Sacred Myth - A Therapeutic Tool
Reading Sacred Myth as a Remedial Measure for Planetary Afflictions
------ © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
Note: The following article is taken from the introductory chapters to the author's unpublished book 'Planetary Myth - A Therapeutic Tool' . In this book the author draws from many ancient Indian sources and sometimes compares other myths like those of the Greeks or Romans, where relevant.
Remedial Measures for planetary afflictions
Vedic astrology is well known for the remedial measures that it prescribes for various planetary afflictions and periods. From charity to chanting, a variety of techniques are used. Some prescribe chanting of sacred syllables and long mantras, while others prescribe wearing carefully chosen gemstones. Yet others recommend donating particular articles to appease particular planets. But the simplest of all remedies, is devout reading of particular myths or stories. Meditating on these myths is a very old custom in India . The myths are generally interesting and can be read by anyone. Remedies like chanting, quite often have dos and don'ts attached. One needs to be initiated by an adept for most mantras. The right accent and intonation is often very important.
And so far as the gemstones are concerned, picking the most suitable gem is in itself a not too easy job. Even if one has successfully identified the appropriate gemstone, it is hard to get the right quality stone. Flawed stones can channelise negative energies of the planet. Rituals like the Yagnas are quite often costly and one could face practical difficulties. Talismans and other such remedies give scope for exploitation. It is quite common to come across unscrupulous astrologers who prescribe costly remedies just to fill their pockets. Some astrologers are more eager to prescribe remedies than to predict. I could go on pointing out the difficulties one encounters, in the process of trying to appease the planets. What is the way out?
Three modes of remedying- Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic
First let us see how these remedies work. Certain remedies try to neutralize certain previous karmas. Some try to increase the balance of good karmas. Based on their approach and spirit, remedies can be classified into three categories- tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. Most remedies of the 'Lal Kitab' are either tamasic or rajasic. Tamasic remedies give temporary relief only. Carrying or wearing a particular thing on one's body, or throwing coins in flowing water or not parting with articles signified by a planet during its period, are all, of this kind. They don't really either neutralize the unwholesome karmas of the past or help acquire merit. They could at the most give only temporary relief. Certain other karmas like feeding birds, animals and persons signified by the planet aim at neutralizing the previous unwholesome karmas, or at increasing the merit (punya). Such remedies are rajasic. They are much better than the tamasic ones. Yet they do not work at the causal level.
The Tantric path offers a variety of remedies, some sattviv, some rajasic and some tamasic. There are some who employ the knowledge of Tantra for self-centered activities, activities that at times are not in others' interests. Energy is in itself, neither good nor evil. It is the way we employ it that makes the difference. Though one can employ the great forces of nature for evil purposes or to harm others, in the long run, the effect of their "negative karmas" will catch up with them. None can escape the law of karma. Employing the same cosmic forces for peaceful and beneficial purposes is allowed. At the same time, it should be remembered that the use of yantra, mantra and tantra for occult purposes, for the fulfillment of worldly desires is only peripheral and the actual purpose of Tantra- to expand one's awareness till it liberates oneself taking one back to the Cosmic source- should not be lost sight of.
The sattvic remedies are the ones that work at the causal level. They cut across the root of karmas, by bringing a change of consciousness. What is the point in feeding crows, when one remains arrogant and petty minded? Ultimately all sattvic remedies aim at a transformation of consciousness. For it is here that the key to 'Wholeness' lies. Any significant change has to come from within. And for such change to be long lasting, it needs to be from the source. So only remedies that work on the roots of karma, can give more lasting effects. Such sattvic remedies include genuine sadhana (spiritual work) and a selfless or at least 'detached' attitude. But spiritual work done with a motive becomes rajasic. Thus chanting a sattvic mantra for the fulfillment of a desire, can make the remedy a rajasic one. Nevertheless it still elevates one's mind. Thus chanting certain sattvic mantras, reading or listening to the sacred myths, serving others and charity, are all sattvic remedies, depending on one's attitude.
