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12. Ubhaya Bharati

 

With a heavy heart, Acharya accompanied by his disciples left Prayaga and went to meet Mandana. Acharya and his disciples approached Mahishmati, at the confluence of the Narmada and Mahishmati rivers, near Omkarnath. This was the home town of Mandana. it had taken Acharya nearly a month to cover on foot the distance to Mahishmati, and now he started looking out for Mandana's dwelling. He saw a few maid-servants going to the river to fetch water. Acharya enquired them about Mandana's abode and they told him, " O noble one, as you go along, you will hear the Shuka and the Shaari( the male and the female of a species of birds allied to the parrot ) chirping thus, ` Is the Veda self-authoritative or other-authoritative? Is action itself the dispenser of fruits or is God such a dispenser? Is this universe eternal or transient?' Know that place to be the abode of Mandan". These words pleasantly interested Acharya and the disciples. The atmosphere of Mahishmati seemed impregnated with high philosophy. Soon Acharya and his disciples arrived at the easily recognizable house of the great scholar, whose learning filled the very air of the locality he dwelt in. but the door of the house was shut and bolted from within. The doorkeeper gave information that his master Mandanamishra was engaged in performing Sraddha ceremony of his departed father and that it would not be possible for any monk to meet him that day.

Thrice did he send in a request to Mandana through the doorkeeper to be permitted to meet him. Every time his request was turned down. Mandana however, instructed his doorkeeper to provide comfortable lodgings to the visiting monks. He was hospitable to the monks to the extent he could, consistently with his devotion to the performance of the prescribed rites in which he was actually engaged then.

Acharya resolved to confront him immediately. He asked his disciples to wait outside and with the help of his Yogic powers, went up the sky and descended on the inner courtyard of Mandana's house. Mandana was then engaged in serving and honoring the two sages, Jaimini and Krishnadvaipayana, who were revered invitees to the Sraddha ceremony. He was amazed to see a stranger monk descending from sky on his courtyard.

Mandana possessed occult powers. He was a mantra Siddha, an adept in the manipulation of mystic syllables of great potency and by the power of mantra could call down subtle-bodied ethereal beings. He possessed many other super-natural powers too.

Acharya was happy to see the two sages there and promptly made obeisance at their feet. He was always the embodiment of courtesy and decorum. But Mandana was terribly infuriated by the unceremonious descent of an unwanted monk into an environment he had no place in., and in an excited tone interrogated Acharya. His first angry query was, " Kuto Mundee - whence is this shaven head?"

Acharya easily noted the insult in the tone of the query, but being in a mood to bandy words with the great scholar, chose to engage himself in a clever work-play of pun with Mandana. so he gave his reply without any hesitation, " From neck up", saying that he was shaven from neck up.

The two visiting sages were distressed at Mandana's conduct. Vyasa said, " Mandana, come to yourself. The newcomer is a monk, as suck, he is verily the image of Vishnu. Besides he is a guest. It is but proper that you show him the courtesies due to him".

Mandana felt ashamed of his conduct. He begged forgiveness of Acharya and welcomed him with due ceremony, washing his feet with water. Then, with much earnestness, he solicited him to accept a food offering at his hands, for it was a householder's primary duty to feed a guest.

Acharya replied, " O worthy Brahmin, I have not come to you seeking food. I have come to confront you in debate. The condition is that he who gets defeated in the debate will accept the discipleship of the other. You are great in wisdom, please grant me this request. I went to Prayaga to meet Bhattapada and to debate with him, but, the heroic soul that he was, let himself be consumed in husk-fire as an atonement for the two sins of being instrumental to the killing of his Guru and to preaching the non-existence of Ishwara or God. He told me about you and was in all praise for your genius. It was indeed he who sent me to you. He even said that your defeat in a debate would practically be his defeat too. It is my object to debate with you and defeat you in argument and then get you to compose an explanatory note to my commentary on the Prasthanatraya, which will make the Advaita knowledge of Brahman and Atman undying".

Mandana felt sorely grieved at the news of the casting off of the body by his Guru Bhattapada. He remained silent for a minute and then spoke boastingly, " I am Mandana and I am the annihilator of that very Ishwara who annihilated Yama, the God of death. I have authoritatively established the statement that Ishwara is not. Well, I accept your challenge to a debate. I shall first bring to a finish the Sraddha ceremony I am engaged in today. We shall start the debate tomorrow morning".

