Pitfalls of Shortcuts
In today’s cut-throat world, “I’ is probably the most important syllable. We wish to bridge the gap between wanting and having as soon as possible. Naturally, any shortcut seems a viable option; nay shortcuts seem the only option. We forget to ask, “Do I deserve it?” Nobody has neither the patience to toil for the desired result nor the forbearance to deal with failure; similar to Trisanku wanting to fly up the ladder to heaven.
Elements of Doom
Trisanku , the king from the Iksvaku dynasty, was extremely handsome and charismatic. The heady combination of beauty and splendor made him arrogant and vain. He was so obsessed with himself and his beauty that he spent hours preening in front of the mirror. During one narcissistic moment, an unusual desire entered his inflated head. He would have to die some day and give up this beautiful body. Was there any way he could inhabit forever this body that he loved so much? Was it possible to go to the death-free heavens in this same body?
His unnatural desire was rejected outright by the wise Vasistha. Trisanku then had the impudence to approach Vasistha’s sons. Vasistha’s sons were incensed that not only did this man have no reverence for his spiritual guru, he was also trying to play with them and use them as a means to achieve his desire, like a child who toys with a rare diamond without understanding its worth. As Trisanku turned to leave, they cursed him to a life bereft of beauty and wealth.
Pride in education, vanity in personal beauty, intoxication of wealth and influence over people are four chemicals which, when combined together with the catalyst of disrespect, create an amalgam of arrogance.
The morning breeze swept away every trace of beauty and wealth from the handsome king. He had transformed into an unsightly man with rough and mottled skin. Trisanku walked the streets of his own kingdom unrecognized and unacknowledged. His people began chasing out this repulsivelooking vagrant who was pestering them. This was no king; this was just an irritating beggar. Trisanku the king had been abandoned by his kinsmen!
Trisanku was miserable, but he did not stop seeking his goal. Then an idea struck him: If Vasistha refused to fulfil his wishes for him, his arch enemy definitely would not. This time, he was sure his desire would be met. He dragged his bruised and deformed body to Visvamitra .
Trisanku narrated his sorry tale. He felt that he had been wronged and was being punished for vocalizing an honest desire. He meant no one any harm nor did he ask for something that would rob someone else of anything. He was not adopting the wrong or dishonest path to achieve his goal either. Was a sincere attempt to achieve what most people desire such a crime?
Trisanku offered justifications to shield his weakness. It is human frailty to see good in oneself and faults in others. Trisanku was arrogant and disrespectful, but claimed to be honest and sincere.
Trisanku fervently pleaded with Visvamitra to help him reach his goal. He was confident that the merciful and powerful Visvamitra would succeed where Vasistha and his sons could not. Trisanku had deliberately touched a raw nerve. Yet again, Visvamitra was filled with a desire to outperform Vasistha.
Trisanku used flattery and Visvamitra's weakness as baits to convince him for help. He blandished Visvamitra by placing him above Vasistha and tickled his weakness of wanting to be superior to Vasistha.
Taking Credit where Credit is Not Due
Visvamitra wanted to lose no time, so he swung into action. The news of the ritual spread rapidly, and sages from far and wide began arriving at the scene of the event. They were not convinced about the efficacy or even the intention of the ritual, but they arrived nonetheless – out of fear. They were afraid of what the powerful Visvamitra would do to them if they refused to participate in the ritual.
Visvamitra headed the unique ritual. As the ceremony ended, Visvamitra invited the demigods to descend and accept their share of the oblations. But none obliged. This was an unacceptable Vedic ritual. Visvamitra was beginning to lose patience and was unwilling to let his reputation slip. He could visualize Vasistha’s chuckling face staring right at him just as clearly as he could see Trisanku's hopeful eyes pinned on him.
Something had to be done; he would not give up so easily. Visvamitra invoked his tapo-bala (power that he earned through his austerities) to send Trisanku to the heavens. He lifted the ladle he was performing the ritual with and empowered it with all the intensity of his meditation. As the ladle rose toward the skies, so did Trisanku . He actually began flying toward the heavens.
The sages gaped at the flying Trisanku . Never had they witnessed such sheer power and wonder – a live human flying up to the heavens in his earthly body! Was it all really happening? How could Visvamitra had made the impossible possible! Trisanku had flown so high up that he was a mere speck in the sky now. Jaws hanging, they continued to gawk till Trisanku had disappeared. Finally, they turned to Visvamitra .
Trisanku represents those who take credit for others’ efforts without putting in any of their own. Here, Visvamitra put in all the effort, and Trisanku was the one on his way to gain the advantage of the heavenly abode.
Lotus-postured with an erect back, the great sage sat entranced and radiating energy. Eyes closed and eyebrows knotted in absolute concentration, Visvamitra's arms were raised in the air still holding the ladle. Their admiration for Visvamitra suddenly multiplied manifold.
