Friday, April 14, 2017

Sudama - a paragon of friendship

 Many great characters that used to be wonderful role models for the society have been reduced to caricatures. Narada perhaps has been the worst hit. Shortly behind on that list will be Sudama. In Friendship - Does it matter with whom, we studied that Sudama as an exemplar friend to Krishna, only to be excelled in magnitude by Bhagwan Sri Krishna.
We will dive into this wonderful story in Bhagavatam, Skandha X, chapters 80 and 81 to unearth one of the most heartwarming and inspiring examples for all of us to emulate. The article aims to counter the cartoonish approach to our puranic stories, which are not only hinduphobic, but also get amplified due to the modern media coupled with the masses being reluctant to crack open the scriptures or even listen to authentic traditional scholars' upanyasams or pravachans.
Sudama, a.k.a Kuchela, a.k.a Sridama, a highly evolved mahatma well versed in Vedas, shining with a strong renunciation for sense objects and mastery over it. His original name was Sridama, but as penury was a badge of honor for brahmanas practicing great austerity, he wore only dirty rags, hence acquired the name Kuchela. His wife, Kshutkshama, was an ideal match for his piety who looked famished for the want of food. They lived on limited alms or whatever food came their way. There is no reference to the common narrative of Sudama having numerous children usually numbering over two dozen. One must make a big difference between the way brahmanas lived on dhana and yachana and the modern evil of begging as a social menace. Unchavritti is a highly purifying way of life where one’s ego gets sent to the cleaners and made to realize the true nature of atman. We have millennia of this way of living which has been reduced to an exact opposite in the twentieth century.
            To appreciate the vastness of the character of Sudama and his wife, let us peruse the verses directly from Vyasa.
kR A iShNasyAsItsakhA kashchidbrAhmaNo brahmavittamaH
virakta indriyArtheShu prashAntAtmA jitendriyaH
            BrahmaVittaamah - One who is versed in Vedas not from a scholarly perspective, but one who has realized the subtle truth.
            Virakta Indriyartheshu – One who has completely renounced the influence from sense objects
            Prashantatma – Peaceful
            Jitendriyah – One who has mastery over senses
In other words, all the qualities of Whom Does God Love series(Whom Does God Love – Part 1, Whom Does God Love – Part 2, Whom Does God Love – Final part) are summarized in terse verses and personified as Sudama. Sudama’s wife is described as:
yadR A ichChayopapannena vartamAno gR A ihAshramI
tasya bhAryA kuchailasya kShutkShAmA cha tathAvidhA
pativratA patiM prAha mlAyatA vadanena sA
daridraM sldamAnA vai vepamAnAbhigamya cha
            Let us note one adjective used to refer her – daridra. She is characterized as pativrata, one who was akin to Sudama in all qualities be it looks or character. Then why is Vyasa referring only her as Daridra. Normally translated as poor. If both were living under the same thatched hut, living on alms, why is she alone called as Daridra. One must understand that Daridra refers to the mindset of lack. Sudama raises above the senses and is not bothered by the BMI or OET. His wife on the other hand, despite all her stellar attributes seems incapable of rising above the world of objects. She perceives a clear lack in her life which also affects her mind, hence Vyasa seems to have chosen this adjective to instruct us on how contentment is the key to our inner evolution.
Under extreme pressure of poverty, Sudama's wife entreated Sudama to approach Sri Krishna. Being the Lord of Dwaraka and as one famed to grant wealth to sincere seekers, and whom her husband repeatedly kept claiming as a very close friend, she saw Krishna as the only possibility to get out of deep poverty. As noted in the character analysis above, though both were under the same circumstances, Sudama's mind was immersed in paramathma, whilst being a devoted wife,Sudama's wife nourished a want. This want makes Vyasa tag an adjective Daridra, while introducing her. The literal meaning is poverty, but Vyasa chose this word to explain that small lack perceived in her mind.
She repeatedly pleads her husband to approach Krishna, the sole refuge. While poverty elimination was on the minds of his wife, Sudama was enamored by the fact he could meet his long lost friend Krishna. Sudama asks his wife to provide some offering to Krishna. Never meet a Guru or Bhagwan or any athithi without a gift. Though it appears a mere tradition, there is lot of significance. When visiting a Guru, offer what (s)he likes, when offering others, give what you can afford, but for Bhagwan give anything with pure love. Kshutkshama went to four houses to beg one handful of flattened rice (poha), made a bundle with a piece of cloth and handed it to Sudama for offering. Note: there were strict rules even if one lives on unchavritti. This is not the same as modern begging, which is a social menace.
Sudama went wondering how he might be able to meet Krishna as he walked to Dwaraka. He goes past the different military barricades and approaches Krishna's main palace. As he went closer, Krishna, who was on his cot with his consort, got up and ran to greet Sudama and embraced him tightly. Seeing Sudama brought tears of joy and memories in his bosom. He made Sudama sit on his own cot and washed his feet. He honored him with gifts, applied him fragrant unguents, did dhoopa-deepa aradhana, offered him betel leaves and offered him a cow. Offering a brahmana a cow is regarded very highly for all varnas. Athiti satkara and also veneration of Brahmana (not due to birth, but by their karma) has been the hallmark of Sanatana Dharma. Krishna again sets a very high example for us to emulate.
Krishna repeatedly welcomed him, while Rukmini Devi, an incarnate of Sri Devi, herself fanned the tired, and famished, unclean Sudama in rags. Onlookers in the palace were stunned to see Krishna himself performing these acts on a poor Brahmana and wondered how much punya he must have done to be treated so by Krishna. A real friendship is not dependant on status of the ones who become friends, nor is it their mutual participation in each other’s welfare. When both are bonded by a common cause which is noble, only then the value of friendship gets enhanced. That is why Karna and Duryodhana, despite being great friends, do not become an example of ideal friendship. Karna, despite knowing all the flaws of Duryodhana, feels himself indebted to his love, rather than aid in showing the right direction. Contrast this with Krishna and Arjuna or Krishna and Sudama.
Krishna and Sudama engaged in their memories of Gurukula. Krishna spoke very highly of the austere nature of Sudama and how much above worldly desires his mind was. Krishna excitedly recalled many events of the past. During one incident, Krishna and Sudama were tasked to procure firewood by Sandipini(Guru)'s wife. In the dense forest, they got lost and were overtaken by fierce rains. Unable to find directions and in the darkness of night, they were stranded. One must remember this happened when Krishna was perhaps 11 to 13 years of age. The next day Sandipini himself came in search of the children and praised their steadfastness to service (Guru Seva). Krishna recalled the blessings of Sandipini that it is Guru's grace that makes one attain the fulfillment of one's aspirations in life and find peace within. Sudama's heart was brimming with love for Krishna. He considered it as a good fortune to have stayed with him in the Guru's abode. Sudama said, for Krishna, the one whose body is constituted of the Vedas, staying at Guru's place for education was to merely conform with human ways. This clearly shows how advanced Sudama was even during his childhood.
Sudama was so spiritually evolved that not a second thought existed in his mind about Krishna's true nature. Ever immersed in those thoughts, Krishna's proximity merely swelled the intensity to tsunami proportions.
Sri Hari, who is aware of the minds of all beings, smilingly inquired Sridama, if he had brought anything to offer him. He reminded Sudama that any offering be it a leaf or flower or fruit or water, given in pure devotion, He cherishes. Sudama became even more shy and hesitant in offering the flattened rice. Krishna who is behind every thought of everyone pondered, "Sudama has never worshipped ME for wealth and even this trip is at the instance of his wife. I will grant him wealth beyond his wildest dreams".  
Let us recall Bhagavad Gita sloka, Chapter 9, Verse 26.
| | पत्रम्́ पुष्पम्́ फलम्́ तॊयम्́ | यॊ मॆ भक्त्या प्रयच्छति |
तद् अहम्́ भक्त्य्-उपह्ड़्तम् | अश्नामि प्रयतात्मनः | |
patraḿ puṣpaḿ phalaḿ toyaḿ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaḿ bhakty-upahṛtam aśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ
Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, water, that I accept, offered by the pure-minded with devotion.

