Today is all about life, about the choices that we make, the path that we forge with those choices, and how pride and the ego can often lead to our downfall. Our story today is of the doom of the king of Parikshit. It’s a story that will take us through various characters and aspects of our own self to get a better understanding of some of the pitfalls of chasing after desires, chasing after thoughts of losing our sense of self and compassion, and the trouble that that can cause. We’re gonna dive right into our story today.
Once upon a time, there was a great king by the name of Parikshit. He was said to be a very just and noble king. One day, the king was off hunting in his forest and he was hunting a deer, a doe, a female deer. It was said to be a very beautiful deer, but it was so fast that it kept eluding him and his hunting party. Eventually, the king was so determined to get this deer because no deer ever, at that point, had ever not fallen on the other end of his arrow. He had always caught every other deer. He was determined to get this one and he was so determined, chasing this deer, that he ended up losing track of his entire hunting party.
He gets lost and he’s wandering through the forest trying to find his deer, trying to find his way, and he comes to find a sage meditating under a tree next to a very small hermitage. Now, the sage who was meditating, his name was Shamika. Shamika had taken a vow of silence, so he was sitting there, immersed in meditation, not speaking even when he wasn’t in meditation. The king approaches and the king notices that he’s meditating, but he comes up to him and he’s like, “Hey, have you seen a deer around here that just ran by?” Of course, Shamika says nothing. The king waits a second and he’s like, “Hey, hello? Do you hear me? I asked you if you saw a deer run through here.”
There’s a moment where the king catches himself and he thinks, “Well, the guy’s meditating. Maybe I should just leave him alone. It’s fine.” But then all of a sudden, his pride picks up and he’s like, “Well, wait a second. I’m the king. How dare someone not respond to me?” He vocalizes that. He yells out. He’s like, “I am King Parikshit and this is my land. I’m asking you, I am commanding you, to tell me. Speak to me. Answer my question.” Of course, still nothing from Shamika.
The king is furious. He’s completely enraged at this point and he notices a dead snake off to the side from where the sage is meditating, and so he picks up the dead snake and he places it, an insult, around the sage’s shoulders and he leaves. This was a pretty big deal, and word spreads very quickly from the hermitage about the insult that the king paid to this sage. In this small hermitage, actually, Shamika’s son is also a student there, Shringi. Shringi was said to be a very wonderful boy. He was still young, but he was known for doing really intense practices, having mastered all these arts of concentration, developed all these really wonderful powers, but he still suffered from anger. That was his one Achilles heel. That was his one thing.
He was always very quick to anger. When Shringi found out about this great insult, he tried for a moment to really control his rage but he was like, “How dare anyone insult my father, who is such a great man?” He curses the king. He says, “Within seven days and nights, the king shall die by the King of Snakes, Takshaka.” The moment he vocalized this curse, of course, the earth had a little tremble and birds flew away from some trees. It was a big deal. The thing about curses in India is you can’t undo a curse once it’s spoken. This was a big deal.
The son goes back to his father and essentially rouses him from his meditation. Shamika absolves himself from the silence. He’s no longer taking his vow of silence because of all this news, because Shringi tells Shamika what he’s done. He tells him about the curse. Shamika is very disappointed. He’s sad that his son did this. He goes on to explain to his son that the king’s really a good guy. He’s a good king. He takes care of his subjects. It’s because of the king that people like Shamika and Shringi can be in the forest and do these spiritual practices and be close to nature in safety and not have to worry about bandits and thieves and murderers, because the king is, in essence, a good king. It was just a momentary lapse of judgment.
But, of course, they recognize they can’t undo this curse. Shamika, in his compassion, he goes to the king. He seeks out the king to tell him of the curse. Of course, Shamika gets to the palace and he’s stopped by the guards at first, and they say, “Well, the king’s sleeping.” He’s like, “No, no, no. The king needs to wake up.” They’re like, “No, just come back tomorrow. We’re not gonna wake up the king.” Shamika gets quite forceful and explains himself. “Hey, this is important. The king’s life is in jeopardy. I have to see the king. I will wake him up. I will suffer the consequences.”
Of course, he goes and he wakes up the king. He tells him the story. He tells him about the curse. The king, at first, is extremely remorseful. He’s like, “Oh, my gosh. I know that it was the wrong thing to do. I shouldn’t have insulted you like that. It was a momentary lapse of judgment. I let my pride get the better of me.” He thanks Shamika for the news and he decides to get together with his councilors, his ministers, and decide on what to do, how to not die. They agree that they’re essentially gonna build the king a fortress, a fortress with no possible ways in or out except for one single, very defensible way. He and the ministers would stay in there, protecting him in there and with protection on the outside, through those seven days and nights, to ensure that no one could get in and out and so that he would be safe.
