[ Transcribed from lectures given by Sri Atmatattva Das ]
Now Vishvamitra is not just some mystic yogi or a gurukula teacher or something. Vishvamitra was such a great powerful personality. He was a great kshatriya. One day he was going on a big hunting tour, and while he was going, the tradition was that when you pass by a gurukula or an ashrama, the kings must stop. And they must go there and respect the saint. The saintly person in turn will feed the king, because the king will not carry so much ration when he goes into the forest. And he’s not going to live on fruits and roots, because he’s the king, not some saintly person. He needs some feast, so the saintly person must arrange the feast. And for arranging the feast the kings will always donate a lot of things to the saintly person.
In this way there was a nice arrangement for making feasts and taking feasts. So this great army of Kaushika, Vishvamitra, was coming, and he had his hundred sons and he was thinking, “That’s a small ashrama there.” He looked down into the valley and the ashrama was about four houses, and there was stream running nearby. Vishvamitra thought, “My army of a hundred sons shouldn’t go. You all stay here,” he said to his sons. “It is a custom that I should go and respect this saintly person, so I will go there and then I will come back. And if he asks to feed something to me that is alright, but he can’t feed my whole army.”
So Kaushika went down, and there was two brahmacaris washing cloth in the stream, so he asked them, “Whose ashrama is this?” The brahmacaris replied, “This is the ashrama of Vasishtha Muni.” “Vasishtha?” Kaushika asked. “He’s in my country and I didn’t even know.” “He came three months ago,” the brahmacaris replied. He would always go like that. He stays in a place for about three hundred years and then he moves to another ashrama, because too many students come there and he doesn’t like a big population. So whenever there is too many people he disappears with one or two students and goes to open another school somewhere else. “I would like to see him,” Vishvamitra said. So the brahmacaris brought him before Vasishtha. Vasishtha was making some thread from cotton. He was wearing a gamsha around his waist and another around his shoulders. Kaushika was coming with many ornaments and a golden crown, so he came in there and took his crown off, and touched Vasishtha’s feet. He then said, “I am Kaushika and I am on a hunting trip. I have a hundred sons who I have left on the highway and I have come here just to see you. So you please bless my kingdom.”
Vasishtha said, “How is this possible that you are coming to my ashrama and going without a feast?”
Vishvamitra looked at the house with its grass roof and cow-dung floor and the whole ashrama was only three or four houses. “You’re going to give me a feast?” Vishvamitra asked “How will I eat it without my sons?”
“No no, your sons, your army, your castle, everyone. Bring them here.”
“But where will they sit? You have only four huts.”
“Bring them here,” Vasishtha said very determinedly.
“If I don’t bring them, he will curse,” Vishvamitra thought, so he went back to his sons.
“All of you come with me to this ashrama,” he told them.
“You must be joking!” the sons replied. “If we all go to that ashrama, we will be crushed. There’s no place in there.”
Vishvamitra said, “This great rishi has asked, so we must go.”
They were thinking, “Even if we passed by there, by the sound of these chariots the roofs will cave in.” Their chariots were huge with eighteen horses each.
Kaushika said, “I don’t want to be cursed, so let’s go down there.” As they were going down into the valley they saw that a big township was there. Palaces, roads, and swimming pools. People were running out of the city. It was a city suddenly, and Kaushika was thinking, “This is wonderful. Just in the time of closing my eyes there is a big city here. It’s bigger than Mahismati, my capital! Look at these palaces!” They were all looking at this and wondering, and then Vasishtha came out and said, “What are you doing? You must all go and take bath. Feast is already prepared. It will get cold.” So then after they took bath they came and thousands of them sat down on a big grass lawn. They saw no plates or anything in front of them, and Vasishtha made them sit in rows. Vishvamitra said, “What items are you going to give us, and how are you going to serve it?”
Vasishtha replied, “You can think of any plate you like, and you can think of any item you like, and you can think of any quantity you like, and you will get it.”
Vishvamitra thought, “A diamond plate.” Boom! And the diamond plate was there. And whatever he liked at that time was coming, heaps and heaps and they were eating and eating, but still it was just coming and coming, and they were just eating all the items they had ever heard about. One person said, “What Indra eats on his birthday, I want that.” So he got it. Everyone got everything they liked. They were so satisfied, and then they wanted to see a dance. “What dance do you want to see?” Vasishtha asked them. Vishvamitra said, “The dance that is seen by Narayana in Shvetadvipa, I want to see that.” “All right, you can see,” Vasishtha replied. Immediately there was a stage. And there was a wonderful dance by the celestials of Vaikuntha. And Vishvamitra was so envious. He was thinking, “What is this? Some baba, he is having so much opulence. I am a king, and I look like a beggar in front of him.”
