Iśvara & Śakti

One of the first references of the word īśha/īśhana can be found in Rig Vedā 1.164/168 in homage given to Maruts/Rudra. Iśhana means Authority or Ownership. This root word īśha gave rise to many titles like īśhana, īśvara, maheśwara, sarveśhwara, pārameśwara, and more. The word īśvara is a combination of two words “īśha” (Authority) and “sva” (Self/Sovereign). Hence, Iśvara is that which is Svatantra meaning self-dependent supreme authority. ‘Cit’ the Singular infinite consciousness divined into two shades, Cit:Ananda (Iśvara) and Cit:Śakti (Iśvari). All creative principle arises from Iśvari (Ishwari) in the form of Vibration/energy/momentum/resonance. Seekers and devotees dwelling in this endless illusion of the cosmos known as jagat, titled the entity who controls it as Iśvara & Iśvari. This illusion we perceive as the cosmos is called Māyā. Hence, the titles from Śrī Rudram in the Kṛṣṇa Yajur:Vedā 4.5:

“nama̍ste astu bhagavan viśveśva̱rayā
“My Salutations unto the Divine Authority over all that pervades”

Kṛṣṇa Yajur Vedā 4.5

Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad says in Chap 4, sloka 10:

मायां तु प्रकृतिं विद्यान्मायिनं च महेश्वरम्‌। तस्यावयवभूतैस्तु व्याप्तं सर्वमिदं जगत्‌॥
māyāṁ tu prakṛtiṁ vidyānmāyinaṁ ca maheśvaram | tasyāvayavabhūtaistu vyāptaṁ sarvamidaṁ jagat ||

Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad 4.10

Meaning, Cit:Śakti is the source of all that comes to be. Māyā is its nature manifesting as Prakṛti. This māyā creates countless illusory realities called Jagat. The sensory aspect of Prakṛti is called Prapancha (creation perceived by five senses). The Principal Authority over this māyā is Maheśwara, and the Jagat is filled with Jiva (beings) that are parts or aspects of Maheśwara.

Now, the definition of Iśvara was unequivocally explained in Patañjali Yoga Sutras 24, 25 & 26 as follows:

Kleśa-karma-vipākāsayair aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa Iśvaraḥ (24)
Tatra niratiśayaṃ Sarvajña-bījam (25)
Sa pūrveṣām api guruḥ kālenana-vacchedāt (26)

Patañjali Yoga Sutras 24, 25 & 26

Meaning, Iśvara is a special (viśeṣa) Puruṣa unblemished by the concepts of Karma (causality: the cause and effects within creation) and Klesa (afflictions). Among various levels (states of consciousness) of Puruṣa (like Adhikarika Puruṣa, Mukta Puruṣa, Uttama Puruṣa and more), Iśvara is that state of consciousness that cannot be gauged; one can only ponder as to the pinnacle leading to Pārabrahman. In Him lies the highest (niratiśaya) seed of Jñana (omniscience), making Him the source or Principle. In Him lie the Sanskaras and information of limitless Brahmanda as He is beyond the concept of time (Kaal) and so is the Guru even to the Ancients.

Kṛṣṇa Yajur Vedā, Nārāyaṇa Sūktam as the 13th anuvaka in Chapter 10 of Taittiriya Aranyaka (Taittiriya Upaniṣhad) says:

pati̱ṁ viśva̍syā̱tmeśva̍ra̱guṁ śāśva̍taguṁ śi̱vam a̍cyutam | nā̱rāya̱ṇaṁ ma̍hā-jñe̱ya̱ṁ vi̱śvātmā̍naṁ pa̱rāya̍ṇam || 3 ||

(Paṇḍit Śrī Rāma R.Ā 2017)

Meaning, He is the resort/destiny and master, the Authority over all-pervading entities; He is eternal, ever auspicious, the very unchanging foundation. The knowledge of this cosmic all-pervasive supreme form is worthy of our study and quest. Adi Śankaracharya in his Brihadaranyaka Upanishad bhashya 3.7.1 illustrates Nārāyaṇa Swarūpa as Sakshi Iśvara, meaning the Iśvara who witnesses everything. Similarly, in his Kenopaniṣhad and Brahma Sutra bhashyas and he describes the concert of Uma, who is Maheśwara as the Sarvajna Iśvara, meaning the omniscient Iśvara and Avimukta meaning the unaltered or raw infinite self.

What constitutes “The Supreme Principle” (Maheśwara)? The Śrīmad Bhagavād Gita (The Auspicious Divine Song in the Mahabharata) describes Maheśwara in Chapter 13, Sloka 23 as:

उपद्रष्टाऽनुमन्ता च भर्ता भोक्ता महेश्वरः। परमात्मेति चाप्युक्तो देहेऽस्मिन्पुरुषः परः।।13.23।।

(Gita Supersite. n.d.)

Meaning, in this (body), dwells the One who is the principal authority (महेश्वरः), witness to all, the very basis of support, and the enjoyer of everything there is.

Many minor Upaniṣhads have described Iśvara. Sanyāsa Sūktam of Maha Narayanopaniṣhad (a minor Upaniṣhad attributed to Kṛṣṇa Yajur:Vedā or Atharva:Vedā) as:

yo vedādau sva̍raḥ pro̱kto̱ ve̱dānte̍ ca pra̱tiṣṭhi̍taḥ | tasya̍ pra̱kṛti līna̱sya̱ ya̱ḥ para̍s sa ma̱heśva̍raḥ || 4 ||

(Paṇḍit Śrī Rāma R.Ā 2017)

Meaning, The One who is proclaimed at the beginning of Vedic recitation and established as the conclusion in vedānta (Upaniṣhad). He alone remains after the dissolution of Prakṛti as His Śakti retreats back into Him since He is The One Supreme Principle (ma̱heśva̍raḥ).

The word “Sva” in the term Iśvara gave forth many combinations of titles like sva̱rājya (self-ruling), sva̱tantra (independent), sva̱danva, sva̱yamchara (self-effort) and more. The word Iśha gave forth to many combinations like Maheśha, Sarveśh, Ganeśh, Girī̱sā (The Lord of Mountains, from the Kṛṣṇa Yajur Vedā) and many more.

What is the difference between Iśvara, Brahman, Puruṣa, Pāramātma, Avatar & Śakti?

Brahman is “The Singularity” whose luminance is addressed as Pāramātma, and it is this supreme that is Nirguṇa, meaning that which can’t be described with characteristics or qualities or possession of any limitations. Now, though we used the word “Singularity”, it is to be understood in the sense of being infinite; hence, Singularity should not be interpreted as being Single or numeric “One” (Ekam). Numeric “One” means there is an entity that is unique among many other entities. If we say “There is only one apple in creation” then it means there are many things, among which there is only one apple. Also, when we say “One” the question of where this “One” exists comes up. Meaning, if you say one apple, then the question arises, where is this one apple? If we say one universe or multiverse, the question arises, where is this one universe or multiverse? If you say one Creator, then we have the question, where is this one Creator? Or who is this so-called One Creator? The “where” always infers that if something exists, then automatically there should be something else to witness its existence. To solve this profound linguistic perplexity, the magnificent child prodigy, Jagat Guru Adi Śankara said “Advitam“, meaning “there is no two” or “there is no second one”. So instead of saying there is one (Ekam), he said “there are no two things”. However, one can try to interpret Pāramātma based on the attributes described by Vedānta as sat-cit-ānanda. The opposite of Nirguṇa is Saguṇa, and it is this Saguṇa Brahman that we can consider as THE ULTIMATE REALITY or THE COSMIC BEING (Nārāyaṇa). Nothing in creation (Sristi) has any independent existence other than Brahman. The notion that Brahman exists within something and operates or performs actions is a delusion arising out of māyā and linguistic misrepresentation. Brahman is a singularity of infinite pure consciousness; in other words, the awareness that can only be realized, hence cannot be defined within the frontiers of vocabulary. Many use the word “witness”, which is not correct because to witness, there have to be two things, the one witnessing and the item or thing to be witnessed. So, the word “witness” is only used in a relative sense during a conversation describing a state (like a dream state, waking state) of reality. So, technically, Brahman is a word with no definition; so is ātman, the self. This is as it should be, because if we can define them, then they become finite. This is explained by Rishi Vaśiṣṭha in His Yoga to Śrī Ram as:

“During the cosmic dissolution the entire objective creation is resolved into the infinite being, which is variously designated as Atma, Brahman, Truth, etc., by the wise, to facilitate communication and dialogue.”

