Hari Om! Namaste!!
The topic is very interesting and equally controversial, right? Let us understand it clearly from a typical Upanishad way, i.e. a Reality Fiction. In this story, eternal truths are packaged in a contemporary fiction.
Let us hear from the Horse’s Mouth, our great Realized Master Shri Sujnan Giri in a conversation with Jnana Hariputra, founder director of the International Institute of Sanskrit and Hinduism(IISH, pronounced Eesh ) at Hawaii, USA. We have not met him yet. Right? OK. Let us get introduced to him.
His original name was John Harrison. Right from his childhood he was attracted to Hinduism and its spirituality. As he grew up, he studied Sanskrit in India in the traditional way. This gave him access to original truths present in our Great Scriptures such as Vedas, Upanishads, Agamas etc.
While in India, he also got exposed to teachings of various Great Masters in Non-dualistic philosophy(Advaita Vedanta) established by our Great Master Shri Shankara Bhagavatpadah. In order to share the treasure of this great Indian knowledge, he established International Institute of Sanskrit and Hinduism back home at Hawaii, US.
He was a staunch devotee of Narayana(Lord Vishnu), the omnipotent deity as mentioned in our Vedic hymn Narayana Sukta. To indicate his strong devotion towards Narayana, he changed his name to Jnana Hariputra(means the eternal knowledge born out of Lord Vishnu).
Every year he used to visit India to see some holy place and to meet some Great Indian Master. After hearing about Shri Sujnan Giri, he decided to meet him to clarify his understanding of concepts of Hinduism.
The following is the conversation of Hariputra with the Great Master Shri Sujnan Giri. After a formal introduction, Shri Sujnan Giri starts the discussion.
Shri Sujnan Giri: “Hari Om! Namaste!! You had some queries?”
Hariputra: “Namaste, Gurudev! Yes. I have some questions on some basic concepts of Hinduism. First of all, why so many Gods in Hinduism?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “Why not? What is wrong? Let me answer with another question: If you go to a restaurant, how many items would you expect on the menu? One or many? More is good, right?”
Hariputra: “Absolutely. We would like to have more items on a restaurant menu. It helps us to choose an item that we like from many available options. More options, more probability to match people’s different tastes: some like it sweet, some hot!”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “You answered your own question now 🙂 Let me explain. As we know, everybody is different in the universe. So, the nature, taste, likes, dislikes also vary from person to person.
Our Sanatana Dharma(a.k.a Hinduism) presents a menu of millions of deities to suit specific nature of an individual, just like a restaurant does. Some devotees like a peaceful deity like Lakshmi, some others like a fierce form of Shridevi, viz. Kali, wearing a garland of heads.
Some connoisseurs of beauty would like to worship Shridevi as Lalita Mahatripura Sundari(Supremely beautiful Goddess). Many others want to adore luxurious and magnificent Lord Vishnu. But, some others are more pleased with simple Lord Shiva sitting and meditating on the Himalayas!
If you love animals, we have some deities with animal heads too. e.g. elephant-headed Lord Ganesha , Lion-headed Lord Narasimha(a Lord Vishnu’s form), Lord Karthikeya(worshiped as Divine serpent) and so on.
The choice is virtually limitless! You can pick your favorite deity to match your personality. Think about it. Is it not a good idea to have many deities to worship?”
Hariputra: “Of course, Sir! I am getting it now. Can you explain it a bit more?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “Fine. Let me give another example. When it comes to wearing dresses, there is no one size fits all. Right? Everybody has specific requirements like color, design, fitting, texture of the cloth(soft, hard etc.) and so on. Likewise our Sanatana Dharma also gives you several tailor-made options that fit you well to access the same One Universal Self. Our Great Vedas say:
Ekam Sat, Viprah bahudha vadanti |
Meaning: The Absolute Truth (Universal Self) is One; Wise people pray in different ways. Got it now? ”
Hariputra: “Are all the deities equal in their power?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “All are equal. But, some are more equal! :)”
Hariputra: “Gurudev! I did not understand. What do you mean by that? I am completely confused now. Please elaborate.”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “There are mainly two types of deities: principal and subsidiary. The principal deities are eternal and are not subjected to life cycle of the universe. In fact they control everything in the universe and beyond. According to our Great Master Shri Shankara Bhagavatpadah, there are five principal Vedic deities, Lord Surya(the Sun God), Lord Ganesha, Shridevi Parvati, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.
Other deities like Indra, Kubera, Vayu, Agni and demigods like Yaksha, Kinnara and others are subsidiary. They are created by principal deities to help them run the show. They are subjected to life cycle of the universe. Understood? ”
Hariputra: “Now it is getting more complex. Whom to worship for what?”
Shri Sujnan Giri:“OK. It depends on your wish! You may pray subsidiary Gods to achieve specific material goals. e.g. you may worship Lord Kubera to accumulate wealth. These deities can also be the means to merge with the eternal principal deities which are nothing but the Universal Self.
If you pray Lord Agni(the Fire God), you can get the Highest Knowledge to help you with getting the liberation(moksha) too. The most important aspects of a prayer are the lakshya(aim, goal or focus) and the bhava(intention). In other words, you get what you pray for. So, based on your intention, you can get the powers of temporary deities or attain the Universal Self itself which controls everything. Got it?”
Hariputra: “Understood somewhat now. Then, what is special about principal deities that you mentioned?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “As discussed, principal deities are eternal, beyond the universe. They can be prayed to achieve any of your goals, either material or spiritual. They are the means and the ends to moksha(liberation). In other words, they are the final refuge for everything. Therefore, needless to mention: worshiping the principal deities is highly recommended for everybody.”
Hariputra: “Now I understood it clearly! But, I have another question. I am a devotee of Lord Vishnu. I heard that you mainly worship Lord Shiva. Are you saying – Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva are the same?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “Yes! All deities are fundamentally One and the same. That is what the earlier quotation from the Great Vedas, really meant. So, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are the names and forms referring to the same formless Universal Self”
Hariputra: “Got it. Could you please give an example from the Hindu Scriptures?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “OK. Let us take Shri Vishnu Sahasranama (1008 names of Lord Vishnu). You may be very surprised to hear this: many names of Lord Shiva that are in Shri Shiva Sahasranama( i.e. 1008 names of Lord Shiva) also appear in Shri Vishnu Sahasranama. e.g.
- Vishwa – The world
- Sthanu – Stable
- Shiva – Very auspicious
- Shambhu – Born from auspicious
- Aditya – One who enlightens everything
Notice that even the names like Shiva, Shambhu which are typically used for Lord Shiva are also appearing in the list of Lord Vishnu’s names! The reverse is also true: Typical Lord Vishnu’s names are in Shiva Sahasranama as well, e.g. Krishna(attractive), Suresha(Lord of Gods), Janardhana(birthless) and so on. What does it tell you? It declares loudly that – Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva are one and the same. Clear now?”
Hariputra: “Splendid! It is really an amazing revelation to me! Is there any other example showing the oneness of many deities?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “Of course. Greatest Sanskrit Poet Kalidasa wrote a famous shloka Vagarthaviva as the prayer in the beginning of his epic Raghuvamsha. One shloka addresses many deities giving more than 25 meanings!
In that shloka directly or indirectly he prays, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Devi Saraswati, Shri Lakshmi Devi and Shri Pravati Devi. Thus, praying many deities from one shloka means that all the deities are one and the same. What a great spiritual message from the Greatest Poet Kalidasa!”
Hariputra: “Sir, that was a brilliant explanation! I understood it clearly beyond any iota of doubt: all the Gods are One and the same. It is great that Hinduism offers us millions of options to address our specific nature to worship the same One Universal Self. We just need to pick our deity and pray everyday. I have another question, Gurudev! What is the need to have many Gods in Hinduism?”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “This is a very good question, indeed. As discussed above, in Hinduism, every deity has been allocated to preside over a particular function. In other words, the administrative power is decentralized. For example, Lord Brahma creates the world, Lord Vishnu sustains it and finally Lord Shiva annihilates everything to himself.
Lord Ganesha is in charge of obstacles. Shridevi Lakshmi is for prosperity and wealth. Shri Devi Saraswati is for learning. Lord Surya for health. Shridevi Parvati is for power. Lord Karthikeya presides over skills and creativity. The list goes on. Each deity has specific mantras and rituals of worship to propitiate it.
We can worship a specific deity to achieve a particular goal. e.g. Lord Ganesha is worshiped first, before we start any work to get his help to complete the task without any hitches or obstacles. These deities are just forms of the Universal Self. One can access the Universal Self by worshiping any one of these. Got it now?”
Hariputra: “Yes Sir.This question has been haunting me for many years. Thank you very much for your crystal clear answer! I am very fortunate to know it.”
Shri Sujnan Giri: “Fine. May the Almighty’s blessings be with you!”
Hariputra saluted the Great Master Shri Sujnana Giri and left.
He understood. Thus, He understood.
Note: Please remember that this is a Reality Fiction. The story and all the characters are imaginary. Do not search the Internet to find out more about these personalities or the institute. Just kidding! 🙂
Om Namah Shivaya ||