While chanting some mantras needs a certain amount of spiritual discipline, the degree of discipline required while reading the stories, is far less, thus making it a far more Universal remedy, a remedy that can be adopted by one and all, a remedy that is very simple and has no side effects. The safest remedies are reading the sacred stories, and helping others. When done sincerely with the right preparation, chanting mantras too is good. But a wrong approach may at times bring unnecessary problems. Chanting the names of the Supreme God is another safe and easy remedy. Meditation is also quite beneficial. But most people find meditation either boring or difficult. It is here that the stories are very useful.
The status of Sacred Myth in remedial Measures
While reading the stories, one can easily concentrate, thus making it easier to indirectly meditate on the same energy. Reading the stories of the planets and the respective deities is another form of meditating on them, thus opening our minds to their beneficial influences. The more we meditate on the various significations and lessons that a planet imparts, the more we get attuned to the positive workings of the planets. Gradually we imbibe the 'spirit' of the planet as its relevance and significance 'sinks' into our psyche. We become channels for the benefic planetary energies to flow through. But for this to happen, we should become hollow, like a bamboo. A solid stick cannot become a flute. Only a hollow bamboo can become a flute, like the flute in the hands of Krishna . Then the cosmic energies flow through us; eternal music comes through us.
Just as "Darkness is not dispensed just by mentioning the word 'lamp' " (Kularnava Tantra), however well said, words are insufficient. It is the actual experience that can give self-realization. This is what a devout reading of the sacred myth does. The external worship is much more than mere obeisance to the deity. It is a psychological experiment of systematically attuning the body and the psychic forces for a gradual unfolding. It is a process of 'centering' one's psychic energies and ultimately the 'unification' with the cosmos. The degree to which the stories help us, depends on our faith too. Done with an attitude of faith, love and sincerity, the practice of devout reading unites theory and practice to help in the expansion of consciousness.
That which never happened but always is
At this point, it is helpful to know more about myth in general. Myth in its popular sense, means something widely believed and contrary to fact. But it is not so. As Salustius said, "Myths are things which never happened but always are ". In its earlier sense, a myth is more like a metaphor of some subtlety on a subject difficult to describe in any other way . A myth is "an involuntary collective statement based on an unconscious psychic experience". According to Carl Jung, " The primitive mentality does not invent myths, it experiences them. Myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche . . . Many of these unconscious processes may be indirectly occasioned by consciousness, but never by conscious choice. Others appear to arise spontaneously, that is to say, from no discernible or demonstrable conscious cause. ( "The Psychology of the Child Archetype," ibid. par. 261.)
Ancient Indian tradition too holds that its mythology is not invented and that it is based on original revelations. And that it is timeless. It is living wisdom. Each time the stories are retold, they become alive again. Such stories are experienced, rather relived. Not in the external world, but in an internal world, within the psyche. But the listener has to be open and receptive. The stories are charged with energy, energy that can be transmitted to whoever is open enough to receive it. But myth cannot speak to a listener whose mind is barred by over-intellectualization. If one starts intellectualizing any experience, the whole charm is lost. If one starts intellectualizing love, it boils down to chemistry, depriving oneself of the wonderful experience called love. So too with Myth. In order to experience the living wisdom, for it to work on your consciousness, you have to stop intellectualizing the stories. You should let them penetrate your consciousness, so that you may touch their source- the preconscious psyche. In doing so, you will touch your own source- where you are one with the Cosmic.
Myth can be therapeutic too, as modern psychology affirms. But that is not the end of it. The images and symbols used by mythology are not randomly selected, but very precise since they evolved naturally. Mythology makes use of precise, vital images and symbols to awaken the lost memory of our true nature, and in the process, helps the individual to recover the lost unity and assume the nature of the original Cosmic consciousness.
Sacred myth- A veritable labyrinth of symbols and images
In these myths we come a long way, passing though a veritable labyrinth as it were, of symbols, images, gods and goddesses. At times, the average reader may wonder what actually these symbols and deities are. Are they just man-made conceptions to facilitate comprehension? Are the deities just various psychological forces? Are they just transformers of our psychic Energy? Are they just Cosmic forces? Are they just universal archetypes repeating constantly in the midst of men at all times? To answer that they are any of these would be wrong for they are all these and much more. After reading the stories, if anyone mistakes them to be an intellectual game, there would be nothing more farther from truth. Sadhana is not an intellectual game, but a spiritual experience, which helps us to discover our Cosmic roots, an exercise which helps us to discover our own self, the awareness of which makes life joyful, radiant and infinitely meaningful.
