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The One of Old

Indian mythology is complex. One reason is that in ancient texts, various gods intermingle and call themselves the greatest, one by one. The eminent scholar Max Müller (1823-1900) coined the word henotheism that signals that if the god in question is a funnel into the one divine sea of godhood, each may have a right to call himself the greatest. But "Many later authors prefer the term monolatry—which is the worship of one god, whether or not the existence of other deities is posited." [EB, "monotheism"].

That takes us to the avatar lore.


Avatars or avataras are descents or emanations into some animal or human form - allegedly supporting the forces of good. [Clh 61] God Vishnu's avatars are "descents", often called "incarnations". There are ten Vishnu avatars in the work Garuda Purana, twenty-two in the Bhagavata Purana, and many others. Not all avatars are thought to be of Vishnu. In the Mahabharata, these characters are considered avatars among others: Krishna, Arjuna, Draupadi, Drona, and Vyasa. Further, some avatars are said to be full avataric manifestations, others partly manifestations. Other avatars than those of god Vishnu are seen in such as the Siva Purana. [Si, index].

Vishnu-incarnation Rama (centre) and his wife Sita (right)
Rama, avatar of Vishnu, is at the centre.

Vishnus are also interpreted symbolically. There is internal evidence in many Hindu scriptures that such practice has been wide-spread. For example, the very old and long book Yoga Vasistha [Su; Yv] presents the Indian epic Ramayana [Karb; Ra] as the outer coat of an inner quest. "Creation is what one sees and is aware of, and this is within oneself," says Vasistha. Like Krishna, Rama is thought of as a whole, complete incarnation of Vishnu.

Yoga Vasistha is presented as a discourse of the sage Vasistha to Rama at a young age. It is the longest Sanskrit text after Mahabharata and Ramayana, and an important text of Yoga and Advaita Vedanta [monism]. From the work:

Saraswati talk Sarasvati: "O dear lady, you have worshipped me for a long time with intense devoltion; therefore, I grant you the boon sought by you."

The first Lila: "Your words never fail, your wish always comes true."

Saraswati: My dear, I do not really do anything to anyone. Every jiva [soul, etc], earns its own state by its own deeds. I am presiding over the intelligence of every being; I am the power of its consciousness and its life-force. You longed for liberation, and you obtained it - it is consciousness alone that bestows the fruit upon you. [Yv 63-64, abr.].

Discern between and mingle handsome short-range benefits, middle-range benefits and long-range benefits to win the day on an all-round plan. Buddha teachings are described like it: excellent in front, in the middle and to the end. Why not? It is too shortsighted not to remain alert to the fact that some phenomena are short-lived and give only brief benefits, whereas others have effects that last long, and so on.

In Northern India, Vishnu is said to descend into bodies of both men and animals. One of his incarnations was a world-saving boar.

In deep meditation there are hardly any outward references. "Being outward" and being great in the eyes of others around is not the key to good meditation. You may cater to your own good and learn to enjoy life, hopefully. And you can go for better living on an all-round plan.


Sri Krishna, Krsna, Bhagavan Krishna, Hare Krishna, Sri Krisna, Literature  

Clh: Dimmit, Cornelia, and J. A. B. van Buitenen, trs. Classical Hindu Mythology. Philadelphia: Temple University, 1978.

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2009.

Karb: Subramaniam, Kamala. Ramayana. Bombay: Bharatiya Book University, 1983.

Ra: Shastri, Hari, tr. Ramayana of Valmiki, Vols 1-3. London: Shanti Sadan, 1959.

Si: Shastri, J. ed. Siva Purana, Vols 1-4. Delhi: Banarsidass, 1969.

Su: Venkatesananda, swami, tr. The Supreme Yoga. Yoga Vasistha. 3rd ed. Freemantle: Chiltern Yoga Trust, 1984.

Yv: Venkatesananda, swami, tr. The Concise Yoga Vasistha. Albany: State University of New York, 1984.

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