The seeker experiences truth in two stages – first, there is the feeling of truth and later, there is the seeing of truth. Sage Patanjali calls the seeing of the truth as ‘pragna’ and its unfolding in seven stages has been explained in the yoga-sutras. He calls the feeling of truth as ‘viveka’ and four sutras in the yoga-sutras explain the various aspects of viveka.
Let us go back to the story of Shantanu and Ganga and see how Ganga represents the feeling of truth, and Shantanu our logical mind. Even though they marry, Shantanu cannot understand why Ganga drowns his seven children.
The great king Prateep was doing penance on the banks of the Ganga to be graced with the birth of a son. The river, in the form of the maiden Ganga, appeared in front of him and sat on his right thigh. The king opened his eyes and seeing her said “O bearer of good fortune, what can I do to please you.” She answered “O king, I saw you and have desired you, please do accept me.” The king replied that only a daughter sits on the right thigh, the wife sits on the left and so he would only accept her as a daughter in-law, saying that she could marry his son who was yet to be born. Ganga accepts this and goes back to the river waiting for the son to be born.
Shantanu was born to King Prateep and was crowned king when he came of age. Having fulfilled his duties, Prateep retired to the forests. Before leaving, Prateep told to Shantanu of the promise he had given to Ganga. Shantanu then spent his time meditating upon the river Ganga. One day, the beautiful and celestial Ganga appeared before him. He fell in love with her immediately and she agreed to marry him on the condition that he would neither question anything she did nor utter a negative word to her, to which Shantanu agreed.
Seven children are born to Shantanu but Ganga drowned each of them in the river immediately after their birth. When the eighth child was born, Shantanu stopped Ganga from doing so. Having violated his promise, Ganga left Shantanu and took along with her their eighth son. She came back to return Shantanu his son when he was sixteen years old. She explained to him that these eight were the great Vasus who were cursed to be born on earth and she had promised to free them from mortal bondage as soon as they were born.
It is at this point that the real story of the Mahabharata starts, as if suddenly wisdom had vanished and calamity upon calamity fell upon the house of the Kurus. This circle did not return back to peace and prosperity for over three generations and not till a great war had to be fought, wiping out nearly all the kings of the earth.
Ganga comes from the Sanskrit root ‘to go’ and also the root forming ‘gyan’ or knowledge. It is a river that flows from the higher realms to lower ones. In today’s language, we can call this the flow of intuition or intuitive intelligence. The seeker on the path experiences this flow of truth as intuitive intelligence (or the birth of viveka) and it gives one great joy and peace. To be able to use this flow of truth that has sprung up in the heart of the disciple, it must marry the logical mind. This is depicted by Shantanu.
Before the intuitive intelligence can connect with the logical mind, there is a long period of waiting where the student first holds and digests the truth that has been experienced. One cannot immediately talk about it. This is shown where Ganga first goes to meet King Prateep and sits on his right thigh. The flow of truth can only be expressed by the logical brain and initially there is a mismatch as it tries to find expression through a wrong instrument or the non-logical brain. Here the non-logic is shown as she having to wait for her instrument of expression to be born. The experience of truth is a flash, fast but one has to hold it because the speed of the logical brain is too slow to have clarity in expression and this requires the patience of waiting for one full generation.
Once the inner viveka starts flowing within the disciple, like the river Ganga, one must look after it like a soft flower. Then, one can feel the truth while our logical brains can see only the fact, not the truth. Shantanu as the logical brain thinks Ganga is killing her sons while Ganga, who feels the truth beyond the fact of sons, is providing freedom to certain souls. As long as we have only our logical minds to guide us, we will keep on mistaking the facts we see as truth.
If a disciple, at any time, with his logical brain starts doubting or questioning his viveka then it will desert him at that very moment, and it will take a long cycle of suffering and pain for it to come back. He has to let it flow and just act the way it directs him. The minute Shantanu questions Ganga, she leaves him.
We must remember that truth is like a very fragile and soft lover and once it manifests in our body- brain system, we must look after it with love and care.