Questions by Lord of Dharma
– By HG Caturātmā Prabhu
Alright so, Gurudeva opened the door that I wanted to continue to walk through a little bit, before I transition into this pastime. We are here because this is the Kārtik Parikramā program. And sometimes we forget that it’s named after the month that we’re observing: Kārtik. For most devotees in another part of the world, who are now here in Vṛndāvan, going around to different places every day, all kinds of vows, strict penances, and austerities are naturally performed.
But there are five prominent activities that are given by the Gosvāmīs that one should observe during Kārtik:
- Increase our hearing.
- Increase our chanting.
- Offer lamps.
- Worship Dāmodara, and
- Perform fasting: Now that fasting is different for each individual, but the concept is that during the month of Kārtik, we restrict our food intake. We restrict how we take food in and what we take in.
The points that Śrīla Gurudeva has made are very practical; so aside from him being the Spiritual Master of the lion’s share of devotees here, and that in and of itself being sufficient for you to follow those instructions, executing a Kārtik Vrata in Vṛndāvan during Kārtik also gives you the benefit as well. Actually not only the benefit—one thousand times the benefit! So like he says, when you see that tasty looking pakora or that nice little ice cream bar, just remember, “If I don’t do it, I get a thousand times benefit for not doing it, and I also please Śrīla Gurudeva.”
Alright, so, let’s dive into the nectar of the pastimes here at Kāmyavan a little more. I have a question for all of you. Raise your hands if you answer this. “Before today, how many of you knew that this was the place where Yudhiṣtira had the exchange of questions? How many of you knew that took place here in Kāmyavan? How many did not?” Most of us didn’t realize that this prominent pastime that we are all very familiar with, took place here right in Vṛndāvan.
As we were driving in our caravan of cars and buses, we asked directions, and the locals were like, “Okay, well which Kuṇḍa? There are so many Kuṇḍas, which one you want to go to?” One of the Kuṇḍas in this area is called Dharma–Kuṇḍa. Now we all know the five Pāṇḍava brothers: Yudhiṣtira, Arjuna, then Bhīma, then Nakula, then Sahadeva. These five, they were pretty much inseparable, especially when they were incognito or going out into the forest or any of these activities. They were always very close with each other. One day, four of the brothers: Bhīma, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva, decided that they would go out for a walk into the forest, and Yudhiṣtira didn’t feel like going that day for some particular reason.
They went out walking in this Kāmyavan area, and as happens when you hike for a fair amount of time, you become a little thirsty. So the boys became a little thirsty and they came upon a Kuṇḍa, which was called Dharma Kuṇḍa. Then first Bhīma, he went to drink water and a voice in the sky said, “Stop! Before you can take this water from my Kuṇḍa, you must answer my questions.” Now we know Bhīma’s a pretty powerful, strong guy. He’s thinking, “You know, I am Bhīma, I just want a glass of water here, not even a handful, just a palm-full of water, I don’t have to listen to you.” So he took the palm-full of water— [sound of drinking water]—fell over dead.
Arjuna came, he went to the lake, and he saw, “There is my brother Bhīma, he’s dead!” But he was also overcome by thirst, and he went to take water first before he investigated. And as he knelt at the lake and put his hands into the Kuṇḍa, the voice again came from the sky, “Stop! Before you can drink this water from my Kuṇḍa, you must answer my questions.” Uncharacteristically for Arjuna, he also just blew off the voice, took a palm-full of water; he also fell over dead. We have got two out of the five Pāṇḍavas no longer there.
Sahadeva then comes next. The same scenario repeats itself; he goes to take a drink, he’s told to stop, he takes it anyway, falls over dead. And finally the fifth of the Pāṇḍavas, Nakula comes also, the same exact scenario; sees that his brothers have fallen dead, goes to take a drink of water, is told to stop, takes the drink anyway, and also dead.
Now after some time, the four brothers have not returned to the house, so Yudhiṣtira, he’s the oldest; he’s kind of looking out for the rest of them, he becomes a little concerned. He goes out in search of his brothers, “Where are they? Why haven’t they come back?” And he sees that “There are all four of my brothers lying side by side next to this Kuṇḍa. What possibly could have happened? They are the Pāṇḍava brothers!”
As he is pondering this question, the celestial voice again comes from the sky, “I own this Kuṇḍa, and your brothers tried to drink from this Kuṇḍa without following my request. I told them to first answer my question, then they could take water, but they did not obey, so they died. This is the suitable reaction for one who steals the property of another. But you, Yudhiṣtira, you’re the older, wiser brother, so I will ask you the questions, and if you answer them, I will revive your brothers.”
One hundred questions! Now Gurudeva did say we will sit here all day, right? Someone want to keep count? [laughs] There are ten that are very important, so I’ve taken those ten instead of the one hundred. You can go to the Mahābhārata on your own and read the one hundred questions; they are listed there.
1) The first question that Yudhiṣtira is asked, “Who makes the sun rise and ascend into the skies? Who moves around the sun? Who makes the sun set on the horizon? What is the true nature of the sun? And where is the sun established?”
Now if I were taking count, I’d say that’s about six questions right there. But because they all deal with the topic of the sun, the voice in the sky was able to present them as one question; and besides, if somebody’s got your brother’s lives in their hands, you’re not likely to argue fine points of topics with them. Yudhiṣtira gives the answer: “Brahmā makes the sun rise and ascend into the sky. The collection of gods circumambulates the sun. Dharma or truthfulness causes the sun to set. Therefore, truth is actually the sun and the sun is established only by truth.” So satisfaction was given, so the next question was asked.
2) “What instills Divinity in a Kṣatriya? What is the quality of virtuosity in a Kṣatriya? What is the human-like quality of a Kṣatriya? And what is the conduct that is akin to non-virtuosity in the person of a Kṣatriya?”
So Yudhiṣtira gives the following answers: “The Divinity of a Kṣatriya is the art of archery. The offering of oblations is the quality of virtuosity found in Kṣatriya. The only human-like quality found in Kṣatriya is fear. And abandoning people who are under the protection of Kṣatriya is the non-virtuous activity that a Kṣatriya can perform. Alright, the answers are satisfactory, he moves on to the next question.
3) “What is that thing which is like a Mantra in a performance of a Yajña? Who is the performer of rites and ceremonies during the Yajña? Who accepts the offerings and oblations of the Yajña? And what is that which even the performance of a Yajña cannot transgress?” Yudhiṣtira thought and gave the following answers: “Breath is to be taken like a Mantra in the performance of a Yajña. Mind is the one that performs all the rites and activities of the Yajña. Only the ślokas accept the oblations of the Yajña. And the Yajña cannot be surpassed by the ṛṣis. [How do you say this? The transgression of this cannot be—you can’t surpass the potency of a Yajña except through ṛṣis]. Again, the answers were satisfactory, moves on to the next question.
4) “What is heavier than the Earth, higher than the heavens, faster than the wind, and more numerous than straws?” Yudhiṣtira had no problem answering this one, “One’s own mother is heavier than the Earth, one’s own father is higher than the heavens, the mind is faster than the wind, and only our worries are more numerous than the blades of grass.” That’s a good one to remember, I see some of you writing it down, that’s the one you want to remember.
5) The next question: “Who is the friend of the traveler? Who is the friend of one who is ill and dying?” Yudhiṣtira thought for a moment: “The friend of the traveler is his companion. You need look no farther than Indradyumna Swami and Baḍa–Hari for that answer. The physician is the friend of one who is sick, and the dying man’s friend is charity.”
6) The next questions; “What is that which when it is renounced makes one lovable?” And what is it, which, if it is renounced, makes one happy and wealthy?” So what is it that we can renounce that makes us loved by all?
Yudhiṣtira gave a very good answer. “Our pride! By renouncing our desire, we become wealthy and by renouncing avarice, or bad attitudes towards others, we become happy.” That’s also a good one. “You will become loved by others if you give up your pride, you become wealthy if you give up your desire to attain things, and you become happy if you stop finding fault in others.”
