Rubbing Elbows with the Powerful: Invitations from the Gods

Much of human life is spent in social relations and a good portion of our thoughts are spent navigating our social field. This can definitely be a very lovely thing and it is probably also true that a good portion of our day to day satisfaction and nourishment comes from or through our social fields.

However, Power does tend to sour this a bit and we do sometimes find ourselves in situations where we socially interact for our advancement and perceived benefit rather than out of the pleasure of doing it, whether it’s to network, schmooze, or just that we have to play nice with someone because they have power. As a general element of life, this could be an ordinary enough thing and I’m not suggesting we distress ourselves too much over it, but it is still important to remember and recognize that deep or abiding satisfaction does not usually come through worrying too much about our social standing.

I might even argue that some part of our spiritual practice should involve a deliberate (if only momentary) stepping away from modes of thinking that are concerned with social standing.

The Yoga Sūtras provides a nice contextualization for this by drawing a rather firm and hard line on the subject. What Patanjali argues is that, not only should we not care unduly about what other people think of us, but even if the gods themselves were to be impressed by us, we must not let this cloud our view with any excessive pride.

Depending on your metaphysical orientation, you can feel free to take this as a hyperbole to make a point or as a quite literal precaution on your path.

The Sūtra itself is verse 51 from Chapter III:

Sthānyupanimantraṇe saṅgasmayākaraṇaṃ punaraniṣṭaprasaṅgāt III:51

“Even the invitation of Celestial Beings should be disregarded and not cause any pride or arrogance because it can bring about undesirable consequences.”

This is one of the places where the Bhāṣya commentary goes into a rather lengthy narrative description. I find it rather fun, so I will quote it here:

“The celestial beings in high places noticing the purity of the intellect of those who . . . have attained unalloyed truth try to invite them by tempting them with enjoyments available in their regions in the following manner:--‘Oh Great Soul, come and sit here and enjoy yourself. It is lovely here. Here is a lovely lady. This elixir prevents death and decay. Here is a vehicle which can take you to the skies. The tree which fulfils all wishes is here. This is the holy river Mandākinī and here are the perfected Siddhas and the great seers. Beautiful and obedient nymphs, supernormal eyes and ears, body of adamantine strength, are all here. You have earned all these by your virtues. Come, take all these. This is everlasting, indestructible, undying, and beloved of the deities.’

“Thus accosted he should, however, ponder over the danger of their companionship in this way—‘Baked in the fierce flames of birth and rebirth, and tossed between life and death, I have somehow obtained the light of Yoga which destroys the darkness of afflictions, but this thirstful atmosphere of attachment is antagonistic to that light. Having got that light why should I again be deluded by this mirage of pleasure and make myself a fuel of that burning fire of the cycle of birth and death? Oh, ye pitiable, dreamy seekers for pleasures, may you be happy.’ Being so convinced in mind, concentration should be practised. Not having formed any attachment, let him not also feel a sense of gratification that he is coveted by the celestial beings. Through self-gratification a false sense of security arises and man forgets that death has got him by the hair. In that way delusion would creep into the mind, as it is ever watchful for a chance, and strengthen the afflictions and make recurrence of mischief possible.

“By avoiding attachment and the feeling of pride in the above manner, the Yogin becomes firm in his contemplation which would lead him eventually to the object contemplated upon.”

To the Yogi, even the allure of Heaven is to be regarded with a bit of suspicion. It is always worth noting that this passage doesn’t say that ‘nice things’ are a problem in and of themselves, but just that they become problems to us when we fall into a “thirstful atmosphere of attachment.”

Even aside from some of the more extreme examples that more or may not have become the subject of recent Netflix documentaries, we find that in our spiritual communities, it is common enough for people to become “celebrities” and develop a following that is based around their personality more than their teachings.

It is not even about deprecating these people, it is only to recognize that there may be other ways to engage. If we want our practice to truly help us develop, we can’t mindlessly reproduce “middle school” style social environments in our communities. The mythical Yogis were not even impressed by what the gods could offer them, why are we so easily swayed by what every huckster with a “large brain” and the “best words” has to say?