Parikshit poses the following questions to Shuka.
- What is the character and means of the highest realization ?
- What should be done under all circumstances by a person who is on the verge of death?
- What should be done by persons in general – What should they hear, what should they chant, what should they constantly think of, what should they resort to, and what should they avoid ?
The venue is the bank of the Holy Ganga where a huge gathering of celestials and distinguished sages has arrived to observe the great kind, after learning that he has relinquished his throne, and decided to spend his last few days on the banks of the Holy River. Only a few days earlier he had been cursed by the safe Sringi. The imprecation of the sage Sringi that he, Parikshit would die of a snake bite on the seventh day, now appears to him, too small a price to pay for his misdemeanour in hoisting the body of a dead snake on the shoulders of Sringi’s father, Shamika. “At last I will be absolved of the heinous sin of insulting a sage, that too while he was in Samadhi. Let me now focus on what I should do in the remaining few days left in my life”, thought Parikshit. Parikshit was a virtuous king, son of the valorous Abhimanyu and grandson of the famous Arjuna. Even Shamika, the wronged sage admonished his son that he should not have cursed a king – that too a king like Parikshit – to death.
At the outset Shuka compliments the kind for his pointed and apt questions. “I greatly appreciate your questions for not only will it help you in your case but it will also help all people in general as it is applicable to everybody”. All who are born, are certain to die one day or the other. The duration between the moments of birth and death called the span of life is indefinite. It could be really very long. At least in your case you have a definite span guaranteed to you viz., 7 days. This is not the case with others. The whole situation is put in an entirely new light by Shuka.
The fact that a person has lived a long life does not necessarily mean he has lived it well. On the other hand a person who may live for a much short duration but who has focused on the essentials, is to be commended. Shuka cites the example of King Katvanga who received a boon from the celestials for having helped them in a battle. Khatvanga asks how much more time do I have to enjoy your boon and coming to know that he has only a few moments left, then and there relinquishes the kingdom and takes up devotional service, thus attaining liberation.
Why we are discussing Parikshit’s questions here and that too in our so called modern twenty-first century. That is because these questions have remained very much relevant all throught the nearly 5000 years after they were first posed, even to this day. They will remain ever-relevant even in the future. Shuka says, our nights are spent in sleep or in copulation and our days in pursuit of wealth and happiness, in providing for ourselves and people related to our bodies such as wife, children and others. In the heat and intensity of our pursuits, we do not see or realize that death will surely overtake us one day though seeing death all around us. Therefore, O King, he who seeks the fearless state of moksha or liberation, should listen to, recite and dwell constantly on the stories of the Almighty Lord, Sri Hari, the soul of the Universe. The supreme reward in ones life is to remember Sri Hari at the last moment of one’s life. To enable such fortune to favour you, I shall now narrate to you the same Bhagavatha Purana, which was bestowed on me by my father VedaVyasa. I must tell you that prior to receiving his teaching, I was fully established in the absolute and I wanted no truck with the mundane world. However my heart was captivated by the past times of Sri Krishna of excellent renown. That is how I studied this Purana” says Shuka to Parikshit. The mind of those who repose their faith on this Purana quickly conceives disinterested love of Sri Krishna, the bestower of liberation.
For those who have developed an aversion for this world and seek to attain the fearless state, as well as for realized souls who have attained to God, O kind, the chanting of Sri Hari’s names has been concluded to be the best means as well as the end. To a person who is negligent about his own interest, of what use in this world are long years of life that slip away unnoticed and are spent in ignorance. Much more valuable is the hour, consciously spent in endeavouring for the highest good. Having come to know that he was to live only an hour more, the royal sage Khatvanga renounced everything in that short span of time and sought refuge with Sri Hari, who dispels all fear. O King, you are comparatively speaking better of, since you have yet 7 days available to you, to accomplish all that is conducive to your welfare hereafter. When the hour of death comes, man should shake all fear and cut with the sword of non-attachment, the tie of affection for his body as well as for those that are connected with it.
Shuka then goes on to narrate the process of contemplation of God and the steps leading to the same. Aversion or vairagya is a necessary step to enter a life of Sadhana. This is neither easy nor inevitable. Aversion or Dispassion does not mean giving up all worldly activities or running away from all activities. What it means is giving up our intense attachment to the fruits of our activities and corresponding likes an dislikes associated with the same. Aversion could come from sudden shocks in life administered to us from unexpected quarters, failures in business or love, loss by death or disease of loved ones. Such shocks, if one is fortunate could lead to our realization that we are not independent and our so called resources, be it money, fame, strength, beauty, etc. are insignificant. One could also realize thereby the infinite glories of the Lord and His mercies and that we are His eternal servants. Such a favourable situation will not materialize without the grace of a Guru or preceptor how is the direct representative and visible form of the Lord Himself.
What a fortunate person, this King Parikshit is ? In his mothers womb, he had a vision of Sri Krishna, and the protection of His Sudarshan Chakra. He ascended the throne of Hastinapur and ruled the kingdom justly. The advent of the Kali Age resulted in, his committing a misdemenour for which he was cursed to death by serpent bite. This curse proved to be a boon to him since it enabled him to be in the exalted company of sages and receive the nectarine Bhagavath from Shuka himself over a period of seven days. At the end of the seven days, the nectar of Bhagavatha had already immortalized him to an extent he was completely oblivious of the serpent bite that came nevertheless.
Parikshit’s question and the answers provided by Shuka are relevant at all times to all of us. We have to carefully ponder over them and try to follow these simple steps in our daily life, steps such as fellowship of saints or satsang, deliberate cultivation of dispassion or aversion, intense devotion to the stories of pastimes and teachings of Sri Krishna. As we restructure our daily routine to take in many of these precepts, we are bound of discover a new joy of living, which is independent of wealth, making our lives richer, and making people we come into contact with happier. When the hour of death comes, as it will surely do, let us like Parikshit, shake of all fear of death, having been immersed in the nectarine glory of Srimad Bhagavatha.