by Swami Krishnananda
A talk given on the 13th of October, 1972, during the Navaratri worship.
Our longings are fundamentally very deep and cannot be easily satisfied by temporary makeshift or a day-to-day adjustment of outer circumstances. Our desires are profound; our yearnings are very unintelligible to the outer atmosphere of our daily life. We seem to have a root which is deeper than what can be comprehended by our normal understanding of the world. We grow from all sides, and when we long for, or desire, or yearn, or aspire, we do so in a very comprehensive manner. This aspiration of the human being is really the soul's longing for freedom. All our desires are desires of the soul, ultimately. Though they look like sensory desires, mental desires, intellectual desires, social desires, etc., they are, at the bottom, the longing of the soul of the human being, which ramifies itself into various distracted rays through the operations of the mind and the activities of the senses. Our longings are, therefore, capable of being collected into a single essential power, an inward urge, which we may call the longing for freedom. It is freedom that we ask for and it is freedom that anyone asks for. Varieties of longings and multitudes of enterprises in the world can be collected into a single focus of the soul's aspiration for liberation. And this aspiration for liberation is not merely the longing of the human being, but of all that is created anywhere on earth or in heaven. Whether it is the plant or the animal, whether it is a man or a celestial, the aspiration is this much. All longings can be boiled down into the quintessence of the longing for liberation, freedom from all sides and an ultimate supremacy over one's own self in the realisation of this freedom.
The Devi-Mahatmya which, in a majestic poetry in Sanskrit, describes to us the epic of the march of the human soul to its destination – the realisation of this freedom – is the dramatic aspect of the great worship of the Divine Mother during these nine days of Navaratri, or Dassehra as we call it. The march of the soul is dramatic. It is not a lagging or a crawling but a beautiful, sonorous, musical advent, we may say. This is the beauty of the Devi-Mahatmya. All epics have this particular character of grandeur, uplifting the emotions, and chastening the intellect of the devotee who goes through them.
The Devi-Mahatmya, which is a part of the Markandeya Purana, contains thirteen chapters which are grouped into three sections known as the Prathama Charitra, Madhyama Charitra and the Uttama Charitra. As in the Bhagavadgita sometimes we are told that the eighteen chapters can be grouped into three sections of teaching, consisting of six chapters in each, the Devi-Mahatmya also, which is an epic counterpart of the methods of the Bhagavadgita in its practical implementations, is capable of a division into three sections. The march of the soul is graduated into three major steps, though there are many minor steps involved in these three major ones. While we have to rise through various rungs of the ladder of evolution, we come to three points or halting places, we may call them, where there is a complete transformation of outlook, attitude and constitution of our being. These threefold transformations of the spiritual being of the aspiring soul are dominated or presided over by three deities known as Maha-Kali, Maha-Lakshmi and MahaSarasvati. These three presiding forces are representative of the powers of the spirit within manifesting themselves in an upward ascent towards freedom ultimate, so that in this march of the soul to its freedom, it carries with it everything that is connected with it. The difference between the spiritual march and your march along the road or a highway is this: that while in your march on a roadway, you alone walk and nobody need accompany you, nothing need be connected with you, and you can have a free walk independently, in the spiritual march, it is not such an isolated march because you carry with you everything that is connected with you.
Now, what are the things connected with you that you carry? There are four stages of this relationship. Consciously we are related in a particular manner and subconsciously we are related in another manner altogether. Consciously, we people seated in this hall for example, have a particular sort of relationship among ourselves, but subconsciously our relationships are of a different kind altogether and they need not tally with our conscious relationship. And deeper still, we have a layer where our relationship is more akin to a unity of life than to a diversity of personality. There is a fourth stage which is incapable of any description at all. We do not know whether we are to call it a unity or a diversity, or oneness or otherness. This is the goal towards which the soul is marching. So, in the description of the Devi-Mahatmya, we are carried forward psychologically and spiritually to our destination of the ultimate realisation.
There are three stages of transformation described in the three sections of the Devi-Mahatmya. The first one is where Adi-Sakti awakens Maha-Vishnu who was asleep, so that He may destroy or overcome the original demoniacal forces, Madhu and Kaitabha. The second stage is where the same Sakti manifests Herself as Maha-Lakshmi and overcomes Mahishasura and Raktabija. The third one is where Sumbha and Nisumbha are destroyed by Maha-Sarasvati. And the nine days of worship, which are referred to as Navaratri, comprehend these three stages adored in three days of worship, each. The final victory is called Vijaya-Dasami, the tenth day. That is the day of Victory, where you master the forces of Nature completely and your goal is reached. When you step over nine, you enter into Infinity. Numbers are only nine; you do not have ten numbers. All the arithmetic is within nine numbers only. The whole cosmos is within nine. But when you transcend the nine, you have gone to Infinity, which is beyond cosmic relationship. The lower powers of Nature are like dirt. We call them Mala. "Vishnukarnamalodbhuto hantum brahmanamudyato," says the DeviMahatmya. The Madhu and Kaitabha, two Rakshasas (demons) are supposed to have come out of the dirt of the ear of Vishnu. The lowest category of opposition is of the nature of dirt, Mala; and psychologically, from the point of view of the seeking soul, this dirt is in the form of Kama, Krodha and Lobha. "Kama esha krodha esha rajo-guna samudbhavah", "Kamah krodhastatha lobhah tasmat etat trayam tyajet": It is desire and anger born of Rajas; desire, anger and greed – these three therefore should be abandoned, says the Bhagavadgita. These three are the gates to hell. These three are regarded as dirt, because they cover the consciousness in such a way that it appears to be not there at all. It is like painting a thin glass with coal tar. You cannot see the glass. It is all pitch-dark like clouds. This has to be rubbed off with great effort. When this Mala or dirt is removed, you get into another trouble. Do not think that when you are tentatively a master of Kama, Krodha and Lobha, you are a real master of yourself. "There are more things in heaven and earth than your philosophy dreams of, O Horatio," said Hamlet. So do not think that your philosophy is exhaustive. There are many more things that philosophy cannot comprehend. Kama, Krodha and Lobha are not the only enemies. There are subtler ones, more formidable than these visible foes. As a matter of fact, the subtle invisible enemies are more difficult to overcome than the visible ones. Sometimes an angry man is better than a smiling person. A smiling person is more dangerous than an angry one, because he can have a knife under his armpit. This is what we will face.
