Patanjali has a beautiful sutra wherein he says ‘that which is seen by the five senses comes into the body-brain system’. We often say that ‘such’ an event happened in our lives. Patanjali says that man has the choice of interpreting the experience of an event in either of two ways. The first he calls as ‘bhoga’ or indulgence – we react to the event mechanically without any introduction of consciousness or simply put, we are hypnotised by the event. The other way he calls as ‘apavarga’ or evolution – between the reception of the event by the mind through the five senses and the acting upon it by the brain, we introduce a pause. This pause creates a gap wherein consciousness comes in; the action which arises out of this introduction of consciousness is not a mechanical reaction but a silent and deliberate powerful response to the event. The word responsibility comes from response, signifying it is man’s duty to rise from a lowly mechanical action to a higher conscious action.
Of all life-forms on this planet, only human beings have the capacity to act and simultaneously be conscious of their actions. The scriptures say that nature experimented with different energies in the plant and animal kingdoms. Through years of evolution when man inherited these energies, they came with nature’s innate tendency of mechanicalness. In the Mahabharata, the beautiful story of Vinita and Kadru represents our two patterns of living life – either reactive and mechanical, or conscious and responsible.
The sage Kasyapa married the two sisters Vinita and Kadru. Though very beautiful, they were both jealous of each other, even though Vinita’s was a positive jealousy which does not lead into harming the other, but Kadru’s was a very negative jealousy or rather envy, where she wanted to bring harm to Vinita. Their husband granted each of them a boon. Kadru asked first that a thousand sons be born to her of great strength and bravery. When Vinita’s turn came, she asked for two sons who in all respects would be greater than Kadru’s sons put together. Kadru laid a thousand eggs which soon hatched into a thousand snakes. Vinita laid two eggs which her maids kept in warm water.
Five hundred years went by but Vinita’s eggs had not hatched and she started growing impatient as Kadru had already had her thousand children. In her impatience she broke open one egg, and a child came out but only his upper part was fully developed and had no legs. The child was very angry with his mother for being so rash that his body was only half-formed and cursed her to slavery. He did leave his mother saying that if she was patient, the son born of the other egg would deliver her from bondage. The child was called Arun and became the charioteer of the Sun. The sun represents light and Arun twilight.
There was a divine horse Ucchayhsravas (higher hearing). Both the sisters then had an argument as to its colour. Vinita said the whole horse was white while Kadru said that even though the body was white, the tail was black. They entered into a wager that whoever lost would become the slave of the others. Kadru knew that the horse was fully white but she was very cunning, and ordered her sons (snakes) to go and cover the tail so it would look black. Her children did not want to deceive Vinita but Kadru threatened them that those who do not obey her would die in a snake yagna that was to happen in the future. So out of fear, most of her children went and entwined themselves around the horse’s tail. When the sisters came they saw the now black tail black and Kadru won the wager and Vinita had to become her slave.
The word ‘Kadru’ means a root, or that which is reddish. Experiences and actions are of two kinds – conscious and mechanical. In all mechanical experiences and actions, there is a residue which becomes a root for the repetition of a similar kind of experience. Thus all mechanical action is a kind of bondage which is represented by Kadru. Her children were the snakes or ‘sarpa’ which also means experience, and represent the roots of desire and cunningness lying in our unconscious minds waiting to spring up at any time. ‘Vinita’ means bent down or humble, that is in each experience in life if we practice bowing down or dissolving the ego, the experience becomes a conscious one and does not leave a residue to create the root of repetition. In all mechanical experiences, attention and energy both flow outwards and are fragmented. In all conscious experiences, attention and energy flows back inwards and becomes one-pointed. This fragmentation of attention into different patterns and desires that lie in our unconscious minds are the thousand snakes, or the sons of Kadru.
The root cause of acting mechanically is impatience represented by Vinita’s impatience in breaking the egg. What this reveals is that due to impatience, our consciousness is a slave of mechanical action. The horse Ucchayhsravas means to hear the higher. The higher is pure and white. Within all of us this higher or voice of consciousness lies, but we cannot hear it because it speaks in whispers and we must pause to listen to it. We only hear our ego which shouts loudly and blindly reacts to every situation in life. We condition the higher by our unfulfilled desires that are the snakes covering the tail of time. Because of this, we never see the real and it is desire which makes us a slave to time.
Vinita has to wait for another five hundred years to have a son who can free her. This shows that to be free of our own karma requires time, patience, and effort. ‘Garuda’ or the eagle is born of the next egg and it is he who frees Vinita. The eagle flies high and represents consciousness; when a bird flies it does not leave footprints, actions then performed leave no residue. We will look into this in detail in our next article.