Srivaishnava Question and Answers – Learners Series – 9


Chapter 6: Iswara – The Lord and Master
1. What is the essential nature of Iswara?

The essential nature of Iswara is truth, knowledge, infiniteness, happiness and purity. He is present everywhere. He knows everything.

2. Why is He called Bhagavan?

He possesses six qualities and that is why He is called Bhagavan. Bhaga in Sanskrit means good quality.

3. What are these six qualities?

These are: 1) Knowledge 2) Lordship 3) Strength 4) Valour 5) Energy and 6) Splendour.

4. We have heard people saying that Iswara is the cause of this world. Please explain.

You have a potter and the mud pot. The pot is made from the material mud. So mud is the cause and pot is the effect. Mud is called as the material cause of pot (UpadanaKarana). Now, mud by itself cannot change into a pot. The potter has to change the mud into a pot. So, in the making of the pot, the potter is also the cause, like the mud. The potter is called the instrumental cause (Nimitta Karana). Thus, for a mud pot, the mud is the material cause and the potter is the instrumental cause. I will give you another example. Take the case of a weaver. The weaver weaves a cloth out of the raw material yarn. In this case, the cloth is the produced effect. For the cloth, the yarn is the material cause and the weaver is the instrumental cause.

5. Are there any other causes for such things?

Again, take the example of the mud pot and the potter. Now, just with mud alone, the potter cannot make the pot. He requires the wooden wheel and some other similar wooden implements to make the pot out of the mud. Such implements like the wooden wheel are called the supporting cause (sahakari karana). So, summarising, we have three causes for producing anything. One is the material cause (upadana karana); the second is the instrumental cause (nimitta karana); and the third is the supporting cause (sahakari karana).

6. So far as creation of the world is concerned, what is the relationship of Iswara or Brahman?

Brahman is the material cause in the creation of the world. He is also the instrumental cause in the creation. There is no supporting cause required for Him in the creation of the world. Or, we can also say that He is also the supporting cause in the creation of the world. If we consider the world as a pot. He is both the mud and the potter, for the creation of the pot (i.e. the world).

7. What is the difference between creation and evolution of the world?

Brahman is the material cause; so, we say that Brahman evolves into the world. Brahman is the instrumental cause; so, we say that Brahman creates the world. Thus, the evolution of the world means that Brahman is the material. in case. Creation of the world means that Brahr the instrumental cause. (Just as mud evolves’into mudpot; the potter creates the pot.)

8. He is the instrumental cause in the creation, but it is rather hard for one to understand that He is also the material cause. How can Brahman or Iswara Himself change into the world,just as the mud changes into pot or just as the yarn changes into cloth?

I shall describe this to you in some detail. We should fully accept the authority of the Vedas. Let me quote to you the following passages from the Vedas, which make it clear that Brahman is also the material cause. “He thought may I become many.” “The Brahman is the wood. Then Brahman became the tree.” “He desired may I become many.” “He became defined and undefined, real and unreal. Yet He remained as real. The wise perceive Him as the source of beings.” There are many other passages also, which clearly show that Brahman is the material cause of the world, besides being the instrumental cause. A story in Chandogya Upanishad says that there was a young boy Svetaketu who was sent by his father to a teacher for learning. He studied under the teacher for 12 years and after study, returned home.

His father asked Svetaketu: “I find that you are arrogant and you are thinking that you have learnt everything. Do you know about that, by knowing which everything else becomes known?” Svetaketu did not know, how by knowing one thing, all other things will become known. So, his father proceeds to give examples and teaches him. The father says:

1. From mud, we make pots and dolls. So by knowing mud, all that is made of mud, is also known; because they are all products from the same basic raw material mud.

2. Similarly, we make jewels out of gold. So, by knowing gold, all that is made of gold, like jewels, are also known; because they are only modifications or products of gold.

3. Again, from iron, we make so many materials like knife and scissors. So, by knowing iron, all the products that are made of iron, also become known; because basically there is only iron and all others are only modifications of iron. Similarly, by knowing Brahman, the whole world and everything in it becomes known.