Vasista’s Yoga (Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

In short, Iśvara is a representation of Brahman towards the control and management aspect of “A Brahmanda” or, in some cases, the entire cosmos (Jagat) or creation (sristi) and Māyā. Śāstra defines the cosmos (Jagat) as that which appears and disappears, meaning an illusion that seems to exist and then ceases to exist. Iśvara is the authority of that Māyā and is not limited to the phenomenon of this reality. So, Iśvara can’t be classified by gender or shape or any specific definition, yet can be personified into various manifestations with attributes; hence, moving forward, rather than addressing Iśvara as an object or a thing, we shall refer to Iśvara as “Him” and His energy (vibration), Pārashakti (Pāra:Śakti) and Pārameshwari (Pāra:m:ishwari) as “Her”. The operational aspect of Iśvara is represented as Śakti (Shakti). This is not to classify either as masculine or feminine nor as a biological representation of being male or female. It is only a means to distinguish both entities as a duality (Prakṛti & Puruṣa) which are one and the same but operating in two modes, with one relying on the other. Also, as we are emotional beings, the notion of addressing Iśvara/Śakti as Him/Her gives us a sense of relative closeness and sweetness to our emotions. Iśvara is not a position that one can fill – like Indra. Indra, Vyasa, and Brahmā are positions that get filled over time, but Iśvara is not. Meaning, one cannot “become” Iśvara. Iśvara is that thought of Brahman which is a singularity over Creation and Māyā.  (Swami Prabhavananda. Isherwood, Christopher. 1947, I.K.Taimni. 1975, Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.4)

Śiva says to Śakti: There is always non-difference between Śakti and the possessor of Śakti(Śaktimān) therefore being endowed with His (i.e. Śaktimān’s) attributes Śakti becomes the bearer of the same attributes. Therefore being non-different form para the highest e.e. Bhairava) She is known as Parā (the highest i.e. Bhairavi). The burning power of fire is not accepted as separate from the fire even after full consideration (even so the Parāśakti is not separate from Bhairava). Only it is described in a distinct way as a preliminary step for the listener towards its knowledge (lit., towards entry into its knowledge) 18-19

Śiva says to Śakti: When in one who enters the state of Śakti (i.e. who is identified with Śakti), there ensues the feeling of non-distinction (between Śakti and Śiva), then he acquires the state of Śiva, (for) in the agamas (iha), She (Śakti) is declared as the door of entrance (into Śiva, Śaivi Mukha = She is the face of Śiva) (Lit., Śakti is Śiva‘s face). Just as by means of the light of a lamp, and the rays of the Sun, portions of space, ect. are known even so, Oh dear on, by means of Śakti is Śiva (who is one’s essential Self) cognized (i.e. recognized). 20-21Vijñānabhairava Tantra 20-21

Vijñānabhairava 18-21, Book: Divine Consciousness ~Jaideva Singh

Iśvara, Śakti, and Māyā are not separate from Brahman, as anything and everything is Brahman. There is no second entity other than Brahman. Brahman doesn’t have parts or subsections or shades. Various Rishis and sages used linguistic distinctions for us to understand the different aspects of Brahman, but they are all one and the same. As Rishi Vaśiṣṭha explained to Śrī Rama in his Yoga:

“To the enlightened the mind is the absolute Brahman and naught else. To the unenlightened, the mind is the cause of repetitive history (saṃsāra). When dualistic concepts are used by us, O Rama, it is only to facilitate instructions: the division is not real”

Vaśiṣṭha Yoga (Swami Venkatesananda 1993)

Is this reality created by Brahman?

“Brahman may be compared to an infinite ocean, without beginning or end. Just as, through intense cold, some portions of the ocean freeze into ice and the formless water appears to have form, so, through the intense love of devotee, Brahman appears to take on form and personality. But the form melts away again as the sun of knowledge rises”

Vivekachudamani (Swami Prabhavananda. Isherwood, Christopher. 1947)

From here on, it gets a little complicated for interpretation. In the above statement, Śrī Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used the analogy of water and ice. Technically, creation is attributed to “resonance” of “a vibration” or, as Rishi Vasistha calls it, “a throbbing” – so, essentially, “a sound”. This sound is the energy that manifests as matter, colors, flavors, emotions, guṇas, samskaras, and Prakriti as a whole; hence, the title Cit:Śakti. The source or the principle of all resonance is the one ultimate vibration titled Sabdabrahman (Sabda:Brahman). And the progression of this resonance (in the form of creation) is called Brahmachaitanya (Brahma:caitanya). The spectacular composition of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, translated by I.K Taimni in the book “The Science of Yoga”, states:

“Each particular vibration of sound produces perception of the corresponding note in consciousness”
“Each sensation of taste, smell and touch is matched by a corresponding vibration of some kind. What is true on the lowest level is true on all levels of manifestation and therefore there is nothing inherently unreasonable in supposing that consciousness can be influenced or reached by means of vibration or, to put it in other words, particular states of consciousness can be brought about by initiating particular kinds of vibration. Not only can consciousness be effected by vibration but consciousness, by initiating particular vibrations, can also influence matter.”
“The broad and general principles pointed out above form the basis of Mantra Sastra.”

Patanjali Yoga Sutras (I.K.Taimni. 1975)

This “Resonance” or “Vibration” or “Energy” or “Power” of this Infinite Consciousness is what causes a change in creation and is always in motion, resulting in the inevitable future of all. It is this energy that pervades in every object in creation. The title given by Rishis to this energy is “Cit:Śakti”. Further, the Rishis classified the characteristic qualities within creation as:
Mahasatta = The Great Existence
Mahaciti = The Supreme Intelligence/Awareness
Mahasakti = The Great Energy
Mahadrsti = The Supreme Vision
Mahakriya = The Great Process
Mahodbhava = The Great Becoming
Mahaspanda = The Great Reaction

Please note that the above classification is neither independent nor servile to Brahman, they are the absolute Brahman. To explain this, Rishi Vaśiṣṭha, in his Yoga, gives an analogy of an ocean and a wave not being separate from each other; similarly, a sprout in a seed, or the liquidity in water, and sweetness in milk are not separate. He further stated that making divisions and sections of Brahman is ignorance. This ignorance, arising out of the avidya (false appearance) of creation, is not separate from infinite consciousness (Brahman). There are no two things, one Brahman and the other non-Brahman. Both realization and illusion are of Brahman, not separate or independent entities. The awareness of this energy/power or the recognition of this power by the Supreme Awareness is titled Niyati or Daiva, meaning “divine makeup”. It is Niyati that ordains every act, decision, and thought in the creation and applies to all, including Devas and Devis. (Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

