10. Initiation

In the meantime, having learned that his sister, Devaki, had lived among the anchorites, and not having been able to find her, King Kansa began to persecute them and hunt them like wild beasts. They had to take refuge in the remotest and wildest part of the forest. Then their leader, old Vasichta, though one hundred years of age, set out to speak to the king of Madura. The guards saw with amazement a blind old man led by a gazelle which he kept on a leash, appear at the gates of the palace. Out of respect for the Rishi, they allowed him to pass. Vasichta approached the throne where Kansa was sitting beside Nysumba, and said, "Kansa! King of Madura! Woe to you, daughter of the serpent, who breathes hate into him! The day of your punishment is near. Devaki's son is alive! He will come, covered with armor of impenetrable scales, and will drive you from your throne in shame. Now tremble and live in fear; that is the punishment the Devas allot you!"

The warriors, guards and servants knelt before the holy centenarian as he departed, led by his gazelle, no one daring to touch him. But from that day, Kansa and Nysumba dreamed of secret ways to bring about the death of the leader of the anchorites. Devaki was dead, and no one except Vasichta knew that Krishna was her son. Nevertheless, the news of the latter's feats had reached the king's ears. Kansa thought, "I need a strong man to protect me. The one who killed Kalayeni's great serpent will not be afraid of the anchorite." Accordingly, Kansa called the patriarch, Nanda, and said, "Send me the young hero, Krishna, so I may make him the driver of my chariot and my first counsellor."15 Nanda informed Krishna of the king's command, and Krishna answered, "I shall go." He thought to himself, "Can the king of Madura be the One Who never changes? Through him I shall find out where my mother is."

Kansa, observing Krishna's strength, skill and intelligence, was pleased with him and entrusted him with the care of his kingdom. But Nysumba, upon seeing the hero of Mount Meru, trembled throughout her whole body with an impure desire, and her cunning mind shaped a secret plan, inspired by a criminal thought. Unknown to the king she had the driver of the chariot summoned to her apartments. As a magician she possessed the art of instantly becoming young again by means of potent philters. Devaki's son found the ebony-breasted Nysumba lying almost naked upon a bed of velvet. Gold rings bound her ankles and arms and a crown of precious stones sparkled upon her head. At her feet burned a copper censer, from which issued a cloud of perfumes.

"Krishna," said the daughter of the serpent king, "your countenance is smoother than the snows of Himavat, and your heart is like the tip of a bolt of lightning. In your innocence you shine above the kings of earth. Here no one has recognized you; even you do not know yourself. I alone know who you are. The Devas have made you master of men; I alone can make you master of the world. Are you willing?"

"If it is Mahadeva who is speaking through you," Krishna said, looking grave, "you will tell me where my mother is, and where I shall find the tall old man who spoke to me beneath the cedars of Mount Meru."

"Your mother?" asked Nysumba with a smile of disdain, "It certainly is not I who will tell you; as for that old man, I do not know him. Foolish one, you continue to dream and do not see the earthly treasures I am offering you! There are kings who wear crowns who are not kings. There are sons of shepherds who bear royalty on their foreheads and who do not know their strength. You are young; you are handsome. Hearts belong to you. Kill the king in his sleep, and I shall place the crown upon your head, and you will be master of the world. For I love you and you were predestined for me. I so wish, and I so command!"

As she spoke, the queen raised herself, domineering, fascinating, terrible as a beautiful snake. Sitting upright on her couch, she cast a flame of such dark fire into Krishna's limpid eyes that he trembled. Hell appeared in those glances. He saw the abyss of the temple of Kali, goddess of desire and death, where snakes writhed in an everlasting agony. Then suddenly Krishna's eyes seemed like two swords. They pierced the queen through and through, and the hero of Mount Meru cried out, "I am faithful to the king who chose me as protector! As for you, know that you will die!"

Nysumba gave a piercing scream and rolled over on her couch, biting the velvet covering. All her artificial youth had faded; she had become old and wrinkled once again. Krishna went away, leaving her to her anger.

Tortured night and day by the anchorite's words, the king of Madura said to the driver of his chariot, "Since the enemy has set foot in my palace I no longer sleep in peace. An infernal magician named Vasichta, who lives in a dense forest came and left his curse on me. Since that time I no longer breathe; the old man has poisoned my days. But with you who fear nothing, I do not fear him. Come with me to the accursed forest! A spy who knows all the paths will lead us to him. As soon as you see him, run to him and strike him without allowing him to say a word to you, or look at you. When he is mortally wounded, ask him where the son of my sister Devaki is, and what his name is. The peace of my kingdom hangs on this mystery."

"Calm yourself," Krishna said, "I was not afraid of Kalayeni nor of Kali's serpent. Who can make me tremble now? However powerful this man may be, I shall find out what he is hiding from you!"

