AFTER the libation ceremony for Bhishma was over, Vyasa narrated to grief-stricken Yudhishthira an episode in Brihaspati's life. The wisest of men are sometimes affected by envy and suffer thereby.
Brihaspati, teacher to the gods themselves, was master of all knowledge. He was learned in all the Vedas and all the sciences, yet he was once the victim of this debasing emotion and suffered disgrace. Brihaspati had a younger brother, Samvarta, who was also a person of great learning and a very good man. Brihaspati was, for this reason, stricken with envy of his brother.
In this world men become envious of others, just because the others are good, while they themselves are not so good, and they cannot bear this. It is strange indeed that men should not suffer even virtue in others. Brihaspati harassed Samvarta in many ways. When he could not stand it any more, poor Samvarta put on the appearance of an eccentric and wandered from place to place, and spent his days in that way to escape from his brother's persecution.
King Marutta of the Ikshwaku dynasty made great penance and obtained from the Lord of Kailasa a great goldmine in the Himalayas and, with his resources thus augmented, he decided to perform a great Yajna. Marutta requested Brihaspati to conduct the yajna for him. But Brihaspati feared that Marutta would, as a result of the yajna, overshadow the gods who were his charge. He refused to comply with the king's invitation, despite his pressing entreaties.
Thereupon, king Marutta, who had come to know about Samvarta found his whereabouts and approached him with the invitation to conduct his yajna. He at first refused and tried to avoid the honour, but finally yielded. This further increased Brihaspati's envy of his unfortunate brother. "Here is this enemy of mine, Samvarta, going to conduct king Marutta's great yajna. What shall I do now?" Thus did Brihaspati brood over it until his envy affected his health.
His health declined rapidly and he became thin and pale. His condition grew worse everyday, until it attracted the attention of Indra himself. Indra, chief of the gods, approached the divine preceptor and saluting him asked: "Lord, why are you ill? What has caused this languishing? Do you sleep well? Do the attendants serve you properly? Do they anticipate your wishes and not wait to be told? Do the gods behave courteously towards you or has there been any lapse in this respect?"
To Indra's anxious inquiry, Brihaspati replied: "Deva raja, I sleep on a good bed and in right time. The attendants serve me with all devotion. There is nothing wanting in the respect and courtesies shown by the gods." Then his voice failed and he could not proceed. So great was his prostration of spirit.
"Why are you grieved?" asked Indra affectionately. "Why have you grown thin and bloodless? Tell me what troubles your mind."
Brihaspati then told Indra about it all. "Samvarta is going to conduct a great yajna. It is this that has made me wan and thin. I cannot help it," said he.
Indra was surprised. "Learned brahmana, there is no object of desire that is not already yours. You are wise and learned, and the gods themselves have accepted you as their priest and wise counselor. What harm can Samvarta do to you? There is nothing you can lose on account of him. Why do you needlessly take upon yourself this suffering by mere envy?"
It was amusing that Indra should so far and so humanly forget his own history as to give counsel of good conduct. But Brihaspati refreshed his memory on the point and asked: "Would you yourself delightedly watch your enemy's power growing? Judge me by how you would have felt had you been in my position. I beg of you to save me against this Samvarta. You must find a way to put this man down."
Indra sent for Agni and said to him: "Go and stop the yajna of Marutta somehow."
The god of fire agreed and went on this mission. The trees and the creepers along his path caught fire and the earth trembled as he marched roaring. He presented himself before the king in his divine form. The king was mightily pleased to see Agni stand before him. He ordered the attendants to do all the usual honors of hospitality. "Let him be duly seated. Have his feet laved and bring the gifts proper to his greatness," said the king, and this was done. Agni then explained why he had come.
"Do give up this Samvarta. If you require a priest, I shall bring Brihaspati himself to help you." Samvarta, who heard this, was indignant. The wrath of one who led the strict life of a brahmacharin was exceedingly potent.
"Stop this chatter!" he said to Agni. "Do not let my anger burn you up." Fire reduces things to ashes, but brahmacharya can burn up fire itself! At Samvarta's anger Agni, trembling like an aspen leaf, retired quickly. He returned to Indra and told him what had happened.
The king of the gods could not believe the story. "Agni, you burn up other things in the world. How can anything burn you? What is this story of Samvarta’s angry eyes reducing you to ashes?"'
"Not so, king of the gods," said Agni. "Brahmic power and the potency born of brahmacharya are not unknown to you." Agni thus reminded Indra of what the latter had suffered; incurring the wrath of those whom had attained Brahmic power.
Indra did not wrangle but called a Gandharva had said: "Now, Agni has failed. I want you to go as my messenger and ask Marutta to give up Samvarta. Tell him that if he does not, he will incur my wrath and be destroyed."
The Gandharva went accordingly to king Marutta and faithfully conveyed Indra's message and warning. The king would not listen. "I cannot be guilty of the deadly sin of deserting a trusting friend," said the king: "I cannot give up Samvarta."
The Gandharva said: "O king, how can you survive, when Indra hurls his bolt at you?" Even as he said this, the clouds above thundered and everyone knew that the god of the thunderbolt was coming, and trembled in fear. The king was in great fear and entreated Samvarta to save him.
"Fear not," said Samvarta to the king, and he proceeded to put the power of his penance into action. Indra, who had come to do battle, was compelled to change over to benevolent peace and to take part in the yajna as the radiant god of sacrifices. He received the burnt offering in proper form and retired.
Brihaspati's plan of envy failed miserably. Brahmacharya triumphed. Envy is a deadly sin. It is a universal disease. If Brihaspati who could defeat the goddess of knowledge herself in learning became a victim to envy, what is there to say about ordinary mortals?