The Origin of Viṣṇu & Brahmā. The Role of Siva & Śakti.  The cosmic being Nārāyaṇa 

From Viṣṇu (the all-pervading), emerged a sub-concept of creation, which is titled Brahmā. This is why both Viṣṇu and Devi/Śakti (as Prakriti) take responsibility for Creation and its continuity, using Ḍharma as the universal order or the cosmic phenomenon (also referred to as Rta). Brahmā thought of various sentient, non-sentient, animate, and inanimate entities, and so became the first Jīva and all his thoughts became further Jīva. This is why Brahmā is the Samashṭi Jīva, meaning the cumulative of all Jīva in creation. These Jīva – like the rain and moonlight – emerged into trees. In the sunlight, these trees propagated as fruits and so the Jīva became transient. The same applies to all the sentient and non-sentient beings within Brahmā’s creation. Once the process within creation propagated from one form to another (incarnation of Jīva), Brahmā went into Brahmi:sthiti (a state of deep contemplation). This very throbbing (vibration) itself is the universe and all its beings, yet all these are nothing but a thought of Brahmā (the thought of the cosmic mind). Though these beings feel their existence is real, they are nothing but a thought; yet, thoughts produce realistic results like a dream producing physical effects on a person (like fear, sweating, raised heartbeat, elevated senses, wet dreams, and rapid breath). After prior dissolution, a new Brahmā originates from Visnu (Visnu Himself is Viśvām, so creation itself is Viṣṇu). Brahmā is an entity without thoughts or memory from the past. Why? Because there is no past for Brahmā since it’s a new creation (after the prior dissolution); only beings like Shiva (Śiva) can surpass the dissolution of prior creations. Hence, Śiva is not a destroyer, He is the concept of Pralaya, meaning a Redeemer who dissolves everything back to the source, hence Pralaya is an involution process (Singularity: ekam).

By now we should comprehend that no matter from which aspect we perceive this Entirety – through Indra (mind), Soma (flavor), Agni (speech/vak/transmitter), Vayu (life force), Surya (brilliance), Viṣṇu (all-pervader), Śiva (auspiciousness), Śakti (vibration), Rudrā (primordial roar), Brahmā (architect), Nārāyaṇa (cosmic Swarūpa/form, image: Changu Narayana Katmandu 7th century) and more – no matter which abstraction of Iśvara we view, it is all Brahman. No matter from which angle (Darshana) we view a mountain, from its snowy tops, or rocky sides, the rivers flowing down, or the green forests, it’s all the same mountain.

Is Śiva a Destroyer?

Śiva is often translated as the destroyer, this is a linguistic error during translation. Destruction means to damage or eliminates the composition of an object, resulting in remnants that usually get dispersed; hence destruction always has a byproduct or a leftover. This is very similar to the conservation of Quantum Information. Say an apple is destroyed beyond visible recognition; whatever information that consists of, the quantum properties that make up the apple are never destroyed. Hence, the word “destroyer” creates a vague interpretation as an attacker or an assailant. In fact, Śiva is Pralaya Karaka. In the case of Pralaya (the closest word is dissolution), the object merges into the source as one (the concept of laya). This is done in 3 ways (complete article on laya):
Swalpakalika (Swalpa:kalika) Laya
Aatyantica (Aatyan:tica) Laya
pra:laya(m) / mahapra:laya
At the highest level, the throbbing within the Singularity just subsides. (Swami Venkatesananda. 1993, TED-Ed Quantum Information. 2019)

In creation, everything from the largest to the tiniest aspect is cyclic (perpetual) in nature and each cycle has both manifestation and dissolution. Hence, in Nirvana Shatakam, Śrī Śankaracharya addresses Śiva as “Cidanandata Rupa” (Cit:Anandat:Rūpa) – meaning, the essence of Ananda (Supreme bliss) in Cit (Supreme Infinite Consciousness). Similarly, the Kshetra/temple in South India “Chitambaram”, where “Cit” means Supreme Consciousness and “Ambaram” to wear as a garment. On the other hand, Viṣṇu is Jagannatha (Jagat+Natha), meaning He is the only destiny (Natha) to be reached in Jagat. As Jagadguru Shri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvatī said “Sarvam Viṣṇu:mayam jagat”, meaning when one realizes that Jagat itself is Viṣṇu, then the one realizing this ceases to exist as a Jīva and becomes Ekam (Singularity); this state of ekam is Śivam (Supreme state of Bliss), hence “Sarvam Viṣṇu:mayam jagath: Śivam”. That is why the hymn from Nārāyaṇa Sukta (Mahanarayana Upaniṣhad) of Yajur:veda says one should meditate upon Viṣṇu (the all-pervasiveness) as the means of realizing the self, which is Nārāyaṇa. Since Viṣṇu is the only thing to achieve, a Ḍharma:patni (wife) addresses her husband as Pati or Natha or Swami. In the ceremony of Vivaha (wedding) the groom is treated as Viṣṇu and the bride is treated as Lakṣmī. This very Viśvām is nothing but Viṣṇu. To depict this, we have the story of Kṣīrāsagara manthana – in which the cosmic ocean was churned and both prosperity (Lakṣmī) and anti-creation (Halāhala) emerged. Whereas Lakṣmī went to the all-pervasive preserver Viṣṇu as his consort, the Halāhala was devoured by PāramaŚiva. Hence the profound quote, “we grow as we dissolve” (no reference found for this quote).

As explained by Rishi Vaśiṣṭha to Śrī Rama during the narration of Prahalada’s events:

“Lord Viṣṇu is the self of all and whatever notion arises in him materializes immediately. His manifestation is uncaused, but it has the sole purpose of creating the infinite creatures in this universe. By the attainment of self-knowledge, lord Visnu is realized; and by the adoration of lord Viṣṇu, self-realization is attained”

Vasista’s Ramayana (Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

Since Śiva is Cit:Ananda, His consort is Cit:Śakti. Through Cit:Śakti, creation unfolds or propagates as Prakriti. Śiva is not a being with a specific existence or basis, as Śiva is all-inherent auspiciousness. Śiva is not a name with an origin; hence, Svayambho (self-evident auspiciousness of Cit:ananda), and “Nirguṇa Pārabrahmā Swarūpa” (meaning an abstract representation of the formless or un-manifested aspect of Pārabrahmā). Hence, the mantra from Niralamb Upaniṣhad widely recited during Yogic Kriyas as Guru Smarana:

oṃ namaḥ śivāya gurave| satccidānanda mūrtaye
niṣprapañcāya śantāya| nirālambāya tejase

Niralamb Upaniṣhad

Meaning, my salutation to my Guru who is ever auspicious. “Oṃ namaḥ śivāya” is a hymn from the Yajur:Vedā Taittiriya Samhita – Śrī Rudrām. He is Cit:ananda – the joyous state – and peace beyond creation and the sensory world, who is unmanifested and illuminates beyond any source. (Nishprapanchaya. 2019)

Similarly, Rudrāṣṭakam, a magnificent composition by Rishi Lomash, enclosed within Rama Charita Maānas by devout poet and devotee Tulsidas says:

Namaam-Iisham-Iishaana Nirvaanna-Ruupam
Vibhum Vyaapakam Brahma-Veda-Svaruupam |
Nijam Nirgunnam Nirvikalpam Niriiham
Cidaakaasham-Aakaasha-Vaasam Bhaje-[A]ham ||1||

Kalaatiita-Kalyaanna Kalpa-Anta-Kaarii
Sadaa Sajjana-[A]ananda-Daataa Pura-Arii |
Cid-Aananda-Samdoha Moha-Apahaarii
Prasiida Prasiida Prabho Manmatha-Arii ||6||

(Green Message Rudrastakam. n.d.)

The only witness to Śiva is Śakti (śakti); hence, She is called “Maha Pralaya Sakshini”, meaning the only witness to His Pralaya (dissolution). One should never interpret the above message to designate supremacy among various concepts of Brahman. These classifications (Iśvara, Cit:Śakti, Visnu, Siva, Devi, Brahmā) are only for our interpretation and not to draw conclusions as to who is superior. Such adamant conclusions are childish and immature, and arising out of vasana and lack of Sanskara. One, with self-effort, has to explore scriptures and view Cit:Ananda and Cit:Śakti as a duality of Brahman; while Cit:Śakti creates and preserves (sustains or expands), Cit:Ananda dissolves it back to Ekam (involution or redemption). The cycle of expansion and dissolution are ever in play (keli or lila). (Bho Shambho, Shiva Shambho. 2010, Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)


The awareness towards Cit:Śakti which unfolds as creation is called Niyati. Niyati can be vaguely described as the world-order or the order within Prakriti. This Prakriti is the source of Māyā and is the further source of our perceptions, thoughts, mind, flavors, interpretations, memories, fantasies, and more. The ability to witness all this consciously or subconsciously is the play of Cit. Niyati (as world-order) of Prakriti is first applicable to Samashṭi Jīva, and so automatically becomes applicable to all other Jīvas. Hence, a Jīva can never imagine something brand new; it is only after the Samashṭi Jīva that the rest get to understand it. Brahman being aware of Cit:Śakti does not mean He was unaware and later became aware. If we have an urge (like compulsions), the source is “desire”. For Brahman, creation (from Cit:Śakti) is a game or sport (keli or lila), like a child playing with toys, but unlike desire, He is aware and has no subconscious or background thoughts. So, when His throbbing arises as Cit:Śakti He is involved and is at all times aware of the creation and its order. Creation has no real past or future, it just is, so is everything else. Past and future are perceptions of the “limited consciousness” known as Jīva. For us, these urges could be subconscious in nature (arising out of Sanskara, Guṇa, and Vasana), like compulsions, but when we consciously take notice of our compulsions and their weakness, we can do something about it. The tools and techniques to consciously take notice of ourselves and become a witness to everything is called Yoga. Yoga is a path and technique which helps us unify and realize the supreme consciousness.  

The role (or thoughts) of both Śakti and Viṣṇu are similar; this is why in the Puranic aspect both Śakti and Viṣṇu are related as siblings. They both are Alankara Priya (adorned with beauty, jewelry, colors, and more). They both take Avatar. They both establish and preserve Ḍharma and sustain creation. When we say sustain creation, the real meaning is to keep creation in play until the natural dissolution process. For a game to be in play there shouldn’t be a winner or a loser; and both parties are in action to achieve a goal. This goal is called Nada. For creation to be in play, it needs Māyā, from which arises identity, desire, and fear, without which creation reaches a transcendental state of consciousness, whereas without Ḍharma creation self-destructs. For creation to sustain, Ḍharma has to sustain; hence, time and again Devi (Śakti) and Viṣṇu manifest as Avatara within their own creation. Śakti takes avatar as Ayonija, meaning a manifestation not from the womb of a mother because she is the mother to everything (as Sita, Padmavati, Dakshayani and more), whereas Viṣṇu, in many cases, manifests from a womb (Like Śrī Rama, Krisna, Pārashuram, Vamana, Kapila and more). Both Devi and Viṣṇu propagate Śakti as life force (prāṇa) within a Jīva and within all entities of creation. Hence, a Jīva is attributed to Śakti since it tethers both the physical body (sthūla śarīra)
and subtle body (sūkṣma śarīra), and wears it like a garment, whereas ātman (actually Chitta) is attributed to Cit. A Jīva has no independent role or freedom when it comes to Niyati, but has the freedom towards self-effort. Yes, Jīva:brahmaikya:siddhi does happen to a Jīva but that is not a fluke. It is only after countless lives of removal of Vrittis covering our Chitta, which eventually – through Yoga – realizes the Samashṭi Jīva (and vice versa). Even enlightened beings are impelled by Prakriti to perform an action, hence they are always engaged in action without the notion of personal desire. Śāstra gives an analogy of a ripe coconut wherein the inner gel hardens and detaches itself from the outer layer, yet stays inside the shell. Śiva, on the other hand, does not take avatar, He is just there in everything and everywhere, both beyond time and space (as per this reality). Hence, he is Anant. The above-mentioned hierarchy is not a standard. In another universe, Surya is the creator. In some universes, various enlightened beings become Brahmā and create their own creations. In some cases, a Surya of one universe gives wisdom to Brahmā of another before creation. All entities like Viṣṇu, Śiva, Surya, and Brahmā create their own creations. It is also recorded in the Puranas that Rishi Vishwamitra created another universe and so received the title Apara:Brahmā. The ten children of Indu (a descendant of Rishi Kasyapa), with the grace of Siva, attained Brahmā-hood and become Brahmā for their own universe. Creation is not a cosmic standard, it is a thought of Brahman and the thought can vary slightly and sometimes widely. It is like a child playing with toys and the imaginations are boundless. In an event narrated by Rishi Vaśiṣṭha to Śrī Rama, Śrī Viṣṇu is talking to Prahalada, who is seated in a transcendental state of consciousness:

“In the absence of a threat from the demons, the gods in the heaven have nothing to fear and hence nothing to hate. If they have nothing to fear or hate, they will soon rise to the transcendental state of consciousness, beyond the pairs of opposites, and attain liberation. Then, the earthlings will find religious rites to be meaningless, since there are no gods to propitiate. This universe, which ought to exist till the natural cosmic dissolution, will thus abruptly cease to be.”
He said to Prahalada: “You have to remain in this body till the end of this world-cycle: I know this is inevitable, as I know the law of this world-order. Hence you have to rule this realm here and now as a sage liberated from all delusions.” “Enlightened men, though they be constantly engaged in activity, do nothing: it is not by means of inaction that they reach the state of non-action!”

(Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

When Viṣṇu/Śiva/Śakti/Surya and other enlightened beings speak, they speak on behalf of Pārabrahmam, meaning they become the conduit of Pāramātma. But at the highest level, they are all Brahman and nothing else. However, for us dwelling within Prakriti, we need conduits like Krisna, who gave Gita established as Brahman. Rishi Vaśiṣṭha says to Sri Rama in his Yoga:

“The Creator is spiritual; and even so, his creation, too, is in reality spiritual in essence. This creation is causeless. Hence, it is essentially spiritual even as the supreme being, Brahman, is. The materiality of the creation is like the castle in the air, an illusory projection of one’s own mind – imaginary”

(Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

Is Brahman an English equivalent to God?

This is marvelously explained by Swami Prabhavananada and Christopher Isherwood in their translation of Śrī Adishankaracharya’s renowned composition titled Vivekachudamani (Crest-Jewel of Discrimination) within Advaita Vedanta as:

“A God  who transforms Himself into the visible universe is Himself subject to transformation and change — He cannot be regarded as the absolute reality. A God who creates a world limits Himself by the very act of creation, and thus ceases to be infinite.”

(Swami Prabhavananda. Isherwood, Christopher. 1947)

In the words of Alan Watts, a British-American Philosopher:

“Brahman is the name which they (ancient people of Sanatana Ḍharma) gave for the ultimate reality which underlies this whole universe (Sristi/creation). I don’t want you to think of Brahman as sort of a vast blob of perfectly transparent Jello, which penetrates the whole world, I think that is what many people imagine when they hear this kind of thing. The whole point of the Brahman idea is missed when you form any image in your mind, even jello, even empty space, or boundless light. Brahman is what we ourselves really are, what this whole universe is, fundamentally and actually. There is no way of thinking about, of imagining that, for a very simple reason, that, as water cannot rise higher than its own level, thought cannot think what is higher than thinking. It cannot conceive that mind which thinks, and still less the power which generates the mind. Our symbols for, and our ideas of this supreme reality are vague-ish and void-ish, not at all because the reality is vague and void, but because thought and imagination are annihilated in trying to grasp it”

Hence, Brahman is that which can only be realized, and Brahman and this realization of Brahman are not two separate entities, because when one realizes Brahman, that someone realizing it ceases to exist. Why? Because one’s realization of Brahman happens in conjunction with one being or becoming Brahman themselves. A river can’t say I am a river after merging into the sea, and a river can’t say I am a sea until it merges with the sea. This is the reason why the Brahman can’t be worshiped. Because, if we say worship something then one should be able to define that something. This is the reason why the worship aspect only applies to Iśvara’s manifested forms, and these forms are addressed as Devi/Deva (Deities) or Yantras. Let us look at this through another example of the phrase “God bless you”; now if we translate that as “Brahman bless you”, will that make sense? How can Brahman bless someone, and bless with what? Say, Brahman, bless one with long life, does it mean Brahman who is not Māyā (illusion) is blessing someone to continue their existence to further dwell in illusion? So this false notion arises out of linguistic translation due to lack of better vocabulary.

The cosmic act of duality

Ishwara has the title Pashupati, wherein “pati” means the one we must all attain (reach) and so is not a gender classification as male. In the same way, Patni (commonly interpreted as a wife) in Sanatana Ḍharma is addressed as Dharmapatni, meaning the one who is the resort and companion on the path of dharma. This is how Sanatana Ḍharma explained the significance of marriage and our relationship to Iśvara.

As per Śakti or Devi Tatvam, She is addressed by a title in Śrī Lalitha Sahasranama Stotram as Vishwarūpayi Namaha, meaning She is the personification of the entire creation and Prakriti. As per Viṣṇu tatva, a similar title is given to Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu as Vishvamurthi or Viśvām (a title from Śrī Viṣṇu Sahasranama Stotram). A Jīva proclaims self-identity because of its mānas and Ahaṃkāra (not Ātman); hence, it disassociates itself from everything around by using the three segregations “me”, “my” and “that”. So, for such an identity the Jīva proclaims this body to be separate from Sristi (creation) created by a third entity called Iśvara. This segregation is called māyā (illusion). This Māyā arises out of avidhya (lack of understanding). The Advaita literature like Vivekachudamani, Manisha Panchakam, and Dakshina Murthi Stotram cleanses this confusion stating that the entire creation, including the self, is one personification (Swarūpa) which is identified as Iśvara. This aspect is well explained by the renowned scholar Garikapati Narasimha Rao using an analogy of a movie shown in a movie theater, wherein the movie is well visible when the surroundings are made dark. In this way, before creation, there exists absence (singularity), not darkness or emptiness. This absence of the flow of energy is called Tamas, which equates to the darkness in the movie theater. When this energy sprouts as Cit:Śakti (please note that matter is also energy, and there is no distinction of matter vs energy vs mind vs thought in Advaita) in the form of light that is called Mahat, which equates to the movie projector light on the white screen. The third aspect that emerges out of this light that falls on the screen (which is not real but feels real) is called Viśvām and the illusion (the perception of Jīva) created by this Viśvām is called the Māyā. This Viśvām is the source of both māyā and identity, whether it is self/individual identity (Jīva Ahankara, Jīva:hanta) or the identity of the Viśvām as a whole (Samiti Ahankara, Pāra:hanta). This Samashṭi Ahankara (cumulative identity) that accompanies Māyā is titled as Iśvara (not Pāramātma or Brahman), who, in a way, proclaims ownership over both creation (Sristi) and its Māyā. In this creation, the individual identity proclaimed by a Jīva is called Vyasti Ahankara (vyasti means a part of something). The cumulative Śakti (energy/vibration) that projects light and makes this māyā (illusion) feel real is none other than the Divine Mother (Ishwari) as per Devi Tatva, and Śrī Viṣṇu as per Viṣṇu tatva. As per Śiva tatva, Śiva, or Maheshwara or Śankara doesn’t emphasize the aspect of Māyā; rather, Śiva emphasizes the aspect of dissolution (not destruction) of one’s identity and existence, which is called Pralaya (there are three types of Pralaya). This is why both Devi and Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu take Avatara as they both dwell in the aspect of preservation, but Maheshwara doesn’t because His concept is related to dissolution.

Jīvahanta & Pārahanta

Jīva claims its own identity as mind, thought, and physicality, and so is known as Jīvahanta (Jīva:hanta). Similarly, as discussed above, Iśvara also has an identity and, hence, has a sense of ownership towards creation. Why? Because Iśvara is the cumulative embodiment of all beings in creation and the very creation itself; hence the title Virāṭ Swarūpa. Iśvara is that title given to the aspect of Pārabrahma that acts as the governing concept towards Vishvam (its creation and Māyā). This aspect of the self-identity of Iśvara towards His cumulative self (creation) is called Pārahanta (Pāra:hanta). The concept of Iśvara further branches into three sub-concepts, the concept of Brahmā who is the architect within Prakriti, the concept of Viṣṇu who preserves the sanctity of beings within His creation (as Brahmā emerged from Visnu), and finally, as the concept of Śiva (Rudra) who performs dissolution. All three concepts act via one commonality, which is Śakti. Because of these three sub-concepts, Iśvara is sometimes referred to as the fourth Brahmā. However, Brahman and its Cit:Śakti are devoid of all these variations and exist as Pure Awareness, and are hence addressed as Nirleka, Nirguṇa, Nirahankara, Nirmala, Nitya, Nirakara, Nirakula, Nirguṇa, Nishkala & Nishkama. So, when a Jīva realizes its true existence as ātman then that is called Jīva:pralayam (meaning the dissolution of the Jīva’s false identity). In the same way, when Iśvara performs dissolution of māyā, then all realities dissolve, which is called Mahapralaya (maha:pralaya)(SriGarikapati. NJV.,n.d, p1484).

Is Brahmā also referred to as Iśvara? What is the role of Brahmā?

