Much is spoken of arrogance and about how man is best served when arrogance is given up. What exactly is arrogance and why must it be eschewed? In simple terms, arrogance may be summarized as the false perception of one’s superiority that is combined with the inability to acknowledge quality in others. In a single swoop, the arrogant misjudge their abilities as well as those of the others. Yogic texts pin arrogance down to a single lacuna – namely the non-identification with the higher self or the Supreme. In other words, when one fails to identify with one’s true self, he or she also fails to recognize that all of creation is but a reflection of the Divine Spark.
Running parallel to the non-identification with the Supreme is the identification with the fleeting, which results in man mistaking the ephemeral for the eternal. Arrogance originates from the misconception that man’s possessions are eternal, when in reality they are temporary. Man believes that the knowledge he seemingly possesses, the wealth that is his for the time-being, or the prowess of his limbs are his eternally. He prides himself as unparalleled, and is swept off his feet, little realizing that all he possesses is but fleeting in nature. This ignorance results in arrogance, and translates to cruelty and pettiness in deeds and demeanor. Unless arrogance is quelled, man cannot rise to the summit of perfection, for perfection lies in the recognition of a higher self.
Avatāras descend in order to establish order and to provide man with an exemplar of a perfect life. In their infinite compassion, avatāras enact līlās that explicate to man, how life situations are to be dealt with. Though above attributes and desires, avatāras adorn them in līlās in order to teach man how to rise above them. One such līlā described in the Śivamahāpurāṇa elaborates how the Supreme Lord extinguishes arrogance and helps identify the essential unity in creation. It must be borne in mind here, that avatāras enact līlās and do not identify with materialistic emotions and desires.
At the beginning of creation, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Brahmā found themselves in an argument over who was superior. Lord Brahmā proclaimed, ‘The Vedas proclaim me to be the self-born Supreme. I am the essence of the universe and its creator.’ Lord Viṣṇu countered, ‘There is no creator, sustainer or annihilator superior to me. I am the supreme light, the all-pervasive Supreme that lies within each atom of creation.’ As they battled on thus for superiority, a liṅgam of blinding brilliance appeared between them. The endless column of light was so spectacular in its appearance, both Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu were struck with wonder. They decided to put the liṅgam to the test. Lord Viṣṇu assumed the form of a wild boar and set out to find the base of the liṅgam, while Lord Brahmā assumed the form of a swan and soared up, seeking to identify the end of the liṅgam. Thousands of cosmic years rolled by, and yet neither succeeded in the task they set out to complete. Exhausted and humbled, Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu began glorifying the liṅgam thus, ‘O Supreme One, we are ignorant of Thy true form. Accept our supplication and reveal Thyself.’
Pleased with the eulogy, the Supreme One made Himself visible to Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu. The two were delighted to behold the saguṇa (attributes) of the nirguṇa (attributeless) Brahman. The Supreme One them crafted the four Vedas from His breath and handed them over to Lord Viṣṇu. He said to Lord Brahmā, ‘unite with the aspect of Prakṛti known as Girādevī (Goddess of speech) and engage in creation.’ Turning to Lord Viṣṇu said the Lord, ‘Take the aspect of Prakṛti called Lakṣmī as your consort and sustain the universe. I, as Rudra, shall resort to the aspect of Prakṛti called Kālī and shall attend to the noble deed of annihilation. It is I who am known by the names of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Rudra owing to the three kinds of actions I engage in during creation, sustenance and annihilation. The wise recognize that (I am like) a single sheet of gold that produces various ornaments, but is essentially the same. A single lump of clay produces various pots. Celestials endowed with superior intellect as yourselves must recognize the underlying reality of all creation.’
यदैकस्या मृदो भेदे नानापात्राणि वस्तुतः।
कारणस्यैव कार्ये च सन्निधानं निदर्शनम्॥
yadaikasyā mṛdo bhede nānāpātrāṇi vastutaḥ|
kāraṇasyaiva kārye ca sannidhānaṁ nidarśanam||
Śivamahāpurāṇam, Sṛṣṭi-khaṇḍa, 9.36
ज्ञातव्यं बुधवर्यैश्च निर्मलज्ञानिभिः सुरैः।
एवं ज्ञात्वा भवद्भ्यां तु न दृश्यं भेद कारणम्॥
jñātavyaṁ budhavaryaiśca nirmalajñānibhiḥ suraiḥ|
evaṁ jñātvā bhavadbhyāṁ tu na dṛśyaṁ bheda kāraṇam||
Śivamahāpurāṇam, Sṛṣṭi-khaṇḍa, 9.37
With these words, the Supreme One rendered himself invisible. Lord Brahmā and Lord Viṣṇu recognized their folly in giving in to pride and arguing who was superior. They recognized themselves to be but a reflection of the Supreme, created by His sheer will, and resorted to their respective realms with humility and wisdom.