The art of spontaneously responding to unforeseen happenings
by Gauranga Darshan Das
Life doesn’t always go according to our expectations! Sometimes most surprising things happen at the least expected moment. Life is an amazing combination of both predictable and unpredictable events. If everything could be foreseen and goes according to our plans, life would probably be boring too!
A student who sincerely studies throughout an academic term can do well in the final exam that lasts only for a couple of hours. After coming out of the examination hall submitting the answer sheet, the student can’t go back to revise one’s answers. Life is also similar. As a preparation to face sudden situations in life where we need to maturely respond on the spur of the moment, we must associate with wise people, study divine scriptures and practice the principles of spirituality and morality diligently. Then even our spontaneous decisions or responses could be effective.
Flexibility in dealing with the unexpected is expected from all human beings to some degree. While leaving room for the unforeseen, we also need to responsibly plan things properly to the best of our intelligence. One needs to be diligent, and not negligent.
INSTANT RESPONSES – MATURE & IMMATURE
Circumstances are not in our control, but our response is. Problems often come unannounced. When we suddenly face a problem, how do we respond to it on the spur of the moment? A person’s sense of humor is worth appreciating when he or she cracks a lovely joke with perfect timing without offending anyone. Similarly, a person’s sensibility and wisdom are worth admiring when he or she spontaneously takes a wise decision in an emergency on the spur of the moment. But people who are impulsive in nature, and lack maturity often respond negatively in trying circumstances.
While there could be multiple alternatives to respond to a situation suitably, an impulsive person gives into circumstantial anger, envy, pride, and cruelty on the spur of the moment, and creates unnecessary troubles for oneself and others. One’s poor responses could be due to the heat of situations or lack of maturity. Even if one knows what is right and what is wrong, one’s weaknesses do not allow one to act aptly. The heart’s weakness is often due to egoistic pride, undue attachments, and unfair obligations.
The timeless holy text Çrémad-Bhägavatam written by sage Vyäsa presents several such instances of people spontaneously responding to sudden situations. Some of them resulted in positive outcomes and some negative too, depending on the sensibleness of people involved. In either case, they provide us great life lessons.
STORY 1: A HAUGHTY BOY & A HUMBLE KING
King Parīkṣit was the glorious descendant of celebrated Päëòavas. Once, he went to the forest to hunt. Afflicted by thirst, he approached the hermitage of sage Śamīka and asked for water, but the sage was absorbed in deep meditation and didn’t respond. Offended, Parīkṣit placed a dead snake around Śamīka Ṛṣī’s neck and then returned to his palace. Upon hearing this news, Çréngi, the five-year-old son of Śamīka, became very angry. On the spur of the moment, he cursed Parīkṣit to die in seven days. Parīkṣit was a saintly monarch and a great devotee and Çréngi gave him a severe punishment for an insignificant offense. Çréngi prematurely became a self-appointed judge, without considering the position of whom he was punishing. Later even Samīka Ṛṣī regretted the impulsive behavior of Çréngi.
But Parīkṣit was mature enough to readily accept Çréngi’s curse when heard of it from Gauramukha, a disciple of Śamīka. He took it as a reaction to his own act of insulting sage Śamīka. Although it was circumstantial, Parīkṣit didn’t justify it but took responsibility for it. He also saw the curse as an opportunity to renounce worldly attachments and take complete shelter of the Supreme Lord. Although a brähmaëa boy cursed him, without maintaining any grudge towards the brähmaëas, he took shelter of another brähmaëa, Sukadeva Gosvami, and heard Çrémad-Bhägavatam from him.
Through this incident, the Supreme Lord Krishna has descended in the form of book Bhagavatam for the spiritual upliftment of humanity.
The arrogance and pride of being a brähmaëa made Çréngi curse Parīkṣit on the spur of the moment. The maturity of Parīkṣit made him spontaneously respond to it with detachment and devotion.
STORY 2: A PROUD FATHER-IN-LAW & A TOLERANT SON-IN-LAW
Once all the sages, demigods, and other leaders of the universe assembled to perform a thousand-year sacrifice. Dakña Prajapati, the expert and chief progenitor, entered that great assembly and everyone except Lord Brahma and Lord Çiva stood up in respect. Dakña offered respect to his father Brahma. At that time Lord Çiva was meditating on the Supreme Lord. But seeing Çiva not standing up to honor him, Dakña was enraged on the spur of the moment.
