Friday, July 23, 2010

Watering the Root

Lord Rama worshiping Lord Shiva “No one else is as dear to Me as Shiva. An enemy of Shiva, although he calls himself My devotee, cannot attain Me even in a dream. He who is opposed to Shankara and yet aspires for devotion to Me is doomed and dull-witted.” (Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Lanka-kanda, 1.4)

Comment: “For me Lord Narayana will be always the supreme God. But it is your ignorance that you don’t know anything about Lord Shiva. My Lord Krishna is only the first and the greatest devotee of my Lord Shiva…”

Response: One of the side-effects of offering praise to a particular person or entity is that faithful followers of other great personalities may get offended. This makes sense because people are so strongly attached to their particular object of worship that if they see another entity being praised more, they will feel slighted. Looking to correct the situation and stop the neglect, these devotees may even take to criticism. Amongst followers of the Vedic tradition, one of the more common clashes occurs between devotees of Lord Vishnu [Vaishnavas] and followers of Lord Shiva [Shaivites]. There is actually no need for such conflict since the objects of worship, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, are best of friends and completely respectful of one another. Lord Shiva spends all his time meditating on the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, and Vishnu harbors eternal affection for Shiva.

Lord Shiva No matter where you go in the world, you will always find arguments relating to politics and religion. People have their own ideas of who God is and how one should conduct themselves in life, thus there naturally will be clashes between the various factions. The Vedas, the ancient truths which originate in India, tell us that God certainly does exist and that He has many names based on His innumerable attributes, forms, and activities. Of all of God’s forms, there is an original, however. This original form has a name: Krishna. The word Krishna is Sanskrit for “all-attractive” and “blackish”. Only God can attract every single person in the world, thus Krishna is an apt title for Him. Krishna also possesses every material opulence to the greatest degree and simultaneously. These may all seem like obvious features of God, but the Vedas expound on these truths to reiterate the Lord’s greatness. Another reason for the detail is that many transcendentalists take to denouncing the idea of there being a God. If they do believe in a supreme controller, they take it to be an energy, something which every living entity is part of. Due to these flawed philosophies, it is necessary to establish God’s existence and explain His innumerable forms and attributes.

Lord Vishnu Though Krishna is the original form of God, there are many sub-forms or expansions of the Lord. Krishna’s primary expansion is that of Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Narayana. Krishna is the most attractive, but through the course of history, mankind has not always been ready to embrace that all-attractive form. We can think of it this way: as time goes on, man gains a better ability to accept God’s features and attributes. This means that at the beginning of creation, man could only conceive of the Lord through transcendental sound vibrations. That is why the syllable “Om” is so important. Before man had the ability to recognize the ever-existing transcendental form of the Lord, they used to contemplate the Absolute Truth by reciting “Om”. As time goes on, however, little by little the Lord reveals Himself. Lord Vishnu is a little different from Krishna in that He has four hands, while Krishna has two. Vishnu’s opulence is also more prominent, and due to this feature, He appeals to those who view God as a Supreme Controller, the most powerful person in the world.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna Is there any other way to view God? Devotees of Krishna certainly understand that God is powerful, but their devotion to Him is based more on love which is exchanged in various transcendental mellows, or rasas. Lord Krishna can be worshiped in the mood of parental affection, where the devotee views the Lord as a dependent child, someone to look after and nurture. This style of love is considered superior because the devotee doesn’t expect any service from the Lord. Rather, they are giving service to God without any expectation of return. Nor is there any fear involved. When we view God as excessively opulent and powerful, naturally there will be an element of fear involved. This is certainly understandable in the case of distressed devotees, but in reality, there is no reason to fear God in any way.

