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From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Fri Jun 04 1999 - 05:23:13 PDT

Dear bhAgavatOttamA-s,

We continue from the point we left in post No: 15 where we essayed a quick 
character-sketch of the   serpent ("sarpa").

Deep inside Man's nature… we were saying back then… there lurk certain dark 
and Evil tendencies so much like a "sarpa-gana" --- Sankara's extremely 
evocative term for a colony of venomous serpents all coiled and hooded 
inside a dark pit …

It is precisely that grim side of Man that Sankara bhagavathpAdA refers to 
in the lines of the 7th verse of the LNKS, 

                ********          *************             ***********

What are these "hooded" tendencies of man? Why should they inspire terror in 

Many of you who have studied the Bhagavath-gita in some detail would know 
that Chapter 16 is one of the most enthralling sections in the Lord's long 
Vedantic discourse. The chapter contains Krishna's exposition of the two 
primary behavioural drives in all beings of the world. He calls them (1) 
"daivAh:" and (2) "asurA"… meaning the "Higher" and "Lower" pre-dispositions 
(usually translated by some scholars as the "Divine" and "Demoniac" versions 
of Man).

Both "daivAh:" and "asurA" co-exist within the spirit of all creatures. But 
it is a given law of Nature that its creatures will strive always to 
cultivate the former while struggling always, in equal measure, to suppress 
the presence of the latter. While ever tending to affirm "daivAh:", no 
creature is anxious however to acknowledge the "asurA" within itself. It is 
thus that, in the world at large, at any given time, the balance between 
Good and Evil, between "daivAh:" and "asurA", is always maintained largely 
in favour of the former rather than the latter. This is a sort of great 
Natural Law and it is eloquently expounded in the sixteenth chapter of the 

The Lord says the forces of "daivAh:" pre-dispose a creature… any creature, 
for that matter… to "sattva-samshuddhi"(see Verse 1) … i.e. to "purity of 
being". Given such a pre-disposition the creature, no matter how lowly, 
tends to steadily progress to a state of eventual liberation from "samsAra" 
or self-actualisation ("sampad-vimOksham"). Its steady progress from dross 
to divinity is achieved through noble modes of behaviour which, among so 
many others that Krishna enumerates, principally include: ("saucham") 
hygiene, ("dhritihi") resoluteness, ("sAntihi") tranquillity, ("akrodaha") 
(freedom form anger), ("alOluptvam") freedom from avarice, ("tyAgaha") 
spirit of renunciation, ("satyam") truthfulness, ("tEjaha") vigour. (see 
Verses 2 &3)

In the animal kingdom it is the cow that possesses all the above qualities 
of "daivAh:" in abundant measure… at least that is what the firm Vedic 
belief is … and it is the single most important reason for the extreme 
veneration the cow commands amongst Vedic practitioners. (Incidentally, in 
my opinion, it is also probably the distant origin of that exclamation some 
Americans use in common speech: "Holy cow!")

The tendencies of "asurA" in Nature, on the other hand… Lord Krishna says … 
they pre-dispose creatures to "nibandham"… human bondage… i.e. the very 
opposite of "daivah" (see Verse 5). These tendencies manifest in traits and 
behaviour such as: ("narADhamAn") degraded specie, (" na-saucham") un-clean, 
("pravrittim cha nivrittim …na chAchAro … na satyam vidhyatE") unseemly and 
untruthful conduct, ("a-satyam-a-pratisthtam… dhristim") possessed of 
impaired vision, ("anEka-chitta-vibrAntAh:") anxiety ridden at all times, 
("prasakthA: kAma-bhOgeshu…") utterly fixated on self-gratification at all 
times, ("prabhavanti-ugra-karmANa: kshayAya jagatO'hita-ha") fiendish of 
temper and prone to deeds of extreme malevolence, (see Verses 7,8,9,16 and 

Again, in the animal kingdom, according to age-old Vedic belief, it is the 
serpent ("sarpa-jAti") that possesses in full measure almost all the above 
"asurA-ic" qualities. In fact if you go back and read the brief sketch (in 
the previous post #15) on the character of the serpent, you will surely be 
impressed by how many of the aforementioned "asurA-ic" attributes listed in 
the Bhagavath-gita are exhibited by that dark creature of mythical malice.

            **********             **************              

Now in the personality of Man both "asurA-ic" and "daivAh:" tendencies again 
cohere … but rather uneasily.

While the great Natural Law of Good and Evil does operate within Man too, 
and while generally "daivAh:" does overwhelm "asurA:", the balance of 
polarity between the two forces is, however, rather fine and precarious. 
Within the spirit of Man neither is "daivAh:" seen to wholly hold sway … as 
it does in the cow … nor does the force of "asurA:" prevail … as completely 
as we saw it does in the case of the legendary serpent.

The spirit of Man… by far the most complex of all of nature's creations to 
date… is hence said to be ever burdened (the Christians call it:"bearing the 
cross") by having to reconcile, deep within itself, two mutually warring 
pre-dispositions polarized across the moral scale where essential Good is 
one absolute extremity and quintessential Evil is the other.

In the Ramayana, we all know Ravana is held up as Evil incarnate. But little 
do we know that the "itihAsA", at many points in the story, extols his many 
noble qualities of "daivAh:" too. For example, if you go and read the 
"sundara-kAndam", and turn to Chapter 5, Verses 17 through 20, we see 
Hanuman wondering about the greatness of Ravana in an extraordinary 
soliloquy: "This king of Evil possesses all the elements of greatness 
combined in him", Hanuman muses. "For a person who is so great as he, Ravana 
ought to be a protector of Heaven itself! Lesser gods like Indra must indeed 
bow low to him! And yet what is it that keeps Ravana down? What is it that 
prevents him from attaining the fullness of the goodness within himself? Why 
does he not employ all his power to push forth the cause of righteousness in 
the battle within himself? Why does he know no restraint and end up 
perpetrating the vilest of deeds? If in this world 'a-adharmA" had not 
turned out to be a source of moral weakness, this Ravana would certainly 
rise up and be the unchallenged ruler of everybody up and below!!".

That is Hanuman, the devotee of Rama, speaking of Ravana, the great evil 

It is thus that we find in the life of Man, the good and the bad each 
alternating the other… both in degree and through time. Man's good deeds 
follow evil … and then suddenly everything goes around the other way. And 
after a while things begin again where they left off in the first place…all 
of it happening back and forth, in a sort of strange, mysterious and 
"not-so-merry-go-round" of good and evil, of wrongdoing and expiation, of 
hope and despair…!

Caught perennially under this cross-fire of the forces of his own two primal 
pre-dispositions … between "daivAh;" and "asurA"… between the part of his 
self that is  "cow" and the part that is "serpent" … Man's existence in this 
world ("samsAra") thus turns out to be a truly terrifying experience! He 
must all by himself find a way to come out unscathed in life and out of a 
war raging within himself… a war between good and evil … between sin and 
redemption… between life and death itself…!

And that indeed is the terror … the terror of the archetypal "serpent"… that 
Sankara bhagavatpAda's line in verse#7 of the LNKS viz.: 
alludes to.

                       *********             ************            

Coincidentally, exactly the same "terror of the serpent" is what Swami 
Desikan too (in not entirely dissimilar context) describes in Verse#96 of 
the "dayA-satakam":

"sanntannya-mAnam aparAdha-gaNam vichintya
trasyAmi hanta bhavateem cha vibhAva-yAmi   I
ah-nAya may vrushageerisha-dayE jaheemAm
aashee-visha-grahaNa-kELi-niBhAmavasTAm"  II

          (Swami Vedanta Desikan: Verse#96 "dayA-satakam")

(My free translation of the principal idea in the verse):

Lord! Is it some frolic of hide-'n seek?
Or some strange rite of love and pain --
That charmer and snake do bespeak
Again and yet again !

Stabbed blue and bloody though he be,
Soon revived by an antidote is he--
To the viper's fangs does he soon return
The gambol of death is thus re-begun!
Again and yet again --

Strange indeed is the caper too
That Self with Sin revels in play --
Wherein I but shunt
Betwixt ruin and grace --
>From Redemption's edge
To Evil's embrace --

Again and yet again!

                                   ********          ************           
We must spend a little time to discuss Swami Desikan's verse above in the 
next verse…before moving on to the next verse of the LNKS.

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,

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