Acharya now requested the two sages to function as judges to the debate. Both of them knew very well that Mandana's wife Ubhayabharati, was the very incarnation of Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. Therefore, they suggested, " Let Mandana's wife be the judge of the debate". Mandana expressed assent and agreed to follow the suggestion of the sages and let his own wife be the judge. Then he asked the revered Acharya, " Kindly condescend to stay and take rest in the guest-house this day. We shall start the debate early in the morning of tomorrow".

Mandana then directed the doorkeeper to lead Acharya to the guest- house and look to his convenience with all respect. Next morning the Acharya finished his morning ablutions and arrived at Mandana's residence accompanied by a few of his disciples. Many scholars had by then assembled at the place. Al of them realized the importance f the debate and had gathered there in great curiosity and wonder. Mandana made the necessary preparations for the debate and invited the Acharya to the fray. Everyone had taken their seats in the hall of the debate and it was filled to the capacity. Only the judge's seat had still to be occupied. The Acharya said, " Bhattapada also told me that a right judgment could be ensured only if your wife, who is none other than Devi Saraswati adorns the judge's seat. Please ask her to listen to our arguments and meditate". Ubhayabharati came forward to do her duty without any fear or favor. With no pride and with no airs of any kind, but with a modesty and a bashfulness, that so became her, she occupied the judge's seat. The condition of the debate was made known to all; it was that the vanquished should go over to the victor's side, accept his views and propagate his faith.

When the stage was thus set, Ubhayabharati invited the two contestants, each to state his proposition to the other. Then Mandana remarked, " It is the Acharya who has come here seeking a debate. Since his is the initiative, let him state his case first. When he has finished, I shall present the other side".

Acharya agreed that the suggestion was a proper one. And he put forth his point of view with clarity and conviction. He said, " The only sense, the only significance of the Veda is the knowledge of the non- dual Brahman. Work or worship is only a means, a special means for cleansing and purification of the Chitta or the mind-stuff. Therefore it is out of question that there can ever be a linking or assembling together of knowledge and worship. Their natures cannot coalesce. A person desiring liberation need not at one and the same time take to both knowledge and work (karma) or to knowledge and worship. Through work and worship, the cleansing of mind is effected. And by the true realization of ` I am Brahman', or of ` Brahman is Truth, Wisdom and Infinity', by such steady knowledge of the non-dual Brahman-atman in the purified mind is the liberation of the soul affected. There is no return, no coming back to relative existence. There is no more rebirth. It is, therefore impossible to attain directly or solely through Karma or worship". Acharya's basic stand was that while the performance of good deeds and adoration and prayer aided much and cleared the way, they were not directly capable of leading to liberation which could be the outcome only of full and complete knowledge. The open sesame to Moksha was Jnana and not mere Karma.

Mandana would not subscribe to the supremacy of knowledge. He said, " The sense, the significance of the Veda is Karma or action or work. And as the fruit of action comes liberation in the form of everlasting paradise. The teaching in the Veda about the identity of Brahman and the Atman is for the purpose of establishing the perfection, the all completeness of karma. There are several Vedic assertions which emphasize and reveal the power of karma. By the performance of work, eternal heaven can be attained".

Acharya then pointed out a flaw in the viewpoint of Mandana and re- established his own contention. Mandana in turn hit down the argument and inference of Acharya and reasserted the correctness of his stand. The arguments became keener and more complex, and the refutations and denials also became correspondingly stronger and bolder. Both the contestants raised more and more intricate questions. There was a downpour of assertions and objections from either side. Quotations from the scriptures were marshaled with marvelous skill by both, and exploited to lend support to their case. It was soon past midday. Ubhayabharati saw no sign of the debate nearing its end, for each argument only opened up new areas of contention, more abstruse and abstract. The judge now addressed both the contestants and said, " You please carry on the discussion. I shall listen to everything from a distance. It is past midday now, I shall have to cook food for my lord now. Any further delay will mean neglecting the daily service of the husband and the home".

It is worthy to note that Ubhayabharati, though gifted beyond measure and united in wedlock to one who was very well to do in life, considered the performance of her household tasks the foremost duty. The touching loyalty to the little tasks of day-to-day living, this deep concern for the demands of wife's duty, is in tune with the Indian genius. There is also another remarkable ideal revealed in Ubhayabharati's devotion to the service of her husband. If the worship of an image or an idol, done in a proper spirit can lead man to Divine grace, there is no reason why the adoration of Nara, the living man, as Narayana the God himself should not lead the votary to the zenith of religious merit. Same also holds true for worshipping one's own Guru. If God the Absolute can be worshipped in an image, much more can He be so worshipped in a man. It is the Bhava or the attitude that is of importance. To hold that man is the greatest image of God and the husband the highest Guru is a highly efficacious attitude in disciplining the soul. The service to husband, with the knowledge that he is God in person, is one of the finest gifts to the world civilization by Indian culture, placing the wife on the pedestal of unshakable glory. Salutations to Thee Gauri, the perfect wife, the perfect mother, perfection personified!