So he came to Vasishtha and asked, “Please tell me, what is the source of your opulence? I’m sure it’s not this beard.” Vasishtha replied, “No, it’s not my beard. It’s my cow.” Then he clapped his hands and he said, “Kama-dhenu, come here.” And then a kama-dhenu came. This cow had a long tail like a braid, and a peacock feather on the back. It had the breasts of a human female on her chest and the body of a cow. And in her whole body is the potency of all the demigods. This cow came when the milk ocean was churned for nectar, and was given to Vasishtha by the Supreme Lord, because he performed wonderful sacrifices so he needed a lot of wealth. Where could he go, because the kings were such small timers. Sometimes they would have wealth, and even though they had sometimes they would say that they don’t have. So he gave this cow. “You can get anything from this cow.”
Vishvamitra said, “I will give you one million ordinary cows. You give me this cow.”
Vasishtha said, “You must be a fool. One million ordinary cows, why should I take them and give you this special cow. If you give me one million kama-dhenus then I can think of giving you this one.” “But you know,” Vishvamitra said, “according to the shastras, whatever is in this land belongs to the king, and I am the king so it belongs to me.” Vasishtha said, “Look at the kama-dhenu again, Kaushika.” Vishvamitra looked at the cow and noticed that it was four feet off the ground. “This cow does not belong to you,” Vasishtha said. “Only if it touches the earth does it belong to you.”
So Vishvamitra was defeated. He said to Vasishtha, “Look, you may have so much tapobalam, but I am a kshatriya and I have so much strength, one hundred sons. I am not going to ask you for the cow, I am just going to take. So he came behind the kama-dhenu and started to pull, and his hundred sons were helping him.
“What are you doing?” the cow said to Vasishtha. “You are my protector, and you are not doing anything. This mleccha is taking me away.”
Kaushika said, “You are calling me a mleccha?”
“Yes, you are taking the property of a Brahmin, so you are a mleccha at least now, or in the next life you are going to be. Why are you doing this? This is nonsense, and even the Lord will not be tolerant of this, you will be finished. Your whole dynasty will be finished, this is my curse.”
Vishvamitra said, “You are a cow, so don’t talk so much. Just come with me.”
So then Vasishtha said, “Don’t do this. She does not like it. If she liked it, then you could take her, but she does not like it.” Still Vasishtha was keeping his anger inside, not showing it.
“You keep quiet,” Kaushika said. “I am taking the cow.”
Vasishtha said, “Where are your 100 sons? I will show my power on them, because I don’t want to finish you. If you are there you can produce another 100 sons. Show me your sons.”
“Here are my sons,” Kaushika said, and then Vasishtha looked at them and they were all gone.
And then he said, “Kaushika, do you want to become a heap of ash? Then you’d better run away from me.” Then Kaushika, in great disgust left the ashrama. He went to the Himalayas and performed austerities for 300 years to please Mahadeva. Lord Shiva came, and asked Kaushika, “What benediction do you want?” There’s one great thing about a benediction from Siva. If you take a benediction from him, it is only for your destruction. His benedictions will only destroy, they will never give anything good. Unless you ask for love of God, or devotion, but if one has approached Shiva he generally doesn’t ask for these things. So Shiva was asking, “What benediction do you want?” Or in other words, how do you want to be destroyed? So then Kaushika said, “I must have all the divine weapons. All the weapons that Indra has, Agni has, Varuna has, all of them must come to my mind, and I must control them. I must be a rajarishi.” “Yes, you are a rajarishi,” Shiva said. “Now stop doing austerities, because it is burning my body. Go.”
Then Vishvamitra immediately flew to Vasishtha’s ashrama. Vasishtha was having an oil bath, having oil massaged on his body. When someone is having an oil on the body you’re not supposed to talk to him or talk in conversation. Kaushika did not even give him a challenge or anything, he just immediately started doing all the astras on Vasishtha. Vasishtha was still sitting there getting oil on his body, and the first thing that Vishvamitra threw was a brahmastra. “Suddenly so much heat is in mustard oil,” Vasishtha said. “It’s not that hot!” So then Vasishtha looked over his shoulder and saw the brahmastra. “My God! What is he doing? Who taught him these weapons? He doesn’t know where to put them! He’s throwing them here, but I am having an oil massage here. Kaushika, stop doing this nonsense!” Then came Agni astra, and then came Vayu astra. They were all coming one after another. “This is too much,” Vasishtha said, and he looked around. He saw his walking stick, which was getting old, so he took that and threw it out. Then he continued with his massage.
