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Vedic Gods

Freud, in his studies of ancient Greek stories, shows how one may crack ancient codes, possible metaphors and allegories and come up with some deep thought that seems fit for people and conditions along quite general, cultural lines.

One of the prerequisites in studying ancient Aryan symbols is enough interest (to keep on at it), and another is enough academic distance (against bias).

Vedic gods are devas mentioned in the four Vedas. There are 33 major Vedic gods in them. The word Bhagaván (for Person-God) is from later Vedic literature, such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas. There are hundreds of deities in Purana texts, so the gods described below, represent a selection.

Agni, Fire-God

In ancient Indian teachings, Agni is the god of fire. He is held to be one of the mightiest gods in general, including the force that drives away the demons of the dark. He is also a guest, the lord of the home, and friendly to man. Agni is held to be next to god Indra, his twin brother at times.

Agni (Fire) is also held to be the messenger of the gods, and also one who brings the gods. He is either golden or red, with one or more burning heads, and faces in all directions - and with all-seeing eyes. Like Indra he is portrayed carrying a bow and arrows. He is often likened to the bull; the sun, a car (chariot) loaded with riches, or to inherited wealth and affluence. Also, the ram is another animal associated with him - he rides it - and the sacrifice to (one's inner) Fire has been termed the most important Aryan-Hindu ritual for the last five thousand years.

Addressed as the immortalizing charioteer of sacrifice, Agni is the Lord of Red Steeds, who loves songs. The kind and bountiful giver is pot-bellied too, which denotes a love for rich or oily food - the shining Fire consumes oil and fat, as in ancient Hebrew rituals to the Highest Lord. Agni protects from disasters and consumes (kills) foes in fire. He also supplies abundant food, invincibility in battle, etc.

Asvins, Twins of Dawn

THE ASVINS are of the morning twilight. They are twin deities with nimble hands, and they travel (course) in a golden chariot with three spokes, drawn by horses or birds. Hymns are addressed to them because of their powers to heal and help. The Asvins hence were enthusiastically worshipped. RikVedic hymns describe them as wielding a hundred powers as harbingers of the dawn (Usha) - they are the earliest bringers of light in the morning sky, the couple that prepares the way for the Dawn.

Ever young and handsome, their attributes are many. The origin of the Asvins - these twin divine powers - is shrouded in myth, mystery and symbolism. The couple are thought to be the brothers of the Glorious Dawn (Usha), and thus represent morning twilight in particular. Said to be children of the sun by a nymph who hid herself in the form of a mare, they were called Aswins. The name stem from 'Aswa', horse, which literally means 'the pervader'. And in this mythology the horse is a symbol of luminous deities, especially the sun.

There is a legend that the gods refused the Asvins to participate in a meeting (sacrifice) because they had been on too familiar terms with men. It might be, then, that the Asvins, like the Ribhus, at one time had been taken up among the gods, not unlike ancient Herakles.

The ocean-born, luminous Asvins - lords of the joyous upward action of the mind - are said to descend to earth three times a day with heavenly medicines to help mankind with their restoring and curing powers, making people fit for active enjoyment. The young-and-ancient Twins of truthfulness help proper enjoyment on and up, it seems. They can make the blind and lame see and walk, and may perform surgery.

It may also be worth noting that in one well-known Greek version of the origin of the affectionate twins Castor and Pollux (Polydeuces), they were born from an egg laid by Leda (wife of the king of Sparta) after she had been seduced by Zeus disguised as a swan.

Surya, the Sun Inside and Outside

Sun god, Surya
The Sun, drawn by seven horses across the sky.

Surya is the sun in the sky, and most important Vedic deity. Riding a golden chariot he comes, looking on everyone. He is one of the Adityas, god among gods, the light that is most excellent, golden-coloured. He rides the skies in his golden chariot of blazing light, which is drawn by seven bay horses - one for each day of the week. The horses are described in the hymns as the daughters of heaven. There is more to it: The chariot is a symbol of a year's course; the horses may also be four, or one with seven heads, and so on. That's how it often is in old symbolology: there is variation of symbolic representations.

With the rise of Vaishnavism in the 300s BC, Surya lost his preminent place, like many formidable Vedic Gods, and at last was replaced by Vishnu, who had been venerated as a minor solar divinity till then.

As a repository of energy, power and radiance, the sun sustains life and yields lots of fearlessness, security and even prosperity (to some). In the Vedas, the sun is represented as a handsome, golden youth who rides the chariot of light, The swastika, a common Hindu symbol of munificence, belongs to the sun - who gives abundantly, without asking for favours in return.

Surya is extremely brilliant, with radiant hair. He darts or flies in the skies like a bird, and shines brightly as a jewel. Giver of power and strength, destroyer of laziness and darkness, with bright light radiating from him, he knows all that lives inside his magnetism (which penetrates the solar system).

Swift and very mighty, Our Sun is the light-maker, light-procurer, one who illumines the radiant realm. He goes to the hosts of Gods as well as to the world of mankind with his light. Surya is ever watchful. Because of his might and beneficial light, Surya is also depicted as provider of good health, one who shooes some illnesses, also one who removes heart troubles.

The Sun is wed to "Knowhow", or "Mother Conscience" (Sanjna), and the couple has three children: Manu (first Man, and lawgiver), Yama (of control), and Yami.

The Sun is a Great God of olden times, and a being that resides in us and warms us, guiding and regulating our bodily functions. The Vedic Sun has four wives: Samjna (knowledge and conscience), Rajni (Sovereignty) Prabha (Light) Chaya (Shade).

The Sun has these two names: SURYA (the luminous shining one) and ADITYA (the son of the primordial origin of all things). Ancients believed the sun to be the origin of the world, and there was a parallel idea in Egypt concerning crossing a river to reach the kingdom of the dead. Also, many of the descriptions of the Sun in ancient Greek tales have similarities to Hindu depictions.

The sun is truthfulness, and has to do with intellect too. It is said the wise surround the sun, and.

The associated animal is the winged horse, Tarkshya, that personifies the sun (through pars pro toto).

The Wind, Vayu

IMAGE
Li Di. Homeward Oxherds in Wind and Rain. Southern Song Dynasty. 1100s CE.

Two sayings: "He who supports birds can also be a trusted friend." "To the wind the coward prays for luck."

From ancient India we have the idea that the Wind-God (Vayu) was thought to support birds in the air. It is also said that the Wind (Vayu) protects his "affinates" from the highest world level onwards and even from the wrath of other Gods. This can more likely be done by one who has a thousand eyes, four hands, and never rests. He is so depicted.

You have head the expression "swift as an antelope" and "swift as the wind". Indians have combined them by saying that the Wind-God rides an antelope. Thus, the antelope is the vehicle (vahana) of the Wind. It is associated with it in the minds of men where antelopes are found, and so on.

The Wind-God - a beautiful God, blue-coloured as the air itself, and the turbulent, restless friend of thunder - is in the air we breathe, and also stirs the clouds. In a higher sense Vayu is considered to be a world-breath, the breathing in us all others who live and breathe. Hence, "For his sake the cows yield milk". That is, for the sake of the life-giving breath in them and in other beings on earth. Implied is also:

  • "For the sake of a swift, agile mind and a lord of thought, the cows yield milk", but you may have to reflect on that for some time . . .
  • "For the sake of intelligence and brotherhood among men, the cows yield milk." - It surely reduces the need for much killing good point where persons get most of their essential amino acids (proteins) from milk fit for humans.
  • "For the sake of the Wind the cows of old yielded milk.".
  • "For the sake of the one who is entrusted with the rejuvenation of nature, the cow yields milk, basically." That fits. One aspect of it is seen when the calf, who appears to renew and carry on the race of cattle, sucks his mother. But the milch cow hardly sees it that way; she often looks as if dedicated to the wind - Well, giving milk and sucking it for a long time, is built into mammals and men. Milk, a good invention!

The Wind rides a chariot yoked with steeds, and their colour vary from red to purple and their number from two to hundreds and thousands, depending on the occasion [or portrayal]. It suggests there is much (horse) power, idea-power, etc., in the prana, which is the vital breath -

Praised as Intelligence who illumines the earth and heaven and makes things dawn on us - he can make that [inner] Dawn glow and shine. Invisibly he moves around in the human body as a vital breath.

The Wind can be a trusted friend, he can make the Dawn shine (and hence we understand something). What about these sayings?:

  • "A trusted friend brings medicines."
  • "Let only a trusted friend bring you medicines."
  • "Bring only medicines that cure people." - And that vital force inside is said to accomplish much of that, for example through sayings like, "The doctor prescribes, but nature cures".

Indians - both of old and in our time - really think thoughts like, "The trusted friend is blue in colour, has four arms, and a thousand eyes." - and that there is nothing wrong with that. Also, loyality, strength, and brotherhood are among the qualities Vedic people ascribed to the Wind-God, who can be a trusted friend of the colour blue, and depicted with four hands, holding a fan and a flag in two hands while the other two are held in yoga mudras (fixed holdings).

The Wind is seen as a bearer of scents and perfumes, and fragrances, the carrier of pollen and some sorts of seeds that are wafted gently in the soft breeze - also the carryer of "perfumes" from thousands of horses - is linked to the life giving breath.

Entrusted with the rejuvenation of nature and praised as the intelligence who illumines the earth and heaven and makes things dawn, invisibly he moves about - and in the human body as the vital breath.

So we get insights by studying the key factors that go into a broad, ancient concept, like Wind, Vayu, and then see how well such factors apply, far and wide, in the context tey are in originally. In the light of these data we may crack some codes at bottom of the various Windy Sayings above. Sri Aurobindo (book data below) talks from such an angle.

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What God?

These Vedic gods have brought about a question that you may find pertinent. In the Rikveda, tenth book, hymns 121 you may read: "What God shall we adore . . .?" It is repeated eight times. The answer concludes the poem: "The Creator of Heaven and Earth", also called "Lord of creatures".

And hymn 129, the ancient Hymn of Creation, runs like this in the translation of Wendy Doniger (O'Flaherty 1981:25-26):

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, bottlemlessly 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 life force that was covered with emptiness,

that One arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that One in the beginning,

that was the first seed of mind.

Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom

found the bond of existence and non-existence.

Their cord was extended across.

Was there below? Was there above?

There were seed-placers, there were powers.

There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.

Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it?

Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?

The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.

Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen

- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not -

the One who looks down on it,

in the highest heaven, only He knows

or perhaps He does not know.

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Asuras

Asuras, a certain sort of celestial being, appear as supernatural beings in traditional Buddhist cosmology, as well as in Hinduism. Ahura is ancient Persian for it, and there is a link to Norse Aesir somewhere too.

The Rigveda's asuras are all exalted gods. The earliest Vedic texts have asuras presiding over moral and social phenomena. Mitra, Varuna and Vritra are the most well known Asuras in the Hindu pantheon, along with Indra, Agni, Rudra, Agni, Aryaman, Pusan and Parjanya. Neither the ancient Rigveda's asuras nor the ancient Persian daevas are demons.

Later Hinduism thinks negatively of asuras, such as the Puranas, we find that the "devas" are the godly persons and the "asuras" the demonic. In Zoroastrianism it is the other way round, however. The demonization of the asuras in India and the demonization of the daevas in Iran took place at a late stage of development.

In Zoroastrianism the term Ahura applies to only three divinities, including Mazda and Mithra, and there is no direct opposition between the ahuras and the daevas ("shining ones"): The basic opposition in Zoroastrianism is not between groups of divinities, but between "Truth" and "Lie/Falsehood." The ahuras are defenders of truth; the daevas on the other hand are misled by "the Lie".

There is now much support for this more recent view: Indo-Iranian Asura developed into Varuna in India and into Ahura Mazda in Iran. Ahura Mazda is the name of the divinity exalted by Zoroaster as the one uncreated Creator, that is, God. (Dimmitt and van Buitenen 1978).

God in Buddhism

Buddhism is a way of life which does not hinge upon the concept of a Creator God but depends on the practice of meditation, dhyana. Buddha teaches that there is a deathless, unborn - the realm of Nirvana - to go for. Toward this end, the wise are encouraged to practise the Dharma (spiritual truths) of the Buddha, by right vision, right thinking, right speaking, right acting, right living, right effort, right attentive awareness, and right meditation (dhyana). This is the Middle Way of Buddhism.

God the Creator has a central, yet little recognised, part in Buddhism, though. The first one that Buddha talked with after his Dear Enlightenment was Brahma, the Creator, says the sutras.

Buddha understood that his realization was too deep to be fathomed by most beings. But then Brahma [the Creator] appeared before him and begged him to teach what he had learned for the benefit of those few beings who could understand and profit from his wisdom. Moved by compassion for all those caught up in the round of cyclic existence, Buddha agreed.

Shortly after the meeting with God the Creator and Buddha's granted committment, Buddha delivered his first public sermon in a Deer Park near Varanasi (Benares). In that lecture a core message is that it is highly important to follow a "middle way" and not indulge in extremes. He also shows a beneficient way out of suffering, if it is adhered to comparatively all right.

[Retold from a chapter in Anthology of Scriptures of World Religions, by John Powers and James Fieser, published by McGraw-Hill Publications in 1997. On-line.]

Accordingly, Buddhism owes God a whole lot - up to all of Buddha's teachings. As it is written: "Without them, there would be no Buddhism."

As for faith in God as the Divine Self, it can be of value to see that:

  • "Nowhere in the Pali canon does Buddha categorically declare, without qualification, "There is no self." Thanissaro Bhikkhu informs in more detail about the issue. [◦More]
  • "Buddhist practice does call for a certain kind of faith," as ◦John Bullit informs.
Buddha accords you a basic freedom to let the issue remain unsettled for as long as it takes when it is for your own good, for example until you know by first-hand experience. To the Buddhist who is allowed free thinking by Buddha himself, that is considered largely better than blind faith this way or that. [Cf. the founding work, the Kalama Sutra of Buddhism.

For twelve hundred years in the long history of Buddhism in its homeland India, perhaps one third of the Buddhists believed there really is a pudgala, a Person Within each one somehow. Two blending Buddhist schools of thinking are known for this outlook, they are the ancient Sammatiya and Vatsiputriya schools. And in Mahayana Buddhism the End Goal to be reached for in meditation is termed Essence (Existence), which equals "God" far and wide. [More]

Otherwise and most commonly, Gods, or devas, of Buddhism are quite similar to Greek gods; beings who live in heavenly circumstances for a long while.


Vedic gods, Literature  

Aurobindo, Sri. On the Veda. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1964. 〰⊱〰 Almost all of it is in The Secret of the Veda (see below).

Aurobindo, Sri. Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol. New ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Trust, 1997. 〰⊱〰 Savitri by Sri Aurobindo is an epic poem in blank verse, filling twelve books of nearly 24,000 lines in all. It was unfinished at Sri Aurobindo's death, but he explains in his Author's note that the poem is rooted in an old legend. He thinks Savitri is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth and born to save. -- Such thinking is rooted in ancient Savitri mythology and corresponding clues from the names and doings of other persons in the old legend, and elaborated on at length in the poem. In it, Sri Aurobindo "translates" the legend about a devoted wife's love for her husband by saying it is an allegory, but not merely an allegory, not as he sees it: the characters are emanations of living and conscious Forces that humans - or some humans - can enter into touch with. The Forces also materialise in human bodies, he says.

Aurobindo, Sri. The Secret of the Veda. New ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1998. 〰⊱〰 The main content is as in On the Veda above. Sri Aurobindo interprets the ancient Vedas. Deeper and double meanings of the Rigveda are proposed, keys for yoga practice are given from it. Well done!

Dimmitt, Cornelia, ed., and J. A. B. van Buitenen, tr. Classical Hindu Mythology. Philadelphia: Temple University, 1978. 〰⊱〰 An anthology well worth having. It contains fresh translations from the many-faceted Hindu mythology. The distinguished authors discuss Hindu mythology and analyse its basic sources. The many names given the gods and goddesses in the Sanskrit texts have been retained, with a thorough glossary of them as well.

Doniger, Wendy. The Rig Veda: An Anthology. London: Penguin Classics, 1981. 〰⊱〰 The Rig Veda (c. 1200-900 BC) is a collection of over 1,000 individual Sanskrit hymns. They are called awesome and venerable ancient works. Here is Dr Doniger's selection of 108 of the hymns, about such as creation, women and the gods.

McDermott, Robert A., ed. The Essential Aurobindo: Writings of Sri Aurobindo. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books, 2001. 〰⊱〰 Here is a collection of many significant writings of the yogi. It is culled from nearly 30 volumes of Aurobindo's lifetime work. The editor is a professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Philosophy at Baruch College, CUNY (1971-90). He is also a president emeritus and chair of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS),

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