This story begins with king Manu, the forefather of the human race. He had a beautiful daughter named Devhuti. As she matured he started looking for a suitable husband. He had heard a lot about a sage named Kardam who lived in a sacred spot. King Manu flew there in his chariot and requested the sage to accept Devhuti as his wife. Kardam Ji said that he would accept the king’s request only on one condition: He would remain a householder only till a child was born. After that he would take up sannyasa dharma and leave the house.
King Manu looked at his wife and daughter and saw consent in their eyes. He readily agreed to Kardam’s request because he knew that it was in tune with the Vedic ashrama system. According to this system, the first part of one’s life is to be utilized in the pursuit of education. This ashrama is for the development of character and spiritual qualities. Hence, a student has to remain celibate (brahmachari).
The next stage is that of becoming a householder, where one can accept a wife and produce virtuous children, teaching them to live according to dharma. The ashrama which comes after is called vanaprastha, that of the ‘ forest dweller’, where one has to start living away from civilization (preferably in a forest) and prepare oneself for the final and fourth ashrama – that of sannyasa. The latter is the ultimate, peaceful stage of life, where one reflects only on the Supreme Bhagawan Vishnu. One can go directly from a lower ashrama to a higher one. For example, a householder can go straight to sannyasa.
Those were wonderful times when high character and not material wealth were the factors in selecting a husband for one’s daughter or sister. Thus we can see examples of a mighty king handing over his daughter to a poor sage. Kardam Ji had no house or kitchen. He lived under a tree. Despite this, Devhuti, the daughter of an emperor, began to serve him. She was as devoted as the legendary wife, Savitri.
Selfless service always brings inner benefits like purification of the mind and the punya thus gained is equal to that of an ascetic practicing austerities. Devhuti had tremendous faith in her husband and attended to his every need. Actually, confidence abides where there is faith. Complete confidence in each other creates true love and with it comes the desire to give comfort and pleasure to the loved one. In such idyllic conditions, it matters little whether material comforts like rich food or clothes are available or not.
Kardam Ji was extremely satisfied by Devhuti’s service and said to her one day: “Devi, you have served me so selflessly that you neglected even your own body. Half the fruit of all my religious activities will go to you and after death you will gain the same higher worlds to which I will go. Now, tell me if you have any desire in your mind and I will fulfil it.”
Devhuti replied: “Sir, the purpose of marriage is unification. So, I too should be given the good fortune to be loved as your wife fully. If this body of mine is used by you and serves to give pleasure, then my birth, beauty, indeed my whole life will find fulfilment.”
Understanding his wife’s legitimate desire, the great sage Kardam then set out to create the perfect setting for their union. Out of his yogic powers he created a huge, flying palace which had all amenities for comfort and luxury. Then, in this unique aircraft, the couple toured the whole universe and spent intimate moments in each others company. In the process they created nine daughters, each a picture of virtue and beauty. When they grew up, each was married off to a suitable groom.
After this, Kardam Ji said to his beloved wife: “Devi, now that you have obtained your heart’s desire, please give me leave so that I can go on to sannyasa (One cannot take sannyasa without the wife’s permission or if unmarried one has to take the mother’s permission). I want to leave the householder’s life because my inclinations are not towards physical pleasures. The desire for such pleasures can never be satiated. The more we get the more we want; there is no end to this thirst. That is why now I want to go and do tapasya.”
Devhuti replied: “Swami, you have got our daughters married and they have all now gone to their own respective homes. It would be nice if I had a son with me. So, please stay on a little longer.”
Kardam Ji agreed to her wish and stayed back. Very soon, Devhuti became pregnant and it was obviously not an ordinary child. The divine radiance lighting up her face communicated that the child was extraordinary. Indeed, in her womb was none other than Bhagwan Vishnu, about to take avatar as Kapila. In the Kapila avatar, His main function was to clarify the otherwise difficult concepts of jnana, bhakti and vairagya, and also, more importantly, to explain the relation between these concepts.
