By Tasha Friedman
Celebrating the Equinox
First, a story.
Prahlada is a young prince, and his father is a demon: Hiranyakashipu, a king among the Asuras, powerful beings like demigods.
Hiranyakashipu hates Vishnu. He wants to become so powerful that he can kill God himself. He undergoes many years of austerities so he can become immortal, unstoppable, and it almost works: he cannot be killed during the day or by night, inside or outside, by man or animal or god or demon, not by any weapon.
Confident in his power, he tries to wipe out any form of spirituality, any mention of the name of God, of anything greater than himself.
But Prahlada loves Vishnu. Nothing can shake his devotion, even his father’s terrible violence. Hiranyakashipu threatens his son, trying to force him to renounce Vishnu. Enraged that Prahlada refuses to acknowledge him as the Supreme Lord of the Universe, he even tries to murder his son, but for Prahlada, there is no god but God.
Finally, the demon mocks him. “You say your God is everywhere, so where is he now? Hiding inside this piece of rock?” He is standing in the doorway of his luxurious palace, next to a stone pillar in the doorframe, and he gives it a solid kick—and there’s a sound like a tremendous burst of thunder.
Vishnu emerges from the pillar in his form as Narasimha, half-man, and half-lion, blazing with divine wrath.
Neither human nor an animal, not a god or a demon. Neither inside nor outside but arising from the threshold. At that moment, it is twilight, neither day nor night. He tears the demon apart with his fearsome claws.
In this story, the demon is not a demon, and the vengeful deity is not a vengeful deity.
The ego wants to claim dominion over all of reality. It cannot bear to surrender to anything, even to God; it wants to be the god of its own little kingdom. It wants to live forever.
So how to be free from such a power? Stop playing its game. Stop going into this or that, seeking or avoiding, wanting to be something or someone. Drop the whole story and stay in that still, very quiet middle place—that pillar, that central axis, in the very midst of everything and yet untouched by anything.
Neither left nor right, up nor down, neither giving nor receiving: the fire that emerges from this junction will devour all duality.
Today is the equinox, the middle point when day and night are of approximately equal length. The equinox lends its name to a Kashmir Shaivite practice that we all know and love at Hridaya: the awareness of the pauses in the breathing cycle, after every inhalation and every exhalation.
In these pauses, the breath flows into the heart and becomes still, dropping out of time—as the Sufis would say, into the place where the two seas meet, where the ocean of humanity flows into the ocean of Infinity. The world dissolves, the unrelenting cycle of cause and effect stops, if only for a moment.
Truth can be found everywhere, but often it is more easily recognized in these liminal spaces. In between any two known points, there is an abyss of the unknown, yet we tend to skip over it in our eagerness to label and classify, putting things into categories that the mind can understand and hope to control.
When it isn’t this or that, here or there, good or bad, what do we do with it? The mind can do nothing, so be quieter and more still and let the mandala dissolve itself into eternity.