Story of King Ambarisha  – Lessons for daily life.

Ambarisha was a great king. He was a wise ruler as well as an ardent devotee of the Lord. Along with his righteous rule and administration, King Ambarisha also performed austerities required of a devoted person. One such austerity required him to fast once a month and spend the time reflecting on thoughts of the Lord. As per the tradition, the fast should be broken next day in a short duration of less than 30 minutes. On one such occasion a great scholar Saint Durvasa came to the King’s court. The King, ready to break his fast and take his food invited the Saint to join him. The Saint said “Please wait. I shall return soon after my bath and prayers”.  The regulated 30 minutes was about to end. King Ambarisha, being a devotee was not eager to violate a religious protocol. But, he did not want to eat while his guest and the learned scholar was on his way to join him. The King consulted with his ministers and scholars. They told him that he could have a sip of water, which is equivalent to breaking the fast. But he could still wait to join the Saint to partake in the meal.

When Saint Durvasa returned, he learned of the King’s action. The King had symbolically broken the fast, equivalent to taking his meal before doing the honor to his esteemed guest. Durvasa thought that the King had attempted to propitiate an invisible God, but had violated his moral responsibility to treat his guest as a God (Athithi Devo Bhava). The Saint’s anger knew no bounds. Through his powers he created a fearsome creature and set it upon the King to consume him. Fearful of his life and the safety of all, the King prayed to the Lord. The Lord in turn sent 0ne of his weapons – Chakra (Discus) – which cut off the fearsome creature and proceeded to cut Saint Durvasa to pieces. Afraid and grief stricken, Durvasa rushed to the Lord’s abode and begged for mercy. The Lord said “I am a captive in the heart of my true devotees. Hence proceed to King Ambarisha and seek his forgiveness. Let his heart and kindness release you of this catastrophe!” The Saint proceeded accordingly and sought forgiveness from the King for his anger, vanity and ill-conceived actions. The King saw the saint only as a teacher and scholar and offered his respects. They both proceeded to the feast and the celebrations that followed.

Above is an abridged version of the Story of Ambarisha, adapted from Srimad Baghavatham Book 9, Chapters 4 and 5. This story appeared in Prabuddha Bharatha Nov. 2011, Vol. 126, No. 11, Page 750-52.

The original version of this story elaborates the role of the King, his virtues, Saint Durvasa and his role as an emissary of the Lord to test the devotion of the King to the Lord and the kindness, care and equal justice offered by the Lord to His devotees.

We can look at the above story to learn many lessons for our daily living:

