Today is Part III of our Ganesha Mini-Series on purpose, success, wealth and fame. In Part 1 of our mini-series, we explored the story of Ganesha and the Shiva Temple. We saw how money, success, and fame can all become distractions on the path of realization, on our path of fulfillment.
In Part II of our Ganesha mini-series, we explored the story of the King of Gold, and revealed another temptation of wealth and success: excess, greed, wanting more and more. How our tendency to impulsively and/or mindlessly consume causes suffering and delusion. We’re talking about late night internet shopping, splurge impulse buys at the store, always needing to have the latest gadgets and iPhones, and so forth. Or thinking once you get that thing you’ll be happy. Once you get that car, that job, that house, that relationship, happiness will magically come and stay.
This brings us to our final story of the Ganesha Mini series. In Part III we will explore the role of wisdom in our journey of life and understanding.
One final story that I think has lots of relevance to our modern culture, as well. We are at an age of the decline of critical thinking We are bombarded with information but horribly lacking in understanding and wisdom. We are consuming junk food that is making us sick, and we are consuming junk thought that is making us dull. And one of my favorite stories of Ganesha demonstrates the importance of using our intellect, our creativity and imagination, allowing greater meaning to come into our lives.
Or, more importantly, we can use the word wisdom. Ganesha in our story will demonstrate his wisdom.
Let’s realize that: You can know something. And you can understand something.
I can read a menu of food, and know all the ingredients as well as all the items on the menu. But unless I’ve tasted any of the food or any of the ingredients, I don’t really understand what the food tastes like. I don’t truly understand it unless I’ve experienced it.
Another example is that I can read every poem about love ever written and know love. But until I’ve felt love in my own heart, I can’t really understand it. It’s merely an intellectual exercise at that point. And even in some cases, I might still experience it, experience love or whatever, and still not understand it.
Now there is still a step beyond knowing and understanding, and we’ll call that wisdom. Wisdom, as I define it here, is applying your understanding to your actions.
It’s one thing to know something. It’s another to understand it, but it’s an entirely different thing to be able to understand and APPLY what you understand, and that’s wisdom. Even if we are applying knowledge, that too is wisdom.
Maybe I know love, I know the right thing, but I don’t truly understand it. But if I can apply that knowledge into action, then I’m still demonstrating wisdom.
This very much ties into our other stories from our mini-series. I think we all KNOW the trappings of wealth and success. We can intellectually know about the consequences and so forth, but that knowing probably isn’t going to stop me from a late night impulsive Amazon or eBay purchase. It somehow doesn’t stop me from thinking that once I’m making a certain amount of money, then I can finally relax and be happy. Once I get that job, I can be happy.
We all know to be nice to one another. We all know the consequences of hate. This isn’t missing from our human historical perspective. Yet people still treat each other like crap. Because we are lacking in understanding and wisdom.
So this brings us, then, to our next story.
Once upon a time…
The divine Family, the father and mother, Shiva and Parvati, and their two sons, Ganesha and Murugan (or Skanda, he has lots of names), were all up on Mount Kailash one day, at their home, and Shiva and Parvati decided to hold a contest for their two children. In some versions of the story, the prize was to be a golden mango (a theme we saw also in Episode Five of the Sivana Podcast, although it has a different context), in other versions of the story, it is two wives, Riddhi and Siddhi, prosperity and success, that are to be the prize. So, in essence, the prize for the winner of the contest is prosperity and success.
The contest that Shiva and Parvati come up with is simple. The first of the two boys that can travel around the whole universe three times, and return to this spot, wins.
Now this is a bit peculiar because well… Skanda is the God of War. Think of like… the blonde hair, jock, muscled, quarterback guy… Fit, athletic, super type A. The guy’s vehicle, the animal he rides on, is the super swift peacock.
Then, you’ve got Ganesha over here. Chubby, loves his sweets. He’s got a big round belly. He’s not exactly the poster boy of physical prowess or speed. And he rides a mouse. A giant elephant, riding a tiny little mouse. They’re not going too fast as that tandem, right?
So it looks like Skanda is not only going to win, but truly that the contest was set up so that only he could win. Peculiar, right? Coming up with a contest that is so obviously skewed in one person’s favor. Ganesha seems doomed to fail.
So Shiva and Parvati announce the start of the race! And Skanda takes off! Peeeewwww! I mean… he just flies off. Leaves Ganesha in his dust.
And Ganesha is kinda just sitting there, like what the heck. Like, thanks Mom and Dad. Thanks for laying on this contest that I can’t possibly win. But instead of getting caught up in negative thinking, he allows his mind to whirl along with possibility.
