There’s a lot percolating in my brain lately – but the mind-to-fingertips connection, which would normally translate my thoughts into blog posts, seems to be broken.
Before this WordPress journal, I blogged for eight years on LiveJournal and briefly kept a blog on Dreamwidth. This is a recycled entry from the latter. It was written about a year and a half ago, and discusses one of Indra’s many names/epithets, found among his thousand names (or sahasranāma).
“I will send forth my songs in flow unceasing, like water from the ocean’s depth, to Indra.
Who to his car on both its sides securely hath fixed the earth and heaven as with an axle.
Rousing with draughts, the Shaker, rushing onward, impetuous, very strong, armed as with arrows
Is Soma; forest trees and all the bushes deceive not Indra with their offered likeness.
Soma hath flowed to him whom naught can equal, the earth, the heavens, the firmament, the mountains,
When heightened in his ire his indignation shatters the firm and breaks the strong in pieces.”
And this is the bad translation, y’all. This is excerpted from the neo-Victorian “let’s make the brown people look like stupid savages” version of Ṛgveda. The good translations would make your monitor explode, so be grateful that I’m too cheap and lazy to purchase and type one of them up for you.
Just in case you haven’t checked it out yet – and frankly, if you haven’t, WHY THE HELL HAVEN’T YOU? because DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK I’VE PUT INTO THIS THING and by the way, CAPSLOCK – I will politely and kindly remind you of the Indra-sahasranāma, with the polite and kind link given above.
Because I don’t know Sanskrit – AND HOW – I “translated” as much of that thing as possible by way of many, many dictionaries and thick, dense, clunky, oddly-written books. The criterion I set down was simple: Before recording a name’s meaning, I had to see the definition in print SOMEWHERE, preferably from a source more reputable than a candy wrapper. (This is my disclaimer, so you won’t read anything that follows and think I actually know what I’m talking about. My entire qualification for this discussion? Basic literacy!)
Anyway, today we won’t need the whole thousand names, just one.
About one-third of the way down the list appears the epithet “Ṛjīṣiṇ,” which I highly recommend as a word to practice while gargling mouthwash in the morning. Indra is referred to roughly 8,347,933 times in Ṛgveda with titles like “Soma-drinker,” “the Lord of Soma,” “the One Who Encourages the Soma-Presser ‘Cause, Dude, Free Soma,” etc. As you may have guessed, those names all refer to everyone’s favourite Indo-Aryan substance, the “plant/mushroom/stalk that was a hallucinogen/entheogen/depressant/stimulant maybe-sorta-kinda ALRIGHT FINE/we/don’t/know/WHAT/it/was/happy/now?” – Soma.
So, when I found the word ṛjīṣiṇ translated as “Receiving the Soma,” it did seem to fit a general theme. There was the bothersome fact that the word, you know, didn’t seem to mention Soma, or contain the syllables “so” or “ma,” or anything like that, but, okay, whatever.
(Remind me to write about the etymology of “Indra” sometime, if you want a reminder that languages are crazy. This is because languages are spoken by people, who are also crazy.)
Tonight I delved into the
fascinating Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and believe me, it’s just as gripping as the title suggests. There are some passages, though, that are worthwhile enough to make the bone-dry prose of People Discussing Their Learnings bearable. This excerpt is one:
“Ṛjīṣin, according to Yāska, means Soma, but is also an epithet of Indra. ‘That which remains of Soma, when it is being purified, is ṛjīṣa, or rejected; therefore ṛjīṣin is soma. There is also a text referring to Indra as ṛjīṣī vajrī.
Mahīdhara says that ṛjīṣa is the squeezed and juiceless refuse of the soma-plant.
Sāyaṇa generally interprets the word ṛjīṣin as an epithet of Indra, as ‘he who has the soma after it has been pressed and has lost its juice or taste.'”
The author rightfully, and with a twinge of scholastic humour, adds: “The sense of ‘drinker of tasteless or spiritless soma’ is not a very probable one. Indra is generally represented as greatly exhilarated by the beverage he quaffs, and it seems a poor compliment to him to call him the drinker of a vapid draught.”
So what does the name mean, if not the Vedic equivalent of “Frat Boy Drinker of Zima” or “Pretentious Moron Who Thinks Arbor Mist is a Fine Vintage”?
As you may surmise, I have
a few many long, rambling thoughts about this very epithet!
Just four hymns before the one above, we are given some interesting food for thought by being told, “One thinks to have drunk Soma… Of him (Soma), which the brāhmaṇas know, no one ever tastes.” This is an oft-quoted verse for which people give a lot of meanings. I read it this way.
There is much science-y controversy about whether the Soma substance was an intoxicant, depressant, stimulant, nail polish remover, etc., and while it’s academically fascinating, the genus and species names aren’t essential to the spiritual meaning. The mantra tells us that even if you drink Soma, you don’t actually drink Soma.
The pressed Soma is – or was – the physical form that manifests, or corresponds to, divine bliss, joy, radiance: the maddening intoxication that, as its purified heart, is the vital essence of Divinity.
There’s a reason that some ignorant people characterise Indra as a drunk – another reason besides “they’re ignorant,” I mean – and that’s because his appetite for Soma is hymned as insatiable. He’s reported to have drunk three lakes full of the stuff before slaying Vṛtra. He’s described as having a capacious belly, wide jaws, fine lips all for Soma-consuming purposes, and is lauded as the master of every aspect of Soma, from the pressing to the offering to the snorking.
That his capacity is so enormous is telling, because – as Śrī Aurobindo, who was a Veda Interpretation God, tells us – Indra is invoked to hold bliss within us.
We often begin new lessons or journeys feeling enthusiastic and bold, but when the newness and shine fade away, and the task becomes more difficult, we become discouraged and tired and start wondering whether it’s really worthwhile at all. The spiritual journey is like that: wearying, annoying, maddening, filled with gutters and potholes. All of the Vedic Devas guide the spiritual aspirant along the way, divine hand-holders to help us up to the Supreme (or as the non-dualists would say, helping us to remember that we are the Supreme).
I’ve hinted at just a few of Indra’s particular tasks here. His vast capacity holds onto our joy and keeps it from draining away as if through a sieve. He keeps us strong and heartened during the journey, and if enemies show up – whether huge slavering demons like in the tales, or the nagging, insidious, everyday meddlers like self-doubt and despair – he’s there to be all “heightened in his ire” and stuff, so we can be all “DUDE I’m totally not depressed anymore!” and he can be all “DUDE I know, and stop calling me Dude, and HERE, more Soma!”
Hence that he rushes “onward, impetuous, very strong” in the verse at the beginning of this entry. Indra is ceaseless, unstoppable joy; his very soul is Soma. The name ṛjīṣiṇ does not reference, even jokingly, a god insulted by the dregs of a sacrificial offering. The epithet lauds a radiant, wise being who will accept even the poorest gift from the hands of a faithful devotee. The Deva is so suffused by joy, embodies joy with such purity, that he will pull delight even from the most rotten, miserable husk of existence. Even the third pressing, the shredded juiceless stalks, what is essentially the refuse of life and energy – it all becomes, in his hands – he, the kindler, the fertilizer, the transforming god of continuous re-creation – the seed of flourishing bliss.
As a reminder, I could be completely wrong in my interpretation, since my obsessive reading habits do not equal reputable scholarship. Factoids and knowledge I have in abundance, but wisdom comes only with time and meditation, not stacks of glossaries…
I mean, for all I know, Indra really likes being called “Dude.”
© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.