As commonly interpreted, Brahmā is the creator, but a creator of entities within the frontier of Māyā of a given universe. Technically, He is Vidhata (designer of destiny) of this reality and its entities. Meaning, He is not the architect to Māyā, since that aspect belongs to Śakti (as Prakriti) as She resides next to all three entities as a commonality (Pārvatī beside Pāramasiva, Lakshmi beside Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu and Sarasvatī beside Brahmā). So, let us take an example. Hiranyakashipu asked for immortality; Brahmā’s role was to design the destiny, so the request was against the destiny (not against creation). He provided alternatives to the request, knowing well how to sew the new path to the ultimate destiny. Ravana, Vibhishana, and Kumbhakarna all sought their great grandfather (Brahmā). Ravana specifically asked for immortality, yet was rejected (misguided); Kumbhakarna indirectly asked for immortality and got an option, Vibhishana only asked for unwavering devotion to dharma and got immortality without asking. The aspect of Māyā is the role of guṇa within Prakriti, which is controlled by Iśvara (not Brahman). Brahman is a word and nothing more, it cannot be explained or defined; hence, it cannot be worshiped. Worship only applies to Iśvara, hence the concept of Śiva is addressed as Pāram:Iśvara and Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu as the Jagannatha. The title Iśvara is not specifically applied to Brahmā, His title is Vidhata. In some creations, Brahmā emerges from the navel of Visnu in a lotus (Padmanabha); in another creation, Brahmā is born from a cosmic egg; in some, He is titled Hiranyagarbha; in another creation, Brahmā is the Supreme Deity; in yet another, He is Samashṭi Jīva (Cosmic Jīva= a cumulative of all Jīva). (Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)

All vocabulary falls short in defining Brahman, so Śrī Shankara used words like Reality or Singularity or Pure Awareness to create a distinction. Hence, Brahmā is the architect of destiny within “A Creation” of reality (as it has countless creations/universes, each different from the other). Second, since He is a Vidhata, He has an origin (Śiva, Śakti, and Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu don’t have origins), meaning He belongs to creation (single universe) like any other Jīva. His origin is defined to have emerged out of Iśvara (Śrī Viṣṇu’s navel). Hence, Brahmā becomes a post or a position that needs to be filled in every creation. The next entity to become Brahmā in the next creation is the current Chiranjeevi (immortal) Hanuman. Because of this, He has the title Samashṭi Jīva, meaning He is cumulative of all Jīva within creation; He is also the HiranyaGarbha or the Golden Womb from which all Jīva and their destiny starts and ends, but this title is shared by Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu as well. Śiva didn’t come out of Brahmā; it was the aspect of Rudra that emerged out of His sorrow when the Jīva’s destiny as a upādhi was indefinite and had to be merged into the loop of creation and dissolution. To solve this, an aspect called Rudra suggested the concept of dissolution of upādhi within Prakriti and finally into the cosmic dissolution (Maha Pralaya) of Rudra Tandav, to which Śakti is the sole witness (Maha Pralaya Sakshini). Mrityu Devata (Goddess of Death) emerged out of Him as His daughter, whose role is to merge the Upādhi (the physical aspect of the body) back into Prakriti. Brahmā has an origin and falls a little short of the title Iśvara, yet is revered as Trimurti and has a version of Śakti seated beside Him, and also has a lineage of successors as children like Narada, Prajapati, Pulatsya, Vishrava and Ravana (great-grandson) and so forth. So, whenever a Jīva sought a change in destiny, they all sought Brahmā – like Hiranyakashipu, Bhagiratha, Tarakasura, Ravana, and the list goes on. The Padma Puráńa explains the concept of Brahmā well, but the Brahmā Puráńa – though it has His name – doesn’t do justice towards His concept. Brahmā is that unique concept that is the pinnacle of comparison, meaning all aspects of Iśvara, when praised, have to be praised by Brahmā. He is the highest standard of comparison, His words are standards towards praising Iśvara, He is Vani:pathi, He is the one to speak Veda. He is the one to solve confusions among Devatas and Rishis. He is the grand architect of all destinies, and always seeks His father (Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu) as it is He who has to come forth to implement His Son’s boons to establish the path of destiny.

Ardhanarishwara Murti at Gangaikonda (2009)

It is inferred that in the Kanakadhara stotrams Śrī Adi Śankaracharya always references The Supreme Primordial Energy, the Pārashakti. At his level of conscience, he does not differentiate based on the commonly interpreted forms or the manifested forms of Iśvara. What does “Manifested Forms” mean? Iśvara is not a physical or material entity, Iśvara is not just energy, Iśvara is shapeless, formless, non-tangible and, in a single statement, Iśvara is not limited to all possible phenomenon known to this creation and its countless realities. Iśvara is an aspect of the supreme singular conscience known as Brahman, whose luminance is called the Pāramātma, who is completely aware of His own creation (as the creation exists within Him) and operates through Pārashakti. This concept of supreme conscience or awareness is addressed as Nirguṇa, meaning one which has no guṇa (attributes or characteristics). In this very creation, He manifests into beings similar to us, as an anomaly. This manifestation into its own physicality is called Avatara. “Tara” means, “that which illuminates from far”, meaning a luminance that is not within our reach. “Avatara” means, that luminance has descended or made its appearance so that, even with our limited experience, we can understand the limitless. (Advaita Vision. 2013, Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.4)


LalitaPārabhatarika (British Museum). (2010)

The contemplation of Vedas helps us understand this concept known as Paramātma. As explained by Ramana Mahrishi it is safe to say that Iśvara is a concept that operates as Pārashakti. Even in times when Iśvara manifests as a human being, He takes birth through the womb of a mother, since motherhood is the essence of Pāra:Śakti, which can also be viewed as Prakruti (Prakriti). However, if Śakti has to manifest, then She comes as an “ayonija”, meaning not born from a womb; for example, Devi Sita, Devi Padmavati, Devi Pārvatī, and more. This message can be seen in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 of Jñana Karmasannyasa Yoga, Sloka 6, wherein Gitacharya (Śrī Krishna) says:

अजोऽपि सन्नव्ययात्मा भूतानामीश्वरोऽपि सन्।
प्रकृतिं स्वामधिष्ठाय संभवाम्यात्ममायया।।

(Gita Supersite. n.d.)

Meaning, Śrī Krishna (as Iśvara) says, though I (Iśvara) have no beginning or end and am immutable, with no karma towards birth or death, and not subject to change, and controller of all entities, I shall manifest within My own Prakriti out of My own will.

Then the obvious question, why does He behave like us and mimic us (living beings) by manifesting in forms and relationships similar to us? Iśvara manifests in forms that are more appealing and comprehensible to us. He lays the path by making Himself an example for us, which is the reason why He comes as an anomaly and takes birth among us to guide us and to show us how to cherish and uplift ourselves through the path of dharma. He stands as an example, lays a path for us, and becomes a target for us to focus on. When we say He comes and takes birth among us, it means a subset or a flavor of His conscience seeks a host body, unlike a Jīva which seeks a host body because of its Karma. Iśvara has no karma to shed, hence He comes as an anomaly to implement the message in Śāstra and makes a path for us to follow. This can be seen in one of the famous slokas from Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 of Jñana Karmasannyasa Yoga, Sloka 7 & 8:

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत। अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदाऽऽत्मानं सृजाम्यहम्।।
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम्।धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय संभवामि युगे युगे।।

(Gita Supersite. n.d.)

Meaning, I (Iśvara) will manifest within His own Prakriti time and again (yuga after yuga) to protect those who are Sadhu (those who follow dharma and take resort in Iśvara) and to eliminate the a:dharma and re-establish dharma.

