the sentinels of vishnu

jaya vijaya.jpg
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Ancient Indian legends or the stories from our puranas are not mere stories for entertainment. Each story also illustrates an eternal truth or an important lesson. Some of the puranas like the Bhagvat purana attempt to illustrate the principles of upanishads and other philosphies for the easy understanding of the common man. The two prominent epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata take us into deeper inquiry with regard to not only finding meaning in  life for an individual but also dealing with the complex social issues.

The stories of Jaya and Vijaya,  as narrated in Bhagvat Purana and further elaborated in various other puranas, are really fascinating. Jaya and Vijaya are not only the gatekeepers of Lord Vishnu, but are also two of His closest devotees. Yet, in subsequent births they are the villains becoming fierce opponents of Lord Vishnu during some of His avatars. Jaya and Vijaya took birth as Hiranyakha and Hiranyakashyapa in Satya yug, as Ravana and Kumbhakarna in Tretaya Yug and as Dantavakra and Shishupal in Dwapara Yug.

 In some mystical texts of ancient origin, it is also stated that Jaya and Vijaya are not different from Lord Vishnu. Of course it seems strange. But the stories of Jaya and Vijaya are in line with the following statements from Upanishad and other mystic ancient literature:

“One become two and then many, and finally many dissolve into the one”

Good and evil always co-exist. The Chinese concept of co-existence of opposing forces as found in the writings of Lao Tzu and other Taoist philosophers also finds resonance here.

According to the Bhagavata Purana, once the four sons of Lord Brahma also known as Sanat Kumaras, went to meet Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha Dham. The four sanat kumaras are Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana and Sanatkumar. It is said that due to regular spiritual practices they looked like children. So the gatekeepers did not take them seriously. However, when they insisted that they be allowed to go inside without delay, Jaya and Vijaya told them that Lord Vishnu was taking rest and they have to wait till He wakes up. At this, the kumaras were enraged and told that Lord Vishnu is available all the time for their devotees. Further, the kumaras cursed the gatekeepers for their insolence so as to be born in the mortal world leaving their heavenly bode. Subsequently, the gatekeepers asked forgiveness of the kumaras and requested Lord Vishnu to waive off the curse. Lord Vishnu told that the curse of divine beings like the kumaras cannot be reverted. However, he wanted to commute the punishment. So He gave the gatekeepers two options – either to be born as His devotees for six births or as His enemies for three births. Jaya and Vijaya chose the latter as they thought the sooner they are re-untied with their master the better,  even though they have to play the role of villains.

So in their first descent from heaven as mortal beings they were born as Hiranyakha and Hiranyakashyapa. It happened in Satya Yuga.

The story of Hiranyakha

Rishi Kashyapa had two wives – Aditi and Diti. All the devas and other auspicious beings were born to Aditi while the demons in general, and Hiranyakha and Hiranyakashyapa in particular, were born to Diti. Hiranyakha, the elder one, was conceived during the evening time and stayed in the womb for one hundred years.

Hiranyakha, which means – one whose eyes are obsessed with gold. It signifies the greed for wealth and all worldly desires. The greedy and the lustful ultimately become tyrants and sadists. So it happened with Hiranakhya that he became a  burden  for the existence.

At his birth itself the universe was filled with inauspicious omens that scared the devas. They went to Lord Vishnu and sought protection. Lord Vishnu assured them that when the time was ripe he would descend to restore the balance.

Hiranyakha grew up to be a great devotee of Lord Brahma. The severity of his penances moved Lord Brahma. Knowing full well that boons given to this demon would only be misused,  Lord Brahma had to give  him boons which granted him immunity from being killed by any God, human or demon.

True to the predicament of the Gods, Hiranyakha started misusing his powers. Entering the sea, he started churning it with his waist. Varun Dev, the Lord of the Sea was upset. Yet the notoriety of Hiranyakha was so much that Varun Dev, instead of offering a fight, went to hide himself.

