Madhu and Kaitabha: mankind possessed by shadows

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Vishnu Vanquishing the Demons Madhu and Kaitabha, Folio from a Devimahatmya (Glory of the Goddess), India, Madhya Pradesh, Chatarpur, circa 1775 Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. LA county Museum. US Public Domain via Wikimedia

In the in the image above, we see a watercolor paining of Purusha (as Vishnu) Vanquishing the Demons Madhu and Kaitabha.

This is based on an ancient story from the Bhagavata Purana. In the story, the demons Madhu and Kaitabha steal the Vedas and hide them in the nether regions. The Vedas are said to be the eyes of Brahma, without them he is blind. So, Brahma appeals to the supreme Lord (as Purusha) who resides in Yogic meditation. Purusha awakens from his meditation and becomes Hayagriva, the horse headed God. He battles the demons, kills them, and restores the Vedas to Brahma.

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Siddhartha & Mara: meeting the shadows at the door to the unconscious

FireLanceAndGrenade10thCenturyDunhuang
First illustration of Fire Lance and a Grenade, 10th Century, Dunhuang. From the book “The Genius of China”, Robert Temple. US Public Domain via Wikimedia

In the image above, we see Buddha obtaining enlightenment. Dark shadow figures assail Buddha from the upper right hand corner, while attractive female figures seduce Buddha from the lower right-hand corner.

The image itself suggests enlightenment. The Buddha holds his left hand in his lap, palm facing upwards. Fingers from his right hand touch the earth. This posture is called the Bhumisparsha mudra, as the earth touching or the earth-witness gesture. This gesture implies that the earth (or eternal) is the witness to enlightenment.

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Kamadeva: eros leads us

Madan-Bhasma (Shiva Turns to Ashes) 1890. US public domain via wikimedia
Madan-Bhasma (Shiva Turns Kama to Ashes) 1890. US public domain via wikimedia

Jung speaks of “Kama, the God of love”, as “a cosmogonic principle” [1] At the primordial level, Kama is a cosmic principle, as cosmic love. Kamadeva can also be an image of desire, as instinctual love.

In the image above, we see Kamadeva on the left, holding a bow and arrow. In this way he is similar to Eros: “Eros is usually depicted as a young winged boy, with his bow and arrows at the ready, to either shoot into the hearts of gods or mortals which would rouse them to desire” [2]

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Dreams: the subject of the deep

In Psychology and Religion, Carl G. Jung undertakes a philosophical investigation into the religious dimension of the unconscious. Jung investigates the nature of an inner voice of wisdom as it occurs within a dream sequence. This investigation begins with a discussion of a man and his dreams. He says:

[The dream voice] “utters an authoritative declaration or command, either of astonishing common sense or of profound philosophic import. It is nearly always a final statement, usually coming toward the end of a dream, and it is, as a rule, so clear and convincing that the dreamer finds no argument against it. It has, indeed, so much the character of indisputable truth that it can hardly be understood as anything except a final and trenchant summing up of a long process of unconscious deliberation and weighing of arguments. ” (p. 45)

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Vishwarupa: a Cosmic form of Vishnu

Vishwarupa, a cosmic form of Vishnu. Bhagavad Gita, ca. 1740. US public Domain via wikimedia
Vishwarupa, a cosmic form of Vishnu. Bhagavad Gita, ca. 1740. US public Domain via wikimedia

In the image above we see Vishwarupa, a cosmic form of Vishnu. Vishnu ( विष्णु) is the Supreme God of Vaishnavism, one of the major traditions within Hinduism.

Vishnu is depicted as the one “who has neither a beginning nor an end” and as “the great effulgence.” He is “pure consciousness.” He is depicted as having “a thousands or infinite heads, thousands of eyes and thousands of feet.For some Vishnu is known primarily as a deity of worship and for others he is an image of the csomic Self.

According to Shankara’s commentary on the Ten Principle Upanishads, Vishnu is the form of Brahman, the supreme Self and eternal Truth. Ultimately, all things are are representations of eternal Truth. Vishwarupa is a reminder of this truth.

We cannot perceive the true nature of Brahman (the supreme Self) by form or by properties. The supreme Self is neti neti, ‘not this, not this.” Because the eternal Truth is beyond representation, we represent this Truth in images and forms of the deity, such as Vishnu or Indra. Shankara says as much in his commentary on the Keno Upanishad

The Keno Upanishad states:

“What speech does not enlighten, but what enlightens speech, know that alone to be Brahman [the Supreme Self], not this which (people) here worship.” (Keno Upanishad, Verse 4)

Shankara Comments:

“The preceptor conveyed that Atman is Brahman, the disciple doubted how the Atman could be Brahman. The Atman as is well-known, being entitled to perform Karma and worship (of the gods) and being subject to births and re-births seeks to attain Brahma or other Devas, or heaven, by means of Karma or worship. Therefore, somebody other than the Atman, such as Vishnu, Ishvara, Indra or Prana is entitled to be worshiped”….

“So says the Sruti [most authoritative, ancient religious texts], know this Atman to be the Brahman, unsurpassed.” (Shankara’s comment on Verse 4 of the Keno Upanishad)

What Shankara seems to be saying is that we can worship Vishnu, or Ishvara, or Rudra or Indra, but these are all simply images of the supreme Self (Brahman).

Carl Jung also understand the Self to the archetype that gives rise to the god image. In Symbols of Transformation (CW 5), Jung speaks of the God Rudra, quoting a passage from the Shvetashvatara Upanishad:

There is one Rudra only, they do not allow a second, who rules all the worlds by his powers. Behind all creatures he stands, the Protector; having created them, he gathers all beings together at the end of time. He has eyes on all sides, faces on all sides, arms on all sides, feet on all sides. He is the one God who created heaven and earth, forging all things together with his hands and wings. You who are the source and origin of the gods, the ruler of all, Rudra, the great seer, who of old gave birth to the Golden Seedgive us enlightenment! (In Jung, para 176).

Jung says: “behind these attributes we can discern the All-Creator,” confirming the idea in the following passage:

Beyond this is Brahman [3], the highest, hidden in the bodies of all, encompassing all. Those who know him as the Lord become immortal.”

Notes and references:

  1. Upanishads and Sri Sankara’s commentary, translated by S Sitarama Sastri p. 30- 60.
  2. The Esoteric Codex: Deities of Knowledge by Harold Burham
  3. Please note that Jung uses the word ‘Brahma’ here when it should probably be Brahman. I have found that it is common for scholars of this era to say Brahma when they mean Brahman. I offer Max Müllers interpretation from Sacred Books of the East Volume 15: The Upanishads. “Those who know beyond this the High Brahman, the vast, hidden in the bodies of all creatures, and alone enveloping everything, as the Lord, they become immortal.”