Who are our Devis and Devatas?

This is a developing thread that we promised to cover depending on the trajectory of the discussion. Well, the path of the debate has traversed important topics that touch BD, contemporary Hinduism, and other points relating to the integral unity within Hinduism, panentheism, and ultimately leading to this fundamental question:

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?
Raj posted: Sunday March 10, 2013, Hindu Temple of Atlanta had special Mahasivaratri puja & events. The premises has separate temples for Shiva & Vishnu (Balaji). I was somewhat surprised to see ISKCON missionaries outside the Shiva temple stopping Shiva devotees, conversing and giving them free copies of Bhagavad Gita As It Is. That too, particularly on Mahasivaratri when there are more Shiva devotees visiting the temple. Given what is known about standard ISKCON teaching about Shiva, I had to wonder -from BD perspective-  if this is a form of Push Marketing & Charcoal Burning. Also, if there is some Difference Anxiety as well.

Partha responded:
"ISKCON devotees with their books make themselves available wherever Hindus or potential friends of Hindus gather. Here is an ISKCON article on Sivaratri observation. .... There are apparently some riders, but they seem to value the observation of the holy festival

Karthik adds:
"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..."

Ashok commented:
"...[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.
I therefore googled ISCON and Shiva and was dismayed to read their agonising and convoluted logic to try to show Vishnu to be superior to Shiva. They seem to take Vishnu's saying in Gita that there is no difference between Me, Brahma and Shiva to mean that Vishnu is being patronising them. This is a novel concept for me!
For most 'Indians' both Gods are so, so far higher to them that they do not even think of a possible distinction. They would in fact be happy to accept a learned sage or a 'minor God' as described in the Gita as their guide and support.
As Rajiv has elaborated, there is an inherent need in those who grew up in the atmosphere of Abrahamic faiths to feel that they worship only the 'best', anything less somehow debases their faith. Hence the need to show Krishna as the Highest. Such a need is a alien concept for those who grew up in Dharmic traditions..."

Brahma cites a brief portion of Ashok's comment and expounds. We carry this with very little editing since this comment sets the agenda for the remainder of the discussion in this thread:
"It can be noted that aside from the obvious, that ISKCON's western members are from a western/Abrahamic background and hold those attitudes ("Our way is the superior path...") -- which of course is quite true... there is another layer here:

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:
In this entire thread thus far, this post below has struck me as special for it goes deep into something about our tradition. I got interested because my forthcoming book deals with this extensively. In fact, this is the core issue being discussed.

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. "

Srinivas commented:
"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.

BD doesnt force everybody to accept one Dharma stream as common but invites everybody to identify themselves with the main principles of: Independence from History, Integral unity, Decentralization and Non-translatability.

Vivekananda and many Shankara followers here suffer from difference anxiety. There is a hidden assumption that when one talks of Hinduism, it is implicit that it is Shankara's philosophy. ...The reason many people squirm at being called a Hindu is because of this implicit assumption in the context. The other part of implicit assumption of Hinduism is its nationalistic association to India. This of-course will not be palatable to non-Indian Dharmic followers.

The Hinduism of Vivekananda may not be palatable to many of us. But that doesn't mean there is no concept of Hinduism.

Any definition of Hinduism cannot deny the diversity and difference of Atman, central to Vaishnava philosophy.To be called Hindus, our common ground has to be the 4 main principles of BD (or equivalent ones like context sensitive theory by AK Ramanujan). Otherwise we are back to re-inventing the wheel.

Difference anxiety among us is evident here at the way ISKCON bashing happens from time to time. Why can't we accept ISKCON as one among us? ISKCON and its philosophy satisfy BD's criteria. Infact, Achintya-Bheda-Abheda, explained in BD is not very far from ISKCON / Chaitanya philosophy..."

Shaas responds:
"....instead of celebrating Shiva on Shiva`s night, ISKCON chooses to trying to convince everyone that they should worship some other Deva, etc.

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."
Srinivas responds:
"... the whole point is not whether Vaishnavas are correct or Shaivas are correct. That is an argument that'll last till Hinduism/Dharma exists. The question is whether Vaishnavas or Shaivas have an equal position in the table of Dharmic streams. Is it right to question their authenticity as a branch of Dharmic thought? 

....My concern was on the view that ISKCON is often treated as an outsider when their philosophy and practices are 100% Dharmic in nature and got through authentic Guru tradition. You may have differences with their worldview, but dont question their Dharmic authenticity. Other dharmic institutions have equally questionable practices if not more.  

.... Mutual respect within Dharmic streams is to be mastered before we are to successfully demand it from others."

Surya comments:
"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.

Dharma traditions have their distinct differences, even incompatibilities in their metaphysics.  Being Different is very comfortable with those differences and readily acknowledges it.  The commonality within Dharma family and distinctness of the Dharma family from Abrahamic family is where Being Different focuses its efforts.  Distinctness between the families is seen along dimensions of history-centrism, integral unity, comfort with decentralization and self-organization, and distinct meaning of non-translatable Sanskrit words vs their nearest English or German equivalents.

Please see the following excerpt from Rajivji's paper in the International Journal of Hindu Studies.  

Integral Unity is Not Homogeneity 

Being Different's position is that multiple Dharma systems can each have integral unity and yet have different and even incompatible metaphysics. The fact that each has integrality and yet is distinct from the rest is akin to several different objects being yellow”that is, the common quality of yellowness gives a family resemblance without making all the yellow objects the same. 

...Criticism that Being Different somehow reduces all Indian belief systems into a single homogeneity is equivalent to an argument that by demonstrating the differences between Judaism and Christianity, one claims to have debunked their shared principle of prophetic revelation.  An integral unity, likewise, may be expressed through Madhyamika, Advaita, Visistadvaita, Tantra, Aurobindo and many other forms, each of which is distinct. Being Different goes to great lengths to explain that different Dharma systems disagree on many key points, yet each adheres to the common standard of integral unity proposed in the book

From his blog: Dharma and the new Pope
"history centrism" which leads the Abrahamic religions to claim that we can resolve the human condition only by following the lineage of prophets arising from the Middle East. All other teachings and practices are required to get reconciled with this special and peculiar history. By contrast, the dharmic traditions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism -- do not rely on history in the same absolutist and exclusive way. This dharmic flexibility has made a fundamental pluralism possible which cannot occur within the constraints of history centrism, at least as understood so far. ...
While I recognize that the centrality of revelation through history is a core value in the Abrahamic faiths, I would point out that not only does it cause problems for non-Abrahamic faiths, but among the Abrahamic traditions as well. Their respective rival claims cannot be reconciled as long as they cling to a literal account of the Middle Eastern past, an insistence that this past is absolutely determinative of religious truth.

Any issues with ISKON missionary efforts ?
However, they are still part of the Dharma family because they are not history centric, their metaphysics shows integral unity, they do not have an organized Church, and share Sanskrit words and their meanings with other Dharma traditions.
Conversion efforts are a symptom of intolerance, lack of mutual respect.  That is the only real issue.  where does that come from?  If this symptom is deep-rooted because some in ISKON are turning their tradition history centric, it may be signs of ISKON breaking away on a core dimension.
Interested in knowing what drives missionary efforts of ISKON.  Believing Krishna is the ultimate God is perfectly OK.  Issue is with telling others that is the only way."

Srinivas responds:
"Is conversion the real issue? What is the problem with conversion? Is ISKCON converting people in the same sense as Christianity? 

I would say, conversion is not the issue. Conversion via inducements and subterfuge is the issue. If anything ISKCON is inviting people to understand Krishna through direct dialogue and experience. Not via inducements. Isn't Advaita converting more people into its fold? Is this not via rational debate and/or yogic experience?
... Does an Advaitin or Shaivite not say that theirs is the only way? Why the double standards just for ISKCON?  Believing that theirs is the only way is not the problem. If you dont believe that yours is the only true way, what stops you from getting digested into the other side?...
Mutual respect does not come from abandoning your own faith or in diluting it to become acceptable to the other. As a Dharmic follower, I respect you not because you follow the same faith (Vaishnavite or Shaivite) as mine, but because:
  1. You and I are both Sat-Chid-Ananda nature.
  2. Antaryami in both of us is the same God.
Or I just cannot or have no reason to disrespect you because:
  1. Sadhana is across many Janmas
  2. Liberation is individual and internal, not collective or external.
  3. Context sensitive nature of what is Dharma, right/wrong.
In other words, mutual respect is natural for any Dharmic follower because of his/her inherent world view. Not because I pull my punches in saying mine is the only true way."

Surya's followup:
"... There are only two kinds of conversions: (1) conversion on one's own volition; (2) direct conversion through the influence of an external agent (person or organization).

Conversion as in (2) is an issue.  By "direct" I mean that the activity is specifically intended to convert by an external agent.

In other words, a PULL model is reasonable and acceptable.  A PUSH model is not.

.... On what basis can one distinguish between what is subterfuge and what is not?  Given that the claims are supernatural in nature, in the end it seems that it is all about convincing.  Should you leave this to the better rhetorical argument to win?

The act of direct conversion is wrong.  Whether ISKON or some other organization does it is not the point. ..

....it would be perfectly fine to distribute Gita by setting them in a booth and letting people come and pick them.  That way, people who choose to pray only to Shiva are not offended.  Thrusting a Gita into that person's hand is a PUSH activity.  That is what is wrong.  Not whether it is a Gita or a Bible.

.... One is free to believe or change one's beliefs on their own in a PULL activity.  One can believe that their way is the only way.  ... I was specifically referring to A telling B that A's way is the only right way when B holds a distinct set of beliefs.  This is a PUSH activity.  This is a violation of mutual respect.  Whether A is holding a Bible or Gita or....
Everyone should be free to believe that their beliefs are true.  However, they should refrain from rubbing their beliefs on others who do not hold the same beliefs. ...
Do these happen in Dharma?  Of course, just as crimes occasionally happen in a good society.  However, Dharmic society cannot accept institutionalizing such PUSH activities by legitimizing them. If you do not profess your faith to me, is that abandoning your faith?  If you do not PUSH your faith on me does it dilute your faith?  It is even OK for you to tell me why you hold your beliefs.  In the spirit of mutual respect, I will honor your right to hold your beliefs and as a willing friend listen to you.  However, it is a violation of mutual respect when you tell me that my beliefs are wrong.
...If ISKON agrees with those [], why do they have an urge to convert?  Because, ISKON says that the Antaryami is Krishna.

Just to be clear, you are free to believe Krishna and Shiva are the same but cannot require others to believe that..."

The next three comments are directly related to the topic, but not the immediate discussion between Surya and Srinivas. Rajiv responds to another post:
"....There are two levels at which a person can engage Hinduism. One is purely as a practitioner. For that you need not and probably should not survey all the schools, issues, debates, choices. Its like I am satisfied as a Windows user and need not become an expert on comparative operating systems. I know how my car works and need not learn auto engineering or details on every car. As a chef its enough for me to do a great job with my cuisine. I recommend Hindus to get a good guru and stick to that guidance. The second level is as a scholar wanting to debate Hinduism in its entirely in public forums - be it for sake of educational curriculum in schools or media portrayal or public policy or whatever. For this second kind of engagement I better work as hard to gain competence as a student who qualifies in medicine, law, engineering, etc. Problem is what people with level one involvement become opinionated as level two experts"

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. "

Gene asks:
"...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....
The BD terminology however stands clear of this issue and I believe should be a lot more acceptable to Vaishnavites than what Vivekananda described as Hinduism"

Wadhwa agrees with Srinivas:
".... To have a conversation as Hindus or as fellow Dharmic followers, there are some common criteria that we need to agree upon.' 
I would like to draw your attention to the Rig Ved Mantra 1-164-46  which can be our watch-word and common criteria.  Its well known  sukti says Ekam Sad Vipra Bahudha Vadanti, i.e., God is One, but wise persons call him by different names. The same central thought of our tradition with regard to one divine existence having different attributes has been repeated  at innumerable places in various Vedic texts.  

.... Unless we come out of the age old mindset, we cannot
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:
"With reference to Rajivji's comments, may I draw his attention to my above post wherein I have said "Unless we come out of the age old mindset, we cannot comprehend the distinctiveness and nuances of true Vedic tradition ". It was this old mindset characterised by superiority/inferiority of a particular god which led to infighting in the past  between bhaktas of Shiv and Vishnu, between Ram Bhaktas and Krishna Bhaktas,etc. ...
It would be naive on any body's part to extend and overstretch the central theme of the Rig Ved - Mantra 1:164:46,  to abrahamic notions while ignoring the totality of 'Ekam Sad'. Various Vedic 'devies' and 'devatas' mentioned in the above mantra  have a functional name relating to different powers of the same divine existence.  These Vedic devatas enumerated in the mantra, such as, Indra (the supreme power), Mitra (the friend of all), Varuna (the most desirable one), Agni (the all knowing), Divya (the shiningone), etc.  are all giver of happiness and benefits to the whole world. The literal meaning of Devata is also one who is giver of benefits to all. Where is the  symmetry here with the anthropomorphism of the Biblical literature which teaches 'salvation only through Christ'?  There is a fundamental difference between the Vedic concept and the qualified monotheism of abrahamic faiths where we cannot dispense with an intermediary between man and God.  As against this in Hinduism a bhakta or a yogi can establish a direct relationship with the Supreme reality.   Rajivji has beautifully enumerated differences between dharmic and Judeo-Christian cosmologies  in a tabular form on page 112-113 of his book 'Being Different'. 
Further, I would like to add that despite differences between Acharyas of dualistic - non-dualistic schools, they were by and large unanimous on certain points like  omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence nature  of Vedic God.  How about the abrahamic God? It is said that he  resides at a particular abode called heaven like on 4th or 7th sky and moves wherever he likes. 
...I feel that it is a most important challenge for all dharmic traditions to study the tenets of Vedic thought and  philosophy with the right and original approach or else we will be taken for a ride by any one..."
Brahma[] responds to Wadhwa. The response is detailed and in-depth and is carried almost intact.

But it is not as simple as that.
"....  "devatas' ... a functional name relating to different powers of the same divine existence....." Agreed.
"Unless we come out of the age old mindset, we cannot comprehend the distinctiveness and nuances of true Vedic tradition " - But this cannot be done via reductionism.

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
In understanding Vedic thought be careful about scientific reductionism, or the simple need to cope with complexity via generalities-- whatever. This plays to the "digestion" process whether that is the samkalpa behind the discourse or not. Because in one breath you have played into the hands of all those who call us Hindus the "superstitious masses." When the old lady cuts the chicken to invoke the powers of Mariamman, the grammata devata of her villages: something very, very real is happening. Various entities are are work in different levels. At a pure Vaishnava or Shiva temple, similar scenarios are playing out at a much higher level. Almost the entire discourse of today's Hindus has this huge hiatus of knowledge of the Agamas/Tantras... which are based on the Vedas... that's another discussion...

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." 

JCP responds:
"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."

RoyalDecor comments:
"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."


  1. Rajiv is not the only one working hard for dharma although since he has achieved success he thinks he can be personally rude to others who dare to point out legit errors. See websites of Sushma Londhe and her stupendous research on www.hinduwisdom.info. Rajiv pales in comparison. Since the world and India especially are very male dominated he gets more fame and he has the gall to accuse others of lazing around. Like as if we all depend on him for anything.
    In brief Just like a 3-in-1 deck plays cassette, CD and radio, and you can hear same music in different formats, the universal divine has Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Devis and Devatas are the other components. Or just like our brain has many parts each with a different function. The universal brain has three main parts which are Brahma, Vishnu. Shiva. In the ancient times (not Rig Vedic times), when people are said to have been fighting over the gods, it was not like a childish squabble but if you stick to above analogy, then it was about which part to use to play music. The CD, radio, or cassette? Also, when one is deep into practice of nama-smarana when cannot change names because of the impact it has on the mind. Just the way when a beam is directed and concentrated on a stone it breaks, the mind is trained to concentrate inwards to 'break' through maya and its problems. Just the way if you change the direction of beam you may get numerous tiny holes in the stone but it won't break. similarly changing names will have a dissipating effect. So although it will not break the Maya stone, it will have at least some beneficial effect. Perhaps when the ancients were fighting they wanted to stall their opponents' efforts in this area by forcing them to change ishtadev or chosen name for meditation. Either that, or they were truly malicious. Since there are no eye witnesses, we will never know for sure. Also, post mahabharata many mlechcha, non-aryas had come into Bharat. They may have been basically Vedic but not as pure as the Aryans in terms of ethics, morals and other aspects.

  2. Pointless debating who is doing "more" or "less". Everyone does their dharma.