I am saddened sometimes, to feel such for a God whose worship is dying out.
Without a teacher in the Vedas or fellow worshippers to guide me on this path, I pray, chant, and research the best that I can. I read anything I can find which mentions Indra in any way, and I take from any text what lessons I may.
From the story I posted earlier, here are some thoughts, and why this tale is dear to me.
Jyotiṣa, or Vedic astrology, is the microcosm for our macrocosm; in other words, the movements of stars and heavenly forms illustrate certain eternal truths, as well as give indications for the workings of subtle universal energies. It doesn’t carry with it an absolute command to obey, but rather, conveys wisdom and clarity to those who choose to listen.
The Sun and the Moon are vital to the astrological chart in many ways, and here we see them named: Indra, Vṛtra. The bright, flaming Sun devours the Moon, which may not be seen anywhere on Amāvasyā night. Once a month, Indra’s defeat of Vṛtra, the central myth of Ṛgveda, re-enacts itself in the night sky. It seems a promise that Lord always fights for us, and a reminder also that darkness and light are ever-shifting, never absolute.
Why does Indra conceal himself at the beginning of this tale? “Fear” and “jaundice” seem strange explanations, and I wonder if these terms are awkward English translations for a better Sanskrit term. (The word “hysteria,” to give one English example, conveys both tremendous agitation and great fear but may be used to signify either.) There is a Ṛgvedic hymn (I.32.14) that asks of Indra, What avenger of the dragon did you see, O Indra, when fear came into the your heart, the heart of the one who slew the dragon, when you crossed nine and ninety streams; like a startled eagle crossed through the cloudy regions? If it is indeed fear that is referenced here, what would cause the pure-souled one to fear?
Let us, for the sake of one interpretation, take Aurobindo’s and Frawley’s interpretations of the Vedic gods and understand Indra this way: that Indra represents the Cosmic or Universal Man, the ultimate awakened Seer, that which all mortal beings long to become.
Now when I consider Indra, the Cosmic Man, the Lord of Battle, withdrawing in panic, it seems to me the same fear that a person on the verge of spiritual awakening feels, when suddenly sensing the edge of a great precipice, the very cusp of complete transformation or realisation. He trembles before the enormity of it all, fears that he cannot take that final leap, and clings to the familiar. But the seeker’s greatest ally remains, which is the unquenchable spiritual Fire, the pure Flame of aspiration and ascension that burns when all else is extinguished. On this darkest night, when the sorely-tested one retreats, his yearning to know and to rise up does not leave him. And in this way, he has already gained spiritual victory and self-dominion: he has passed his most difficult trial without giving up. But Indra does not yet realise, cannot yet grasp this victory. So he flees, and dwells with Agni this night.
This sānnāyya that is offered to him consists of three parts, as we saw in the tale. We know – again, from the wonderful modern Sages I referenced above – that Soma is bliss and ecstasy, the pure and glorious union with God, the very Soul of awakened Man who has transcended mortality.
But why does Soma – which is described so many times in the Vedas as being poured into Indra’s very form, as inspiring, invigorating, and nourishing him – need to be mixed with two kinds of milk, or suddenly need to be made “agreeable,” to the one who drank three lakes of it before the fight with Vṛtra?
The Indra that defeats Vṛtra at Amāvasyā is not the same being that shone with such bright power at Pūrṇimā. Soma, the Moon’s living force, was poured into him copiously before the fight with Vṛtra. While the enemy has been vanquished, the Lord has placed all of this power into the deed, uncovered the darkness and reached for spiritual illumination with all of his might. Literally, Soma falls to earth when Indra is drained of strength; what remains when bliss departs is hollowness and emptiness; what remains when inner light fades is loss and fear. Just as a person emerging from long fasting cannot digest a rich first meal, one suffering fear, or “jaundice,” cannot partake of Soma.
Indra is praised in Ṛgveda as Govid, which may mean “finder of the cows,” but also signifies “finder of the light.” (This is the epithet with which he later named Kṛṣṇa, as Govinda.) The milk of the sublime heavenly cow is the right flow and energy of the universe, hence that Cow is wealth and sanctity: the one who “drinks her milk” is the one who gains everything by surrendering to and understanding God. So Indra is given sour milk, the former milk from the early morning, the light that has come before. And he is given new milk, the present, the energy that suffuses all creation and enlivens every moment. These two together carry the wisdom of time and death, the tangible proof of that great truth: there will never be a time when we shall all cease to exist.
And so Indra, emptied of his strength in (spiritual) battle, receives great illumination to fill the receptive emptiness and spiritual yearning that burn within him. That burning spark, when fed, bursts into a conflagration. Only then he may receive, accept, digest the Soma – through which he is reborn as transcendent endless ecstasy. And this is Indra’s very being: He is the Soma-souled, who embodies delight. It is of no small significance that he is Indra before slaying Vṛtra, but becomes Mahendra after: Mahā-Indra, the great, the realised, the full and complete.
With this draught – past, present, future all within him – Indra realises the ultimate victory over time and death. He has released the Waters of immortality to the world, and drunk of that same gift himself. Indra’s defeat of Vṛtra is a universal triumph, that of the awakened Soul that looses the final shackles of fear and discovers eternal life, “who verily attains supremacy.” He swallows death and realises immortality. And this is why the ṛṣis knew to pray him for the same grace: May he, the saviour much-invoked, may Indra bear us in a ship safely beyond all enemies.
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