I want to start off a little differently today. Instead of offering up a topic, and diving right into a story, I want to take a minute to contextualize many of the stories we share, and the role of story telling in the mystical experience.
Now, some of the oldest texts we have from India are the Vedas. They are some of the oldest texts we have as a species. These are a collection of texts that were revealed to ancient sages and seers. And these texts go on to explain, amongst many things, metaphysical truths about the universe and existence. They are considered to be fixed and unalterable. They are heavily concerned with the unchanging formless Brahma. Essentially, the beyond, divinity that has no qualities. But these teachings, traditionally are reserved for the Brahmin caste and for initiates. In essence, these teachings weren’t for everybody.
And that’s where a group of texts called the Puranas (poo-rah-nahs) come in. Now these are stories. And these stories are meant to take the truths found in the Vedas and make them accessible to everyone. These stories, explain the divine with qualities. What qualities may depend on the text and which deity is discussed. So some stories are about Shiva or Vishnu or the Goddess, Devi, or whom ever. They are recognizing that all paths CAN lead to the same place. One person is going to be able to relate to the divine most easily one way, and another person might relate in a complete different way. So what we have are different stories.
It’s a little more challenging to speak about something that has no qualities. You have to get quite esoteric with it… but now if something has qualities, you can extrapolate, you can expand on ideas and stories and make things much more digestible to the human mind.
The Puranas were meant as a means to update or convey the truth in the Vedas so that it speaks to people of the day. And that, in another sense, is the function of myth. They convey deeply mystical ideas in a way that the audience can relate. Not only relate, but actualize! To do something, understand something, from that story.
So ultimately, the function of story, of myth, is to convey mystical ideas in a way that speaks to people of the time. While we as beings are very similar to people who lived 1, 2, 3 thousand years ago, our day to day lives are extremely different. Heck, the lives of someone in America in 2016 are in many ways totally different then someone living in America just 30-40 years ago. So a story that people could more easily relate to 40 years ago, might not have the same effect on people today.
Or more specifically, how a story is told can entirely alter whether or not it’s relatable to an audience. There is no right or wrong story. There is no one version that is the correct version, and all others are wrong… A story’s value comes from its relatability and its capacity to transform its audience.
And all of this is a big part of what we are doing were with these podcasts. Taking these stories that hold profound truth, and making them relatable and accessible. In the modern day United States, we’ve mostly been handed mystical stories that relate to people living about 2000 years ago. They are much harder to connect to. And if you think a story is historical, then it becomes an issue of is this right or wrong? Is it factual or false? And then we miss the most transformative elements of the story.
Or we’ve been handed stories that don’t attempt to point us to any truth. They are just pure entertainment. Cinema, movies. TV. And while I think there is nothing wrong with entertainment, because too, I think myths themselves ought to be entertaining, we are missing a great opportunity if our stories are devoid of this type of deeper message and meaning. I think it’s part of the reason why movies like Star Wars, Avatar and the Matrix are so popular because they do point us to larger truth. The philosophy might not be as sophisticated as the Vedas or the Puranas, but the attempt to draw us into a larger narrative, a larger life experience, is there.
I wanted to bring this topic up today because I think storytelling is such a fundamental aspect of the human experience. And it’s something that motivates and inspires me to grow and learn and evolve. Hopefully, it inspires others to grow and learn and evolve.
Anyway… having said all of that, you will see a lot of themes repeat themselves throughout many of the stories we share. Not for the sake of being repetitive, but because different stories will speak to different people more effectively.
Amongst the many things I do in life, I am a yoga teacher. In a yoga asana class, a postural class, I’m giving alignment cues all the time. Certain alignment cues land with some and not with others. I can say one thing and half the room TOTALLY gets it, and the other half, not at all. But I can say the same thing a different way and that other half totally gets it, and the original half doesn’t.
Or, perhaps if you’ve never taken a yoga asana class so you can’t relate, think how one person might say something to you that triggers you, pisses you off, or whatever, but someone else comes along to say essentially the same thing, but they say it in a way that lands with you, and you totally get it!
If you’ve been following our podcast, you might find some similar overtones in today’s story with many of our recent stories. Stories of Ganesha, as in our three part mini series, and the powerful of wisdom and the intellect. Stories of the Goddess and the trappings of the ego. These stories are all here to teach us about the universe and ourselves.
Today’s story is about overcoming the trappings of the ego. The ego, which in our modern American culture is actually put up on a pedestal, is actually perhaps the biggest obstacle to realizing truth according to these ancient traditions. It is such a big theme in these stories because there is a constant struggle going within all of us, all of the time.
So let’s dive in…
Once upon a time…
Lord Vishnu, the preserver, was floating in the cosmic ocean, asleep, on top of his giant serpent, Adisesha. And as he lay there sleeping, a drop of honey came out of his right ear, and transformed into a terrible demon named Madhu. Out of Vishnu’s left ear fell a pellet of ear wax, which turned into a demon named Kaitabha.
So let’s pause right away. There’s this guy, asleep, floating on a giant snake somewhere on some cosmic ocean, and crap falls out of his ears and becomes these two demons. What’s that all about?