Dakña considered Çiva to be his subordinate because Çiva married Dakña’s daughter Sati and thus became his son-in-law. So, Dakña expected respect from exalted Çiva. On the pretext of speaking about good manners and culture of respect, Dakña criticized Lord Çiva as disrespectful, impure, unclean, mad, and the master of ghosts. He even cursed Çiva not to have a share in the sacrificial oblations. He angrily left the assembly despite the requests of the members there.
Lord Çiva remained tolerant of Dakña’s criticism and didn’t speak a single word in retaliation. And when the followers of Çiva and supporters of Dakña began arguing and cursing each other, Çiva silently got up and left the assembly showing his detachment.
Due to his deep-rooted envy and hatred for Çiva, Dakña cursed Çiva on the spur of the moment. But Çiva was unagitated as he was detached and tolerant. Later Dakña faced the consequences of his poor mentality and misbehavior.
STORY 3: AN IMPULSIVE BRÄHMAËA & A FORBEARING KÑATRIYA
King Ambaréña, a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, invited sage Durväsä to his home for meals on an Ekadasi day. Durväsä accepted the request and went to take bath but didn’t return for a long time. Concerned that the recommended time to break his fast was passing, Ambaréña took a little water before the arrival of Durväsä. When Durväsä returned, he understood by his mystic power that Ambaréña drank water. Durväsä became very furious on the spur of the moment and created a fiery demon to destroy Ambaréña instantly. Ambaréña spontaneously took shelter of the Supreme Lord and fearlessly stood facing the imminent danger. However, Sudarsana-cakra, the disc weapon of Lord Vishnu, burnt the fiery demon and noble Ambaréña was thus protected.
Sudarçana cakra then started chasing Durväsä who then fled everywhere in the universe including the abodes of Brahma, Çiva and Vishnu. Finding shelter nowhere in the three worlds, Durväsä came back to Ambaréña and fell at his feet. Ambaréña felt so embarrassed to see the brähmaëa fall at his feet. He immediately prayed to Sudarçana to release Durväsä in exchange for his own spiritual credits. Such is the spontaneous compassion and forgiveness of a pure devotee.
The superiority complex of Durväsä Muni of being a sage and brähmaëa made him attempt to kill Ambaréña, a kñatriya and a householder, on the spur of the moment. But Ambarisa readily accepted the situation considering it to be God’s will and spontaneously forgave and prayed for Durväsä Muni when he came for protection.
STORY 4: A CRUEL BROTHER & A CLEVER BROTHER-IN-LAW
Kaàsa loved his dear sister Devaké very much. On the day of her wedding with Vasudeva, Kaàsa personally drove the chariot of his sister and brother-in-law. At that time, Kaàsa suddenly heard a prophetic voice from the sky announcing that the eighth child of Devaké would kill Kaàsa. On the spur of the moment, wicked Kaàsa took up his sword to chop off the head of Devaké at once. He didn’t consider that she was a woman, his sister and the object of his affection. He was just concerned about his own life and didn’t even care for the reputation of his dynasty, and prepared himself to kill her in public, on her wedding day, in front of thousands of people. Selfish people can give up their love for relatives, but not material enjoyment.
Vasudeva, who was witnessing this, had very little time to think and respond. He had to immediately do something to save Devaké from Kaàsa’s invincible sword.
Vasudeva was so wise and devoted to the Supreme Lord, that he spontaneously gave several arguments and suggestions to Kaàsa not to be so cruel. Finally, he convinced Kaàsa to spare Devaké’s life, promising him to bring her children to him when they will be born. On the spur of the moment, instead of becoming agitated, frustrated or hopeless, virtuous Vasudeva expertly negotiated with cruel Kaàsa and pacified him with wise words and saved the life of Devaké. Such is the maturity of a devotee.
The selfishness of Kaàsa made him so cruel that he wanted to kill his sister on the spur of the moment. The diligence and wisdom of Vasudeva made him speak timely words and save Devaké’s life.
QUICK DECISION MAKING
Decision making is an art and it’s a day to day necessity in life. Hasty decisions made on the spur the moment sometimes lead people into serious difficulties. Therefore, a general recommendation is to make diligent decisions after considering the issue from different angles. A well thought out decision with proper planning often gives supposedly good results.
Yet life presents situations where we don’t get an open-ended time to make decisions. At times, we need to make very quick decisions. The sensibility of such decisions depends on the maturity we acquire over the years and decades of experience. Our instant positive or negative responses to life situations are products of the impressions and conceptions that we carry in mind for a long time.
People who lack such wisdom and maturity fail to appropriately respond to situations and run into complications.