But at this point, word’s getting out that Parikshit is in danger, that he’s been cursed, that the King of Serpents, Takshaka, is gonna come for him and kill him. Most of the kingdom is concerned. He is, for the most part, a very good king. One of those concerned citizens is a physician by the name of Kasyapa. Kasyapa is this famous physician specifically known for his skill in treating poison, venom. Of course, he heard of the king’s dilemma and he decided that he would rush to the king’s aid to promise his service to him in case he was bitten by this snake, saying, “Hey, there’s no venom out there that I don’t know how to cure.”
Takshaka, the King of Serpents, is also on his way to go see the king, obviously, because he’s there to fulfill the curse, to fulfill his own destiny, then, to kill and slay the king. On the way, Takshaka sees Kasyapa. He sees him and he starts to talk to him. He’s like, “Hey, what are you doing?” Kasyapa explains to him where he’s going and all of this stuff, and Takshaka is a giant serpent, of course. He tries to get Kasyapa into a wager that if he loses the wager then he won’t go to go save the king. He basically boasts and says, “I have the most powerful venom ever. There’s nothing that could cure it.” As a demonstration, he rears up and he strikes at this giant tree that was nearby, and the tree just instantly crumbles to ash.
The physician, who’s a holy man, as well, Kasyapa, he just smiles. He’s not afraid, he’s not concerned, he walks forward towards the tree. He says a particular mantra, focuses back on his practice, his skill, his art, and through the power of that invocation, a little tree sprouts. It comes up from the one little stalk and then it branches off into two and it starts to grow into this larger and larger tree until, eventually, it grows all the way back to its grand majesty from before. These incredible powers of healing are able to restore even the nastiest venom.
At this point, Takshaka doesn’t really know what to do so he pleads again with Kasyapa. He says, “Look, hey, I can’t not do this. I have to do this. You’d be getting in the way of fulfilling my own destiny if you somehow saved him. How about this? How about I give you treasure and you choose not to go to the king?” Kasyapa pauses and he sits down in meditation for a moment and starts to think. Kasyapa’s a very good man, a very selfless man, and he’s like, “Well, who am I to interfere with the destiny of Takshaka? It’s his destiny to be fulfilled to slay the king.” Who is he to get in the way of that? He agrees and he takes the treasure from Takshaka and stays.
A number of days pass and with each passing day, the king gets more and more relaxed, more and more at ease. He even wonders to himself, “Man, should I have even listened to the sage? Is this all just a big hoax or nothing at all to be concerned about?” Of course, the days go on and finally it’s the sixth day, then the seventh and final day arrives. At this point, Parikshit’s feeling pretty good about himself. As the day rolls on, it gets closer and closer towards the deadline, he’s more and more thinking to himself that, “Hey, this was all nothing to get worried about. It’s all fine. There’s no problems. I’m gonna survive this. This is great!”
The sun starts to set. He’s getting thrilled at this point. A small group of forest-dwellers starts to approach the little fortress that they had made. These were holy men. These were Sadhus and they came to offer their blessing to their king, and to offer a gift of fruit for the king and his ministers. The king, being the gracious guy that he is, he agrees to receive their offering without even asking their names, and they take the fruit in. They close the doors back up and they’re all sitting inside. Now, again, the sun is just about to set. The colors of the sky are all turning darker and he is just feeling thrilled, like he’s out of the wind, nothing else could come through here. They’re totally fine, they’re out of the woods, thank goodness.
But all of a sudden, him and his ministers start to get hungry. They’re excited, they want to celebrate, and they look to this fruit that the holy men had brought. They decide to eat the fruit. As the king is biting into this fruit, he notices a small worm inside the fruit. He has this moment where he sits back finally and he lets his pride and ego come back again. He’s like, “You know, I don’t know what I was getting worried about, what there is to be concerned. There’s obviously nothing to be concerned about. This snake king, this serpent king guy, obviously he’s not coming. I got nothing to worry about with him. If he tried he couldn’t get through my fortress. Awesome.”
He looks to this little worm and he doesn’t really care that there’s worm in his apple because he feels like he just got his life given back to him. He looks at the worm and he mocks the worm. He’s like, “Hey, little fella, looks like the big old King of Snakes isn’t coming. Why don’t you show us what your biggest and nastiest thing that you can do is?” He laughs it off, mirroring the insult that he did to the sage Shamika. He places the worm on his shoulder. Of course, this little worm instantly, then, transformed itself to the giant serpent, because that little worm was the King of Serpents, Takshaka. He just vaporizes all of them with his venom. The king, his ministers, and they all die.
Pretty intense ending. But what are all these things representing to us? What kind of message is this story trying to give us? Now, of course, we’re all the characters in these stories. They’re all talking about agencies within ourselves, aspects of ourselves. The king, he’s a good guy. He’s a good king. He’s normally making the right choices. But after being king long enough, he starts to let his pride get the best of him. He does something that he had never done before, he lets his ego get the best of him. He gets all offended by the sage not speaking to him, and he acts out. He lashes out by insulting the stage all because of his pride and his ego.
