Story from Advaita Vedanta.
Janaka, the King of Mithila, was a highly enlightened leader. Extremely wise and knowledgeable. A scholar. Almost the perfect king of a very flourishing empire.
One night, Janaka is suddenly woken up by loud sounds. All his military generals assembling around him. He is informed by one of the Generals that the empire had been attacked by an enemy military. Janaka immediately orders the military to assemble the soldiers, gather ammunition and prepare to charge the enemy.
A very long, very tough and very bloody war ensues. Janaka’s empire loses. The enemy commander walks up to Janaka and makes him an offer. Surrender the weapons, the entire empire, along with all the wealth, the sources of tax collections, the military, the family and everyone and everything else, and leave for exile. Or continue fighting and invite harm to the residents of your empire, your family and your life. Janaka approves the surrender and leaves for exile.
After traveling for long distances and multiple days Janaka ran out of food. And he began requesting people around him for help. He was thirsty and hungry. Also needed a place to stay. But nobody was ready to lend him even an iota of help. The reason being the new demon king. Who was very strict and very rude. And everyone in the empire was scared of facing punishment and ostracism if they helped Janaka.
After walking for another couple of days, Janaka ends up crossing the river. And lands in another empire. Over here, Janaka learns that poor and hungry are being served free food and nutrition. Something similar to what we Indians term “bhandara“ or “langar.“
Janaka joins the queue. Once his turn arrives, Janaka is immediately informed by the servants/staff, that they were out of food. And they cannot feed Janaka. The poor guy is devastated on hearing this and starts pleading with the staff to give him whatever left over food is remained. After a bit of an argument, the staff somehow manages to scoop how very small amount of rice, less than a fist, and hands it over to Janaka in a bowl they made by tying tree leaves together with a thread.
Janaka proceeds to take shade in a corner. Sits down and begins to have his food. Right before he could consume the first bite, an eagle lands down and knocks over the bowl from Janaka’s hand. The food is spilled over the ground and is rendered unfit to be consumed. Janaka screams at the top of his lung. And this is where the story gets interesting.
Janaka suddenly wakes up in his own bed, in his empire, from an awful nightmare.
At this point, a normal person like you or myself would take a deep sigh and be extremely thankful that it was all just a nightmare and nothing more. But not Janaka! Remember, he was a great philosopher. A scholar king. His mind was not as normal as everyone else’s. Janaka went into deep thought.
He repeatedly started murmuring, “ये सच या वो सच? (Is This my reality or was That my reality?)“ By ‘this’ he was referring to the life that he resumed after waking up. By ‘that’ he meant the so-called dream world where he suffered humiliation and damage.
By this time, a lot of people started surrounding him, including his Generals, the servants, King’s wife and children, etc. Janaka explained the entire nightmare to everyone. Describing in detail how the empire was attacked, how they lost the war, how he surrendered and the humiliation he faced in exile. Each and every detail. The Chief General was the first one to take stock of Janaka’s health and inquired whether he was healthy. The General tried to console and calm down Janaka, convincing him that everything was okay, and that Janaka was perfectly safe. The empire was also intact. And Janaka’s family still around him.
Janaka, by now, had slipped into a different mental mode. He repeatedly kept questioning everyone, “is This my reality or was That my reality?“
Everyone was confused. Everyone presumed Janaka was in a shock and if he simply takes some rest, he’ll be fine. His servants and family tried to convince him to sleep and take rest. But he wouldn’t oblige or obey. The only sentence that could manage to scuttle through his lips was, “is This my reality or was That my reality?“
Everyone around him was now getting pissed, confused, angry and frustrated. After they couldn’t handle Janaka’s condition more, first the servants started leaving the castle, following by some bodyguards. Even his wife, after having spent a long time trying to make Janaka reconcile with his reality, grew frustrated and escaped to her parent’s place, along with the kids.
Luckily, a great sage called Aṣṭāvakraḥ was in the town whilst this entire episode was playing out inside Janaka’s castle. Aṣṭāvakraḥ was one of the finest sages of his time. The name “Aṣṭāvakraḥ“ is born out of the eight physical deformities that the sage was born with. Despite the physical handicaps, he was an enlightened scholar, with a mind like no other. He is informed that Janaka is having a psychological breakdown wherein he cannot distinguish whether he is currently living in the reality, or his dreams were the original reality.
So, Aṣṭāvakraḥ walks up to Janaka’s place, and after exchanging some initial greetings, he inquires about Janaka’s condition. And Janaka poses the exact same question to Aṣṭāvakraḥ, “ये सच या वो सच? (Is This my reality or was That my reality?)“
And a dialogue follows.
Aṣṭāvakraḥ: All the emotions you were suffering from, and material entities you experienced, in your dream - do you have them here as well?
Janaka: What do you mean?
Aṣṭāvakraḥ: All the suffering, pain, agony, anxiety, depression, defeat, humiliation, lack of food, lost family and material wealth. Do you also have all of this over here?
Janaka: No, absolutely not. This is a much better life by all standards.
Aṣṭāvakraḥ: And all the emotions and materialism you have over here, including love, family, wealth, kingdom, nutritious food, parents - did you have all of this in your dream as well?
Janaka: Absolutely not. I’d lost everything in that dream. It was just suffering and pain.
Aṣṭāvakraḥ: Then precisely what is it that you have over here, as well as had it in that dream?
After thinking for a long time, and failed to come up with an answer, Janaka turns to Aṣṭāvakraḥ and declares, “I don’t know.“
Aṣṭāvakraḥ: Neither you had anything in that dream all that you have over here. Nor do you have anything over here that you had in that dream. Therefore, Janaka, neither that is the reality no this is the reality. You are the only reality.
ना ये सच ना वो सच, सिर्फ तुम ही सच ।
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