9. So, what do we understand from these examples?

From this, it is clear that Brahman is compared to mud or gold or iron, out of which, pot or jewel or knife (respectively) are made. From mud comes the pot. So, by knowing mud,everything made of mud becomes known. Similarly. Brahman evolves in to the world and all other things. Hence by knowing Brahman, everything else becomes known. This is the meaning of these examples. In other words, Brahman is the material cause (upadana karana) of whatever we see in the world; just as mud is the material cause of mud pot; just as gold is the material cause of gold jewels; and just as iron is the material cause of knife and scissors.

10. Please explain further about Brahman being the material cause of the world.

The Chandogya Upanishad states as follows:- “Then the Brahman desired “may I become many, may I grow”. Then it created fire, etc.” From this, it is clearly seen that the Brahman evolved into the world; because the Brahman says “may I become many.” So it is proved that Brahman is the material cause.

After this, the Chandogya Upanishad describes (he three-fold division of elements. I have already described this to you earlier. Further, it is said that Brahman desired and said “I will create names and forms.” So, this also shows that Brahman is both the material cause and the instrumental cause.

11. What is the position of Jivatma, before and after pralaya?

At the beginning of creation, namely, after the pralaya, the matter and Jivatmas are all merged, in an extremely subtle state, in Brahman. Then the Brahman desired “may I become many”.He then created the elements and the worlds, out of Himself. Then He gave them names and forms. So, the Brahman becomes both the material and the instrumental cause (upadana karana and nimitta karana).

12. Are there any other passages in the Upanishads which explain that the Brahman is the material cause?

There are very interesting examples in Mundaka Upanishad. Saunaka asks Angiras:- “What is that, by knowing which, everything else in the world becomes known”?

Angiras proceeds to explain. He gives the example of a spider. A spider creates thin threads, out of its own body and mouth and spits them out. It weaves a web around its body, out of these threads. The spider, then, eats back the threads forming the web. In other words, the threads come out. of the spider and are eaten back by the spider,

Similarly, Brahman creates the world, out of Himself and again withdraws the whole thing, the world, into Himself, at the time of deluge. This example clearly shows that Brahman is the material cause of the world. There is another example in the same Upanishad. The plants and herbs grow from the earth, i.e.,come out of the earth. In the same way, the world also comes out of Brahman. Thus, the teacher Angiras explains that, since the world and everything else comes out of Brahman; by knowing Brahman, everything else becomes known. There is another example given in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Yagnavalkya tells his wife that, by knowing Brahman, the whole world and everything else becomes known; and proceeds to give an example. From a moist and wet firewood, we try to light up fire. But only smoke comes out, because of wetness of the firewood. Just as smoke comes out of the wet firewood, all the world and everything else, come out of Brahman. These examples show that Brahman is the material cause of the world.

13. You say that the Lord – Iswara – is present everywhere. Have our Alwars and Acharyas specifically stated so?

Yes. Nammalwar says that the Lord is present everywhere, as the soul in the body. He also gives a beautiful simile. He says that the Lord is present everywhere and in everything, like ghee in the milk. We cannot straightaway see ghee in the milk. Milk has to be turned into curd. From curd, you churn and get butter. You heat the butter to get ghee.Thus, although ghee is in milk, we cannot see the ghee directly. Similarly, God is in everything, although we cannot see Him directly with our eyes.

14. Is this Lord’s presence in everything mentioned in theVedas?

Yes, in several places. Let me give you some beautiful examples from Svetasvatara Upanishad.

The Paramatma is in the Jivatma, like

oil in til seeds (sesame):
butter in curds:
water in the earth (under ground):
fire in wood.

Although the Upanishad mentions Paramatma’s presence in Jivatma, the extension of this principle shows Paramatma’s presence in everything.

15. What about our Acharyas?

We have the great Alavandar, who has also used the simile of ghee in milk (like Nammalwar), to show the presence of the Lord in everything.

16. Who exactly is Brahman or Iswara? Is there one single deity, who is supreme?

Here are some passages from the Vedas which will answer your query.