Krishna reached for the small bag which Sudama was hiding. Krishna is perhaps the greatest actor. Acting surprised at the contents of the rag bundle, he expressed pleasant surprise at the thoughtfulness of bringing his favorite food. He took one fistful followed by another. As he was about to take another Rukmini, who was Sri Devi herself, held HIS hand and reminded that due to Krishna's love he has given everything in the universe and beyond already. One must note Sudama’s dilemma – to offer Krishna, whom he has already realized as Paramatma, Supreme Being, paltry handful of flattened rice would be insulting. He also felt it will be like a bribe or request. He had no requests or wishes in his mind. We saw the same traits exhibited when Dhruva and Prahlada were confronting the Divinity. Unless one’s mind gets purified and rises above wants and desires, it is impossible to approach Divinity. We find Arjuna filled with questions, Duryodhana wanting to even imprison Krishna. Yet the highest devotee when facing Hari merely enjoys and relishes HIS presence. This truth is very evident in all our daily lives. Most of us reach out to the Universe with wishes. Depending on the intensity and the level of our effort in achieving it, we get the objects of desire, either now or later. But the most highly evolved ones do not chase the objects, rise above its influence. At the very highest levels, we find superlative examples like Sudama, Dhruva and Prahlada.
Sudama enjoyed Krishna's Supreme hospitality as if it were heaven and spent the night. As he departed, Krishna accompanied him to some distance. On his way back, he wondered that he is returning home with paltry wealth and hoped what he will tell his wife. On the other hand he experienced extreme bliss at the experiences of meeting Krishna.He repeatedly felt blessed that Supreme Krishna himself hugged him and served him along with Rukmini. To Sudama's mind more than all the wealth, the way Krishna treated him fondly was more than heaven, be it washing his feet or applying sandal paste or his wife fanning him with chowry, was Supreme. One cannot fathom the purity of Sudama’s mind. Despite being sent on a single purpose of seeking wealth, Krishna giving him demonstration of his charitable nature and also eagerness to give anything he might have sought, Sudama does not even get a single thought of seeking a favor. His mind is extremely grateful and awe struck at the way Krishna and Rukmini set the standards of hospitality. Approaching Divinity with a want may fulfill the wish, but leaves a bigger hole of the Vasana.
Reminiscing all the wondrous experiences, he reached home to find huge towers and mansions. A dazed Sudama was greeted by his wife who was dazzling like a celestial and the house looked akin to Indra's abode. Sudama began to think how this wealth has come to him when he did not deserve it. It was only due to the fortunate meeting with Krishna, who cherishes giving away abundance like the sudden cloudburst. Sudama repeatedly thought about the blessings of meeting Krishna.
After incessant reflection, Sudama felt more intense devotion to Krishna and desired to renounce the world immediately. Still to please his wife, he lived in this world, partaking only objects sanctioned by scriptures and never entangled even mentally with any sense objects. He spent his time in continuous meditation till he attained Vaikunta, Mahavishnu's abode. 
Krishna, who cannot be conquered by others is easily conquered by pure devotion of the devotees. One who listens and narrates this story of Kuchela Brahmana and understands the nature of Krishna's love and strong affinity for mahatmas will attain the love of Krishna and get liberation from Karma bandhana.
Sudama’s episode is deeper than what meets the eye. Most of the folks who hear or narrate the story limit it to the story aspect. But let us aspire to only read in between the lines.

