Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Gods

Anyone who has lived and experienced the nuances of existence knows that our world is filled with diversity. Everywhere we look in the physical world, we find living beings, both large and microscopic. Ignoring the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, we know that the Earth itself supports an estimated four to six million species. Our world is inhabited by five million trillion trillion (5x10^30) bacteria, one hundred billion birds, and almost seven billion human beings. Now, if one believes that there are greater (subtler) worlds beyond the physical, why can those worlds also not be equally rich with diversity? Why could they not be inhabited by trillions of beings as well?

In theology, the answer is that greater worlds are indeed inhabited by trillions of beings. All major religions acknowledge and teach of the existence of greater beings beyond our world. The religions of the Middle East, however, teach that these beings are not to be worshipped and do not dare call the highest among them “Gods.” By contrast, the religions of the East acknowledge the power and divinity of the greatest of celestial beings and call them Gods. Calling the greatest of celestial beings Gods does not imply that they are immortal or omnipotent. It implies that the these beings are endowed with special powers to help and guide humanity, and are thus worthy of our worship and allegiance. The Gods are our guides and the keepers of dharma.

It must be stressed here, that not every celestial being is to be called a “God.” Just like the Semitic religions, Hinduism lists a variety of beings in existence. The Puranic texts list many kinds of beings inhabiting the subtler worlds: Devas, Siddhas, Sadhyas, Apsaras, Asuras, Daityas, Garudas, Guhyakas, Kinnaras, Nirutas, Kimpurushas, Gandharvas, Yakshas, Vinjayas, Bhutas, Pishachas, Antaras, Munivas, Charanas, Uragas, Kecharas, Akashavasis and Bhoga Bumidars. Of these, only the Devas (“shiny ones”) are usually termed Gods. Of the Devas, those that inhabit the highest plane of existence (Satyaloka) may also be termed Mahadevas.

It is common knowledge that certain Puranas state that there are 330 million Devas. The number 330 million has a special semantic/esoteric meaning in Hindu theology. Even without a detailed analysis of its esotery, if we take this number literally, it should not be so surprising that 330 million Devas exist. Why should it be so surprising that higher worlds are inhabited by 330 million Devas when our world is inhabited by seven billion humans? In practice, we know only a few Devas are actually worshipped; but in theory, there is no reason why 330 million cannot or should not exist.

In Shaivite theology, in particular, the existence and worship-worthiness of the Gods is fully acknowledged without unnecessary philosophizing or minimizing their existence. It is without doubt that all is Shiva [Brahman] – all Gods, all humans, all beings and all things. Nevertheless, to reach that supreme realization one needs the guidance and grace of the Mahadevas, who are already fully in that realization. It is acknowledged that the Mahadevas can instruct and guide us onto the right path. It is for this reason that the Mahadevas like Lord Ganesha and Kartikeya are routinely worshipped. They are verily our Gurus and the Gurus of our gurus too.

Invocation:

bhadraṁ karṇebhiḥ śruṇuyāma devā bhadraṁ paśyemākṣabhirya jatrāḥ .
sthirairaṅgaistuṣṭuvāṁsastanūbhivyaśemadevahitaṁ yadāyuḥ ..

O Devas! May we hear with our ears only that which is auspicious,
May we see with our eyes only the auspicious, O worship-worthy Ones!
May we praise Ye with steady body and limbs,
And may we enjoy the term of life allotted to us by the Devas.

~Holy Rigveda I.89.8

Aum Namah Shivaya.

Agnideva © 2009. All rights reserved.

Magha Shukla 6, Samvat 2065 (Plava Samvatsara, Yugabda 5110) [?]

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Time Divine

As we begin yet another year, we take time to remember that time itself, in the philosophies of Sanatana Dharma, is divine. The monistic and monistic-inclined philosophies, in particular, teach that everything is part of the divine Being including matter, space and time.

The doctrine of Time Divine in Sanatana Dharma transcends sectarian boundaries. Each of the three primary sects of Hinduism – Shaivism, Shaktism and Vaishnavism – impart this doctrine of Time Divine, albeit using varying iconography or imagery. In Shaivism, the Lord is represented as Great Time through the iconographic forms of Mahakala (Great Time) or Kalabhairava. In Shaktism, the cognate forms of Goddess Time are Mahakali or Kalasankarshini. In both Shaivism and Shaktism, these aforementioned forms are represented in temple icons. Vaishnavism, by contrast, rarely if ever uses iconographic forms to teach of Time Divine. Instead, a vivid imagery of Time Divine is given in the Bhagavad-Gita (XI.32-33). No matter the sect through which the doctrine of Time Divine comes, the idea is the same: time, the great dissolver of all things, is indeed a manifestation of the divine Being.

Much of the doctrine of time in Hindu theology and philosophy arose in central India in the city of Avantika (later called Ujjayini or Ujjain). For as long as anyone can remember, Avantika has been a center of Shaivite worship, and especially associated with Pashupata Shaivism. The city of Avantika was also the capital of various ancient Indian kingdoms and empires. Most importantly, as the location of the Jyotirlingam Shrine of Mahakala (Great Time), Avantika has for long been considered the prime meridian of longitude in Indian time calculation. Local legends dictate that it was the great emperor Vikramaditya of the Malwa dynasty who mandated that the prime meridian pass through the Linga icon of Mahakala.

Though the meridian (82.5ºE) for Indian standard time (UTC+05:30) no longer passes through Avantika (Ujjain), the default Indian Hindu calendar is still calculated for the coordinates of Ujjain. Moreover, the primary era of the Hindu calendar throughout northern India and Nepal begins with the coronation of legendary emperor Vikramaditya, the devotee of Lord Mahakala, in the year 58 BCE. It is also with the blessings of Lord Mahakala that great treatises on astronomy, astrology, mathematics, and time calculation were written by their sagacious authors in Avantika. The Aryabhatiyam, the Surya Siddhanta, the Pancha Siddhantika, and other important treatises were all composed in Avantika. It is here, in the land of Lord Mahakala, that great scholars came to understand time and the doctrine of Time Divine. It is here that sages first came upon the concept of great time cycles known as yugas. And, it is in Avantika, no doubt, that the ancients fully realized that time indeed is the manifest Divine.

As we mark the beginning of a new Gregorian year, we take a moment to remember Lord Mahakala-Shiva, who is immanent as Time, and His holy city of Avantika, whence the measurement of time and space amalgamated with theology and philosophy. Though we envision our passage through time as a passage through the living divine Being, we simultaneously realize that He is never bound by time. In the approach of understanding time as divine, we use time as an anchor to experience and obtain timelessness – that eternal, unchanging Shiva.

Jai Mahakala!

Agnideva © 2009. All rights reserved.

Pausha Shukla 5, Samvat 2065 (Plava Samvatsara, Yugabda 5110) [?]

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