What are boons? God’s blessings? Let us begin our journey with a story. Aristanemi was a royal and a sage. A royal sage. He was “invited to the pleasantness of the heavens” by Indra, which he wanted to decline because he would have to fall back to his existing state after the experience. He wanted, instead, to go beyond happiness and sorrow, life and death as well as heaven and hell. So he went to Sage Valmiki to seek help and guidance on what he should do.
Aristanemi asked Maharishi Valmiki “What is the best way to rid oneself of birth and death?”
Maharishi Valmiki pointed Aristanemi to the scripture known as Yoga Vasistha. Valmiki, who was the original author of Ramayana, Sri Ram’s life story held Yoga Vasistha in very high regard. He said:
He is qualified to study this scripture (the dialogue between Rama and Vasistha) who feels “I am bound, I should be liberated”, who is neither totally ignorant nor enlightened. He who deliberates on the means of liberation propounded in this scripture in the form of stories surely attains liberation from the repetitive history (of birth and death).
Yoga Vasistha, one of the most profound scriptures ever shared, shares the ruthless dialog between Rama and Vasistha that stems from amazing clarity of the high consciousness that both possessed. It is difficult to understand in the beginning but once one has deliberated sincerely on what is being conveyed, the experience of “listening” in to Rama engage with his Guru Vasistha is a Seeker’s utmost delight!
After years of worship by Queen Lila, Goddess Saraswati appeared to her. During the discussion, Goddess Saraswati explained how the queen existed in other dimensions as well. Existence in this Loka or dimension wasn’t her only life. Then the Goddess takes her to meet the Queen Lila in another dimension. There, the “Second Lila” says to the Goddess –
O Divinity, I used to worship Saraswati and she used to appear to me in my dreams. You look exactly like her: I presume that you are Saraswati. I humbly beg of you to grant me a boon – when my husband dies on the battlefield, may I accompany him to whichever realm he goes, in this very body of mine.
Goddess Saraswati granted her (Second Lila) the boon she wished for. Seeing this, the First Lila says to Saraswati:
Truly, your words never fail, your wish always comes true. Pray, tell me why you did not allow me to travel from one plane of consciousness to another with the same body?
Then Goddess Saraswati explains the mechanics of boons and the role of herself (the Goddess) in the whole boons “business”.
My dear Lila, I do not really do anything to anyone. Every jiva earns its own state by its own deeds. I am merely the deity presiding over the intelligence of every being. I am the power of its consciousness and its life force. Whatever form the energy of the living being takes within itself, that alone comes to fruition in course of time. You longed for liberation and you obtained it. You may consider it the fruit of your austerity or worship of the deity; but it is consciousness alone that bestows the fruit upon you – even as the fruit that seems to fall from the sky really falls from the tree.
It is important to understand this explanation by Goddess Saraswati herself that was narrated by Maharishi Vasistha to Sri Ram.
- Deities or Gods are Non-interventionists: No God or deity does anything to or for anyone. We may keep on saying that the “fruit has fallen from the sky, but it really falls from the tree (that we plant)!”
- Consciousness is its own Boon: Whatever we get, achieve and attain to (including Moksha) is not the doing of any God or Deity, but manifestation of our own level of consciousness. Nothing more is, indeed, important or relevant.
- Rituals and Rites are not Outward, but Inward: There is no one to please or offer anything to. We may keep saying we are fasting for this God or that, offering fruits and money to this God or that, or doing worship for someone, they are all steps and actions to open the dimensions within.
- No one is waiting to be pleased or bribed: And give anything to you based on that! The Goddess makes it very clear when she says that, unlike what the queen may keep thinking, that it was NOT the austerities or the worship of any deity by the queen that helped her towards liberation. Rather it was her own consciousness that had made it happen!
In fact, Maharishi Vasistha, while explaining the primacy of self-effort or purushaarth says that a fatalist is always ridiculed because everything is achieved and attained through self-effort alone – “Self effort is another name for Divine Will”!
The profound Maharishi then explains this further to Sri Ram:
Self effort is based on these three – knowledge of the scriptures, instructions of the preceptor and one’s own effort. Fate (or divine dispensation) does not enter here. Hence, he who desires liberation should divert the impure mind to pure endeavour by persistent effort – this is the very essence of all scriptures. The Holy Ones emphasize: persistently tread the path that leads to the eternal good. And the wise seeker knows: the fruit of my endeavours will be commensurate with the intensity of my self effort and neither fate nor a god can ordain it otherwise.
