Yesterday I looked at the example of Mahārāja Pṛthu. He led an extraordinary life, being an incarnation of the Lord which appeared without help of a mother. He is also the father of agriculture, since he was the first one to subdue the Earth, flatten the mountains etc etc. His story is quite long and I don’t remember all the details.
The important part in the light of my recent posts is Pṛthu’s departure. He sort of reconciled two different instructions on how to conquer the mind, first by bringing it under control through strict sādhana and austerities, and then merged it into mahat-tattva through the practice of advanced yoga.
The first instruction was given to Arjuna – control the mind by force, eventually it will comply. The second instruction comes from description of the philosophy of Sāṅkhya, how all material elements are one by one returned to their original unmanifested state. Both stages in beating the mind are important but what interests me is how the mind is perceived by the practitioner. At the first stage mind is seen as one’s own enemy but at the second stage the false ego gradually disappears and mind becomes something like air – ever-present and impersonal.
There’s another case study in this regard, and there are probably more tacked away somewhere in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, but I want to talk about Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira who we know very well, perhaps better than any other character save for Arjuna.
After the battle of Kurukṣetra was won Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira took the throne and became the emperor. He conducted a sacrifice to wash away all traces of war karma and everything looked good. Arjuna helped him a lot by procuring gold for the massive sacrifice because the government was in dire straits and needed a big financial injection. After that Arjuna went to stay with Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā and didn’t send any news for half a year. Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira noticed various bad omens and suspected something really bad had happened. That’s when Arjuna returned with the news of Kṛṣṇa’s departure.
Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira immediately knew what to do and prepared to leave this world. He installed Mahārāja Parīkṣit in his place and appointed Kṛṣṇa’s grandson Vajra as the kind of Mathura, and with that his earthly obligations were done. He didn’t practice any tapasyā the way Mahārāja Pṛthu did.
Usually tapasyā means you start with relatively easy level and gradually turn it up, eating less and less until the mind comes under total control. There are other restrictions as well – on clothing, on association, on sleeping etc. It takes time, even for Dhruva it took six months and usual vānaprastha plus sannyasā take fifty years but Mahārāja Yudhuṣthira didn’t go through this step at all.
He went straight to dissolving his mind into mahat-tattva. It took him literally one verse between making a decision to retire and killing his mind for good (SB 1.15):
SB 1.15.40 — Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira at once relinquished all his garments, belt and ornaments of the royal order and became completely disinterested and unattached to everything.
SB 1.15.41 — Then he amalgamated all the sense organs into the mind, then the mind into life, life into breathing, his total existence into the embodiment of the five elements, and his body into death. Then, as pure self, he became free from the material conception of life.
Just like that. Relinquish garments, belt and ornaments, become disinterested, and then amalgamate sense organs into the mind, mind into life etc. Done.
We should remember that he always had his mind under control, though. He was never attached to anything but dharma and never had any other interests in life but performing his duties and serving Kṛṣṇa. He never had any personal ambitions either. He was an exemplary devotee and as such the need to control the mind through sādhana wasn’t there.
We are not that lucky and our minds are all over the place, starting with such basics as our own health and food, and therefore we shouldn’t even think about imitating Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira. Besides, it was his time to leave and the universe cooperated by dissolving his body into the sum total of the material elements. We can’t force the process until our time comes up on its own, and even then our departure will probably be in much less elevated consciousness.
Now, if you read two verses quoted above it would appear that Mahārāja Yudhuṣṭhura successfully died, amalgamating his “body into death”, but that wasn’t the case from outsiders’ perspective – his body was still very much alive. Look at the next three verses:
SB 1.15.42 — Thus annihilating the gross body of five elements into the three qualitative modes of material nature, he merged them in one nescience and then absorbed that nescience in the self, Brahman, which is inexhaustible in all circumstances.
SB 1.15.43 — After that, Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira dressed himself in torn clothing, gave up eating all solid foods, voluntarily became dumb and let his hair hang loose. All this combined to make him look like an urchin or madman with no occupation. He did not depend on his brothers for anything. And, just like a deaf man, he heard nothing.
SB 1.15.44 — He then started towards the north, treading the path accepted by his forefathers and great men, to devote himself completely to the thought of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And he lived in that way wherever he went.
It starts with “annihilating the gross body” and ends with walking the path towards the north. Physically, it should be impossible and “annihilating the gross body” cannot mean literally annihilating it. I do not see any other way for us to read it but “annihilating selfish perspective that this gross body is mine”. In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda doesn’t make this clear but he does talk about Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira achieving a jīvan-mukta status, liberation while still in this world.
To the outsiders the body was still visibly present and alive but it didn’t make any sense. Our bodies have purpose and we can see it from our behavior. We have reflexes, we need to eat and breath, we listen and react, we express desires, either verbally or non-verbally – our existence makes sense. Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira’s didn’t. His body moved around but it wasn’t interested in eating, wasn’t interested in comfort, wasn’t interested in impression it makes on others and wasn’t expressing any desires. Even animals are a lot more self-aware than that, even ants and bacteria. To better understand what happened look at word for word translation: jaḍa — inert; unmatta — mad; piśāca-vat — just like an urchin.
I don’t think any of us will ever achieve this stage but theoretically we must know that it’s there, that we should, ideally, reach it. Maybe not in this life and maybe we’ll get transferred to the spiritual world directly but here’s Kṛṣṇa’s personal associate who was born in the material world during Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and he became jaḍa, unmatta and piśāca-vat. Why should we expect any less? Or any more? It’s hard to decide which – more or less.
I mean to say that it’s quite possible that we all will have to do something similar before we are allowed into the spiritual world, we can’t get there while still maintaining attachments and harboring material dreams so we should all eventually become jaḍa from the material perspective. It might look different but the consciousness should be the same, so we better get cracking at the mind and at least learn to control it, at least while we chant. Good luck.