The Theosophical Forum – June 1936


Rightness, honor, power, splendor of countenance and Vedic glory, these things, verily, were possessed in former times by Atidhanvan-Sanaka, king of the Videhas, in such measure that there was none like him to be found in the world, and even the gods were astonished. On his body, it is said, were the two and thirty marks of perfect birth; and the birthmarks of the Chakravartin: the wheel, the orb, the discus of unbounded sovereignty. To speak of the tributary monarchs that bowed down to him, would be, as it were, to limit the infinity of his power; from the seven continents they came, bearing wealth to his treasure house. His armies went forth even to Patala; and such was the fame of his beneficence, that they achieved victory without the shedding of blood. He conquered the resplendent worlds. "Whatever tribute we may pay to him," said the kings of the earth, "it is upon us that the balance of benefit falls." Among the countless crores of his slaves and subjects there was none to hanker after the lightening of his yoke; none to complain, or desire any other lord.

All of which pertained to his rank as Chakravartin; but heaven knows he was more and greater than a Chakravartin possessing world-sovereignty. Svetaketu-Dalbhya overheard seven flamingos discoursing as they flew over the palace in the night. "Short-sighted brothers," said the leader of them, "fly not too near, lest the splendor of the good deeds of Atidhanvan-Sanaka scorch your wings." Ushasti-Shalavatya listened while the bull of the herd was conversing with the cows. "As for Atidhanvan-Sanaka," said the bull, "he, verily, is to be named with Raikva with the Car." —"How was it with that Raikva?" asked the cows; "and how is it with Atidhanvan-Sanaka?" —"As in a game of dice," said the bull, "all the lower casts belong to him who conquers with the Krita cast, so all good deeds performed by other men belonged of old to Raikva, and belong now to the King of the Videhas." Prasnayana-Jaivali heard the altar-flame soliloquizing. "Atidhanvan-Sanaka," said the flame, "knows that Golden Person who is seen within the sun, with golden beard and golden hair, whose eyes are like blue lotuses, and who is golden altogether to the tips of his nails. Atidhanvan-Sanaka, verily, knows the Golden Person, the Lonely Bird. . . ."

And he who knows this, says the Upanishad, knows Brahman.

Certainly, then, the king knew Brahman. Though he was a warrior of the Kshattriya tribe, many that were Brahmanas came to him to learn wisdom. They put questions to him, and he answered their questions: revealing to them the Self, making known to them the wanderings of the Lonely Bird. That which is the Breath of the breath, the Eye of the eye, the Ear of the ear, the Dwarf in the heart, he revealed it to them. Then he put questions to them, and they were dumb. "Master," said those proud ones, "teach us!"

Kingly indeed was Atidhanvan-Sanaka: a majestic man, black-bearded, with dark and flashing eyes, severe and noble of aspect. He was constantly in action; constantly shining forth surrounded with the pomp and magnificence of his sovereignty; no one ever beheld him at rest. As with chanting of Vedic hymns and with ceremonial rites, the priests conduct the sacrifice; as the sun passes through heaven, adoring that Brahman; so Atidhanvan-Sanaka conducted the affairs of the world. "Whatsoever the sun or the moon sees, or the light or the darkness hears; whatsoever the heart conceives, or the hand performs, or the tongue whispers, he knoweth it, he knoweth it," said the people. And yet where one feared him, millions loved him; and so great was the influence of his will and benevolence, that righteousness was maintained everywhere, and evil put down firmly in every quarter of the world.

Now in those days there dwelt three ascetics in the Forest of Grantha-Nagari: Vaka-Kakshaseni, Satyakama-Kapeya, and Gautama-Kaushitakeya, or as he was called, Pautraya-Glava. They were assiduous in the quest of wisdom, and had spent three hundred years in meditation; performing many penances, and silently repeating the udgitha. They had attained to many powers; yet there was that, verily, to which they had not attained.

At the end of a hundred years, Vaka-Kakshaseni said: "Sir, Satyakama-Kapeya, knowest thou that Brahman?"

"I know it not," said he.

At the end of the second hundred years Satyakama-Kapeya said: "Sir, Gautama-Kaushitakeya, or as thou art called, Pautraya-Glava, knowest thou that Brahman?"

"I know it not," said he.

At the end of the third hundred years Gautama-Kaushitakeya rose up and said: "Sirs, we have dwelt here these three hundred years in meditation, performing many penances, governing the inbreathing and the outbreathing, and silently repeating the udgitha. We, verily, have attained to many powers; yet there is that to which we have not attained. And there is that Atidhanvan-Sanaka, king of the Videhas: a Kshat-triya, housed about in worldly pomp, and performing day by day the mere duties of a world-sovereign: practising neither meditation nor study of the Veda; governing none of the breaths; performing no penance nor austerities, nor repeating silently sacred texts; and yet it is said that he knows the Brahman. Is it your opinion that we should go to him, and request him to teach us?"