Such symbols and deities are not "manufactured", but discovered through primal inner sources. It is true that the symbols are born from a universal human compulsion and embody "timeless" universal principles. True Shakti is power and energy. Yet to render Shakti merely as power would be erroneous. She is not just power or energy as is understood commonly. She is the power of Shiva (Consciousness). She is the power of everything, the power of peace, the power of meditation, the power of silence, the power of action, a power that permeates everything from within. She is the power of wisdom, devotion, meditation and action. She is Svashakti, one's own power. She is the power of transformation. And Sadhana awakens the dormant power within us. Shakti is the creative mystery, which displays itself in various ways. To the physicist, she is the inherent active force of matter; to the psychologist, she is the force of mind (the psychological force); to the mystic she is the force behind all that IS.
All the deities we worship are an embodiment of various attributes that reveal the supreme principle (ultimate reality) in one way or the other. Everything is born from cosmic consciousness. When we do not forget this fundamental truth, there would be no difficulty in understanding that the Supreme consciousness, the Ultimate Reality which is beyond all forms and descriptions can assume the forms of the various deities, in response to the wishes of the devotees who supplicate it. Countless mystics and seers have realized, seen and experienced these forms. These deities are not just symbols but real. They are as real as you and me, but on a different level.
Nobody can deny the power of the mind. It is the power of the mind that underlies all man made creations. The imagination, dreams and thoughts of man slowly become a reality. Every scientific discovery and invention is proof of this. Seeing the birds flying, man, by the power of his mind has invented the aeroplane. Now imagine the power of millions of people meditating on a form of the Supreme, as a chosen deity! The power of their minds is enough to really make the Supreme Principle manifest itself in the form that they meditate on. New archetypes emerge at times from the collective mind. The older archetypes do not die, but continue to live, albeit through the new ones, and keep surfacing again. Thus old ones merge into new archetypes. This process of integration goes on as the collective mind lives its role in Nature's evolution. Thus the Vedic Rudra is integrated into the Tantric Shiva, who is adored in different forms, each form being a facet of the same Shiva.
You should also remember, the famous Rig vedic affirmation, 'Ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti'. 'Truth is one; sages call it by various names' (1.164.46) sums up the Vedic approach to the various names of Truth or Reality. Though the various deities appear to be different and independent, they are actually facets of the same Cosmic Consciousness, Brahman, or the Supreme.
Archetypes and archetypal images as Universal motifs
From the depths of the prehistoric human psyche, emerge the nebulous beginnings of the images of the gods and demons. Such images grew slowly and developed spontaneously as man moved through and lived in the various bygone eras. They were not thrust on man, but manifested naturally as any other archetypal image would. Here it may not be out of context if I deviate, to acquaint the average reader with the term 'archetype'.
The word 'archetype' was first used by the famous sage and psychologist Carl Gustav Jung in 1919. Today it is not an uncommon word. But how many of us have understood Jung's usage of the word? I have often come across people using the word differently. What are archetypes? Jung posited that in addition to the personal unconscious, there is also the collective unconscious . The collective unconscious is formed of two components- the instincts and the archetypes . He had discovered that the delusions of the insane seemed to call on a collective fund of archaic images and symbols.
While instincts are impulses, which carry out actions from necessity and have a biological quality (for instance the homing instinct in birds), the archetypes are different. Archetypes are innate, unconscious modes of understanding which regulate our perception itself. These inborn forms of 'intuition' are the necessary determinants of all psychic phenomena. At times it seems as if Jung doesn't make a distinction between the instincts and the archetypes, while at many places he differentiates them.
Jung also believed that many of our more complex social behaviors and/or rituals are also inborn, universal, archetypal behaviors. Then the intricate mating games and courtship rituals that we humans (as well as other animals) engage in, are also considered to be universal, archetypal behaviors. Going beyond the basic instincts, beyond the social, "instincts" (rituals or behaviors), Jung saw even the human desire for spirituality - our need for experiencing "the Eternal" (God) - as being an inborn archetypal behavior.
