Full Moon vol 33: Defeat Darkness

Living Sanskrit Mythology, Newsletters

Apparently, this upcoming Full Moon is the closest the moon has been to Earth in 69 years! The moon represents the energies of gentleness, blessing, and a serene mind – so be sure to spend some time in its healing presence.

Today is Deva-Dīpāvali, also known in modern Hindi as Dev-Diwali, which basically means Diwali for all the gods (devas). The devas refer to the different sacred powers in this universe, and today is when they were released from the tyranny of darkness (andhakāra).

There are a few myths associated with today, and each one has a great deal of variation, but they share a common message. Don’t worry about which one is most “true” – remember, mythology describes existing processes rather than a concrete historical past.

In the first myth, there’s a group of demon-brothers collectively known as Tripurāsura, because they had built three cosmic cities (tripura) of iron, silver, and gold that floated through space. They could only be destroyed by a single arrow shot at them when their orbits aligned, which would only happen once every thousand years.

Because no one could destroy them, they violently oppressed and terrorized everyone they encountered. Everything was dark and filled with suffering and despair. After all beings cried out for freedom, Lord Śiva assembled his cosmic bow and waited patiently – nearly a thousand years – for the right moment.

As the cities finally lined up, the Lord of Yoga shot his arrow, and destroyed them. For this, he became known as Tripurāntaka.

Another myth associated with today is that of Andhakāsura, whose name literally means “the demon of darkness”. Andhakāsura saw Pārvati, the Supreme Goddess, and became completely obsessed by her beauty. Instead of honoring and serving her as the Mother of all creation, he wanted to rape and control her.

She recognized his intention immediately, and turned to her beloved Śiva for protection. When Śiva confronted him, Andhakāsura brought his army and started to fight.

Unfortunately, despite Śiva’s immense power, every time he struck the demon and drew blood, each drop would replicate a new Andhakāsura. It ended up being a bloody, exhausting war that lasted 100 years, ending when Śiva finally impaled him on his spear, penetrating his heart. [Another version of this story has Śiva smiling at him with deep love, and the force of his compassion totally destroys him].

As he was released from his demonic form, he repented, praying to always be a humble and devoted servant of Śiva and Śakti. He recognized them as his true parents, the source of his life, and the subsequent upwelling of devotion and gratitude inspires their mercy.

Finally, Kārtik Pūrṇimā is also the birthday of Kārtikeya, the son of Śiva and Pārvati, who vanquishes Tārakāsura, another violent and horrific demon. Kārtikeya, who is also known as Skanda (and Murugan in South India) is described as the lord of war. Now, that doesn’t mean that he wages or creates war. Rather, he’s the ultimate warrior, undefeated and always victorious. (What else would you expect from the son of Śiva, sacred presence, and Śakti, limitless power?)

Unlike his brother Śrī Gaṇeśa, whose supreme power lies in his sweetness and limitless joy, Kārtikeya is the absolute discipline and mastery of self that no one can overpower. On the path, we need to cultivate both qualities simultaneously.

He is associated with the stars (the Pleiades, who raised him) and is always shown with a large spear, and oftentimes also with arrows and other sharp and pointy weapons. In all of the stories that we’ve shared today, there’s a common theme of persistent, pervasive darkness that – after a long and excruciating battle – only a spear or arrow can ultimately destroy.

So what does all this mean for us?

Darkness is that which conceals and opposes the true nature of the universe – creating division and suffering instead of rejoicing in the the supreme and effulgent oneness of being.

Śiva is the supreme yogi, and the embodiment of pure grace. He represents the true nature of all. Śiva engaging in battle is our own highest nature protecting and reclaiming itself. And the battle to awaken and return to our true vision of reality is the process of yoga and the spiritual journey.

The spear or arrow represents one-pointed focus – which in Sanskrit we call ekāgratā. When all of our attention and energy aligns towards a single purpose, we become unstoppable. To pierce the veil of darkness – which manifests as ignorance, suffering, and cruelty – we need to be totally awake and unified within ourselves. Ekāgratā also contains the energy of commitment – like a steady arrow, we have to keep flying towards our goal, no matter how far away.

The three cities can be considered the three levels of contracted being – iron is the physical, earthly body; silver is the mind; and gold is the individual soul. Another way to understand this is that it’s the three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming, and sleeping. Ignorance is deeply rooted – even when we think we have conquered our ignorance, our subconscious beliefs and patterns continue to surface. And to remove those takes a LONG time and a lot of focused attention!

The time period specified in both these myths is also meaningful – a thousand years, or a hundred years. While neither is perhaps intended to be taken literally, what we can understand from it is that even when the Lord himself is fighting with the strongest weapon of all, the process still takes time – definitely longer than a single human life. It can take countless generations before we wake up from darkness and ignorance.

Like Lord Śiva himself, we have to persevere and we have to be patient. We also have to understand that sometimes even if we feel ready to go, we might still have to wait until external circumstances are properly aligned – and then it may only take a single well-aimed shot to liberate the universe. The transformative work we do can not be superficial – we have to allow our heart to be completely penetrated by the divine in order to fully conquer darkness. And, the work we do may take our whole life, and even longer – but it’s still worth it.

Practice: Focus on the Light

Traditional practices for today include:

-Once again, we light small lamps filled with ghee or oil, and place them all around our homes and sacred spaces. It’s also traditional to visit temples or sacred places, and have darshan of the deity. Taking ritual baths in holy water is also a practice on this day. And of course, there’s a tangible form of grace available to all of us in every place – be sure to spend time under the moon!

-You can do practices for Lord Śiva today. Pūjā, mantra repetition, chanting, liṅgam worship, meditation, etc are all wonderful options. If you are feeling oppressed by inner or outer darkness, pray for grace. Pray that the essential nature of all beings – the heart – rises up to free us, and experience his protection as the infinite light within your heart.

-Lastly, we can make an inner commitment to cultivate ekāgratā, one-pointed focus. One classic trick of darkness is to keep us fixated on darkness – to keep us overwhelmed and distracted and conflicted.

Instead, it’s by becoming clear, steady, and quiet that we can fight back. We have to commit to that which ultimately will set us free, what will truly make us happy.

Today, as you practice, let your attention and energy settle and unify. Focus on what you really long for – what your primary purpose is. Where are you headed? What truly matters to you? What is worth fighting for? See if you can focus only on that, and let everything else go.