Hog of God

12 07 2020

Gaura Purnima 2020

Part of me will never get used to the idea of mangala aarti. It’s not the idea of the service itself: getting up at 4 am to greet the Deities in the temple by singing and dancing before them. I am an early riser, and always have been. It’s the drums (mridangas), cymbals (kartals), and the loud noise that are strange to me. It’s a shock to the system to start banging these instruments in the darkness. I like my mornings calm, and this hour long service is the opposite of calm.

Eastern Orthodox monastic Matins is more what I am used to, and that service is mostly a dull and very hushed recitation of prayers, with some chants interspersed. It is quite a monotonous affair, day in and day out. In seminary, the only times we had Matins was for Christmas and Holy Week (Tenebrae), and the assigned time for these services isn’t four a.m. Most days, we had Prime at 6 am, followed by a a period of silent meditation and Low Mass most days. So my mornings were by and large quite quiet and contemplative.

The last time I went to mangala aarti was on Gaura Purnima, which I could classify simply as “Hare Krishna Christmas,” the Appearance Day of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It fell on a work day since the Vaishnava calendar syncs even less with the secular calendar than the Christian calendar does. That meant that I had to go straight to work afterwards, as well as fast for the whole day (until moonrise). Somehow I was able to make it into the temple, and a good number of devotees were present (I was probably one of only two non-Indians). The curtains opened, showing the Deities, and we all made dandavats (full prostrations to the ground) before each set of Deities before we began the kirtan.

When it was over, everyone sat down to recite japa, which is a private recitation of the Mahamantra on beads. I had to leave, so I whispered goodbye to the devotee who let me in and went to work. I was in a haze: all of the clamor left me both consoled and empty, the echo of Sanskrit and mridanga still buzzing in my ears. Srila Prabhupada said that to live in the temple, like some devotees do, is to live in Vainkuntha (Heaven). So leaving it is like falling from the spiritual sky. That morning, I felt it more acutely. I went about my day as normal, in spite of being tired and hungry.

That was the last time I saw the Deities. I don’t know the next time that I will get to see them again.

I already wrote a “COVID 19 reflection piece,” so I won’t be writing another. The real catalyst for this piece is a sermon at a Catholic church. Yes, my life is complicated, so I still go to church. It turns out, if you decide to change religions in middle age, it’s not so simple to extricate yourself from previous confessional commitments. So I go dutifully to church, like the good family man that I am, not proclaiming my allegiance to another religious faith, because what difference would that make? I already believe God is one, so if I happen to be in a mosque, church, or temple, it’s all beneficial.

Our church recently re-opened for services in the midst of the COVID 19 crisis. The priest who has recently been assigned to us is quite sincere and erudite. The Gospel reading of the day was Jesus’ casting the demons out of two men and into a flock of swine. Our priest broke down the story quite eloquently into its Patristic symbolism. He stated that men, since they are superior creatures, can hold many demons, and thus when they were cast out, they had to enter into a herd of swine since an individual pig could only hold one demon. They were cast into the sea as a symbol of baptism. The waters themselves represent the primordial chaos at the opening of Genesis: the Spirit of God hovers over the waters to bring about creation. Thus, the demons reenter the chaos that is life without God, and the men are restored.

For the rest of the service, my mind wandered to the Srimad Bhagavatam, because of course there is a story in there involving demons, the sea, and swine. The story in the Vedic purana is quite different, but without entering into the numerous details, it goes something like this:

Two demon (asura) brothers, Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu, were set on universal domination in the Satya Yuga (millions of years ago), so Hiranyaksha went throughout the universe terrorizing everyone including the demigods (devatas). Hiranyaksha became all powerful and no one could stop him. Hiranyaksha had all of the gold extracted from the Earth (Bhu-devi), so she sank into the Garbha Ocean, which fills the bottom half the universe. The demi-gods, greatly perturbed by this sight, went to Lord Brahma, creator of the material universe, for help. While thinking about the seriousness of the situation, a small boar about the size of the tip of one’s thumb appeared out of his nostril. The boar grew larger and larger, until it filled the entire sky. All realized then that this was Lord Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, coming in the form of a boar to save the Earth. The Transcendental Boar, Lord Varaha, then plunged to the bottom ocean and fished out the Earth, holding it in His tusks. He then gave battle to the demon Hiranyaksha and slew Him. As Bhagavan Sri Krishna descends to the material world to slay the demons and defend the devotees, so He descends in many forms, including as a boar, a turtle, a fish, or a horse.