Shiva and Parvati, they represent the whole universe. They are everything, they are the manifest and unmanifest. And even more simply, they are Ganesha’s parents. To any child, their parents are the whole universe. They are the center of it all.
While Ganesha is sitting here thinking all this over, PEWWW, WOOOSH! Skanda flies by. He’s moved so fast he’s already gone around the universe once and come back. He notices that Ganesha hasn’t even moved yet and figures he’s got this race in the bag. He even slows down a little bit. Because why not. He’s got no competition. He’s out strolling around the universe at a nice healthy speed.
Think of the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare, the rabbit, is so much faster, that he starts to take rests, hang out, he’s not too concerned about losing.
But Ganesha is still formulating this idea. But to any onlookers, it looks like he’s clearly losing the race.
The ideas he’s having, though, finally sink in. He stands up, walks around his parents, Shiva and Parvati, three times, stops, looks at his parents and smiles.
There is a brief moment of pause, before Shiva and Parvati look at one another and nod. Then Shiva and Parvati declare Ganesha the winner.
When Skanda returns, he’s furious when he finds that he is not the winner. He gets even more furious when he finds out how Ganesha won.
But how Ganesha resolved the challenge was acceptable to Shiva and Parvati, obviously, so he remained the winner.
Now this is an important reminder of the power of intelligence and more specifically, of wisdom, to overcome brute force. Our success as a species is not because we have more brute strength and power than any other animal on the planet. It is our keen intellect that has allowed for us to ascend to the top of the food chain. Yet for some reason, we often default to the idea that to solve a problem, just throw more force at it.
I remember when I was training heavily in martial arts. I loved training with larger, stronger opponents. Because I couldn’t out muscle them, I’d have to out think them. And interestingly, most of those really big guys, really strong guys, always relied on their strength, because it was easiest, and most of the time it worked. But as I learned basic physics and how fulcrums and levers work, as I learned how to position my body and move around theirs, I learned how to negate a large part of their strength, and when that happened, it was like watching a building come crumbling to the ground. They were so used to using their strength, they didn’t know what to do if it failed them. But it was my intellect that overcame their brute force. I didn’t just acquire more and more brute force until I eventually overcame them. I used my intelligence, my understanding that came from years of trainings with larger opponents, to find other solutions to the problem. Understanding in action is wisdom.
This trait is what has allowed us to thrive as a species, yet for some mind boggling reason, we seem to forget this. Many of us default back to brute strength instead of understanding, instead of applying wisdom.
I also want to touch on one more insight from this story. As a lover of myth, of story, of one thing meaning another thing, I notice how utterly literal our modern culture can be and people sometimes have trouble recognizing metaphor and using it to enrich their lives. People everywhere have stopped looking deeper into things. If it takes longer to understand then a 5 minute you tube video, then a lot of people switch off. It’s like they look at the face, surface appearance and go no further. They are caught by what they literally see. And don’t bother investigating anything further.
This story is inviting us to see things for more than they are. To dive in, to explore possibility. To see that things can have more than one meaning, more than one solution, more than one offering.
When you see obstacles in front of you, do you try to bash the obstacle down? Do you attempt to use brute force to make your way past it? Or can you allow the possibility of more innovative thinking to occur? Do you allow yourself space and time to use your intellect and come up with alternative solutions to your problems. Can you move through knowing, understanding, and wisdom? Sitting and thinking as Ganesha did in the race?
And what do you ultimately gain when you allow this process to happen? When you can actually apply wisdom to your life? You win the golden mango. You win the prize. The wives, Riddhi and Siddhi, prosperity and success! Prosperity and success go not to the strongest, but the wisest. Wisdom, that melding of knowledge, understanding, and action that Ganeha demonstrates. He didn’t get caught in what was most obvious to all, he allowed himself to expand the possibility of the solution, he demonstrated understanding in recognizing that his parents are the universe and he displayed wisdom by putting that understanding into action and circling them to win the contest.
So when you are out there, living your purpose in the world, use your full capacities to interact with the world. See deeper into things. Use your intellect, find creative methods and means to engage the world. Know things, understand things. Apply that knowledge and understanding into your ACTIONS.
What would have happened if Ganesha simply knew his parents were the whole universe? Just sat there, the whole race, knowing the answer, but not acting? Or even understanding. Like he’s had an experience of the totality of the universe through his parents. Still not completing the contest if no action is involved. It’s not until he stands up, and applies his understanding through his actions, demonstrating his wisdom, that he completes and wins the contest.
