Do Hindu Gods and Goddesses such as Shiva, Brahma, Ganesha, and Durga actually exist or are they merely the metaphorical representations of different qualities of God? Is it possible that one supreme God manifests himself in the form of semi Gods which live in their own divine abodes? Or are all the Hindu Gods just fictional characters? What has Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda said about this?
—Sukhmandeep Singh, India
Your question is an important one for those who wish to understand and seek a universal truth applicable to all cultures and indeed, in every corner of the cosmos!
Swami Kriyananda in his book The Hindu Way of Awakening gives to us Yogananda’s response to this question. For starters, the Vedantic, non-dual teaching certainly upholds that all beings, clothed in whatever form of astral, causal or physical, are manifestations of the one sole reality – the Infinite Spirit.
At the same time, different levels of intelligence, functions, and powers are needed to manifest this amazing cosmos. Hence, down through time and space, the astral and causal beings who govern the laws of the material world have been personified and named. They can appear to those great devotees even in human form as a soul previously in human form like Jesus Christ, Lahiri Mahasaya, etc., can appear after “death” in human form drawn to a devotee by their devotion and attunement.
I believe it is in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that the statement is made that these roles are occupied by different souls on their journey of ascension to cosmic consciousness. Thus the role of Shiva may be played, over long stretches of time by different souls fulfilling the qualities and functions of Shiva: certain powers and qualities personified. This is possible for the simple reason that all creation is conscious on its highest level and thus any particular aspect of it can rise into identifiable and conscious form, whether demon or angel, drawn by the power of the perceiver.
This makes the gods neither real nor unreal but BOTH-AND. In the teaching of the Ishta Devata, we see that our unique and personal images of perfection and godliness actually form into Being a manifestation with which we identify even as God, the Supreme Spirit, has done so in creating us. We, being aspects and sparks of God’s consciousness, can also create as God creates.
Thus the chant by Swami Sri Yukteswar, “Desire My Great Enemy”:
Let pranayam be your religion,
Pranayam is beloved God,
Pranayam is the cosmic world,
Pranayam is the wishing tree.
We must always be careful what we “wish for” and thus visualize (as the precursor to actual manifestation). Most people have very, very weak powers of manifestation so for most it is an illusion that “I caused a bad thing to happen” by my thoughts. But, in principle, yes, it is very possible.
The gods and goddesses are no more real, fundamentally, than you or I. But to us, aren’t WE very real. Thus, so are they to us. To focus our devotion upon Shiva or Krishna or Jesus or Yogananda is important for our hearts to grow. Patanjali defines samadhi in terms of steadfast, unbroken concentration upon the “object” of meditation which leads to union with that object in the state of samadhi!
We can love Krishna because our hearts need to love (beyond self-love). We must, finally, merge with every atom of creation, every vibration of energy, and then on subtler and subtler until we reach union with the Supreme Spirit of Bliss. In that state we see all beings, all gods and goddesses, as manifestations of the One but until we achieve that state only our minds can say that. In the meantime, our hearts yearn for love, to grow and expand our sense of Self.
And even once we achieve cosmic consciousness (moksha), our existences as an ego in past lives remain forever in the akasha, in the ether of Eternity and the vibration of Aum. Nothing is lost in God. All things and beings exist forever and forever in God.
BOTH-AND, you see?
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