Hinduism II

Hinduism II
Love as a path to salvation:
Hindu Gods & goddesses
Introduction to World Religions Fall 2007 Dr. Hannah Schell
Agenda for class meeting
 Review basic concepts of the Hindu worldview
 Atman = Brahman
 Can God be described? God without attributes
vs. God with attributes
 Hindu gods & goddesses:
The Hindu “triad” of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva
I. Review of basic concepts
This world is samsara – an illusion, the
unending cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth
The spiritual goal, and one of the four aims of
human life, is moksha, or liberation.
There are several paths to moksha, including
knowledge, action and devotion.
Atman=Brahman (see next slide).
Atman = Brahman
(the basic metaphysical insight of Hinduism)
 Brahman – the Supreme Being; Being Itself/ the
ultimate, the transcendent, the Godhead.[from br – to
breathe and brih – to be great; see Smith 47].
 Brahman is being, awareness, and bliss (47).
 Atman – the self or soul; the hidden self; the part of
the human being that is more than the body, more
than the personality.
 But, Atman = Brahman!
 The philosophers call this “monism” – the idea that
all reality is fundamentally comprised of one
‘substance’ or character.
Atman = Brahman
“Behold the universe in the glory of God: and
all that lives and moves on earth. Leaving
the transient, find joy in the Eternal: set
not your heart on another’s possessions…
The Spirit, without moving, is swifter than
the mind; the senses cannot reach him: He
is ever beyond them. Standing still, he
overtakes those who run. To the ocean of
his being, the spirit of life leads the
streams of action….
Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his
own Self in all beings, loses all fear.”
- Isa Upanishad, The World’s Wisdom, 9.
An American version of the same idea
“Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air,
and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes.
I become a transparent eyeball-I am
nothing; I see all; the currents of the
Universal Being circulate through me-I
am part or particle of God.
The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and
accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances-master
or servant, is then a trifle, and a disturbance. I am a
lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the
wilderness, I have something more connate and dear
than in the streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape,
and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man
beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836).
Key points from the Smith reading
Souls (jivas) come of age in the universe over
the eons
Transmigration of souls from one life to the
next, in accordance with karma
The world is ultimately maya – deceptive,
The world is lila – the play of the divine in the
cosmic dance (see Smith 55).
II. Can God be described?
 God-with-attributes (Saguna Brahman)
 God without attributes (Nirguna Brahman)
Nirguna Brahman is an example of negative theology:
“Oh Thou, before whom all words recoil.”
(Quoted by Smith, 47).
Example of negative theology:
Creation story from the Rg Veda
There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was
neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What
stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water,
bottomlessly deep? There was neither death nor immortality
then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than
that there was nothing beyond. Darkness was hidden by
darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this
was water. The lie force that was covered with emptiness,
that one arose through the power of heat.
(see handout for rest of passage).
God with Attributes
 Influence of the great epic
literature –
 The Ramayana
 The Mahabharata, which
includes the Bhagavad Gita,
“Song of the Blessed One.”)
 Also, the Puranas – collections
of stories about the gods and
their incarnations.
The “theology” of Hinduism
God with Attributes:
 Vedic Deities
 Deities of classical Hinduism:
 Brahma (the creator)
 Shiva (and his consort)
 Vishnu (in his many avatars)
Vedic Deities
Indra: “King of the Gods” – a warrior, a
king, associated with thunder.
Agni: “The priest of the Gods” – the
god of fire, associated with lightning,
fire, the sun.
Soma: deification (but not
personification) of a hallucinogenic
elixir from a plant.
Vedic Deities
Sarasvati: goddess
associated with a river,
also learning, sometimes
identified with speech;
truthful words.
Watch video now.
Video clip from Understanding Hindu Tradition
(1994); clip is approximately 15 minutes.
The path of devotion
“Always glorifying me, striving, firm in their vows,
Paying me homage with devotion, They worship me, always disciplined…
I am the universal father, mother, granter of all, grandfather,
Object of knowledge, purifier, holy syllable OM, threefold sacred love…
Men who worship me, thinking solely of me, always disciplined, win the
reward I secure…
The leaf or flower or fruit or water that he offers with devotion, I take from
the man of self-restrain in response to his devotion.
Whatever you do- what you take, what you offer, what you give, what
penances you perform – do as an offering to me, Arjuna!
You will be freed from the bonds of action, from the fruits of fortune and
misfortune; armed with the discipline of renunciation your self liberated,
you will join me..
If he is devoted solely to me, even a violent criminal must be deemed a man of
virtue, for his resolve is right… Keep me in your mind and devotion,
sacrifice to me, bow to me, discipline your self toward me, and you will
reach me!”
From the Bhagavad Gita, included in World Religions; Eastern Traditions, 2nd ed. (37).
The triad of Hindu divinity
Brahman (the creator)
Vishnu (the preserver)
Shiva (the destroyer)
The “trimurti” (three forms) – 8th century.
Brahman, the creator
The first-born being, seated on a lotus that stems from Vishnu’s navel
Vishnu the preserver
The ultimate reality, the source of the
Usually shown as a dark blue man
wearing a crown, with four arms, with
four objects associated with him:
 A conch shell
 A discus
 A mace
 A lotus
Vishnu is concerned with the welfare of
Vishnu: the “all-pervasive one”
Appears in the world in several incarnations
(avatars) to rid the world of evil and establish
dharma or righteousness (Oxtoby, 40).
Avatars: literally, “descents”;
incarnations of the deity into
bodily forms.
“For the protection of the good and the
destruction of evil-doers, and for the
re-establishment of dharma, I come
into being in successive ages.”
- Bhagavad Gita (Qted by Zaehner, 91).
Vishnu’s avatars
Matsya - fish
Kurma - tortoise
Varaha - boar
Narasinha - man-lion
Vamana- dwarf
Rama with the battle-ax
Krsna (Krishna)
Kalki - who brings the end of the aeon.
Vishnu as Krishna
with Radha
“ I have no record of austerities; I do
not possess any subtle knowledge;
still, I cannot be quiet even for a
moment without you, O Lord lying
on the serpent-couch! O Father! I
will not be too much of a burden to
I desire that if I saw you, I would
impetuously take you and simply
swallow you; but, stealing a march
over me, you yearned for me and
drank me off completely, O dark,
cloud-like God… O you impatient
- Alvar poet (Tamil - South India, 6th c.)
Vishnu as Krsna (Krishna)
“Krishna, master of all yogis,
revealed.. His transcendent
divine Form, speaking
from innumerable mouths,
seeing with myriad eyes, of
many marvelous aspects,
adorned with countless
divine ornaments… full of
revelations, resplendent,
boundless, of ubiquitous
regard. Suppose a
thousand suns should rise
together into the sky: such
is the glory of the Shape of
Infisnite God.”
- The Bhagavad Gita
Consort: Sri or Laksmi
(Good Fortune or Wealth)
“Lakshmi, mistress of material
abundance (artha) goes
wherever there is Vishnu,
guardian of righteous
conduct (dharma) bringing
with them their son, Kama,
lord of worldly pleasure.”
Source: http://www.indobride.com/stories/laksmi.htm
Prayer to Vishnu
Lord, you dwell in everything, you are everything,
you take all forms and you are the origin of
everything. You are the Self of all.
You, the Self of all beings, the Lord of all creation,
you are the source of all that exists. You know
everybody’s desire.
Salutations to you, the omnipresent, who are
inseparably linked with the universe. You are the
first object of all meditation.
- From Vishnupurana, Ch. XII
Vishnu summary
Understood to be the ultimate reality, the
source of all creatures
Frequently depicted as blue
Comes in avatars (manifestations) such as
Krishna or Rama.
Shiva: The Destroyer
Associated with
 the lingam
 Supreme yogi
 The bull, Nandi
 Trident, crescent
 Dancing Shiva
 Consort, Parvati
 Son: Ganesha
The myth of the curse of Shiva
“We bow to you, O lord of the gods and
people.. We bow to you, the eternally
successful yogi, the support of all the
universe, the highest ruler, the highest
reality, the undying, the highest place…
You are quality of sound in space; you are
the origin and dissolution of creatures. You
are the perfume in the earth, the fluidity of
the waters, the brightness of fire… You
destroy all the worlds; you are Time, the
Ender, made of death. You alone maintain
the three worlds, and you alone create
them, o lord… In one way or in many ways,
you create the worlds and destroy them, O
- Brahmanda Purana (Textual Sources, 86).
(Read full story on page 85-86 of
Textual Sources).
Shiva & the lingam
Associated with the lingam – a phallic symbol
that represents fertility, generativity, creation,
Shiva as the supreme yogi
Dancing Shiva
Shiva Natarja
Elephant-headed Ganesha
o Remover of obstacles
o Associated with
literature, being a
o Playful, mischievous
Shiva’s consort: Parvati
Shiva bhakti
I love the Handsome One;
He has no death
Decay nor form
No place or side
No end nor birthmarks.
I love him, O mother. Listen
I love the Beatufiul One
With no bond nor fear…
So my lord, white as jasmine, is my
Take these husbands who die,
Decay, and feed them
To your kitchen fires!
Better than meeting
And mating all the time
Is the pleasure of mating once
After being far apart.
When he’s away
I cannot wait
To get a glimpse of him.
Friend, when will I have it
Both ways,
Be with Him,
Yet not with Him,
My lord white as jasmine?
- Mahadevi (poet-saint from the 12th century).
Sources of Indian Tradition, 2nd ed. 349-350.
Hymn to Shiva (Poem by Sankara)
I worship Siva in my heart,
He can be known through the Vedas,
He is delightful to the heart,
He has destroyed the three cities.
He is before all time and has three eyes,
He looks majestic with his head of matted locks,
He wears snakes as ornament and antelope skin for a dress,
He is the Great God, gracious Lord of Souls,
He is consciousness and bliss,
The companion of Parvati.
O Lord of Souls!
The one sun that is visible
Takes away the darkness from the earth.
Your splendor surpasses that of a thousand suns.
Why do you not become visible and take away my darkness?
Destroy that night of mine and show yourself to me!
Shiva summary
Note that Shiva includes all of the following
Ascetic element
Erotic element
Familial element
Known as the god of grace as well as the god
of destruction
Ramakrishna gets the last word..
Ramakrishna (1836-1886):
All is One
“My dear friend, when you hear one of the
glorious Divine Names – be it Allah, Tara,
Krishna, or whichever revealed name is closet
to your heart – if tears of ecstasy come
spontaneously to your eyes or if the sensation
of weeping springs forth secretly in your
heart.. This is authentic confirmation that you
are awakening… You will not have to renounce
the formalities of religion. Formalities of every
kind will simply disappear from your being…
Even the Divine Names most intimate to you
will eventually disappear, and you will
commune directly with the One Reality, which
precedes and which emanates all names and
“Gradually yet inexorably, one is drawn into the living heart of
worship. Simplification and intensification occur. Finally, the
practice of religion merges into the source of religion. One
abides blissfully in the supreme Source, even as this infinite
fountain continues to flow with all the precious sacraments,
all the powerful forms of worship and meditation ever
revealed to humankind.”
-Ramakrishna (1836-1886); quoted in The World’s
Wisdom, 43-44.
[Gandhi once said that Ramakrishna’s life
enables one to see God face to face; 40].