If Iśvara carries out activities as Pāramātma or supreme singular conscience – which is not limited to a form or concept – then, for us, it would look impossible to follow His word (Veda) since there is no limit to what He can achieve. As a reader, it is to be understood that Iśvara doesn’t really have to walk like us to reach a certain destination, nor perform any physical actions if He wishes to accomplish something. He, with His very thought, and Śrī (Devi) with Her very sight, can change creation and its reality. Yet, in situations that are exceptions in the realms of this physical reality, and to show those who are yet to understand the tatvam of Iśvara, in different times, He manifests in a different way to prove that devotion can make Him behave like us. He manifests in a physical form to stand as an example by performing actions similar to humans, showing that we can also follow His footsteps. This is again a reminder to us that Śrī and Puruṣa should be worshiped together as Śiva-Śakti, Śrī-Viṣṇu, Vaani-Pati, and more. This very message is explained in Śrīmad Bhagavadgita, chapter 3 of Karma yoga sloka 21, 22 & 23, wherein Gitacharya (Śrī Krishna) says:

यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः।  स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते।।21
न मे पार्थास्ति कर्तव्यं त्रिषु लोकेषु किञ्चन। नानवाप्तमवाप्तव्यं वर्त एव च कर्मणि।।22
यदि ह्यहं न वर्तेयं जातु कर्मण्यतन्द्रितः। मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः।।23

(Gita Supersite. n.d.)

Meaning, when someone significant and famous does something, many follow it and try to mimic it as their lifestyle. In these tri-lokas (त्रिषु लोके) there is nothing for Iśvara to do or gain in return for His actions by manifesting into physicality, yet Iśvara chooses to manifest and act as one among us to be an example for us. Because if Iśvara doesn’t act and shine as an example, then many will become lazy or lethargic, lacking a reason to act or strive.


Then what about the various forms that are depicted on sculptures and paintings? One needs to understand that poems and sculptures and paintings are depictions resulting from a devotee’s feeling or analogy of events in the Puranas and imaginations from our interpretations of the stories in the Puranas. There are some exceptions like swayambhu (self-manifested) entities, not carved or forged by us, like swayambhu Lingas, Idols, and kshetras), but the rest is the physical manifestation of our devotion, our understanding, and our imagination. We use these physical entities as targets towards focusing and channeling our devotion by performing various acts of Seva (services) and upacharas by treating such physical entities as a member of our family or loved ones. Such practice should one day evolve to a state where one can visualize Iśvara in all, irrespective of shape or color, living or nonliving, friend or foe, tangible or not, finally reaching a state where one realizes one’s own ātman to be an extension of Pāramātma. Hence, it is foolish to take such an analogy which is depicted as sculptures or images, and try to formulate our own baseless self-imagination and understanding and proclaim them to be meaningless. One needs to use such entities to explore the event behind it and, in turn, realize the tatva (essence) behind such deceptions since it is the tatva that is our goal. In this path of exploring our tatva one has to cherish these stories, whether one feels they are real or fictional, and cherish our existence in the course of our time.

When Śrī Viṣṇu’s glances fall on our upāsanā (we becoming eligible), then Śrī Lakshmi takes notice and helps us through Her Prakriti, by providing us all the necessary material comforts, including good health, because this very body that we possess, is a host for our Jīva and is a part of the same Prakriti. Moving forward, Iśvara and Pārashakti will be interchangeably used in this discussion. At times, Iśvara comes as an anomaly and takes a physical form to protect and re-establish dharma. This statement can be found in both Srimad Bhagavad Gita and in Devi Bhagavata(m) (Devi Bhagavata Puráńa(m)).

Śrī Adi Śankaracharya always refers to that Pārashakti as the concept of Devi Saraswati in the case of wisdom and knowledge, and as the concept of Śrī Lakshmi when it comes to wealth and prosperity. Let us take a simple analogy in today’s social designations, wherein the roles of a District Magistrate and a District Collector may be performed by the same individual in some situations. Similarly, the same can be applied to Parashakti – who is the true essence – and based on the situation and prayers, She manifests herself in the concept of either Devi Saraswati or Śrī Lakshmi. Hence, referring to Her as Pārashakti is accurate; rather, one should say it is an evolved perspective. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.4)

One might ask, how does one see Iśvara? In the process of exploring Iśvara one reaches a state wherein one starts to see Iśvara in one’s parents, family, Guru, in all beings, in all of creation, and finally realizing that oneself is Iśvara.

Who is greater among Śiva, Śakti, Viṣṇu, and Brahmā?

There are two ways of looking at this question. The first is that this can be considered a very childish and immature question. Second, if this question is out of pure inquisition, then an unconditional exploration of Vedanta and all aspects of Puranic tatva (essence) is the only way. A person with the second approach is not concerned with the outcome. It could be Śiva or Viṣṇu or Brahmā or Agni or Vayu or Surya or Śakti or none or all; it doesn’t matter who, what matters is just the answers. This means there is no prior attachment to the result. Sri Aurobindo The Great in his discouse of Isha Upanished said:

The metaphysician fixes his concentration of Will in Knowledge only on the Impersonal & pursuing it through the world & beyond, he affirms the Impersonal God but tends to deny the Personal. The devotee, fixing his concentration on the Personal & pursuing it through the world & beyond, affirms the Personal God but tends to deny or ignore the Impersonal. Both affirmations are true, both denials are false. Neither is one greater than the other, the Impersonal than the Personal, just as in the Personal, Shiva is not greater than Vishnu, nor Vishnu than Shiva, nor the All-Being than Krishna or Kali. Such exaggerated distinctions are the errors of partial or selective Yoga fastening on aspects & ignoring the true being of God in His self-manifestation. We must accept, for our perfection’s sake, the multitude of His aspects & even of His divine impersonations, but we must not make them an excuse for breaking up the inalienable unity of God.

Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society said:

“The Vedantin speaks of Nirupadhika Brahman (Pure Nirguna Brahman without Maya) and Sopadhika Brahman (with Upadhi or Maya) or Saguna Brahman. It is all the same. Names only are different. It is a play of words or Sabda Jalam. People fight on word only, carry on lingual warfare, hair-splitting, logical chopping and intellectual gymnastics. In reality the essence is one. Clay is the truth. All the modifications such as pot, etc., are in name only. In Nirguna Brahman, Shakti is potential, whereas in Saguna Brahman, it is kinetic or dynamic.”

This very article is a glimpse into the essence of various aspects of Brahman. In the former case, this question arises in those who have a certain temperament (psychological framework) as a result of various Samskaras, Vasanas, and the influence of guṇas in Prakriti which are accumulated over various lifetimes. Such temperaments result in one sect among Sanatana Ḍharma being more appealing as compared to others. These accumulations become the impression that makes up the mānas, which constructs the identity of a being. In Yoga, these impressions are also called vṛttis. Meaning, these impressions make us susceptible to a specific combination of flavors, colors, tastes, attitudes, and personalities; hence, we tend to differ in our discrimination. The discriminatory factor which helps us reason with reality and our thought, and helps us overcome our like/dislike is called Viveka. Through Viveka, one has to reason with oneself and observe one’s rāga-dveṣa (like/dislike). Such efforts will lead to saṃskāra. Certain celebrities, political leaders, spiritual leaders, ideologies, philosophies, and styles seem more appealing and acceptable to us as compared to others. These impressions override our rationale, allowing our mānas to be the dominant entity compared to intellect or intelligence. When mānas become the dominant entity in a person, it will find reasons and excuses to view something that is suitable to its rāga-dveṣa (like/dislike). A person seeking the color RED will find red in orange, purple, yellow, pink, and more, but they fail to admire the uniqueness of other colors. There is a saying in Yoga, “the one who is engrossed only in a flower and its fragrance, fails to see the filth in the soil that gave the fragrance and the sun which made the flower blossom”. Newton noticed the apple fall and realized gravity, Maharśi saw the apple fall but also saw the tree that grew against gravity and gave us this profound literature. Considering one literature to be above another, one Guru above another, and one divine concept above another is utter foolishness. These tendencies are dominant while making emotional choices, making this question very common among people in Bhakti. Bhakti, unlike other approaches, is heavily invested in emotion, at least in the initial stage. It is an approach to surrender oneself without conditions or expectations to dissolve one’s identity into the entity of worship. However, while traveling along the path of Bhakti many tend to accumulate information and details specific to certain sects (Siddhānta or Sampradaya or Philosophy), which is a good thing, but some pause in their path of bhakti and become critiques towards the rest, and so starts the “lingual warfare“. For them, all other colors and flavors look insignificant and lesser compared to their own taste. These personalities claim dominance over the rest while they unconsciously keep up appearances towards their bhakti. For people floating in love, the world looks colorful, for those in joy the world looks vibrant, for those in constant fear a tiny sound can be terrifying. For those dwelling in the dominance of their doctrine, everyone else seems lesser. This is nothing but ahaṃkāra. Gitacharya said one should launch oneself as an arrow at my feet. Somehow, many immersed in the supremacy of their doctrine claim to have launched themselves at the feet of Iśvara (their version of Iśvara) but somehow pause in the middle to undermine and criticize others. Such supremacy is a fool’s gold. An arrow once launched doesn’t take breaks on its way. There exists a very thin line between being focused and developing a tunnel vision. Let’s think of this rationally. If clear supremacy does exist, then all the scriptures will state it with absolute clarity and certainty. Hand-picking phrases from a diverse culture filled with countless Maharśis, with literature more than a million verses, to suit their pre-conclusions is childish and immature. Such people will only drown in Karma of their doing. We can all be looking at the same mountain from different locations. From one angle it has snow top peaks, from another angle it is rocky, from another a waterfall and mist or luscious greenery from flora and fauna, but it is the same mountain. This viewpoint is called Dharshana. There are many such Darshanas, but six are revered as pristine (Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta). Real bhaktas don’t have time or energy to criticize or undermine others. People dwelling in their self-affirmed doctrine cannot tolerate other sects or Gurus who are either popular or successful; hence, they become self-appointed judges to declare who is fake. Prahalada didn’t do it, Tulasidas didn’t do it, Hanuman didn’t do it, but some self-declared bhaktas seem to have a lot of time on their hands to speak and write garbage to prove their supremacy. This life is short and uncertain; it would be better to launch ourselves into an inquisition or into the dissolution of self-identity. Billions of beings with billion temperaments exist, there is no one size fits all, making the diverse sampradayas (Siddhānta and its cultures) of Sanatana Ḍharma literature a perfect array to choose from. Proclaiming supremacy is to waste one’s own time which could have been spent on self upliftment. Sects were created by Acharyas so that like-minded people could get together and perform Sādhanā and help each other towards upāsanā, not to throw dirt on other sects. A tree doesn’t advertise its shade nor does it criticize other trees. Let the Bhakta dance in the glories of their deity (swarūpa) and tatva (essence) while the inquisitive be lost in the concepts and their unity. Let neither live in the periphery of the subject and walk with a head full of ego.

For an inquisitive mind, Brahmā is not just a creator, Viṣṇu is not just a preserver, Śiva is not a destroyer, their tatva (essence) and concepts go much deeper and are much more profound. They are all the Swarūpa of Pārabrahma. Such exploration is endless, as Śāstra gives its famous analogy of a salt ball that jumped into the ocean to find its depth and width, but in the course of its exploration became the ocean itself. For a Bhakta like Hanuman, Iśvara is a focused swarūpa to dissolve oneself into through service; for a Yogi or a Siddhi, Iśvara is a tool or a method to the highest states of consciousness; for a Trantric, Iśvara is a medium to transient states of meditation; for Vedantist, Iśvara is a concept towards its realization. This is why Ramana Maharśi called Iśvara a concept.

Mahabharatam Dhrona Parva (Narayanastra-mokshana Parva) Section 202 Sloka 94-96 Says:

From Narayana’s asceticism was born a great Muni of the name of Nara, equal to Narayana himself. Know that Arjuna is none else than Nara. These two Rishis (Narayana and Nara) said to be older than oldest of Devas, take their birth in every Yuga for sebserving the purpose of the world . Thyself also, O thou of great heart, hast been bron as a porting of Rudra, by Virtue of all thy religious acts and as a consequence of high ascetic austerities, enduded with great energy and wrath. Keshava is that devoted worshipper of Rudra, who has sprung from Rudra himself ! Keshava always worships the Lord Shiva, regarding his Linga to be the origin of the universe. In Keshava is always present that knowledge in consequence of which he views the identity of Brahma with the universe, and that other knowledge by which the past, the present and the future, the near and the remote, is all seen as if the whole were before his eyes. The Devas, Siddhas, and the great Rishis, adore Keshava for obtaining the great the higest object in the Universe viz Mahadeva. Keshava is the creater of everything. The Eternal Krishna should be adored with sacrifices. The Lord Keshava always worships Shiva in the Linga as the origin of all creatures. The Divine having the bull for his mark cherishes greatest regard for Keshava.  

With this let us conclude with the profound saying by Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Mahabharatam, Santi Parva 341, Sloka 22–27:

nārāyaṇātmako jñeyaḥ pāṇḍaveyaṁ yuge yuge | tasmin hi pūjyamāne vai deva deva maheśvare || 22 ||
sampūjito bhavet pārtha devo nārāyaṇa prabhuḥ | aham ātmā hi lokānāṁ viśveṣāṁ pāṇḍunandana || 23 ||
tasmād ātmānam evagre rudraṁ sampūjayāmyaham | yadyahaṁ nārcayeyaṁ vai īśānaṁ varadaṁ śivaṁ || 24 ||
ātmānaṁ nārcayet kaścid iti me bhāvitātmanaḥ | mayā pramāṇaṁ hi kṛtaṁ lokaḥ samanuvartate || 25 ||
pramāṇāni hi pūjyani tatastaṁ pūjayamyaham | yastaṁ vetti sa māṁ vetti yo anu taṁ sa hi mam anu || 26 ||
rudro nārayaṇaścaiva sattvam ekaṁ dvidhākṛtaṁ | loke carati kaunteya vyaktisthaṁ sarva karmasu || 27 ||

“Narayana is the Self of Rudra it should be known from age to age. If that god of gods (Maheshvara) be worshipped, then O Partha, is the mighty Narayana also worshipped. I [Krishna] am the Self, O Arjuna of all the worlds, of all the universe. Rudra again is my Self. It is for this reason that I always adore him. If I do not adore the auspicious and boon-giving Isana nobody would then adore Me in essence. The principles I set are followed by all the worlds. Those principles should always be respected, and it is, there­fore, that I too respect them. He who knows Rudra knows Myself, and he who knows Me knows Rudra. He who follows Rudra follows Me. Rudra is Narayana. Both are one Being, appearing in two different forms. Rudra and Narayana, forming one Being, pervade all things and cause them to act”

(Rami Sivan 2019)


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