The Mind Runs Riot

Originally published in Anjali

While conversing on the battlefield before the commencement of war, Arjuna tells Krishna that ‘the mind is restless, turbulent, strong and obstinate’ (Gita VI-34: chanchalam hi manah krishna pramaathi balavad dridham). The world has witnessed many a time that once the mind gets an idea, it runs away on the strength of initial impressions without a second thought of the consequences. The second thought is usually a sobering one and will show up the effects of rash impulsive action based on first impressions. But the mind has not the patience to review the original thought. The Ramayana abounds in examples where even great men and women are seen to have committed grievous mistakes when they allowed their minds to run on without check.

Sixty thousand sons of king Sagara went in search of the missing sacrificial horse of their father. After searching high and low in the three worlds, they chanced upon the horse grazing quietly by the side of the sage Kapila who was in meditation. The princes concluded that this sage was the real thief and that he was merely pretending to be in meditation. Not knowing him or not even caring to verify who he was, they rushed upon him, shouting and with upraised weapons to kill him. Kapila simply uttered a ‘humkara’ and reduced them all to ashes. The sage was none other than an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who came into this world as the son of Kardama Prajapathi and later on taught the Sankhya philosophy to His mother Devahuti. Had the sons of Sagara only paused and verified who the sage was, they would have known about Him and not committed the rash act of attacking them, thus losing their very lives. Later, when Ganga was brought from Heaven after the phenomenal efforts of Bhageeratha, they regained their forms and reached the Lord.

Next Ganga did the same mistake with regard to Lord Siva. Having been ordered by Brahma to flow down to earth, she increased her size and force and poured herself down from lofty skies on Lord Siva’s head, intending to sweep Him to the nether world. Sensing the pride of the river, Lord Siva stopped her in her tracks and made her go round in the coils of His matted tresses. For countless years, Ganga could not find her way out of Lord Siva’s hair. Had only she realised the identity of the person on whose head she was to fall, she would have not have behaved so rashly. She was let off by Lord Siva and allowed to proceed only after king Bhageeratha prayed for His mercy. But then, Ganga did not learn any lesson from this humbling experience. After reaching the plains, she once again became wilful, conscious of her roaring might. She wanted to sweep through the sacrificial grounds of the renowned sage Jahnu and worked her speeding course towards the sage’s ashram. Seeing her pride and audacity, the sage quietly drew the entire waters of Ganga into himself. Once again, Bhageeratha and the celestials had to mollify the sage and Ganga was released through his ears.

Next, we see Ahalya losing her mental poise momentarily and suffering dire consequences. She was the wife of Gautama and was a great and pious lady in her own right. When Indra visited her in the garb of the sage. She recognised who he was but entertained him happily because he was the king of celestials. For a split second, she lost her balance and forfeited her exalted position. She

was cursed by Gautama to remain unseen by others for thousands of years, subsisting only on air and was redeemed by Lord Rama’s touch.

We see sages also falling a victim to this ‘instant blackout’ of the mind. Visvamitra (who was then a king) had a hearty meal at sage Vasishtha’s hermitage and found that the latter’s cow Sabala had supplied all the food and viands. So he wanted to possess the cow and asked sage Vasishtha to give it to him, saying that only kings should possess ‘unique gems’ like Sabala. He did not even pause to consider that Vasishtha was his host and that he should do nothing to offend the host. Moreover, Vasishtha had enormous spiritual powers and Visvamitra, at that time, had nothing to boast of except perhaps his kingship. Yet he persisted in his folly and was thoroughly discomfited.

Then we have the king Trisanku who had a strange wish to ascend to svarga with his physical body. It did not strike him that this was impossible. Even dissuasions from his family preceptor Vasishtha and his sons and the latter’s curses that he become an outcast did not deter him from his goal. The story of how he approached Visvamitra who, wanting to score a point over Vasishtha, agreed to fulfil the king’s strange whim. But what happened ultimately? Visvamitra pushed Trisanku up with his spiritual powers, Indra pushed him down with his weapon and the king hung suspended somewhere midway with his head downward and feet upward!

King Dasaratha also was a victim to this ‘instant decision syndrome’. Mistaking, at night, the gurgling sound of a pot being filled with water from a flowing river for an elephant drinking water, he shot an arrow in the direction of the sound and mortally wounded the young and only son of an aged, blind couple. The boy died and Dasaratha was cursed by the old parents to similarly die of sorrow for a separated son.

Later Dasaratha became a victim of another hasty impromptu decision. He had earlier correctly taken the decision to coronate his eldest son Sri Rama as the crown prince and had obtained the approval of his council of ministers as well as of the general populace. He decided to hold the coronation the very next day, citing four reasons: (i) his mind may change, (ii) he may come under the influence of other wily queens, (iii) the coronation should take place before Bharata, his other son through Kaikeyi, returns from his uncle’s place and (iv) bad dreams had recently assailed him in sleep. Of these four reasons, the most important one which weighed on Dasaratha’s mind was the third reason viz. Rama’s coronation should take place before Bharata’s return. Instead of further cogitating on Bharata’s character and devotion to Rama, he had made up his mind that Bharata is likely to raise his banner of revolt. Disastrous consequences ensued, as we all know.

On seeing blood oozing out of the cave into which Mayavi and Vali went fighting, Sugreeva concluded that Vali must have been killed by Mayavi and immediately closed the entrance to the cave with a large boulder to prevent Mayavi from coming out. Not for a second did he think that the powerful Vali, who had worsted even Ravana, would have killed Mayavi and that it was Mayavi’s blood that was coming out. What a fateful spur-of-the-moment decision of Sugreeva!

On seeing a beautiful lady sleeping by the side of Ravana, Hanuman concluded that she must be Sita and started jumping with joy. After a few moments of unusual behaviour, he recalled his folly, for on no account could Sita be found in Ravana’s bed. But for a few minutes, Hanuman’s mind did lead him to a merry dance!

All these instances would show that if an attractive thought strikes the mind, even a normally careful and vigilant person does not exercise his power to control it but allows the mind to take its course without second thoughts and suffers consequently. Even great souls are no exception.