Bottomline, there is no such thing as “Divine dispensation” of someone “out there”. You and you alone are responsible – via self effort – for whatever happens to you. That is why in our culture whenever something happened to anyone, he was told “It is your karma”. Which meant – whatever is happening to you is your own doing. Of course, given that Sri Ram himself was of such a higher consciousness, Sage Vasistha said the same thing with a remarkable level of ruthless clarity!
As if to emphasize it further, Sage Vasistha later shares the story of Prahalad with young Ram. Here he explains how Prahalad attained enlightenment by the grace of Lord Vishnu.
After having extolled the primacy of self effort over the “divine dispensation” and gods, Sage Vasistha was suddenly talking about the grace of Vishnu himself. Ram then asked the obvious question: “If everything is achieved by self-effort, why was he not able to attain enlightenment without Vishnu’s grace?”
Sage Vasistha then clarifies:
Surely, whatever Prahalad attained was through self-effort, O Ram, not otherwise. Vishnu is the self, and the self is Vishnu; the distinction is verbal. It was the self of Prahalad that generated in itself devotion to Vishnu. Prahalad obtained from Vishnu, who was his own self, the boon of self-enquiry; and through such enquiry attained self knowledge. At times one attains self-knowledge through self enquiry undertaken through self effort; at times this self effort manifests as devotion to Vishnu who is also the self, and thus one attains enlightenment.
Even if one worships Vishnu for a long time with great devotion, he does not bestow enlightenment on one who is not wise with self-knowledge. Thus, the foremost means for self knowledge is self enquiry; grace and such other factors are secondary means. (“Vasistha’s Yoga” by Swami Venkatesananda, pg 256)
We all know that Prahalad was a devotee of Vishnu and that is what Sage Vasistha is alluding to by saying that Prahalad’s consciousness was akin to the consciousness of Vishnu. The grace that was betowed on Prahalad was not of any person, but of the level of consciousness he had attained to. The grace was the quality of his consciousness indeed!
Some – who have been raised on the usual stories as Hindus – may find this almost blasphemous. Specially the fact, that Vishnu does not bestow anything. Rather it is the quality of one’s own consciousness. But that is the truth of Dharmic teaching.
In fact, no one can explain this better than the man in the story himself – Prahalad! Prahalad was considered the highest of Vishnu devotees.
So, what does it mean when we say that Prahalad was a devotee of Vishnu? When we say Prahalad received the grace of Vishnu Vishnu what does it REALLY mean?!!
Let us listen in to Prahalad himself:
However, one who is not Vishnu does not derive any benefit by worshipping Vishnu. One should worship Vishnu by being Vishnu. Hence, I am Vishnu. He who is known as Prahalad is none other than Vishnu; there is no duality. (Page 236, Part V, “The Story of Prahalad”)
Whoa!! Now, read what Prahalad said (as narrated by Sage Vasistha to Ram himself) once again. And again and again. Worshipping a deity without raising your consciousness to the level of that divine being is without benefit and help. To ordinary layman the obvious question – in the wake of what Ram himself was taught – is then why does one even go to the temple? You can read about that here – If God is everywhere, Why Should we go to a Temple?
Also, please remember that worship was always called Upasana in our scriptures. Upa (near to/akin to) Asana (Place of).
The Boon business and Highest Dharmic Teachings
There is no such thing as a boon that is bestowed as a gift from anyone – god, fate or otherwise. Sorry to break this to you – but as Ram was told we need to remember it clearly.
(Sage Vasistha to Ram) One who says “Fate is directing me to do this” is brainless and the goddess of fortune abandons him. (Pg 26)
Whatever you attain to is the quality of your consciousness. All the fasting that you do. All the austerities that one does has nothing to do with pleasing anyone. That is the wisdom that was given to Ram himself. There is no god that one needs to please or make feel good. Whatever you do – austerities, fasting, worship etc – is only for the purpose of raising and enhancing your own perception and consciousness! Given the real Dharmic teaching one who is a seeker can only decry the great injustice that has been done by 3rd rate calendar artists and sub-rate film directors to the spiritual heritage of Dharma. Sadly and unfortunately, what appeals to the lovers of Sri Ram is not what he was taught and knew as the truth, but the garbage that has been culturally handed to us by the interpreters of scriptural profundities. Ramanand Sagars have prevailed over Maharishi Vasistha. In order to popularize Ram, Sagar destroyed his being completely. And most Hindus lapped up the bastardization of Ram happily! Including the nonsense about God’s boons!