"We are Brahmanas, and he is a Kshattriya," said they. "Were we to seek as our Teacher one unworthy to teach us, our heads might fall off."

"Our heads might fall off, truly," said he.

Then said Satyakama-Kapeya: "Sir, Vaka-Kakshaseni, what is thy opinion?"

"That one of us should go into the palace in disguise, and make inquiry as to the king's knowledge, and by what means he has gained it," said he.

And they said: "Sir, Gautama-Kaushitakeya, do thou go."

* * *

Gautama-Kaushitakeya took the guise of a sweeper, and went into the city, and mingled with the crowd that gathered in the morning when Atidhanvan-Sanaka come into the Hall of Justice. He saw the king ascend the throne, like the splendor of the sun at dawn into a sky of gold and scarlet, of clear saffron and bright vermilion. He listened while the judgments were being given, and understood that no lie might be maintained against the king's perspicacity of vision. He saw that whatsoever deed was done, or thought thought, or word spoken, it was known to Atidhanvan-Sanaka, and could not be concealed from him. He abided there from dawn until noon, marveling more and more. The motions of the king's hands, it seemed to him, were as the motions of Karman to administer rewards and punishments; the glances of the king's eyes seemed to him to penetrate compassionately into all the corners of the earth. At the end of the morning the people prostrated themselves, and said: 'Justice hath been done, even to the ultimate particular"; and Gautama-Kaushitakeya answered: "Yea, justice hath been done." And he was not a man to be impressed with outward shows.

Then he went back to the forest. "Hast thou any news, sir?" said his companions.

"Sirs," he answered, "the glory of Atidhanvan-Sanaka, as he ascendeth the throne of Justice in the morning, is like the glory of the sun at dawn ascending into a heaven robed in gold and scarlet, in diaphanous saffron and vermilion lovely to behold. His person, verily, is like the Golden Person that is seen in the sun, whose eyes are like blue lotuses, and who is golden altogether to the tips of his nails. I listened in the Hall of Justice during the morning, and ceased not to marvel even at noon, when he went forth. The motions of his hands were as the motions of Karman, rewarding hidden merit, and punishing concealed wrong. No lie in the world might be maintained against the clear perspicacity of his vision."

Satyakama-Kapeya said: "There is nothing in this concerning knowledge of the Brahman."

* * *

Gautama-Kaushitakeya, or as he was called, Pautraya-Glava, said:

"Sir, what is thy opinion?"

"That another of us should go in disguise to the palace," said he. "Sir, Vaka-Kakshaseni, do thou go."

* * *

Vaka-Kakshaseni went forth in the guise of a Kshattriya, and rode into the city at noon, and came into the Hall of Audience where the tributary kings and the ambassadors of foreign lands were waiting. There were seven score great princes present in the hall, all of them wise and mighty leaders: handsome to the eye of the beholder, and their apparel exceedingly rich and adorned with gold and rubies, with costly emeralds and pearls. Then came in Atidhanvan-Sanaka and took his place upon the throne, with sovereign magnificence like the heaven-riding sun at noon; and with glory of countenance and Vedic splendor so multiplied upon him, that whoever else was present seemed but as a little candle lighted at midday in the face of the golden sun. The motions of his hands were the upholding and giving peace to distant empires; the glances of his eyes were enlightenment for far and barbarous peoples; the words of his mouth, even the least of them, brought peace where there had been contention, and brotherly kindness where there had been ambition, envy, and strife. Vaka-Kakshaseni marveled until nightfall, and did not cease to marvel when the king went forth; although, as was well known, he was not a man to be impressed by outward shows and pomp.

Then he returned to the forest of Grantha-Nagari, and sought his companions.

"Sir," said they, "hast thou learned the secret?"

"The glory of Atidhanvan-Sanaka," said he, "is like the glory of the end of judging people. In the doorway, as the crowd went out, he met a heaven-riding sun at noon: aloof, magnificent, sovereign, not to be contemplated with naked vision. All the other princes of the world, appearing in his presence, are as little candles lighted in the face of the noonday sun. I listened, marveling, while he received the kings of distant countries. The movements of his hands uphold their empires. The glances of his eyes bring enlightenment to barbarous peoples, and spread joy and delight over the world. Even the least of his words cause peace to be where formerly were strife, envy, and ambitious contention."

Gautama-Kaushitakeya said: "There is nothing in this concerning the knowledge of Brahman.

* * *

Vaka-Kakshaseni said: "Sir, what is thy opinion?"

"That the third of us should go to the palace in disguise, and make inquiries. Sir, Satyakama-Kapeya," said he, "do thou go to the palace."

"I will go tomorrow," said he.

On the morrow he went forth in the guise of a sweeper, and came into the Hall of Justice at noon, when Atidhanvan-Sanaka had made an end of judging the people. In the doorway, as the crowd went out, he met a man of the sweeper caste, and questioned him. "Sir," said he, 'by what means is it reputed that the King attains his knowledge? All that hath been spoken or thought or done, it appears, is known to him. How is this?"

