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Re: Vedic deities

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Thu May 27 1999 - 14:22:43 PDT

Sri Sudarsan Parthasarathy wrote:
> Adiyen's intention is not keep on asking elementary questions,
> but develop a deeper understanding on this topic from
> Bhagavathaas like Devarir.  Please forgive me for committing
> Apachaarams.

Dear Sri Sudarsan,

You are asking very good questions and they are not
easy to answer. I will reply to best of my ability,
and I ask others to do so as well.

First of all, and this is general advice to everyone,
we are all friends -- there is no need to apologize
for asking questions, and please don't think you are
committing apachArams by doing so. We need not be
worried about this on our mailing list.

I think you have distilled your doubt down to this:

> But still why should we even seek a Post Office or
> address their name, and think of Sriman Naarayanan,
> when we can directly invoke our Supreme/Compassionate
> Sriman Naarayanan.  Mantra Ratnam, Dvayam and
> Charama Slokam should be sufficient, and other
> Shruthi's relevant to Nitya Karmas containing only
> reference to Sriman Naarayanan should be practiced.

This is an excellent question. However, I think it is
based on a faulty premise.  You are making the
assumption that the various names we use -- Siva,
Gayatri, Indra, Rudra, Sudarsan, Mani, etc. -- refer
to entities other than the paramAtmA Sriman Narayana.

In truth, all names, though they conventionally
denote different individuals or objects, in reality
only refer to the Supreme Self (paramAtmA).  Since
all things are simply modes of the Self, insofar as
they constitute His body and are controlled by Him,
all names truly refer directly to the Self and
nothing else, since the Self is what imparts reality
to these other things.  This is the position of
Ramanuja. Just as when we say "Sudarsan", we
conventionally refer to your body, but we actually
refer to your unique selfhood, those who are
acquainted with Vedanta know that "Sudarsan" is just
another reference to the Supreme Self, since it is He
in reality who pervades your very essence.

This is how we appreciate the fact that the Supreme
Self manifests itself as all the various powers of
nature and as creation itself.  This immanence of God
is described by Arjuna in the Gita, among many texts:

	sarvam samAnoshi tato'si sarvaH |

	You pervade everything, therefore you are everything!

The very pervasiveness of the Self is the reason that
all names refer truly to the Self.

This principle is clarified by Nammalvar in many
paasurams.  I will cite one here and request others
to supply more:

	thida visumbu, eri, vaLi, neer, nilam ivai misai
	padar poruL muzhuvadhum aay avai avai thoRum,
	udal misai uyirena karandhu, engum parandhuLan
	sudarmiku suruthiyuL ivaiyunda suranE.

	Being the vast sky, fire, air, water, and fire, 
	Being all things made of these,
	Hidden within, he pervades, like life in a body,
	He is the God of the glorious Vedas.

                                    (tvm 1.1.7)

This establishes that all things *are* the Self
because of His pervasion.  Now, using this principle,
look at the hymns of the Vedas.  All the various
names used refer to manifestations of the Self alone,
so all names only refer to Narayana. Whether we refer
to Gayatri, Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Surya, or Savitr,
or on a more mundane level, Sudarsan, or Mani, we are
truly referring only to Narayana. (This is also the
only way of making sense of Nammalvar's exclaiming
"muniyE, naanmukanE, mukkaNNappA", all in the same
breath).

So, we are not using a "different" post office -- we
only need realize that all names address only One
Entity, the Supreme Self, Narayana. 

Let's specifically apply this to sandhyAvandanam. [*]
As explained before, sandhyAvandanam is a form of
Vedic worship, in which the sun and the gayatri
mantram are used for meditation.  Are we worshipping
entities other than the Self? Only if *we* think
so. The true Vedantin will see all things as
referring to the Self, so his worship will be
different.

Based on the principles above, the true Vedantin
realizes that in no way can he worship the sun, or
gayatri, by themselves, as different from the Supreme
Self.  (He also has no *need* to do so, but this is a
separate issue). Desika clarifies this, citing a
sloka from the Mahabharata:
	
	ye yajanti pitRRn devAn brAhmaNAn sahutASanAn
	sarvabhUtAntarAtmAnam vishNum eva yajanti

	Those who worship the ancestors, the gods,
	brahmins, or the fires, in truth only worship
	Vishnu, who is the inner Self of all things.

			(Santi Parva 355.41, quoted
			 in RTS, kRta-kRtya-adhikAram)

This is a beautiful sloka, because it encapsulates
all the above principles in a single statement. In
all worship, who is really worshipped? "vishNum eva",
Vishnu alone.  Why? Because He is "sarvabhUta
antarAtmAnam", the Self of All.  Whether it is a
SrAddham (devasam), nitya-karma, or homa, the
Vedantin performs these because they are the command
of the Lord, and realizes that such worship is
directed only to Him. Those untutored in Vedanta
think that they worship independent beings, without
realizing that the Self of all, Vishnu, is the actual
recipient of all worship.

So, when you say,

> Mantra Ratnam, Dvayam and Charama Slokam should be
> sufficient, and other Shruthi's relevant to Nitya
> Karmas containing only reference to Sriman
> Naarayanan should be practiced.

I hope you now can see how this question fades off
into irrelevancy, since nitya-karmas already refer
directly to Sriman Narayana.  You just have to turn
your mind in that direction. We practice them as
kainkaryam because it is ordained that we do so.  The
question of sufficiency should also not arise;
nitya-karmas (or any other worship) should not be
done to achieve results.

Now, it is my turn to apologize. I did further
research, and the slokas you cited in your previous
post are indeed part of the gAyatrI dhyAnam for some
Sri Vaishnavas. Sri Gopala Desikan of Tirukkudandai
(18th century, munitraya sampradaya founder) cites
these in his "Ahnikam" (manual of worship):

	prAtar dhyAyAmi gAyatrIm, ravimaNDala-madhyagAm
	Rg-vedam uccArayantIm raktavarNAm kumArikAm
	akshamAlAkarAm brahmadevatyAm hamsavAhanAm

	madhyandine tu sAvitrIm ravimaNDalamadhyagAm
	yajur-vedam vyAharantIm SvetAm SulakarAm SivAm
	yuvatim rudradevatyAm dhyAyAmi vRshavAhanAm

	sAyam sarasvatIm SyAmAm ravimaNDalamdhyagAm
	sAma-vedam vyAharantIm cakrAyudhadharAm SubhAm
	dhyAyAmi vishNudevatyAm vRddhAm garuDavAhanAm

(These are not part of the sandhyAvandana krama, as
taught to me by my father, so I was ignorant of them.)

Basically, Gayatri Devi is pictured as sitting within
the sun at each time of the day.  In the morning, she
is pictured as the consort of Brahma, a girl of
reddish color reciting the Rg Veda. At noon, she is
called "sAvitrI" and is seen as the consort of Rudra,
a young woman of white color reciting the Yajur Veda.
In the evening, she is called "sarasvatI", and is
seen as the consort of Vishnu, an old woman of dark
color reciting the Sama Veda. By the way, these are
all slokas from smRti texts, not Veda mantras.

These slokas are typical of serious meditational
practice. Clearly, Gayatri is pictured as growing
through the day and associated with Brahma, Siva, and
Vishnu at various times for meditational purposes.  I
can't say more than this; more knowledgable scholars
in India should be consulted.

However, I am certain that even these slokas, if one
wishes to recite them, have to be understood with the
idea that Gayatri Devi is a manifestation of the
Supreme Self based on the principles explained above.

I suppose the basic conclusion is this: all names and
forms -- Siva, Brahma, Gayatri, Sarasvati, Ganapati,
Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Sudarsan, Mani, stone, tree,
etc., find their philosophical and emotional
conclusion in the Supreme Self, who is known by the
proper name Narayana.

Mani

[*] It should be understood that among the many Vedic
rituals, Sri Vaishnavas perform only the "AjnA
karmas", those that the Lord has commanded. We do not
do any Vedic ritual for our own benefit (the
so-called "kAmya karmas"), so we eschew yajnas and
the like which others may do for personal gain.