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Spiritual Import of Religious Festivals


Chapter 17: Lord Skanda – The Concentrated Divine Energy

Skanda-Shashthi message given on the 9th of November, 1980.

In the history of language and literature, the most outstanding works are the epics of the various nations. The superb literary productions of Greece are the writings of Homer – the Illiad and the Odyssey. In Italy, similar epics were produced by Dante and Virgil – Dante's Divine Comedy and Virgil's Aeneid. In English literature, the best epic examples are Milton's poems and Shakespeare's plays. In India, we have the Itihasas and also the Puranas. Here, in this type of poetry and expression, the soul rises to the maximum of its virility and portrays in the most majestic manner the picture of creation. The intention of these poets, whether of the West or of the East, is to describe in soulful language and in picturesque style, the processes of creation, the comedy and the tragedy of evolution and involution, the story of the life of man which is painted sometimes with the optimistic colours of comedy and sometimes with the pessimistic ones of tragedy. Life is both, and it can be pictured from two different angles of vision. The central motif of all the epics of the world hinges upon a conflict which gets resolved in the end. Somehow, the feature of a clash between forces seems to have caught the vision of the poets and the adepts as the pivotal point of their observations.

When a careful attention is paid to the processes of nature and the history of human life, one observes that nature outwardly and man inwardly have to confront situations which can be best described as a series of conflicts. Every day is a conflict before us, an opposition, a confrontation and a question which demands an answer. Our struggles throughout the days and the nights of our life are our attempts to answer the question of life which is the great enigma or mystery. Life poses a problem which man has not succeeded in solving with all his intellectual endowments. The deeper vision of life, which one may call philosophical or mystical, spiritual or religious, has revealed the basic or the foundational features of creation as a movement towards and a movement away from a Centre. This seems to be the secret behind and an answer to all the questions of life. There is a Centre somewhere towards which everything seems to be gravitating and which at the same time seems to be repelling everything. This simultaneous feeling of the pull and the repulsion is the conflict. This is at the basis of all problems.

The epic language describes this dual warfare of the pull and the repulsion as the battle between the divine and the un-divine powers. The divine forces are those factors, impulses and aspirations which urge everything towards the Centre, and the un-divine ones are the opposite ones which compel everything to be driven away from the Centre. There is this double urge in man, in everything and in all Nature, nay in the whole of creation. Everything seems to be moving in two directions at the same time, an impossibility to understand and explain. How can one thing move in two directions at the same time? This exactly is the mystery of life. We are 'impulsive' towards two different directions. 'Impulsive' is the only word, because it is an irresistible urge or desire that we feel within ourselves to do two things at the same time. Nothing can be worse than this situation, because it is an impulsion towards an impossibility. No one can do two contrary things at the same time, and one cannot have a conflicting desire operating at the same time in one's own mind. But this is what is happening. If this did not happen, we would not have been what we are today. Man exists because of the existence of this conflict in his own mind pulling him in two different ways – one urge moving in one direction and another in another direction. So man is divine and also un-divine at the same time. We have a divine aspiration beckoning us towards the Centre, though it is invisible to our eyes. There is also in us an equally powerful urge, perhaps, which drives us outward towards the objects of senses, in the direction of the activities of life, forcing us to entangle ourselves in the social norms and the calls of life. Which is unimportant – the calls of life, or the aspirations which we regard as religious and uplifting? Actually, it is the expression of a single impulse in two different directions. This is a cosmical impulse and also a psychological one. The whole of Nature feels this impulse, the whole universe is filled with it and each one of us is also full with it.

The epics and the Puranas, the great heroic poems, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Puranas, or for that matter, Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, whatever be the name that we give to these epic approaches, all these are enrapturing, poetic exclamations of moments of rapture, when there was a flash of insight from the bottom of the soul of the poet concerned. These are the poems which we call the epics, and this is why we are moved when we read them. Our hair stands on end, our emotions begin to be in a state of turmoil and we begin to tremble and shake, and we are forced to assume the role of the personalities portrayed in the epics. We begin to move with those specimens of individuality which the epic poems describe. That is the power of the poet. The greater is the force of poetry, the more also we feel impelled to move with the individualities described therein, and we become those individuals for the time being. We laugh and weep, we feel happy and we are sunk in grief, as we move with the heroes and the heroines of these majestic epics.

