Let us once again touch on the subject of pride and vanity. For the student of spirituality these two emotional giants must be studied and observed over a very long period of time. Both of them are great friends of our sense of ego, also called self-love. What is the difference between pride and vanity? Pride can be useful. If someone is excelling in life, then pride can make me put in extra effort towards my goal. Vanity is something entirely different. In vanity, I create a picture of myself and then fall in love with that very picture. Also, connected with vanity is the idea of making an impression on another, the need to have and please the audience.
I may have studied medicine and become a doctor and I sincerely believe that I am a good doctor – this is pride, just a picture of me. But, when someone criticises me as a doctor and throws a stone at this picture of mine, and I run to defend myself, to somehow convince him of my ability as a doctor, and feel the need to protect this picture of myself that I have now fallen in love with – this is vanity.
We create so many pictures of ourselves throughout our lives, and our consciousness gets trapped in these pictures. All these pictures are imaginary but they bind us and we must work to be free of them such as ‘I am generous, helpful, and always speak the truth’. One can see this picture manifesting in small things in life, say, a person has a self-picture that he is a very important person in life; this picture can be observed when he walks along the road greeting people, acknowledging their nods, or maybe stopping to chat with the milkman. Not only do we have pictures about ourselves, but about others too. We say ‘he is selfish’ or ‘he is greedy’ or ‘he is a good politician’, all these are pictures and truth means to be free of such pictures. We are slaves to two pictures simultaneously – for instance when I say that he is selfish, at the same time it is implied that I, in some manner, consider myself generous. We love our pictures, they feel so sweet, and when someone praises these pictures, it feels as if we have eaten a sumptuous chocolate.
In Greek mythology, there is the story of Narcissus (coming from the Greek word ‘narke’ - to sleep). Our pictures put us in the sleep of imagination. Narcissus was full of vanity and he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Not realising it was his own reflection, he wasted his life away. We spend our whole lives living in one such picture or another.
In the Mahabharata, King Shantanu marries the fisherwoman Satyavati and makes her his queen. They have two children, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Before they reach puberty, Shantanu dies and it is left to Bhishma to bring up the two children. Chitrangada, even though young, is crowned as king. He grew up to be a brave a learned youth. He was very proud of his bravery and felt that no other king could defeat him. Once he went into the forest hunting and he met a Gandharva (celestial being) with the same name as his. The Gandharva did not like it that someone else had the same name as his and attacked King Chitrangada. They fought for three years on the plains of Kurukshetra. The Gandharva was adept in maya or magical war tactics and in the end, he killed the young king. This story is similar to the one of Narcissus.
‘Chitra’ means a picture and ‘angada’ means an adorning armband – a picture we wear on our arm. The arms symbolise doing, so all our doing is ruled by pictures. Gandharva comes from the root ‘gandha’ or smell; like we smell a wonderful fragrance and imagine a beautiful woman. The Gandharvas represent the celestial space of imagination and day-dreaming. This story shows how our consciousness becomes a victim of day-dreaming and imagination. Day-dreaming is a continuous leakage of energy within us and it starts at a young age and continues till we die. This is symbolic of the Gandharva defeating the King (or Raja), raja symbolising consciousness.
They fight their battle on the plains of Kurukshetra where later on, the great Mahabharata war would be fought. ‘Kuru’ means to do and at this young age or puberty when the sex consciousness is being formed, our doing is controlled by dreams and imagination.
We dream and fantasize all the time about what we would like to be rather than working from where we are. Because of dreaming, we never live in the present moment but always somewhere in the past or the future. When we fall in love, it is just the meeting of two forms of imagination and slowly as imagination changes to fact, pain and misery is the result. Sometimes when we hear people talking of movie-stars or celebrities, we can notice people’s enslavement towards their fantasies - sad, jealous, happy, or miserable.
In our dreams and fantasies, we continuously lose energy and this is valuable sex energy, the highest our body- brain system makes. When Chitrangada dies, his younger brother, Vichitravirya, comes to the throne. ‘Vichitra’ means strange and ‘virya’ means sex energy. Here, the sage Vyasa is telling us that with uncontrolled day-dreaming, the quality of our sex energy is affected. In our present age, the number of cases of infertility and sexual problems has increased geometrically because rather than taking sex as a small fact of life, people dream about it all the time. As old age comes, our sex energy gets depleted and that is why we forego many of our dreams as we grow older. Our illusions about life weaken and we make an involuntary adjustment with fate.
All students must work to free their consciousness (raja) from the throes of the Gandharva or day-dreaming; otherwise, our own name in the form of dreams will kill us much before physical death.