Ubhayabharati then put garlands of flowers on the necks of both and then declared, " He whose garland fades first will be taken to be the party vanquished in the debate. You may, therefore proceed with the debate comfortably".

And the debate went on. Neither side could humble the other. The Acharya-Mandana dialogue was of such eloquence, scholarship and profundity that even the Gods assembled over Mandana's house and from above, remaining hidden from view, listened attentively to the debate. In this way, the debate was carried on for seventeen days. On the eighteenth day however, Mandana appeared to be shaken and agitated. The brilliant scholar perspired all over. The garland round his neck was gradually losing its freshness and began to wither, while Acharya's garland shone with added luster. Ubhayabharati noted this and felt much distressed as a loving wife she was. But she was too highly cultured to do violence to fairplay and truth. So, setting aside with a stern mind all claims of sentiment, she stood on the needle-point of honesty and in concluding the debate, publicly announced, " My husband has lost the debate". The crowd was bewildered and dumbfounded. Ubhayabharati's moral courage was of unequalled excellence and all were thrilled by her utter impartiality and unqualified objectivity.

Mandana gracefully owned his defeat, and enquired of the Acharya, " I have a small question to ask you. In the Mimamsa philosophy we find it said that the purpose of Veda is to enunciate ceremonial ritualistic actions, passages not having this purpose are meaningless. What is the meaning of this assertion? It clearly means that the purport of the Vedas is ceremony, rituals and sacrifice. All these Vedic utterances which do not glorify and extol karma are either meaningless or are merely in the manner of Arthavada, eulogy. It is because of this that sage Jaimini has, with utter clarity stated that the Vedas are karma-oriented".

Acharya explained the portion that Mandana quoted as pertaining to karma kanda or the ritual-glorifying section of the Vedas. Mandana found it difficult to accept this explanation a mantra Siddha that he was, by the power of his siddhi, he induced sage Jaimini to come down in person. And Jaimini did appear in person in response to the call and told the agitated Mandana, " Do not entertain any doubt about the correctness of the Acharya's utterance. Know for certain that what he says has my complete concurrence. His view is indeed my view".

Mandana now had no more of mental conflict, no more of any intellectual strain or emotional stress. He adored sage Jaimini in the appropriate manner and bade him farewell. He then bowed down to the feet of the Acharya an said, " Venerable monk, I have no more doubts, no misgivings, no mental reservations, any longer. With a full heart and a clean conscience I implore you to bestow on me the privilege of being your disciple. If you graciously consider me worthy of manhood, competent to enter a life of total renunciation, do kindly initiate me into the monastic order".

Ubhayabharati had remained a witness and had not spoken so long. Now she addressed the Acharya and told him, " Sire, my husband's defeat is not yet complete. In the scriptures, it is said, that the wife is a half of the man's soul. You have but defeated him. You must however defeat me, the other half of my husband's being and then you may make him your disciple. I do know that you are omniscient, but I have a strong urge to debate with you".

Here was a situation for which Acharya was totally unprepared. Ubhayabharati's offer to debate with him took him by surprise. He thought for a while and said, " Mother, scholars of standing never desire to debate with the ladies".

Ubhayabharati replied rather sharply, " Why do you entertain a belittling attitude towards women? You know that the great sage Yagvavalkya did engage in a debate with Gargi. The royal sage Janaka also entered into a debate with a woman Jnani named Sulabha. Why should you not debate with me therefore, when I solicit you to the debate? If you do not agree to a debate, then you must accept your defeat".

Acharya saw that there was no escaping from this gentle but firm lady. Her proud words could not easily be sprung away. In the interest of his mission, though not for personal glory, he felt compelled to agree to a debate with the arbiter who had acted as a judge so impartially. No time was lost and the debate between the homeless wanderer and a home-keeping housewife began in full swing. Ubhayabharati identified herself with her husband's philosophy and argued hotly. Gradually the debate entered the subtle and complex fields. Her mode of debating, the magnitude of her scholarship, her powers of analysis, her deep grasping power and remarkable self- confidence filled Acharya with amazement. Finding her an adversary, with talent as brilliant as his own, Acharya proceeded cautiously on. To the hundreds of questions that Ubhayabharati raised on all aspects of philosophy, Acharya gave highly original and convincing answers. This again went on for seventeen days. As before, everyday the debate started early morning and continued till midday. It was again resumed the next morning. The audience began to think that the debate would never come to an end. It was not long before Ubhayabharati understood quite well that she could never score a victory over the monk in the field of Veda or its allies.

