“Seeing an answer not forthcoming from the king, Vashishtha tried all kinds of ways to make him understand. He said that the son of Gadhi is powerful through his great austerities and explained that Rama is also very capable.’” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 3.1)
āyau na utarū basiṣṭha lakhi bahu bhānti nṛpa samajhāyaū |
kahi gādhi suta tapa teja kachu raghupati prrabhāu janāyaū ||
When in doubt, don’t say anything. Stumped on a particular question, if you say the wrong thing, you might offend the person you’re speaking to. Moreover, if the cameras are rolling, your incorrect answer will be remembered and repeated over and over again. One king a long time ago was dumbfounded at the request coming from an innocent sage. Having just praised the vipra for his standing and good deeds, the king couldn’t now outright reject the request, as it would invalidate his previous words. At the same time, saying ‘yes’ would mean parting with his most beloved son. At this time a well-wishing adviser, another member of the priestly class, stepped in to offer some calming words.
We’re not always so lucky. In the trickiest situations, coming up with the right thing to say is not easy. If politicians should hesitate on national television in a debate, their candidacy can end immediately. Nobody wants to be led by someone who can’t speak with confidence and knowledge. The leader is in the top position for a reason. Good communication skills can mask the lack of intelligence, but at the same time someone who is knowledgeable can be perceived to be a dunce if they cannot in a short amount of time come up with the proper words to convey their thoughts.
There are so many issues to contend with in troubling situations that sometimes even if there is pressure to respond, it is better to just stay silent. After all, you can’t hurt someone’s feelings if you don’t say anything. In fact, the Miranda warning given to people arrested in the United States starts off by saying that the detained person has the right to remain silent. The reason for this is that anything said during the time of arrest can be used against them in the court of law. If that’s the case, why not stay silent throughout, not divulging any information? If you stay quiet long enough, maybe the troublesome situation will pass.
Vashishtha knew that the king of Ayodhya could not afford to hesitate for long. The son of Gadhi, Vishvamitra, had come as a matter of urgency. Night-rangers were foiling the religious practices of the ascetics living in the forest. More than just foil, these creatures would attack with force, often killing the sages and then eating their flesh. One ghoulish creature in particular was intent on harassing Vishvamitra. Named Maricha, he was a chief counselor to the king of Rakshasas in Lanka, Ravana.
“Please allow Rama to protect me during those times when I am observing religious functions and trying to keep my concentration. O chief of mankind, a terrible fear has befallen me on account of this Rakshasa Maricha.” (Vishvamitra speaking to Maharaja Dasharatha, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.4)
Ironically enough, though Maricha was on the other side of justice, he later turned out to be a speaker of the glories of both Vishvamitra and the person the sage desired for personal protection. In one way through his wickedness Maricha increased the fame of the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha and also affirmed the king’s dedication to piety. As the leader of a famous land, Dasharatha’s primary desire in life was to uphold righteousness. In a world full of duality, the right course is not always discernable, so the safe bet is to follow the direction of the brahmanas.
But here now was a brahmana asking the king to lend his eldest son. There was a massive royal army that could have gone with Vishvamitra, guarding the perimeter of his ashrama. But as if to strike at the very heart of the king, to take the one possession that meant more to him than anything else, Vishvamitra asked to have Rama as an escort. Rama was not even twelve years old yet, but the sage knew that only He could protect against the attacks of Maricha.
Before future events could validate the sage’s premonition, Dasharatha’s royal priest stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. After Vishvamitra made his request, the king was stunned, basically speechless. Seeing that an answer was not forthcoming, Vashishtha reminded the king of the qualities of the people in question. He rightfully said that Vishvamitra was a strong ascetic, completely dedicated to austerity. In the Bhagavad-gita, the song of God, Lord Krishna states that He is the penance of the ascetic.
“I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.9)
Krishna’s statement was part of a series of remarks meant to indicate how God is the life of everything. To make this concept easier to understand to the conditioned living beings, Krishna went through some common activities and occupational positions and revealed how He is the specific identifying feature in each of them. For the ascetic to have true value, he must be dedicated to austerity. The statement, “If I could only be king for a day”, indicates a desire to get whatever you want and enjoy the regal life but for even a brief period of time. The ascetic lives with just the opposite mindset. “What more is there that I can renounce today? So far I have fasted and lived in the wilderness, but surely there is something more that I can live without.”
Asceticism and its powers are so great that the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are filled with accounts of historical incidents where famous personalities took to asceticism and achieved a higher end. The potency of austerity for religious purposes is not limited to men either. The daughter of the mountain king was told in her youth by Narada Muni that she should marry Mahadeva, the greatest of the gods. Mahadeva, or Lord Shiva, is in charge of the material mode of ignorance, so he is the ideal worshipable figure for those who are into black magic, those desirous of material opulence to be used for nefarious purposes, and the ghosts and the goblins. Lord Shiva is himself completely renounced, yet his devotees are often very wealthy, having acquired their riches through simple offerings made to him.
The mountain king and his wife were a little taken aback by Narada’s words. Lord Shiva wears a garland of skulls around his neck and has ashes smeared all over his body. He hovers around crematoriums and holds poison in his throat. What kind of husband would he make? None of this mattered to Parvati, the king’s daughter. She immediately went to the forest to perform austerities, with famous seers arriving many years later to test her devotion. Parvati was even offered Lord Vishnu, the same Krishna and Rama, as a husband, but she refused, stating that she would abide by the words of her guru, Narada. Through her penance she was able to please Mahadeva and earn him as a husband. The two are to this day happily engaged in devotional service and overseeing the affairs of the material world.
Vishvamitra was not an ascetic in name only. He had previously been a king, but due to his asceticism he was now recognized as a saintly man. King Dasharatha had a vow to uphold righteousness at the direction of the priestly class, so he should not have thought that Vishvamitra’s request would cause harm. Vishvamitra knew what he was doing, as he was very powerful through his austerity.
Vashishtha also reminded Dasharatha that Rama was capable, though He was very young. Dasharatha didn’t know that Rama was the Supreme Lord appearing in his family to delight the residents of Ayodhya. The Lord would charm the world and countless future generations of man with His splendid deeds, which included protecting Vishvamitra from Maricha. As described by Maricha to Ravana in the Ramayana, Rama, though a young man with barely any signs of manhood on His face, without hesitation strung His bow and thwarted Maricha’s attack on Vishvamitra’s sacrificial fire.
“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra's ashrama, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)
The force of the arrow released by Rama was so strong that Maricha was thrust thousands of miles away, never daring to bother Vishvamitra again. In this way Vashishtha’s words were prescient, and Dasharatha was fortunate to have him around. When we are in doubt or if we don’t want to do what is right, hearing from someone else about what to do isn’t always pleasant. We may even get angry with them for speaking the truth, but in the end we are benefited by their honest and wise counsel.
Dasharatha knew that Vashishtha was correct, though the king never looked at Rama as being supremely powerful. The Supreme Lord’s splendor and might take a backseat to His beauty, charm and endearing qualities in the eyes of the divine lovers. The fact that He is God and offers protection from wicked characters and speaks pearls of wisdom like those found in the Bhagavad-gita is not the primary cause for the dedication to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Rather, in divine love the emotions can be so strong that the devotee starts worrying about the Lord’s welfare and whether or not He will be able to handle different situations.
Taking Lakshmana with Him, Rama would protect Vishvamitra from the attacks of several Rakshasas. Through the good steward’s leadership, Rama and Lakshmana would be led to the kingdom of Videha, where the marriage of Rama’s eternal consort was being arranged. Her husband was not already decided. Whoever could lift Mahadeva’s bow would win Sita’s hand. Just as Parvati was meant for marrying Shiva, Shri Rama was meant to raise the bow and live happily ever after with Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka. Thanks to Vashishtha’s good counsel, the wheels were set in motion for that wonderful marriage to take place.
From vipra’s request king’s heart did sink,
Follow virtue or keep Rama, couldn’t think.
The distressed condition of king he could tell,
Vashishtha stepped in for doubts to dispel.
As brahmana, Vishvamitra’s opinion right,
And Shri Rama, though young of great might.
Mahadeva daughter of mountain king to marry,
To the woods vow for austerity she did carry.
Sita Devi meant to wed Rama in the same way,
Vashishtha’s words to make real fateful day.