Narada Muni, the beloved of all Gods, demons and humans happened to pass by. He stopped for a chitchat with Hiranyakha. Hiranyakha asked Naradji if there was anyone now more powerful than him. “Yes”,  said Naradji, “It is none other than Lord Vishnu.” Thus saying Narad muni disappeared instantly, without stopping to provide whereabouts of Lord Vishnu or any further information.

Hiranyakha started searching for Lord Vishnu everywhere he could go, but to no avail. Frustrated, he made the earth into a round ball and hid it in the cosmic ocean, so as to provoke Lord Vishnu to  come to him.

The devas panicked and approached Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu took the form of a wild boar. It was his Varah avataar – the third one. Lord Vishnu took this Avataar so as not to transgress the boon given by Lord Brahma. There ensued a fierce fight between Lord Vishnu in his Varah Avtaar and the demon Hiranyakha. Finally Hiranyakha was killed and the earth was restored to its former glory.

The demonic mind set is that even after so much penance it asks for power and glory – the things that are transient. Neither does it rest in peace, nor does it allow others  to have it. It seeks power and glory to torment others. In contrast, the person with divine mindset seeks love, beauty or truth. Even if it gets power,  it is utilised for the benefit of the mankind.

the sentinels of vishnu part #2

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An Inquiry into the Nature of Reality

In spite of so much development in science and technology, even scientists are baffled by the elusive nature of the sub-atomic particles. So in my attempt to inquire into the nature of reality, I am reminded of one of the vedic skeptic statements known as the Nasadiya Sukta. It is a hymn in the Rig Veda and is regarded as the first agnostic statement of our civilization.

The last stanza of the Sukta reads thus:

Whence all creation had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows – or maybe even he does not know


In this context it is worth being reminded of the famous zen story:

The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again. But then he thought to himself, “Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?

Even after thousands of years of evolution, we have not reached finality with regard to the knowledge of the ultimate reality. Who can say for certain what is reality and what is illusion?

Many mystics and metaphysical poets have had visions of reality that they tried to express it in their own mystical ways. It is difficult to decipher them for the lay man. It will be like deciphering the babbles of a drunk for the sober ones. But certain aspects of reality can be experienced in an altered state of consciousness, or so it is claimed (including amateur mystics like me).

The Buddhist view of reality is that it is all nothingness, things are born of nothingness and go back to nothingness (Sunyabaad). Adi Sankara, the proponent of Adwaita Vedanta,  had a contrarian view. He said that it is all fullness. Even the first sloka of Isavasya upanishad propounds :

Ishabashyam idam sarvam jat kinchit jagatyan jagat.

(What-so-ever there is, it is all filled with the essence of Ishwara)

While the eastern approach to reality has been an intuitive one, the western approach has been scientific. Or, we can say the eastern approach has been to look within where as the western approach has been to look outward. Hope at some point of time, they converge and east and west do meet.

The latest development is that science has nearly come to discover  the God Particle which would solve the mystery about the nature of the ultimate reality. The basic fundas about the God Particle, in simple terms, are as follows:

Electron, proton and neutron are the trinity of the atomic science and each has some mass however negligible. An atom contains these three basic particles which are in turn formed by interaction of mass less particles called quarks.  How these basic particles acquire mass has remained a mystery for the scientists. In 1964, a British physicist, Peter Higgs, came up with this idea that there must exist a background field passing through which particles acquire mass by being dragged through a mediator, which was subsequently named the Higgs Boson. The scientists sometimes call it the “God Particle” — it is everywhere but remains frustratingly elusive.

This reminds us of the Upanishads where God is conceived of as the substratum of everything, subtler than an atom, pure energy, present everywhere but elusive. Coincidentally, quantum physicists have found that their theories are not much different from the teachings of the Upanishads.

In March 2009, the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory came close to finding the God particle. What prevented them from finding the particle was a component malfunction in the Lab. Even though it still remains elusive, the scientists have come closer with each subsequent experiments at the CERN laboratories in Switzerland and elsewhere.

I am hopeful that if scientists continue with their experiments, one day they will definitely nail the elusive God Particle. God willing, of course. 😀

Till then there is nothing that prevents us from enjoying the mystery of reality, illusion, delusion, the gods or the God Delusions.

Transcendental Mathematics

As far as the evolution of the Indian thought system is concerned, zero has been as much a mathematical concept as a spiritual one.  The whole philosophy of Buddha is based on sunyata, nothingness. By the way the Sanskrit word for zero is sunya. When the philosophy, spirituality and mathematical use of zero was at its zenith in India, their western counterparts wondered how can nothing be something.

In India of the vedic age, there was no distinction  between religion and science. A highly developed form of mathematics was used to place various temples in the geography of India and to construct individual temples. The Garbhagriha – sanctum sanctorum  –  was the sunya griha where for a moment the mind of the pilgrim went blank.

In eastern philosophy, existence was conceived as the paradox of being and nothingness. Buddha’s view was that the whole existence is a great void, it is all empty and nothingness. Then came Shankara who said there is fullness in everything.

While ‘nothingness’ was the basis of a rebellious religion and philosophy, ‘nothing’ was the starting point in the evolution of mathematics.

To make things simple, and from a mathematical point of view, let me divide all mathematics into three categories.

First of all, is the logical sequential common sense mathematics where two plus two is four. It has tremendous use in our day to day affairs. All scientific progress and commercial transactions are based on this. This is the mathematics that we learn as a part of curriculum in our educational institutions. Let us call it the logical mathematics.

Secondly, there is this mathematics of the group dynamics or for simplicity let us call it the dynamic mathematics. There is a proverb in Hindi –Ek aur ek gyarah – one plus one becomes eleven. According to the logical mathematics if one person does x amount of work in a day and another does y amount of work in a day, then both will do x+y amount of work. However according to dynamic mathematics both will do much more than x+y amount of work. Whenever two people work together they create a third force in the form of group dynamics or synergy that adds something to the total output. Of course if this third force is negative, then the total output will be less than the sum of individual outputs. If two people are able to lift a stone to a height of one meter it does not mean that one person will be able to lift it to a height of half a meter. One person may not be able to lift it at all.  When a bird flies with its flock in a formation it uses less energy than it would do for the same distance if it flew individually. The synergy among the birds is such that even a sick bird that can hardly fly is carried along once it is a part of the formation.

Then, there is the mathematics of the transcendental or the mathematics of the mystical experience. Most of us are familiar with the first declaration of the Ishavasya Upanishad – Purnamadah purnamidam purnat purna mudachyate. Purnashya purnamadaya purnamevavashishyate. That is whole, and this also is whole. For only the whole is born out of the whole; And when the whole is taken from the whole, the remainder is whole.

This sloka attempts to describe the mystical experience of the ultimate reality. It is beyond logic. One has to transcend logic to get a glimpse of such mystical experience. Along with the illogical concept of zero,  when some western logicians came across such declarations, they thought that the eastern seers who composed the Upanishads were lunatics.

Even though it is difficult to understand this sloka with our logical mind some indications can be given. Now water can be divided but not liquidity. When a jug of water is taken out from a bucket full of water the quality of liquidity is neither improved nor downgraded.

Or let us take another example. There is a rose plant. We cut a branch and plant it at another place where it grows into a plant again. When we cut a live plant what we are actually taking out is the tree-ness or the essence of the tree. However the tree-ness or the essence of the first tree remains whole at the same time the new branch also grows into a whole tree. We cannot say that by cutting the earlier tree the wholeness in either has been affected.

To make things simpler (or, more confusing),  substitute the ‘purna’ in the above sloka with zero. Now you have something to argue with the logician, who has at least accepted the concept of zero i.e something is possible out of nothing.

To make things the simplest, meditate with Buddha or listen to  Shankar’s Bhajagovindam. You will realise the nothingness of everything either way.

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