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Discussing Stories in Puranas
Average Hindu would have to really ponder upon VEdanta theory and no doubt many of them were scratching their heads in perplexity at this idea which is technically called pan-en-theism - what to speak of the common pedestrians out there - hurrying about their busy lives! in ancient Hindu societySo for them simple folk, the authors of the Puranas, basing themselves on the impersonal Vedic account, produced very personal mythical stories about the creation of the world - of Vishnu lying upon the ocean of cosmic time - producing Brahmā the creator god from a lotus in his navel. Of Brahmā then thinking the universe up in his head and projecting into being - etc. etc. etc. Or Shiva Nataraja producing the Universe through Dance.
And then for the really advanced spiritual aspirants, the Tantras introduce even more esoteric concepts about cosmogony through Sound (śabda) and the centrality of the Feminine (vide Lakshmi Tantra.) This concept of Sonic Cosmogony is also based on the Veda which declares that everything arose from the sound of OM.
The knowledge contained in vedas was passed in the form of a Puranas for common public to understand
The common people are not interested in philosophy (darśana) or a rational analysis of duḥkha or applying the effort (tapasya) for personal change, self-realisation (ātma-bodha) and attainment of freedom from suffering (mokṣa) – they are interested only in consumer religion - the fulfilment of their hopes, expectations and desires in this world and some guarantee of an eternal holiday in the “sky club-med” - with wine, women (or studs) song and dance.
The Puranas responded to the drive of Spiritual Materialism and gave ways and methods of devotion to deities for the gratification of the consumer needs of the common people. Along with Bhakti (devotion) and with the ultimate goal of engendering disenchantment with Spiritual Materialism they also prescribed the way of surrender to God and disengagement (vairāgya).So we have the rise of the three Yogas:-
1. Jñāna Yoga — the path of intellectual development - which is philosophical enquiry and meditation on the Impersonal Absolute - i.e. nirguṇa – free from conceptual qualities.2.
2. Bhakti Yoga — the path of devotion which takes two forms:–
(a) sa-kāma bhakti - devotion to a form of God (saguṇa) with the aim of acquiring stuff - its like treating God as an attendant in a 5 star hotel - just ring the bell and call for room service and the attendant appears with your requested items. If service is not prompt you keep raising the tempo of your demands or change your religion to find the best room-service.
(b) niṣ-kāma bhakti - which is devotion uncontaminated by material desires but for the sake of the divine only - this includes the path of Surrender (prapatti)
3. Karma Yoga – and for those who are neither emotionally or intellectually inclined the path of disinterested action is prescribed. Karma Yoga is the primary message of the Gita and included in it are also Jñāna and Bhakti yogas. Karma yoga is working with the trans-personal and altruistic intent of the welfare of all beings (Loka-sangraha). In Karma Yoga the purpose is not the “bottom line” but rather the universal or altruistic benefit of the enterprise engaged in. Karma Yoga can be facilitated or enhanced by a belief in “work as service to God” - (Bhagavad kainkarya rūpa) but can be very effectively done with a non-theistic humanistic intent as well.
The Puranas are (theoretically/originally) characterised by 5 major topics:–
sargaśca pratisargaśca vaṁśo-manvantarāṇica | vaṁśānucaritañcaiva, purāṇam pañca lakṣaṇam ||
(1) Creation, (2) Projection and Transformation of the World, (3) Genealogy of Gods and Heroes, (4) Reigns of the Manus or the original law-givers at different stages of the social development of the Human Race, (5) the lives and works of their descendants.
There is deeper symbolizms behind stories mentioned in Puranas.
The Purāṇas have been added to and expanded by various authors and are more like encyclopaedias in their breadth of content. The Puranas also contain a mass of secular matter like geography (although nothing corresponding to reality), botany, herbalism, animal husbandry, geology, history, legends, myths, entertaining narratives etc.
Puranic stories are narrative mnemonics, a way of remembering the more complex philosophy of the Veda. It was silly to assume these stories are real. The Purana texts do contain historical timelines, but they are not itihasa texts, like Ramayana and Mahabharata. It isd imp to note that even the itihasa texts were written to elucidate important spiritual concepts, albeit using a very relevant and illustrative historical timeline. The texts contain personification of higher human ideals and traits of character, and it is not difficult to discern when Valmiki or Veda Vyasa is switching context to illustrate such concepts.
SOME EXAMPLES OF INTERPRETING PURANIC STORIES -
How are we to understand the bizarre geography of Srimad Bhagavatam 5:16 - oceans of wine and treacle, etc.?This is one of the most frequently asked questions by Krishna devotees. This chapter 16 details geographical descriptions of the world/Universe that every 10 year old school girl knows is completely ridiculous - so how do we understand it since Bhagavatam is supposed to be a perfect scripture.
We need to use the exegetical tools provided by Mimamsa in order to understand this obviously mythological description. The first principle of Mimamsa is that ALL knowledge must have a practical application in order to be considered as valid knowledge (pramā). If it doesn’t have a practical application then it is either rejected as irrelevant or parked in a garage until some use can be discovered for it.
The first rule in exegesis is to examine the introduction and conclusion to discover the context of the statement.
So we have Parikshit asking a question from Suka about the dimensions of the earth etc;–
3. For if the mind is drawn to the external universe constituted of Prakriti (Material nature) as the gross body of the Lord, then it can concentrate easily on his transcendantal spiritual aspect which is beyond Prakriti, and which is extremely subtle, of the nature of pure conscious luminosity and which is known by the name Vāsudeva (that which pervades the entire cosmos). Hence O master kindly describe this to me.
So here we have the context — the Universe is the “Body” of the Supreme Being (pan-en-theism) who is beyond time-space continuum and is pure luminous consciousness, and seeing THAT is incomprehensible how do we MEDITATE upon that?
Mediation is the basic spiritual practice so in a practical sense how do we conceive of the Universe as the “Body” of the Divine? — so this is a question about comprehension and visualization for application to the process of meditation (dhyāna) - it has nothing to do with physical geography.
It is for the creation of a Mandala — this is the purpose of Mythology — stories and ideas that describe abstract philosophical concepts and form maps of meaning and practice.
Are Hindu legends about gods to be taken literally, or is their significance purely symbolic? The stories are very inspiring, but they lack scientific realism.
The narratives about the gods are technically “myths.” A myth is a story which people tell about themselves or their gods which convey psychological truths or inculcate cultural values. They are often true in the spiritual or psychological sense but not historically or scientifically true. They are also told to explain natural phenomena in a pre-scientific age.
Why is the sea salty? Well a wicked Asura once hid in the sea and the sage Agastya who had the amazing ability to consume anything, drank the sea to reveal the Asura which Indra killed. He then pissed the water back into the void to refill it — hence the sea is salty. Or another myth is there about mountains flying randomly about and Indra cutting off their wings in the interests of public safety.
All the Hindu myths have three levels of meaning
According to Mīmāṁsa which is the Vedic science of exegesis, the essence of Vedic Scripture is to give us instruction about how to live the good life. All the descriptions of heaven, hell, blessings, curses, punishments, rewards etc. are simply narrative devices to encourage us to follow beneficial courses of action and to discourage us from the harmful — they have no literal or spiritual value in themselves — these texts are known as arthavāda.
In later Bhakti literature — the Purāṇas — the purpose of the stories is additionally to foster belief and to inculcate devotion to a particular deity.
The general back-ground to the stories is the cosmic struggle which is not between good and evil (God vs the Devil) as in dualistic religions like the Abrahamic ones, it is between the forces of Chaos represented by the Asuras and Order represented by the Devas.
So for example the Vedic story of Indra combating Vrtra. Indra represents the mind (indriyas) and Vrtra (lit. “to cover”) represents ignorance. Vrtra steals the cows of the gods - the cows represent beneficent wisdom. Without beneficent wisdom chaos ensues in the 3 worlds. He hides them in a cave - representing the sub-conscious mind. The conscious mind i.e. Indra then battles Vrtra killing him with the Vajra - diamond weapon - which represents the sharpness of intellect which can destroy ignorance but cannot itself be destroyed. After vanquishing Vrtra, Indra returns the cows to the gods and order is once again established in the cosmos.
Another brief insight — anyone who has the slightest knowledge of Sankhya philosophy upon reading the Ramayana would immediately recognize that the three Rakṣasa brothers at the center of the story represent the 3 guṇas. Vibhīṣaṇa = sattva (harmony), Kumbhakarṇa = tamas (inertia) and Rāvana = rajas (activity).