"If therefore, we speak of "God" as an "archetype," we are saying nothing about His real nature - but are rather letting it be known that "God" already has a place in that part of our psyche which is pre-existent to consciousness. And that therefore God cannot be considered merely an invention of consciousness. We neither make Him more remote nor eliminate Him, but bring Him closer to the possibility of being experienced.... The psyche of the infant in its preconscious state is anything but (italics mine) a tabula rasa (blank sheet); it is already preformed in a recognizably individual way, and is moreover equipped with all specifically human instincts, as well as with the a priori foundations of the higher functions... And if, by employing the concept of "archetype," we attempt to define a little more closely the point at which the "god" grips us, we have not abolished anything, only approached closer to the source of life." (Short Excerpt from Memories, Dreams, and Reflections) Thus Jung tells us that we are born with the desire to know and experience God!
Archetypal images, as universal patterns or motifs, which come from the collective unconscious, are the basic content of religions, mythologies, legends and fairy tales. "An archetypal content expresses itself, first and foremost, in metaphors. If such a content should speak of the sun and identify with it the lion, the king, the hoard of gold guarded by the dragon, or the power that makes for the life and health of man, it is neither the one thing nor the other, but the unknown third thing that finds more or less adequate expression in all these similes, yet-to the perpetual vexation of the intellect-remains unknown and not to be fitted into a formula." ( "The Psychology of the Child Archetype," CW 9i, par. 267) On a personal level, archetypal motifs are patterns of thought or behavior that are common to humanity at all times and in all places.
The archetypes have no material existence and reveal themselves only as 'images' . Jung distinguished per se the 'archetype' from the 'archetypal image'. The existence of the archetype itself can only be inferred, since it is by definition, unconscious. But the archetypal image protrudes into consciousness and is the way we perceive the archetype for ourselves. Thus archetypes are primordial ideas, common to all mankind, and express only through the archetypal images. Archetypes are charged with emotion and function autonomously from the unconscious. They are numinous, electrically charged with a sense of the sacred.
Hinduism- A living system of universal symbols and images
T hroughout the centuries, various religions and their sacred writings have identified archetypes (and visionary, numinous archetypal experiences) using a wide array of terminology for them. While it is true that other ancient cultures across the globe, too had their own system of symbols, Hinduism, is probably the only one that has survived and been preserved well over the centuries. It has the most evolved, universal and living system of symbols, images, and other such tools of transformation. Such archetypes and myths belong to none, they are universal. Very little of ancient cultures like the Babylonian is known today. The fragments are hard to follow. The essence of the Greek myths had been lost and they have degenerated from living wisdom to allegories and fables. It is here that the world can benefit from the living wisdom of ancient India .
Sacred Myth- A therapeutic tool
Meditating on the sacred myths can help the seeker in synthesizing both the conscious and unconscious contents of the mind. Thus it is therapeutic and takes the individual closer to 'Wholeness'. Jung's own words best describe this idea. "The archetype is pure, invitiated nature, and it is nature that causes man to utter words and perform actions whose meaning is unconscious to him, so unconscious that he no longer gives it a thought. A later, more conscious humanity, faced with such meaningful things whose meaning none could declare, hit upon the idea that these must be the last vestiges of a Golden age, where there were men who knew all things and taught wisdom to the nations. In the degenerate days that followed, these teachings were forgotten and were now only repeated as mindless mechanical gestures. In view of the findings of modern psychology it cannot be doubted that there are preconscious archetypes which were never conscious and can be established only indirectly through their effects upon the conscious contents. The achievement of a synthesis of conscious and unconscious contents, and the conscious realization of the archetype's effects upon the conscious contents, represents the climax of a concentrated spiritual and psychic effort, in so far as this is undertaken consciously and of set purpose." (412-413, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, The Collected Works, Volume 8)
Myth as a therapeutic tool, exorcises the practitioner's (sadhak) mind and liberates him from his various mental complexes. The Cosmic process is expressed in images. The various psychic or psychological forces are picturised as deities, male or female, beautiful or terrifying. Some myths require the recognition and transformation of negative forces with in oneself. Powerful as they are, these negative forces (demoniac forces) are constantly at work with in and cannot be suppressed. They need to be accepted and given a different orientation, a 180 degree turn. Fully envisioning the darker side of one's personality, these dark forces are transformed into illuminating forces. Most of the myths which narrate the struggle between the Demons (asuras) and Gods (Devas) symbolize the inner conflict between the positive and negative forces within us. Eventually in all myths, the Gods triumph, but not without the intervention of the Supreme Lord.
It is divine grace, prayer and meditation that help us to overcome the demonic forces of ignorance, egoism and lust. The demons as well as the Gods are Universal Archetypes, symbols which when used with background knowledge of mythology, bring to life the various psychic forces. These are then, worked out in a suitable environment.
Sacred Myth in the traditional context
The Puranas declare that one derives immense benefits by reading the sacred stories. For instance, the Markandeya purana affirms that all sins will be forgiven by listening to the stories of that Purana. It also promises a long life and fulfillment of one's objectives. Further it is stated that reading the eighteen puranas, one attains the merits (punya) one achieves by performing an ashwamedha sacrifice. The Agni purana too declares that great benefits are derived from merely hearing the puranas recited, that if one arranges for a traditional recitation of the Puranas, one lives long and attains heaven. Likewise other puranas too affirm that great benefits can be derived from a devout reading of the sacred stories.
The eighteen puranas are held so sacred each of them is associated with one part of Vishnu's body, as the Padma purana affirms. The same text promises that hearing a single verse of the sacred text will destroy the sins committed in the space of one day. One gets the merit of donating a thousand cows to a spiritual person, just by listening to the recital of one chapter of the text. It also affirms that listening to a recital of the entire text can fetch the same merit as the performance of an ashwamedha yagna, and that listening to the recital of the text is far better than performing great austerities or donating alms in terms of the rewards obtained.
Most people find it cumbersome to go through the entire body of sacred myths. Yet others do not have sufficient time to do so. Since the texts affirm unanimously that reading even a single story or even a verse is highly meritorious, it would be definitely very beneficial to read some stories at least. But how does one select the stories? There should be some criteria.
In vedic astrology, there is a unique scheme of the dashas (or planetary periods) which help an astrologer in timing the predictions. The astrological texts also recommend certain remedial measures for each of the planets during their periods. Based on these criteria, I have compiled all the stories of the planets first.
In Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra, Maharshi Parasara reveals the following. "The Unborn lord has many incarnations. He has incarnated as the nine grahas to bestow on the living beings the results due to their Karmas. He assumed the auspicious form of grahas to annihilate the evil forces and sustain the divine. From Sun the incarnation of Rama, from Moon that of Krishna , from Mars that of Narasimha, from Mercury that of Buddha, from Jupiter that of Vamana, from Venus that of Parashurama, from Saturn that of Kurma (Tortoise), from Rahu (north node) that of Varaha (boar), and from Ketu (south node) that of Meena (Fish) occurred. All other incarnations than these also are through the grahas. The beings with a predominant Cosmic Consciousness are divine. The beings with more individual consciousness are mortal beings. The high degree of Cosmic Consciousness from the grahas did incarnate as Rama, Krishna , etc. After completing the mission, the divine element from the grahas again merges in the respective grahas. The individual portions from the grahas take births as human beings and live their lives according to their Karmas and again merge in the grahas. And at the time of the Great Destruction, the grahas as well merge in Lord Vishnu."
Following Parasara, I decided to include the stories of the incarnations of Vishnu for the nine planets respectively. Each of Vishnu's incarnations is said to have taken place through a particular graha (planet). Since there is a correspondence between the planets and various deities, reading the stories of the deity corresponding to the planet, is also an effective remedy. Following certain authorities like the Uma Samhita , I decided to include particular cantos from the Ramayana.
Tradition holds that devout reading of certain cantos of the Ramayana is an effective remedy for particular planetary afflictions. So I have written a section on selected cantos of the Ramayana. I have followed only Valmiki's Ramayana, remaining faithful to the original so as to retain the original flavour. Thus this book has a collection of sacred myths from many ancient Indian sources. And these stories have been categorized according to the planets. Thus if you are running the dasha or antardasha of Saturn, you can read either the myths related to Saturn, or the story of Vishnu's incarnation as the turtle, or the specific canto from the Ramayana, or you can read all of them if you have the time and enjoy doing so. Perhaps you might want to light a lamp, burn incense, and then settle down to meditate on the myths, having created a suitable environment. You could read the myths related to a planet on its weekday regularly, or even daily for a period of forty days or for the entire period or subperiod of the planet. Perhaps you may just want to read the myths whenever you feel like. But as you continue doing so, gradually the myth will start working on you. The various images will become alive and eventually be integrated, taking you closer to your true Self.
In this book, I have narrated stories of the planets or their deities mostly. Most of the stories are extracted from the Puranas. Here let me tell you about the puranas in general. It is widely believed that the puranas were compiled by the sage Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. The puranas themselves declare a slightly different version. In each age (Mahayuga), in every Dwapara yuga, Vishnu in his form of Veda Vyasa, incarnates to uphold the Vedas. He divides the Vedas and helps to preserve them for the coming kali yuga. Let me acquaint you with the time cycles as envisioned by the ancients.
One kalpa is one day for Brahma. A day of Brahma is followed by the night of Brahma. At the end of one Kalpa, the Universe is dissolved. And 14 manvantaras constitute a cycle or Kalpa. A manvantara is an era and is ruled by a Manu. Currently we are in Vaivasvata manvantara. 71 Mahayugas constitute one manvantara. One Mahayuga comprises of 12000 years of the gods or, equivalently, 4,320,000 human years. In other words a Veda Vyasa is born every 4.3 million years! In this Manvantara, twenty-eight mahayugas have elapsed. Thus twenty-eight Veda Vyasas have incarnated so far.
The Vyasa for this Dwapara yuga is Krishna Dwaipayana, the son of the illustrious sage Parasara, who is considered the father of Vedic astrology, for it is held widely that it was he who composed the famous astrological text 'Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra'. When Krishna Dwaipayayana Vedavyasa sought to divide the four Vedas, he first gathered around him four learned disciples and taught them the four Vedas (Vishnu Purana). He later taught the puranas which are known as the fifth veda, to his disciple Romaharshana (The Bhagavata Purana). In the beginning, there was only one Purana and sage Vyasa divided it into eighteen. (Matsya Purana). The original source for all puranas is the Purana Samhita, which Vyasa taught to Romaharshana. Romaharshana had six disciples to whom he taught it. Sumati, Agnivarchah, Mitrayu, Shamshapayana, Akritavrana and Savarni are the names of these disciples. Each of these disciples composed a purana based on the Purana Samhita. (Vishnu Purana).
As the Linga Purana says, it could be possible that sage Parasara taught the Purana Samhita to his son Vyasa who in turn taught it to Romaharshana. Thus though all the puranas are attributed to Vyasadeva himself, the texts of the eighteen puranas were written by various disciples. This has resulted in some differences between the texts. Moreover, most of these texts that we see today in their present and final form, were rewritten with many interpolations between 300AD and 1000AD. But earlier versions of the puranas were in existence even during 500BC. This also explains the differences and contradictions between the puranas.
Thus to take everything in the puranas as final or authentic in a historical or factual sense may be erroneous. At the same time, this should not deter us from benefiting from the living wisdom. Moreover there are many gems, facts and spiritual truths in these myths in spite of the interpolations. Most of the interpolations are obvious to a discerning reader in their subject and style. Some accounts are amplified beyond their primary scope. At times efforts to glorify or elevate particular schools of thought or deities are made in these interpolations. But it is possible to still feel the common spirit and the original sense of the myth.
Each text highlights certain things and has its own uniqueness while all the texts have some similiarities. Some stories are differently narrated in different puranas. I have tried to capture the spirit of the story while remaining faithful to the original. Wherever two puranas differed I followed the more plausible version. I also preferred the most common version. At the same time, if a purana could add to the richness of detail to the central story selected from another, I borrowed such additional details. Rarely I took the liberty of adding a comment or two where it seemed relevant. But such comments too are based on a knowledge of other sacred texts considered to be an integral part of the Vedic literature. The agamas, jyotisa or astrology, the itihasas, the puranas, all support each other.
Reading this book will give you the benefits of reading selected portions of the puranas. Since it is declared by the puranas themselves that reading even a single story or even a verse is highly meritorious, I am convinced that a devout reading of the sacred myths in this book will prove beneficial spiritually and astrologically too. Since they have been categorized under the corresponding planet's section, one may even read the myths systematically according to the current planetary period or sub-period. Or you may just meditate on these stories for their spiritually therapeutic value.
.To be continued