My favorite passage from this lila is when the demigods become astonished at the transcendental porcine body of the Supreme Lord:

O Supreme Lord, undoubtedly we are inhabitants of the most pious planets — the Jana, Tapas and Satya lokas — but still we have been purified by the drops of water sprinkled from Your shoulder hairs by the shaking of Your body.

Purport: Ordinarily the body of a hog is considered impure, but one should not consider that the hog incarnation assumed by the Lord is also impure. That form of the Lord is the personified Vedas and is transcendental. The inhabitants of the Jana, Tapas and Satya lokas are the most pious persons in the material world, but because those planets are situated in the material world, there are so many material impurities there also. Therefore, when the drops of water from the tips of the Lord’s shoulder hairs were sprinkled upon the bodies of the inhabitants of the higher planets, they felt purified. The Ganges water is pure because of its emanating from the toe of the Lord, and there is no difference between the water emanating from the toe and that from the tips of the hair on the shoulder of Lord Boar. They are both absolute and transcendental.

I have met many a pig in my day, and some boar. I saw a family of boar once as a child at a national park: a big brown mother and a few piglets. The next time I saw boar was a blur. I was riding in the back of a truck on a mountain road, going out to do a job, and I saw in the corner of my eye a large black dash disturbing the vegetation. It was no doubt a family of wild boar as they were a great nuisance in the area. Lord Boar’s habit of rooting around in the muck that saved the Earth millions of years ago is the same that leads wild pigs to root up everything they encounter, including valuable native plants.

The part of my mind still recovering from Christian anthropology has a hard time with the idea of God taking the form of a pig. The listeners to the Bhagavatam had pigs and knew how they were like. In the old days, they were living garbage disposals. So the question was more one of what they wouldn’t eat or wallow in, and the answer is pretty much nothing. Though the original form of the Lord is a beautiful young boy who looks about sixteen and is the color of a monsoon cloud, He otherwise takes on an infinite number of forms for various purposes. In the material realm, souls (jivas) pass from one body to another, perhaps billions of times, before they might make it back to their original body in the spiritual world. That’s why we don’t eat animals: they’re jivas just like us. The Christian distinction between rational souls and animal/plants souls doesn’t really persuade the Vedic mind. At most, the human body is privileged precisely because it allows one to return the spiritual world by surrender to Krishna in devotional service, but so few take advantage of this. That privilege doesn’t mean you can harm other entities on their way back to the spiritual world.

In the Boar avatar, as in Krishna’s incarnations as a tortoise, a fish, etc. He’s showing us that He can appear in the lowest places if He is needed there. In this case, He had to descend and wallow around in the mud at the bottom of the primordial ocean to find the Earth and put it back in its place. But His body remains beautiful and transcendental, just like His luminous, jewel-festooned body in Vaikuntha. As opposed to the Biblical story, the body of the pig is redeemed, so that when we look at a pig wallowing in its own filth, we can remind ourselves that God even took that form for our benefit.

Devotion is really the purpose behind all these stories. Compared to even the strangest parts of the Bible, the Puranas in particular are so over-the-top in how weird they are, there are times one can wonder how any of it is even remotely edifying. The goal of it all, in my opinion, is to exhaust the imagination and revive our relationship with the Original and Supreme Person. In the case of the the story of Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu, the idea is that, even if you conquer the whole universe, command the elements, and fancy yourself immortal, you still won’t be happy. You’ll be so consumed with envy and hatred that you’ll just end up destroying yourself. It’s the story of being wary of getting what you want, because you don’t really know what you want. Both brothers are slain by different avatars of the Lord, but they are delivered from their bondage in the material world by being slain. All of the really fanciful things in the story certainly happened, but the point is to lead you to surrender to the Supreme Lord, and commit yourself to serve Him and His beloved devotees. The story itself is meant to grab your attention and bring it back to God.

As for the Boar Body of the Lord Itself, I would like to elaborate on the difference between the Christian understanding of God’s activities and Krishna consciousness. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the sign is much more powerful than in Christianity. Hearing the name of the Lord even once can bring about liberation: the sign is primary, not its apparent reception. That’s because, in spite of our being mired in material desires accumulated over billions of lifetimes, there is no original sin here, no death of the soul that makes God totally foreign to us. As I stated previously, we don’t come to believe in Krishna consciousness, we are Krishna conscious: it’s already there, we just have to pull it out of the muck of our own forgetfulness. That one occasion of hearing the Holy Name, that bite of prasadam, the one glance of an image of Krishna, that could be what puts someone “over-the-top” and sends them back to their original position in the Lord’s abode. In my case, it was one man in a semi-deserted plaza chanting Hare Krishna accompanied only by hand cymbals. Krishna will do anything to get us to back, even appear in a pig body. Nothing is beneath Him in that sense; there’s no way you could turn away from Him where He can’t devise a way to try to get you back.

I am not disparaging Christianity in saying any of this, because I am sure Christianity, despite its flawed metaphysics and hazy idea of God, is a means for Krishna to bring lost souls back to Himself. I just marvel at the story of Lord Boar. In this story, the Divine Swine plunges Himself over the precipice, even the Demons get saved, and He comes out of the waters of chaos triumphant, carrying the whole world with Him. It’s a wonderful story is all. I hope you feel the same way.



4 responses

15 07 2020
David Collins

Interesting comments from Isa Musa. anyway, I’ve thought a bit more and realized that if we can do whatever we want, regardless of our fellow human beings, and still be purified by Krishna/Jesus/ Whoever, then what would be the point of striving to do the right thing? What would be the point of seeking forgiveness for our sins? No, I do not rejoice over the purifying of the demons by the God-boar.

13 07 2020
Isa musa

Gosh it just came to me, do you think that Jesus was the Lord Varaha of our age? in the same connection as bring a gross material profanity back to spirituality as per the incident with the Money lenders and the whole against hypercritical prelates who practice but dont believe reducing religion, which should be transcendental adventure, into a purely worldly venture. Perhaps now with fading/ extinction of Christianity and islam in an overly materialistic world a new boar will arise or something.

Forgive me but i had a sudden inspiration and thought to share it.

13 07 2020
Isa musa

Firstly, I hope that holding one faith in your heart and one faith on your face doesn’t cause you any anguish. I am in a very similar situation right now and I know how much pain it can cause.

As for what follows…..

In Rene Guenon essay on Spiritual and temporal power, he mentions that the boar is the symbol of Spiritual power or spirituality it self nothing that Merlin and the druids are occasionally associated with boars.

I mention this because as I read your essay it struck me that the situation described could in fact be a metaphor.

“Hiranyaksha became all powerful and no one could stop him. Hiranyaksha had all of the gold extracted from the Earth (Bhu-devi)”

could mean total attachment to materiel world and seeking to become its master or to possses the means of acquiring more materiel( money/gold)

while “While thinking about the seriousness of the situation, a small boar about the size of the tip of one’s thumb appeared out of his nostril. The boar grew larger and larger, until it filled the entire sky. All realized then that this was Lord Narayana, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, coming in the form of a boar to save the Earth. The Transcendental Boar, Lord Varaha, then plunged to the bottom ocean and fished out the Earth, holding it in His tusks. He then gave battle to the demon Hiranyaksha and slew Him.” describes in fact how the world will be brought back to spirituality and cleansed off all its attachment to the world.

Which could be abstracted to a general principle of ” In every age the world weights on the hearts of men, the spirit will reign in the next”

12 07 2020
David Collins

“I hope you all feel the same way.” Nah. I’d rather see the demons get their just desserts. They’re demons, after all. To hell with them!

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