A Tale of 3 Cities


Three cities annihilated instantly by one precisely aimed missile! The story is told in the Linga Purana, and it’s relevant for every one of us, because you and I live in those cities.

The story begins with three unsavory characters called the Danava brothers, whose father had been killed in an unsuccessful bid to take over the universe. They were determined to manage their bid for conquest more intelligently. And because allies are important for those with such grandiose ambitions, the Danavas decided to get God on their side.

Tell me what you want and I'll be happy to grant your wish.

For years and years the brothers practiced intense asceticism, until finally Brahma the Creator was so impressed by their zeal that he materialized in front of them. “Good work,” he said. “You’ve built up a huge pool of good karma through your self-control. Now tell me what you want and I’ll be happy to grant your wish.”

Unfortunately, even though the practice of self-denial can help build willpower immensely, it doesn’t necessarily purify the heart. The brothers’ desire was wholly selfish, part of a dastardly master plan.

“Make us immortal!” they cried.

“Sorry, that’s not possible,” Brahma answered. “No one lives forever. Even the cosmos itself, after billions and billions of years, dissolves. Ask for something else.” 

The Danavas conferred among themselves and came up with another plan. 

“Through your grace, Lord Brahma,” they said, “each of us will live in a different city, and these cities will keep moving through space in separate directions. Only once on the rarest of occasions will they happen to line up exactly. At that time, and only if an enemy fires an arrow that pierces all three cities, may we be destroyed.”

“Make it so!” said Brahma. 

The Danavas were delighted, thinking they’d just defined conditions so difficult that no one would ever be able to kill them. A talented architect named Maya was hired to design the three cities. The first was built of gold and floated high in the heavens. The second was made of silver and floated lower in the atmosphere. The last was made from iron and glided around the surface of the Earth.

A talented architect named Maya was hired to design the three cities.

From these impregnable fortresses the Danavas launched raids against the many kingdoms around them. But they understood the laws of karma and kept up their spiritual practices. The strength and concentration they developed through these practices made them almost impossible to defeat.

The Danavas won victory after victory, and complacency set in. As the day drew nearer when the three cities would move into perfect alignment, the brothers weren’t even worried. Forgetting their commitment to spiritual life, and the Lord’s grace that had helped them attain their power and wealth, they decided they could handle anything. Their lives became less and less disciplined, their minds more and more preoccupied with the pleasures their status provided them.

Among the brothers’ enemies were the Devas, bright beings whose territory had been taken by the Danavas. They were determined to win it back. With full faith and devotion, they meditated on Lord Shiva, the transcendent reality.

“We bow to the Inner Self of all beings,” they prayed, “the supreme yogi who lives in the cave of the heart. You are a mass of splendor more vast than the entire universe and more minute than an atom. You are the self-existent reality, blazing like ten million suns. All elements and all entities emerge from you. Just as heaving waves subside into the ocean, so at the end of time all things merge back into you. Please restore the safety and prosperity of our community!”

Out of his infinite grace, the formless Lord of the Universe materialized before the Devas, accompanied by his wife, the Mother of the Worlds, and by his attendants, the Ganas, who are the fields of energy eternally at the Lord’s command. 

“I will destroy the Danavas and their cities,” Shiva promised.

The target exploded into a ball of light.

At that moment the three cities slid one on top of the other, as if merging into one unified whole, Shiva picked up his bow and fired a flaming arrow through its center. The target exploded in a ball of light.

The Devas were overjoyed. But they remembered to thank their liberator. “With reverence and gratitude we bow to the one who lives in the heart of those who practice withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and total mental absorption,” they said. “You are the very one the yogis and yoginis seek innirvikalpa samadhi [pure consciousness]. May we always remain devoted to you!”

The Inner City

Yoga students know the three cities well. The city of iron is called the sthula upadhi in Sanskrit, meaning the physical body. It moves around here on the physical Earth. The silver city is the sukshma upadhi, or subtle body. This is our everyday conscious mind, which moves around in the mid-region of thoughts and feelings. The city of gold is the karana upadhi, or causal body. Most of us don’t pay much attention to this body, so its contents remain largely unconscious, floating beyond the workaday mind. However, when we reincarnate it’s the karana upadhi that transports our karmas—the unfinished business of our previous lives—into a new physical form.

Too often the Danavas have the run of the city. They are the forces of selfishness at play in our personality. They can behave themselves when their own self-interest is at stake, but when they get out of control—look out! Then we may find ourselves disregarding other peoples’ needs or rights in an effort to win more than our share. Or we may sabotage our goals and our health through self-indulgence and lack of discipline. It’s not that we don’t think spiritual life is important. It’s just not important this minute. “If we forget the transcendent reality even for a moment,” the Linga Purana warns, “it’s a terrible loss.”

The Devas are the constructive forces in our personality, those that look out for our own highest good as well as for the good of others. We experience them in the promptings of our conscience and in the dynamic power of good habits. TheLinga Purana promises that when we make meditation the center of our life, then we will enjoy not only contact with a higher reality but also material well-being, excellent relationships, and a happy home life.

In its own way, the text tells us that complete fulfillment comes only when the body, conscious mind, and unconscious mind align themselves. So often in our lives one body goes one way, and the other body heads in the opposite direction! The mind says, “Stop eating!” but the mouth says, “I want another biscotti!” The mind says, “I want a happy marriage,” but the subconscious says, “I’m terrified of relationships!” We’re constantly at odds with ourselves.

A higher power comes alive in us.

But when the physical, subtle, and causal bodies align, the flaming arrow of kundalini shoots up the center of our being, and we experience it as vibrant health, enhanced creativity, emotional tranquility, mental clarity, and radiant inner joy. A higher power comes alive in us. Our bad habits are swept away by the sense of purpose and inner guidance that awakened kundalini activates.

The Power of the Eclipse

This Puranic myth also has astronomical significance. In another dimension of understanding, the golden city is the Sun, the silver city is the Moon, and the city of iron is the Earth. When all three transit into alignment, an eclipse occurs. Most ancient cultures consider eclipses to be extremely inauspicious. In India, for example, many people won’t eat or start a new project on the day this phenomenon occurs. But tantrics know that eclipses are the perfect time for spiritual practice.

So the next time a solar or lunar eclipse occurs, take a few minutes to sit with your head, neck, and trunk straight. Allow your breathing to become slow, smooth, and deep. You’ll notice an eerie silence outside (animals will become very still) as if nature is holding its breath. Then turn your attention inward. You’ll find it noticeably easier than usual to move into a state of vibrant inner silence.

The yogis take advantage of eclipses to align their three inner cities, and sit absolutely still as Shiva picks up his bow.

About the Teacher

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Linda Johnsen
Linda Johnsen, MS, is the author of numerous books including and Meditation Is Boring? Her most recent... Read more