Stories from the Upaniṣads - part 2

The victory of the Devas (from Kenopaniṣat)

The Paramātman is the creator and sustainer of the world, omniscient, omnipotent. The main aim of our lives should be to understand and realize the Paramātman. The ultimate aim indeed. The Paramātman is also known as the Parabrahman. The Parabrahman is formless, unmanifested, invisible, devoid of attributes and abstract. To understand and realize it one should be immersed in the sādhana of the virtuous qualities like śama (restraint over internal sense organs), dama (restraint over external sense organs) and so on. One would never be able to attain the brahmajñāna if they have negative attributes like rāga (loosely passion), dveṣa (anger), ahaṅkāra (ego), abhimāna (pride) and so on. Brahmajñāna is also known as the brahmavidyā. It can be attained by the upadeśa of a great guru or a thorough and deep study of the śāstras, that too in conjunction with the kindness of the Parameśvara.

It is extremely difficult to reflect upon (upāsana) and realize the Parabrahman which is unmanifested and devoid of attributes. Śrīkṛṣṇa himself says in the bhagavadgītā, “अव्यक्ता हि गतिर्दुःखं देहवद्भिरवाप्यते” (the unmanifested i.e. the Parabrahman is difficult to attain for people lit. beings with mortal bodies). To ensure that even the common man can lift himself out of the world, the upaniṣads prescribe upāsana of a saguṇabrahman (the manifestation of the brahman in some form)

There are two types of people in this world. One endowed with the daivī qualities and the other type with āsurī qualities. Again Śrīkṛṣṇa says in the bhagavadgītā, “द्वौभूतसर्गौ लोकेऽस्मिन्” the qualities like śama, dama etc comes under the daivī qualities and the qualities like nāstikatā, durahaṅkāra, durabhimāna, kāma, krodha comprises of the āsurī qualities. The majority of people in this world proudly think that, ‘I’m the producer, I’m the consumer, who can match me?’

असौ मया हतः शत्रुर्हनिष्ये चापरानपि ।
ईश्वरोऽहमहं भोगी सिद्धोऽहं बलवान्सुखी ॥
“This is indeed the enemy who was killed by me. The others too shall meet the same fate by me. I’m the lord of everything, I’m the consumer, the accomplisher, the strong, and the happy.”

They neglected the stage-manager of everything, the Bhagavān. To make people realize this, there is this story from the upaniṣads

Once a terrible battle ensued between the devas and the asuras. The devas won and the asuras lost. The elated devas celebrated their victory, “Oh! We have thrashed the asuras. We have won. This is our victory. See how capable we are. This is our might!”, trumpeting this everywhere. They ignored the fact that they were victorious only because of bhagavān’s favour and started showing off their false pride. By defeating the asuras they started displaying āsurī qualities. In the devas, the qualities of asuras manifested! The Īśvara being omniscient knew this. “The devas are my devotees. But forgetting that they have won due to me, they have become proud. They’ll taste defeat if this continues. I should dispel this false pride”, thinking so the compassionate one, disguised as a yakṣa, appeared before them. Yakṣa is someone who would inspire a worshipful nature. The devas had never seen such an awe-inspiring yakṣa. They became desirous of knowing him. But they were afraid to approach him. They convinced Agni to approach him and get acquainted with him. Agni somehow gathered some courage and approached him. He was petrified to speak anything. The yakṣa himself asked him, “Who are you?” Agni replied, “I’m Agni, since I’ve understood all the vedas, I’m known as ‘Jātaveda’”. The yakṣa asked him, “What are you capable of?” Agni replied, “I burn everything and turn them into ashes.” The yakṣa placed a blade of grass in front of him and said, “Burn this if you can!” Agni used all his strength but couldn’t even move it let alone burn it. Embarrassed, he returned to the devas and mumbled that he couldn’t figure out who the yakṣa was. The devas sent Vāyu next. A similar question and answer session followed.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Vāyu. I can go anywhere, even in the sky without any bounds. Thus I’m known as ‘Mātariśvā’”
“What are you capable of?”
“I can lift anything in this world irrespective of how heavy it is and blow it away”
“Blow this blade of grass away if you can?”
Vāyu with all his might tried to blow the grass away. But the grass didn’t budge. Embarrassed, he returned. It was Indra’s turn next. Indra approached him and the yakṣa disappeared. Indra, filled with bhakti, stood there, mesmerized.  He noticed a devatā (female deity) there. She was Umādevī, the daughter of Himavān. She, decked with golden ornaments, shone like lightning. She is the one who permanently resides with Parameśvara himself. Īśvara is indeed, “ईशानः सर्वविद्यानां ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानाम् (the lord of all the vidyās; the lord of all beings)” Umādevī is indeed the embodiment of the brahmavidyā. Indra, overwhelmed with bhakti, with folded hands asked her, “O devī, who is the yakṣa who was here a while ago?” Umādevī replied, “He is indeed Parabrahman, he manifested before you with attributes. You won against the asuras only because of his grace. The victory verily belongs to the Parabrahman, it is not at all yours.”
Indra’s pride at once vanished, he thought, “We won because of Paramātman. But due to foolishness we became proud. Bhagavān’s compassion is boundless. Thus our ignorance was dispelled.” He made Agni, Vāyu and other devas realize that. Since Agni, Vāyu and Indra could approach Parabrahman, they became the best among the devas. The jijñāsus (seekers desirous of realizing the brahman) amongst us are indeed the best, the wisest, among humans.

As the bhagavadgītā declares,

न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते
“There is nothing as auspicious and sacred as the jñāna (ultimate wisdom)”
ज्ञानी त्वात्मैव मे मतम्
“The knower of the brahman is indeed myself (i.e. Bhagavān Śrīkṛṣṇa, Parabrahman) ”

This is the second part of the multi-part translation of the Kannada book "Upanishattina Kathegalu" by Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Dr. N Ranganatha Sharma. Thanks to Dr. Sharada Chaitra for granting us permission to translate this wonderful work. Thanks to B. N. Shashikiran for timely and appropriate edits. The original in Kannada can be read here

Author(s)

About:

Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  

Translator(s)

About:

Raghavendra G S is a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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