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Re: Vedic deities

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Fri May 21 1999 - 13:06:39 PDT

Sri Sudarsan Parthsarathy wrote:

> Personally Adiyen is of the same view expressed by Mani.

Dear Sudarsan,

I am certainly not endorsing in any way worship of deities other
than the Parabrahman Sriman Narayana. Based on the comments in
your article, it appears to me that you have not properly
appreciated the Visishtadvaita approach to Vedic worship.
All these topics are discussed in detail in the Vedarthasangraha
of Ramanuja and Srimad Rahasya Traya Saaram of Vedanta Desika.

First and foremost, the Vedic deities such as Indra, Mitra,
Varuna represent "posts" or "offices".  A person who has a
balance of merit ("good karma") is placed in one of these posts
by Sriman Narayana as a reward, much as human birth itself is a
reward.  While the posts themselves are thought to be eternal, as
they represent principles mentioned in the Vedas, the
personalities occupying the posts are not.

Hence, Indra is the presiding deity of rain and thunder, among
other things.  Mitra and Varuna are solar deities who are closely
related and often identified. Varuna is also associated with
water.  Usha is the deity of dawn, and so on.

When the Vedic mantras address the deities, they do so in a
twofold manner:

  a) They are addressed to the personalities occupying the posts

         AND
  
  b) More significantly, these prayers are addressed to the
     Absolute Self, the Paramapurusha who actually empowers and 
     moves all the deities.  The deities are viewed as modes 
     (prakAras) of the Absolute who presides as their inner
     controller (antaryAmin).

So when using a Vedic mantra in your daily and occasional duties,
depending on your mental attitude, you are either addressing a
subsidiary power or the ultimate power.  The Sri Vaishnava
philosophy is to solely use mantras to worship the latter,
because the Absolute is the true entity behind everything.

This understanding of the mantras comes from the Vedas
themselves.  The Rg Veda, in a hymn addressed to Vishnu, says
that "all these other deities are merely your limbs" (angA anyAni
devatA).  This expression is repeated in the Taittiriya
Upanishad.  The Purusha Sukta, which occurs in the tenth mandala
of the Rg Veda, says that the various deities spring forth from
the self-sacrifice of the universal Purusha.  This same Purusha
is described as Narayana in the Taittiriya Aranyaka. The
Brhadaranyaka Upanishad declares that out of fear of Brahman (the
Absolute), the sun rises, the wind blows, etc. In another
section, the same Upanishad reduces the millions of Vedic gods
down to one principle, Brahman.

Western scholars use the term "henotheism" to describe the poetry
of the Vedas. Henotheism means taking a particular deity and
treating it as if it were the greatest, and then moving to
another deity and doing the same.  This only presents part of the
story.  Certainly the Vedic hymns move from one deity to another
and lavishly heap praise upon each one.  But the Vedas are
operating under the axiom that Brahman is the ultimate principle
which manifests itself as these deities; it is therefore to Brahman
ultimately that the prayers are addressed.  

This is further explained in the first chapter of Brahma-Sutras,
in indra-prANAdhikaraNa.

> On careful analysis of our Nithya karmas(like Santhya
> Vandhanam, Yajnas, Homam etc, where we still invoke prayers to
> Anya Devathaas), we specifically worship the other
> Devas/Devathaas and not the Antharyami Sriman Naarayanan in
> them, "like Rudra Daivatyam Vrushabavahanaam" in Maadhyanika
> Sandhya.

The nitya-karmas are all dedicated solely to Sriman Narayana, or
at least they should be for a Sri Vaishnava.  In your sankalpa,
do you not say "Sri bhagavad AjnyA, Sriman nArAyaNa prItyartham"
or some variant? This should be followed by a sAttvika tyAga
which once again declares that the entire act and all its fruits
are for God alone, and no one else.  If any names are used in the
course of the worship, the idea is that these names signify only
Narayana, who is defined to be the Absolute.

Let's take the example of sandhyAvandana.  There are two main
parts to this ritual, the arghya-pradAna and the gAyatrI-mantra
japa.  During the arghya-pradAna, the 'devata' is paramAtmA
savitA, the Supreme Self Sriman Narayana as seen as the power
within the sun.  During gAyatrI-japa, once again the same
paramAtmA savitA is the object of meditation.  During the
upasthAnam Narayana within the sun is addressed as Mitra, Surya,
or Varuna. (I am not familiar with your line "rudra daivatyam..."
As far as I know this is not part of any Sri Vaishnava
sandhyAvandanam; in any case, it may also be possible to
understand that line in a conformant way).  This is further
clarified by the smRti sloka we recite after the upasthAnam,
"dhyeyaH sadA savitRmaNDala-madhya-vartI nArAyaNa...", which
guides us to meditate on Narayana as residing within the orb of
the sun.

In homas, typically if any other deity's name is used, Sri
Vaishnavas say "[other deity] antaryAmine samarpayAmi", and are
advised to think only of Narayana and nothing else.

Sri Desika explains in 'Varadaraja Panchaasat' how the words
Brahma, Sankara, Indra, Atma, Sarva, etc., refer only to the
Highest Self Narayana and not to any lower entity:

      brahmeti Sankara itIndra iti svarAD iti
         Atmeti sarvam iti sarva carAcarAtman |
      hastISa! Sarva-vacasAm avasAna sImAm
         tvAm sarvakAraNamuSanty anapAya vAcah ||

> Also for quite a few years, I have personally tried to
> understand why Sri Vaishnavites do not go to non-Sri
> Vaishnavite temples.  I heard several arguments ranging from
> "Sriman Narayanan is Parathvam", so no need to worship Anya
> Devathaas who are not subservient to lord.  ...  So I was even
> more confused why we do not worship a Shiva Linga, or Ganesha
> in their idol form.

It is not just a matter of "no need"; it is a violation of our
faith in God to go pursue goals elsewhere.  The Sri Vaishnava is
supposed to have "mahA-viSvAsa", or supreme faith, that God alone
will do the needful.  It is intellectually dishonest to claim to
have faith in God and worship anything else (money, cars, stones,
humans, Parvati, Ganapati, etc.), apart from the conception that
God is the inner controller of all of these.

Also remember that our sole purpose in life is to glorify the
innermost Self, who is none other than Narayana. This can only be
done if we take our 'seshatva' seriously.

This is explained in great detail by Vedanta Desika in the 
paradevatA-pAramArthyAdhikAram of Srimad Rahasya Traya Saaram.

> Of course Parathvam is Sriman Naarayanan,
> and all the Parabhakthi, Paragnana, Prapatthi, we seek comes
> from this merciful Parabrahmam of Sriman Naarayanan, even if we
> seek it from other Gods/Demi-Gods(words from the Geetha).  

And such worship, according to the Gita, 'avidhipUrvakam', i.e.,
not recommended by Krishna. The 'yuktatamo', the best of yogis,
is the one who exclusively worships Krishna alone (6.47). What
the Gita says is that anything you seek is given by Narayana
alone; so why resort to anyone else?

namaH paramapurushAya,
Mani