On the banks of Ganga lived a rishi in a hut and performed spiritual austerities. Madhavaselva was the king of Madhavapuri. He had gone to the forest for hunting that day. After having hunted for a long while in forests and mountains, he became tired. The king had come a long way from his soldiers and attendants. His stomach was aching in hunger. Noticing the rishi’s hut in a distance, the king thought that he could get something to eat there and rode his horse towards the hut.
Madhavaselva saw a rishi sitting in the hut with a countenance beaming with compassion and divinity and saluted him. The rishi asked him: ‘Child, who are you?’ His question brimmed with affection and peace. The king replied:‘Sir, I am the king of this country.’ The rishi replied: ‘Son, I only asked who you are. I did not ask your relation with your country. Further,“king” denotes a position. If the king of another country conquers your country, your position of the king would go away. Hence, please tell me who you really are.’
The king got confused by the rishi’s question and could not answer it. The king’s hunger increased and he asked the rishi: ‘Sir, I am hungry. Please give me something to eat.’ The rishi asked again: ‘You did not answer my question! First, you said that you are the king. Now, you say that you are hungry. In truth, who are you?’
Madhavaselva started thinking: ‘This rishi first asked me who I am. I replied that I was the king of this country. Then, I said that I was hungry. Really, who am I?’ The king did not get any answer; only his confusion increased. The king decided that he would answer the rishi once his hunger got appeased. He told the rishi: ‘Sir, first let me appease my hunger. Then I would give you a reply.’
On the other side of Ganga lived a devotee named Shaktikama, who used to cross the river daily and bring the necessary food for the rishi. That day, when Satyakama brought food, Madhavaselva was sitting in front of the rishi. Satyakama ignored the king’s presence and saluted only the rishi by prostrating before him and went away leaving the food he had brought.
Seeing this, the king thought: ‘This devotee ignored me completely.’ The king felt bad and decided to leave the hut. The very next moment,the rishi said to him: ‘Son! That devotee does not know that you are the king of this country. Had he known it, he would have saluted you too. “King” is only a position. You would be respected only as long as you are the king. If you lose that position and someone else becomes the king, you would lose that respect. So, tell me now, who are you?’
The king prayed to the rishi again: ‘Sir, please give me something to eat.’ The rishi agreed and gave the king the food that Satyakama had brought. The king had just started eating that a soldier came running in search of him. After saluting the king, the soldier informed that the king of another country had surrounded the royal palace and that Madhavaselva had to rush to fight a war. Though it is common knowledge that hunger makes one forget everything, the king forgot even hunger on hearing this news and quickly rose to go to war. The rishi stoppedhim and affectionately said: ‘Son, you can goafter having your food.’
The king replied restlessly in a faltering voice: ‘My kingdom has been surrounded by the enemies! I am restless and without peace. I should go to the war front right now!’ The rishi said to him calmly: ‘Son! You are creating confusion again. When I asked you who you are, you said that you are the king. Then, you said that you are hungry. And now, you are saying that you are restless, without any peace of mind. Tell me,who are you in truth?’
The king said to the rishi: ‘Sir! I am now not in a position to reply to you. I should immediately go to war.’ The rishi was not one to giveup easily and told the king: ‘Child, you are very tired now. You do not even have the energy to fight. First, appease your hunger and take some rest. You may leave then. Order your commanders to direct the army and start the war. You can join the war after some time.’ The rishi’s advice seemed appropriate to Madhavaselva and he told the soldier who had come in search of him: ‘Ask the army commanders to start the war. I would join the war after some time.’
The king said to the rishi, ‘I am now peaceful without restlessness’, and was about to have food. When he was about to eat, the rishi heldhis hand firmly and asked: ‘Child! You have not yet replied to my questions. You may eat after answering my questions. When I asked you who you are, first you said that you are the king. Then,you said that you are hungry. Now, you say that you are peaceful without restlessness. Who are you in reality?’
The king told the rishi that he would reply to his questions after having his food and ate to his heart’s content.The tired king decided to have a nap after having his food. And so, he told the rishi tha the would reply to his questions after his nap and slept in the shade of a tree nearby. Because of tiredness, the king overslept. On waking up, he realised that he had slept for a long time and decided to leave at once. He decided to leave without informing the rishi, who was meditating.Fearing that the rishi would again start asking questions once his meditation was over, he stealthily moved towards his horse.The rishi was noticing the king’s activities.
When the king was about to mount his horse,the rishi asked him: ‘Child! Are you leaving without informing me?’ Seeing that his plans had failed, the king lied that he was checking whether the horse was ready to leave and that he had overslept. The rishi asked the king: ‘Child! Don’t you say that you had slept nicely? How do you know that?’ The king replied: ‘I don’t even know that I had slept.’The rishi said: ‘Child! You say that you did not know that you were sleeping, or that you were ignorant when you were asleep. What new confusion is this? When I first asked you who you are, you said that you are the king. Then, you said that you were hungry, then that you were restless, and then that you are peaceful. Now,you say that you are ignorant. Now, please reply after giving it some thought. You said: “I am the king”, “I am hungry”, “I am restless”, “I am peaceful”,and “I am ignorant”. In all these statements,who is the I?’
Hearing the rishi’s words, the king realised that there was an underlying, permanent, and unique I in all his replies to the rishi’s questions.The compassionate rishi gave the knowledge of Atman to the king and blessed him by removing his ignorance.The king then lived like a practical Vedantin and a royal sage like King Janaka. Madhavaselva’s life was a great example for the high ideal of‘for one’s own liberation and for the welfare of the world’.
Source: Prabudha Bharat