This story is a part of RISHI TALES (Volume 1) by U. Mahesh Prabhu with Foreword by Dr David Frawley.
There was once a Rishi who was known for his deep and pious bearing. Having renounced the world and all material pursuits, he dedicated himself to the path of meditation, knowledge, and peace. For decades, every day he would pursue deep meditation beneath a tree, deep in the woods. He lived in abject poverty; slept on the barren ground and begged food for sustenance in a village nearby. The villagers, who revered him for his austerities, were often glad to hand out good vegan food.
One day, while he was in deep meditation, a bird on the tree above defecated on his shoulder. The sensation of dirt on his body brought the sage out of his deep meditation. In annoyance, he glanced up at the feathered being. Just by his sheer glance, the bird was burnt to ashes! The Rishi was startled and looked at the mortal remains of the bird in astonishment.
In all these years of practicing his meditation, he had not given thought to attain such powers as to burn a bird to ashes with just a look! Now he realized that it was his Sadhana – persistence, and dedication to meditational practice – which had awakened superhuman powers in him.
Having discovered his supernatural abilities, the Rishi could no longer meditate that day. He stood up and peered closely, at the fallen bird. He still could not believe that he had burnt it down. He certainly had not meant to. He now knew that he had to be careful with his powers. As the wise rightly say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
He went down to the river and bathed the bird’s dirt from his body. Then, picking up his begging bowl and staff, he made his way through the forest into the nearby village. He wandered among the houses for a while, before choosing one at random.
“Bhavati Bhikshaam Dehi!” he called out to the lady inside the house for food. He waited for a while but got no response. “Bhavati Bhikshaam Dehi!” he cried again. No response again! The Rishi began to frown. “Here’s an enlightened rishi asking for food, but there does not seem to be a single individual to have the courtesy to even respond!” he thought. He had just one more call left.
It was a rule among the Rishis of the time that they could only ask for alms thrice in a day. And if they received nothing they fasted for that day. This Rishi was hungry, and he loathed the idea of having to fast. The egoistic impression (Mada) was becoming visible in him.
“Bhavati Bhikshaam Dehi!” he shouted at the top of his voice, giving the lady of the house one last chance to serve him.
Suddenly, the front door opened, and a lady appeared, bearing a tray of rice, fruit, and vegetables. She approached the Rishi.
“Why did you make me wait so long?” the Rishi asked in a fit of rage (Krodha), adding “Don’t you know if you delayed any longer I would have to be hungry all day?!”
The lady looked him in his eye as he berated her.
“You would have been guilty of making a rishi go hungry!” he continued. “I’m an accomplished Yogi. You don’t know my mystical powers.”
She took a deep breath and replied respectfully “Great Rishi, I am not that bird.”
The Rishi was startled! No one knew of the bird. He’d told none. He’d been deep in the forest with no one from the village nearby. This woman had been inside her house all this time. How could she have known?
She bowed her head before the Rishi and said: “Please forgive me for the delay in delivering this food to you.” Her voice was gentle and humble as she continued “I heard your calls the first two times but wasn’t able to respond as quickly as I would have liked to.”
“Yes, yes,” the Rishi muttered, “but how did you know about the bird?”
She shook her head and smiled, saying nothing.
“Do tell me. How did you know of the incident?”
She still said nothing.
He stared at her, realization dawning on him. “You are enlightened,” he whispered with a startled face. “You knew everything before I even said a word.” He folded his hands and bowed. “Great lady, please forgive my earlier impudence.”
“Oh no,” she said, “there is no need.”
He blinked at her. “But how did you come to be enlightened? Do you practice meditation? Do you go on difficult pilgrimages? Do you perform long acts of worship? Tell me, please, how have you come to your depth of knowledge?”
“Great Rishi,” she said, “I do not meditate, nor do I go on pilgrimages, nor do I spend so much time in acts of worship.”
“Then how?” Rishi was desperate to know.
As if in response, she pushed open the front door of her house and stood aside to let the Rishi see inside.
There were children and a man sitting cross-legged on the floor of the hut, eating their afternoon meal. It was the ordinary sight of any family having lunch.
The sage was confused.
“My husband has just returned home today from a long journey. I was attending to him when you called for alms and that was what caused my delay in coming out.” She let the door shut and walked back to face the Rishi.
She clasped her hands. “Knowing that my duty to my family is above all others, I live my life in simplicity. I put all my energy into caring and loving them, besides trying to provide a peaceful home because I know that in serving my family I serve my God. I see God in them. That is my path and the source of enlightenment.”
The Rishi gaped at her. “Just that?”
A deep silence surrounded them as the sage stared at the ground, contemplating on this revelation. This lady had not left her home. She had not renounced the world. She had not distanced herself from those she loved. Yet, living there, amidst all the distractions of the material world, she had reached the pinnacle of knowledge – Enlightenment!
Vyasa’s Mahabharata calls this lady as Anamika. Anamika in Sanskrit literally translates to ‘nameless one’. The point that Vyasa is trying to make through this story is that no one remains ordinary when dedicated to one’s own Dharma (duties). It does not matter whether one is an ordinary laborer, or a business leader, or even an insignificant politician – the greatest is the one who shows utmost perseverance and dedication to one’s work. One’s commitment is one’s Sadhana.
Vyasa might have chosen a lady since many, if not all, women do not demand adulation from those around them. They do not ask for anything in return for their sacrifices. They simply serve with a smile.
Isn’t this Godliness? Isn’t this a matter of devotion? Is there a greater Sadhana than this? Certainly not!