It is said that Vishnu is always aware of what’s going on in the universe. He hears everything that is going on everywhere. The good stuff, the bad stuff, everything. All the lies, all the manipulative stories and tales, all the faslehoods that people tell gets collected as wax in his ears. The drops of honey are said to be the human desire for wealth, power, comfort, luxury and so forth. What the honey represents relates very much to the themes of the Ganesha Mini Series in earlier episodes of our podcast.
Now it’s said that once these demons are born, they start to drink the water from the cosmic ocean. What I find interesting is that oceans, seas, large bodies of water are often associated with the subconscious mind. It’s a theme we see not only in eastern and Indian stories, but from stories all across the world. So what are these demons feeding off of? What’s helping them grow? The subconscious mind, the ocean. These are the patterns, the imprints, the samskaras placed into the deep recesses of your mind by your culture, your family, the TV you watch, your earlier experiences in life (according to many traditions in India, also your previous life experiences).
So we have these two demons that represent these negative forces in our lives, and they feed and grow when we are living from the subconscious, when we are busy sleep walking through our lives.
At this point, they’re splashing around in the water. Making water fountains with their mouths, kicking around, having a good time. And they eventually start to wonder about deeper questions. How did they get to where they are? What’s the cause of the universe? And so forth.
And they begin to hear… they hear a vibration. They feel a vibration. That vibration is the vibration of the goddess. It is her seed sound, her bija mantra. They realize the power emanating from this vibration and the go on to repeat the mantra themselves.
For a thousand years, floating in the cosmic ocean, they repeat this mantra, until eventually, the goddess, Devi, comes down from the heavens and says to them, “Your worship pleases me. You may ask of me any boon you like.”
A boon is a blessing, a divine gift.
So the two demons realizing the opportunity ask for immortality. The goddess responds by saying that no one could be granted immortality.
So they have another idea, “Let us die only at the time of our own choosing.” The goddess grants them this wish, this boon, and the two demons feel as though they have outsmarted the goddess and gotten their way. They feel as though they are truly immortal. No gods, no demons, no humans, no one can kill them unless Madhu and Kaitabha wish it.
In their new found pomp and arrogance, they happen to stumble upon Brahma, seated upon his lotus, going about his usual business of creating the universe. And they say to Brahma, “You are not worthy to sit on that lotus seat. Step down immediately or fight us!”
Now, Brahma knew of these two demons and the boon the received. He knew he was no match for the two of them. So he runs over to Vishnu, who of course is still sleeping, and tries to wake him up to ask for help. But to wake him, he has to pray to the Goddess, Nidra Devi, who was the cause of Vishnu’s deep sleep, and to plead with her to awaken Vishnu.
So… ya know, “Oh great goddess. You’re so wonderful. So amazing. Please help me, yada yada yada.”
What’s important here is that this first step in awakening is THROUGH the goddess. It is the goddess, who represents everything in the world, ie: our experience of life that is the cause of us falling to sleep. But it’s THROUGH the goddess that we re-awaken! It’s through life itself that we awaken. It’s by turning towards the world, towards the goddess, that we awaken.
So the Nidra Devi hears Brahma’s prayers, and grants his wish. Vishnu wakes up, and Brahma tells him the story about what’s going on. Tells him about these two demons that are trying to fight him and take over his job, and begs Vishnu to protect him.
Up come the two demons, and they are still egging Brahma on to fight, but Vishnu steps in and tells the demons to fight him instead. And a giant wrestling match ensues. If one demon gets tired, he tags his buddy, and the other fresh demon comes in to fight Vishnu. Like the old tag team wrestling matches, except it’s 2 versus 1. So Vishnu has no one to tag out. Now granted, Vishnu is a god, but after… ya know, 5000 years go by, he finally realizes that he can’t kill these demons.
But he’s exhausted. He asks the demons if they can take a break from their wrestling. The demons assume the inevitability of their victory so, meh, sure, they’re fine with taking a little break.
It’s like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. The Hare assumes the inevitability of his victory, so he starts taking breaks and rests, which eventually gives the tortoise an opportunity to win the race.
During this rest, Vishnu finds out about their boom from Devi. So Vishnu, too, calls to the goddess. He sings this beautiful song praising her. And she is super pleased and says, “Have no fear. I will delude these two demons with my maya, and you should be able to kill them easily.” And she says, “Let this be a battle of wits between you.”
And I like that, because it’s another example of intellect, of wisdom, over-coming brute strength. In Part III of our Ganesha mini-series, Episode 13, we see Ganesha using his intellect to overcome his vastly physically superior brother, Skanda. Vishnu is not going to overpower these two demons. He’s a god! Yet he’s not going to be able to out muscle them. He has to use his wits. His wisdom.
So the Goddess goes about distracting the demons with her Maya. Think of the gorgeous woman on the sidelines of a sporting event, trying to distract the players on the other team.
Vishnu comes out, and he’s like, “Man. You guys are tough. I mean… you are the best wrestlers I have ever seen. I mean, really, the best. Wow. Ya know what, I want to give you a boon. Ask for anything you want.”
Now the demons are actually insulted by this. They are so filled with pride, so assured of their victory over everyone, that they respond by saying, “How dare you! Do we look like beggars? Do we look like we need a boon from YOU? Hah! Boons are granted by the victors! If anything, you are the one in need of a boon! So go. Go ahead and ask us for a boon, ask for whatever you want.”
They fell for Vishnu’s trap. “Very well, I accept,” Vishnu says. “You two are most powerful and have no equal. So for the sake of the world, I ask that the two of you allow yourselves to be killed by my hands.”
The demons realize they’ve been fooled by Vishnu, specifically by the power of the goddesses maya, so they kind of scramble to figure out what to do. Their delusion that they are more powerful than the gods is an aspect of the goddesses maya, of her illusory powers. And now they are left trying to get out of the situation.
Now, this is all happening still on the cosmic ocean. So the demons, trying to slither their way out of their predicament, respond by saying to Vishnu, “Ya know. You’re right. We are powerful. We have no equal. We’re basically the best. We’re more handsome than you, stronger that you, I mean… truly, no one is our equal in anything. And we’ll like… totally keep our word about the boon thing, but we’ve changed our mind and want to ask you first for the boon that you offered us. You have permission to kill us, so long as you don’t’ kill us over water.”
They figured they had now tricked Vishnu because, well, they’re on the cosmic ocean. It’s water everywhere. So there’s really no way he’s going to be able to kill them.
So long as they remain buoyed by the subconscious, by the ocean, they feel safe. That is to say, it’s going to be hard to overcome these demonic forces if you are still living from your subconscious.
So this cute little exchange goes on where Vishnu tells the demons to place their head on his thigh, because, well, there’s no water there. But the demons double in size and are like, “Oh… man… hm… we’d love to and all, but we are just WAY too big for that.”
So Vishnu doubles in size, offers again. The demons double in size, again, and on and on this goes for a while, until the demons realize there is no escaping it. They realize they’re defeated.
Each demon places his gigantic head onto Vishnu’s giant man thighs, and he uses his discus to cut off their heads.
Demons often, in a way, represent the ego or aspects of the ego, and so you’ve got these GIANT egos, formed from lies and falsehoods, desires for power and money. They thought they could out wit the divine. In their hubris, their pride, the thought they could trick the divine. They thought they could trick their way to immortality. With their enormous egos they thought they were superior to God.
It’s like all of us, our egos when they think they can outsmart, outthink the universe. That we are somehow going to “figure it all out” and be able to “beat the game”, “beat the system.” Thinking we can escape the consequences of our actions. That we can somehow work outside the system.
It’s the power of maya, the illusory force of the goddess, that leads people to believe that our egos are the masters of our lives, that they can control and create their own reality beyond the influence of the divine. It leads us into endless failure, and repeated suffering. And that’s the key distinction… when we think we can do it outside the boundaries of everyone else. That the rules won’t apply to us.
Now, we are all the characters in this story. So yes, it’s our wits, our wisdom through Vishnu that overcomes these demons. But it’s through and WITH the power of the goddess, of something much larger than our egos, that we can overcome these demons. The power to overcome doesn’t come from the ego, it comes from something larger. In this context, we’d say that something larger is the goddess. It’s the active principle of the divine. The eminent aspect of the divine.
So ultimately, what do we have here? We’ve got Vishnu, the divine, sleeping on Adishesha, sleeping on kundalini, the goddess, meaning he’s asleep on top of this immense un-tapped potential and power. What wakes him up? The goddess! Why?? Well, because Brahma comes along and says holy crap, these two demons, and their enormous egos, are destroying all of creation. If they sit in the lotus and assume the role of Brahma, of creation, then all will be destroyed. You let the ego rule the shop, and it only spells destruction for all.
One only has to look at the current state of our world to see this happening all around us. The World is run by people seeking power and wealth, willing to tell whatever lies they need to climb their way to power.
The response to this, for many, is to turn away from the world. From the goddess. Life is too messed up. Turn away. Go back to sleep.
OR! Or we have this great opportunity to wake the sleeping dragon. To awaken not only ourselves, but this immense power of the goddess, of our own inner potential and the potential of the universe within us, to overcome the demons of the world, and create a world of greater harmony.
We are all sitting on this vast potential. But what do most of us choose to do? SLEEP! Let creation do it’s thing, while the demons run rampant across creation.
This story is inviting us to wake up into the world. To awaken our enormous potential and defeat the demons that would otherwise take over and destroy all of creation.
There is some crazy stuff happening in the world. Some pretty massive egos attempting to take over, create their own rules, create their own system devoid of their connection with everyone and everything. And it’s literally destroying the world. We need people to wake up, to get active in the world. To overcome the influences of the devious aspects, the demonic aspects, of the subconscious mind, and create a more balanced and harmonious world.
We’ve got to be active, awake. We can’t hide behind a computer screen or off in a cave somewhere. We’ve got to participate in the world, with the goddess, with the experience of living, with life. And with that, through that, restore the balance of the world.
Listen to the story here: