True Story, This Morning
First smoke of the day, surrounded by a blanketed, white universe at my friend Kathleen’s place, I saw a wisp of spider’s web stretched between the corner railings, luminescent spheres of moisture beaded into jewels at each node, rippling lightly in winter breath, and thought (as meeting one of these so often does) of the Net of Indra.
“Indra’s net” is the net of the Vedic god Indra, whose net hangs over his palace on Mount Meru, the axis mundi of Hindu cosmology and Hindu mythology. Indra’s net has a multifaceted jewel at each vertex, and each jewel is reflected in all of the other jewels. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the image of “Indra’s net” is used to describe the interconnectedness of the universe:
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering “like” stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.
— cited from Wikipedia
“The Net of Indra is a profound and subtle metaphor for the structure of reality. Imagine a vast net; at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Every jewel is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel.”
— Stephen Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart
If the Universe hadn’t arranged for me to currently be roaming sans a picture-capturing apparatus (other than these words), I would’ve taken a photo for you. So ‘by way of illustration’, I’ve lifted one lensed by some ‘random’ Indra of the interwebs, for thine eyes to bejewel on.
Here’s another Indra story to help us (immortal) mortals or (mortal) immortals comprehend the infinite, micro and macro-cosmic complexity and interconnectedness of all things.
King Indra (FYI, Indra — Sanskrit: इन्द्र — a Vedic deity in Hinduism, a guardian deity in Buddhism, and the king of first heaven called Saudharmakalpa in Jainism. Also, in the Vedas, Indra is the king of Svarga and the Devas, the god of lightning, thunder, storms, rains and river flows. Indra is the most referred to deity in the Rigveda*…so, like, he’s a Really Big Deal)…um, so where was I?
Right! After King Indra defeats Vritra (Vritra — in Sanskrit: वृत्र, vṛtra, lit. ‘enveloper’, is a serpent or dragon, the personification of drought and adversary of the abovementioned Indra; in Hinduism, Vritra is identified as an Asura. Vritra was also known in the Vedas as Ahi — Sanskrit: अहि ahi, lit. ‘snake’; in addition, he appears as a dragon blocking the course of the rivers*)…so, Vritra, Indra, Vritra, battle…
…to continue, after Indra whacks the Serpent, he decides to commemorate his great feat as recently re-crowned King of the Devas (that story’s nested in the prequel to this story) by expanding his palace.
Anyway, I’m going to select-quote the following retelling (in truth this will be somewhat of a re-telling within a retelling) for brevity:
After being crowned as the King, Indra went to his palace. However now everything had changed in his eyes. He felt that his huge palace was no longer sufficient for him. ‘I am the King of the whole world. People pray to me for their victories. I control the rains and I am the King of the Devas…I cannot live in such a pathetically small palace.’
He called Vishwakarma, the architect of the Devas. ‘Vishwakarma! To celebrate my victory over Vritra, I am going to build a big palace…’
So, as you might start to guess, Indra approves then revises, then reapproves and re-revises, and keeps revising/yet-again revising these plans even as the stones of his monumental über Versailles are being assembled, nearing completion, before being re-expanded and reassembled, so much so it starts to drive his Celestial Architect fucking nuts, as Indra can never feel that the plans or building of the palace can in any way match or surpass his great deeds (or his ego). It’s like a never-ending Trump tower fractalised to infinity, and after a gazillion years Vishwakarma status-updates Brahma (who is like, EVERYTHING, except for Vishnu, or Shiva, or You) because at this point he’s having an infinite labour-dispute/also-infinitely unrealisable-contract meltdown (as the lordly CEOs of Trumpesque towers are wont to sow in their wake).
Brahma then snapchats Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu and they conspire to send aid to Vishwakarma and their other buddy Indra, in the form of a little kid. But ‘What about the children?’, right? Right.
The next day, outside Indra’s palace was a beautiful dark boy admiring Indra’s palace. He admired the beauty of the palace and spoke greatly of it. Indra who was passing by called the boy. He looked at the boy and told him proudly, ‘Do you like my palace? I am having it built to celebrate my victory over the asura Vritra.’ Indra said, ‘Of course it is not yet the way I want it…It has to be bigger…See how small the front garden is…’
The dark boy listened to everything and nodded. He looked around and said, ‘Well Indra, I have to tell you..This is by far the biggest and grandest palace built by any Indra so far…’
Indra’s throat constricted in his chest when he heard this, ‘What…’ He croaked and said again, ‘What did you say?’
The dark boy said quietly, ‘This is the biggest palace built by any Indra…’
‘Other Indras?…’ Indra asked feebly.
‘Yes.’ The boy said frowning as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. ‘Each time Brahma wakes up, he creates the universe and an Indra to rule over it. Every time Brahma goes to sleep, the universe is destroyed with everything on it. Even Lord Brahma himself has a life cycle. After 4,32,000 years, he will also cease to exist. Then another Brahma comes into existence.’ The dark boy looked at Indra puzzled, ‘I have seen all the Indras till date. Have you never seen them?’
Meanwhile a row of ants were marching inside Indra’s palace. Looking at them, the boy started laughing. Indra was now feeling afraid. Hearing the boy laugh terrified him. He swallowed and opened his mouth but no words came out. He slowly got out the words, ‘Wh…Why do you laugh?’
The boy looked at Indra with narrowed eyes, ‘Are you sure you want to know?’
Indra hurriedly nodded his head finding that he was not able to talk. ‘They are all former Indras.’ Indra looked aghast as the boy continued. ‘They begin from the smallest creatures and become the most enlightened people. And you know what happens after that…’ The boy continued looking at Indra, ‘They destroy one monster and they suddenly think they are the King of the Universe…’ Indra winced as the boy continued, ‘And then they start from the beginning as ants…’
So, yeah, mind effectively fully blown right? Indra has that moment which is not like or unlike apprehending an abandoned drop-jewelled web with evanescent self-reflecting snow falling softly all around on some Gulf’ed Island rising off the crystalline seafloor somewhere on the wet coast, with a re-rolled butt smoke in one hand snapping a mental photograph with the other while all around white falls upon white on a bespeckled island-jewel rimmed by water, reflecting a snow-descending landscape reflected in a pair of eyes opening a view of mirrors within of crystallined webs of cold jewels within eyes gazing upon crystallined webs of jewels within eyes within snow and snow on and so on and on.
Indra was looking as if somebody had slapped him. The boy turned at that time to see an ascetic come in. Indra if anything looked even more alarmed then before. The ascetic had some hair on his chest in a circular pattern. The hair in the centre had fallen off. However there was still some hair on the circumference on the chest.
The boy saluted the hermit, ‘Great sir! What are you doing here?’
‘I am just roaming, young sir!’ The hermit said.
The boy asked, ‘What is the hair in your chest sir?’
The ascetic shrugged, ‘Well every time an Indra dies, a hair falls off. All the hairs in the centre have fallen off…Soon all of this will be gone too..’
‘Stop! Please stop!’ Indra yelled. ‘I have learnt my lesson. Who are you? Please tell me…’ I was an ignorant fool. I thought I was great because of something I had done…I am sorry. There are so many things I need to know…’ Indra glanced at his feet. ‘I have been so silly. I have been thinking…’
The boy and the hermit vanished and Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva appeared in their place. Indra fell on their feet. He got up and looked at them. ‘Sir, I have become proud and arrogant. I want to go away from all this.’ Indra said pointing at his unfinished palace…’I want to understand so many things. My Lord, I wish to go away and meditate and repent for my sins.’
Both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu nodded as Indra gave up his kingdom and went to repent for his mistakes.
After Indra left, the Devas elected Nahusha as their next Indra. However that is another story!
I’ve heard or heard told or heard myself telling or being told a variation of a variation of this story in which, post serpent-slaying and everything, there’s this God-dude called Indra who builds a palatial monument to his own fine self which seems to be taking forever and a half. And then someone files a celestial complaint to Head Office, or let’s say, an ‘external’ investigating body, and this little tyke shows up and Indra’s like, ‘Look ye upon my magnificent crib, is it not sick?’ or something to that effect, and Boy goes, ‘Oh yep, this is pretty sick, but it’s not as sick as last Indra’s pad…’ and Indra’s all up in his own grill and’s like, ‘What other Indra? I’m like the only Indra God-dude here and forever-ever!’ and Little Homie deadpans, ‘Naw I seen others. Like one time there was this God-dude Indra who built himself a palatial crib which was totally even more supremely pimped out, like a monumental cosmic selfie mapped in Euclidean space by billions of celestial contractors which was his kickback to self for offing this upstart Snake who was threatening like, all of Everything, but God-dude went overboard on construction for infinite Rolexes and people were so bummed that Head Office steps in, and sends this little tyke into the crib whereupon God-dude’s like, ‘Look ye upon my magnificent crib…’,
…at which point Indra’s consciousness goes Snap!
And here we get to the end of the page, but not of the story…
Above excerpts of ‘Indra and the Ants’ (retold by SA Krishnan) cited from Stories from Hindu Mythology