Stories of Soul Loss
Gajendra the Elephant
Krishna Frees 16,100 Princesses
Recovering from Soul Murder
Sigmund Freud coined the term "soul murder" to describe the deliberate attempt to kill off the separate identity of another person. According to Dr. Leonard Shengold, a contemporary Freudian psychoanalyst and author, "The victims of soul murder remain in large part possessed by another, their souls in bondage to someone else." This is the basic betrayal of child abuse: an older person in the family kills off a younger person's innocence and chances for a normal autonomous life. Victims often feel tied to the perpetrator, unable to break away from the specter of the humiliation and evil secrets forced upon them.
Shengold explains that soul murder is usually followed by brainwashing. Clever perpetrators convince everyone to erase or discount the abusive experiences. Brainwashed people must deny their pain, and in doing this, cut off their ability to feel joy and love as well. When someone is brainwashed to forget soul-murder experiences, their own lives stop; their deepest emotional feelings revolve around the soul murder. They either subconsciously dwell on the wrongs done to them, or even more devastating, dwell on justifying or denying what the perpetrators did. Once murdered, the victim is left in a condition of emotional bondage, like paralysis.
A vivid analogy for childhood soul murder victims is depicted in the Caitanya-caritamrta, in the story of a bow hunter named Mrgrari, who (before he was converted) shot animals and left them half dead. His arrows caused more suffering than if he had killed the animals completely. This is the work of soul murderers, to take away their victims' innocence, independence, and happiness, leaving them half-dead.
"Soul loss" is one result of soul murder. The technical word offered in the Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) to describe this condition is "dissociative disorder" or "disassociated identity disorder" (DID). This diagnosis may include multiple personality disorder. Dissociation is a condition of personality fragmentation, or splitting off part of the self, due to trauma. The shame and anger associated with a traumatic event takes on a life of its own, breaking away from the main personality. Thus, it seems to the victim as if the abuse happened to someone else, when in fact, they have been cut off from a valuable part of themselves. Although a victim may feel distant from the abuse, the depression and loss of soul remain like holes in the psyche. This presence is the archetype of the disowned shadow that makes victims feel helpless and broken.
The scriptures contain many examples of sages cursing or kidnapping innocent people, which illustrate the idea of soul murder. If a sage curses someone to stand as a tree, as in the story of the twin Arjuna trees in Nanda's courtyard, their freedom and autonomy have been taken away. If someone rapes a child, and the trauma remains unresolved, that soul could remain emotionally paralyzed, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
Murdering souls is a common theme in the scriptures, as it is in real life. The soul murderer may be a respected sage, who thinks he has done what is right. However, taking away another's freedom is an aggressive act, and in the following examples, Krishna shows divine compassion when he rescues the victims.
Stories of Soul Loss: King Nriga
Once when Krishna was a prince, he went to the forest with some of his friends. After a while they became thirsty and looking for water, found a dry well with a large lizard at the bottom. Krishna rescued the lizard simply by extending his hand. With his touch it transformed into a golden demigod. In its past life, the demigod had been the pious King Nriga, and due to an unfortunate mistake, and his willingness to suffer the consequences upon his death, he had taken birth as this lizard.
A demigod emerging from a lizard body is an image of letting go of the curses and past grief that once held the soul in bondage. A butterfly is another image of throwing off bondage.
Gajendra the Elephant
Another famous story describing souls trapped in animal bodies is the famous struggle between the elephant Gajendra and a crocodile. Gajendra was actually a devotee of Vishnu named Indradyumna, who had retired from kingship to perform penance in the Malaya mountains. While sitting in meditation, the sage Agastya came there but became enraged when Indradyumna failed to notice him. Agastya turned Indradyumna into an elephant.
The crocodile was formerly an apsara (angel) named Huhu, who was cursed by the sage Devala. Once, Gajendra stepped into the lake to drink water and the crocodile caught hold of his hind leg. Their tug of war continued for a thousand years until Maha-Vishnu (Krishna) appeared and killed the crocodile with his Sudarshan-chakra. The elephant turned back into Indradyumna and subsequently attained liberation. Today in India, the fabled location of this event is now an elephant market.
Krishna Frees 16,100 Princesses
It is said that Krishna had 16,108 wives. Eight were considered his primary wives, and the other 16,100 (some say 16,000) were princesses he rescued from captivity. The women were slaves of a demon named Bhaumasura, who harassed the demigods until Lord Indra, the king of heaven, finally complained to Krishna. To satisfy Indra, Krishna set off with one of his wives on his eagle-carrier Garuda, to Bhaumasura's capital city, Pragjyotisapura. The city was protected by forts, soldiers, a moat, electric fences (Sanskrit has a word for electricity), a gaseous substance, and a network of barbed wire fences constructed by the demon Maura.
Krishna broke through the fortifications with his club and arrows, counteracted the electrical boundary with his Sudarshan-chakra, and broke the hearts of the great fighters with the sound of his conch shell. The demon Maura, who had fabricated all the obstacles, came out to see what was happening. Maura charged, but Krishna cut off his heads using the Sudarshan-chakra. The demon's seven sons and Bhaumasura fought in retaliation, but Krishna killed them all. When Krishna entered Bhaumasura's palace, he rescued the 16,100 princesses and they all fell in love with him. Thus, he married them, and brought them, along with wealth from the palace, to his capital city, Dvaraka.
Recovering from Soul Murder
Overcoming soul murder or soul loss may include connecting with a higher power, such as Krishna. The layers of symbolism illustrate that faith in Krishna can break through any enchantment to rescue soul murder victims. Scriptural stories teach humans how to take shelter of god. Other healing forms such as the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous point in the same direction: "a loving god who can restore us to sanity" (the second step of Alcoholics Anonymous).
Of the twelve steps, reaching the first step ("admitted we were powerless . . . that our lives had become unmanageable") acknowledges that something is missing. When the disassociated parts are missed, when we get out of denial, that is when healing begins. However, there's always the danger that disassociated feelings can come back like an avalanche, in what is called a "spiritual emergency." Instead of integrating gradually and gently, frightening memories may flood the victim's mind in the form of "flashbacks," or even a psychosis. The psyche disassociated the memories for a reason, usually because they were too painful to bear at the time of the incident. However, through therapy, victims can safely and gradually release the terror that was stored away.
Other healing paths include forgiveness, meditation, art therapy, play therapy, naturopathic healing, shamanic healing, gestalt therapy, family therapy, other forms of psychotherapy, journaling, and depth psychology. Finding a personal myth can help victims who need to make sense of their experiences. The stories of Krishna provide a wealth of information about healing from soul murder, and about how to regard the perpetrators.
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