The walking stick came out and faced the brahmastra. The brahmastra touched this walking stick, and it became like ice, and fell down. Then came the Agni astra, which came emanating so much fire, and all the trees were burnt, but when it faced the stick this astra was also pulled down. Then Vayu astra came, and all the astras that he learnt from Lord Shiva were all used up, pulled down by the stick. Then the stick started moving towards Vishvamitra, so Vishvamitra started running away. As he crossed the area of Vasishtha’s ashrama, the stick went down and Vasishtha kept it down.
Then Vishvamitra sat up and he was thinking, “That is just a stick that he uses for walking. What will happen if he takes a bow? What will happen to me then? So this rajarishi is no good, I will become a brahmarishi.” So again he went up to the Himalayas, and he performed tapasya for such a long time that Brahma came to him. “What do you want?” Brahma asked. “Why are you troubling me like this?” “I want to be a brahmarishi,” said Vishvamitra. Brahma said, “Well I am Brahma, and I am calling you a rishi, so you are a brahmarishi. You be satisfied.” Vishvamitra said, “No, Vasishtha should say it.” So Brahma brought Vishvamitra to Vasishtha and said, “Please call him brahmarishi.” Vasishtha looked at him and said, “What a great tapasa you have done! After all you are a kshatriya, you are supposed to be enjoying your senses. Simply by my challenge, you have become such a great rishi. Why brahmarishi? You are a jnanarishi, the rishi of saintly people. You are worshipable by me. Now Vishvamitra, you stop your austerities.” So Vishvamitra stopped his austerities there, and he became well known as brahmarishi and was moving around.
Now, Tri-shanku, who was in the Iksvaku dynasty suddenly developed desires to go to the heavenly planet in this body. So he went to Vasishtha who was his guru, Vasishtha is guru for so many generations. “Please my guru, send me to the heavenly planets.”
Vasishtha said, “Yes I can send you to heaven. You perform some pious activities, next life you will go.” Tri-shanku said, “No, not next life, this life.” Vasishtha said, “You die in this life, and then in the next life you can go to heaven.” “No, I don’t want to wait. I want to go in this body.” Vasishtha asked, “Where did you get this crazy idea from?” Tri-shanku replied, “I am a very pious person. I have done so many nice things, and there is no complaint against me. Why shouldn’t you send me?” Vasishtha said, “That is very good, you are a pious person, a great king, but heavenly planet cannot be attained in this body.” Tri-shanku said, “But you can adjust things, you are a great rishi.” Vasishtha replied, “No I can’t adjust things, I can only follow the rules of God.” Vasishtha said, “If you can’t adjust things, then what kind of a guru are you?” Vasishtha said, “Well if you don’t want to be my disciple then I will go. I’m not going to teach the Iksvaku dynasty any more.” Vasishtha took his danda and walked out.
Then Tri-shanku remembered that Vasishtha also had a hundred sons, and they were doing tapasya somewhere in South India, so he went to South India and met these sons. He asked them, “Please send me to heaven in this same body.” “What is this nonsense? We can’t do this,” the sons replied. “Your father also said the same thing.” The sons said, “You mean our father said it could not be done and now you are coming to us?” Tri-shanku said, “Yes, because young students like to do this sort of evolutionary stuff.” The sons said, “Yes, we will do some evolution, you become a chandala.” So they cursed him, and suddenly his whole body turned black. Even his chadar which was golden turned black. All his golden ornaments turned into iron ornaments and his face became cruel. So when he went back to Ayodhya, people laughed at him and kicked him out of the country.
Then he was wandering in the forest and one day he saw a rishi standing on one leg. That was our Kaushika, Vishvamitra, doing some other austerity now. He came to him and said, “You are so effulgent, like the Sun-god.” Kaushika said, “Tell me what you want. And you seem to be a bit of a chandala, but either way you are talking like a royal family man.” The king replied, “I am Tri-shanku from the Iksvaku dynasty. I have been cursed by Vasishtha’s sons.” As soon as he heard Vasishtha’s name, he got fired up. “Why did they curse you? Who are they to curse you?” The king said, “I just asked them a small thing.” “What did you ask?” Vishvamitra inquired. “I asked them if I could go to heaven in this body, and then they cursed me.” Vishvamitra said, “What? You want to go to heaven in this body? Where did you get this idea from?” The king replied, “One fine morning I got up, and I thought like that.” Vishvamitra said, “See what happened to you, for entertaining this idea?”