1) “There was only one Narayana, no Brahma, no Rudra”

2) “From His forehead, the three-eyed person, having Sula is born; the four-faced Brahma is bom.”

3) “Brahma is born from Narayana, Rudra is bom from Narayana”

4) “Brahma is Narayana, Siva is Narayana, Indra is Narayana, The directions are Narayana. All things are Narayana”

5) “There is only one Divine Being – Narayana”

6) “Narayana is the inner soul of all beings,”

7) “He crosses the human bondage of samsara and reaches the Paramapada of Vishnu.”

8 ) “Among the Devas, fire (Agni) is the lowest and Vishnu is the highest:

9) “He created Brahma as before and taught him the Vedas.”

10) “From the Brahma’s forehead, Rudra was born.”

11) “The Universe is Narayana.”

12) “Narayana is the supreme Brahman. Narayana is the supreme truth or reality. Narayana is the supreme light. Narayana is the supreme atma or Paramatma. Whatever is in this world, seen or heard, all that is pervaded by Narayana, both within and without. He is Brahma. He is Siva. He is Indra.”

From these, it will be clear to you who is the supreme deity, who is the Brahman and who is Iswara. There are innumerable such passages in the Vedas.

17. Where does this last passage, “He is Brahma, He is Siva, He is Indra” occur?

This passage occurs in Taittiriya Upanishad. This is called Narayana Anuvaka.

18. Doesnt this occurs in Maha Narayana Upanishad

Actually it forms part of Taittiriya Upanishad. But some modern people call it by a separate name as Maha Narayana Upanishad.

19. You read the passage as “He is Brahma, He is Siva, He is Indra.” But some people read it as “He is Brahma, He is Siva, He is Hari, He is Indra.”Which is correct?

The Vedic passage should read without the words “He is Hari”. The words “He is Hari” are later interpolation; and it is not correct.

20. How do you say that the words “He is Hari” are later interpolation and not correct?

The reason is very simple. If you add the words. “He is Hari” in this verse in the Vedas, the metre becomes incorrect. According to Sanskrit grammar, the metre of the verse is correct, only if the words “He is Hari” are not there. Thus it is very clear that the words “He is Hari” are only interpolation, at a much later period.

21. What was the need for this interpolation, at a later stage?

With the interpolation, it reads as “He is Brahma, He is Siva, He is Hari, He is Indra.” This will give an impression that all the three viz., Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are equal, as also Indra. So, perhaps this was the intention of the people who interpolated, that all the Gods should be treated as equals.

22. Are these passages in the Vedas also supported by Smritis, Itihasas and Puranas?

Yes. Here they are.

1) Varaha Purana: Narayana is the supreme deity. From Him was born the 4-faced Brahma and from Brahma arose Rudra.

2) Mahabharata: when the Jivatma and matter have gone into dissolution, i.e., during the deluge (pralaya), there is only one remaining and He is Lord Narayana.

3) Mahabharata: There is no being in the world that is eternal or permanent, except Vasudeva.

4) Harivamsa: Siva’s words to Narayana; “Brahma is called Ka and I am called Isa. We two were born from your limbs. Therefore, you are called Kesava.”

5) Mahabharata: Brahma’s words to Siva: “I was born by His grace and you from His anger, in one of the earlier creations.”

6) Mahabharata: Brahma, Rudra and Indra together with all other devas and rishis, worshipped the divine Narayana, the greatest of Gods.

7) Ramayana: Rudra sacrificed all things in a great yaga called Sarvamedha and then sacrificed himself also mentally.

8 ) Ramayana: They knew Vishnu is greater .(than Siva).

9) Mahabharata: These two, Brahma and Rudra, who are the greatest among the devas, are born out of the Lord’s grace and anger. They perform the duties of creation and destruction, as ordered by Him.

10) Mahabharata: The devas are under the protection of Rudra. Rudra is under the protection of Brahma. Brahma is under my protection. I do not need the protection of anyone, I am the refuge of all.

11) Vishnupurana: Brahma, Daksha, Rudra, all these are among the attributes of Bhagavan.

