Your Questions Answered
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 43: Hindu Gods and the One God

American Visitor: Who are the Hindu gods?

SWAMIJI: I do not know if you know the names of these Indian gods. You are not acquainted? Have you heard of Vishnu?

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: The three great gods of Hinduism are Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Brahma is the creative aspect, Vishnu is the protecting, sustaining aspect; and Siva is the transforming, dissolving aspect. Brahma creates, Vishnu sustains, and Siva dissolves. These are the three aspects of the Supreme Being.

Vishnu has several incarnations. Rama and Krishna are the most prominent of his incarnations, and they are worshipped as veritable Narayana. Narayana is also another name for Vishnu. The supreme creative principle, the absolute creative will, you may say, is called Narayana, or Vishnu.

So, we have various concepts of God, for the purpose of religious worship. You have got Badrinath, in the Himalayas. It is a very famous place of pilgrimage; in summer, millions flock there. Worship starts from the month of May, and goes on until October. It is on a mountain top. It is also a temple devoted to Vishnu, Narayana; and there is another, for Siva, at Kedarnath. It is also a mountain peak. That is Lord Siva's temple. These are the most prominent of the shrines in the Himalayas – Badrinath and Kedarnath, of Narayana (Vishnu) and Siva.

Visitor: Lord Buddha and Lord Christ were also incarnations of Vishnu?

SWAMIJI: Lord Buddha is considered as one incarnation of Vishnu, but you can consider Christ, or anybody else also as an incarnation of the Supreme Being in a wide philosophical sense, but not in a strictly Hindu religious sense. A Hindu will not consider Christ as Vishnu's avatara, though in a broader sense, you can consider any great divine manifestation as the incarnation of the Absolute. From the purely religious point of view of a Hindu, they will not consider Mohammed and Christ as incarnations. But, in a highly transcendental sense, everyone is an incarnation of the One Being.

Visitor: There is one Hindu goddess. I do not know much about her, but she has eight arms, right?

SWAMIJI: I did not want to complicate your mind with all these things, so I closed with Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva.

Visitor: I do not know much about it, and I see all these post cards, and they are very beautiful.

SWAMIJI: Brahma, Vishnu and Siva represent the Universal Consciousness at the back of the processes of creation, preservation, and destruction. Consciousness, when it manifests itself as creation, preservation and destruction, is conceived also to have a force, because manifestation is nothing but a demonstration of power, or force. These forces of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva are called shaktis, which means power. The shakti of Brahma is called Sarasvati, the goddess of learning; the shakti of Vishnu is Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. The shakti of Siva is Durga (and various other names also she has.) Durga is sometimes identified with the Power of the One Absolute.

These shaktis that I mentioned are also independently worshipped as goddesses, apart from conceiving them as part and parcel of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. In the earliest forms of religion, they were all considered as one only. Later on, when it became very difficult to conceive this totality of divinity in worship and meditation, there was personification of these universal forces.

Actually, you cannot consider any god as a person, like a human being, but we cannot think anything except in terms of personality, due to the habit of the mind; so, though Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, or Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati, cannot be regarded has having a body like ours, we can think them in no other way. We consider Brahma as an old father of the universe; sometimes he is even considered to have a beard, as the supreme father. And, Vishnu is a grand, majestic, beautiful person. Siva is an austere, inwardly drawn, ascetic. They are with their consorts Durga, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati – Durga having so many hands, as you say, Lakshmi also is having so many hands, and Sarasvati has four. Everyone has four hands. They can have more, also.

But they all have an inward mystical meaning. They form an outward symbology of an inward spiritual connotation. All the powers of the psyche are concentrated in a single act of thought, or awareness, in these divinities. In our cases, the facets of the psyche are separated – understanding is one aspect; feeling is another; willing is a third, and remembering is a fourth. In Western psychology, three aspects only are considered: understanding, willing, and feeling; they emphasise three aspects of selfhood, but there is a fourth aspect which is subconscious, or subconscience, we may say, which is the medium of memory. All these act independently in us. It does not mean that understanding is the same as feeling, or feeling is the same as willing, etc. Each one is independent. We cannot think in a total fashion. If you can merge all these faculties into a single act of perception, it will be intuition, but we cannot do that. We are always separated in our psyche. We understand one thing, feel another thing, will still another thing, and subconsciously we can be a fourth thing; but the gods represent a total intuitional power of a blend of all these four faculties. So, the four hands, we may say, actually symbolise the four aspects of the psyche, through which a single consciousness is operating as intuition in their case, and as ordinary perception in our case.

All these religious figures are symbols of a higher abstract principle, which ordinary people cannot comprehend, and so we require figures, pictures, idols, images, sculptures, paintings, all sorts of things; otherwise, we cannot think of God, because the mind has come down so low in its psychological operations and power of thinking that we want everything to be just like us. God, also, should be like us only. So, God, we think, is a huge man; this is what we think. If you read any scripture, you will find God described as a huge Body occupying the entire space, and having eyes and nose, like us.

If you say that God is not like that, then what else is God? It may end in denying God altogether, if you cannot think God in some form. So, it is better to have some inadequate conception of God, than have no conception at all. We need something, at least, to hang on.

Dr. Goel: Finally, we must have a true conception.

SWAMIJI: It is not possible for ordinary mortals to have a true conception. People cannot have true conceptions even of themselves. How will they have a true conception of somebody else?

Dr. Goel: So, we must have first a true conception of ourselves.

SWAMIJI: Yes. Unless you know yourself correctly, how will you know another thing correctly? You are the medium of knowing anything else, so whatever you are is reflected in the process of your perception and knowledge of things. Whatever you think you are, that you will think anything else also is. This is the difficulty with us.

Actually, you are also not a physical body. You are not the son of so-and-so; you are not six-foot high, with so much weight; you are not flesh and bone, and all that. You will find it difficult to know what exactly you are. Much time is necessary to go deep into this matter, and realise that you are totally different from what you appear to be. But yet, you will not forget that you are Mr. so-and-so, and you have come from such and such a country, you have got this height, this weight, etc. You cannot forget these features.

You will never imagine for a moment that you are a concentrated formation in space and time of a universal bit of consciousness. If you can maintain this awareness always, you will not be this person that you are. You will become different every day, and what you will be, God knows; but, who can think like that? It is not possible. The mind will pull you down – "Don't go too high," it will tell you.

You are only a little eddy in the sea of universal consciousness. That is what you really are, but who can think like that? For a moment you may think it, but afterwards it slips down, and you are once again the same man that you were.

So, all this requires hard meditation to raise the consciousness to that level of universal perception, and feel oneself as commensurate with the total setup of the universe, and not existing independently as Mr. so-and-so. You are part and parcel organically entwined with the whole universal fabric. If you can maintain this consciousness always, you are perpetually in a state of meditation.

American Visitor: On gods some details, please?

SWAMIJI: Durga sits on a lion, Sarasvati sits on a swan, and Lakshmi sits on a lotus, representing three functions of these three forces. It is difficult to explain all these things, in a few minutes. The lion represents the ferocity of human desire. Desires are not ordinary simpletons; desire is ferocious when you oppose it. Because we do not oppose many of our desires, they do not look terrible. The subdual of the ferocity of desire by a divine power is symbolised in this divine force of Durga riding over the lion.

Lakshmi sitting on a lotus implies beauty, prosperity, magnificence, aesthetic rejoicing, all pleasantness.

Visitor: Is usually water in the background?

SWAMIJI: Yes. Water, but not necessarily. And Sarasvati on a swan represents intelligence, purity. Sarasvati is dressed in pure white; Lakshmi is dressed in gorgeous drapery; Durga is a little more picturesque, with varieties, you can see many hands and phases. One represents the purity of knowledge, transparency of understanding, which is symbolised in white color. Another is all-conceivable prosperity in this world, which is slightly tinged with human desire. (Unless we have some desire, we cannot understand what prosperity is.) Durga is the force that controls the cruelty of human passion. These are the aspects of it, briefly.

Visitor: Thank you.

Andrea: Swamiji, you mentioned the four arms of the deity, and you said that there was willing...

SWAMIJI: Understanding, willing, feeling.

Andrea: And you said remembering, and then you said...

SWAMIJI: Subconscience.

Andrea: Is it like the subconscious?

SWAMIJI: It is the same thing.

Andrea: It's not to do with the conscience?

SWAMIJI: The conscience also is in the subconscious. It is one of the functions of the subconscious.

Andrea: I see.

SWAMIJI: Memory also is a part of it. It has got many functions. Memory is one. Conscience is another as the voice of God, you could say. Something tells you this is proper; that is the work of conscience, and it is the work of the subconscious, also.

Dr. Goel: What is the difference between conscious and subconscious?

SWAMIJI: You are now working in the conscious level. In dream you are in subconscious level. The conscious level is withdrawn into the subconscious, which is dream. In sleep you are in unconscious.

Dr. Goel: And in deep sleep?

SWAMIJI: Unconscious.

Eva: Swamiji, along those same lines I have another question. You mentioned on the same day that those four faculties, they are together in one.

SWAMIJI: If all the faculties work in unison, it becomes intuition.

Eva: So, intuition is bigger than conscience?

SWAMIJI: It is bigger than all the four. It is a total blending of all the four.

Andrea: I was thinking about how people really wouldn't want to stay in the body if there's no point, really. You know, I understood why some people wanted to leave the body once they realised...

SWAMIJI: It is not a desire to leave the body, actually. It is a desire to leave the consciousness of individuality – body or no body – that is a different matter. If you have a body, but you are not conscious that there is a body, it is not going to trouble you. The body is not the source of trouble; your consciousness that there is a body is the source of trouble. A wealthy person is a person who is conscious that he has a lot of wealth. Suppose he has a lot of wealth, but he is not conscious that he has wealth, you cannot call him a rich man. What do you say?

Visitors: Right.

SWAMIJI: So consciousness is wealth. This is a very interesting thing to hear! [laughter]

Dr. Goel: Consciousness is everything.

SWAMIJI: Yes. Suppose you have got a lot of money, and you are not conscious that you have got it. Can you call it a worthwhile thing? It is useless. So, consciousness is money, also. Very interesting! Everything is consciousness. Minus that, there is no meaning in anything. So, bondage is consciousness of finitude. It is not the existence of anything, but the consciousness of the existence of something; so, the bondage is consciousness only, of some type – limited consciousness.

The question then is not of leaving the body, or holding the body. Let the body be there. There are bodies; so many people have got bodies here. Are you worried about them? [laughter] Why are you worried only about your body? What is the importance? If you are not at all concerned with the bodies of other people, why are you concerned with your body, as if it is more important than others'? That is called attachment of consciousness to a particular localised individuality.

Dr. Goel: That is the worst thing.

SWAMIJI: The whole point is that. It is not the existence of something, but the consciousness of it. In liberation, the world is not destroyed, only you will not be connecting it with your finitude. Your consciousness will pervade everything; therefore, there will be no particular attachment to any individual object. Liberation is the recognition of consciousness being present in all things, and not only in some things. If it is only in some things or one thing, that is bondage. If it is everywhere, it alone is, and is free. Now you are, and somebody else, also, is there, whereas there, only one is there.

Dr. Goel: In liberation?

SWAMIJI: In liberation, only One Being is there.

Dr. Goel: And that is Universal Consciousness.

SWAMIJI: Yes. Bondage is not in the existence of things, it is in the consciousness of the existence of things. It is a peculiar operation of consciousness. Now, the Universal Consciousness is locked up within one body only, which is what you call yourself. Therefore, it is frightened because of its limitations, because of its isolation from others – and because of its dependence on many external factors, etc., and also because of the fear of losing this individuality, one day or the other.

But suppose it is present in everything, which actually is the case. Then, there is no such fear. Fear arises from a dual existence. Fear arises from another outside you. The outside-consciousness must go; then, the fear also goes.

Andrea: I actually feel peaceful somewhat, when you say that.

SWAMIJI: Yes. When we hear it we feel a little peace. We are genuinely acquiring peace.

Dr. Goel: So we must detach it?

SWAMIJI: We need not detach it. We must attach it to all things. Then automatically, detachment takes place from one thing. Always there is a fear of detachment, so I suggested that such fear need not be there. You like attachments? Then attach yourself to all things, and then it is equal to detachment from one thing. So, you like to be attached; it is your happiness. If you are detached, great fear comes. Nobody wants detachment, so we never use such words. Don't say "renounce" and all that. Have attachment, but to everything. Let us see what happens. [laughter]

The mind is such a trickster. Neither will it want attachment to everything, nor detachment from anything. You want something? All right, take all things. You should not ask for something only. Everything you take; otherwise, don't ask. What are you asking for? Everything I will give you. Everything, also, you cannot take, because you have no place to keep it. The whole earth you take! [laughter]

Nobody can be so mischievous as the mind. It doesn't know what it wants, and yet, continuously goes on wanting, without knowing what it wants. Here is the trouble. Why don't you get attached to everything? What is wrong?

Visitor: Ego.

SWAMIJI: Ask the ego to get attached to everything, to every person in the world, every building, every tree in the forest and every river, every mountain, every sun, moon, and star. Get attached to all of them, and let us see what happens to you. It is possible you will not get attached. Here is the whole thing. Most unreasonable. Even in attachment you are unreasonable! [laughter]

There is a story: Acharya Sankara was inside the room. The door was bolted, and the disciple knocked from outside. "Who is there?" the Guru asked. "I." "Let it be either nothing, or everything," the Guru said.

There are three kinds of "I's": the I that is nothing, the I that is something, and the I that is everything. This "something" is a dangerous thing. Let it be nothing, or be everything. Then you are free. You cannot make this "I" nothing, nor can you make it everything, so you are hanging in the middle. [laughter]

Dr. Goel That is the problem of life.

SWAMIJI: Even when you are given everything, you don't want it. What kind of person! Have everything, and get attached to everything. Then you will have Virat-consciousness. Attachment of consciousness to everything is another name for Universal Consciousness.