Everyone has their philosophies. In the Devi Bhagavatam, even the villain Mahishasur sermons on his ideologies to the Divine Mother. Inferring that Devi was blundering by rejecting his marriage proposal, he relates the following story (paraphrased):
King Chandrasena of Simhala had a beautiful daughter named Mandhodhari. When it was time for her marriage, the king identified a handsome prince as a suitable match. Sadly for the king, his daughter loathed the life of a householder and wished to renounce. A few years later, the esteemed King Virasena of Kosala happened to see Mandhodhari. He instantly fell in love with her. Yet again, the princess refused the alliance on the same grounds.
In a sudden turn of events, Mandhodhari got attracted to King Charudeshna of Madra. Her happy father promptly conducted the marriage rituals. Unfortunately, in due course of time, she realized that her husband was infamous for illicit relationships. Poor Mandhodhari wasn’t happy with her husband, and she couldn’t return to her parents in fear of defamation. Consequently, she lived like an ascetic in her own home but was overwhelmed with sadness.
Mahishasur ended his narration, “Hence, a beautiful woman should never reject good alliances.”
Devi quipped, “Thank you for your kind concern Mr. Mahishasur. But, you’ve reached the wrong counter! I’m the Formless Divine who’s taken a form to end your philosophies. Now tell me, do you want to die or run away to Patala Loka, the world of Asuras?”
After that, we all know the fate of Mahishasur! For the records, Devi stomped him with her feet and killed him mercilessly.
All primary Puranic antagonists had justifications for their actions. That included the handsome-looking Shumba, his devoted brother Nishumba, the multi-talented Ravana, and the crafty Duryodhana. Interestingly, some of their arguments contained profound Vedic notions. Still, they were all exterminated by the Divine. Even the King of Devas, Indra, painted a rationale for his unjust act. He killed an Asura named Trishira, who was practicing austerities for liberation. Nevertheless, Indra was humiliated and dethroned. And he had to go through severe hardships to regain his position.
In short, whether a Deva or an Asura, none were as stupid as those depicted in comic books and television shows. They were all victims of misunderstanding or guilty of deliberately tweaking the tenets per convenience. Immaterial to whether our ideologies arise from within or due to societal conditioning, our philosophies make or break us.
Moving away from mythology, I’ve come across people who genuinely believe that the Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad Gita, should be set aside for promoting violence. A classic example of thoroughly mistaking the philosophical teachings!
The Four Requirements
To prevent such self-deception, the sage Adi Shankaracharya emphasized the Sadhana Chatushtaya, the four mandatory qualifications. In his Vivekachudamani (Verse 19 onwards), he made a profound declaration. Only those who developed the requirements listed below were ready for the world of Sadhana and the study of scriptures:
- Viveka, the power of discretion: If we believe in every piece of information that comes our way, we will dig a massive grave for ourselves! At the same time, rejecting every learning opportunity will get us nowhere. From my personal experience, blindly following even a remarkable spiritual Guru won’t be beneficial. On the path of self-discovery, accepting only that which leads us to our truth and rejecting everything else is Viveka. Such discretion comes from a thorough understanding of ourselves.
- Vairāgya, non-attachment: Non-attachment doesn’t mean that we’ve to leave our current life and become a monk! Performing our duties with a sense of objectivity is non-attachment. Living a meaningful life, with the understanding that everything is temporary, is a form of Vairāgya. As the wise say, we must learn to float like a lotus in this worldly ocean.
- Shat Sampathi, the six acquisitions: Every seeker should aspire to cultivate this subset of qualities:
- Shama – some level of equanimity
- Dama – willpower to exercise self-control
- Uparati – desisting mentally from the outer world
- Titikshā – forbearance to endure obstacles
- Shraddhā – faith in the Divine, Guru or ourself that isn’t blind
- Samādhāna – absorption to revel in our inner world
- Mumukshutva, intense spiritual longing: Harboring a fierce desire for self-discovery is Mumukshutva. A sincere seeker is the one who isn’t afraid to traverse the oceans! Such a seeker is committed to the discovery of their truth. If a need occurs, they can gladly sacrifice all their pleasures and passions for the same.
Those who don’t meet the above criteria run the risk of misunderstanding Sanatana Dharma’s philosophies. Sadly, in the current world, such guarded information is readily available at the click of a button! Hence, to prevent ourselves from drowning in theology, it’s recommended to strive towards those pre-requisites mentioned above. If we aren’t ready for it, we may find these scriptural philosophies making us empty from within and misdirected in the world outside.