When we manage somehow to overcome this Madhu and Kaitabha, Kama and Krodha, we get into the clutches of Mahishasura and Raktabija. They represent the Vikshepa Sakti, the tossing of the mind. Every minute the mind changes its forms which multiply in millions. You read in the Devi-Mahatmya, how Mahishasura changed his form. Now he is an elephant, now he is a buffalo, now he is something else. If you hit him in one form, he comes in another form. And this is your inexhaustible opponent. His energies are incapable of being exhausted. However much you may try to oppose the Vikshepa Sakti, it will manifest in some form or other. This is described in the form of the demon Raktabija, whose drops of blood were seeds of hundreds and thousands of demons like him coming up. When the Devi severed the head of one Rakshasa, the blood fell on the ground profusely and from that blood, millions cropped up. And when She killed them, again another million cropped up. So there was no end to it. If you cut off one or two desires, the desire is not over. The root is still there. The branches are only severed. Unless the root is dug out, there is no use of merely severing the branches of the tree. So what did the Devi do? She asked Kali to spread her tongue throughout the earth, so that there is no ground at all for the Rakshasas to walk over. They had to walk over the tongue of Kali. So huge it was. And now the Goddess started cutting their heads and when the blood fell, it fell not on the ground but on the tongue of Kali. So she sucked everything. Chariots and horses and demons and everybody entered her mouth. She chewed all chariots into powder. Likewise, we have to adopt a technique of sucking the very root of desires and not merely chop off its branches. Otherwise, desires will take various forms like Mahishasura. When we think that Mahishasura has been killed, he comes as a buffalo, and when the buffalo is attacked, he again comes as an elephant, and if Devi attacks the elephant, he comes as a bull and attacks Her. So, there is no way of overcoming these desires by merely dealing with them from outside by a frontal attack. Their very essence has to be sucked, because a desire is not an outward form or an action; it is a tendency within. You may do nothing, and yet you will have desires, because desire is not necessarily an activity. A desireful person need not be very active. He can be sitting quiet, doing nothing, saying nothing, and yet be full of desires because it is a tendency of the mind, an inclination of consciousness, that we call a desire. That can be inside, even if there is outwardly nothing. This is the Vikshepa Sakti – distraction, tossing and the chameleon-attitude of desire – which attacks us, when, with herculean efforts, we try to destroy or gain control over Kama and Krodha, Madhu and Kaitabha. After Madhu and Kaitabha, we get Mahishasura and Raktabija. Thus Mala and Vikshepa are the primary oppositions in our spiritual pursuit.
Ancient masters have told us that while Mala or dirt of the psychological structure can be removed by Karma Yoga, by unselfish and dedicated service, Vikshepa or distraction of the mind can be removed only by worship of God, by Upasana. While Karma removes Mala, Upasana removes Vikshepa. But even now, we are not fully safe. While Mala might have gone and Vikshepa is not there, we may have a third trouble, namely, a complete oblivion of consciousness. We will have no knowledge of anything as to what is happening. Ajnana or ignorance is an opposing power subtler than its effects in the form of Mala and Vikshepa. Distraction and direct sensual desires are the outer expressions of a subtle ignorance of Truth – Avidya or Ajnana. Why do we desire things? Because, we do not know the nature of Truth. Why does a strong wind blow? Because, the sun is covered over with clouds. The sun is covered by the clouds first, then there is darkness, and then a gale or cyclone starts blowing from the north, breaking our umbrellas and uprooting trees. All these happen because the sun does not shine. Even so, when the Atman is covered over by ignorance of its nature, the winds of desire begin to blow, and they come like violent storms. Impetuous is the force of desire. You cannot stand against it, because the whole of Nature gets concentrated in a desire. That is why it is impetuous and uncontrollable. All the powers of Nature get focussed in a desire when it manifests itself, whatever be that desire. So the whole of Nature has to be subdued. You are not to subdue only your individual nature, but the cosmic Nature itself is to be subdued. This is what is depicted in the epic of the Devi-Mahatmya. It is the subdual, overcoming, transformation of the cosmic Nature in the form of Tamas, Rajas and Sattva. While Mala represents Tamas, Vikshepa represents Rajas.