No Shortcuts to Success
Trisanku began to fly, and he was euphoric. He was heavenbound! But Trisanku had not expected the journey to be so painful. As he floated higher and higher, his body began to crush and tear, his blood vessels started throbbing and his skin began to tear.
The body he so loved was not made to handle such intense air pressure. But Trisanku had no control over it anymore; in fact, he had nothing under his control. He could communicate with none nor could he tell anyone of his predicament. His head was ripping with pain and driving him insane. Just as he was about to lose consciousness, he saw his dreamland. Ah, the heavens!
Any shortcut appears pleasurable in the beginning because it gives one a feeling of being ahead of many, but each shortcut has hidden sources of pain. The man who has reached the quintessence of success through shortcuts will have some pain to conceal from the world, pain that is too embarrassing to accept.
As he approached closer, he heard Indra say, “Trisanku , you do not deserve entry into the heavens, because you have offended your mentor Vasistha and have been rejected by him.” Indra pushed him down and Trisanku fell back, his head turned down. Oh no! He was now hurtling down toward Earth.
Obsession makes one shameless. Trisanku was obsessed with entering a zone he was neither qualified for nor welcome to enter.
Back on earth, Visvamitra was soaked in intoxicating power when a sudden shriek tore the skies. Visvamitra's trance was broken. “Save me! Save me!” It was Trisanku . Helpless and heading earthward. With hands pressed against his ears in pain, eyes bulging in their sockets, hair disheveled and clothes in disarray, Trisanku awaited the impact of the fall and imminent death. Visvamitra could not let that happen. Now it was a matter of his prestige and not that of fulfilling Trisanku's bizarre desire anymore.
Visvamitra once again waved his ladle in the air, instantly turning Trisanku's body face up, toward the heavens yet again. One more swish of the ladle and Trisanku was accelerating through the sky toward the heavens. Trisanku no longer wanted to make this trip. He pleaded with Visvamitra to bring him back to Earth. But Visvamitra would hear none of it; this had become personal. He had to send Trisanku to heaven in his human body.
So Trisanku began his aerial journey toward heaven once again. Once again Indra pushed him back to earth.
Here is a fight for superiority between Indra and Visvamitra with Trisanku as a pawn between the two kings. It is difficult to empathize with the suffering of others when you are too absorbed in self-establishment.
The Dawn of Wisdom – Better Late than Never
When Visvamitra saw the returning Trisanku , he realized that sending him to heaven again would be futile. He could not let Trisanku ever return to Earth. So he decided to create a parallel heaven just to accommodate Trisanku . Using up every bit of superpower left in him, Visvamitra created a replica of the heavenly kingdom complete with clones of Indra and the demigods. He redirected Trisanku to this artificial heaven. Trisanku was in agony, but he had no choice. Anything seemed better than being shuttled back and forth between heaven and earth. If only he had appreciated his well-wisher Vasistha’s wisdom.
From Trisanku's perspective, wise words make sense in hindsight only when one falls into trouble. He could not appreciate Vasistha’s wisdom earlier, but now his words seemed prophetic. Earlier Vasistha had seemed like an obstacle in the path of his desire, but now Trisanku realized that he was a well-wisher.
Visvamitra's head was splitting, and he realized that if he did not gain access to any higher power, he would soon perish. In this helpless state, he began calling out the names of Lord Visëu, earnestly requesting for His mercy. Lord Vishnu appeared and told him that creating or destroying anything was easy, but maintaining it was the hardest part.
It was no wonder then that creation was Lord Brahma’s task, destruction Lord Çiva’s, and the most difficult – the task of maintenance – fell on the Lord Visëu Himself. Lord Visëu assured Visvamitra that now that he had created a heaven, it would remain as one of the stars and He would maintain it, but Trisanku would have to dangle upside down just as Indra had wished. Lord Vishnu then disappeared.
Trisanku got what he wanted, but not exactly as he had envisaged. He now had a heaven of his own for eternity, but he would have to remain upside down in his deformed body – something he loathed. Every moment spent in that horrible state reminded him of his arrogance. He repented his misbehavior toward his spiritual master Vasistha.
In this episode, Trisanku represents inertia or laziness that prevents one from working hard to achieve one’s goals. Visvamitra represents too much activity or over-energetic endeavor to achieve a goal even though unqualified. Such overconfidence leads to anguish. Vasistha represents a balance between the two, which is harmony. After sufficient endeavor, one must wait for grace to decide whether one is qualified or not.
Subha Vilasa Dasa is a motivational speaker and a spiritual lifestyle coach. He is also the author of the six-volume series Ramayana – The Game of Life (Book 1), points from which have been used in this article. He conducts corporate training programs on relationship management and work-life balance for leading corporations like Aditya Birla, HUL, Edelweiss, IOCL, MTNL, and several others. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org