When Kapila Ji took birth, Kardam Ji came to Him and said: “Bhagawan, now that You have come as my son, I can safely go and live in seclusion to meditate until I attain the realization that my true Self is Brahman. Though this world appears real, it has no reality other than Brahman. It is to realize this truth that I wish to take sannyasa. As I go, please stay here and liberate your mother.” With these words he circumambulated Kapila and went away.
Such is the greatness of sadhus. This is real detachment, renunciation and aloofness. Bhagawan Himself has come as his son but Kardam Ji circumambulates Him, establishes his mind in the Self and goes off to wander in absolute freedom.
When Kardam Ji left the house, Kapila, to keep his mother happy, stayed with her. In the Vedic system, it is the duty of the son to take charge of his mother in the absence of his father and serve her to the best of his ability so that she will not feel separation from her husband. Similarly, it is the duty of the husband to leave home as soon as the son becomes capable of taking charge of his wife and family affairs (if the wife wants she too can accompany her husband in vanaprastha). This is the Vedic system of household life. One is not supposed to remain continually entangled in household affairs till death. One has to leave. Family affairs and the wife may be taken care of by a capable son.
Once, after his father’s departure, when Kapila was sitting at leisure, his mother approached him saying: “So much of my life has passed in vain, indulging the sense organs in material pursuits. You are Bhagawan and have manifested as my son. You are the sun of knowledge which has risen to dispel the darkness of my ignorance. Please give me the vidya which will remove my avidya.”
To this Bhagawan Kapila replied: “Mother, it is only through spiritual yoga that one can achieve the ultimate goal where there is neither pleasure nor pain. Actually, it is only the mind which is the cause of both bondage and liberation. When it is attached to sensual objects it causes bondage. But when attached to saints, it leads to liberation. For the practitioners of yoga there is no better way other than bhakti towards God and His follower saints.”
Who is a Saint?
“The symptoms of a saint are as follows: He follows the scriptures and is compassionate towards all beings. All his karma are offered unto Me and for My sake he sacrifices all other connections including family and friends. Taking refuge in Me, his mind is always fixed in Me. Worldly troubles cannot even touch such a bhakta. Mother! these are the saints who have disassociated themselves from all attachments. One must seek the company of such holy men, for this counteracts the pernicious effects of material attachment.”
Devhuti asked: “Bhagawan, what is the proper nature of the bhakti directed towards You? How can even the simplest human being, not endowed with a high intelligence, achieve union with You? Please explain in a simple language.”
Bhagawan explained: “Mother, the sense organs are extensions of the various gods (like Indra, Agni etc). Hence, their natural tendency is towards following the Vedic injunctions. Similarly, the mind is representative of the Supreme God. Hence, the easiest way towards liberation is by following the Vedic way of life through the karma performed by our sense organs and at the same time, keeping our mind fixed on the Supreme God Krishna. This is the true nature of bhakti. Actually, attainment of such a bhakti is superior than even moksha. Indeed this bhakti yoga is the highest bliss obtainable in this world.”
Bhagawan’s Warning to Bhaktas
“Mother, I am situated inside every living being as their soul. Any person who claims to be my bhakta, but neglects Me living inside others and worships only My idol is nothing but a hypocrite. One who worships Me in the temples but does not know that I am situated in everybody’s heart is as ignorant as a person pouring offerings into ashes rather than in the sacred fire. The person who harbors contempt for others but worships Me with various gifts can never gain peace of mind. I am to be propitiated through kindness and friendliness to others, i.e., by treating everybody as one would treat one’s own self.”
How to Gain Detachment from the World (And Attachment to God)
“A man, full of desire, collects material objects for his pleasure after a lot of effort and pain. However, these very objects are destroyed by God Himself in the form of Kala (Time) and then man grieves over his loss. The reason for this is that man starts considering these perishable objects as permanent and attaches himself to them. The living being, in whatever species of life he appears, finds satisfaction in that very existence and never finds detachment from it. Even a hog, who lives by eating stool, finds happiness and never experiences disgust with his existence. Man too finds satisfaction in his deep-rooted attraction for his house, wealth, children, wife etc, and deludes himself into thinking that he is very happy. Burning with the anxiety of desire, he commits numerous sins in order to sustain his family. He is as enchanted by his wife’s embraces when they are alone as he is with the sweet chattering of his small children. These two together make him a secure prisoner and he cannot leave the house. Such an attached householder remains always in the family life, full as it is with diplomacy and politics.
