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.


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) [?]

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