Disguised as hunters, the king and his driver rode in a swift chariot, drawn by spirited horses. The spy who had explored the forest followed behind them. It was the beginning of the rainy season. The rivers were rising, growing plants covered the roads, and the white line of storks was seen on the tops of the clouds. When the men neared the sacred wood the horizon darkened, the sun hid itself, the air was filled with a copper-colored mist. From the stormy sky clouds hung like horns over the wild foliage of the forest.

"Why," Krishna asked the king, "has the heaven suddenly darkened and the forest become so black?"

"Well do I know," said the king of Madura. "It is Vasichta, the evil recluse, who is darkening the sky and arming the accursed forest against me. But Krishna, are you afraid?"

"Let the sky change its face and the earth its color! I am not afraid!"

"Then, Forward!"

Krishna lashed the horses with his whip and the chariot dove beneath the thick shade of the baobabs. It moved forward for a time at an amazing speed. But the forest became still wilder and more frightening. Lightning flashed, thunder roared.

"Never," said Krishna, "have I seen the sky so dark and the trees twisting in this way. Your magician is powerful!"

"Krishna, slayer of serpents, hero of Mount Meru, are you afraid?"

"Let the earth quake and the sky crumble! I am not afraid!"

"Then keep going!"

Again the daring driver whipped the horses and the chariot continued on its way. Now the storm became so dreadful that the giant trees bent and the quaking forest roared like the howling of a thousand demons. Lightning struck near the travelers; a shattered baobab blocked the way; the horses stopped and the earth trembled.

"Your enemy must be a god," said Krishna, "since Indra himself is protecting him."

"We are approaching the goal!" cried the king's spy. "Look at that path of green! At the end of it is a wretched hut. It is there that Vasichta, the great mouni lives, feeding birds, feared by wild animals and protected by a gazelle. But not for a kingdom shall I take one step more!"

At these words, the king of Madura became white. "He's there? Really? Behind those trees?" Clinging to Krishna, he whispered in a low voice, while his whole body trembled, "Vasichta! Vasichta, who is plotting my death is there! He sees me from his secret retreat. . . . His eye is following me! Save me from him!"

"Yes, by Mahadeva!" said Krishna, getting out of the chariot, "I want to see the one who causes you to tremble like this!"

For a year the aged Vasichta quietly had awaited death in his hut, hidden in the thickest part of the sacred forest. Before the death of his body he was freed from his fleshly prison. His eyes were blind, but he saw with his soul. His skin hardly felt heat and cold, but his spirit lived in a perfect unity with the sovereign Spirit. Praying and meditating without ceasing, he saw things of this world only in the light of Brahma. A faithful disciple brought him grains of rice, on which he lived. The gazelle who ate from his hand warned him of the approach of wild beasts. Then he drove the latter away by whispering a mantram and by extending his bamboo staff with its seven nodes. As for men, whoever they were, by means of his gaze he saw them when they were still several miles away.

Krishna, walking along the dark path, suddenly found himself before Vasichta. The leader of the anchorites with legs crossed was sitting on a mat, leaning against the post of his but in a deep calm. From the eyes of the blind man came the inner glimmer of the seer. As soon as Krishna saw him, he recognized him. "The majestic old man!" He felt a sensation of joy; reverence entered his soul. Forgetting the king, his chariot and his kingdom, he knelt on one knee before the saint and worshipped him.

Vasichta seemed to see him. His body, leaning against the hut, sat up with a slight trembling; he extended both arms to bless his guest and his lips murmured the sacred syllable, AUM!16

Meanwhile, Kansa, hearing no outcry and not seeing his driver return, slipped furtively along the path and stood petrified with astonishment upon seeing Krishna kneeling before the holy anchorite. The latter turned his blind eyes toward Kansa. Raising his staff, he said,

"O king of Madura, you are coming to kill me! Greetings! For you will free me from the pain of this body. You wish to know where is the son of your sister Devaki, who is to dethrone you. Here he kneels before me and before Mahadeva; he is Krishna, your own charioteer! How foolish and cursed you are, since your most fearful enemy is this very one here! You have brought him to me, so that I can tell him that he is the chosen one. Tremble! You are lost, for your infernal soul will indeed be the prey of demons!"

Stupefied, Kansa listened. He did not dare look the old man in the face. Pale with rage, seeing Krishna still kneeling, he took his bow and arching it with all his might, discharged an arrow at Devaki's son. But his arm had trembled; the arrow swerved and sank deep into Vasichta's chest. With his arms extended in the form of a cross, Vasichta appeared as though waiting for the arrow in a kind of ecstasy.

A cry was heard, a terrible cry. -- It was not from the heart of the old man, but from Krishna's. He had heard the arrow hum past his ear, and then he had seen it sink into the saint's flesh.... And it seemed to Krishna that it had sunk into his own heart, so closely had his soul become identified with the Rishi's at that moment. With that sharp arrow all the pain of the world pierced Krishna's soul, tearing it to its core.

