Yoga with Melissa Episode 146 – Shiva’s Destruction of the Demon Tripura

by Melissa West on October 5, 2012

Shiva’s Destruction of the Demon Tripura: Confronting our Mortality and Discernment on the Spiritual Path

Tarakasura’s three son’s Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha and Viryavana began to perform tapas. For a 100 years they meditated and stood only on one foot. For a thousand more years they live only on air, meditating. For the next one thousand years they stood on their heads. Brahma was very pleased with their tapas and granted them a boon. They wished to become immortal so they asked for immortality. Brahma responded that he could not make them immortal so the three sons asked for something else, trying to outwit the God of creation.

They asked for three forts to be made. One was to be made out of gold, the second out of silver and the third out of iron. They were to live in these forts for 1000 years. At the end of the thousand years the forts would become one. The combined fort would be called Tripura. If anybody could destroy the fort with a single arrow then they would accept their death, otherwise, the three sons would remain immortal. Brahma granted them their boon.

The demons lived in their forts, each of which were as big as a city unto themselves, and they began to flourish. The Gods did not like this at all. They went to Brahma for help, but he could not help them because they had Tripura. When they went to Shiva, he said demons were doing nothing wrong and didn’t understand why the Gods were so hot and bothered by the whole situation! The Gods then went to Vishnu.

Here was Vishnu’s suggestion. If the demons were doing nothing wrong, the solution was to tempt them into doing something erroneous. Vishnu used his powers to create a man who would teach them a religion that was completely against the Vedas. The religion would teach the demons not to believe in rewards and punishment and to dislodge them from the righteous path. They were even able to get the great sage Narada to convert to this new religion and carry it to the three brothers. In no time at all the three brothers were converted to the new religion and had even stopped worshipping the Shiva linga.

The God’s went to Shiva and tattle-taled on the demons. They told Shiva the demons had given up on the Vedas and even stopped worshipping the Shiva linga. This was enough to convince Shiva to destroy Tripura. A chariot, bow and arrow were assembled and with Brahma as the Charioteer, the chariot was driven towards the Tripura. Of course by this time 1000 years had passed and the three forts had become a single fort of Tripura. Shiva used his divine Pashupata into his arrow and shot it at Tripura. The arrow burnt up Tripura into ashes and the day was saved.

What can we learn from this story? Firstly we can go back to the demon’s desire for immortality and reflect on our own fear of death and aging. It is something that will happen to all of us and something that many spiritual traditions spend a great deal of time reflecting on. None of us are going to get out of here alive. There is no possible way to escape death. Nobody ever has. Death is certain and the time of our death is uncertain.

Reflecting on this helps us to gain an understanding on the shortness and preciousness of life and how to make it more meaningful. Each moment we live brings us closer to the end of our life. The duration of our lifespan is uncertain, young people can die before old people and the healthy before sick. This is a difficult one to consider in such a body-centered practice as yoga, and it is an important one to reflect on, the weakness and fragility of our body contributes to life’s uncertainty.

Spending time meditating on our mortality helps us realize that life is short and worth cherishing. There is no time to lose. It is useful to reflect on this every day. When we get up each morning we can remind ourselves, this might be the last day of my life, let me live it in a way that is as meaningful as possible, with the ones I love and being of service to others.

Reflecting on our own death allows us to consider what is important

  • Am I ready to die?
  • What unfinished business to I have left?
  • What priorities do I want to change?
  • What do I want to achieve still in my life?

Other things to consider are that worldly possessions and wealth can not help you at your time of death. You can not even take your friends and relatives with you as you pass over. Even your physical body must be left behind as you die. The only thing that can help you is that state of your mind or the state of your mental or spiritual development …  [Thank you to for the beautiful reflections on death and dying included here]

Which brings us to the next point that we should take away from  the story. It really didn’t take much for Vishnu to create a man who would persuade even the great sage Narada to follow a completely bogus religion. It is so important to have discernment on the spiritual path and not to follow blindly. It is so important to cultivate acute judgment and discrimination to cultivate a spiritual life with intelligence, clarity, and authenticity. I highly recommend checking out Mariana Caplan’s book Eyes Wide Open Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path and Jeff Brown’s Documentary

In today’s class we will draw on the elements of the Tripura Story and practice balancing postures (standing on one foot), breath practice (living on only air for 1000 years), yoga mudra (standing on their heads of 1000 years), bow pose in its different orientations to gravity, as well as sitting with the Shiva Linga with the mantra OM.

The Poem I shared at the end of class was:

Before We Leave by Khalid Albudoor from:

Morning tea is dark
Like the night behind our house
Where the sun lost its way
And the air did not stop to greet our trees.

We gaze at our place where we sat last night
we know
we’ll leave everything behind us
And won’t collect the scattered words between the chairs.

Night was long
The candle is dusty and cold like our fingers
Why do we wait for tomorrow
If only to throw our words like pieces of papers
on the table and leave?

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