October 2, 2012

Receiving the Gift of Yourself.

Elephant outside Ganesh Temple, Pondicherry

Once in the same time and in the same place there were two odd-looking creatures with human bodies and elephant heads.

They looked almost exactly alike, but if you peered into their eyes, you could see that one had a countenance as placid and inviting as a forest lake at noon, but the other’s eyes and brow crackled with agitation like damp wood in the fire.

The placid one, whose name was Ganesha, loved his odd appearance, since it had been a gift given to him by his uncles and his powerful father, Shiva. His enormous ears picked up the tiniest whispering sounds and flapped nicely to swat away the flies. His trunk had the power of 50 men, ripping up old tree stumps and keeping demons at bay. At the same time, the very tip of his trunk was so dexterous that it could carefully pluck the seeds from a pomegranate so that he could savor them one by one.

Meenakshi Temple Ganesha, Madurai

The angry one, whose name was Gajamukha Asura, or quite literally, “elephant-faced demon” suffered tremendously as a result of his appearance, which he despised since it was the result of a curse. He became mired in an isolating swamp of shame and self-pity, which caused people to avoid him since his palpable anger made them nervous and he had a tendency to lash out unexpectedly. They murmured, “Why can’t he be more like Ganesh?” His giant elephant ears picked up on their whispers and he became so enraged with jealousy that he challenged Ganesha to a battle.

Ganesha had no interest in fighting, and reasoned with him, saying, “Come sit with me, my friend. We look alike. We’re like brothers. Here…have a sweet. Let’s enjoy each other’s company!” And he offered Gajamukha one of his favorite milk-sweets, a meltingly delicious modaka from the small heaped-up bowl by his feet. His kindness further enraged Gajamukha, and he continued to provoke and challenge Ganesh, who finally, reluctantly agreed to a wrestling match.

And so it began.

The earth shook from the weight of Ganesh and Gajamukha crashing heavily to the ground and people scattered in all directions, peering nervously from behind distant trees and doorways. In his fury, Gajamukha was certain that he would win, but Ganesha’s movements were disorientingly rapid and as graceful as a dancer’s. Gajamukha struggled to stay upright, but tipped over onto his side and was suddenly overcome. In one swift movement, Ganesh took his broken right tusk and pinned Gajamukha’s ear to the ground. It was over. Sighing, Ganesha sat back, waited for his opponent to relax, reached for another sweet, and then finally released him.

Ganesha’s bowl of Modakas

Gajamukha‘s anger seemed to have dissipated. He had become quiet and thoughtful. He sat up slowly, paused, and asked Ganesh, “How is it that you are so heavy, stately, and wise yet so agile and dexterous? How could I learn to hold all of my heavy elephant-like qualities so elegantly, yet also possess lightness and grace just as you do? What is the trick?”

The two elephant-headed beings sat face to face, and each regarded his own image hovering in the pupils of the other one’s eyes.  Ganesha took in all of Gajamukha’s sadness and Gajamukha felt Ganesha’s deep sweetness and wisdom move straight into him.


“Receive the gift of yourself,” said Ganesha, “and love your life.”

Gajamukha felt his years of dank resentment and clammy gloom dissolve, and he was enveloped by a warm caressing sensation as something inside of him shifted so dramatically that he suddenly realized he was craning his neck to peer up at his friend’s eyes.  He stared at his reflection in delight. Ganesha had turned him into a clever, agile, and graceful little mouse. Ganesha named him Musika, and the transformation was complete. They complemented each other perfectly.

Ganesha and Musika became inseparable, each one possessing overtly the qualities that the other kept closer to his heart. Behind Musika’s sweet rapid-moving façade was a weighty fortitude. Behind Ganesha’s weighty appearance was his lightness of heart. Now Musika understood what he was never able to grasp before as Gajamukha Asura: that he and Ganesha were two aspects of the same self, each perceiving the world through the lens of his individual experience.

Ganesh with Musika

So how do we receive the gifts that we have been given, seeing that our quirks and conditions can actually be our assets? And then how can that realization transform us?

We are perfectly imperfect.
And so it is.
Love your life, said Ganesha. Love your life.

So very many thanks to Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy who, many years ago in Madurai, said to my teacher Douglas Brooks, Love your Life, Love your Life.


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