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Long ago, a king named Suratha reigned over the whole wide land. He looked after his subjects like a loving father. His enemies were the kings who destroyed the Kola people. These kings were not as powerful as Suratha, but they joined forces and reduced his kingdom to a single city. Even his own ministers became corrupt and turned against him, robbing him of his army and all his wealth.
The king left on the pretext of hunting and sought refuge in the dense forest at the hermitage of a noble Rishi called Medhas. But still the king could not rest. He wandered about the forest, hi s mind distraught by his problems. He brooded on his betrayal by his former ministers. He imagined all the ways they could squander his wealth. He grieved for the city and its people, wondering if they were properly cared for. He even worried about the welfare of his war-elephant.
Then as he wandered about the lovely hermitage, driven by his obsessions, he hardly noticed the peaceful wild animals and the serene disciples of Medhas. But one day his attention was drawn to a merchant sitting alone.
The King asked:
Who are you sir? Why are you here? I can see you are full of sadness as if there is a weight on your mind.
At this friendly invitation the merchant bowed respectfully and replied:
I am a merchant. My name is Samadhi. I come from a wealthy family but my sons and wife became wicked through greed. They took my wealth from me, so here I am, cast out by my trusted kinsmen. I sit in the forest and grieve. I still worry about the welfare of my wife and family, whether they may be suffering, and whether they are doing good or evil in their lives.
The King said:
Sir, why do you worry about such covetous people? They have cast you out!
The Merchant replied:
O King, this very thought occurred to me just as you were saying it! What can I do? My mind has no peace. It still feels the same affection for my family even though my sons have abandoned me for riches. I cannot understand why my mind is attached to them, why I still sigh for them continuously. What can I do? My mind just yearns for those heartless relatives?
So then they both went to the Rishi to seek his advice. They respectfully bowed to him.
When they were seated the king said:
Beloved Teacher! I just want to know one thing: this problem obsesses my mind, but my intellect cannot resolve it: I am still obsessed about my kingdom and all the business of rulership. I know this is foolish, yet I cannot help behaving like an ignorant person. Why is this, O best of Munis?
And here, too, is this man thrown out by his household as worthless, yet he still feels such affection towards them. So we are both very unhappy; our minds always drawn by self-centered thoughts to these matters, even though we see it is foolishness. How can we be so deluded and yet still aware of that? How can we both be so lacking in discrimination that we indulge in this state of despair?
The Rishi said:
The understanding of all creatures is relative to their field of perception. Some are blind by day and some by night. All are limited. Mankind is certainly not more aware than the deer, the birds or others. All creatures are compassionate beings.
O King, as you sit mourning, can’t you see the birds busy feeding their young although they themselves are hungry? Just like you, they are bound to their offspring, expecting loyalty in return.
This delusion is the power of Mahamaya which binds all creatures throughout their lives. This illusion makes them believe their existence is permanent.
This power is the Great Goddess, the Devi who actually sustains all beings, both those that move and those which do not. She even causes the contemplative sleep of Lord Visnu at the end of the Golden Age.
She, the adorable goddess, is truly called Mahamaya: the Great Illusion. By Her this whole universe is created. When pleased, She blesses mankind and brings them to their final emancipation.
She is the knowledge supreme; She is the eternal cause of ultimate liberation, as well as the cause of the bondage of this worldly existence. Why then should you be amazed that She can hurl all creatures into delusion? She is the supreme knowledge. She is the sovereign of all Gods.
The King said:
Respected sir, who is that Devi you call Mahamaya?
How did She come into being? How was She born? What is Her nature?
That One who is mightier than the gods, what form does She take?
O great sage, tell me everything. I wish to hear everything about Her origins.
The Rishi said:
This whole universe is the embodiment of Her. By Her it was stretched forth, and She pervades it all. She is eternal.
Listen, I will tell you of the many times She manifests to fulfill the desire of the gods. At these times She appears to come into in the world, although She is in fact eternal.
At the end of the Golden Age, when the adorable, splendid Lord Vishnu reclines on His beloved Serpent-couch, Shesha, She actually becomes His divine sleep. Therefore She is called Yoga Nidra.
While Lord Vishnu was sleeping, two terrible Asuras, the infamous Madhu and Kaitabha, hid in His ears and sprang out to kill Lord Brahma.
Lord Brahma, the Father of all, was seated in the lotus of sleeping Vishnu’s navel; just watching those two ferocious Asuras.
He prayed to Yoga Nidra, She who is foremost in the heart of Vishnu, desiring Her to awaken Hari and open His eyes.
Resplendent Brahma praised Her as the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer, as the Ruler of all, as the cause of sleep, and as the unequalled, adored consort of Vishnu.
Lord Brahma said:
O you who are the primordial force, creating everything You manifest as the three gunas.
You are the dark night of periodic dissolution, the great night of final dissolution and the terrible night of delusion.
You are the goddess of auspiciousness. You are the ruler. You are joy and gladness. You are intelligence and the highest consciousness.
You are bashfulness, prosperity, contentment, tranquility and forgiveness.
You wield the sword, club, discus, conch, bow and arrows and the iron mace.
You are the exceedingly beautiful and terrifying conqueror, at once gentle and moonlike as well as the precise annihilator.
Terrible and beautiful, cool and moist, transcending highest and lowest, You are indeed the supreme Ishvari.
O Devi how can I praise You?
Wherever anything exists, an inseparable part of its soul is that which empowers. That power is Yourself.
O Devi how can I praise You?
By You indeed, even the sovereign of all things that move, He who creates and protects all the worlds, even He of the highest nobility, You have put to sleep.
Even the very forms which Shiva, Vishnu and myself assume, even these are Your creation. Who then can praise You who are the power of us all?
We all entreat you to use your immense powers now, O Devi, to bewitch these two unassailable Asuras: Madhu and Kaitabha.
Then, the Rishi went on:
In this way the Dark Goddess was praised and evoked by Lord Brahma to awaken Lord Vishnu so that He would slay Madhu and Kaitabha.
Then, in the sight of Lord Brahma of inscrutable birth, the Devi withdrew Herself from Lord Vishnu’s eyes, nose and limbs and emerged from His innermost heart and breast. She arose to stand detached from Janardana, the World Protector, as He lay on His ocean serpent.
Then Lord Vishnu woke up to see those two bold Asuras standing there. He looked at those two evil, jealous Asuras. Their eyes were red with anger, as they boldly arose to attack and kill Lord Brahma. The adorable Lord Hari became warlike. He stood up, and with His far-reaching arms wrestled with them for a thousand years. Although they were extremely powerful, eventually Madhu and Kaitabha became frantic. Deluded as they were by Mahamaya, they said to the long-haired God: “Ask a boon from us.”
To which the Lord replied:
There is only one choice to be made. You may both be slain here by Me today.
The Rishi continued:
They looked around and saw the whole world covered in water and in their delusion they asked the lotus–eyed God to slay them on a place not covered by water.
“So be it” said the Lord, the wielder of the conch, discus and mace.
Then He held both of them on His hip and cut off their heads with His discus.
This is what happened when, She who is the self-created cause of everything, arose as She was praised and invoked by Lord Brahma.
Listen, I will tell you more of Her achievements.