"Come into the garden and I will show thee," said the sweeper.

They went out and came beside a lake wherein lotuses bloomed, some in color like the snows of Himavat, some like the clouds of sunset, some like the middle blue deepness of the sky at noon. In the midst of the lake was a tower, very lofty, and built of coral and ivory; it rose from no island; about its base the floating leaves and the blossoms of the lotuses lolled, and the blue waters reflected the clouds.

"It is called the Tower of the Gandharvas," said the sweeper. "The King goes up into it nightly, and feasts there upon celestial food, and Indra and Prajapati, they say, are his companions. And the Gandharvas, the celestial singers, come to them in the tower, winging their way hither out of the region between the earth and the moon. Many that pass through the garden in the night hear their singing; it is sweeter than any sound that might be imagined by man. They sing for Atidhanvan-Sanaka until dawn; making known to him, as to their Teacher, all that is spoken or thought or done."

"That may be," thought Satyakama-Kapeya; "but there is nothing in it concerning the knowledge of the Brahman."

He went forth, and meditated upon that until dusk. Then he assumed the guise of a hotri or fire-priest, and rose up, and went into the Hall of Audience when Atidhanvan-Sanaka was making an end of receiving the tributary kings and ambassadors, and saw that all were filled with awe and astonishment on account of the Vedic splendor of the King. Going up to another priest, he said to him:

"Sir, tell me to what Atidhanvan-Sanaka owes his astonishing glory. There is none like him, truly, in the world; even, it is said, he knows the Brahman. Where gaineth he this perennial knowledge?"

"Sir," said the Brahmana, "come with me into the garden, and I will show thee."

He led him to the shore of the lake, and pointed to the tower. "Therein he receives illumination by night," said the Brahmana. "I think that one of the Rishis dwells there, and imparts instruction to him between nightfall and dawn. From his going in until his coming out, celestial music issues from the tower; wherefore the ignorant call it the Tower of the Gandharvas, and consider that it is those celestial singers who instruct him. It may be, indeed, that the Gandharvas sing during the instruction; or it may be, indeed, that the music is caused by the mere words of the Sage his Teacher."

"That is very probable," thought Satyakama-Kapeya; "but there is nothing in it concerning the knowledge of Brahman."

He went forth, and meditated upon that until midnight; then rose up, and took upon him the guise of a moth, and flew into the garden. Verily, the whole place was filled with celestial music that issued from the tower: a sweet flood of sound intense with holiness and peace, making the scented night wonderful with holiness and peace. He lighted down on the closed petals of a lotus on the lake, and listened; and it appeared to him that he was very near to the knowledge of the Brahman. Then he flew up, and hovered round the tower, seeking a cranny by which he might enter; and found one at last, and went in. As he entered, he heard the music no longer.

Nor saw anything that he expected to see: neither the chamber of a king, nor the cell of an ascetic engaged in samadhi. "He is not here," he said, and prepared to fly forth again; but stayed. "I will watch this conflict," said he. This is what he saw:

A lantern hung from the ceiling, shedding vague light over a room barren of adornments, with floor and walls covered with filth and slime, and filled with an abominable stench that rose out of a vast pit in the midst of the floor. And there was a man in the room, struggling with a demon. Stripped to the waist he was; blood and sweat poured from his body scarred with old wounds and new. The muscles of his limbs stood out in his agony; the clutch of the demon was upon him; in dreadful silence they writhed and swayed and struggled. All night long Satyakama-Kapeya, strangely interested, watched them fighting. Fouler and more hideous was the demon than man's imagining can paint. Now one, now the other seemed uppermost. All night long in dreadful silence they writhed and strove and made conflict: in dumb agony the one, in foul malignity the other striving. "But where is Atidhanvan-Sanaka?" thought the ascetic; "where are Indra and Prajapati?"

Dawn-light shone in at last, and then the man gathered up the demon in his arms, and lifted it in the air, and crushed the vile life out of it, and flung it into the pit that was in the midst of the floor. Then he stood up, and the sunlight fell upon him. And Satyakama-Kapeya saw the marks of the wounds upon his body glow in the sunlight; and behold, they were the two and thirty marks of perfect birth; and amongst them, shining like the sun, the signs of the Chakravartin: the wheel, the orb, the discus of world-sovereignty. . . .

He flew forth meditating, and came in his own guise to the forest. "Sirs," he said, "I have the secret. He, verily, is fitted to be our Teacher. Come!"

That day the three of them came to Atidhanvan-Sanaka, bearing fuel in their hands. "Sir," said they, "teach us to know the Brahman."

"Be it so," said he. "Abide ye in the palace as fuel-carriers for seven years; then come to me again."


1. Reprinted from The Theosophical Path, Vol. IX, No. 6, December, 1915. (return to text)

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