I was reading about sage Vishwamitra recently! As a child I was called Vishwamitra by my parents because I was short-tempered!! He was quoted for getting distracted and there were movies to depict him as egoistic person. I was against him for cursing Meneka for his distraction. So, my views about him were not that high when I started my recent reading. But interestingly, though most part of his story and many of the incidents were quite popular & known, there were a number of aha moments for me. This article is a compilation of the reflection points and lessons.
He challenged many traditional thinking. Though there were other kings who were recognized as sages, he was the one to renounce his kingdom and achieve significant progress & was recognized as one of the seven chief sages (in today's world he would have won Nobel prize for the kind of progress he had ;-) ). He was the first to defy class/caste for merit, consider worth over birth. He proved the power of determination and single-mindedness. Big personal and social revolution I feel. He pushed him beyond his limits, broke out of his comfort zone of being a king. He also proved that achieving wisdom is not necessarily a function of genes and it can be a function of careful effort! Hmm… I did not realise that earlier!
He was able to create a heaven and make someone go there with physical body. I interpret this as he was able to launch a satellite for Trishanku and made him travel there. Maybe the technology he used was not ripe enough that Trishanku was not able to stay peacefully there due to some gravitational issues nor return back to earth!! Despite the technical faults, I would give a huge credit to Vishwamitra!! He was the first one to think that he can create a celestial body while others were just worshipping them and thinking that one can travel to space only after death or without a body. Interestingly his efforts in this regard were despised and Trishanku swargam is used in a very negative connotation!! Is it not an irony that people despise(d) him for the greatness?!?!
Not only that, he stopped sacrifice of a human being just before he was put in the sacred fire, took him as a son & disciple and made him as his heir where the tradition was to get the lineage passed from father to son!! Though he was well known for his short-temper and anger he was named as Vishwamitra - a friend of the entire world - because he was ready to go to any extent to save another life!!! Interesting…. And no one refers to him by his given name Kaushik - of course with just one exception - Meneka was the only one to address him by his given name after he was named as Vishwamitra. Most likely he was drawn to her because she did not consider him as a sage or a king but just as a human!!
There were a few lessons too! A striking lesson is, all of us need a Meneka to distract us and test our ability to withstand the pressure of the distraction. The key is to realise that something is a distraction and withdraw from it effectively (doesn't matter before getting distracted or during the distraction). Interesting point is, once we are able to prove to ourselves that we could withdraw from the distraction, our confidence improves and the self-control improves further. Many times in the past I thought that every time we give in to a distraction a dent is created on self-control; but now I realised that it is other way around - once we get distracted / almost get distracted & get out of it, the self-control towards that type of distraction goes up. Interesting!!
Another lesson is, both pleasant and unpleasant things can express themselves as distractions and interestingly, even if you reject a supposedly pleasant distraction in an unpleasant manner, you are distracted anyways and it reduces your ability to focus on your goals. When Vishwamitra met Meneka, he gave in to the pleasantness of the event. Later in the same situation, when he met Rambha, he did not consider that as pleasant, but reacted with anger and lost his tapas again! There does not seem to be a major difference between the first and second incident when it comes their effect on the goal. Success lies in not getting distracted positively or negatively!! Another dimension is about what is a distraction: Anything that does not lift the spirits and nudge/nurture us towards our goals is a distraction; anything that makes us feel down in the future or present is a distraction; it is never about the events or other person or things; it is always about what happens to us. This was an interesting lesson for me!
Another interesting reflection point is the difference in his curse on Meneka and Rambha. They both were planted by Indra to distract Vishwamitra from his penance. He cursed Meneka to return back to heaven and turned Rambha to a stone!! One can argue whether going back to heaven is a curse at all :-) The actual curse is not going back to heaven rather not seeing him again probably. If he had thought she was just planted by Indra and she never loved him, why would he curse her not to see him again!!! Did he find it difficult to punish her more or did he think this was the worst punishment for her? Or was he trying to save her from the torture of seeing him but not interacting with him as before? From his perspective, did he try to save him from getting distracted further or did he try punishing him as well by not seeing her? For someone who could renounce the kingdom in pursuit of knowledge how would that have mattered? Latter sounds like a more reasonable explanation. If he only had physical attraction and never loved her, why would he care to send her back to heaven and be safe & comfortable ? Human mind and behaviours are complex and strange!! And, in real life, many times we don’t have the ability to "curse" our Meneka (whatever distracts us) to be out of our sight. To even make them disappear physically or mentally what kind of tapas (or focus) one should have?
His story also gave some consolation to me :-) Sometimes I have wondered why I react more softly on some people than others, why was I not able to shun them or turn them to stone completely and whether I am partial & therefore mean. His story made me feel that I am not alone in this "meanness"; If a great sage like him, who could create a heaven by himself, reacted differently on different people for the same action, a very average human being like me can fall into the trap at times!! All I need to do is just move on, learn how not to repeat the same mistake again without beating myself up :-)
Having said all this, I am still wondering
a) how did he feel when he renounced his kingdom in pursuit of wisdom and brahma rishi (should I say how did he feel when he changed direction of his career to pursue higher studies and to become a great teacher)
b) how was it like to renounce something only to get distracted by something else on the way
c) how did he get over the shameful feeling that would have ensued (I am referring to only his internal feeling and not about how the world reacted to him) / did he feel shameful at all?
d) how was it like to give away his daughter to another sage in adoption
e) how did he feel when he got recognized as brahma rishi - did he feel it was worth the effort or did he feel he lost many (beautiful?!?!) things in life unnecessarily - after all he got into the game of being brahma rishi only to compete against or revenge another rishi!!
e) despite all the great heights he achieved, why do people refer to him for wrong reasons more often - being arrogant, egoistic, being distracted, being short tempered and for making Trishanku stranded
f) why are his abilities painted differently; how different is Vashista from him - he too cursed others, used weapons, was judgemental and so on?
Not only that I don’t have answers to these questions… I am thinking about Meneka as well… may be another article at a future point in time…