05 July 2009

ARAM SHOBHA’S PREVIOUS BIRTH

At Champapuri, there lived a very rich merchant named Kuladhar. Kulnand was the name of his wife. The merchant had seven daughters named as follows: Kamalashri, Kamalavati, Kamala, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Jayamati and Priyakarini. They were as beautiful as they were proficient. They were all married to merchants of very noble birth.
An eighth daughter was born to Kuldhar, but she was less fortunate. The parents were so unhappy at her birth that they did not perform even her naming ceremony. The girl grew up and stepped from childhood into youth. But her father was indifferent to her future happiness and did not bother to settle her in life. If some member of his household drew his attention to this, he would only say that she would be settled as soon as a right groom was available, and that he was on the lookout for one.
One day, as the merchant was seated at his shop, a stranger young man came up to him. His dress was poor and his hairs were disheveled and infested with lice.
The merchant said to him: “ Who are you ? Where do you come from ? What country do you belong to ?” The youth replied: “Sir, I belong to Koshalpur. Nandi is the name of my father and Soma is my mother’s name. My own name is Nandan. I am penniless. I went to Chand Desh to do business but my ill-luck followed me even there. At Chand Desh lives a merchant named Vasantdev who belongs to this city. I am employed in his service. He has sent me with a letter which is to be delivered at his house, but I don’t know its location. It will be a great favor done to me if you could direct me there.”
Kuladhar thought within himself that this would be a right groom for his youngest daughter. If I settle my daughter’s marriage with this young man, then I can get rid of her. He said to the youth: “Young man, you deliver the letter at Vasantdev’s house and come back at once.”
The merchant sent one of his attendants to accompany him. The young man came back to Kuldhar as he was asked to do. After he had finished his shower, the merchant gave him clothes and food, and then, at the right moment, he placed the proposal for his daughter’s marriage to him.
The youth said: “I have to return this very day, Sir.” The merchant replied: “There will be no difficulty. I shall make every arrangement accordingly, and the ceremony itself will not take much time. For your subsistence, I shall later bestow wealth on you.”
The young man agreed, and the marriage ceremony was over within a few hours. The daughter bade good-bye to her parents’ home. The couple then set out on the road to Chand Desh. When they were near Avanti Desh, they took shelter in a temple to pass the night there. It was the dead of night, and the bride was fast asleep. The young man thought that as my wife is with me, I cannot walk as fast as I would like to. And if I go slowly like this, it will be necessary to spend a long time on the way. I have scanty means to support both of us in the journey, and if it is exhausted, I would be forced to beg. That will be highly unbecoming of me. So why don’t I give up my bride here ? This will save me from a probable calamity. Thinking in this manner, he picked up whatever things he could and immediately left the place.
At sunrise, when the wife woke up, she found neither her husband nor the means to support herself. She could hardly think of such a thing happening but was soon reconciled to the hard reality and set her mind on the future.
For a moment she thought of going back to her parents, but then she thought about the life she had lived there and the sort of reception she would receive now, and then she decided to court suffering to going back to a life of scorn. But the very next moment she thought as to who would support her and how she would begin this new life. The prospect of begging was not at all palatable, but she gathered courage and confidence and thought, If all living beings support themselves, I too can do the same. I will take up some work to support myself, but I shall preserve my purity.
The brave lose nothing; instead, they find a way. The woman got up and reached the marketplace of the city of Vishala. She stood in front of the shop of merchant Manibhadra. She looked at him, as he looked at her. She had a feeling that this was a good man. So she came nearer and said: “Father, I am on the lookout for some work. It will be a great favor if you could give me some.”
Manibhadra felt compassion for her, but he hesitated to take an unknown woman into his household. He asked who she was and why she was there. The woman said: “Sir, I am the daughter of merchant Kuladhar of Champapuri. I was on my was to Chand Desh with my husband, but unfortunately I have been separated from him. So, I have come to you to seek some job so that my days of suffering may be easily spent.”
Manibhadra consoled her and showed her affection. He invited her to stay in his household, and she was placed in charge of his household affairs. He sent men in search of her husband, but no trace of him could be found. He also made confidential inquiries about her parents, and they tallied with what she had told him. So she was installed in Manibhadra’s family with full dignity, and, on her part, she won the affection of everybody by dint of her good behavior.
Now, Manibhadra built a magnificent Jain temple with high gates and colorful flags. Kuldhar’s daughter went there daily to offer prayer and worship. She came into contact with the nuns and acquired the knowledge of Nav Tattva (nine doctrines). Now she became a Shravika like the great Sulasa, steadfast in equanimity. Manibhadra was never niggardly to fulfill her wishes and held her in great esteem.
Once she desired to donate three gold umbrellas bedecked with jewels to be placed to cover the head of the Jina image, and this was readily arranged. Much of her time was now devoted to penance, service to the holy order, and sundry religious activities.
One day Manibhadra sat deeply immersed in anxiety when Kuldhar’s daughter came to him and inquired about the cause. In apprising her of the situation, the merchant said: “For the worship of the god, the king entrusted me with the upkeep of a flower garden, and flowers collected there were used daily for worship. But today the garden is suddenly dry. I tried my best to restore it to freshness, but all my efforts have been in vain. I don’t know what hard steps the king would now take against me for this.”
She said: “Father, please don’t suffer with anxiety. Leave the matter to me. I shall set it right. I command rock-like purity, and until the garden is restored to freshness, I give up my four types of foods.” The merchant said, “Don’t say that, my daughter. Please don’t put me to ridicule by taking my anxiety wholly on yourself.” She said: “Father, you know, a vow taken once cannot be broken. You will just see that all the adverse forces will give way to the strength of my spirit.”
Kuldhar’s daughter returned to the Jina temple. Bowing before the image, she immersed herself deep in Kayotsarga (meditation). She touched neither food nor drink. A day passed, followed by a second and then a third. At last, Shasandevi, the controlling Devi of the order, made her appearance on the third night and said: “My daughter, a Dev with a wrong outlook has played havoc with the garden. But he could not withstand your purity and has fled. Your vow is fulfilled, and in the morning you will find the garden restored to its freshness.”
The morning saw the miracle happen. The garden was restored to its beauty and freshness. Manibhadra was astonished. He rushed to Kuldhar’s daughter at the temple premises to break the news and congratulate her. He said: “My daughter, my wishes have been fulfilled by the strength of your purity and penance. It behooves you to break the fast now.”
With the speed of lightning, the news reached every household in the town, and all the men and women of the town, came rushing to the temple. All spoke highly of her purity and the merchant’s good luck who has such a worthy daughter in his house. Kuldhar’s daughter first offered food to the Munis, served the same to the members of her order, and then broke her fast.
This was indeed a great day for the religion of the Jina. Many days passed thereafter. One night, at a late hour, as Kuldhar’s daughter lay awake in her bed, a thought came to her: By good fortune, I am born in the order of the Jina. But I cannot practice the great vows. This will be a severe failure on my part, so I must make the best use of whatever limited capacity I have for spiritual advance.
Now, she changed the course of her life. Sometimes she would fast for two days, sometimes for three days, and sometimes for four days, raising the duration gradually to a fortnight and then to a month. This reduced her body. Then she undertook the final fast and ended her life through auspicious meditation.
Thereafter she was born in heaven and named Saudharmalok. Having completed her life there, she has been born in the house of Brahmin Agnisharma as his daughter and has been named Vidyutprabha.

No comments: