Who really are our Devis and Devatas?
Are they symbolic of the multiple intelligences or powers of a single divine entity, or have totally separate existences, or is it something else?
This fascinating discussion was sparked by the post of a commentator who observed ISKCON devotees distributing copies of the Gita to visitors of the Shiva temple (outside its premises) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA during the Maha Shivaratri puja.
ISKCON: Push Marketing?
"Earlier ISKON wouldnt even celebrate any other functions other than oned related to KRishna. I was told by an ISKON devote that One Krishna = 2 Ramas. Now Hanuman Jayanthi, Ram Navami etc is celebrated as well..."
Indrajit disagrees with Raj:
"Construing the free distribution of Gita outside a Shiva temple on the occasion of 'mahashivratri' as push marketing, is a misplaced conception. Yes, Raj might be remotely right, had the epic were distributed free outside a church or mosque or place of worship of any other religion. Promoting Gita-awareness through such contribution outside a Hindu place of worship was more appropriate rather than 'push marketing..."
"...[unaware] that there was a tension in the minds of ISCON devotees about Krishna and other Gods until I read this post. Having spent all my formative years in India, I had not come across any such tensions in the minds of worshippers of the many Gods regarding claims of superiority.
If you do your "purva paksha" on the the works of Sri-la-Sri Prabhupada, in his book on the Science of Self-Realization, page 117 he himself writes:
"There is a mis-conception that Krishna Consciousness represents the Hindu Religion." There is much more on that page. But the founder of ISKCON himself disavows Hinduism. Krishna consciousness is "universal and transcends sectarian designations."
There is more on that page along those lines...
(Venkat provides a link to this)
This has been taken quite seriously since his day, by his devotees and plays out in these ridiculous "missionary" efforts to proselytize followers of any other Deities within Hinduism itself. Shiva in particular is sub-ordinated as the "supreme devotee." If you ask many ISKCON devotees "are you a Hindu." 85% of them will squirm and try to avoid using the "H" word.
It was largely a reaction to the on-going attempts toward "hegemony" of the Smarta/Advaita Vedanata of Sankara, with respect to Hinduism as a whole. It is an old polemic between Vaishnavism/Sankaran Vedanta. The Smarta Sampadaya/Advaita Vedanta is only one "family" within Santana Dharma. It is not the whole or the cream the end of the evolution of, etc Hindu tradition. It is just one Sampradaya among many. Unfortunately Prabhupada could not seem to accept this on level terms. Since Smarta had opted to define Hinduism by their philosophy, he chose to denounce his roots in order not to be "digested" by latter day liberal "Smarta Sanatana Dharma"
The same issues that Rajiv is working to "solve" viz-a-viz Hinduism vs other religions, are at work inside Hinduism itself, where there is on-going "digestion" of original, very distinct, sampradayas and lineages by the modern, latter day liberal interpretations of Sanatana Dharma thru the lens of intellectual Mayavada Vedanta, and modern day Indian Hindu academics who are far removed from authentic understanding of, for example the true meaning of temple worship as described by the Agama scriptures... a movement that has been going on for decades aided and abetted once again, by our own swamis, Indian intellectuals and "Vedantists," who look down their noses at "sectarian" Hindus.
This has very sad side consequences... e.g. the Tamil "Dravidian" fanatic movement that seeks to divorce itself from all things Vedic or Sanskritic...and separate Saivism from Hinduism (a Dalit position that is extremely unhealthy for South Indian Saivism for which Tamil and Sanskrit are two legs of one being)
But [there] is another story where the very movement to "homogenize" Hinduism, by Hindus themselves, (mostly a social political effort working for, admittedly needed, solidarity in the face of Islam and Christianity) has become an unwitting ally in the "breaking" process-- by stimulating reaction from those who resist being digested by the Smartas, taking it so far as to disown their heritage. Christians of course have capitalized big time on this "internal problem" which, really should be seen as a minor discussion between siblings in the same family (Smarta/Vaishnava/Shaiva/Shakta). But they have used it as another tool in the divide and conquer strategy we know so well.
The scenario witnessed at the Atlanta temple is just one end result of this problem."
Rajiv responds to Brahma:
Here is a bit of overview: Many western scholars starting with Hacker in the 1950s, followed by Indian scholars with Anantaand Rambachan as their leader, have claimed that there was no unified entity that may be designated as Hinduism. In particular they dismiss Vivekananda as a "Neo" Hindu who "manufactured" what is today called Hinduism...
The implication is that most of us modern Hindus are practicing something fake. The genuine thing according to them is not one religion or dharma or faith, but several separate ones that have irreconcilable mutual tensions and contradictions amongst them. Any attempt to unify them is inauthentic and politically motivated.
My findings are complex. The conclusion is not an easy one. I dont want to reduce my 300-page forthcoming book to a simplistic treatment. .... In the past 4 months, I have studied several dozen serious works from both sides of this debate, including several PhD dissertations, easily over 10,000 pages of scholarly writings. ....
.... there has definitely been a deep unity since ancient times that goes across the tensions, fights, etc. amongst them. I will leave it at that. "
"Although Vivekananda's experiences with west and standing up for Hinduism, is invaluable for Hindu history, it cannot be said that he represented all of Hinduism in his conversations with west. At least as far as I have read him, there is no common ground established by Vivekananda where Vaishnava and other Dharmic followers can identify themselves with his definition of Hinduism. This is the difference with BD.
ON the other hand, I feel that Hinduism is going really by the Church way, i.e. increasing incompatibility of different sects and ways to worship the Supreme - the Totality of Brahman.
First, Varnaashrama was rejected, then some "experts" want to streamline and correct the Vedic scriptures, and now different sects are starting to fight against each other.
.... [mutual respect] is missing in the approach of ISKCON as described in the incident of Shiva Ratri.
... In the Upanishads is written that - by all differences of Vishnu and Shiva, still, Vishnu is in the heart of Shiva and Shiva in the heart of Vishnu."
"Claiming that Shiva and Vishnu are the same is not necessary for Hindus and they do not suffer from cognitive dissonance when they do not conflate. However, if an Advaitin says this, the intent is not digestion as you suggested but is a consequence of his metaphysical viewpoint.
- You and I are both Sat-Chid-Ananda nature.
- Antaryami in both of us is the same God.
- Sadhana is across many Janmas
- Liberation is individual and internal, not collective or external.
- Context sensitive nature of what is Dharma, right/wrong.
The next three comments are directly related to the topic, but not the immediate discussion between Surya and Srinivas. Rajiv responds to another post:
Vishal comments on the Devatas of Hinduism:
" Most Hindus regard different Devatas as forms or manifestations of the same Divinity. However, there has always been a minority within Hinduism who are sectarian minded and have attempted to prove that one Devata is superior to the other.
ISCKON and several similar Sampradayas believe that Krishna is superior even to Vishnu. In the middle ages, some Acharyas argued that Vishnu is the Supreme Deity and Shiva is not the Supreme Deity (e.g. Shri Vaishnavas) and vice versa. These debates have been restricted to a small minority of sectarian scholars. For most Hindus however, all these Forms of Divinity are worthy of reverence and are complementary.
...The Hindu objection to depiction of Hinduism as 'Polytheistic' in California textbooks during the controversy in 2005-2006 was very valid.
I do not see anything offensive in Hare Krishnas distributing the Gita on a Shivaratri day. In fact, the Gita has been adapted by all major Hindu traditions. There is a Shaivite version called the Ishvara Gita (in the Kurma Purana), the Devi Gita, the Ganesha Gita and so on - and it becomes very apparent that there are hundreds of verses common between these Gitas on one hand and the Bhagavad Gita on the other. In our local temple, it is very common to see Bhaktas chant Shaivite hymns in front of Murtis of Krishna and vice versa when we celebrate festivals. This puzzles Christian visitors, but most Hindus do not bat an eyelid when that happens. Yours truly also sang a Sanskrit Arati on Lord Shiva at a Hanuman Puja two weekends back at someone's home. "
"...What ever happened to Enlightenment, of call it Perennial Samadhi, or the Turiya State of Consciousness?
Which branch of Hinduism, or which cult has the best track record in producing Enlightened Sages or men and women who achieved Cosmic Consciousness. Or doesn't this matter in the scheme of things Hindu? "
We now resume the chain of discussion around mutual respect, Vivekananda, and ISKCON. Krishna Murthy agrees with Srinivas:
"....KruNvanto vishwamaaryam [Let us aryanise the
entire Universe] is the Vedic goal. 'SangacChadhwam' [Conflue] the Vedas ordain. That is, Just as rivers conflue (blend with one another, and become One), the Vedic injunction ordains to all those who follow the Arsha dharma is ipso facto one.
But this is the Uttara Paksha. Rajivji is still striving to make his Purvapaksha well-grounded. ... shows how lethargic the Hindu Society has become. Because it has been emaciated by the Western pattern and content of education in India. Even many speak that Hinduism is a
shanti-priya Dharna, Humbug! Hinduism does not preach cowardice. Saha veeryam karavaavahai. That is what we swear.
I wish god-speed in the mission Rajivji has undertaken; so that he may start Uttarapaksha. Uttarapaksha does not merely mean as the conclusive deduction as in logic, it also means one which answers all doubts and problems.
Rajiv comment: I have given my preliminary uttara paksha in BD in terms of the different qualities that ground dharma - i.e. such prnciples as adhyatma-vidya,
reincarnation-karma, etc... are responses to the corresponding Western attributes.
In my next book, though the main thrust is to topple a prevailing myth, and to reaffirm Swami Vivekananda, I will end with my further elaboration of what is dharma for the FUTURE. Thats my uttara paksha (response)."
Srinath disagrees with Srinivas on Vivekananda:
"It seems a rather extreme point point of view to suggest that Vivekananda did not represent all Hindus. Yes, perhaps he was an Advaitin as was Sri Ramakrishna, his guru. However, Adi Sankara himself advocated the Shanmata tradition in which Vishnu is one of the representations of Brahman, as is Devi as Sri Ramakrishna believed (the others are Shiva, Ganesha, Kartikeya/Shanmuga, and Surya). Therefore, for anyone who identifies themselves as an Advaitin or Smarta, Vaishnavism is not an issue at all. Yes, there is the issue that the definition of Atman is not exactly the same for an Advaitin and someone who follows Ramanujacharya or Madhavacharya ... I simply do not understand phrases like "people squirm at being called a Hindu is because of this implicit assumption," or a suggestion that "Vivekananda and many Shankara followers here suffer from difference anxiety." Of course, someone who is an Advaitin cannot be expected to preach the views of Ramananujacharya or Madhavacharya, but there is absolutely no difference anxiety here, and to suggest such is unfair and counter to the central ideas of Hinduism and in "Being Different.""
Srinivas' response to Srinath:
"This is factually incorrect. There are many a great debates among the followers of these three acharyas and the multiplicity of Atman is one of the core issues.
... The terminology used by Vivekananda to describe Hinduism is same as Advaita. Obviously other sects cannot accept it. Vivekananda did a seminal job in introducing Advaita to west. The problem here is he preached it as Hinduism and not just as Advaita. An Advaitin has every right to argue and stand up for the correctness of Advaita. So does a Ramanuja or a Madhvacharya follower. The issue here is conflating what is Advaita with what is an inclusive term of Hinduism....
Wadhwa agrees with Srinivas:
comprehend the distinctiveness and nuances of true Vedic tradition "
Rajiv comment: How does one then differentiate Brahman from Allah or Judeo-Christian notions of God and his commandments? Are they not the One God referenced above who is being called by some other name? If the answer is yes, then what is your problem with sameness? What is your problem with converting to those religions because (after all) they are about the same One God?
.... Clearly, I have known this business about one God called by many names, and one truth the wise call many different ways. If it were this simple, I would not waste many years developing the BD thesis. Despite so many months of close engagement with BD, I am afraid Wadhwa ji does not ..."
Wadhwa follows up:
These kinds of reductionist exegeses of Vedic thought are an attempt at translation of the non-translatable. And though we might openly say we are not seeking parity, this line of thought unwittingly does play into the whole minds set that seeks parity with Abrahamic monotheism.
But the nexus between Vedic and Agamic thought is a key. Let us use an analogy to illustrate.
You, a human being, are a singular entity. If I were a small multi-cell bacterium, inside the body of Wadhwa a "little atma" I might discern certain changes in the greater environment and possibly infer higher intelligences at work and call them "humans" I might say, from my
limited scope of apprehension, as a singular bacterium, that Mr. Wadhwa was a "functional name relating to a power of the same divine existence." [Consider that the physical body of Wadhwa is in fact made up of 90% bacteria -- only 1 in 10 cells in your body are "human"] if I were a wise bacterium" I might even be willing to acknowledge that I was a part of the larger "Purusha" called "Wadhwa" and even perhaps that Wadhwa *is* a power of some even larger Divine Existence. So too are we all. But that does not eliminate the reality of being a jiva. So, this bacterium needs to also acknowledge the existence of Wadhwa, an individual homo sapien, as a singular intelligent entity, functioning at a much higher level of existence. Wadhwa is no mere name for a functionality of a generalized "Divine One."
So say the obvious: We need to be careful not to, in one intellectual swipe, put all the Devatas into "exile" by inferring that their existences as singular entities functioning in higher lokas, is some how a mere "anthropomorphic projection," of our limited minds, and that the Devatas are mere names of functions of "one divine being." This sounds all very wise and has been the line of swamis talking to the west for decades, but frankly we are getting tired of hearing this decade after decade. It is politically correct as it parades as the wisdom which
overcomes the conflicts of sectarianism. With no disrespect: but this is incredibly naive. Just look at the world of nature around us as described above, just your own body is complex beyond your possible
Hinduism is a panentheism, not a pantheism. There is a difference. The latter is reductionism and easily supported by simplistic "Vedanta." But Vedic thought encompasses the diversity and complexity of existence. Agama/tantra (all the details of temple worship and practice, puja etc.)
implements that view in practice
There are in fact intelligent "entities" that function in higher lokas. Of course exactly how you want to "parse" out those realities on the religious landscape of homo sapiens, has a great deal of variation at the "low level" of sampradayas here in the bhuloka/intellectual sphere. (Is Ganesha the son of Siva i.e. a Maha Devata or is Ganesha a name for the the Supreme One?) Sorting that out is a challenge and this has unfortunately played out as "infighting in the past between bhaktas of Shiv and Vishnu. "
But just because little sister says "Daddy is the Boss!" and little brother says "Mommy the boss!" Does not mean we have to create a theory that the two parents don't exist... that they are "names for functions of the One Parent." It could be a great theory for a strategy to deal with sibling rivalry, and hence very politically correct because we are
all for Peace in the Home. But it is not the truth.
Is there One Brahman - yes of course; Are there many
"Parents/Divinities" yes that's also true.
This model that "the cosmos/company has a President and He/She does everything. And these other functioners, like CEO, Vice-president, Manager of operations, IT manager, Inventory Comptroller, Human Resources administrator... etc. are all just "anthropological
projections" when in fact the President does it all -- is very tidy and resolves apparent dichotomies, but only diminishes the Vedic tradition.
Rajiv comment: I enjoyed the vigor in this challenge, yet not flippant. I would welcome a piece that is not a reaction to others ..., and gives us a thesis on who are the devatas."
"Brahma.. ji has brilliantly removed many cobwebs of misunderstanding in this mail. So, not only are Sanskrit terms non-translatable, so are Vedic views too non-translatable. ... However, the quote "Almost the entire discourse of today's Hindus has this huge hiatus of knowledge of theAgamas/Tantras... which are based on theVedas... that's another discussion..." has tantalizingly been left for another discussion. We are all aware of the "huge hiatus' in the knowledge & practice of Hinduism & I could not resist the temptation to seek swami ji's views on this subject."
"I agree with the clarity given by swamiji.Though there is no scientific evidence on the existence of devis and devatas,the present day hinduism stands on their existence and worship.It is a subject which can be understood when one interacts with a person who has seen devatas( thru 3rd eye).There are variety of devatas who exist in another plane and help the humans who pray to them in overcoming earthly problems. Each devata is a pocket of cosmic energy acting independently but drawing power from the same SOURCE.They are like generators having different power rating.Some times they act in union generating higher power.Broadly we can group them as
1) Pitru devatas.( ancestors )
2)Swamis and saints after their mortal death( Eg Raghavendra Swami, Shirdi Sainath,etc)
3)Devatas as described in puranas.
4)Avatars like Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Anjaneya etc
5)Devatas with multiple hands and heads stationed at the various chakras.
6)Elements like vayu (air),varuna(water) and agni and heavenly bodies.
other divine energies like Yakshas, Gandharvas,Kinneras and Kimpurushas are mentioned in our books..
When a human prays a particular devata he/she solves the problem of his/her devotee as per his/her capacity and the person has to approach another devata for a different ailment.It is like a patient visiting a cardiologist, nephrologist or an oncologist.Faith in the result is the only evidence on the performance of worship of devatas.
What happens when one doesnt believe in god or doesnt pray to a diety.Nothing. Life will be smooth but when bumps come he may not have energy to lift from his fall.All i can say is devatas do exist, doing a thankless job .Without a proper guide hindu scriptures may convey a distorted meaning, hence vedic knowledge was kept beyond the reach of a common man."