Mythological Spotlight #2: Shukracharya

 

Shukracharya as depicted by Pieter Weltevrede 

Description

In Indian mythology, Shukracharya is the guru and preceptor of the Asuras (the antigods of Hindu myth) and one of the Navagrahas of Hindu astrology. The Navagrahas are a group of deities associated with the planets, the Sun and Moon, and the north and south lunar nodes, and Shukracarya was the deity associated with the planet Venus, which is sometimes believed to be the most benevolent astrological influence. As the lord of the planet Venus, he was associated with pleasure, romance, wealth,  jewellry, reproduction, comfort, passion, art, music, dance, love, and the spring season, and he presides over Fridays. Shukracharya also goes by the name of Asuracharya, due to him being the guru of the Asuras. Shukracharya also seems to be a devotee of the deity Shiva, and by performing penances or austerities to Shiva he gained the power of the Sanjivani Mantra, a magical formula capable of resurrecting the dead. Shukracharya is described as handsome, as being of agreeable countenance, and as being proud of his knowledge and spiritual power, but also as having a hatred for the devas and the deity Vishnu, and as the guru of the Asuras he is at odds with a being known as Brihaspati, the guru of the devas associated with the planet Jupiter.

History

Shukracharya was said to have been the son of Bhrigu, who was one of the seven great sages or Saptarishi and is credited with being the father of Indian astrology. At some point in his life he went on to study the Vedas under a sage named Angirasa, but was repulsed by what he saw as favoritism towards Brihaspati, who happened to be one of his sons, and decided to study under a sage named Gautama (not to be confused with Siddhartha Gautama) instead. After the time in which Shukracharya learned the Sanjivani Mantra, Brihaspati become the guru of the Devas. Due to Shukracarya’s hatred of the devas, and his hatred of Vishnu (due to the latter’s killing of Shukracharya’s mother), he become the guru of the Asuras. In this capacity, Shukracharya would use the power of the Sanjivani Mantra to revive the armies of the Asuras. The Devas would kill the Asuras, but Shukracharya would revive them.

Shukracharya would come to be the advisor of many Asura kings, including Mahabali, Jalandhara, and Vishiparva. When Vishnu incarnates as Vamana in the story of Mahabali, Shukracharya instantly recognizes Vamana as Vishnu and tries to warn Mahabali about Vamana, but Mahabali did not listen and chose to grant Vamana’s request, leading to him being crushed by Vamana when he becomes gigantic in size. Shukracharya is also the one who appoints Jalandhara as king of the Asuras after seeing his power, and tells Jalandhara of how Vishnu deceived the Asuras out of their right to some gems that were churned out of the ocean, inspiring him to go to war with the devas.

The Devas were, naturally, feeling threatened by Shukracharya’s knowledge and power, particularly his power to resurrect the dead. After pressured their guru Brihaspati to come up with a way to resurrect their armies, but Brihaspati told them that he did not know any formula that could do this. Brihapati’s son, Kacha, offered to go to Shukracharya in order to learn the art of resurrection and the Devas allowed him to do so. Shukracharya could not send Kacha away for seeking to learn the Sanjivani Mantra, so he accepted him as his disciple and allowed him to stay in his ashram, and in return Kacha served Shukracharya with all his heart. However, over time, the Asuras knew of Kacha and became suspicious, sensing that Kacha was sent from the Devas so that they could learn the Sanjivani Mantra and resurrect their armies in battle. So they killed Kacha, but Shukracharya figured out this had happened and resurrected him, and every time Kacha was killed he would be resurrected. After six attempts, the Asuras killed Kacha again, this time powdering his bones and mixing it in Shukracharya’s favorite drink (somarasa), and so when Shukracharya drank it he unwittingly ingested the mortal remains of Kacha. Eventually, Shukracharya realized what had happened, and initially lamented that he could not resurrect him this time. But his daughter Devayani, who had fallen in love with Kacha, persisted, and eventually he chanted the Sanjivani Mantra and sprinkled water on his body. Kacha was resurrected, but he tore out of Shukracharya’s stomach in order to come back to life. Shukracharya died, but since Kacha had learned the Sanjivani Mantra, he was able to revive Shukracharya. Having completed his studies, and having become frustrated with the Asuras killing him constantly, he requested that Shukracharya allow him to leave, which he did. Kacha was now able to teach the Sanjivani Mantra to the devas, but he could not use it himself due to being cursed by Devayani for rejecting her offer of marriage.

There’s not much more for me to say other than there are some who believe that Shukracharya is the same as Allah, the supreme being of Islamic belief, but that seems like it’s basically the same as saying Freemasonry is the same thing as Baal worship, and there’s no evidence of any link between Shukracharya and Allah. Also, the people who make the claim also try to point out that the mythological Asuras are in fact referring to Muslims. You don’t need me to tell you that that’s down right nutty.

Conclusion

Shukracharya seems like an interesting character, and he seems to have been very powerful and influential among the Asuras. That he was able to see through Vishnu’s tricks is pretty telling with regards to how intelligent he must have been. I find it very interesting that a being associated with love and benefic influences is also a being intensely motivated by his hatred toward Vishnu and the devas, and he seems to have been happy to impart his knowledge to those who seek it in earnest, even when it was someone who was helping the enemy (though he may not have known that). It’s also funny that such a being was associated with Venus. I’m not saying Shukracharya was the Indian equivalent of Lucifer, but there’s a lot about Shukracharya that I think can be related to Lucifer, if perhaps superficially. All-in-all, I think there’s a lot about him to be interested in.

What the fuck is happening in India?

You won’t believe what I’ve heard of recently out of India. In a village in the Baghpat district of India, a girl named Meenakshi and her younger sister have been “sentenced” to rape by an all-male council who seems to be operating outside of India’s legal system. They’ve ordered that the girls be raped, their faces blackened, and that they be paraded naked, apparently as “punishment for their brother eloping with a married woman from a higher caste, and the two girls in question are fleeing the village and pleading for protection from India’s Supreme Court.

There’s absolutely everything wrong with what’s going on here. The most obvious of these things is that sexual violence is apparently something people use to punish people, which no civilized or well-ordered social system would ever allow. The fact that it’s an all-male council ordering this also clearly reeks of misogyny. Then there’s the fact the council claims it is enforcing an “eye-for-an-eye form of justice”, which seems wrong to me for at least two reasons: (1) the principle of lex talionis (eye for an eye justice) doesn’t apply if you’re “punishing” someone who didn’t commit a crime instead of someone who did commit the crime, and most crucially (2) why the fuck is adultery considered a criminal offence, let alone one that can be punished with the sexual violence the council describes? But what’s really striking is that these village councils are operating completely outside the legal authority of the Indian government, which would make their rulings entirely extrajudicial in nature. According to Amnesty International, who are running a petition in order to ensure that the girls are protected, there are a number of village councils (referred to as Khat Panchyats) across India that are unelected and operate outside of India’s legal system, and are often run by older men from dominant castes who prescribe rules for social behavior and interaction. India’s Supreme Court condemns these councils as “kangaroo courts” and their rulings are deemed illegal, but apparently that doesn’t mean much because these councils continue to operate in rural areas of India and continue to carry out their decisions outside the legal authority of India’s government, and to me this means that India’s government is more powerless to do anything about these councils than it should be.

An Indian cartoon illustrating pretty much what is going in parts of India.

This is something that can’t be allowed to continue, and the worst thing about it is this not the only time something like this has happened in India. In January of last year, a village tribunal in West Bengal decreed that a 20-year old woman be sexually assaulted by 12 people as “punishment” for falling in love with a man from outside of the community and then failing pay a fine of 50,000 rupees imposed by the village council. Four years earlier, in the same area, village elders ordered a young woman to strip naked and walk before large crowds for having relations with a man from a different caste. In July that same year, a village from the state of Jharkhand ordered the rape of a 14-year old girl after her brother was accused of assaulting a married woman. As a matter of fact, sexual violence in general is a serious problem in India, one that gained major exposure after an incident in 2012 where a young girl was gang-raped and left to die in Dehli, and unfortunately one that India’s government has been accused of having a poor track record of dealing with. Despite promising to crack down on rape and sexual violence and despite strengthening rape laws, the Indian government hasn’t done a lot to prevent women from having to fear for their lives, especially in rural villages where the government doesn’t seem to be doing a lot about the village councils who operate outside the legal authority of the government. In the case of the latter, the problem is that these councils operate on old forms of tradition that view women not as individuals, but as representations of the “honor” of a man or a community, a horrible view that seems to have gone unchanged in rural parts of India.

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 Gandhi is overrated

Those who have read my blog probably know me for rejecting and criticising the figures that everyone else takes up as their saints or social gods. Mother Teresa, The Dalai Lama,  even Jesus (assuming he physically existed). There’s also, among more recent figures, Pope Francis. Gandhi is no exception, for he is another figure who has been granted a halo by a society that seeks someone to say the things the masses want to hear.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is widely known for being a saint who championed non-violent resistance and his notorious hunger strikes and stern rejection of his own desires. He certainly fought against British colonial rule, but that alone will not make him a saint.

I’ve always seen him as nothing more than somebody with an artificial halo who is famous because he tells our people what they want to hear, on top being just another ascetic. But that’s the least of my problems with his image.

In South Africa, where he began a career as an attorney, he published articles supporting racial segregation, clearly indicative of him as a racist figure.  And he actually shared a bed with his two nieces, naked, supposedly in order to test his ability to resist the temptations of the material world.

Also, he was a hypocrite. For someone who advocated non-violence and pacifism, and for someone who opposed colonialism, Gandhi in 1918 agreed to actively recruit the people of India to fight during World War I, though in his defence he stated that he wouldn’t personally kill anyone and that he probably did it to for the cause of Indian independence. Even then though, while I should respect anyone’s willingness to fight for anything, in Gandhi’s case it just seems hypocritical.

Honestly though, my main problem with Gandhi is that, whether he intended it or not, he became a cult, and after he died he became even more of a cult for the masses who just seem to worship him. Everyone seems to think he changed the world, but he didn’t. In my opinion, all he did was sell peaceful protest to the world and preach pacifism, which we are now kinda high on. But that’s it. He didn’t do anything. All you see is world leaders spouting crap.

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.

The truth about the caste system

When talking about Hinduism and Hindu beliefs, people often mention the caste system, and often associate and lump the caste system in with Hinduism, as though it was actually religiously mandated. In reality, this is far from the truth.

The Indian caste system is actually a social idea, mandated by Indian society, not religion. It was never sanctioned by Hindu texts, despite what some in the West may believe. While Hindu texts do mention a system of social stratification that divides people based on class, work, and other things, it is merely described, not advocated or mandated. Some even think the caste system is an invention of the British colonialists, but this is debatable, and some question the idea as little more than revisionist history.

Not only is the caste system a societal creation rather than divine or religious mandate, and not associated with Hinduism, it’s also not even unique to India to begin with. Lots of societies had social stratification back then, and sadly still do today. In the Indian subcontinent alone, the idea of a caste system is also practiced by small groups of Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, though keep in mind I do mean small groups.

The idea of caste being religiously or spiritually mandated probably comes from a major misunderstanding on the part of Westerners, particularly those who have confused social mandates with religious ideas.