Why this ego? Part 3 – Indra and Ants: Confluence of Mythology, Science and Psychology

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In the previous two weeks, we discussed time and universe. This sets the ground ripe for the grand finale: The story of Indra and Ant. From the previous two writings it is clear that time is really long and space is really huge. In fact time is so huge that one day of Brahma is 4.32 billion years long. Similarly space is so huge that in one breath of Vishnu infinite numbers of Brahma and hence universes are created and destroyed. As per science, we can only ever see 46 billion light years radius of our universe alone. What to speak of other parallel universes (which we cannot see due to non interacting nature of different universes).

The story I am going to narrate is on bursting the ego of Indra who got puffed up with his power and glory. This story appears in the Chapter 47 of Brahma Vaivarta Purana. The original Sanskrit text with English translation is available here. Indra, the king of devas (gods), defeated demon Vrtra and released the waters held by the demon. Proud of his victory, Indra felt that he needs to build a grand palace worthy of him. He engages the heavenly craftsman Vishvakarma to build his place within a year. Vishwakarma builds a magnificent palace. But Indra is not pleased with it and keeps demanding more and more. Everyday Vishwakarma shows his work to Indra and everyday Indra suggests further improvements on making the place grander. Indra is never satisfied with whatever Vishwkarma does. Talk of a demanding boss, yeah?

Now Vishvakarma realizes that this game is never going to end as there was no end to Indra’s desires. Every day he will toil hard only to see a displeased boss at the end of the day. So what does Vishwakarma do? Well he did what we do when we have demanding boss who is never happy. Vishwakarma went to the boss of his boss – Brahma. Brahma is the creator of the universe and in one day Brahma appoints and destroys 14 Indras. Brahma told Vishwakarma to relax and leave the issue with him. Brahma in turn visits his boss Mahavishnu for help. As explained earlier, in each breath of Mahavishnu infinite number of Brahmas are created and destroyed.

Next day a Brahmin boy reaches the gates of Indra's palace. In line with the prevailing tradition of atithiti devo bhava Indra welcomes the boy to the palace. The boy praises Indra's palace quizzing Indra as to what other feats Vishwakarma is expected to achieve and nonchalantly mentions that no Indra before him has ever built such a beautiful palace ever. Indra is amused and sunk in his pride asks, “O Brahmin boy, tell me! Are they then very many Indras whom you have seen or at least heard of?” Of course Indra had no idea that there were many CEOs before him in his company and his was not the only company in the cosmos nor was he the first one to be elevated to the stature of the king of devas or the king of gods.

At this point the Brahmin boy tells the proud king Indra, “I knew your father, Prajapati Kashyapa and your grandfather Marichi, the saint whose wealth consisted in his devotion. Marichi was begotten of Brahma, who in turn was brought forth by Mahavishnu from his navel. And Mahavishnu Himself, the protector of Sattvaguna - Him too, I know. I have known the dreadful dissolution of the universe, turning it into a huge mass of water void of all sign of animate being. I have seen all perish again and again, at the end of every cycle. Who will count the universes that have passed away, or the creations that have arisen again and again, from the formless abyss of the vast waters? Who will search through the wide infinity of space to count the universes side by side, each containing its own Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva? Who will number the Indras in them all, reigning in all the innumerable worlds; those others who have passed away before them; or even the Indras who succeed each other in any given line, one by one, ascending to kingship, and one by one, passing away? O king of the Devas, there are among your courtiers who maintain that it may be possible to number the grains of sand on earth and the drops of rain that fall from the sky, but no one will ever number all those Indras. When 28 Indras have expired, one day and night of Brahma has elapsed. Brahma follows Brahma, one sinks, the next arises; the endless series cannot be told. There is no end to the number of Brahmas, to say nothing of Indras. Will you presume to count them? Will you calculate the gods in all those worlds - the worlds present and the worlds past?"

And while the boy is talking, an army of ants enters the court of Indra. Looking at them the boy laughs. Puzzled and bewildered Indra asks the boy, “Why do you laugh?” The boy says, “Don’t ask unless you are willing to be hurt”. Indra replies, “I ask, Oh teacher”. The boy replies, “These ants are all former Indras. Through laws of karma across many life times they rise from lowest consciousness to the highest illumination of being Indra when pride fills them and down they go. It is by Karma that one attains to the position of a Brahmin or a god or Indra or Brahma or acquires happiness or sorrow. It is through Karma that one becomes a master or a servant, acquires beauty or deformity, or is reborn in the condition of a monster. This Karma is subservient to character which in its turn is controlled by habit. In this universe with the combination of time, the death hovers around the head of everyone. Everything of the creatures irrespective of good and bad are like the water bubbles. О Indra, the intellectuals always roam about in this world but never get attracted towards anyone.”

Indra was terrified and realized this was no ordinary Brahmin boy at his court. At this point, an old hermit enters the court with circular cluster of hairs on his chest which is intact at the circumference but missing in the middle. The boy asks hermit the question which is on Indra’s mind, “Who are you, why have you come here and why you don’t have hair in the center of your chest?” The hermit replied, “My name is Lomasha (the hairy one). The cause of my arrival is to behold Indra. Since I know I am short-lived, I have decided to build no house, neither to marry nor to seek a livelihood. As to the circle of hair on my chest, with the fall of an Indra, one hair drops. That is why in the center all the hairs have gone. When the other half of the period allotted to Brahma expires, I myself am destined to die. O Brahmin boy, it follows that I am somewhat short of days; what, therefore, is the use of a wife and a son, or of a house? All prosperity is transient like a dream and interferes with one's belief in Hari (Vishnu). Shambhu (Shiva), the highest spiritual guide, taught me this wonderful wisdom.” Saying this hermit, who was Shiva in disguise disappeared and returned to Kailasa. The boy who is Hari, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, also disappears and returns to Vaikuntha.

With the wisdom of transient nature of material world dawning upon Indra, he is no longer interested in wealth and honor. He rewards Vishvakarma and releases him from any further work on the palace. Indra himself decides to become a hermit and seek wisdom. Horrified, Indra's wife Shuchi asks the priest Brihaspati to change her husband's mind. He teaches Indra to see the virtues of both the spiritual life and the worldly life. Thus, at the end of the story, Indra learns how to pursue wisdom while still fulfilling his kingly duties. In our contemporary times, Buddha preached this middle path or Madhyam Marg - middle way of moderation, between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. If only more CEOs figure out what Buddha and Indra realized, the world would be a much more beautiful place for the Vishwakarmas (workers). Remember “Pride cometh before a fall”. On the grand scale of time and space, there is hardly anything we can control. So why this ego?


Part 1: Why this ego? - Time

Part 2: Why this ego? - Space (Universe)

Part 3: Why this ego? – Indra and Ants: Confluence of Mythology, Science and Sociology

#Gyanalogy #Gyan #Ego #Time #Space #Universe #Indra #Ant #Pride #Gyana #Wisdom

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[…] is a beautiful story on pride in Hindu scriptures titled "Indra and Ants". But in order to fully understand the gravitas of this story, one needs to first understand how […]


[…] Part 3: Why this ego? – Indra and Ants: Confluence of Mythology, Science and Sociology […]