Now, let’s look at what the snake also represents and what the sage represents. By putting a dead snake on the sage, he’s essentially leaving his life force behind. As he chooses pride over compassion, he’s driven by the ego, he essentially curses himself. He loses connection with the very source of his own power, which is the serpent. Because he’s choosing that path of pride and ego over the path of compassion, his power rests still with the sage. When he gives up that side of himself, when he gives up that side that is seeking truth and compassion and forgiveness and peace and harmony, he really leaves the most potent energy of himself behind, his life force, his shakti.
Of course, Shringi, the son of Shamika, is the inner child. He’s the wounded child. He’s easily offended, he’s quick to anger, and he’s always ready to retaliate. We all have that little voice within us, too, that little child that wants to, “Well, if they get to be mean to me, I get to be mean to them, too!” We want to fight back and hurt someone that has hurt us or hurt someone we love, and that is the little child inside of us, the child that, at that point, doesn’t know any better but still is always there. That voice is always there within us.
Shamika could also fall to that inner voice, but he doesn’t. He learns the lesson. He recognizes that compassion is the more appropriate way. His action, then, is to go to the king and to warn the king. The king still had other chances to live. The physician, Kasyapa, he could have saved the king. He had the power to save the king. What is that power? That power is selflessness. That power is service. If you look at the great healers throughout history and throughout time, it’s because they were selfless. They were willing to serve others and put others’ needs in front of their own. But, of course, Kasyapa, being a good guy, does the right thing in the end. He recognizes that dharma is at play here, fate is at play, and it’s the appropriate thing to do to let it act itself out, not trying to always fix everything.
We can be of service of others without trying to constantly fix everything. We see the purpose, though, of this in the end, the reason why this ultimately and truly happens, why he’s not rescued is because the king hasn’t learned his lesson. The physician could have come and saved him. It ends up not happening, but really why we see in the next part of the story where the king hasn’t learned the lesson about his pride and his ego ’cause he keeps repeating the same mistakes. What the story’s telling us is, “Well, it’s not just one mistake that’s gonna ruin us in life. It’s when we keep repeating them over and over.”
The king, up to this point, had been a good king. He’d been making the right choices throughout his whole life. A mistake here, a mistake there, no problem. But he kept repeating the same mistake, and that mistake ended up becoming his downfall. It created the poison. He gave up his life force, his true life energy, when he stopped living from that noble and compassionate place and just started acting from the ego. That actually then rebounded with venom coming at him and destroying him.
What ultimately got the king in trouble in the first place? He was chasing a deer. Deer are considered very skittish, very jumpy. They’re always hopping or running from one little spot to the next. They’re very quick, they’re hard to catch. These are our thoughts. Parikshit starts to chase after his mind. He’s used to always conquering his thoughts. But when you’re running after this thought or that thought, you can often get caught up and lost in delusion. That’s what happened. He lost the sense of his truest self when he got lost in the woods and he let his pride get the best of him.
Then it kept happening. Once wasn’t the main concern. He could have been saved. He could have been saved by the physician, he could have been saved by not taking the fruit in, he could have been saved by not mocking the worm. He literally invited Takshaka to come kill him by taunting him. Had he not done that, he would have still been alive. There’s multiple opportunities for the king to realize his folly, but he keeps doing it again and again, and eventually it’s gonna lead to his downfall. The universe will give you plenty of chances, but eventually something’s gonna happen. The venom that you create by acting out of pride like that is gonna come and create your downfall.
Notice in your own life. Where do you get stuck? Where do you get caught chasing after idle things, insignificant things? Every little deer, every little thought that pops in your head, every little desire to chase after? Those things get you to lose yourself and you’re gonna have so many opportunities along the path. Even the king, when he greets the sage, he’s like, “Aw, man, I’m so sorry. I made a mistake. I know I shouldn’t have acted that way.” He recognizes it, but then he keeps making the same mistake again and again. How, ultimately, could we save ourselves? Well, through selfless service. That’s where the physician could have come in and saved him.
When you get caught up in your own ego, your own mind, your own pride, instead of lashing out, instead of abandoning compassion and love, act out of service for whoever, for the other person, for a person walking down the street. If someone, you feel, has insulted you, see them the same way that Shamika did, that insult and praise are the same thing. It’s all one. What are you getting so caught up in? What are you getting so upset about? If you keep going down that path, then of course we see where that leads. That leads to ultimate destruction. But ultimately, you do have a means of saving yourself. The sage, the path of wisdom, of insight, of compassion, and the path of service, of giving unto others. That was the physician coming to heal.
This, too, is why we have practice, why we have yoga, why we have meditation. Shamika is in that state, unwavering, because he’s doing the practices. It’s the importance of some type of regular practice to really connect you into that higher something. If you don’t have a practice, then you get to be like the physician and just simply serve others. I hope this story acts as a reminder to you as it does to me. If I’m racing after little petty desires, little thoughts that just get me caught up in endless streams of illusion that aren’t actually leading me to any sort of happiness or satisfaction, to sit back and have some perspective on life, to get quiet, to remember that I’m here in this world to serve others, not just to serve myself, that a life just caring about myself and my needs and my ego will not be a fulfilling life.
Listen to the story here: