Let me tell you a story…
Two people met at an ashram in a forest. The first was named Suratha. A virtuous king, Suratha had lost a battle to a much smaller enemy, and when he returned to his kingdom, found that another powerful enemy had besieged his fort. He later found out that his own ministers had betrayed him. Dejected, he rode off into the forest, alone and helpless. After wandering for a few days, he chanced upon this ashram, and had been spending time there ever since.
The second was named Samādhi. Once a prosperous merchant, he had been deceived by his own wife and sons, who dispossessed him of all his wealth and threw him out to fend for himself. He had also been wandering alone in the forest when he came upon the ashram.
“I am worried about the kingdom”, said Suratha to Samādhi. “My ancestors had taken care of that fort for generations. My ministers are wicked – I don’t know if they have left anything in the treasury. My chief elephant was the envy of all, I wonder if he is being looked after now. All my close followers, who once served me and received so many favors, now serve others. The royal treasury, that I took care of and built up over time for the sake of my people, is now being looted by the very people who were supposed to guard it.”
“Tell me about you”, said Suratha, shaking himself out of his depressing thoughts. “Why did you come here? You seem very sad and dejected, what is wrong?”
Samādhi wiped his tears. “I was born in a wealthy family, oh king”, he said. “I have been cheated by my own wife and sons, my own family. They took over all my businesses and cast me out onto the street….I had nowhere else to go and so I walked into this forest. I miss my family, I don’t know how my sons are now. Are they in good health? How will I know if they are fine or not?”
Suratha looked surprised. “Samādhi, why do you feel for those who cheated and mistreated you? They were your family, but treated you worse than an enemy. Then why are you still affectionate towards them?”
“I have been thinking the exact same thing”, replied Samādhi. “But what can I do? I am unable to detach myself from them. however badly they treated me. They were greedy, and abandoned me for money. I know that they proved to be worthless, yet, why do I still feel affectionate towards them? What can I do to make myself hate them?”
Suratha and Samādhi decided to approach Rishi Medhas, whose ashram they were currently staying in. The Rishi welcomed them into his hut, and both Suratha and Samādhi prostrated before him, and then sat down to speak with him.
Suratha said “Oh revered Rishi! we are grieving. I lost my kingdom, yet I feel attached to everything that is associated with it. My elephant, my people, my treasury…And this is Samādhi. He was disowned by his family, and yet he feels affectionate towards them. He still thinks about their welfare. And so, both him and I came here thinking that we will feel better, in such tranquility, but the opposite seems to be happening. We are torn by our own internal turmoil, and the result is more misery. We are men of knowledge – I would have expected both of us to know better than to think this way. Please help us, please guide us…”
Myths are things that never happened, but always are.Synesius of Cyrene
The देवीमाहात्म्यम् (Devi Mahatmyam) is part of the मार्कण्डेय पुराण (Markandeya Purana) and is also known as the दुर्गासप्तशती (Durgā Saptashatī) or the चण्डीपाठः (Caṇḍī Pāṭha). It is considered one of the main scriptures of शक्त: (Śāktaḥ, or Shaktism), where the Devi (Goddess) is considered the supreme godhead.
This Navratri, I will be writing a series on the Devi Mahatmyam.
As I had mentioned in yesterday’s post, a lot of what we have read and heard about Navratri revolves around the battle between the Devi in her various forms, and the asuras, or demons. She emerges victorious every time, and we celebrate her victory. But surely there is more to just this? Is this a mere myth, that we have been believing in for thousands of years? Did these battles actually take place?
Whom do you believe? The textbook, or the scripture? The 99.9% that you mopped up in science, or the devotion that your grandmother displayed every single year?
So I decided to ask the questions. And I am finding some answers during these nine days. Answers, that I will share with you. Answers, that may not be the same for you, as they are for me, but at the very least, they will help you ask a few more questions.
A myth illustrates elusive truths that are difficult to express by more conventional means, because it ventures beyond the realm of fact, into the realm of meaning. It is an effective ancient method of teaching. What cannot be conveyed through extensive philosophical discussions and debate, can easily be transmitted through myth and metaphor. It does not matter if the story actually took place, or the events actually transpired. That is besides the point.
You would have heard of the story of the Guru who was teaching his new students to paint. “Today, we will draw the moon”, he exclaimed, and then pointed to the moon that was visible outside the window of the ashram. “That is the moon.”
The students dutifully drew a beautiful painting…of his finger.
At one level, the Devi Mahatmyam speaks of these external battles between the divine and the demons…on another level it also speaks of the battle of life, and our inner battles – between the good in us and the bad in us. The Devi is our true Self, the part of us that we do not know, or realize. We keep trying to identify ourselves with things, thoughts, emotions and beliefs, but even after all that, we don’t seem content. Surely there is more to us than the “I, me, myself”.
The wise have called this part of us our common divinity – one that we share with every living being, plant, animal, thing, every part of this vast Universe – we are all part of the same commonality. We just are not able to see it, due to our tendencies, the gunas (tamas, rajas, and sattva), that manifest in us in varying degrees.
Navratri is an inner pilgrimage, where we take a hard look at our inner demons, and begin a process of cleansing. There are three steps – one for each guna, and one for each part of the process that has a beginning, a middle and an end, where the Devi acts as the creator, preserver and destroyer.
So, on a basic level, you have three aspects of Shakti, each fighting a set of asuras – Maha Kali who takes on Madhu and Kaitabha, Maha Lakshmi who fights Mahishasura and Raktabija, and Maha Saraswati who wins over Shumbha and Nishumbha.
On another level, the three-step transformation of the sādhakā is presided over by Maha Kali, who helps overcome tamas, Maha Lakshmi, who helps overcome rajas and Maha Saraswati, who helps overcome the effects of sattva.
The result, is VijayaDashami, or Dussehra, a complete transformation of outlook, attitude and constitution of our being.
ॐ देवी शैलपुत्र्यै नमः॥
Om Devi Shailaputryai Namah॥
या देवी सर्वभूतेषु माँ शैलपुत्री रूपेण संस्थिता। नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमस्तस्यै नमो नमः॥
Ya Devi Sarvabhuteshu Maa Shailaputri Rupena Samsthita।
Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah॥
So what about Suratha, Samādhi and Rishi Medhas? Let us find out tomorrow!