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bandus and jantus

From: sudarshan (
Date: Sat Jun 27 1998 - 10:45:18 PDT

srimathe lakshmi-nrsimha parabrahmane namaha
sri vedanta gurave namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s",

It would be ridiculous of me to recount to you all the story of Gajendra,
Vibisheena or Draupadi. The details are so well known that even children in
Indian homes learn to retell it with consummate ease by the time they are
old enough to cease lisping. But a few elements in the stories are so very
relevant to our present discussion on "bandhus", "jantu-s" "akinchinyam"
and the "cosmic orphan" that, with your permission, they will bear
repetition here in this post.

If you look carefully at the thematic plot of all the three stories,
"bandhu-s" play a major part in the spiritual redemption of the
protagonist, isn't it? Indeed we might even say with certainty that it is
the "bandhu-s" who really hastened or helped precipitate the awareness of
"kArpannyam" in Gajendra, Vibeeshana and Draupadi and which in turn led
them to an exalted state of being where they communed with the
Parabrahmham, the Almighty!

Reflect on the following for a moment please:

** In the instant that Gajendra's "bandhu-s" –- the "herd" –- quickly
abandoned him to his end, the pachyderm realized his utter helplessness.
More horrendous than the jaws of the savage reptile tormenting Gajendra
then was the elephant's painful discovery that in the moment of death in
this world there are likely to be far more "bandhus" around to bid one
farewell than those to bid one tarry! (PeriazhwAr sang about exactly such a
discovery in an insightful "pAsuram"(#3) in the
"pattharay-irrappAr-perum-pEru": "sorvinAl porul vaithatt-undAgil,
sollu-sol enru surrUm irnthu…".etc.). For Gajendra the moment of
abandonment by the "herd" thus was indeed the discovery of a "jantu's"
cosmic orphan-hood!  

** Vibeeshana was forsaken by his elder brother, Ravana. The ten-headed
"bandhu" in a trice banished the younger sibling from the kingdom. Unwanted
and unwelcome anywhere in Lanka, Vibeeshana discovered his royalty meant
nothing. Queens and courtiers alike turned their backs on him as if he were
a leper. It was his moment of truth and revelation… of "akinchinyam"… of
his cosmic orphan-hood!

** Her five husbands, five "bandhu-s", deserted Draupadi in a fateful
moment when her womanly honour was outraged. It was a terrible moment
indeed for her, but it was also precisely the moment when it dawned on her
that she might belong in flesh to five great heroes of the Pandava dynasty
but in spirit she was utterly, utterly alone! It was her moment of
"kArpannyam" -- the discovery of the individual self, in essence, being a
cosmic orphan!

When you reflect on each of the above cases you will surely recollect the
meaning of certain observations made in the last post viz.:

a) "…in a very universal sense, our individual self too is nothing but a
determinate of the various "sambandhams" we build around ourselves in

b) "…there is really no way one can see one's real self except for what is
mirrored of it in our relationships with "bandhu-s"…


c) "…take away all our "bandhu-s" from us and we would be reduced instantly
to existential ciphers!

Thus, through the respective "itihAsi-c" instances of Gajendra, Vibeeshana
and Draupadi, the "AchArya-s" firmly establish the doctrinal position of
Vedanta that "the forsaking of/by our "bandhu-s" or "bandham-s"" is a
mortal condition PRECEDENT and ESSENTIAL to the discovery of our real
selves as "akinchinA-s" or "cosmic orphans".

Many centuries ago, the great AdvaitAcharya, Sri Sankara Bhagavathpada, in
his 'Brahma-sutra Bhashya' (1.1.4), and in a celebrated comment on the
following aphorism, pretty much emphasized the very same condition 
precedent and essential to "kArpannyam":

    "gauna-mithyAtmano'sattve putradehAdi bAdhanAt
     sadbrahmAtmAhamityEvam bodhE kAryam katham bhavet 


It is part of human nature to believe that one's children and friends
("bandhu-s") are the SAME AS ONESELF; that their joys and sorrows are ONE's
OWN. That is what is meant by "gaunAtman". Gajendra too had kept nurturing
the belief, didn't he, until the moment he saw his "bandhu-s" leave him to
his fate, that "the herd and he were one"; and that the "herd" would rush
to his rescue just as anxiously and hastily as it would do to its own in
similar moments of grave and mortal peril! 

