It's that time of year again, when we see pumpkins everywhere. These fruits are actually in the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae), which includes cucumbers, gourds, melons, squashes, and pumpkins: 98 genera of fruits. They represent one of the first crops to be domesticated, and are frequently a source of reflection in the Vedas and Puranas.
One of the most famous of these is the Maha Mriyunjava mantra. The mantra's name may be roughly translated to convey that botanical event when the fruit of the Cucurbitaceae ripens, and falls free of the vine. And though the Vedas likely referred to a species of Cucumber, in America we are more familiar with the Pumpkin, and Mellon, and these are easily exchanged.
Those of us who know how to pick ripe melons look for the dark or black mark where it fell freely from the vine: the fruit fully ripened, and then the vine, having accomplished its work, died, turning black. We see it less on pumpkins, whose vines wither, leaving us a nice handle for our jack-o-lanterns - sometimes even after the entire plant sickens, and dies. But, that withering death is still observed as being an indicator that the fruit is ripe.
Other fruits fall from their plants when ripe and became sources of cultural reflection: in the West, a ripe apple famously fell on Isaac Newton's head. Mangos ripening at different rates inspired the Buddha to understand the principles of chaotic and statistical uncertainty: any given action may have a different reaction or the same reaction at different rates, with some reactions and rates of reaction being more or less likely, but all being possible. There are many other examples. But there is much wisdom to learn from Cucurbitaceae.
The Maha Mriyunjaya mantra teaches the winning (in the sense of a gambling game) or victory (in the sense of a battle or effort), the "success" which can come even in failure. Shiva accepts all sacrifices which are done properly, regardless of their outcome.
It is a simple mantra.
Shiva is extolled for teaching us that we grow stronger by our failures; so just as a pumpkin might fall freely from the vine when the vine fails - due to its death and dis-ease - so too may we all be freed from death and dis-ease, from and by our own failings.It is because we are distressed and die that we seek to discover the means to ending that dis-ease, the natural consequences or fruit of our dis-ease and dying is this freedom, it is our nature and we cannot avoid that freedom any more than the warrior cannot fail but honor their enemies, whether they fall before them in self-sacrifice, or accept the sacrifice of their opponent. When we fight we all lose, but perhaps in that fighting we may nevertheless gain or win honor.
But because of the double and triple plays on words, we see many other interpretations: words with double and triple meanings (or more meanings than that) are also combined, and compounded.
So we can see that what effort is made well is not wasted, even if it fails our intention. There is benefit in the effort itself. When we play the game, not to win, but to enjoy the sport, the playing, the lila, then we accomplish the game's purpose.
By our failings and those of others we are strengthened, it is our nourishment (the stalk or stem nourishes the fruit, which nourishes us).
It is a common theme in the Vedas, we learn from our errors, the burning in our muscles in lifting weights or working prepares us to accomplish more: no pain, no gain. The old leaves fall to the forest floor to mulch and enrich the soil; the wildfire prepares the success of new generations of plants.
And it is this image of the wildfire, of Rudra - Shiva, that speaks to the naturalness of our sacrifice. Agni takes everything, the good and the bad. We must come to see no difference between winning and losing, right and wrong, good and evil. Success is found in doing things well, for their own sake, with love, for love, in love.
Besides, sometimes it is a good thing we do not always succeed, and get what we want or think we need. It is sometimes good we are restrained when we lack self restraint...thus, we come to see the lassos of even Yama Shani with gratitude.
It is such optimism, opportunism, this ability to find worth in loss, joy in failure, life in death, that is the fruit of our effort in Yoga. And which protects us: it is by this joy in living that we learn the best sacrifice is the one which fulfills the purpose, the sacrifice of sacrificing. The deathly silence which preceded our birth is broken only so it may be restored again.
One day, the Vedas themselves will fall silent, even as two friends run out of things to say, and sit contentedly in each other's company quietly. And this is not a bad thing: that is the ripening of friendship, the ripening of words.