We have in India two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and also eighteen Puranas, each one touching upon one aspect of this universal activity going on in the form of evolution and involution, the warfare between the divine and the un-divine forces. There is a perpetual conflict between god and devil, as the theologians sometimes tell us. The ruling divinity of the universe and the forces of darkness fight with each other. A noble and sublime instance of this epic event that is supposed to have taken place aeons back in the history of the cosmos, is the Skanda Shashthi Festival, which is observed for six days and which concludes and consummates on the sixth day, dedicated to Lord Skanda. The great hero of this cosmic drama which is described in the Skanda Purana, and in certain other scriptures like the Mahabharata, is Skanda, the great War-god of India. Oftentimes, westerners compare Him with Mars, the generalissimo of the celestials, the angels in heaven. In the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna, the spokesman of the great poem, identifies Himself with Skanda among the generals: "Senaninam-aham Skandah."

The religious history of this event commences with a magnificent portrayal of the great God Siva absorbed in meditation and deeply immersed in Samadhi, oblivious of what we may call darkness, evil or the centrifugal forces. God's absorption in Himself in the 'I am that I am' is the total cosmic opposition to the multifarious dark activities of the urges in the direction of the senses whose leader is the ego and whose colleagues are desire and anger. The greatest forms which this impulse of externality can take in us are these three. The ego is the centrality of the urge, the central dynamo, as it were, which pumps the energy necessary for the movement of this impulse outwardly. And, desire and anger are like the two arms of this adamantine centrality of individuals. So, in a way, we may say that there are only two forces, and we may not be wrong when sometimes we say that there are three forces. We have the Supreme Creator and the Satan in the Paradise Lost of Milton. We have the description of the Inferno, the Purgatorio and the Paradiso in the comedy of Dante. We have Ravana and Kumbhakarna in the Ramayana, Duryodhana and Duhsasana in the Mahabharata. Mostly they are forms of a dual force, like Sumbha and Nisumbha in the Devi Mahatmya, and Sunda and Upasunda in the Mahabharata. They are invincible for all practical purposes.

There cannot be so forceful an energy as desire, anywhere. Desire is the greatest power in the world. Of all the powers, desire is the strongest, because nothing can move without desire. Hence desire should be regarded as the impulse for any kind of movement, in any direction. The nature of desire is so complex that in a poem called the Kama Gita, in the Mahabharata, we are told that desire laughs at people who are trying to conquer it. Because, the attempt to conquer desire itself is a desire. This is the reason why it laughs. Sri Krishna sings this Kama Gita to illustrate the difficulty of conquering desire of any kind, unless proper means are employed.

The gods were startled, and they were in a state of consternation when the demoniacal forces attacked them. The gods too had their own strength, no doubt. Virtue is supposed to have power to overcome vice. But often we feel that the virtues of the world are incapable of confronting the vices of nature. It is not enough if we are virtuous. The vices are too strong for us. We have seen with our own eyes human history, these days. Virtue does not seem to succeed. The gods were virtuous and the demons were vicious. But, the gods could not face them, just as the virtuous ones in this world are unable to defeat the vicious. The virtuous people are suffering and the evil ones are thriving.

What is this mystery? The mystery is not known to many. The truth is that while virtue is generally understood as the opposite of vice, we forget the fact that it is also the counter-correlative of vice. So, it has not got the strength to confront the vice. Vice or evil can be overcome by a power which is transcendent and not merely ethical and moral. The evils of the world are not afraid of mere morality and ethics. Mere goodness will not do. There should be Divinity in our personality, and Divinity is far superior to mere goodness in the form of an ethical behaviour and a moral conduct. Divinity is an integrating force, while virtue is only a counter-correlative of vice. There cannot be virtue unless there is vice. Because, if there is no evil at all, there cannot be any such thing called goodness. But Divinity is a different thing altogether because it transcends both the good and the evil.

So, when the forces of darkness began to assault the angels, the Purana tells us that the forces were threefold. They are named, in the Skanda Purana, as Surapadma, Simhamukha and Taraka; and in the Mahabharata as Duryodhana, Kama and Duhsasana. No one, however virtuous and good he may be, could stand these forces. These demoniacal forces were too much for all the angels put together. The gods were trembling in fear, just as virtuous men in this world tremble in the presence of the evil dacoits and the unscrupulous thugs, who attack people inwardly as well as outwardly. Virtue seems to have no place in this world. Angels were driven out, the gods ran away from heaven and evil reigned supreme. What is the solution? Not mere goodness, not mere virtue, not a little charity, not a little sweet speech – none of these can stand their onslaught. These things will not cut ice in this evil world. Angels are good enough and they are far superior to humans in virtue, in goodness, in knowledge and in everything conceivable. But they could not stand this vicious force. They had to invoke God Himself. And I may tell you that the solution for all the evils of the world today is God only and not anything that man can do. Not I, not you, not anyone can solve the mystery of the evils of the world. Unless God is invoked, there is no hope. Lord Siva, the great Master of Yoga who was immersed in Samadhi, the abysmal universality of experience, was the only succour and the source of hope to the gods and angels, in the war depicted in the Skanda Purana. When this triple force, Surapadma, Simhamukha and Tarakasura, attacked the celestials from all sides, they did not know whom to appeal for help. They ran to Brahma, the Creator. He said, "There is only one solution, which is difficult to conceive, but there is no other alternative. The force, the energy, the militant expression of Lord Siva is the only answer to this problem of yours." When God becomes militant, nobody can stand before Him. When the lion stands up, you know that there can be none who can face it. God always keeps quiet. He is always in a state of Samadhi, as it were. He gives a long rope to everyone and never interferes with anybody's affairs. You may do anything that you like, you can hang yourself if you like and God is not bothered about it. But, when things become too bad and intolerable, when the whole world begins to cry, these great incarnations take place. If you or I cry individually in a corner, that may not be sufficient to bring down the Incarnations. God tolerates when one man cries or two people cry, because many others are happy. But when everyone starts crying, He cannot bear it anymore. This was the condition before the birth of Skanda. The whole world was in a state of travail, turmoil and agitation. The birth of the War-god Kumarasambhava, as Kalidasa puts it, is the story behind this religious festival called Skanda Shashthi.

Without going into the details of the whole story here, I would like to pinpoint only the significance of the occasion, viz., the impossibility to confront evil without the help of God, the power of Divinity. No one can face the world except with the help of God. Armaments, military and police are nothing before the evil of the world. No one can overcome it, and it shall continue. So, the Skanda Purana says that the War-god was born from the universal contemplation of the great Creator Himself. The Samadhi-Bhuta Sakti or the energy born out of the great Samadhi of Lord Siva, whom we call Skanda, is the answer for all the evils of the world. The force of cosmic desire became a cumulative focussing weapon, as it were, and with a sixfold face the divine energy began to confront the multifaceted dark forces. We have a sixfold psyche within us. The central, pivotal feature of it is the ego, as I called it, or we can say the mind, which expresses itself as the five senses. The five senses energised by the mind drive us outward in the direction of the objects of the world. You would have heard it said that the occasion for the birth of Skanda or the War-god was the stimulation by the god of Love, who darted his weapons towards the great Siva, who was then in a state of deep absorption, in Samadhi. These mysteries are difficult to understand. Ordinary minds are not made in such a way as to probe into these intricacies of Divine action. The energies that are required to face the evil of creation are potentially present inside us and they have to be worked up by a particular means. Desire is neither good nor bad. But, it can become bad or good according to the circumstances and the way in which it operates, under given conditions, in the history of creation. The birth of Skanda had to be occasioned by the activity of desire personified as Kama or Cupid, for the sake of overcoming the evils, one of which is desire itself, whose comrades are anger and other manifestations of egoism. The Bhagavadgita says, "Dharmaviruddho bhuteshu kamosmi." Here God refers to Himself as desire, bereft of or free from any contravention of Dharma. Here is a clue to the mystery of how it became necessary for the gods to employ Cupid as an instrument to rouse the divine desire in Siva for confronting the evil desire of the demons. Desire is like a diamond which cuts itself.