The king thought that Vishvamitra is cooling down, this is no good. I had better get him fired up again. The king said, “That Vasishtha said that no-one could do it.” Vishvamitra said, “What was that? Repeat that again.” “He said, no-one can do it.” Vishvamitra replied, “Who said no-one can do it? I can do it.” So then Vishvamitra sent word to all the rishis saying, “I am doing a yajna, so you also come. I am going to ask the demigods to take him just like this.” All the rishis came because they were scared of Vishvamitra, that he would curse them too. So they came there, they were all doing yajna and they were so scared. And then the demigods came. Indra approached Vishvamitra and asked, “Now what is the purpose of this yajna? What do you need?” Vishvamitra replied, “We want this man to go to heaven.” Indra said, “So many people are coming to heaven, I have no objection.” “No no,” Vishvamitra replied, “Like this.” Indra said, “What? Like this? No, that’s not possible. I can’t let him in like this. I can’t do it.” Vishvamitra protested, “But this is a special case.” Indra said, “No, special case nothing. I can’t do it.” Vishvamitra said, “All right, if I cannot do it by yajna then I will do it by my austerities.” So he took the shruva, spoon which he was using to pour ghee, and he touched Tri-shanku and said, “All right, Tri-shanku, fly now to heaven by my power.”
Then Tri-shanku disappeared from the earthly planet, and he was flying, flying through space. Indra was back in his planet, and everyone was saying, “Indra, look who is coming. It’s Tri-shanku.” “Tri-shanku?” Indra said in disbelief. Then he took his Vadra and hit him on the back and Tri-shanku came back at full speed. So Vishvamitra was sitting there peacefully and Tri-shanku was crying, “Vishvamitra, help me!” Vishvamitra said, “You are not coming back, you are going to heaven!” Vishvamitra then used some more of his power and sent him back up. And then Indra sent him back again, and Vishvamitra sent him back again, and then Indra sent him back. The third time when he was going towards heaven Tri-shanku said, “I don’t want to go to heaven! I would rather go to hell! Anything is better than this. What am I doing in outer space? You send me anywhere, but please stop this!” Vishvamitra said, “No, I made a promise to you. That promise must be kept, even if you don’t want. You must go to heaven!” And he sent him back. Indra said, “I don’t want you,” and he kicked him back. This time Tri-shanku said, “Please Vishvamitra, I don’t want heaven. I realize now that it is very bad to think like that. I just want to be a king somewhere. I’ll be a beggar somewhere. Stop pushing me like this.”
Vishvamitra said, “No. If they won’t let you into heaven, I will create you a heaven. So he created a heaven. He created demigods, he created Indra, he created Airavata, he created everything by his tapovalam, and austerity was finished. So now, the planet has to be in orbit also. No more tapovalam, so how are we going to put it in orbit? Then the whole heaven started to come down to earth, because that is where it was created. Now Vishvamitra said, “O my God! Now heaven is coming down and everything will be finished! What am I going to do?” Then he lifted his hands and said, “Hari! Hari!” The Lord appeared and asked, “Vishvamitra, what is the problem? Usually you call Brahma, you never call Me. What happened to you?” Vishvamitra said, “Look, look! Do something please, it is coming down!” The Lord said, “What is it? What is falling down?” Vishvamitra replied, “It is my creation.” “Oh, it’s your creation!” Vishnu said. “So you maintain it, I’m going.” “No no no! Don’t go, please do something. I only created it, I can’t maintain it. It’s not possible for me.” The Lord said, “I will put my energy into it and maintain it.”
So the Supreme Lord entered into that heaven. This heaven is known as Tri-shanku svarga, and it is still existing. The Lord put Tri-shanku there to please Vishvamitra. And then Vishvamitra was saved, otherwise these heavenly planets would come down and burn the earth planet and everything else would be burnt. Then Narayana said, “Don’t get into this area. My zone is a very difficult zone, creating, maintaining, destroying. This is my work. You simply do tapasya, and bless people. Don’t try to become Hari or there will be trouble.” Vishvamitra said, “I have realized it once and for all. I will not do this any more.” Then the Lord was so pleased with him for his immediate surrender that He said, “I will become your student in Treta-yuga.” So in this way Ramachandra became Vishvamitra’s student.