On the eighteenth day, she sprang a surprise on the Acharya in the course of debate. Her very first question on that day was, " What are the signs and qualities of amatory passion? How many types are there in the erotic? In what parts of the body has erotic passion its centers? By what physical acts does it find expression and by what acts does it subside? How does passion rise and fall in man's and woman's body in the bright fortnight when the moon waxes and the dark fortnight when it wanes? "

Acharya listened to all these questions and sat still with downcast eyes for long. Then he said, " Mother, please question me in the scriptures. And I shall answer you. How is it that you put such types of questions to a celibate ascetic?"

Quick came the reply from Ubhayabharati, " Why greatest of the monks, is not Kamakala, the science of erotics also a science proper? You are a monk and may say that you have renounced everything, but you have not yet renounced the desire to score victories in philosophical debates. One who knows the import of Vedas is really omniscient. If you are, as you pose to be, a perfected monk, you must really be a master of the senses, a conqueror of the passions of which the senses are media of expression. Why then should a mere objective discussion on the subject of Kamakala cause a ruffle in your mind?"

Acharya was bewildered and remained silent. Mother Sarada was making her divinity evident. Now this was all her wonderful play, play of Parashakti, without whom even the Shiva, Vishnu and others lose their very existence and meaning. Glory to Sarada, Sri Rajarajeshwari ! But Mandana was disturbed by the unbecomingness of his wife's questioning and asked her, " My dear, do you think that these questions are worthy ones? Do not insult the ascetic monk in this fashion".

Ubhayabharati was, however, much more than a match even for the two gifted men. Without any relenting, she reasserted her view, " As a result of knowledge comes the utter conquest of the passions like lust and anger. If a mere discussion of Kamakala is going to cause a undulation to his mind, he is not then evidently established in the knowledge of Reality and is obviously unworthy to be my husband's Guru".

Strong words were these, and Mandana had no reply to make. The Acharya had meanwhile got over the feeling of surprise at these inconvenient questions and got ready to meet the challenging situation. With no anger or bitterness, but instead with a smiling countenance he said, " Mother, I need a month's time to give replies to your questions. Pray grant me this time. I am a celibate, a monk. I shall not answer your questions by any word from my mouth. The primary injunction of the scriptures for a monk is total renunciation of lust and of all lustful inclinations and preoccupations. I am not bound by the desire to score victories in debate as you incorrectly pointed out. I am just carrying on my mission of Lokasangraha, of which this merely becomes a portion. Even a man of Supreme wisdom who is firmly established in the state of sameness which is beyond the three Gunas has, for the sake of the welfare and guidance of the people of the world, to respect the injunctions of the scriptures in the field of physical conduct. So if I choose to reply to your questions by a word of mouth, I shall be tarnishing the ideal of monasticism. Therefore, I shall enter another physical frame and then shall answer your questions by writing a book for the purpose. Do you agree to this arrangement?"

In Karnataka, there lived a medieval woman saint called Mahadevi who had renounced everything, including her clothing, other than her perfect devotion to Shiva, who she perceived as her husband. She covered her body with her extremely long hair. She, at the end of her glorious life, was transported to Kailasa. There, when Shiva enquired as to why she needed to cover her body at all, even with her hair, if she was totally fixed in him, having conquered passion. She replied, " Lord, I cover this physical bundle not because I feel ashamed. I cover it for the good of the less advanced brethren around me, so that they will not harbor any sinful thinking". Same is the Acharya's stand here.

Ubhayabharati said, " Well, prince of monks, even if you enter another body and then do the answering of my questions, you will still be subjecting yourself to the sway of lustful thought, will that not involve a scaling down from the ideals of monasticism?"

Acharya answered in a quiet way, " Mother, this utterance surely does not become of you. If one who was a Chandala in a previous birth is now born in a Brahmin family, does his Brahmin-hood suffer any diminution because of his past? "

I hope this would be sufficient to put down some nonsensical queries raised by Vimalananda and others in this matter. Now, a show of divinity does not make one divinely possessed. If that were to be true, would not this simple thing declared clearly in the scriptures be evident?

Ubhayabharati caught the point aright and saw the error in her presumption and answered, " Let things be as you said. I gladly allow you a month's time". This brought the debate to a close and the assembly of enthralled listeners, who had, for many days, been having an intellectual treat at the highest level, broke.