Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What's this?

How many of you can hear this? How old are you? (Link from this blog.)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Coorma Avatar revisited

Like I pointed out in my previous post, it is the symbolism that makes the story of the Coorma avatar compelling to read. Of course you may not agree with the message passed on by the story, but that is your problem.

The most comprehensive symbolism of this story was found here, and I shall unabashedly use its contents in this post.

The story states that to obtain the Amrita, the ocean of milk has to be churned. Three symbolisms already in the first line. Amrita, the nectar of immortality, is the final enlightenment achieved by a practising student. It is the true self. The ocean of milk is the pure (white as milk) consciousness that is present within us, which is the complete truth, and is not contaminated by any other. The true self thus resides in the ocean of pure consciousness (#

). And the act of churning is the churning that goes on within our minds as we come to terms with the reality. Since the true notion of reality is a huge change of paradigm from the world we think is real, the mind cannot come to terms with it immediately, and the process of this acceptance is the churning. It is unavoidable and necessary. The process of churning itself has a simpler meaning. The story states it as a pull between the Devas and asuras alternately, while it really does mean the pull of the good and the bad which keeps alternating, which is really what leads to the confusion. But like I said, its necessary to achieve progress, it makes you step back and analyze the situation more calmly.

According to the yogic school of thought, the kundalini energy flows up the spinal column, and one must learn to harness this energy for spiritual progress. The Mandara mountain represents the spinal column, and Vasuki, the king of serpants, represents the kundalini, or serpant like energy. As for the first act of asking the Devas to hold the tail of Vasuki, we saw how it was actually a blessing in disguise. The symbolism here is that at times we must be humble enough to perform tasks that seem to be beneath our dignity. It may not be attractive, but it certainly is more beneficial than doing the likeable thing over the long run. Long term benefits over short term gains.

As soon as the churning begins, the mountain sinks beneath the water surface, which is indicative of how any attempt at spiritual progress will falter without a firm foundation. Vishnu incarnating as a tortoise represents the vital breath that provides the foundation for spiritual progress. The Halahala poison that first emerges from the sea is the pain of the paradigm shift, the pain of severe self-introspection. The student certainly is not mature enough to deal with it. Shiva, the greatest yogi known to mankind, is the guru who helps the student in such matters. His swallowing of the poison is indicative of the guru's efforts at placating the student by making the emotional disturbances go away, not permanantly, but atleast upto a point where the student matures enough to handle them. This is why the poison is stuck in Shiva's throat, the part of the body where speech emanates from.

After Halahala, the Goddess of intoxication comes out. This is the intoxication of passing through the first step. If you cannot control yourself, you yield yourself forever to this intoxication and never go further. Similarly, the other gifts are symbolic of the various siddhis attained by the seeker. If the seeker gets attached to such gifts and begins revelling in them, he will never get the ultimate prize.

Lakshmi, the Goddess of fortune chooses Vishnu (symbolic of the pure self) to be her own. The set of poisons that have to be endured before this happens, however, is equivalent to another stage of paradigm shift, though not as disturbing as the first one, since most of the work has already been done in this regard. But this shift has to be completed nevertheless. It is another stage of self-introspection, which is still somewhat difficult to deal with, but if the seeker comes out of it alright, fortune is on his side.

Dhanvantari, the physician (to be) of the Devas is the permanant good health (of the soul, not the body) attained after the final enlightenent. Fittingly, she carries the Amrita with her. Even at this stage, the bad can overcome the good and the entire journey would have been fruitless. This is shown by the asuras running off with the Amrita. How many times have we seen a great feat almost completed, but was not because the protoganists choked at the end? The presence of Mohini is the final distraction in this great feat. She can single-handedly trip you down if you have negative tendencies. The asuras cannot look at reason when they are infatuated, and are never able to get out of the grip of Mohini's charm. The Devas, in contrast, trust the Lord, and get the Amrita at the end. If you let the dark side become the dominant side, you end up much like the asuras did, deprived of the nectar. If you maintain control of your self like the Devas did, you are rewarded with immortality, and you can easily supress the negative tendancies that are present within you.

The final bit about Rahu attempting to get some of the Amrita is the statement that a wee bit of the negative tendencies lingers on. It is very easily controlled, and any attempt by it to enforce its superiority will soon fade out. From this new viewpoint, the story of the Coorma avatar is not just a story of the universe with a battle between the Devas and asuras, but a story about the self, about the process of enlightenment, about the pull of the good and bad sides. The moral is that letting the good flow throughout has its own rewards, and in fact, it brings about the ultimate reward - immortality.

# A digression:
The fact that our true self resides in pure consciousness is also represented in the depiction of Vishnu. Vishnu is always shown residing in the ocean of milk, resting on Anantha Sesha. Vishnu is the true self, residing in the ocean of pure consciousness, and his resting on Anantha Sesha is representative of the fact that you know your true self by gaining mastery over the kundalini energy.

Jaya and Vijaya are the gatekeepers of Vaikunta, Vishnu's abode, and due to a curse, they incarnated thrice each as evil beings - Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and finally as Shishupala and Dantavakra. Their presence as the gatekeepers of Vaikunta is again symbolic of the fact that to get to the pure, calm self, you have to pass through chaos. Sort of like a highly compressed version of the Coorma avatar, but with the same essence.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Coorma Avatar

After the Pralaya, or deluge, the Devas were stuck with misfortune. Sage Durvasa had presented Indra with Santanaka, the garland that never fades. Indra, however, ignored it and incurred the wrath of the asetic. Durvasa cursed the Devas to lose their strength. This severely hampered the Devas in their never ending war against the asuras. Of course, the Devas knew the trick of Sanjivani - the art of bringing the dead back to life - but since they had learnt this trick from the asuras in the first place (using trickery, of course!), it was not any great advantage. Something else was required. Brihaspati, the guru of the Devas, went to Vishnu requesting his help. Vishnu suggested that the Devas churn the ocean of milk for Amrita, or the nectar of immortality. But the problem here was that the Devas could not do it alone. The Devas could do it if the asuras helped them, but that raised the potential problem of the asuras not giving the Devas any of the Amrita once it had been churned out. However, since Vishnu assured the Devas that he prevent that from happening, the Devas duly enlisted the help of the asuras. The asuras were skeptical, that being their very nature, but overcome by greed, they agreed to help, confident that if push came to shove, they could easily defeat the Devas in a battle.

The mightly mountain Mandara was enlisted as the churning rod, while Vasuki, the king of serpants, agreed to become the rope. Vishnu, being the only God who could match the asuras cunning, asked the asuras to hold the hood of Vasuki while churning, so that it would befit their stature. The asuras gleefully agreed. But this was sheer trickery, since Vasuki frequently let out fumes that weakened the asuras. The Devas were left to hold the tail end of Vasuki, and the churning duly began. But since Mandara did not have any support, it started sinking into the ocean. Realizing the problem, Vishnu quickly incarnated as a tortoise - the Coorma avatar - and supported the Mandara mountain on His back. With the support provided, the churning was resumed.

The first thing to emerge from the churning was Halahala, or Kalakuta - the worst poison in the universe. This immediately created a panic among the Devas and asuras, and they began to choke on the poison. It required Shiva to intervene and swallow the poison. However, Parvati held his throat and stopped the poison from going into his body. This made Shiva blue from the throat up, and hence he has also been referred to as Neelakanta from then on.

As the churning continued, more celestial objects emerged from the ocean. Suri (the Goddess of wine and intoxication, who spread all over the world), Surabi (the celestial cow, which the sages took for their religious rites), Parijatha (the divine wish fulfilling tree that went to heaven), the Apsaras (celestial nymphs), Chandra (the Moon), Kaustubha (the precious gem), Ucchaishravas (the divine horse), Airavata (the four-tusked elephant), Panchajaya (the conch), Sharanga (the invincible bow).

After this, another set of poisons emerged, but none were of the same intensity as Halahala. The snakes took them for their own. And then suddenly, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune, emerged on a lotus blossom, wearing a lotus garland and holding a lotus in her hand, and smiling radiantly. She immediately selected Vishnu and resided on His chest.

Finally, Dhanvantari, the physician of the Devas, emerged, holding the pot of Amrita in her hand. The asuras quickly snatched the nectar from her hand before the Devas could react and were rejoicing over their prize, when the Devas appealed to Vishnu to intervene. Vishnu assumed his dual form of Mohini, the female form of such immense beauty that could cause even Shiva to lose control of his senses. She offered to distribute the amrita evenly between the Devas and asuras.

Mohini, being none other than Vishnu, had the same cunning as Him, and served the Amrita to the Devas first, and served intoxicants to the asuras by a sleight of hand. But the asuras soon realized what had happened and quickly geared up for a fight. The Devas, however, were already immortal and easily vanquished the asuras. One of the asuras, Rahu, was smarter than the rest, and assumed the form of a serpent and began licking the last few drops of the Amrita. The Sun and Moon Gods saw this and informed Vishnu, who quickly cut off the head of Rahu before the nectar could pass through his throat. The head, however, remained immortal and Rahu periodically swallows the Sun and Moon in revenge, but since his throat is open-ended, they come out soon from the other end.

Well, so thats that for the story of the Coorma avatar. This is the story, as narrated with an eye only on the superficial details. This doesn't even begin to describe the underlined deeper meaning. Almost all Hindu texts are written in this manner - on the surface is a story that makes for nice reading, is often taken only literally, and occasionally as true. But every one of these stories has a deeper meaning that goes beyond the superficial nature of the story. Every tiny detail has been written not with an eye for aesthetic sense, but with deep wisdom. A study of this wisdom in the texts would probably take many lifetimes (given that the body of Hindu scriptures is really vast).

The symbolism of the Coorma avatar is the best example of symbolism that I have found in my limited reading (and probably the most significant), and this is described in the next post. I'll explain the symbolism as best as I know, and apologise for errors in advance.

Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup Fever

Life is at a standstill now. As the Pink Floyd song goes, I'm Comfortably Numb. I neither know nor care whats going on around me. No drug can produce the high that I am experiencing currently. Alright, maybe I'm taking it a bit too far, but you get the drift. Its the world cup fever.

I expected to be in the minority, here in the US, since no one really cares about soccer. Well, as it turned out, I was wrong, a lot more people are interested in (surprise) football than I thought would be. Suddenly, everyone here is a keen fan of football, and has been watching the premiership and champions league games for years! Well, I'll be ... I never knew!!

Life couldn't get any better - teach in the morning, catch the two later games of the day, and then go on to play cricket or football. As for the world cup itself, the games have been better than the last world cup. England have confirmed my evaluation of them - boring, uninspiring, and the complete anti-thesis of football. Even Germany, who I think play a mechanical brand of football have been more exciting to watch, their game against Poland being a point in case. Teams such as Holland and Portugal do not look like they will win the world cup. Though they have the talent, their play in the final third has not been good, their players take too much time on the ball, often losing the opportunity to pass to another player well placed to take a shot. It reeks of selfishness to a certain extent. Neither France nor Italy have shown any imagination in their approach. They will not win it either. The best team among the European nations has been the Czech Republic. They look like a team whose players understand each other, and they represent Europe's best chance of winning the world cup. I'm still doubtful of Spain's chances because of their reputation as perennial under achievers.

Argentina, on the other hand, has played some excellent football. They warmed up nicely against Ivory Coast with a 2-1 win, a game where they were just not stretched, and against Serbia and Montenegro, they cranked it up a notch to play some of the most exciting football I've seen so far. The players seemed to be playing on radar, instinctively knowing where the others are. Just watch the second goal to see what I mean. Six one touch passes polished off by Cambiasso! They were everything that England was not! I'm only fearful that they might become a bit complacent after such a performance. Of course, Argentina is the team I support, and I really do want them to win the world cup.

And finally, we have Brazil. No matter how awful their pre-world cup form, they have always been among the contenders. Their first game was very unlike the Brazil that we know, but I'm sure they'll come good as the tournament goes on. Brazil really are larger than life, with most fans readily supporting Brazil as long as they are not the opposition. I was watching the game wearing a Brazilian jersey, and as I was walking back home from the world cup, atleast four different people (all Americans) called out from their vehicles and their homes, yelling "Go Brazil!" I responded with the typical Brazilian way of acknowledgement - a thumbs up sign, followed by a wink! Most probably do not understand all the nuances of the game, but the fact that they all think Brazil is the best team in the world tells us something about their reputation. No fan of football can afford to not like Brazil. They really are larger than life.

The only grouse that I have is the commentary that is tailored to teach the Americans the basics of football, but it gets irritating for those who follow the game regularly. To make it worse, every five minutes, the commentators break into how USA faces a lot of expectations, and who their next opponents are, and how they should play, forgetting that there is another game going on at the moment! Its but a small price to pay for watching the entire world cup!

Update: The much talked about second goal of Argentina against Serbia and Montenegro (commentary in Spanish, with the typical South American style of going goooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaal after the goal)!