7) Next question: “What enemy is invincible? What is an incurable disease? And what sort of man is noble and what sort of man is not noble?”
Yudhiṣtira was very quick to answer this question, as well: “Anger is the invincible enemy of everyone. Covetousness (To intensely desire, to hanker) is the disease that cannot be cured. That person is noble who considers the well being of all living entities and that person is not noble who has no mercy on others.” When we think of someone who has the well-being of all living entities, can we not think of Śrīla Prabhupāda? I mean so much difficulty; he was living here in this wonderful place, and left it all just for our benefit.
8) Next Yudhiṣtira was asked, “Who is truly happy?” Which of us here feels they are truly happy? Who? [Devotees respond] Really? Only just like three or four of you feel that you’re truly happy? You are in the lap of Vṛndāvan in the association of the most exalted Vaiṣṇavas, chanting the Holy Names of the Lord, of course you are happy! But Yudhiṣtira gave a different answer.
“One is happy who has no debts. Not only financial but debts and obligations to anyone.”
So these are among the top-ten. Everybody’s got a top ten list, top-ten this, top-ten that; so these are the top ten questions. And this tenth one is one that as Gurudeva said earlier Śrīla Prabhupāda referred to many times in his lectures.
9] “What is the most amazing and wondrous thing?” Yudhiṣtira gave a very appropriate answer which Śrīla Prabhupāda liked to repeat many times in his lectures. It’s worded different ways according to the particular translation.
“Day after day, countless people die, yet those who are living wish that they would live forever. Is there anything that can be a greater wonder than that?”
This was the answer that the personality of this voice which we will soon find out was actually looking for. This was the big prize. It’s like the big bell went off; you won the big prize, and the bells ring, and the trumpets blare, and you are the winner, you got it all.
In this way Yudhiṣtira finally gets what? He gets to get a drink of water? All of this for palm-full of water? No, you have to remember that Yudhiṣtira had a better deal with the voice: that his four brothers would come back to life. So as the five Pāṇḍavas are standing there together on the banks of Dharma Kuṇḍa, the voice reveals to them who he really is. It is none other than the Lord of Dharma: Yamarāja Himself. And Yudhiṣtira of course is Yamarāja’s son. Yamarāja is so pleased with the cooperative agreeable nature of Yudhiṣtira’s approach to this that he gives his blessings to them. He said, “Since you have agreed to the laws of Dharma, Dharma will always protect you five brothers.” Then he gave an additional blessing which would be particularly useful to them, “During the period in which you would have to be incognito, hiding for fourteen years, no one would be able to recognize you.”
Because you may remember during that famous chess match when they lost, everything was gone and they were banished into the forest. The condition was, “Not only are you banished for fourteen years, but if anybody recognizes you in the last year, fourteen more years of banishment.” When you think about it, that’s really a pretty harsh punishment. I mean, the five Pāṇḍavas are like the most famous people of the time, everybody knows who the five Pāṇḍavas are. Of course we know that they were successful because they each had their own particular skill and their own particular way of taking advantage of curses they received, and qualities and characteristics they had by which nobody did recognize them.
This is a pastime also that happened here in Kāmyavan. Kāmyavan is known for the pastimes of the Divine Couple, and for the pastimes of the Lord’s devotees who have resided here, and for the pastimes of some particularly short-tempered long-haired sages [Durvāsā Muni].
Sometimes people, you know, later after this incident, Yudhiṣtira would be asked, “You know, a hundred questions. I mean, that’s like an A+.” Now we get this music [laughter at music in the background]. Anyway, Yudhiṣtira had a very good reply, you know. He would say that Dharma protects those who protect Dharma. If you uphold your Dharma, Dharma will in turn protect you. This is an important thing to remember, that we all have a particular quality, a particular religious responsibility as Vaiṣṇavas and if we embrace those qualities of Vaiṣṇavas and are very true to them then they will also protect us as we go about our life’s work. There is one of those thoughtful phrases you see posted in different places around and it says, “You know, your honesty is who you are when nobody is watching.”
