharmA' can
we also begin to appreciate Jatayu's own.

We shall continue in my next posting.

srimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha