Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A mythic view of what drives men to war

Sometimes it so happens in this material world that great personalities, even great devotees, can also be controlled by the asuras.

- Srimad-Bhagavatam 7:4:14

Myth, it's been said, is what never happened but is going on all the time. In he collective dreams of humanity, an ancient myth may cast light on the forces at work behind the surface of events in our world. The great Hindu epic known as the Mahabharata, supposedly dictated by the seer Vyasa to the scribe Ganapati in the time when gods and humans were in daily communication, relates the actions of humans to forces at play in the larger reality. Its account of how a race of Asuras (demonic entities) instigated a war makes compelling and disturbing reading today.

A Danava Plan to Possess Human War Leaders

In Vedic literature, the Danavas are a race of Asuras engaged in constant warfare with the gods, and forever interfering in the affairs of humans. They are sometimes identified with pre-Aryan peoples of the subcontinent. In the Vedas, they defeat the gods and the gods turn to great rishis – celestial seers – to “burn” their armies and consign them to an underworld beneath the oceans.
    In the Mahabharata the account of the abduction of King Duryodhana reveals certain modes of inhuman interference in human conflicts. Duryodhana, mortified that he was freed from captivity (among the Gandharvas) by his mortal enemy Arjuna, has decided to fast until death. This does not suit the agenda of the Danavas, who want to foment war between rival dynasties.
    By chanting magic words (mantras) the Danavas manifest a demonic female, known as a Kriya. She is described as “a wondrous woman with a gaping mouth”. She goes to Duryodhana, enchants him, and then carries him to the netherworld by means of “mystical travel”, for which the Sanskrit terms are mano-java (in which the body is transferred by mental action, moving on “the wind of the mind”) and vihayasa, which involves the ability to move bodies or objects through matter.
    Among the Danavas, the king is informed that his birth and his unusual powers were arranged by them as part of their plan for the world. He can’t take himself out of the game, because it is their game. The Danavas explain that Duryodhana and his clan will triumph in the coming battle with the Pandus because their warriors will be possessed by demons and given demonic strength:

The other Asuras will take possession of Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and the others; and possessed by them they will fight your enemies ruthlessly. When they engage in battle, best of the Kurus, they will give no quarter to either sons or brothers, parents or relatives, students or kinsmen, the young or the old. 

    Pitiless, possessed by the Danavas, their inner souls overwhelmed, they will battle their relations and cast all love far off. Gleefully, their minds darkened, the tiger-like men, befuddled with ignorance by a fate set by the Ordainer, will say to one another that – ‘ you will not escape from me with your life! ‘ Standing firm in their manly might in the unleashing of manifold weapons, best of the Kurus, they will boastfully perpetrate a holocaust.’

- J.A.B. van Buitenen (trans) The Mahabharata Books 2 &3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975) p.692.

Duryodhana is now returned by Kriya to the place from which he was taken. After she leaves, he decides it was all a dream. He is left with the thought: “I shall vanquish the Pandus in battle.” The Danavas have instigated a war.

It would be comforting to dismiss this report as fantasy from demon-haunted primitives, but the transactions here do not seem remote from the recent history of warfare and terror.

Afterword: One people’s gods may be another people’s demons. The Danavas take their name from a feminine entity known as Danu. So do the Tuatha de Danaan, “The People of Danu”, in Ireland. Danu is the mother of demons in India, but in Ireland she is the great goddess

Graphic: Duryodhana ready for war


Justin Patrick Moore said...

This post brings up an idea I come back to from time to time, namely that gods, with capital or lower case "g's", are local. Now I suppose many have gone global. It makes me wonder if these various forms are just masks that these multidimensional entities put on. The example you gave at the end seems to suggest that these may be two forms of a being who goes by the same name. Perhaps, in addition to having ambassadors between our physical political functionaries, we need ambassadors between the gods. These could be people of an ecumenical nature trained in the arts of conscious dreaming. Again, this ties in thematically with a recent idea my brain has been chewing on, how we need speakers for the earth, and those speakers would have to be "localized" so they can get to know a place intimately. I don't claim this ideas as original to me, just what I've been engaged in.

Robert Moss said...

"Ambassadors between gods" - an interesting assignment for conscious dreamers, Justin!

One of the interesting things about dreaming is that it introduces us to mythic realms and cross-cultural traditions that it is timely for us to explore and remember.

Worldbridger said...

I am reading a book at the moment called The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep and I was impressed by the following words, that brought to mind the recent, astonishingly callous performance of Tony Blair at the British inquiry into the Iraq war.

"Demi-god Realm

Pride is the principal affliction of the demi-gods. Pride is a feeling connected to accomplishment and is often territorial. One cause of war is the pride of individuals and nations that believe they have the solution to other people's problems."

Does that not sound appropriate when describing the actions of Blair and Bush? The two demi-gods of our recent past.

The author goes on to say:

"The demi-gods enjoy pleasure and abundance but they tend toward envy and wrath. They continually fight with one another, but their greatest suffering occurs when they declare war on the gods, who enjoy even greater abundance than the demi-gods. The gods are more powerful and very difficult to kill. They always win the wars, and the demi-gods suffer the emotional devastation of wounded pride and envy in which they feel diminished and which, in turn drives them into futile wars again and again."

fran said...

This is a very strong idea, Robert, and it brought back a vivid experience I had of the real world of politics and the mythic realm of story becoming congruent. Immediately following the US presidential election of 2004 I was driving to work one day listening to a recording of Greek myths, and I had the sickening feeling that the story of King Minos was being played out in the election, the White Bull had been given to the winner to sacrifice for the good of all, but decided that the gift was too valuable to return to Poseidon. I had a clear vision of how it was going to play out with the new Minotaur slaying the children who were to be sacrificed. It literally made me so sick that I was in bed for nearly four days. There's power there, and danger, I suppose.

Robert Moss said...

What an interesting and disturbing vision, Fran. As if you were seeing into an "understory" behind the surface events of our world.

Lou Hagood said...

Thanks, Robert, for your usual mythic vision. I find the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna's "sermon" to Arjuna,convincing him to engage in the battle to end mankind, very troubling. Any insights?

Robert Moss said...

Ah, but surely that is not the nature of the battle described in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the greatest sacred texts, which counsels us to live in the world - and fight when fighting is necessary - without ever losing our sense of right and our connection with divine purpose. Remember that the hero Arjuna, offered the choice of Krishna's vast armies, or Krisha alone to serve as his charioteer, has chosen Krishna. Scorning worldly might, he puts the chariot of his soul in right hands. Your question leads me to suggest that both of us should read the Gita again (it's impossible to read it too many times, in my opinion) and see how it speaks to us in the midst of the issues around us today.