Not every person will initially be attracted to Krishna due to different proclivities towards offering service to the Lord. Therefore, in the Vedic tradition, Lord Vishnu plays as prominent a role in worship as Lord Krishna does. The two forms are essentially interchangeable. When a person refers to Lord Vishnu, they are also referring to Lord Krishna, and vice versa. Lord Krishna and His direct expansions are referred to as vishnu-tattva, and the separated expansions are referred to as jiva-tattva. We living entities are jiva-tattva, so we can never be equal to God.

Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesha The material world we live in is different from the spiritual world, with the most obvious difference being the influence of matter. We can think of matter as the presiding deity of the material world. Since matter, which is known as prakriti, is subordinate to spirit, or purusha, there needs to be someone in charge of managing the creation. Lord Vishnu transcends matter, which means that He never associates with it in any way. Matter is certainly one of His energies, but since it is a separated energy, the Lord has no interest in associating with it. In order to manage the material affairs, the Lord deputes elevated living entities known as demigods to handle every aspect of the creation. The three primary demigods are Lord Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.

The first thing we’ll notice is that Lord Vishnu is listed as a demigod in this group. In reality, Vishnu can never be considered a demigod, for as mentioned before, He transcends matter. These three deities are referred to as guna-avataras, or incarnations of the Lord in charge of gunas, or material qualities. Though this form of Lord Vishnu is the avatara in charge of sattva-guna, or the mode of goodness, He is still nevertheless the same Supreme Personality of Godhead. The same can’t be said for Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. Brahma is in charge of the mode of passion, rajo-guna, and Shiva is in charge of the mode of ignorance, tamo-guna. Material creation is made up of these three modes, with the bodies of the living entities consisting of varying combinations of these three ingredients. For example, the human beings are mostly in the mode of passion, while the demigods are mostly in the mode of goodness. The animal species are mostly in the mode of ignorance. Goodness is knowledge, those activities which are in line with revealed knowledge, or scriptures. Those who act in the mode of goodness thus possess bodies which are in goodness. Passion is any fruitive activity, any work performed which has a result, with the results usually being used for the satisfaction of the gross senses. The mode of ignorance is any activity which lacks both goodness and passion.

One thing that we should note is that even though Lord Brahma is in charge of the mode of passion, it doesn’t mean that he lives in passion. The same holds true for Lord Shiva. Both of them are highly exalted personalities put in charge of the modes of passion and ignorance by Lord Vishnu Himself. One should never make the mistake of thinking that these two great demigods are on the same level as the conditioned living entities.

Lord ShivaThe issue we run into is in relation to the word “demigod”. Devotees of Lord Shiva will argue that he is not a demigod, but that rather he is the original form of God. After all, some of the Puranas hint at this fact, so how can we deny this? The answer is that Lord Shiva is technically not a demigod, nor is he the Supreme Lord. The best way to illustrate the difference between Vishnu and Shiva is to study the difference between milk and yogurt. Yogurt is a product of milk, meaning you can’t get yogurt without milk. At the same time, yogurt is not milk; for in recipes calling for milk, you can’t substitute yogurt and end up with the same dish. So in this regard, Lord Vishnu is milk and Lord Shiva is yogurt. Shiva comes from Vishnu, so he is the same as God in that regard, but at the same time he is different. He is often referred to as a demigod simply as a way to speak to the difference between himself and God.

Is it bad to be a devotee of Lord Shiva? Well, there are generally two kinds of devotees of Lord Shiva, each of which worships a different aspect of Shankara Bhagavan. Since Lord Shiva is in charge of the material mode of ignorance, one of his tasks involves destruction. He is known as the destroyer because he is in charge of destroying the material creation at a specific time. The Vedas tell us that the world we live in constantly goes through cycles of creation, maintenance, and destruction. We are currently in the maintenance phase, but eventually everything will be destroyed. Since Lord Shiva has the ability to destroy the entire creation, he must be very powerful. Since he has great powers, many people take to worshiping him. Lord Shiva, acting as a demigod, has the ability to grant boons to his devotees. He is known by the name of Ashutosha, which means that he is easily pleased. By rule, anyone who worships him properly gets whatever they want, regardless of their motive. Lord Shiva wants to meditate all the time, so he pushes through people’s requests for boons as quickly as possible.

Lord Shiva There are many people who take advantage of this feature of Lord Shiva. History is full of incidents of demons taking to worship of Lord Shiva for nefarious purposes. Probably one of Shiva’s most famous devotees was the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Due to a curse imposed by the sage Vishrava, Ravana was born as a Rakshasa demon possessing ten heads. He didn’t even get the name Ravana until later on in life. He was initially known as Dashagriva and Dashanana, meaning ten-headed.
Also due to his father’s curse, Ravana did not have a very good character. He had the form of a demon and also the demeanor of one. Vishrava had another son named Kuvera who was born through a different mother. Kuvera performed great austerities and was rewarded by the demigods with great opulence and strength. Ravana’s mother, being jealous of Kuvera’s position, asked her son to also perform great austerities in hopes of rivaling Kuvera’s strength. Ravana followed suit, and after performing great penances, he was rewarded with tremendous fighting strength by Lord Brahma.

What did Ravana do with his newfound strength? He went on the rampage of course. After routing Kuvera out of his home on the island of Lanka, Ravana went on a world tour, taking on and defeating anyone in battle that was willing to fight him. One day, Ravana made his way to a mountain where Lord Shiva was meditating. Ravana wanted to fight with Shiva, so he tried to agitate the Lord’s meditation by moving the mountain he was on. Shiva of course was way more powerful than Ravana, so he simply brushed the demon aside by shaking the mountain with his toe, crushing Ravana’s fingers in the process. Ravana let out such a terrible scream that Shiva decided to then give him the name “Ravana”, which means one who terrifies others. While his fingers were still being crushed, Ravana offered kind words to mollify Lord Shiva. Eventually Mahadeva relented and removed the pressure. Ravana then became a devotee of Lord Shiva and was rewarded with several boons.

There are many other similar incidents in history of demons taking to worshiping Lord Shiva simply for receiving material benedictions. This type of worship is certainly second class and it brings up several larger issues. Lord Vishnu, or Krishna, is never beholden to devotees in this way. A demon can certainly worship Lord Vishnu, but the Lord is not obliged to answer anyone’s prayers. Many times Lord Vishnu will take away a person’s wealth and possessions in order to help them progress in spiritual life. Lord Shiva and other demigods are duty-bound to bestow gifts on anyone who worships them properly, regardless of the person’s motive.

Shiva, Parvati and family This brings us to the second kind of devotee of Lord Shiva. Though Shankara is required to give out boons to his materially inclined devotees, it doesn’t mean that he wants to. Rather, he is acting purely out of love for Vishnu. At the beginning of creation, Lord Shiva simply wanted to sit in meditation all the time and concentrate on the lotus feet of the Lord. Lord Hari, however, told Shiva to get married to Parvati and to manage the affairs of the material creation. Shiva was a little hesitant, for he knew that taking a wife would distract from his meditation. This is the mood of a pure devotee; they are always thinking about how to serve Krishna. They don’t reject or accept anything outright; they first gauge whether or not something will help them in their devotional service. Lord Hari informed Shiva not to worry because since Parvati [Mother Durga] was chaste and pious, she would only help increase Shiva’s devotion for Him. In this way, Lord Shiva got married and had two wonderful sons, Skanda and Ganesha.

More than anything else, Lord Shiva is a great devotee of Vishnu. He is often considered the greatest devotee, for he agreed to break his meditation and take charge of material affairs. Not many of us would be willing to do this, but Shiva loves Vishnu so much that he never goes against His orders. Since Lord Shiva is a great devotee, he is certainly worthy of our highest respect and worship. People who worship Lord Shiva, taking him to be a great devotee, are certainly engaged in first class worship. Vaishnavas are especially fond of Lord Shiva since he is a great spiritual master. The Padma Purana states that in this current age, there will be four bona fide Vaishnava sampradayas, or disciplic successions of gurus. Each of these sampradayas has a founder, with Lord Shiva being one of them. Since he is the founder of a Vaishnava line of gurus, certainly Lord Shiva is an object of worship for devotees of Lord Vishnu.

Worship of Lord Shiva Lord Shiva also is the narrator of one of the greatest stories ever told: the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, one of Vishnu’s primary incarnations. Out of all of the vishnu-tattva forms, Lord Rama is Shiva’s favorite. In the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas, which is based off the Adhyatma Ramayana, Lord Shiva narrates the life and pastimes of Lord Rama to his wife Parvati. Devotion to Vishnu is a two-way street, so naturally the Lord has just as much love for Lord Shiva. During His pastimes on earth, Lord Rama once famously worshiped Lord Shiva. Thus the Lord showed us the example of how to properly show respect to the demigods. Lord Krishna similarly worshiped Lord Shiva during His time on earth, taking instruction from the great sage Upamanyu. Obviously God can never be instructed on anything, but He nevertheless set a good example of how one should always respect the brahmanas and Lord Shiva.

“If we learn how to love Krishna, then it is very easy to immediately and simultaneously love every living being. It is like pouring water on the root of a tree or supplying food to one's stomach.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Preface)

Lord Krishna If Lord Shiva is so wonderful, why don’t Vaishnavas explicitly take to worshiping Him? Why are there no altars dedicated to Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati in Vaishnava temples? The answer to this is that worship of Lord Krishna, or Vishnu, is enough to please the entire world. A common analogy that is used is the watering of a tree. If you water the roots of a tree, the branches and leaves are automatically fed. In the same way, by worshiping Lord Krishna, all the other Vishnu forms, demigods, and living entities are similarly pleased. Especially in this day and age, there is no time to strictly adhere to all the various ritualistic functions enjoined in the Vedas for householders and brahmanas. The only process recommended for this age is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By taking up devotional service, or vishnu-bhakti, even Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma become pleased.

If this is all true, why is there fighting between Vaishnavas and Shaivites? The primary reason is that people have so much love for their particular deity that they get offended when they see others neglecting them. This phenomenon is even seen amongst Vaishnavas. For example, if a person sees that only Lord Krishna and Lord Rama are being worshiped, while Lord Chaitanya isn’t shown as much attention, they will get offended. They will think that such worshipers are offending Lord Chaitanya, who is also an incarnation of Krishna, by not giving Him attention. So in one sense, these kinds of complaints actually show great love and devotion from the part of the worshipers. But as mentioned before, all vishnu-tattva forms are essentially the same and Lord Krishna is the fountainhead of all exalted personalities, so there is no reason for people to feel offended if their particular deity is neglected.

Lord Chaitanya The basic principle we should understand is that every person in this world is religious; it is just the objects of worship that vary. People who worship Lord Rama will have association with Him in the afterlife; the same holds true for Lord Krishna, Vishnu, etc. Even worshipers of the demigods gain the association of the demigods in the afterlife. The difference between the planets of the demigods and the planets of Lord Vishnu is that Vishnu’s realm is eternal, whereas the realm of the demigods is not. Demigods reside on planets which are part of the material world, so these planets go through cycles of creation and destruction. Lord Vishnu’s spiritual realms of Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka don’t suffer from this defect, so devotees who go there never have to return to the material world.

The lesson here is that we should never disrespect Mahadeva, for he is very dear to Lord Krishna. This fact alone is enough to make Mahadeva an object of worship. We certainly can’t imitate Lord Shiva’s extraordinary activities, but we can follow his teachings and show him respect. Lord Shiva spends all his time meditating on the lotus feet of the Lord, so we can do no wrong by following in his footsteps. By praising Krishna and concentrating our minds on His lotus feet, the whole world becomes satisfied.