Religious adventure becomes more and more complicated as we proceed along with it further and further. In the earlier stages religion seems to be very simple, because it appears to be merely a question of going to the church or sitting before a deity in a temple or following a system of routine, a ritual, etc. But, when we enter into the heart of religion, it ceases to be any kind of routine. It becomes an inward adventure of the spirit. It is not a doing of something, but a complete reshuffling of one's personality and a transformation of oneself through a transvaluation of values, by a process in which we may have to submit to conscription the very same forces in the world which appear as our opponents at present. The world is an enemy and also a friend. The Bhagavadgita, again, gives an answer to this interesting question, how the same thing can be a friend and also an enemy. In the sixth chapter, we are told that the Self is the friend and the Self is also the enemy. Desire is a friend and also an enemy. The world is a friend and also an enemy. By means of the instrumentality of Kamadeva, the Divine Force of Siva was roused up into action, which is otherwise Omnipresent. In the Vedanta philosophy, a distinction is drawn between two types of consciousness, known as Sahaja-Jnana and Vritti-Jnana, which can be translated as a universally present impersonal, featureless consciousness and a directly operative consciousness acting in some given way, respectively. Or, to give a grosser example, the impersonal fire which is present in all the five elements around us, is to be distinguished from the concrete fire with which we cook our meal and light our lamp. Energy in action is the fire that is burning through the cooking stove, and the energy that is merely existing in an impersonal manner is like the fire present in all the five elements. So, the force of Siva was impersonal in the Samadhi state and it had no concern with good or bad, or anything that is taking place anywhere; but when it had to be employed as a weapon to counteract the evils of creation, it had to manifest itself and could not merely remain as an impersonal featureless Samadhi consciousness. So, the energy burst forth from Siva's third eye which is the power of Knowledge or Chit-Sakti. It is not a manipulated energy created through machines or through the energies of any kind of physical body or substance. Only the energy of Wisdom can counteract the evil of creation and not any other power, not anything that we do in the form of charity, goodness or our so-called religiosity.

So we have in this great epic of Skanda's incarnation, the 'Kumara Sambhava', the mighty portrayal of the adventure of the Spirit through the processes of Sadhana, spiritual practice, wherein we commune ourselves with the highest power that is conceivable, the energy of God Himself. We have to draw that energy forward and harness it to face this world. Then the power of externality gets transformed into the peace of universality. What happened to the Rakshasas – Surapadma, Simhamukha and Taraka? Those forces which were externalised and which were the desires impelling themselves outwardly in the direction of sense-objects, were transformed into the universal peace of creation. Peace reigned supreme. There is nothing called destruction anywhere. These demons were not destroyed in the ordinary sense of the term. You know the law of conservation of energy. Energy is never increasing or decreasing in creation. It is only concentrated in different forms and at different places. The concentrated form of it is what we call evil. So the very same energy which was in the form of these demoniacal elements was transformed by the Divine energy, which means to say, all that was impulsive in the direction of externality, space, time, causality and objectivity and desire of every kind, got withdrawn into the peace of the Absolute, and the Goal of life was reached. This is, in my humble opinion, the great spiritual significance behind the religious festival called the Skanda Shashthi, which falls on the sixth day of the bright fortnight in the month of Kartika (October-November). There are other meanings which are manifold and interesting. Out of all this variety, I have placed before you one feature for your contemplation.