  • Never meet anyone, especially Bhagwan, without something to offer.
  • Never approach Divinity with a begging bowl. Our Karmaphala comes to us, what comes from Krishna is Grace. If we settle for our cheap trinkets, the best imagined ones from our mind fertile with vasanas, they merely block the uplifting Grace to rise above these vasanas. Bad bargain.
  • Spend time with scriptures, live the life by it and this makes not only meeting divinity a possibility but propels us to live above the influence of OET (Objects, Emotion, Thoughts)
  • Krishna never even claims what he gave to Kuchela, nor did Sudama seek any. The highest blessings are the ones that come unsought.
  • There is no change in Sudama before and after Krishna's meet / blessing, except perhaps his incessant meditative intensity on Paramatma. Sudama never went with a want, nor did he get trapped in the sense pleasures offered by Krishna, after his visit.
  • In a sense,  the only feast for Sudama was for his senses, as his mind was always immersed in Hari smarana before and after his visit.

May our minds follow this wondrous example of Sudama. Though we may not be able to rise immediately to such exalted heights, we can at least imitate his attitude in our daily lives, be it in regularly reading scriptures, reducing a vasana driven approach, make some time to connect with the inner Divinity, never approach a friend with a want, behave like Krishna in treating our friends by sharing generously without a request or even their knowledge. May we learn to train our mind to humble its ego a bit by offering that which was only HIS by shedding our mamakara, I-ness. Krishnarpanamastu.

Om Tat Sat
  • Srimad Bhagavata - Swami Tapasyananda translation

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