Nevertheless, Vasichta, with the arrow in his chest and without changing position, was still moving his lips. He murmured, "Son of Mahadeva, why do you cry out? Killing is vain! The arrow cannot reach the soul and the victim is the conqueror of the assassin. Be victorious, Krishna, destiny is being fulfilled! I am returning to Him Who never changes. May Brahma receive my soul! But you, his elect, savior of the world, stand up! Krishna! Krishna!"

And Krishna stood up, his hand on his sword; he wanted to strike the king, but Kansa had fled.

Then a flash rent the dark sky and Krishna fell to earth, thunderstruck, paralyzed by a blinding light. While his body remained inert, his soul, united with that of the old man through power and sympathy, ascended into space. Earth, with its rivers, seas and continents disappeared like a black ball, and both souls arose to the seventh heaven of the Devas, to the Father of Beings, to the Sun of Suns, to Mahadeva, the Divine Intelligence. They were plunged into an ocean of light, which opened before them. In the center of the sphere Krishna saw Devaki, his radiant mother, his glorified mother, who with an ineffable smile stretched forth her arms and drew him to her breast. Thousands of Devas came to bathe in the radiance of the Virgin Mother, as in a fountain of light. And Krishna felt permeated with love from Devaki. Then from the heart of his shining mother his being radiated throughout all the heavens. He felt that he was the Son, the divine soul of all beings, the Word of Life, the Creative Word, Superior to universal life, nevertheless he pervaded it through the essence of grief, through the fire of prayer and the happiness of a divine sacrifice.17

When Krishna came to himself, thunder still rolled in the sky, the forest was dark and torrents of rain were falling upon the hut. A gazelle was licking the bloodstained body of the slain ascetic. "The majestic old man" was but a corpse. But Krishna arose as if revived. An abyss separated him from the world and its vain appearance. He had lived the great truth; he understood his mission.

As for Kansa, filled with terror he was fleeing through the storm in his chariot, and his horses galloped as if flogged by a thousand demons.


Notes for this chapter:

15. In ancient India these two functions were often combined. The drivers of kings' chariots were important persons, and often were the monarchs' ministers. Examples of this abound in Hindu poetry.

16. In Brahman initiation this means Supreme God, God-Spirit. Each of its letters corresponds to one of the divine qualities, that is, to one of the members of the Trinity.

17. The legend of Krishna helps us to comprehend at its very source the idea of the Virgin Mother, of the Man-God, and of the Trinity. In India this idea appears from the first in its transparent symbolism with its profound metaphysical meaning. In Book V, Chapter II the Vishnu Purana, having related the conception of Krishna by Devaki adds, "No one could look upon Devaki because of the light which surrounded her, and those who saw her radiance felt troubled in mind; the gods, invisible to mortals, continually sang her praises, since Vishnu was embodied in her. They would say, 'You are that infinite, subtle Prakriti who once bore Brahma in her womb; you were then the goddess of the Word, the Energy of the Creator of the Universe, and the Mother of the Vedas. O eternal being, who contains in your substance the essence of all created things, you were identical with creation; you were the sacrifice from which all that earth produces originates; you are the wood which in its rubbing engenders fire. Like Aditi, you are the mother of the gods; like Diti, you are the mother of the Datyas, their enemies. You are the light from which the day is born; you are humility, mother of true wisdom; you are the mother of Order; you are Desire from which love is born; you are Satisfaction from which resignation is derived; you are Intelligence, mother of Silence; you are Patience, mother of Courage; all the firmament and the stars are your children, all that exists originates in you. You went down to earth for the salvation of the world. Have compassion on us, O goddess, and show yourself kindly disposed toward the universe; be proud of bearing the god who sustains the world!' "  -- This passage proves that the Brahmans identified Krishna's mother with universal substance and the feminine element in nature. They made her the second member of the divine trinity, of the initial unmanifest triad. The Father, Nara (Eternal Masculine); the mother, Nari (Eternal Feminine) and the Son, Viradi (Word-Creator), are the divine qualities. In other words, the intellectual element, the plastic element, the productive element. All three together constitute natura naturans, to use Spinoza's term. The organic world, the living universe, natura naturata is the product of the Word-Creator who in turn is manifest in three forms: Brahma, Spirit, corresponding to the divine world; Vishnu, Soul, corresponding to the human world; Siva, body, corresponding to the natural world. In these three worlds the male element and the female element (essence and substance) are equally active, and the Eternal Feminine is seen at the same time in terrestrial, human and divine nature. Isis is threefold in nature, and so is Cybele.

Thus it is clear that the double trinity, that of God and that of the universe, contains the elements and framework of a theodicy and a cosmogony. It is correct to recognize that this basis came from India. All the ancient temples, all the great religions and many outstanding philosophers have adopted it. From the time of the Apostles and during the early centuries of Christianity, the Christian initiates revered the female element in visible and invisible nature under the name of the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, the symbol of feminine power in all the temples of Asia and Europe. If since that time the Church has hidden or lost the key to its Mysteries, their meaning is still written in its symbols.


11. Teaching of the Initiates

The Great Initiates