A quote, a poem, or piece of writing that you think this deity resonates strongly with.
I love to read and have a stack of possible choices here, so I’m going to provide a quote, some poems, and a piece of writing! Again, though, I offer the caveat that I can’t speak for Indra; these are writings that remind me of Him, not pieces that perfectly express His nature.
Quote: I’ll explain this one from the beginning, because “I bought a nectarine” is not the most obviously Deva-oriented quote I could have chosen.
In the 1980s there was a television show called The Golden Girls, whose namesake “girls” were four elder women who became housemates, sharing a home in Florida; the show focused on their contrasting personalities and the extraordinary family-like friendship that developed between them.
The oldest of them, Sophia, is supposed to be almost eighty years old (if memory serves) at the start of the fourth-season episode called The Days and Nights of Sophia Petrillo. It begins when Sophia announces one rainy morning that she’s going to the market to buy fruit, by her usual habit. After she leaves the house, the three other women – Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche – talk about Sophia, expressing concern that she does the same thing every day. They agree that she should have more constructive and fulfilling activities to enrich her old age, though they’re unsure how to encourage her.
The rest of the story is a study in contrasts. The three girls at home are feeling lazy and unproductive; they talk about the chores they ought to get done, but end up chatting and snacking the day away instead. Meanwhile, Sophia does indeed go to the grocery to pick up a nectarine. There she encounters a friend who’s been denied a (justified) return on a bad item by the supermarket, so she cons the store owner into taking her friend’s return, then tricks her friend into paying for her nectarine with the refund money. Sophia continues on to the beach, where she arranges to have her lunch bought for her and then directs a small jazz band of elderly players, who perform there every day in order to raise donations for the local hospital.
From there, it’s on to the hospital itself, where Sophia does volunteer work. After cheering up a lonely patient with a cart full of flowers – partly because she doesn’t feel like delivering them all – she spends time with an unhappy youth who seems to have a terminal condition, comforting him and giving him hope. We discover that she bought the nectarine to give to the boy, encouraging him to eat more fresh fruit to keep up his strength. Finally she returns home, where the girls are watching TV after having spent the entire day in idleness. When they ask her what she did, her response is the final line of the episode: “What did I do? I did what I always do. I bought a nectarine.”
This cleverly-written story is a wonderful example of just Indra’s sort of illusion. Sophia is an ornery, outspoken character who says whatever she pleases, and often her behaviour is quite rude. But despite playing pranks and making sarcastic quips all day long, she lives a life of contribution, service, and vitality, which she downplays by simply not talking about it. I’ve mentioned the concept of “royal sādhanā” on this blog before, the discipline of performing acts of charity and generosity without expecting reward, return, or even acknowledgment for one’s deeds. This is exactly what Sophia does, and regardless of how abrasive her manner is, her ends certainly justify the means. Meanwhile, her roommates discuss her worriedly; they intend no harm in their conversation, but nonetheless pass ignorant judgment upon her, having no idea how active and meaningful her life really is.
Indra, too, teaches such lessons: that to assess godly behaviour by human terms is a mistake, that a situation’s appearance doesn’t always match its reality, and that it isn’t necessary to have a flawless character or even a particularly sweet nature; all that’s truly required is to perform right action. In the show Sophia’s acidic tongue becomes irrelevant, even hilarious, as her actions give the lie to her bristly words; likewise, Indra’s deeds often seem terrible, His words harsh or flippant, yet the results are always world-welfare and the benefit of humanity, and His stories become surprising and even humorous on re-examination.
Poems: I’ve offered some of these verses here before, but never quite explained why. A poem that reminds me of the dark, terrible Indra, who ensnares by worldly Māyā, is Swinburne’s Dolores (offered here). Another verse, evoking the passionate, alluring, powerful God of unbearable splendour, is The Brides of Indra, which was posted on this blog a year ago. The third poem I link to Indra, both because of its unusual and stark imagery and because it hints at an illusory world, is Pablo Neruda’s Nothing But Death, offered in translation at this link.
Piece of Writing: The wonderful 2005 book Puranic Stories for Cynical People – you knew I had to buy it, with that title – offers a delicious story called Striptease. It’s acerbic, witty, thought-provoking, sensuous, and more complex than it initially appears; in other words, it contains many of Indra’s qualities. Don’t be fooled by the title, as the story actually mocks humanity’s obsession with external beauty, and teaches – just as Indra does – by misdirection. An online translation of the tale may be found here; it’s a little different from the published version, but still conveys the idea of it.
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