Garuda: Awakening of Consciousness

The part of the earth on which the rising sun’s rays fall starts waking up. Birds come out of their nests and tend to their daily needs, flowers start blooming, and life in general wakes up – the sun gives life to earth. Similarly, in the morning the rays of the inner spiritual sun (or soul) come first into the buddhi, then the ego, after which the whole library of memory or samskaras is made active, and finally into the mind and the five senses and we wake up. We are never aware enough though to experience this inner sunrise.

As our level of awareness rises, we are at one point deeply astounded and affected by this inner sunrise. Before the real sun rises there is the dawn, represented by Vinita’s son Arun, then comes the advancing of the rays of light which travel nearly instantly, like an eagle, through space and the atmosphere creating a glorious spectacle of light, devouring the darkness of night. Thus we have the word Garuda (meaning eagle), which comes from the root ‘gru’ which is to devour. He is the carrier of the Lord Vishnu signalling the awakening of consciousness.

After five hundred years, Garuda was born from the second egg of Vinita. He was so radiant that Indra, the god of the Devas, asked Agni as to who it was that rivalled him in brightness. Agni told Indra that it was the son of Kasyapa and Vinita who would surpass all the gods in brilliance and that was the reason why Indra felt blinded by his light. When the Devas heard what Agni had to say, they started singing praises to this king of the birds. Garuda heard their prayers and reduced his brightness, thus not blinding them any longer.

As Vinita, his mother, was the slave of her sister Kadru, Garuda also had to do the bidding of Kadru and her sons. He grew tired of working for them and asked his brothers what he had to do to free his mother from the bondage. His brothers, the snakes, asked him to get for them the pot of Amrita (elixir of life), which was lying well protected with the Devas.

Garuda realised that to accomplish this nearly impossible task of getting Amrita, he would require a great amount of energy and so he asked his mother what he could eat to gain that large amount of energy. His mother suggested him to go to an island where there lived a tribe of evil ‘Nishadas’ (low caste) and to feed on them. Garuda did what he was told but even after eating all the Nishadas, he was still hungry. At this juncture he met his father, the sage Kasyapa, who told him that on a certain island he would see an elephant and a tortoise quarrelling – these were two rishis who since their previous birth had been quarrelling. Kasyapa asked Garuda to eat them and doing so, his hunger was appeased and then he was ready to go and wrest Amrita from the Devas.

Garuda heralds the rising of consciousness in the body-brain system and so the first thing he wants to do upon being born is to free himself and his mother from bondage. To be free, he has to get Amrita and to search for Amrita he needs energy. Whoever walks on the spiritual path needs energy and the main source of energy is stopping the wastages of our energy in negative emotions and inner chattering.

Vinita tells him to eat the tribe of Nishadas. They are of low-caste performing menial labour but had turned to evil ways – instead of performing hard labour they are sitting and just talking in the mind. The word ‘Nishada’ means to sit. So Vinita tells Garuda to gain energy by stopping the inner chatter.

Garuda was still not satisfied and needed more energy and so his father tells him to eat the elephant and tortoise. Elephant is a symbol of the muladhara chakra, also of intelligence and the earth element in the muladhara chakra. The swadhisthana has the element of water. The tortoise represents the meeting of the two elements. His father tells Garuda that there is a large reservoir of energy within all of us, which can be tapped by higher yogic techniques. Once he eats them, Garuda’s huger is satiated and so will be ours when we accomplish these tasks within ourselves.

In the next article, we will see how Garuda battles with the devas and wrests the pot of amrita from them.