However, the instant Gajendra realised the truth being otherwise the
awareness of spiritual "akinchinyam" -- of the true self being a cosmic
orphan -- dawned immediately! Thereafter, as it turns out in the story, it
was but a simple and easy step forward for the poor "jantu" to take! It was
but a small step next towards the great, overwhelming experience of
"Brahman" which the Upanishads glorify as the highest end of man… the
experience of "mOksham", the beatific vision Gajendra, in the story, had of
the Lord in all His splendour as "Adimoola-perumAl"! 

So indeed was the case with Vibeeshana and Draupadi too.

In the ancient 'BrhadAranyaka-upanishad' there is a profound and
wonderfully illuminative passage that explains to us why the separation
from or forsaking of our earthly "bandhu-s"/"bandham-s" is spiritual 'sine
qua non' for an awakening of our true self --- of our essential
"akinchinatvam" and helpless orphan-hood. Every human who has ever wondered
about his varied and complex relationships with this world should take time
to read and reflect on this extraordinary passage in the Upanishad.
The scene described in the Upanishad is roughly as follows:

When Yagnyavalkya renounces his worldly "bandham" to retire into the
wilderness he summons his two closest "bandhu-s", his wives, Katyayani and
Maitreyi, to bid them adieu. The wise Maitreyi then asks him, 

"Sire, you leave us now for a journey into another world –- that of the
sanyAsi -- because you will find greater happiness in it than there is in
all the wealth of this world, isn't it? What indeed is that happiness?
Won't you tell me about it?"

To which the great Yagnyavalkya replies by discoursing at length on  human
bondage, on the nature of love and affection amongst "bandhus" and kinsmen
of this world:

"Hear me, O Maitreyi," he says, "a wife is dear to her husband not for the
sake of his wife but for the sake of his Self. So is a husband dear to his
wife for the sake of her Self. The children too are dear to us not for
their sake but for the sake of the Self. So is the case with our love of
wealth. We have affection for a person or an entity because it pleases our

"What therefore do I mean by all this, my dear Maitreyi?"

"It means that this Self, immanent and living within us, is itself of the
nature of pure affection, of pure love, of pure joy. It is to know this
all those who are dear to us and take to sannyAsa…. When we truly know IT,
the Self or the 'paramAtman', we will realize that there is nothing other
than It in this world --- nothing else but It, nobody else but It. There
will be no other earthly "bandhu" or "bandham" greater or dearer than the
Self itself is to us. When we know this,  when we truly know that the Self
is love, affection and joy then everything and everyone we see in all
Creation will become greater, dearer "bandhu-s" to us than the mortal ones
of this world ever were or ever could be!" 

Now if you think deeply about the Upanishadic passage above carefully, dear
'bhAgavatOttamA-s', you will certainly begin to hear faintly but clearly
the sonorous echoes of Swami Desikan's line in the 4th verse of the
'kAmasikAshtakam' again:
                 "bandhumakhilasya janto-ho….!"
(The Lord, He is the "bandhu" of everything and everyone in this world!)

Do you understand the Upanishadic flavour of Swami Desikan's line now?

We have all gone a long way, indeed, to come back full circle, isn't it?
>From Loren Eisely, the anthropologist, to the mystic AzhwArs, to the
"purAni-c" legends of Gajendra and Draudpadi, to Sankara's commentary on
the "brahmha-sutrA", to the Upanishads and finally back to Swami Desikan's
haunting line, "bandhumakhilasya-janto-ho"! 

What a whirlwind tour indeed! 

Don't blame, dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s" for taking you all on a
roller-coasting merry-go-around! In the very first post on
("Nrsumha-jayanti" day) in this series, if you recall, I had warned you
about the mesmeric effect that Verse# 4 of the "kAmAsikAshtakam" has on the
reader/reciter. I had said in fact:

"…..four simple lines (of the verse) are packed indeed with an astounding
wealth of ideas which would otherwise fill tomes and volumes of scriptural

" …. the kavi-simham's choice of phrases like "bandhU", "bandhura", 
"vishama-vilOchana" and "kEli" are also so apt and evocative. You dwell on
each of the expressions for as much as a moment and you find you simply
can't help being overcome by a flood of allusions and associative ideas."

I was right, wasn't I?

I will conclude this series with just one more sum-up post next week.

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yatindra mahadesikaya namaha