I've always been a sucker for a good story.
More than anything, it was the legends and lore of yoga that originally lured me in. I wanted to know everything about the unfamiliar, multiple-armed gods and goddesses who lived on mountain peaks or in forests. That feels like a long time ago.
Somewhere along the way I became a teller of these stories. It's possible that teaching is actually an excuse to tell stories. I love that moment where there's a natural pause, and a hushed anticipation, when I look around the room and smile, and everyone leans a bit forward, eager to know happens and what it means.
I can't tell you how many times I've been pulled aside after class , and asked to recommend a good book. I always say, sadly, "well, you can find most of these stories online just by googling but the thing I think you're really asking for is the book that offers the tantric interpretations and that doesn't exist. It hasn't been written yet."
Now, I'm no Douglas (that would be like comparing a 40 watt bulb to, like, um, the sun) but I'm going to take a crack at this Ganesha story anyway. With Ganesha on the upcoming SV course catalogue I must have him on the brain, or something.
Once upon a time...
(as I heard it)
...lived a Yakshasa king named Kubera. Yakshasas are semi-divine types who are sometimes associated with nature but who may also have a demonic side. This particular one, Kubera, was a particularly nasty, greedy specimen. He had an insatiable lust for avarice and acquisition.
It's no stretch that Kubera became the wealthiest of the Yakshasas. He enjoyed the finest things. He lived in a palace with seemingly endless treasure houses brimming with gold and with jewels. He was the proud owner of the pushpaka, which was a flying machine that was sort of like an airplane. Consider it a prototype, if you like. This particular airplane required the ashes of three burned forests in order to fly for even a second. Cavalier and destructive, it suited Kubera just fine; he wasn't particularly concerned about being green.
In his obsessive quest to possess things he was even rumored to have devoured people. I can neither confirm not deny this as I wasn't there. The thing was, and there's always a thing, no amount of acquisition ever really satisfied Kubera. No sooner did he obtain one thing for his collection than he wanted something else. Sound like anyone you know?
The only thing he had failed to acquire, and so the one thing he desired above all others, was Parvati, the mountain goddess and wife of Siva.
He cluttered up Parvati's inbox with email after email inviting her to his palace for "lunch." If he could only get her to accept his invitation, she would certainly be seduced by his great wealth and leave Siva, who didn't keep her in nearly the fashion that a princess such as Parvati would enjoy, right? What could an unconventional, edgy, dreadlocked mendicant like Siva provide? Surely, she would have only to see Kubera's palace to come to her senses.
Like, duh, right?
The problem with his plan was that Siva and Parvati were always making love. Seriously, they'd be at it for eons at a time. At this rate, Parvati would never check her email! Kubera would have to deliver his invitation in person. When he arrived at Mt. Kailash, Parvati and Siva were tangled in each other's arms and instructed their son, Ganesha, to answer the knock at the door.
(Where else would we find Ganesha but in the doorway, standing on the threshold of experience, right?)
"Your invitation to lunch has been accepted..." Ganesha announced.
Kubera could hardly believe his good luck.
"...by me", concluded the immortal with the head of an elephant, the body of a boy and a very, very big belly.
This was not at all what Kubera had in mind but what can you do except politely smile when an elephant-headed deity decides to accompany you home for lunch?
Fast forward to the lunch table, which was as long as a barn and piled high with every kind of delicacy you can dream of, sort of like in the first Harry Potter movie. (Kubera, naturally, had the entire box set of Harry Potter DVDs in his palace movie theater.)
The meal began. Ganesha swallowed down everything on his plate and asked for seconds and then thirds. He was insatiable. With his trunk, he tipped down his gullet every serving bowl that was brought. He devoured the contents of the palace kitchen, everything in the larder, in the cabinets and in the Sub-Zero. Then, in a frenzy, the golden goblets and plates and the pots and the pans and the table and still he demanded more. He could not be sated.
In a dismayed attempt to signal that the meal was over, Kubera offered a tour of his treasure chambers. Bad move; you see where this is going, right? In the blink of an eye, Ganesha swallowed down every chest in the treasury, all the gold and all the jewels. He even ate Kubera's new MacBook Pro, which Kubera thought was really going too far. With nothing left to eat, Ganesha cagily and hungrily began to eye Kubera.
He licked his chops.
Kubera turned on his heel and ran for his life.
He jumped aboard his fancy, forest-guzzling flying machine and set the navigation for Mt. Kailash (to do this he had only to think it,) in hopes that Siva and Parvati would call down Ganesha, soothe him, and convince him to stop eating everything in sight. Just as he was making his escape, though, Ganesha in 007 fashion pursuit, reached up with his trunk, grabbed hold, and went along for the ride.
Kubera appealed to Parvati, who disappeared into the kitchen and returned carrying a bowl of simple rice pudding that she'd made with her own hands.
"Feed it to him lovingly," she instructed.
He did exactly that and, finally, Ganesha was satiated.
Remember, now, that your job as listener is to be every character in the story--not simply Ganesha, but Siva, Parvati, and, yes, even Kubera, too.
I don't see this story as a warning against the evils of a material world. I'm a tantrika so I don't think the material world is evil or problematic. I would far rather enjoy it than repudiate it.
I think this story wants us to endeavor to know the true value of things. I feel sorry for Kubera. I know he's a greedy, rapacious, irresponsible, Hummer-driving schmuck but that's what happens when we get so disconnected from what genuinely nurtures our soul that we wouldn't recognize it if it knocked on our door and invited us to lunch.
The demonic always stands for disconnection, whether deliberate or unintentional. While we can never truly be disconnected from the universe, so long as we're living inside it (and where else could we go?) we can still act, and feel, as though we are. We can, through this feeling of disconnection, treat the world, and even other people, as though it's all just fodder for consumption.
It's very unlikely, though, that living in this way can ever deeply satisfy.
Ganesha acts as a mirror for Kubera, and for each of us, to remind us to enjoy life's riches and not to be confused about what really feeds our soul.
So, what is it that genuinely satisfies your soul?
If you are a yogin then you endeavor to know.