12) Mahabharata: The words of Brahma to Rudra: “He (Narayana) is the inner soul of you, of me and all beings. He sees everything, but cannot be seen by anyone or anywhere.”

13) Rudra says in Mantra Raja Pada stotra: All beings are the servants of Paramatma. Therefore, I am also your servant and with this knowledge, I bow to you.

14) Mahabharata: There is no one superior to Narayana, the God of the lotus eyes. There is no God superior to Vishnu.

15) Naradapurana: There is no divine being, higher than Kesava.

16) Mahabharata: He (Vishnu) is the king of all kings. He is the Iswara, He is the father. He is the creator,

17) Mahabharata: Those intelligent people do not worship Brahma or Rudra or any other devas, because the fruit of their worship is limited.

18) Mahabharata: Lord Narayana told the devas: “This Brahma is your father and mother and grandfather. He will give you boons under instructions from me. Rudra, his younger brother, had his origin from my forehead. Rudra will grant boons to beings under instructions from Brahma.”

19) Bhagavad Gita: Krishna says: “Those who do sacrifices to other deities, they also do sacrifice only to Me; but not in the proper manner and according to rules.” 20) Ramayana: Brahma, the three-eyed Rudra – cannot save a person from being killed in war, by Rama.

21) Mahabharata: Meditating always of the Lord, Brahma, Rudra and others have not yet realised the Lord’s nature.

22) Mahabharata: Mahadeva (Rudra) sacrificed -himself in Sarvamedha yaga and became Devadeva.

23) Mahabharata: He, whom Madhusudana sees at the time of birth, becomes Sattvika – If Brahma or Rudra sees him at the time of birth, he is rilled with Rajoguna and Tamoguna (respectively).

24) Mahabharata: Narayana is Parabrahma. Narayana is Paratattva. He is greater than the greatest. There is none greater than Him.

25) Mahabharata: Siva said: I was bora from His (Narayana’s) head – He is the one, fit to be worshipped always – By seeing Him, all other devas can also be deemed to be seen. I (Siva) also worship Him (Narayana) always – All of us, devas, reside in His body.

26) Vyasa: This is the Truth, Truth and Truth. There is no greater deity than Kesava.

27) Harivamsa: Siva said:- Only Hari is to be meditated upon, always. He is to be worshipped always. I (Siva) help in the worship of Hari.

28) Vishnu Purana: The world is born out of Vishnu and rests in Him. He is the world – He resides in all; and all beings reside in Him. Hence He is called Vasudeva. He is the Parabrahma.

29) Varaha Purana: Lord Narayana was at the beginning. From Him was born Brahma.

30) Bhagavata: Brahma said:- I, Brahma, create the world, commanded by Narayana. Siva, controlled by Narayana, destroys the world.

31) Bhagavata: The water from (washing) the feet of Vamana, which was borne on the head, with supreme devotion, by Kailasa vasa, Chandra mouli (Siva)….

32) Bhagavata: Brahma to Vishnu: We – Rudra and others – drink with our 11 senses, the honey in your lotus-like feet. 33) Bhagavata: Rudra to Krishna: You are the highest jyotis. The sky is your navel, agni is your mouth – You are the first purusha. You have no equal or superior. Myself (Rudra), the devas and rishis – all seek refuge in you. You are everything to us. You are our atma and ruler. You have no equal or superior; there is nobody else to be approached for protection. I come to you so that my samsara may be ended. 34) Bhagavata: Rudra to Parvati:- You asked me, when I rose from my yoga on whom I meditated. That person is Bhagavan (Narayana), whose maya, you have just witnessed. He is eternal.

35) Bhagavata: Rudra:- One, … who loves Bhagavan Vasudeva, goes after a hundred births to the world of Brahma; then he comes to my world. He will then reach the eternal world of Vishnu, as myself, Indra and other devas will do, at the expiration of our authority.

36) Bhagavata: Markandeya to Rudra: I will ask for this boon:- “May my love for Bhagavan (Narayana), for those that regard Him as the highest goal, and for you, remain unshaken.” Rudra: “You will be a lover of Bhagavan (Narayana).”

37) Parvati asks Siva: “I want to hear from you this: How do the learned people recite the 1000 names of Vishnu easily? Siva replies: “It is enough, if you say Rama. This is equivalent to all 1000 names of Vishnu. I also enjoy saying the name of Rama.” I have quoted above, only very few passages. There are innumerable such passages in smrtis, puranas and itihasas stating that Narayana is the supreme deity.

23. In some places in the Vedas, Siva is also called as the supreme deity. How do you explain this contradiction?

I have to tell you one thing. Narayana is a proper noun. According to Sanskrit grammar, Narayana can mean only one person. It cannot mean any Other person. But, Siva, Rudra and Sambhu are common nouns. Siva means an auspicious person. Rudra means, one who weeps or one who is dreadful. Sambhu means one who grants happiness and prosperity. So, these are common nouns. So, as common nouns, they can refer to any person, including Narayana; although normally they apply to Siva. This is on the authority of Sanskrit grammar.

24. Can you give some examples?

We have a word in Sanskrit, called Sarasija. This is a common noun. This means that which comes out from a lake. There are so many flowers, which come out from a lake, i.e., which are there in a lake. But still, by common understanding, Sarasija means only a lotus flower. Similarly, there is a word Pankaja in Sanskrit. This means that which comes out of mud or slush. Again, so many flowers can sprout out of mud or slush. But it is commonly accepted in Sanskrit, that Pankaja refers only to Lotus. So, two of the common nouns, Sarasija and Pankaja, although they can apply to all flowers, are still taken to refer only to Lotus. Similarly, Sambhu, Siva and Rudra are common nouns. So, they can refer to any deity or person, although normally we identify these names with Siva.

25. So how do you explain the apparent contradiction?

We have to apply some logic here. We accept that the Vedas as a whole, are the ultimate authority. There is nothing in the Vedas, which is not authority. So, in a majority of passages, the word Narayana occurs as Paramatma. In some places, the word Siva or Rudra also occurs as Paramatma. Now, we have to be clear on one thing. Narayana, according to Sanskrit grammar, is a proper noun. It cannot refer to any other person. But Siva and Rudra are common nouns. So they can refer to any other person. Since we do not accept any contradiction among the different passages in the Vedas, we say that the words Siva and Rudra also, when they refer to Paramatma, actually mean Narayana, because these are common nouns.

26. Why can’t we take it that the word ‘Narayana’ (as Paramatma) refers to Siva; instead of saying that the word “Siva” refers to Narayana?

The answer is very simple. Siva is a common noun. It can mean any person and hence it means Narayana in the particular context. But the word Narayana cannot refer to Siva, because Narayana is a proper noun. This is on the authority of Sanskrit grammar; and we have to accept the grammatical position.

27. Quote some passages in the Vedas, praising the greatness of Siva.

There are several passages in the Vedas, which praise the greatness of Brahma; which praise the greatness of Indra; which praise the greatness of Agni or fire. Similarly, many passages in the Vedas also praise the greatness of Siva. But the important thing to see is who is declared as the supreme deity or Paramatma. As I have explained to you so far, it is clear from the Vedas and Puranas and Itihasas, that Narayana is the Supreme deity, the Paramatma.

28. Why not we say that Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are all equal?

What you are saying is not supported by the fundamental authority, the Vedas. From the Vedic passages I have given above, you can see that the Vedas speak of only one supreme deity and that supreme deity is Narayana. There is nothing in the Vedas to show that two or three Gods are equal; and that two or three Gods can be considered as supreme deities. Further, as you will see from the quotations given earlier, both Brahma and Rudra themselves accept that they have come out of Narayana, that they are bom out of Narayana. Nowhere in the Vedas, is it stated that two or three Gods are equal; that Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are equal. The Vedas all along say that there is only one supreme deity and that is Narayana.

29. We have got the ancient Tamil works (Sangam literature), which are several thousand years old. What do these mention about the supreme deity?

All these ancient Tamil works also mention that Narayana is the supreme deity.

To be continued…

Source: A Dialog on Hinduism By Sri V.N. Gopala Desikan

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