The Story of Bharadvaja
The yoga pose bharadvajasana is a seated twist named after the sage Bharadvaja.
Bharadvaja was a devout scholar who studied the Vedas (ancient Hindu philosophical and spiritual texts). He spent his entire lifetime learning and pondering the Vedas. Then he died.
Bharadvaja was reborn and he continued his reading, memorizing and writing of the Vedas. His whole life, yet again, was dedicated to studying these ancient texts.
Bharadvaja died and was reborn a third time. He once again pursued his learning of the Vedas with deep intensity. He withdrew from his community to study day and night and became known as a secluded sage devoted to learning. During this time, his desire to stop the cycle of birth, death and rebirth began to grow.
Near the end of Bharadvaja’s third life, Shiva paid him a visit. At first, Bharadvaja was excited as he thought his zealous studies had finally paid off and Shiva would release him from the cycle of death and rebirth.
The excitement waned as Shiva asked what exactly Bharadvaja thought he was doing with his lifetimes. Bharadvaja replied that every lifetime had been completely devoted to getting closer to the teachings. Shiva slowly shook his head, reached out the window and scooped up a pile of dirt which he placed in front of his student, saying, “This handful of dirt represents what you learned in one lifetime.”
Shiva swept up another handful of dirt and placed it with the first. “This,” Shiva said, “is what you learned during your second lifetime.”
Shiva reached his arm out the window a third time and placed a pile of dirt in front of Bharadvaja. He said, “this third mound of dirt illustrates the knowledge you accumulated during this lifetime.” Shiva then motioned to the Himalayas beyond the window, “Do you see those mountains? That represents the information contained in the Vedas, Bharadvaja. It would take thousands of lifetimes to master all that is contained within them. You certainly have gained more knowledge than anyone else, but you have chosen to live alone, to share your knowledge with no one and have yet to experience and give life to the true meaning of the Vedas. It is through sharing and teaching that you’ll awaken to life and overcome death.” Shiva then left his pupil and Bharadvaja died.
During his fourth lifetime, Bharadvaja not only studied the Vedas, but he became a compassionate educator. He imparted the wisdom and many students revered him as a beloved teacher. Upon his deathbed, people came from all over to honor their teacher. Shiva also came to tell him that he’d learned the lesson and that if Bharadvaja chose, he too could be freed from the death-rebirth cycle. Bharadvaja thanked Shiva but recognized that it was through sharing and teaching that he felt most alive and he chose to be reborn again and became one of the greatest sages ever known.
In mythology, lessons are introduced as stories in ways that allow the reader to relate to the characters and gain insight into his or her own life. The storyline might change to reflect the time period, but the hero is on a similar journey as the one before. A modern example of Bharadvaja’s story is found in the movie, ‘Groundhog Day’. Bill Murray’s character Phil wakes up to the same day over and over and over. It’s an uncomfortable day that he doesn’t want to revisit. Over time, Phil changes a part of the day to make someone’s life a little bit better and he becomes kinder, learning valuable lessons and cultivating meaningful relationships.
Perhaps you have experienced your own version of Groundhog Day with a lesson that keeps appearing in your life. Pema Chödrön has explained it this way, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” Whether or not we subscribe to one lifetime or thousands of lifetimes, when we come to realize this truth we can wake up and fully live with purpose.
Bharadvaja’s story teaches us that not only do we all have something to teach or share (our life purpose known in Sanskrit as our dharma), but also that this life work gives us joy and fulfillment.
Sometimes we worry that we don’t know enough to teach or to share, or fear that someone else might know more than we do. Other times, we get caught up in the goal that we forget to live and enjoy the journey along the way. When our lives become our message and we share the lessons we’ve learned with others, we find happiness within and may inspire others to seek their own joy and to live their own life’s purpose.