  1. Religion and rituals based on them are traditions in every society. They offer many values in our daily living. The most basic among them: A structured way of life and the health benefits that it promotes.
    • Periodic fasting is a desirable practice for good health and physical fitness!
  2. There will always be impediments in life despite all our good intentions and motives.
    • Even the Kings are challenged with unexpected conflicts in daily life! Saint and Scholars do not visit a King without appointment and at inopportune moments! But it happened in this case!
  3. All rituals are manmade. To that end, there are always alternatives to handle the contingencies!
    • The King could break his fast by taking a sip of water.
  4. Adhering to rituals is not a free pass to break the fundamental rules or principles.
  5. When someone shows up at your door step or seeks your help, it is because you have earned that privilege. This privilege is even more so when such occurrence is unplanned. That moment and that event sets up your duty (Karma).
    • The Saint and Scholar would know the ritual of monthly fasting (as part of prayer to the Lord) and the appointed time to break the fast. Yet he showed up at that inappropriate time. Athithi (guest) stands for one who appears without appointment! Such informality and freedom is earned by the King by the way he lived with open arms and always welcoming anyone in his thoughts, actions and words.
  6. When one lives faithful to the right process, for the right reasons and in the right method, that is all one can do. That is doing your duty. Religion and religious practices are means to refine this way of living our daily life. They should not be foolish allegiance to rituals or blind following with fear of the unknown. But, even well intentioned actions may not work out that way.
    • The King followed the fasting rituals and respect for the Saint to the best of his ability. He remained with unwavering faith in the Lord (and his commitment to the belief and the process of being righteous and doing the right things as best as he knew). When in doubt he consulted his minsters and scholars.
    • The Saint did not see the King and all his efforts to host and join him in the dinner. Instead he saw the sip of water to break the fast (a mere ritual) as evidence of the start of the dinner by the King!
  7. Desire, anger and vanity drive our attachments. They are the sources of our Turbulence (Gunathvam) which is abundantly evident though a series of unending actions leading to further grief and unhappiness.
    • We see this clearly in the actions and behavior of the Saint.
  8. Unrelenting love, respect and compassion are the hall marks of tranquil nature (another of three equilibrium states – Gunathvam).
    • We see the life of King Ambarisha as an example of tranquility. He is the embodiment of Spirituality in Practice?
  9. The King, Saint and the Lord – each convey meaning through their actions.
    • King Ambarisha: Example of living based on the principle of “Unattached active engagement” – which is the main theme of the scripture Baghawath Geetha.
      • carry out your duties, perform rituals as part of your daily living and discipline, be respectful of the Saint and scholar, accommodate the guest, consulting with the learned people around when in doubt, with unrelenting faith to the Lord (a larger power than oneself), forgiving.
      • These are among the divine qualities (of the devotee – one close the Lord).
    • Saint Durvasa – exhibits anger, vanity and intolerance (Qualities driven by his desire and attachment) which invariably lead to grief and hardship to the self as well as everyone around. These negative qualities in a scholar are even more educational. Education, austerity and standing in the society are not rubber stamps for Tranquility. It has to be visible through our thoughts, feelings and actions. That is the hallmark of a true devotee.
    • The Lord – equally accessible to the King as well as the apologetic Saint! Bestows punishment (use of Chakra – Discus) and yet withdraws its use when conditions change (repentance of the Saint). The rule of the Lord (punishment to the Saint) is executed only through his devotee.

If we consider the Lord as the metaphor for the Laws of Nature, then the above can be restated as follows:

  • Laws of nature are equally applicable to all involved in the process (the King as well as the Saint).
    • Laws of nature are witnessed only through their effects (seen as the punishment through the Discus and its withdrawal  when conditions change )
    • Laws of nature merely exist (Lord residing in the heart of His devotees). We see their effect as benign (The King being saved) or dangerous (the creature being vanquished). The wind (Discus) merely blows. At low speeds we recognize them as breeze. At high velocities we see them as the storm. The tree that offers resistance to storm (like the creature in our story) is uprooted. But the twig that bends and sways (like the repentant Saint) is left unaffected by the storm!
    • There is nothing permanent as friend and enemy. They are perceptions of the mind which change with time and circumstances. Saint Durvasa initially sees King Ambarisha as his friend, who becomes his enemy (because of his bias or partial knowledge of the rituals and Vedic teaching). The King becomes a friend again in the Saint’s mind, when he reflects and reasons (Tranquility) and seeks forgiveness for his misdeeds.
    • The King, the Saint and the God – are they real or is it merely a story?
      • The question itself may be hypothetical or intellectual with no practical value. One with faith in religion (theology) would believe them to be real while others may question that. We find the reverse when confronted with examples in the material realm.(e.g.): Is “Gravity” real or not? One with a scientific understanding and the laws of Physics would say yes, based on observations, analysis and inference. All others simply believe it to be true based on their experience and faith. (e.g.) Why did the apple fall down from the tree? We see it as real and believe it is due to gravitation based on our faith in the Scientists and their work!
      • But everyone can accept all such mythological stories as examples for a larger purpose – to learn lessons of value in daily life. There could be no contradiction or conflict in that.
    • Are they examples to learn from? The answer is yes, as long as we are open minded, reflective and analytical in our thinking. Rejecting them as merely religious stories or extolling them as part of religion without reflection and analysis of the lessons they teach may not serve their valuable purpose to the society.

Subtle and intricate nature of life, duty, human interactions and their preservation can be gleaned from all the mythological stories. These stories become rich resources to enlighten and guide us on Vedic Philosophy as well as practical rules for managing the equilibrium in our actions and life (MEAL)!

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