Conquering the Rodent of Greed
In the ever changing landscape of our life, there is but one constant — our set of problems. Grave or petty, they act as a hindrance to our goals and gnaw into our sense of well-being. They appear in the form of an itch that refuses to subside or a court case that takes forever to be resolved or a piece of machinery that needs constant repair…
Irrespective of its magnitude, it becomes the repository of our existence and plagues our life. It also silently depletes our resources, hampering our prosperity. These problems are the thieves that surround us fearlessly and there is no “body of law” (police) that we can lodge a complaint with.
Helpless and tired of battling the obstacles that seem to come on a conveyor belt, we look to ancient wisdom (or religion) to provide us some reprieve from these seemingly insignificant but persistent irritants, which diminish the quality of our life.
In the Hindu pantheon of gods, there is one god in particular who is designed to understand not just the gravity of the obstacles, but is also known to help his devotees get rid of them. He is the elephant headed god, Ganesha. The legend behind this god, according to Shiva Purana, is as interesting and unique as the elephant headed god himself.
When Lord Shiva refused to father a child, a very determined goddess Parvati created one on her own by using a turmeric paste with which she anointed herself. Vinayaka (one who is born without the intervention of a man) was asked by his mother Parvati, to stand guard at the doorway as she went for her bath.
When Shiva came visiting, the little boy Vinayaka, unaware that Shiva was his mother’s consort, barred him from entering the doorway. An otherwise detached Shiva, lost his cool on this occasion and beheaded the boy with his trident. When Parvati saw her dead son, her fury knew no bounds. She threatened Shiva with dire consequences if her child was not resurrected.
Shiva immediately ordered his celestial armies (the ganas) to fetch him the head of the first living thing they encountered. They returned with the head of an elephant and Shiva restored Parvati’s son back to life.
And in doing so, he consciously becomes the boy’s father. He renames him Ganesha and appoints him the leader of his followers (the ganas). After this incident Shiva blessed him with a boon, which entailed that people offer their prayers and invoke his blessings before starting any auspicious activity.
As leader of the ganas, he is also called Ganapati and is a master of intellect and unmatched wisdom. Ga symbolizes buddhi (intellect) and Na symbolizes vijnana (wisdom).
Since his head is that of an elephant, Ganesha also represents material abundance. In Hindu mythology, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, is flanked by elephants. This combination of wealth and wisdom makes Ganesha the perfect embodiment of soul and substance. He is the lord of the thresholds between spiritual bliss (yoga) and material delights (bhoga).
According to some scriptures, he is married to the two daughters of Bramha (the creator) — Riddhi (wealth) and Siddhi (wisdom) — and has two sons, Shubh (auspicious) and Labh (profit) and a daughter Santoshi (satisfaction).
But, it is his seemingly innocuous vehicle, the rat (also called Mooshika), which is the subject of intrigue for many scholars. The Sanskrit meaning of Mooshika comes from mu, which means stealing, and according to scholars, it is only when one can subdue the rat (the destructive element in all of us) that can one ride the vighna (obstacles).
That is why the symbol of Ganesh riding the rat, sends such a powerful message — that Ganesha, as the Lord of Obstacles, is the master of rats and thus has the power to overcome all impediments. Some scholars also believe that he places obstacles in the path of those who need to be reined in.
Paul Courtright (author of the book Gane’sa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings) says that the task of Ganesha “in the divine scheme of things, his dharma, is to place and remove obstacles. It is his particular territory, the reason for his creation.”
The rats are almost always considered inauspicious (although in Chinese tradition, rats are a symbol of fertility, and positive qualities, like tenacity and industriousness are also attributed to them).
In earlier times, when farming was the prime source of livelihood, the rodents would destroy crops, eat up the stored grains and thereby hamper the prosperity of the villagers. In having a rat as his vehicle, Ganesha is symbolically shown to have conquered the pest, which is an obstacle to prosperity.
Even today Hindus worship this deity before undertaking any important or auspicious activity or venture, because of the faith that praying to Ganesha will clear hurdles and make the passage smooth. This lord of beginnings keeps unforeseen problems, hurdles and obstacles (the inauspicious) at bay and brings prosperity and success (the auspicious) to us. By propitiating this “conqueror of obstacles” (vighna-harta), we ensure that with his blessings, our dreams will be realized smoothly.
Interestingly, his rat is also symbolic of greed and avarice; the greed of the ego (ahamkara), which uses material acquisition to enhance its sense of self, makes us a relentless hoarder. Our greed for more, to quench our ego, both individually and collectively, blinds us to the greater good of humanity and we destroy that which is of lasting value, to fulfill our immediate need.
This greed, which like the rat, multiplies with every conquest, has brought about the destruction, exploitation and contamination of our natural resources. In the name of progress, we have nibbled into the bountiful nature that nurtures us.
The rat in us also surfaces in our inter-personal interactions. Our lust for self-importance makes us arrogant and conceited. It gnaws into our values and ethics and corrupts the very moral foundation of the society.
Ganesha promises to remove our obstacles and bring auspiciousness (shubh) and profit (labha) in our life, provided we learn to be content (santoshi) with our success. Let us exercise restraint and try to conquer this rodent of greed in us, which is the greatest obstacle in our striving for the perfect balance of yoga (spiritual bliss) and bhoga (material delights).