“In the course of such a life many miseries occur, some of which he is able to overcome. Actually, what he believes to be happiness is nothing but counteraction of misery. There is no absolute happiness in the material world.
“In the end he loses the ability to support his loved ones. Seeing him unable to support them, his wife and children do not treat him with the same respect as before, just like the miserly farmer who disrespects the old oxen who had otherwise served him lifelong. Even then the foolish man does not develop aversion towards family life, though deformed by old age he approaches death and is now grudgingly nourished by those very people whom he had brought up with great pains. At this stage he eats little due to loss of appetite. His movements slow down but he still stays in the house like a dog, eating what is contemptuously thrown at him. At the end, he dies pathetically in grief, in great pain and without consciousness. At the actual moment of death he sees the messengers of death (yamadutas), their eyes full of wrath, approaching him and in great fear he passes stool and urine, losing consciousness. This is the end of the person who never tries to control his senses but passes away the whole life merely in the maintenance of his family.”
Indeed, a woman is the maya created by God. She slowly approaches a man and he is captivated by her. This is a sure way to the above kind of death. Similarly, for a woman, the attachment she feels for Bhagawan’s maya in the form of her husband, who procures for her wealth, house and children, is the sure way to death. Just as the sweet song of a hunter is death to the deer, so is attraction towards husband, children and home death for a woman.”
Mother, most people perform their dharma to obtain artha. However, those who live in their houses but perform their duties with the sole intention of pleasing God, and perform karma according to His commands, they are the ones whose minds are purified and who are ultimately liberated.”
An Example of Such a Person
A thorough example of such a person is Arjuna. He was a kshatriya and his occupational duty was to fight. Generally kings fight to extend their kingdoms, which they rule for sense gratification. But as far as Arjuna was concerned, he declined to fight for his own sense gratification. He said that he could get a kingdom by fighting his relatives but he did not want such a kingdom. But when he was ordered by Krishna, he fought, not because of attachment to material gains but because he understood that it was his dharma. Such is the way we have to work at our prescribed duties – not for sense gratification, but for gratification of God.
Kapila’s Final Words:
“My dear mother, I have narrated to you the easy path. You can execute it without difficulty and attain liberation.”
Shri Kapila, after instructing his beloved mother, took her permission and left home. As instructed by her son, Devhuti started to practice bhakti-yoga at the home left to her by Kardam Ji. She began to bathe three times daily and as a consequence her curly black hair gradually became brown and matted. Her body, which she now draped in old, worn-out clothes, became thin because of austerities. She gave up all comforts willingly and fixed her mind on God. Situated in this eternal trance, she lost awareness of her material body, just like a person, who having arisen from sleep, forgets the bodies he has seen in his dreams. Now however a spiritual radiance glowed on her face, like agni framed by smoke. Her hair became loose (was never tied) and she lost track of even her disarrayed clothes. Thus extinguishing the pangs of material attachment and following the principles laid down by Bhagawan Kapila, Devhuti attained to the Supreme Soul – Brahman.
The story of Kapila and Devhuti occurs in the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, Canto 3, Chapters 21-33.
This article by Nitin Kumar.
References & Further Reading:
- G. P. Bhatt & J. L. Shastri (tr). The Bhagavata Purana (5 Volumes): Delhi, 2002
- Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Srimad Bhagavatam (18 Volumes): Mumbai
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Bhagwatamrit: The Elixir of the Bhagawat:Mumbai, 2005.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Bhagavata Darshan (Collection of Discourses in Two Volumes): Mumbai, 2003.
- Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes):Gorakhpur, 2004.