How We Visualize God

The Gita develops around the concept of a universal God who can be envisioned, though not understood on a human level, and around the idea that life’s purpose is to attain unity with God. This precept is implicit as are other fundamental beliefs like reincarnation. When the Gita makes explicit references to such ideas that are a familiar part of Hinduism, It does so for emphasis or analogy rather than for evaluation. It reiterates them and alludes to them in different contexts, but the beliefs themselves are treated as givens, not as theories. They considered beyond question, though not beyond interpretation:

She who always worships God faithfully
Crossed past the world
And becomes a part of God.

(Gita 12:26)

Perhaps the most awesome verses in the Gita are those that speak of God’s power and grandeur, depicting Him in all aspects and all forms. God is earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason, the seed of all beings, Om, and the Self. God lives in the heart of all living things. Everything that is glorious or brilliant or strong is a spark of His brightness. He is the essence of life. God is Brahma, the Creator who caused the world to be and from whom all things come. He is Vishnu, the Preserver. In this form God is a wonderful sight adorned with jewels and weapons, and heavenly garlands, and covered with fragrant paste. He holds the whole world by just a flicker of His divinity. As the Destroyer, He is Shiva who makes all the worlds afraid. He appears in multiple colored forms. He has large shining eyes and a wide open mouth filled with terrible teeth. His awful brightness burns the universe.

Yet, howsoever the ancients described God millennia ago and however we may visualize God today, the Bhagavad Gita explains:

God is beyond what your mind can understand.
God likes the sun
far beyond the darkness of ignorance.

(Gita 8.8)

 

Hindu Myths and Legends

 

Hindu myths and legends illustrate Hinduism’s world vision in vibrant color. They portray worlds inhabited by people, by super people, by gods and demons, by legendary heroes and evil doers, by fantastic creatures endowed with extraordinary powers, and by great warriors wielding remarkable weapons.

These tales tell of places unbound by time or space, places that exist in our imagination, and places we can visit today. They tell of flight through the heavens. They discuss creation and destruction. They speak of God’s manifestations and God’s power. They bring laughter and tears and they thrill, frighten, comfort, and teach generation after generation of Hindus. Ancient stories told and retold never lose their fascination. They weave themselves into the fabric of Hindu life and take on new life when fresh miracles come about or when nature and science amaze us with feats that we once thought could not be performed outside of our imaginations.

Among the most intriguing narratives in Hindu mythology are the stories related to the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, in the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The term avatar is understood to mean incarnation or manifestation, but the actual translation from Sanskrit is “descent.”

People do not worship all the avatars and all are not human. Hindus adore Rama and Krishna above Vishnu’s other incarnations, but Vishnu came as a savior in all of them. Hinduism has consistently viewed Vishnu as the savior. While Brahma is the Creator who starts cosmics and Shiva is the Destroyer who ends them, Vishnu, the Preserver, is the one who strives to maintain cosmic order, intervening whenever needed. It is interesting to note that the order of the avatars’ appearance parallels the sequence of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Vishnu’s first descent is in the form of a fish, a creature of the water. Matsya saved a ship attempting to escape from a great flood and guided it to safety. The second avatar was in the body of Kurma, a tortoise who restored the nectar of immortality to the gods. The tortoise is a reptile, a life form that followed fish in the evolutionary sequence. Lord Vishnu incarnated for the third time in the body of a land animal, Varaha, the boar. Varaha saved the Earth from the demon who carried her to the bottom of the ocean. After a battle which lasted a thousand years, the boar rescued Earth and restored her to her rightful place in the universe.

Narasimha, the giant man lion, was Vishnu’s fourth descent and the last which took place in the Satya Yuga, the earliest age in Hindu cosmology. Narasimha symbolizes the emergence of mankind from the animal kingdom. Vishnu manifested in this form to save Prahlada from his father, a demon who was enraged by his son’s devotion to Vishnu. Narasimha destroyed the demon and made Prahlada ruler of the earth and the underworld.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh avatars of Vishnu take place in the second age known as the Treta Yuga, a period when man progressed from the stone age, to the iron age and then to a society ruled by kings. Thus, while Vishnu’s first four incarnations relate to struggles with demons and the forces of nature, the next three are about social and political struggles among men.

In His fifth incarnation, Vishnu appeared as Vamana, the dwarf who restored heavenly and earthly power to the gods and in his sixth, He appeared as Parashurama, Rama with an ax. His mission was to rid the world of evil and Parashurama went around the world twenty-one times killing bad kings and re-establishing the rule of the virtuous ones. Vishnu’s seventh incarnation was as Lord Rama, widely worshipped and glorified in the epic Ramayana.

Vishnu’s eighth avatar is as Lord Krishna who came to earth to preach the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna is probably the most deeply beloved of God’s avatars. His descent occurred in the third age known as the Dvapara Yuga. Vishnu’s ninth avatar, as Lord Buddha, the Enlightened One, took place in the fourth and current Yuga known as the Kali Yuga. Buddha preached a doctrine of reform that became Buddhism.

 

Read more of The Gita on Irinaspage.com or purchase your Kindle copy today at Amazon.com.

 

God’s Three Acts: Shiva, the Destroyer

shiva

Act Three – Shiva, the Destroyer

Hindu Philosophy understands that the universe appears and disappears in space-time. Its destruction is performed by God. Though essentially unfathomable, Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, represents the human knowledge that existence can be frightening.

The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva embodies a human depiction or explanation of the forces that create, preserve and destroy existence.

Read the the first two acts here:

Act One: Brahma the Creator

Act Two: Vishnu the Preserver

See On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar

The God of Hinduism

hinduism

 

From earliest times, Hindus have thought and written about one God called Brahman. Brahman is an all-encompassing truth who has no shape or form but as the essence of Divinity, He flows into many manifestations.

“As Creator of the world, God is called Brahma. As Preserver, God is called Vishnu. As Destroyer, He is named Shiva. These three aspects together form the Trinity, the totality of a single God. From the Trinity, originate God’s thousands and thousands of forms and names.”

from About Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar [to be published soon].

Peace and War

peace

As human beings, large numbers of us wish for global happiness and kindness. We believe in world peace though we have little notion about how this can be achieved. We have studied war and considered whether our biological natures are responsible for the repeated large and small scale conflicts in which we have engaged for ages.

While I know no more than most people, it seems to me that conflict just like cooperation is inherent in the cycle of existence. I cannot think of anything that exists without its opposite. Order degenerates into chaos. Creation entails destruction. Birth brings death. When we stop growing, we degenerate. We evolve and devolve. Utopia leads to dystopia. Conquest entails defeat.

But in between peace and war, there is preservation. Hindu philosophy sees three aspects of life power celebrated in the forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. These divine forces celebrate creation, preservation and destruction. Preservation is our window of opportunity to act benevolently in order to maintain stability and goodness. It is in acts of preservation that I think we are most likely to be helpful to our world and its people.