Two theories regarding the Asuras

A while ago someone named Kabirvaani left an interesting comment on one of my very old posts about the Asuras, suggesting that page 300 of James Houghton Woods’ book The Yoga System of Patanjali references an Asura as the bringer of a psychotropic drug that confers enlightenment upon those who imbibe it. Intrigued, I decided to investigate the idea and searched for the book’s text, and found an online source for the book. While researching this subject, I decided to make this post about two subjects. The first is the subject proposed by Kabirvaani concerning the Asuras and psychotropic drugs, the second is a different theory proposed by another blogger named Kata no Kokoro, who suggested, commenting on another post, that the post-Vedic conception of the Asuras might be based on the philosophy of Carvaka – a school of Indian philosophy based on epistomological materialism – with the intent of demonizing that philosophy on contrast to the religious idealism of most Hindu schools and the authority of the Vedas. We will deal with both these subjects in the same post, to save me bothering with two separate posts.

 

The Asura maidens and their magic drugs

Before we get to what page 300 of The Yoga System of Patanjali has to say, let’s look at what the page before it has to say on the subject of how “Perfections proceed from birth or from drugs or from spells or from self-castigation or from concentration”.

1. The power of having another body is the perfection by birth.

2. [Perfection] by drugs is by an elixir-of-life [got] in the mansions of the demons, and by the like.

3. By spells, such as the acquisition of [the power of] passing through space and atomization [iii. 45].

4. [Perfection] by self-castigation is the perfection of the will, the faculty of taking on any form at will (kamarupin) [or] of going anywhere at will, and so on.

5. Perfections proceeding from concentration have been explained.

Note the second part. Apparently there’s an aspect of Indian yoga wherein a yogi can attain “perfection” through an elixir obtained through in “the mansions of the demons”. Who are the demons exactly? Of course, it is none of than the Asuras, the grand enemies of the Devas. From page 300:

2. He describes the perfection which proceeds from drugs. A human being when for some cause or other he reaches the mansions of the demons (asura), and when he makes use of elixirs-of-life brought to him by the lovely damsels of the demons, attains to agelessness and to deathlessness and to other perfections. Or [this perfection may be had] by the use of an elixir-of-life in this very world. As for instance the sage Mandavya, who dwelt on the Vindhyas and who made use of potions.

Regarding the lovely damsels of the demons, doing some digging I find that Vedic mythology does attest to female Asuras having knowledge of mystical plants and herbs. In the hymns of the Atharvaveda, specifically Book 7, there is a hymn that references a group of entities named the Asuri, who seduce the deity Indra by means of a magic herb.

“I dig this Healing Herb that makes my lover look on me and weep,
That bids the parting friend return and kindly greets him as he comes.
This Herb wherewith the Asuri drew Indra downward from the Gods,
With this same Herb I draw thee close that I may be most dear to thee.
Thou art the peer of Soma, yea, thou art the equal of the Sun,
The peer of all the Gods art thou: therefore we call thee hitherward.
I am the speaker here, not thou: speak thou where the assembly meets.
Thou shalt be mine and only mine, and never mention other dames.
If thou art far away beyond the rivers, far away from men,
This Herb shall seem to bind thee fast and bring thee back my prisoner.”

– Hymn XXXVIII of the Atharvaveda

The Asuri is said to refer either to a specific entity whose identity is unknown, or a group of beings. In either case, Asuri is simply the feminine pronoun of Asura, hence Asuri refers to female semi-divine or demonic beings. According to Nagendra Kr. Singh in Vedic Mythology, the Asuras were very knowledgeable on matters of magic and medicine and their women knew how to use magical and medicinal plants. They were said to hide such medicines under the ground so that the Devas could not find them.

So, while I have been unable to locate the female Asura I was referred to, I do learn that female Asuras are associated with magical plants within Vedic mythology. This establishes a mythological basis for the maidens of demons bringing the elixir of life in The Yoga System of Patanjali. There is definitely a tradition with Indian mythology wherein the Asuras provide magic medicines, which could have been extrapolated into what is described in the book.

Taw Waes Suwan Asura Deva Carrying Amrita by Ajarn Saeng Apidej

We can perhaps think of the Asuras within Vedic mythology as possible sources of enlightenment through psychotropics, at least insofar as the premise of enlightenment through drugs is concerned. Of course, this is only within the older Vedic Hinduism. Since the Asuras are treated as demonic in post-Vedic Hinduism, this idea is probably treated as some kind of demonolatry by modern Hindus.

 

Carvaka and the Asuras

Carvaka (often spelled Charvaka), also known as Lokayata, is a school of Indian philosophy that rejects theism, reincarnation, karma, the soul or Atman and Moksha, and viewed the best means of acquiring as being not from revelation or religious scripture but through direct perception via the senses and through the practice of empiricism. Such a view is recognizable in the Western world as materialism or naturalism, and is associated with contemporary atheism. It was said to have been developed by a Vedic sage named Brihaspati at around 600 BCE. Curiously enough, Brihaspati is also the name of a planetary deity, the patron of the planet Jupiter, who was consider the guru of the Devas and related to the fire deity Agni.

There is a myth within the Upanishads in which Brihaspati is said to have created the Carvaka doctrine in order to deceive the Asuras. According to the Seventh Prapathaka of the Maitrayaniya Upanishad:

Brihaspati, having become Sukra, brought forth that false knowledge for the safety of Indra and for the destruction of the Asuras. By it they show that good is evil, and that evil is good. They say that we ought to ponder on the (new) law, which upsets the Veda and the other sacred books. Therefore let no one ponder on that false knowledge: it is wrong, it is, as it were, barren. Its reward lasts only as long as the pleasure lasts, as with one who has fallen from his caste. Let that false science not be attempted, for thus it is said:
(1) Widely opposed and divergent are these two, the one known as false knowledge, the other as knowledge. I (Yama) believe Nakiketas to be possessed by a desire of knowledge; even many pleasures do not move thee.
(2) He who knows at the same time both the imperfect (sacrifice, &c.) and the perfect knowledge (of the Self), he crosses death by means of the imperfect, and obtains immortality by means of the perfect knowledge.
(3) Those who are wrapped up in the midst of imperfect knowledge, fancying themselves alone wise and learned, they wander about floundering and deceived, like the blind led by the blind.

Sukra might be a reference to Shukra, or Shukracharya, who if you remember from my second Mythological Spotlight was the guru of the Asuras and the planetary deity of Venus. Indeed, Sukra is the Indian name for the planet Venus. It might be suggested that Brihaspati took the appearance of Sukra in order to deceive the Asuras into believing what were deemed false teachings, presumably to undermine their ability to defeat the Devas in battle in order to help the Devas defeat them. It is not certain if the Brihaspati mentioned in the Upanishad, but it is commonly held that the deity Brihaspati and the human Brihaspati are separate entities, which would make sense given it is unlikely that the Devas would have sincerely believed in materialist philosophy. Given this and the ability of the Upanishadic Brihaspati to transform into Shukra and his imperative on behalf of the Devas, I suspect that the Brihaspati referred to here is probably the planetary deity and not the human sage.

Brihaspati (the planetary deity, not the sage)

The Padma Purana also contains a dialogue in which Rudra (or Shiva) refers to Brihaspati as the one who proclaims the “much censured” doctrine of Carvaka. In the same text, Buddhism is also referred to as a false doctrine, proclaimed by an incarnation of Vishnu, and that Rudra proclaimed a “pseudo-Buddhist” doctrine referred to as Maya. Rudra also says that he ordered a man named Jaimimi to expound the doctrine of Purva Mimamsa – a doctrine that, while it seemingly endorses the authority of the Vedas, holds that the material universe to be endless and without liberation – which Rudra describes as stating godlessness and invalidating the Vedas. It is established here that the Hindu deities go out of their way to, within the context of the lore, deceive the enemies of the Devas by promoting Nastika doctrines (that is, doctrines that go against or contradict Vedic scripture, typically atheistic philosophies, thus heretical doctrines within the context of Hinduism) in order that they might defeat and destroy them.

Another example of this happening with regards to Jainism is when Vishnu sent a teacher named Mayamoha to teach the Asuras the Jain religion in order to that they could be defeated. The rationale behind such a theme seems to be twofold: (1) the Asuras are strengthened by following the Vedas and performing the proper rituals and penances, hence they lose power when they reject the Vedas, which serves to paint the Vedic religion as imparting power to believers, and (2) the non-Vedic religions are treated as so wicked and false that clearly they are either the doctrines of demons or tricks from the gods designed to weaken their enemies.

This theme is echoed in the Puranic myth of the Tripurasura, a group of three Asuras (Vidyunmali, Tarakshaka and Viryavana) who were the sons of Tarakasura. After the three Asuras perform a series of religious austerities known as tapasyas, Brahma grants them the following reward: they will live for a thousand years in three palaces for each of them – one made of  gold, one made of silver, and one made of iron – which reside in different realms (one in heaven, one in the sky, and one on the earth) and align every thousand years, and can only be destroyed by an arrow that can penetrate the three realms when the palaces align. The Devas, feeling threatened by a bunch of Asuras having that much clout, appeal to the Trimurti to destroy them. Brahma refuses on the grounds that it was he who granted them the boon to begin with, and Shiva refuses because he saw that they weren’t doing anything wrong, but Vishnu comes up with a plan to trick them into becoming non-believers in order to justify their destruction. He creates a man out of himself, whom he named Arihat. Arihat was shaven and wore dirty clothes, thus he had the appearance of a bald ascetic monk. Arihat was instructed to teach the Tripurasura a religion that contradicts the Vedas – one which holds that there is no afterlife, that heaven and hell exist only on Earth and that there is no reward or punishment in any life after this one. After this, Shiva destroys the Tripurasura and their palaces once they align. Given the description of a lack of an afterlife and the emphasis on this world within this belief system, it is very likely that the “false religion” in this story is none other than Carvaka.

Shiva destroys the Tripurasura and their palaces

Another myth within the Mahabharata (specifically Book 12) describes a being named Charvaka, who is identified as either an Asura or a Rakshasa, who was believed to have impersonated one of the Brahmanas in order to accuse the Pandava prince Yudhishthira of killing his kin.

A little while after when the Brahmanas had become silent, a Rakshasa of the name of Charvaka, who had disguised himself as a Brahmana, addressed the king. He was a friend of Duryodhana and stood therein the garb of a religious mendicant. With a rosary, with a tuft of hair on his head, and with the triple staff in his hand, he stood proudly and fearlessly in the midst of all those Brahmanas that had come there for pronouncing benedictions (upon the king), numbering by thousands, O king, and all of whom were devoted to penances and vows. That wicked wight, desirous of evil unto the high-souled Pandavas and without having consulted those Brahmanas, said these words unto the king.’

“Charvaka said, ‘All these Brahmanas, making me their spokesman, are saying, ‘Fie on thee! Thou art a wicked king. Thou art a slayer of kinsmen. What shalt thou gain, O son of Kunti, by having thus exterminated thy race? Having slain also thy superiors and preceptor, it is proper for thee to cast away thy life.’ Hearing these words of that wicked Rakshasa the Brahmanas there became deeply agitated. Stung by that speech, they made a loud uproar. And all of them, with king Yudhishthira. O monarch, became speechless from anxiety and shame.’

When the real Brahmanas revealed his ruse, Charvaka was killed by their utterance of the Hun sound, the sound of Brahma. It is possible that the demon Charvaka was a demonization of the Carvaka school, a way of painting adherents of Carvaka as liars who deceive the public and impersonate the pious. However, this would depend on when the Mahabharata was compiled and published, given that the Mahabharata is likely to have been written at around 400 CE, many centuries after the emergence of the Carvaka school.

Finally, let’s look at the Upanishadic myth of Virochana, son of the Asura Prahlada, who together with Indra sought out the creator deity Prajapati to learn about the nature of Atman, the divine self or soul in Hindu theology. According to the Chandogya Upanishad, the two deities sought out his wisdom on the promise that whoever found it would gain the possessions of all worlds. After staying with Prajapati as his disciples and living the lives of Brahmacharis (as in, men who pursue Brahman) for 32 years, Prajapati tells both Indra and Virochana of the Atman and instructs them to see their reflections in a pan of water. After seeing their reflections, they left and relayed the revelations they believed themselves to attained. Virochana returned to the Asuras and told them that he learned that the body and the Atman are one and the same and thus the bodily self should be glorified, while Indra thought this was wrong, went to Prajapati for clarification twice before spending yet another 32 years with him as a Brahmachari, then another 5 years, before finally Prajapati told him:

“This body is subject to death yet it embodies the deathless and bodiless Atman. This embodied Self falls into the trap of all dualities like pleasure and pain, but the bodiless Atman is not touched by any duality. So long as the Atman resides in the body and attaches itself to them he seems limited and restricted, but again when freed from the body becomes one with the infinite spirit. When the Atman leaves the body, goes wandering freely in the infinite worlds. The eye, the ear, the senses, the mind are there only in order that the Atman may see and hear and think. It is on account of Atman and in the Atman that the things and beings exist. He is the Truth and the final repository of all existence.”

Indra comes to believe the doctrine of the Atman as the ultimate truth, as divine consciousness that embodies itself in the flesh in order to perceive the world and is freed from the body to wander infinity after the death of the body, while Virochana comes to believe that the bodily self is the self itself and the object of concern and reverence. Since Carvaka holds that consciousness exists only within the body, it is pretty likely that the doctrine Virochana and the Asuras learn is materialism, the doctrine of Carvaka.

To close this post, it’s worth noting the old Vedic character of the Asuras. As I’ve pointed out here many times before, Asura was once technically a title applied to the Vedic deities themselves, denoting the power, strength and might of the deity. They were sometimes also thought of as a semi-divine class of beings who were neither good nor bad, and possess the magical powers of maya. After some time though, as the old form of the Vedic religion got displaced by the new form of Hinduism, which was based on the Puranas and the Upanishads (which still claimed the authority of the Vedas as sacred mind you), Asura changed from a signifier of divine might, to a class of morally ambiguous semi-divine beings, to class of anti-divine beings if not outright a class of demons who are often materialistic. Perhaps this association with materialist doctrines stems from the conflict between orthodox Vedic Brahmanism and the emergent Nastika doctrines, such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Carvaka, as well as Tantric schools of Hinduism, not to mention the rise of a new form of Hinduism based on the Upanishads that sought to change the character of Hinduism.

The devas, possibly representing orthodoxy, pull Vasuki’s tail, the asuras, possibly representing heterodoxy, pull Vasuki’s heads.

As Hinduism was dealing with the Nastika doctrines, it made sense that, in order to maintain the authority of theistic Hindu doctrine, the Brahmanists and Upanishadists sought out to ridicule the Nastika doctrines, especially Carvaka. It also possible that they destroyed most first-person sources on Carvaka (that is, texts written by its adherents rather than its detractors), given the dearth of texts and information on Carvaka. Essentially, the new Brahmanists demonized the materialist doctrine, and other Nastika doctrines, by positioning them as doctrines believed by demons (Asuras and Rakshasas), often through the deceptions of the Devas and the Trimurti. The Asuras in and of themselves are not based on Carvaka, but the Carvaka doctrine became somewhat affixed to the Asuras through the Puranic and Upanishadic myths.

Thanks to Kabirvaani of Shivahaoma and Hata no Kokoro for providing the inspiration for this post

The lord of consciousness and the destroyers of consciousness

I watched a video from Thomas LeRoy, who you may recognize as the founder of a Left Hand Path organization known as the Sect of the Horned God, and in the video he talked about how he felt the Hindu deity Shiva was the best representation of the Left Hand Path in general. He feels that Shiva represents the consciousness of the individual (which he equates to the concept of Atman), in contrast to Vishnu’s connection with the consciousness of the universe (which he identifies as the concept of Brahman), and as the traditions of the Left Hand Path highly stress the importance of the consciousness of the individual, .

If you want, you can see the full video below.

In a sense, Atman referring to the individual consciousness can be a way of interpreting the concept of Atman, but while Atman is viewed as referring to the essential self, in Hindu tradition that same essential self is viewed as identical with Brahman, the consciousness of the universe. Shiva being the lord of individual consciousness in a Left Hand Path context is still an interesting way to elevate the individual consciousness and its importance in a Hindu context, and it definitely keeps Shiva interesting. In fact, it might be part of why my interest in him has stuck.

I don’t think I could come to dislike him.

This interpretation also brings to my mind a Buddhist myth concerning Shiva. Shiva does appear in the Buddhist tradition as Mahakala, but that’s not his only iteration within Buddhist lore. There’s a story in Buddhist scriptures where Shiva appears as Maheshvara (one of his names which he often goes by) and is defeated by a bodhisattva named Vajrapani. In the story, the cosmic Buddha Vairocana wants to construct a mandala and requests Vajrapani to generate his adamantine family in order to do so, but Vajrapani refuses to cooperate with Vairocana because of Maheshvara “deluding beings with deceitful doctrines and engaging in criminal activity”. In response Vajrapani’s complaint, Vairocana permits him to bring Maheshvara and his entourage to Mount Meru in order to force them to comply with the doctrines of the Buddha Gautama. Vajrapani uses a mantra to drag Maheshvara and company to Mount Meru, and orders all of them submit to the Buddhist teachings, to which all of them comply except Maheshvara, who refers to Vajrapani as a “pathetic tree spirit”. The two challenge each other in magical combat, and after a series of battles Maheshvara eventually defeated by Vajrapani, and along with his wife Uma (clearly a reference to the goddess Parvati) he is tread upon by Vajrapani after his defeat. After Vajrapani’s victory, all of Maheshvara’s entourage submit to the teachings of Buddhism and become a part of Vairocana’s mandala, except for Maheshvara, who is killed, but he is reborn in another realm as a Buddha named Bhasmesvara Nirghosa, who is described as “Soundless Lord of Ashes”.

In Japanese Buddhism, there is a similar myth centering around Gozanze Myo-O (aka Trailokyavijaya), one of the Five Wisdom Kings (a powerful group of wrathful emanations of the Five Buddhas of Wisdom, intended to represent the overcoming of passions and all threats to the Buddhist faith). In Japan, Gozanze Myo-O is the one who subjugates Maheshvara (known in Japan as Daijizaiten) and his wife Uma, thus they are depicted as trampled beneath Gozanze Myo-O’s feet in representations of him. But rather than killing Maheshvara, as Vajrapani did, Gozanze Myo-O converts him and Uma into protectors of the Buddhist faith.

A representation of Gozanze Myo-O.

The story of Maheshvara’s defeat and/or subjugation is obviously a way of illustrating the purported superiority of Buddhism next to Hinduism, and thus the superiority of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas over the Hindu pantheon of deities, but I feel that if we are to consider Shiva as a deity representing individuated consciousness, then beings like Vajrapani and Gozanze Myo-O, in the act of killing or subjugating Maheshvara, become the destroyers of individuated consciousness. This of course ties in to the fact that the goal of Buddhist practice is, ultimately, the extinction of individuated consciousness.

It’s a shame too, because I don’t really look at beings like these the same way after thinking about it that way. The wrathful beings of Buddhist come across to me as expressions of powerful will and strength, so it is a shame when that becomes directed against individuated consciousness in support of religious doctrine.

Karma

Karma is a concept common in Eastern religions and culture, but is interpreted very differently here in the West by many people. Our understanding of karma is largely based on the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of karma, so these are the concepts I’ll focus on here. When most people think of karma, they tend to think of something like this:

But in reality, the concept of karma has nothing to do with this sort of thing in its actual context. People like to think that karma means you “get what you deserve” in this life through some force in the cosmos, possibly because it suits their desire for vengeance without them actually claiming their vengeance for themselves, but that’s not what karma is.

In the West we tend to think of karma as the invisible moral force of reward and punishment, but in the Hindu context karma refers to the action or deeds of a person. In fact, the word karma literally means “action”, “deed”, or “work”, referring to the actions or deeds of a person, and any reward or punishment would thus refer to the result of said actions. However, karma is tied to the concept of reincarnation in which the soul enters a new physical form after death, which means your actions in this life are more or less tied to the next life. In this sense, karma in Hinduism tends to play out more like this:

In addition, Hindu belief stresses that there is only one Self, but instead of the individuated self there’s a single consciousness or Self tying all life together. This means all life is connected, and every individual is not only part of all others but also part of the divine consciousness of the universe, in fact but a piece of this consciousness, thus the goal of Hindu spirituality is for each piece to reunite with this single underlying consciousness, often identified as either God or by the concept of Atman (this itself tends to depend on what school of Hindu thought you answer to). It also means that it’s not you being reborn in a new body, but rather Atman. It also means that the bad things can happen to other people as a result of one person’s karma, which is horrible. In fact, this was one of the ways that people tried to explain the tsunami that happened in Southeast Asia near the end of 2004, and it may sound glib but it’s not an unreasonable interpretation of Hindu belief. Either way, I feel that since your consciousness is not your own in Hindu belief and since reincarnation entails someone or something else inheriting the fruits of your past actions, someone or something else is going to get screwed over by your actions, which is just illogical and wrong.

It works much the same in the Buddhist faith, except that in Buddhism there is neither a single divine consciousness nor individuated consciousness. Reincarnation is still based on karma or actions, but karma was also defined by Siddhartha Gautama as intention itself. This means that even mental action, the thought or impulse to perform physical and verbal actions and that influences such actions, can affect the next life. In broad terms, it also means that even a good action motivated by personal desire can be impure and lead to an impure rebirth, and the highest states of being, along with enlightenment itself, hinge on selflessness, which is stupid.

The wheel of the six desire realms.

In general, karma just means actions, but it’s funny how even though the concept of karma entails actions rather than a justice system designed to reward or punish them, the theme surrounding the concept of karma in many religions seems to be that your actions will be punished after this life rather than within, and I can’t seem to agree with the idea that the cosmos dispenses any sort of reward or punishment for actions that, if reincarnation is to be believed, you are no longer technically responsible for. And the thing is, if Hinduism and Buddhism are to be believed, you either don’t have an individuated consciousness, or your consciousness is not your own anyway, so how the hell are you responsible for actions that aren’t even yours either way?

The evils of Vishnu (and the devas), and the case for the asuras

In past blog posts written on the subject of Hinduism I have often mentioned the mythical conflict between the devas and the asuras, and have not written favorably about the devas. However, I don’t feel I’ve written a lot about why the devas are particularly bad, or why the asuras sometimes didn’t deserve being dominated by the devas in a whole lot of detail. I’ve also come to find examples of why Vishnu is actually a dishonorable and contemptible deity. For the purpose of this post, instead of commenting on the narrative itself like I did only last year, I choose to refer to specific mythological cases that point to the devas being far from the good guys and the asuras not always being evil. For the case of Vishnu and the devas I won’t try and cover every story, since that would be insane, just the ones I feel highlight their devious character. I already talked about one myth: the myth of the churning of the milk of oceans, in which the devas and the asuras “collaborated” to churn out the nectar of immortality using the serpent Vasuki, but there are some myths I have not written my personal take on, and some myths I may have mentioned before not written about in any detail to speak of.

Vishnu helps the devas cheat the Asuras in the form of Mohini

Although I said I wrote about the myth of the churning of the ocean of milk, there’s an aspect of that myth I did not write about before in previous posts. After the devas and the asuras churn the sea of milk, the heavenly physician Dhanvantari (who was actually a form of Vishnu) arose from the ocean of milk and he carried the nectar of immortality in one of his hands. The devas and the asuras fought fiercely to possess it, until eventually the asuras won the nectar from the devas. While the asuras celebrated, the devas pleaded with Vishnu to help them take the nectar of immortality from the asuras. Before the asuras managed to drink the nectar of immortality, Vishnu took the form of an enchanting woman named Mohini, who distracted the asuras with her dancing, which led to them becoming totally enticed by here beauty and allowed her to snatch the nectar of immortality from the asuras so she can distribute it among the devas.

Mohini takes the amrita from the asuras while she dances.

However, not all the asuras fell for this trick. The asura Rahu figured out that Mohini was actually Vishnu, and that her dancing was but a devious ploy to steal the Amrita from them. In order to get a share of the nectar of immortality, he disguised himself as one of the devas in order to drink some of the nectar of immortality, but the gods Surya and Chandra saw through Rahu’s disguise and informed Mohini. Mohini then decapitated Rahu before he could finish consuming the nectar, which mean that his head was somehow immortal but not his whole body. By the time the pitcher was empty, the devas got more of the nectar than the asuras. Vishnu had successfully cheated the asuras out of the nectar of immortality, and when the asuras tried to attack the devas, the devas defeated them in battle. Only the devas gained the nectar of immortality in the end, not through honorable means but because they complained to Vishnu about losing it to the asuras, who won it from them in the first place.

By the way, the churning of the oceans and the fighting for the nectar all started when Indra, who was a deva and not an asura, insulted the sage Durvasa when his elephant threw down a garland of flowers offered by the sage, which led the sage to curse the devas so that they lose their strength.

The subjugation of Mahabali by Vamana

Vamana stepping upon Mahabali

Mahabali, or just Bali, was an asura who, unlike most asuras, was highly regarded among the people. He was actually known as one of the most virtuous asuras of all, who once governed Kerala as a benevolent king. He was known to be very generous, charitable, and righteous, and even gods such as Brahma recognized this. After defeating the devas in battle with the help Sukracarya, the teacher of the asuras, Mahabali extended his rule to the realm of the devas. During that period of time Mahabali invited his grandfather Praladha to heaven to accept a very honorable seat there, after which he was appointed the same position Indra held for the devas, and he then asked Praladha for advice on how to be a proper ruler and carry on the government of the heavens, and Praladha told him “Only virtue will always win. Rule the kingdom without deviating from virtue.”. Following his grandfather’s advice, he did indeed establish a kingdom based on virtuous rule in which everyone was happy and content, and there was no corruption, crime, or discrimination based on class or caste. Of course, not everyone was happy about this. The devas didn’t like it at all that they were defeated by an Asura, no matter how righteous he was, and Indra was particularly upset that Mahabali not only defeated him and claimed his position in heaven, but he also showed the devas how much of a proper ruler he was. So Vishnu incarnated as a dwarf, named Vamana, and requested three paces of land from Mahabali as measured by his feet. Despite the warnings of Sukracarya, who tried to tell him that Vamana was deceiving him, Mahabali granted him this request. After which, Vamana grew in size to cosmic proportions, and covered the whole world and the realm of the heavens with his first two steps, and Mahabali offered his head as the place of his final step in order to prevent the destruction of the world, which led to him being pushed into the netherworld and losing his status as the ruler of the three worlds.

Vamana revealed to Mahabali that he was actually the god Vishnu (in his fifth avatar), of whom Mahabali was a devotee, and he claimed that he was testing Mahabali. But in actuality, Vishnu was actually trying to remove Mahabali from power through deceit and trickery, and Sukracarya knew that all along. It was nothing more than deviousness on the part of the Vishnu at the request of the devas, and through that trickery the devas did reclaim lordship over the heavens.

Parashurama, the genocidal warrior avatar of Vishnu

I have a distinct feeling that some of you who know me may look at just the above image and ask me “how can you not like this guy?”, and my answer would be because he’s a genocidal maniac, and for an avatar of Vishnu no less (the sixth to be exact). Some time after Parashurama received an axe and martial arts training from Shiva, his father Jamadagni was visited by the king Kartavirya and hosted a grand feast for the king. Kartavirya asked how Jamadagni managed to do this, and showed him a calf of the Kamadhenu, a sacred cow said to provide its owner with whatever he/she desires, that was given to him by Indra and had the power to grant wishes. Kartavirya became jealous when he was denied the calf, and stole the calf. What does Parashurama do when he finds out? He kills Kartavirya and his guards before retrieving the calf. Naturally, some time later, Kartavirya’s sons discover his corpse and work out that Parashurama killed him, so while Parashurama was gone they travel to the hermitage of Jamadagni, surrounded him, and killed him with arrows before decapitating him and taking his head with them. When Parashurama returned from a pilgrimage and discovered his father’s murder, he was enraged, and hunted down the sons Kartavirya in revenge, then took his fathers head in order to conduct his cremation. You’d think that this would be over, but after this whole mess Parashurama goes way over the top and vows to kill all members of the Kshatriya caste. He travels across the land and murders all members of the Kshatriya caste, regardless of whether they were innocent or guilty of anything. The Kshatriya caste constituted of the military elite who wielded secular authority, as opposed to the religious authority held by the Brahmin caste. According to the Mahabharata, the Kshatriya caste had become arrogant and corrupt, oppressing the people instead of protecting them, but this means nothing because Parashurama doesn’t simply kill the tyrannical members of the Kshatriya caste, he kills all of them even the ones who weren’t evil. Parashurama also gives power to the brahmin priests after the end of his campaign of genocide, and performs a sacrifice, so if anything the story has that undertone of “Vishnu comes to earth to murder all the secular rulers, regardless of their crimes, to give power back to religious leaders” so any morality of his tale is lost.

I’d also like to mention that Parashurama’s father, Jamadagni, wasn’t such nice a character on his own. When he found out that his wife Renuka felt physically attracted to the gandharvas she saw in the sky and briefly lost devotion to her husband, he became enraged and ordered one of his sons to decapitate Renuka. When his son refused, Jamadagni petrified him. He did the same with each of his sons except for the young Parashurama, who submitted to his commands and decapitated his mother Renuka. This pleased Jamadagni. However, because of this act of obedience, Jamadagni offered two boons to the young Parashurama, who requested the resurrection of his mother and that his brothers no longer be petrified. I don’t like how that aspect of his story turns out, because just think of it: imagine if you’re forced to decapitate your own mother by your angry and jealous father, but because you obeyed his commands, he revives your mother and then everybody’s happy? That’s horrible! This is Old Testament standards! Come to think of it, the whole story of Parashurama doesn’t feel entirely different to a lot of the violent stories of the Old Testament. Not to mention, since Parashurama was an incarnation of Vishnu, Parashurama was Vishnu the entire time. So Vishnu in the best interests of the cosmic order and all that is good beheads his mother rather than oppose his father, which you’d assume he’d be capable of doing since Parashurama is actually Vishnu (and don’t give me anything about how Parashurama was just a boy; look what Vishnu is capable of as Krishna when he was young), and later in his life he murders the entire kshatriya caste regardless of whether anyone it was good or bad and regardless of what they did to him, and justifies it with his own quest to avenge his father’s death, which he had already done by killing Kartavirya’s sons? There’s no reason to think of any of this anything other than totally wrong and totally mad, unless you are fucked up on religion.

Krishna

I’ve talked before about how Krishna was basically a hypocrite who thinks everyone should abandon their self-desire and worship him as God Almighty while he got to do whatever he wanted for himself, but it turns out I only scratched the surface back then. In the Mahabharata, Vishnu in his eighth avatar is as manipulative and dishonorable as it gets, all supposedly in the name of upholding goodness in the world. In one instance, Krishna weakens Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, so that he may lose in battle against Bhima, who was supported by Krishna. It started when Duryodhana’s friend Karna was killed on the battlefield. Duryodhana was usually said to never shed a tear for anyone, but he shed a tear for Karna because he held Karna in high regard. His mother, Gandhari, saw Duryodhana losing confidence, and wanted to bestow a blessing unto him to make his body virtually invincible. For this blessing to work, his body had be exposed and unclothed. Apparently Krishna must have been aware of this because he urged Duryodhana to cover the area of his privates before meeting his mother, which meant that now Duryodhana’s body was virtually invincible except for his thighs and private parts. When Duryodhana challenged Bhima, his rival from the Pandavas, to a mace fight, Bhima almost lost to Duryodhana until Krishna signaled him to strike the area of his thighs, which was not blessed by Gandhari, which mortally wounded him. The problem? Hitting someone at the thighs or below the waist is against the rules of mace fighting, and Krishna encouraged Bhima violate the warrior code and defeat Duryodhana by fighting dirty in the name of bhakti (devotion to God).

Bhima standing over the defeated Duryodhana.

Speaking of cheating, I should mention how Karna died. During the war of Kurukshetra, one of the wheels of Karna’s chariot sank into a deep pit in the ground. Since his charioteer refused to lift it out of the ground, Karna had to do it himself. Arjuna, Karna’s opponent, delayed in killing him because it was dishonorable and against the rules of war for Arjuna strike Karna down while his chariot is unable to move. But Krishna urged Arjuna to kill Varna while he was still struggling with the chariot anyway, which is dishonorable according to the rules of war. On top of that, Krishna at one point even praises Karna as a great warrior and a virtuous man, this is before ordering Arjuna to kill him. Before all this, Krishna sent Karna’s mother, Kunti, to try and persuade Karna to join the Pandavas, but Karna denied this offer. Kunti requested that Karna promise not to harm any of the Pandavas in battle and not to use his celestial weapons twice, and so Karna promised to not harm any of the Pandavas except Arjuna and to only use his celestial weapon once. Krishna knew this, and he knew that Karna’s celestial weapon would be a threat to Arjuna, so he provoked a rakshasa named Ghatotkacha to attack Karna and his forces, which caused him to expend his celestial weapon. Karna also had celestial armor and earrings which might have led him to victory against Arjuna, but Indra convinced him to trade them for the celestial weapon previously mentioned, and Indra did so at the behest of Krishna in order to exploit his reputation as a charitable and honorable person. What kind of deity who promotes good would manipulate the outcome of a battle by exploiting the honor and character of his opponent?

There is an important event in the Mahabharata in the Pandavas and the Kauravas have a game of dice, after the Pandava leader Yudhisthira is challenged by Duryodhana’s uncle Shakuni. Yudisthira gambles everything: their wealth, their brothers, his wife Draupadi, and the lives of the Pandavas, and he lost every single time. Krishna did not seem to reprimand the Pandava for betting on human lives in a game of dice, nor stop them from doing so. All he did about the dice game was prevent Draupadi from being totally disrobed by granting her an infinitely spawning fabric to cover her body. Draupadi herself criticizes Yudhisthira for gambling the Pandava’s kingdom to Duryodhana and Shakuni, especially considering he was unskilled at gambling, but Krishna does not. Instead, he uses the incident against Duryodhana, who points out to Krishna that Yudhisthira accepted the challenge of his own free will, that it wasn’t their fault the Pandavas were defeated, and that Duryodhana ordered the return of the wealth the Pandavas had lost (through Yudisthira gambling it away) in the dice game, as well as releasing. Krishna himself starts the war of Kurukshetra by mouthing off to Duryodhana rather than reprimanding Yudhisthira for his reckless behavior, and he doesn’t seem to care about the point of view of the Kauravas or that Yudhisthira considered human beings an object of betting. This to me reveals Krishna as not just biased, but as a being who thinks humans being gambled is not as important as how bad he thinks the Kauravas are, or as important as his conception of a greater divine order or greater dharma. Or you could just say, nothing is more important for Krishna than his own egomania. Speaking of which…

The killing of Shambuka by Rama

Shambuka was an ascetic who was killed by Rama, Vishnu’s seventh avatar. Why did Rama kill Shambuka? Apparently it was because Shambuka wanted to attain the state of devaloka and attain godhood. He didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t rape or molest anyone, he didn’t steal anything, as far as I know he didn’t commit any moral crimes. All he did was perform penances for the purpose of attaining a level of divinity normally reserved for not just Indra, but Shiva as well.

Rama killing Shambuka (the guy who’s hanging upside down)

By this point, Rama had supposedly reigned as a benevolent king, but I personally would think that killing a man for unorthodox religious practices is not something a benevolent king would do. This would be like Jesus killing one of those Gnostic practitioners of the Left Hand Path for attaining a level of godhood equivalent to the Christ, or like Zeus killing an Orphic practitioner for seeking to deify his soul and join the gods and heroes in the afterlife. Rama killed Shambuka for the same reasons that YHWH destroyed the Tower of Babel or why the Greek gods punish humanity for reaching to the heavens or besting them in competitions. It is pure egomania unbefitting of a supposedly benevolent king.

Apparently, according to some sage named Vashishtha, Jambuka’s penances were forbidden except during the Kali Yuga and that his penances inadvertently caused the premature death of the son of a brahmin. Not only are believers supposed to buy that (which would be bullshit enough), but apparently after Shambuka is killed by Rama, the boy suddenly returns to life (which is even more bullshit). Are people actually expected to find that right? Why should the bizzare religious practices of an ascetic lead to the death of a young boy, with no explanation at all as to how? And why can’t the gods come up with a way to revive the boy without killing the equivalent of a Left Hand Path ascetic? This story makes no sense when examined and only shows Vishnu to be the same kind of tyrant as YHWH and Zeus.

The three asuras

This is the last story pertaining to Vishnu or the devas. Three asuras named Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha, and Viryavana perform austeries, and this pleases the god Brahma so much that he wants to grant them any boon they desire (except for immortality, which he can’t grant). They grant Brahma a very specific and unusual request: they requested three forts be built, with the first one gold, the second one silver, and the third one iron. They further requested that they would live in each fort for 1,000 years, that these forts would be place in different realms (the heavens, the sky, and the earth), align once every thousand years, and that death shall come to them when one can destroy all three forts with a single arrow. Brahma granted this request and asked an asura named Maya to build the forts, after which the three asuras lived in the forts prosperously. The devas didn’t like this at all, even though they weren’t essentially doing anything wrong, so they demanded Brahma do something about it. Brahma couldn’t do anything since he granted them the boon in the first place. Then they turned to Shiva, but he wouldn’t do anything because he knew the three demons weren’t doing anything wrong, and because they still worshipped the Shiva linga and followed the Vedas. Then they turned to Vishnu, who suggested that since they weren’t doing anything wrong, they should be persuaded to deviate from the religion of the Vedas. Apparently the gods think non-belief justifies murdering innocent beings. So Vishnu created a man to go and spread a materialistic teachings that contradict the Vedas and convert the three asuras to it, so that they can justify destroying them. After the three asuras were converted, and after 1,000 years, Shiva was convinced to destroy the forts of the three asuras.

Shiva destroying the three forts.

Why? What kind of god or person would conceive this? Why should these three asuras who didn’t do anything wrong be destroyed for not following the religion of the Vedas, or be persuaded to deviate from their religion just because they’re asuras who got a break for performing austerities? There’s no way this makes any moral sense whatsoever. After being converted, there are no evil actions alluded to at all. All the three asuras did was stop following the teachings of the Vedas and stop worshipping the Shiva linga. That can’t possibly merit any kind of destruction! All it proves is that, in Hindu myth, the asuras are automatically worthy of destroy for doing no wrong, that the gods are perfectly OK with destroying apostates (or at least as long as they are asura), and that Vishnu is enough of a bastard to openly suggest that three asuras who have done nothing wrong can be destroyed as long as they don’t believe the Vedic religion.

The case for the asuras

Statue of Mahishasura

Not all of the asuras are necessarily good, but when they are good, they seem to be more good then the devas. There are specific examples of asura rulers who are said to have ruled with benevolence, justice, virtue, and nobility, while I have not found a single example of a deva doing so. In fact Indra, the king of the supposedly good and orderly devas, tricked women into having sex with him about as much as Zeus did. There is little to say about the Asuras as a whole however, and in fact I’ve found that most of the well known Asuras did little or nothing to deserve being called “evil” other than fight the devas for control of heaven. For instance, Mahishasura. Mahishasura is considered to be a symbol of evil to be defeated by good, but I have not found any specific actions he may have done to warrant being called evil. In fact he was pious in his austerities, despite his ultimate desire for power. The only real character flaw I’ve found about him is that he considered women to be weak (which is the reason he allowed himself to be vulnerable only to women). Other than that, all he did to earn the emnity of the gods was attack the devas and fight for control of the heavens, which is the same trait ascribed to all of the asuras in Hindu mythology, but ultimately his most egregious “sin” was that he challenge Indra and the devas to a fight and won. Just like with Mahabali.

Or how about Raktabija, the asura slain by Kali? I’ve searched high and low for any evil actions on his part, and found nothing. No character flaws, no evil actions, all I’ve found out about him is that he fought against the gods and received a boon that meant that if a drop of his blood be spilled then more asuras would multiply out of him. What about Sumbha and Nisumbha, the asuras whom Raktabija fought alongside? There’s no real evil deeds to speak of for them. There’s one case where an asura named Karambha is brutally killed in the water by Indra in the form of a crocodile, but Karambha was doing nothing more than performing austerities for the god Varuna, thus did nothing to deserve it. Really all the asuras usually do is fight against the devas and their established order while seeking power for themselves. The only truly bad or nasty asuras I can think of are Vritra (for stealing the world’s waters), Hiranyaksha (for kidnapping the earth goddess), Hiranyakashipu (for trying to kill his son just for being devoted to Vishnu, and killing anyone who didn’t worship him), and Narakasura (for apparently kidnapping 16,000 women).

Hindus sometimes stress the ideas that the asuras, partiuclarly the more powerful asuras, represent ego because they challenge the devas and the gods, who represent the moral/religious order ordained in the heavens. In my opinion, since the order of the devas was established by cheating the asuras out of the nectar of immortality, which they won through sheer force of will against the devas, so ultimately the asuras are rebelling against a moral order that is unjust, biased against them, and was only established through dishonest means. Whenever the asuras defeat the devas it feels like the asuras manage to do it through sheer force of will and after performing austerities to the gods usually Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva, and the devas only defeat the asuras with the help of the same gods and Durga. It’s rather strange how Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva grant boons to the asuras after being pleased by the austerities they perform, but are still willing to let the devas coax them into knocking them down to restore their order! As a matter of fact, the asuras so often come so close to defeating the asuras that without the help of Vishnu or Shiva they would lose. For instance, when the asura Jalandhara arranged that Vishnu make his home in Ksheera Sagara (the ocean of milk) after almost being defeated by Jalandhara, the devas where defeated by Jalandhara and his army without Vishnu’s aid. It was only after Vishnu weakened Jalandhara by having sex with his wife Vrinda while disguised as Jalandhara that the devas were able to defeat Jalandhara, having lost the power derived from his wife’s fidelity and devotion. To me this still means not only are the devas weak on their own or don’t bother to become stronger on their own, but it also cements Vishnu as a dishonest prick (to be fair, Jalandhara tried to do the same thing to Parvati, but I don’t believe that justifies a supposedly all-good Vishnu doing the same thing).

Sometimes the Asuras are painted by interpreters as the individual ego fighting to oppose the outer supreme consciousness of God in addition to the moral order created by the devas. That only seems to make the asuras more sympathetic to me becuase (a) they represent the isolate and individuated existence promoting its own existence apart from the order established by religious belief, and (b) this supreme consciousness seems interested in making sure all follow its will or become harmonious with it and forcefully incorporate all that dares to elevate itself to the level of the divine.

Ultimately the asuras in Hindu myth are vehicles for the Hindu concept of self versus God and the established order, but I also feel that the concept of the asura can be an Indian expression of that which is Left Hand Path: immortalizing the self and creating your own order as opposing to obeying God’s order.

Devas and asuras: my problems with the myth

Asuras and devas churning the ocean of milk. Depicted at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand.

Remember just three days ago I posted about that book I read and how I realized or remembered many of my disagreements and/or problems with Hindu thought? Well today I realized there was one area of Hindu thought I forgot to cover: the myth of the conflict of the devas and the asuras.

Traditionally, the devas represent order and the asuras represent chaos, although the devas are also said to represent the forces of the mind and spirit and the asuras represent elemental forces and vital passion. In the Vedic religion, the devas used to represent the forces of nature and the asuras the forces of human society. According to that book I read, the conflict between the devas and asuras is supposed to be a cooperative rivalry and a dynamic equilibrium. In other words, they’re supposed to be forces that struggle with each other as a form of balance. The problem with that is there are several things undermining this idea of what the struggle means.

The first is the respective origins of the devas and the asuras within Hindu mythology. The asuras were born from a goddess named Diti, the limited one, while the devas were born from Aditi, the limitless one. That alone suggests a bias towards the asuric forces by suggesting they were born of ignorance and limited vision while the devas of truth and infinite vision, and this certainly undermines the idea that these are forces of mind and matter struggling for equilibrium with each other.

The second is the churning of the ocean of milk. Vishnu advised the devas to seek diplomacy with the asuras, and they formed a temporary alliance with the asuras so that together they may churn the nectar of immortality by using the serpent Vasuki as a churning rope, with the promise that the devas and the asuras would share the nectar. But what Vishnu actually intended was for the devas to have the nectar all to themselves, and he managed to convince the asuras to yank the head while the devas yank the tail, thus the asuras are subject to its hot and toxic breath with the devas in safe company. This seems very odd to me consider that most of the time Hinduism values self-abnegation and self-sacrifice, or at least that’s what the myths imply, and since the devas are supposed to embody dharmic ideas of truth and virtue, wouldn’t they be the ones subjecting themselves to Vasuki instead of letting the asuras get coaxed into suffering for them? And speaking of supposed self-sacrifice, Shiva swallowing the poison that Vasuki released in the process is widely said to be a sign of self-sacrifice, but is also really weird when you consider that, for Shiva, this is not really a dangerous or fatal thing to do at all. We wouldn’t be able to handle Vasuki’s poison, and the devas and asuras would likely have reason to worried about it (in fact the main worry was that the poison would contaminate the ocean of milk and destroy creation), but Shiva could easily swallow that poison and all that would happen to him was his throat would turn blue. That aspect of the myth doesn’t really represent self-sacrifice because Shiva could easily go through with it with no real danger to him, it actually represents Shiva’s power to prevent premature destruction and to take in everything that no one else can.

Shiva drinks Vasuki’s venom, because he can.

That aside, let’s move on from the samudra manthan (the ocean of milk story) and move on to other aspects of the problem with the conflict. For instance, if the conflict was really supposed to be about a balance of two forces both integral to the cosmos, why is there so much emphasis of the “good” devas winning over the asuras? The occasions when the asuras defeat the devas don’t seem to be treated with any equality, or any manner other than negative. Besides that, the devas only seem interested in maintaing their control and hegemony over the universe, and in preserving the Hindu faith. For instance, the whole reason Vishnu becomes Kalki is because of the faith being in decline and people no longer worshipping. And stories such as the story of Mahabali show that, even if an asura was benevolent, that doesn’t matter because the devas won’t tolerate losing control of the universe even once.

Now, to be honest, I like the idea of the asuras and devas as forces struggling in equilibrium with the asuras representing elemental energy and vital passion with devas representing structure and order, which would actually leave room for evil spins on both the asura and deva principles (for instance, animalistic passions turning rotten or structure being based on evil or made dishonorably), thus balance would be emphasized as an important virtue for the individual. That would certainly be how I would use the deva-asura paradigm, though it would rely less on the actual mythology and its hegemonic wars. However, this post is not about how I use the paradigm, it’s about the Hindu use of the paradigm, and in the Hindu faith, this is not what happens. Even if it was like that in Vedic Hinduism, it is not how it is in post-Vedic Hinduism, in other words the Hinduism you know. Once you look into it, you see that it’s basically just another “good” and “evil” conflict.

Some conclusions regarding Hinduism and my own beliefs

I’ve been reading a book about Hinduism, specifically the difference between Judeo-Christian thought and “dharmic” thought, and I am reminded of a few things.

First, from what I have read, the sattvic or “selfless” state is still idealized above even the rajasic or tamasic states, considering that, if you aren’t selfless/sattvic, you are encouraged to live by codified rules set for you and seek the guidance of a spiritual master who is sattvic. Coupled with the Krishna stories, which emphasis the utilitarian ideal of the common good, the implication is that thinking on your own terms and not having to listen to a guru or God is discouraged unless you are “selfless”, not thinking on your own interests. To me, this is hypocritical for a religion that supposedly believes in mankind’s own divinity and spiritual potential. Even if each individual has one’s own unique path, that is not influenced by you in traditional dharmic ideas, it’s influenced by your “karma” or actions taken in a past life. But at least you get to choose what deity you want to worship, or even none at all, and often in Hinduism.

Second, I am reminded of the other ideas I do not believe in; reincarnation, the idea that we are burdened by the actions of some past live you might not even have ever heard, the idea that justice is distributed by the universe, and the idea of the falsehood of the self (which to me also spits on the idea of karma as a self-made destiny since how do you make your own choices if there is no individual self?). I also seem to question their concept of Atman, which should refer to inner self but actually refers not to any individual spiritual self or immortal soul, but posits that the “real” self is actually God rather than any individual self. There is another idea I learned was present in Hinduism. I have my doubts regarding another idea I learned was central to Hindu belief. Apparently, they believe that the cosmos is possessed of an integral unity, no separate essences, entities, or objects. I feel it may be more likely that there isn’t a unity of all things. Even if there is something that connects all things, that doesn’t still say there is unity between all things, just a common origin.

Third, in my continuous attempts to integrate Hindu (and even Buddhist) ideas and lore, I feel like I’m trying to move forward too fast instead of sitting down to enjoy my current spiritual perspective (the perspective of a spiritual core self that you yourself fight to preserve until the day, and of the inner world shaped by you and how the outer world affects and inspires you). I could incorporate anything I want that inspires me, so why not be comfortable with images, aesthetics, and entities that come from a system that I don’t necessarily subscribe to, or need to subscribe to, and they wouldn’t necessarily have to represent those systems anyway.

One last thing about the book I read: I feel that while it does offer an enlightening perspective towards Hindu or dharmic ideas, that same perspective actually leads me to only more disconnect to these ideas. The author also seems far too unfair with his perspective on the West, a little pompous on his perspective on the East too. Not all of Western ideas are based on Judeo-Christian ideas, in fact the West is capable of potent antidotes for Judeo-Christian ideas and hypocrisy, and not just atheism either. The author seems to think any unity created by the West is purely synthetic. Yes, we aren’t always united in the right way or for the right reasons, but even if it was, all unity, in both West and East, is not to last. All unity falls apart eventually, sometimes slowly sometimes fast. But why put so much emphasis on cohesion and harmony anyway? Does anyone ever stop to think that maybe putting cohesion as the highest ideal is actually a foolish idea?

Vishnu, the Buddha, the devas, and Hindu lore

In India, Buddhism is not very popular despite the fact that it originated there. Part of the reason is the fact that Hinduism seems to have adapted the story of the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, into its own lore. Specifically, there is a Hindu belief that the historical Buddha was the ninth avatar of the deity Vishnu, who is said to preserve the universe and protect its balance.

Different reasons are put forward for why Vishnu assumed the form of Buddha within this theory. Some believe Vishnu was promoting the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) in this form, others believe Vishnu wanted to see if people would remain faithful to the Vedic dharma, and there’s a story in the Puranas which suggests that Buddha was born to delude and confuse the enemies of the devas by preaching “false views” and thus weaken them. You could say this was a ploy to convert Buddhists into the Hindu tradition, but you could also say it was a smear campaign against Buddhism (which was viewed as a nastika or heterodox religion) on the part of orthodox Hindu thinkers.

Vishnu and his ten avatars (Dashavatara), including the Buddha.

The Puranic interpretation is the one I find odd. Why would the gods, who are supposedly interested in the truth, go out of their way to deliberately deceive humans, let alone demons, for any reason? How’s it any different from how, in Christian tradition, God apparently lets Satan and his demons “mislead” his own creation? In modern Hindu lore, the gods (or devas) chose the path of truth and their enemies (the asuras) supposedly chose falsehood (in reality it’s about Hindu ideas of spirituality versus materialism), and to me it often just seems like a worthless conflict. Think about it: although there are sometimes genuinely evil deeds punished by gods, usually it’s just either the gods trying to maintain hegemony over the world under the guise of preserving righteousness and the balance, or a mere morality tale of Hindu/Brahmanist social and spiritual ideas defeating materialism and godlessness.

This is also why I barely take Hindu mythology seriously or with the level of religious devotion that may or may not be accidentally implied, and merely use or venerate Hindu gods as a pagan (while not actually worshipping them or providing externality to their existence) but not their mythologies, because in Hindu mythology the gods are mainly a vehicle for both a morality tale and a concept of an external god, since they are merely forms of God in Hindu tradition.

Why the Trimurti is kinda unnecessary

Anyone with a basic knowledge of Hinduism knows that in Hinduism there is a trinity of gods presiding over the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe. Brahma for creation, Vishnu for preservation, and Shiva for destruction. I can’t but think there’s something rather odd about the concept.

Think about it, the forces of creation, destruction, and preservation are divided into three gods, but this is somewhat pointless because Shiva’s destruction is also said to lead to creation, so invariably Shiva is a creator and destroyer in one. Not to mention, Brahma doesn’t have that great a role in Hindu mythology after creation, beyond granting boons to various characters in Hindu texts. As far preservation, Vishnu isn’t even the only one preserving the universe or saving the world from evil demons. Shiva, Durga, and other gods do by and large the same thing (maybe in different ways though), and Vishnu has an avatar called Kalki who is said to bring on the end of the world, while in the same lore Shiva is the destroyer (though I do consider the Kalki story mere end times lore).

The Hindu faith itself sees creation and destruction as two sides of the same coin, or dual facets of the same force, so coupled with Shiva’s creative role, why even have the Trimurti? Of course, I’m not going to stop others from venerating their trinities, it just means I won’t be making use of the Hindu trinity.

Musings on the goddess Kali

For a few weeks now I’ve been thinking about the Hindu goddess Kali. How her skin captures light and darkness at once, how her violent dance encapsulates creation and destruction and life and death at once, and how here raging passion is the passion of the earth, and the universe.

Since Kali is a manifestation of Durga, and Durga is a manifestation of Parvati, and Parvati is Shakti, then Kali is Shakti, and she is a representation of the power of Shakti. And Shiva is the male Shakti, Shiva and Shakti are male and female reflections of each other and the same primal force. Thus, the dance of Shiva is also the dance of Kali, and the motion of the primal force.

I can’t help but imagine Kali burning down the churches of the Abrahamic faiths.

Detachment from the Hindu philosophy

I’ve been doing some research and some thinking, and I am realizing that there isn’t any hope for me and Hindu philosophy. I have had trouble reconciling Hinduism with individualism, and I think the reason for this is because individualism is simply not present in Hindu philosophy.

The first reason for this is because of the obvious values of devotion to God and self-abnegation or self-sacrifice. Individualistic philosophies place emphasis on the individual, and thus the self. Hindu philosophy, meanwhile, values the surrender of the self to God, the abandoning of desire and want, and the cessation of the self and the idea of the individual, and Hindu rishis often describe individualism as a path that leads nowhere, thus marking what is actually anti-individualism. I find that Hinduism’s emphasis on this idea of self-surrender inescapable, as is their emphasis on God, and I can’t find any hope of bringing individualism into it.

Then you have the concept of Dharma. If Hinduism is not a religion, then it is a way of life based on this concept of Dharma, which is about duty (which I have traditionally seen as an artificial moral obligation imposed by others), drawing close to the family and family traditions, and thus family values (which I see as little more than social conservatism), and sacrifice. Again, I find this easily contradicts the spirit of individualism, since individualism is about you, yourself, and your freedom to walk your own path, as opposed to following society, thus it goes against any communal attitudes. I don’t follow the traditions of my family, I follow what I believe and for myself.

The fact is, individualism isn’t very big in Indian philosophy, or that matter many Eastern societies. In the West, we are quite familiar with individualism as a philosophy which values the individual as free to walk his own path (though this is not to say Western society has always valued the individual, or even honestly values the individual today), but many Eastern societies such as India and China valued family and clan more than the individual (China in particular traditionally values social harmony over the individual). In Indian society, there was much importance given to family and the group, only rarely did the individual take centre stage.

I still love Hindu mythology, lore, symbols, gods, and art, and still adore the force known to their culture as Shakti (which I find is related to the horned force, or the raw primal force, or Chaos), but I cannot subscribe to the Hindu philosophy and I cannot identify as Hindu. Ultimately I am a Satanist, and a pagan, because that is where my beliefs and philosophy lie, all I can do is venerate Hindu gods my own way, or in a much more pagan sense. And I like to think I still have a connection to the lore but not the philosophy. Although, I still have some interest in Tantra, and I have no major beef with Carvaka, despite its atheism and materialism (which I find to be rather dull especially for Indian philosophy).

Of course, it could be possible that those who wish to surrender themselves to a higher force simply have the wrong idea of how to approach the force of Shakti, as a dear friend of mine tells me.