So this is the important thing to remember that the qualities that we’re supposed to represent as a devotee; we should be embracing those, and then these same qualities will be our own strength. In this way, Yamarāja served a very interesting purpose with Yudhiṣtira; a purpose that’s benefited by all of us today.
Yamarāja is one of the twelve Mahājanas. These are the personalities that give us our understanding and our standards in Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. We can greatly benefit from that. Now for the non-devotee, for those not interested in their spiritual upliftment, Yamarāja has one purpose, he’s the lord of death. He’s feared by everyone who is not in their devotional position and he is the source of anxiety and stress when an individual who is not a devotee is leaving this world. But for those of us who are taking those instructions that he gives in our Kṛṣṇa Conscious development, he actually becomes our friend.
Aside from that, so many of the devotional practices we do daily protect us from Yamarāja. It is said that, “One who wears the Tilaka on the forehead, has the Tulasi beads on their neck, who sings the nice song of Tulasi, who waters Tulasi Devī, such a person never sees the lord of death.” This is why devotees don’t fear Yamarāja. They take him as an instructor. Now generally you wouldn’t go to the lord of death and seek instructions on your devotional practices. But because he serves the dual purpose as a Mahājana, his instructions, his directions are very beneficial to the living entities. Our Ācāryas, they give us a little bit of guidance, they say that there are actually three things that we can go to Yamarāja and ask for. Because he is a Mahājana, he’s capable and interested in giving us these three things. Do you want to know what those three things are? Get your pens and papers ready?
- The first one is that we can ask him for good Sādhana. Isn’t this what we all desire? I mean, we all have our standard of devotional service that we’re executing, but couldn’t it be a little bit better? Couldn’t I read just little bit more? Couldn’t I chant my Japa just little bit better? Couldn’t I be a little more attentive to only eating Kṛṣṇa Prasādam? Couldn’t I make more of an effort not to fault-find and criticize others? These are all practices of our Sādhana that we can ask Yamarāja, “Please help me develop these.”
- The second thing we can ask Yamarāja for: “Cleanliness.” Inside and outside. Outside, of course, you take Prasādam and wash your hands. It’s funny! I was just giving a class in Alachua to the children’s school. I go there weekly and speak about the Vaiṣṇava Ācāryas to the different grade levels of kids. I was talking about Mādhavācārya last week and how during the time of Mādhavācārya it was the latter part of the middle ages in Europe, and the one thing we have from the middle ages is the black plague. This comes about primarily because of the lack of cleanliness that existed at that time. When I asked the following question to each of the grade levels from the little five-year-olds to the fifteen-year-olds, “Which of you had a shower or a bath this morning?” every single one of the kids raised their hand. I said, “Which of you had a shower or bath yesterday morning?” and in all the grade levels, every single kid raised their hand. I said, “Which of you will have a shower or bath tomorrow morning?” and they all raised their hands. Then I told them, “The thing is that in the middle Ages in Europe, they bathed, oh you know, once every two weeks, once a month maybe?” They all had the same reaction, “Eeeeeee!” [indicating displeasure] That was it; they considered it to be a horrible thing! Śrīla Prabhupāda, if he would drink water, he would rinse his hands and mouth, so cleanliness outside. Cleanliness inside by being very thoughtful of what we’re thinking and where our mind is dragging our consciousness.
- The final thing that a Sādhaka is encouraged to ask from Yamarāja is for the ability to control our senses especially at the time of temptation. In this way we can be very, very thoughtful of these three points; and these are things that can help us in our devotional life; and this is part of the whole pastime that took place here in Kāmyavan at Dharma Kuṇḍa.
Okay, alright, so we’ll finish there. Thank you very much, and we can try and remember these things, as we have our Prasādam, how to be clean after we have our Prasādam. So that means that we want to leave the place very neat after you’re finished. Don’t leave a mess, we are Vaiṣṇavas, we have a reputation to take care of. Thank you for your tolerance, and your time, and I pray you give me your blessings.