This Deva of such intense personality, this Indra possesses so many attractive qualities, such brilliance, benificence, and boldness, as to entangle the worshipper in thoughts of beauty that exclude the horrific and shadowy. An indispensible, unforgettable part of Indra is his contradictory nature, the simultaneous expression of sharp contrasts. The rider of the thought-controlled chariot, master of the senses, brave warrior, elephant-tamer, strength and truth, wielder of the lightning striking solid blows against ignorance, demon-slayer – is also a thief, defiler of marriage vows, leader of faithful worshippers away from devotion and into blindness, impulsive, fearful, overbearingly proud, filled with sensuous weakness, delighting in confusion and destruction, killer of the holy. He leads the way to truth with clear light; he assumes disguises, sets traps, and blocks all ways to the truth. He is a father to some who praise him. Others he gives up to be devoured by wolves, and he brags about their slaughter. He is magnificent. He is horrible. That horrible God is the greatest and most infuriating friend to the ignorant.
But even when described with such unflattering words, Indra still reads like some sort of sympathetically conflicted superhero, yes? Poetic language gives a compelling drama to ideas like “darkness” and “terror” and “destruction” – like the entire preceding paragraph should have been read aloud by James Earl Jones – so let me give an example of how non-awesome those concepts can be, when they play out in real life.
June through November marks hurricane season in my hometown and – like a crying baby in the seat next to you, mediocre food at Applebee’s, and the defeat of any villain who pronounces his invincibility – storms are inevitable but greeted with dismay nonetheless. In 2005 I was living in a sturdy apartment building on Bayou St. John, an active practitioner of Vodou, and having just returned to New Orleans after a few years away, feeling immensely satisfied with life, I was certainly not eager to leave. Hadn’t our parents had survived some of the worst of the worst; weren’t New Orleans folk strong and resilient? Shouldn’t I have one major storm to my credit? Hadn’t we prayed about this, for Gods’ sakes? I could do this, dammit, so I bought some food and water, and just ate and drank and started waiting for the gale.
28 August 2005, 5 a.m., and a maelstrom beyond imagining raged madness. The wind was ripping arms from trees and throwing signs and cars around like toys. I barely dove to a corner in time as the window shattered inward, spraying thick knife-shards of glass. I put my arms up. The wind screamed. The matted clouds glowed with unearthly purple-blue-silver flashing in the darkness. And then the lightning came for me. It cracked whips of fire around my feet. It lashed the walls, the floor, it touched everything around me as if to boast its killing strength, and I could smell the ozone burn and the agitated air and then, came the worst sound of all: a horribly delighting triumph that was the hiss of the crying wind and the sizzle of the lightning-sheets, and it came from a being outlined in sheets of gusting rain and illumined for brief moments in the flashing sky, and that being was laughing while I cowered for my life. Of course you can stay. Do you want to?
I nearly leaped out of bed in a sweating frenzy, half-saying and half-thinking the storm is worse and running to the television downstairs to see, indeed, a category 5 hurricane, and haggard newscasters comparing Katrina to the worst of the worst. I paced, I agonised, I researched and read all about “contraflow” and wondered where to go and whether it was really worth all the trouble and whether the apartment would hold. Then I remembered that laughter, and I realised that I was being a puffed-up braggadocio acting like survival was a game, and suddenly earning a set of storm chops wasn’t important anymore. Only a few minutes later my parents called, prepared to argue me down if I still insisted on staying, and then the mayor ordered evacuation, and the city sprang into motion. But He was the one who broke my pride, the only real bar to my own departure.
I cannot speak to anything that happened after, to the decision of anyone else; I only know what I did, and why. Those lashes brought me down to insignificance and humility and silence, forced me to stop demanding to be convinced and to just leave, to respect the sound and terror of this Indra, the horrible, the mocking, who follows his own whims, whose thoughts cannot be known, my greatest and most terrifying friend.
Much later I discovered his identity – for I had assumed that in my chosen religion of the time, had the truth appeared – and learned how I had known him and not recognised him, Indra, the hidden one, appearing when and how he wills. I did occasionally tell the story of that crazy dream, but chose to leave Indra out of it until now. Until, for the last month, I have been moved to describe it, unable to write anything else until it was done, unable to complete it until now. Perhaps more ropes of ego needed to break, because even in writing words dedicated to the Lord of Truth, honouring him for being a frustrating, goading, and glorious Friend, it still wasn’t easy to relate a story of myself which begins with, Hey, let me tell you all about that time I was really, really stupid, and nearly stayed in the path of a category 5 hurricane because I thought it’d be kinda cool.
“The Terrible One, of whom they ask, Where is He? and they even say of Him, He is not at all; He diminishes the wealth of the enemy like gambling-stakes. Believe in Him! He, O folk, is Indra.”
Such praise, of reassurance and warning alike, is rightly His. Oṁ ghorāya namaḥ.
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