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Indra’s Penance for Enlightenment

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Do Devas need to engage in Tapas or Penance to gain Enlightenment? How did Indra, the ruler of the Devas perform Penance? Did Indra’s Penance last 101 years? Let us explore the episode related to Indra and his archrival Vairochani. The Chandogya Upanishad, one of the major texts in the Veda tradition presents the narration of how Brahma tricked Indra and Vairochani to seek self-knowledge.

Indra’s Penance

Long ago, the domain of the Devas or the celestials and the domain of the Asuras rivalled each other. Certainly, the rulers of these two domains were in severe competition to outdo each other. They sought unique objects, creatures, animals, birds and architecture to prove their superiority. Brahma, the creator, felt sad for these two rulers. He saw how these two were missing the point! He sent out a Dindora message (like the viral messages which propagate on social media today). Indra and his rival came to know that a person who knows about Atman, or the Self can get their wish fulfilled without much effort. They immediately, travelled to the domain of Brahma for Self-Knowledge (Enlightenment).

Brahma Ignores Indra and Vairochani

Brahma ignored them. Certainly, he knew why Indra and Vairochani had come. However, the two waited patiently. They decided not to ask anything till Brahma spoke to them. Thirty-two years of hard penance followed. Brahma then spoke with them kindly after Indra’s and his archrival’s penance. Secondly, he asked them to contemplate on one clue about the Self. The presence of the self, he said, is more obvious initially in the waking state of consciousness. It is prominent in the eyes of human beings. In addition, he encouraged them to understand this clue by looking at their own reflections in the mirror. He did not stop there. Brahma wanted them to understand his clue properly. With this goal in mind, he asked Indra and the Asura king to freshen up first. They had been performing Penance for thirty-two long years. Subsequently, Indra and Vairochani groomed themselves and went to the river as instructed by Brahma. They looked at their reflections in the water.

Vairocana’s conclusion
  • Vairocana’s logic – The eye is set within the body. I am seeing the body only through these eyes. Surely, Brahma gave this clue that the body is the self. Further, he wants me to keep the body fed and groomed. Because only then can this Self fulfill desires quickly.
  • Indra’s logic – Something must see the outside world through the eyes. Secondly, this something must be active during the waking state of consciousness. Therefore, the Self must reside inside the body.

Brahma was happy to see Indra and Vairochani coming back from the river with total confidence. He bid them goodbye. Vairochani hastened to his kingdom to educate all Asuras about the knowledge of the Self. Indra too left Brahma’s place. However, along the way, he contemplated more about his conclusion. He realized it to be an incomplete understanding of the Self and returned to Brahma. Certainly, Brahma made Indra wait for another 32 years, performing penance. Subsequently, Brahma explained to Indra that the Self alone experiences dreams. Besides, these dream experiences are independent of any disease condition of the body.

Indra’s Enlightenment
The final five years of Indra’s Penance

Indra left Brahma happily. However, he returned again! His doubt this time was about the experience of nightmares. Brahma made him to perform Tapas or Penance for 32 more years. This time, brahma explained that the state of deep sleep reflects the unattached nature of the Self. Certainly, the Self is free of bad experiences during the sleep state. Indra walked away satisfied. However, he returned one last time. After an additional five years of Indra’s Penance, Brahma explained that the true nature of the Self can be experienced only in the fourth state of consciousness, namely, the Turiya state. Consequently, Indra glowed with the bliss of Self-knowledge. This bliss dawned on Indra after 101 years of Penance. Indra and the Devas could now overcome the Asuras in battles. They restored balance to the universe whenever necessary.

Does science recognize the fourth state of consciousness?

Yes, the first thee states of consciousness are obvious to all of us. However, Scientists began looking for brain wave patterns for these three states using the EEG technology. Indeed, they are now able to recognize distinct brain wave patterns for these states. In addition, they noticed another distinct brain wave pattern in meditators. They have been been able to understand more about it. Surprisingly, this wave pattern can also be recognized when someone is mentally engaged and yet relaxed. The narration of Indra’s Penance for Enlightenment conveys the idea of these four states in the form of a story.

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