Purpose comes from the heart, or what we could call the spiritual heart. We find purpose by looking inward. And if we take our heart, our purpose out into the world with wisdom, applying our knowledge and understanding, then Riddhi and Siddhi, prosperity and success, will naturally follow. But you’re not chasing after the wives, you are not chasing success, you are simply living your purpose elegantly in the world, joyously in the world.
Knowing your purpose is one thing, understanding your purpose is another. Living your purpose from that understanding, that’s wisdom.
And when we can make our life a shining example of this. When we can live with purpose, when we can invite in deep, reflective thinking, feeling, and understanding, when we can move through the universe with skill, when we are making that kind of offering to the world around us: the world takes notice. The world shifts. Even if it’s not televised, even if it’s not getting 1 million Youtube views. We make a difference.
We make a difference when we live with purpose, when we encourage growth, intelligence, innovation, wisdom.
Our planet today is facing some of the most serious threats we’ve ever seen, or more appropriately put, human beings are facing the most serious threat to our ability to inhabit this planet that we have ever seen (the planet will do fine with our without us). We need thoughtful people, living with purpose out there in the world. Applying wisdom, taking understanding into action.
We need people who aren’t just bouncing around with all their might, like a bull in a china shop. We need thoughtful, compassionate individuals, people who understand who they are and their purpose in the world. We need YOU to live your purpose more now than ever.
Skanda has all the natural gifts. But here, he’s not wise. He’s not really understanding what the contest is. He thinks he knows what the contest is, but he doesn’t actually understand it. If he doesn’t understand the true depth of the contest, well then he can’t apply that understanding as Ganesha does.
It’s not enough to know the temptations of success, wealth, and fame. It’s not really enough to know ANYTHING. We need to be able to apply knowledge and understanding into ACTION.
We can sit down and have a conversation, all knowing, all acknowledging that success won’t bring us happiness, wealth won’t bring us happiness, yet if we go right back into our lives and keep chasing the dragon, keep perusing STUFF, that job, that new pair of shoes, that relationship, then we are doomed. We are bound to live a life of suffering. Because we are unable to apply our knowledge or understanding into action.
Where in your own life are you doing a skillful job of demonstrating wisdom? Where are you wise? What sorts of things in life do you feel you know and what do you actually understand? This in and of itself can be a great contemplative exercise. How much of what we think we understand is actually just knowledge. Meaning it hasn’t been experienced, it hasn’t been digested yet.
Personally, I read a LOT. But reading is knowledge. It’s intellectual, up here in the mind. For it to move into the whole body, I need to understand it, and for that I need an experience of the knowledge. That’s a totally different realm.
And once I get clearer about things I know and things I understand, I can start to ask real questions. Am I applying what I know and understand into my actions? Do my actions actually line up with what I know and/or understand? Or am I the bull in the china shop of my life? Not really applying any of my understanding, and just bouncing around from one impulse to the next, one desire to the next, one reaction to the next.
Because it’s wisdom that’s going to allow you to truly live your purpose in life. It’s wisdom that will shield you from the temptations of success and wealth along the way.
I can know that I was meant to be an artist, or a musician or something else. At that point it’s merely an intellectual exercise… and it’s not enough. Maybe I understand it. If I live music in my body every day, play music every day, but am unwilling to go out into the world with that. If I take a job as a clerk instead. I’m going to be miserable. Unwise. To be able to take action on my understanding. To go out, be bold and wise, and live my understanding, my purpose, out in the world. Now that’s someth’in.
Part of the consequences of our culture hiding away its old people, it’s elders, is that we’ve lost a lot of wisdom. Cultures all throughout history have venerated their elders, listened to how their applied wisdom in their lives. OR DIDN’T! Either way, there is so much to learn. I think that’s part of why we’ve gotten to the place we have. We hide our elders away in old age homes, assisted living centers, and so forth.
We have a culture that tells people to run after success, fame and money. Even though, there are plenty of people that have ascended that pillar of success, only to turn back and say “stop! It’s a trap! It doesn’t make you any happier!”
We as a human species have a lot to learn from one another. From other cultures, from our elders, from the various stories and myths of the world.
I hope these stories help you know, and that knowledge helps you understand, and that you can apply that into action. That we can all demonstrate wisdom in our lives. And if we do that collectively, well then prosperity and success will come to us all. We can collectively lift one another up. We’ll all be thriving.
Well, I think that’s enough for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this three part mini-series following a few stories of Ganesha. If you haven’t already, go ahead and listen to episodes 9 and 11 of the Sivana podcast for the first two installments of the mini-series.
Listen to the story here: