What quality or qualities of this god do you most admire? What quality or qualities of them do you find the most troubling?
I’ve tried to make this blog all about Indra’s admirable Self, so my answer to the second question will be significantly longer. Of course Indra is wonderful! But until now, I’ve written little about His disturbing or frightening qualities.
Of all of His attributes, what I admire most in Indra is a quality I do not (yet?) possess, and I’m going to start off the explanation with a rather silly example.
There’s a role-playing game called Changeling: The Dreaming in which one of the characters’ measurable qualities is “Glamour.” This encompasses not only the character’s magical abilities, but their belief in the wonder of the world and their ability to take joy in it. Not surprisingly, those under twelve years of age (“childlings”) are possessed of much natural Glamour. Teenagers (“wilders”) have less, and adults (“grumps”) less still. As ridiculous an example as an RPG might be, it does express the fear, and danger, that the process of aging will instead be one of fossilizing – that griefs, broken dreams, and the cumulative weight of memories will crush away awe and reveal a banal, hostile world, where only a jaded perspective will protect you against future disappointment.
“I’m always thinking, you know – it’s amazing,” wrote the author Bill Bryson; amazing though indeed it is, having a constantly active mind is also distinctly not fun. Learning, truth, and knowledge seem to be rarer sources of pleasure than they once were; if I read poetry and grasp its meaning now, well, I also now know that Santa isn’t real, that blizzards are far less charming in experience than in snow globes, and that global warming, profit-driven decisions, and country music all exist. As if that didn’t suck enough, I also have the angering, exasperating condition known as dysthymia – chronic mild depression, which hundreds of years ago might have deemed me “melancholic” and brought on the leeches – and since it is the sort where I can avoid medical treatment, provided that I take stringent care of myself and bootstrap myself out of bed every day, I do. But suffice to say, aging – and now, getting o-o-o-o-old, because ZOMG THIRTY-FOUR ON WEDNESDAY, Y’ALL – has meant discovering lots of things I didn’t necessarily want to know and wish weren’t true, and it hasn’t been fun. I find that I am often far more jaded and judgmental, far less dazzled and delighted by life, than I ever wanted to be.
These qualities make Indra even more wondrous to me, for He is the One of inexhaustible vigour despite the setbacks He seems to suffer. He is infused by, invigorated by, the very embodiment and expression of, Soma – joy, wonder, delight – and this despite, and even because of, knowing Truth. He is supple of mind and body, radiant and active, ancient yet not a relic, endless but not burdened by His knowledge.
It isn’t just that Indra Knows; it’s that he’s happy about it. How does He do that? My mind boggles.
My response to the second question involves a word that I mentioned yesterday, and it describes what in Indra troubles me most: His Māyā, His magic play. Oh, trickery can be an amusing teacher in stories about other people; I’ve posted stories like Uttaṅka’s and Ahalyā’s before, and it’s fun to read about a man who refuses immortality because the “water” looks dirty or a woman who puns her way out of adultery. It’s significantly less delightful to consider that the next trick worked could be on me, like the lightning bolt that seems to strike without particular regard.
I’ve written many times here that Indra is Lord of Freedom and Truth; He serves these higher purposes in all things and by all means, even if it means appearing to be a jerk in order to Get Things Done. I’m sure that Sage Durvasa was not delighted to see his gift trampled in the dirt, regardless of all of the good that came from the Churning of the Ocean in the end, to give one example. But Indra of the Thousand Eyes looks beyond the individual person and the immediate moment, and that means the actions He encourages may not give a devotee contentment or peace. He is generous, but what He gives ultimately is a light to Truth. That fire may warm your heart and comfort your soul. Or it might burn down your house.
Knowing this, I understand and very much respect the reasoning behind such writings as the forthright Ares Doesn’t Love You. My own feeling of the Devas is that there is love, but human love is often a binding condition, and the human heart has trouble recognising or coping with a love that exists without ties to time or space. The Lord of Freedom will not let his devotee be bound – not even by Him. It’s been my experience that, the moment I start looking to Indra to guide me in decisions that I should be making, or aid me in a situation that I could solve myself…He vanishes, swiftly as the rainbow when pursued, quickly as the lightning-flash from the sky.
Earlier in this project, I quoted a book on Egyptian religion; another relevant passage from that text describes the God Shu, but I see much of Indra in it: “It isn’t that He is uncaring, but simply that his point of view is much more vast than ours. The Gods know our current incarnations are temporary and our eternal spirits cannot be destroyed.
Shu does project a feeling of affection for us. I’ve felt it. It’s rather like we feel about bubbles. We like them, and they’re beautiful, but we aren’t upset when they break. Our current incarnations are just beautiful bubbles to Shu. He loves us, but isn’t upset when the thin shell surrounding us breaks. We still exist.”
I don’t feel Indra is an insensitive God or is indifferent to His devotees. If you have reached the very end of your rope and truly need Him, need with your whole being, He is a flash to illuminate the path. But He may not come before you first exhaust every option you have, every ability you possess. We were created by His model, after all, and thus are endlessly faceted, incredibly resourceful and adaptable; He has already given us so much. And if he holds back His succour, or even throws a suppliant to the “wolves,” it’s because the lesson to be learned in the fight is damn well needed and worthwhile.
Still, all of this noble-sounding palaver doesn’t disguise the discomfiting knowledge that, at any time, I could call for Indra’s help and receive it as a proverbial slap to the face. My devotion doesn’t “save” me from His Māyā, and it doesn’t secure for me His favour, His special regard or protection. It doesn’t mean He will pull punches with me; in fact, in worshipping the Lord of Truth, I might burn in a lightning-strike that much faster. “Oh, you wanted My help? WHAM. Here you go.” There’s a reason that the rishis prayed for Indra to “show not beyond us,” to grant His wisdom gently and with consideration for the devotee’s ability to handle it. And this quality of His is the reason why I’d advise anyone who wants to work with or pray Indra to respect His speed and splendour, to understand that His agenda may not be yours, and to be careful in making request(s).
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