Why is there emphasis on the difference between Dhana Lakshmi and Varalakshmi Pooja, the time of year when it is done and the Vidhan?
There are 8 forms of Lakshmi - each presiding over different aspects of “prosperity” - different vratas (vows or celebratory practices) emphasis one form above the others for the edification and delight of the Bhaktas.
Its a psychological thing - people seek patterns in everything and rejoice in variety so the Dharma, in order to be attractive to all people, provides for these psychological needs.
Hinduism is primarily a psychological enterprise. The ancient Rishis were psychologists - they sat around without the distraction of FB, twitter, Instagram, tiktok etc. and in their spare time what did they do? They meditated. Meditation is an internal expiration of the mind and consciousness. They discovered the great mysteries of how people think, about the origination of desire and passion, of attachments, of human motivations, goals and aspirations. The source of suffering, it’s causal chain and how to diminish it, and increase and enhance human happiness and flourishing.
They then sat some more drinking tea and eating mūrku, and they discussed and argued about these topics, agreeing on the commonalities and basics but differing on the outcomes and the solutions.
They then formulated festivals, observances, sacraments and ceremonies to mark the passage of time and to install Dharmic values in the common folk. They formulated doctrines and teachings suited to all the psychological types that they had identified.
They confected stories to convey their insights and philosophical conclusions for the entertainment and value-education of the illiterate commoners - they presented them in the form of the epics (itihāsas) and Puranas. They provided icons with profound symbolism and meaning for contemplation and worship.
This is how we ended up with this vast complexity of festivals, legends, and narratives, ceremonies and icons.
The problem is we lost the key to unlocking, sorting and filtering this huge mass of stuff in the godown which is modern Hinduism.
The secret is that not everything in the warehouse applies to everyone , there is no one-size-fits-all, we only take what we need and that need is based on three important factors.
The confusion that arises with Hinduism is that people are standing in the doorway looking at the mountain-like jumbled collection of stuff with no idea of how to sort it out. So now you know the secret.
Was Shiva Praying To Another God?
This question is another indication of why the Purāṇas should be avoided ignorer to avoid confusion.
There are three different ways in which the Gods are introduced and understood.
Theologically the Trinity (Trimūrti) are the three Principles of BEING.
Brahmā = creative force, Vishnu = conservative /preservative/sustaining force and Shiva = the transformative force and therefore recreative energy of the cosmos.
They are clearly depicted functionally through their iconography.
All three are equal aspects of the ONE Ultimate consciousness of the Universe in its state of manifestation, and so all three are ONE in essence. So in other words BRAHMAN the ground-of-Being or conscious substrata of the Universe manifests itself in these three hypostatic forms and in their binary aspects as puruṣa (male) and prakṛti (female).
Mythologically in the Purāṇas and epics (Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata) hundreds of different anonymous sectarian authors have confected stories about them. First splitting them into three distinct persons and then comparing, contrasting and pitting them against one another in “The War of the Worlds” cosmic game scenario.
There are some narratives about Vishnu becoming Shiva’s podiatrist, Shiva is denigrated into Vishnu’s doorkeeper, Brahma is denounced as an incestuous, dithering and senile old man - unsuitable for having devotees. Brahmā and Vishnu squabble egoistically about which of them is supreme, Shiva then manifests as a pillar of light to prove that he is the Supreme etc. etc. etc.
Then there are the truly philosophical and reconciliatory passages which affirm and emphasise that the three are all ONE with different functions - like the digestive system functioning as metabolism, catabolism and anabolism.
So the Purāṇas create nothing but confusion, division and sectarianism. The latter has actually manifested over the centuries in overt conflict between the devotees of Vishnu and Shiva with real time persecutions.
I find myself constantly pointing out and emphasising the difference between the two views - Philosophical versus Mythological. Unfortunately the majority of Hindus and the opposition only have and cling to the mythological perspective with all its contradictions, convolutions, absurdities and confusions.
Mythology does indeed have an important part to play when it illustrates the Philosophical tenets and principles and the working of the psyche, which is it’s primary function, but is objectionable when it degenerates into Harry Potter series.
So Mythology in the hands of an insightful teacher can be a wonderful tool for illustrating and illuminating the unconscious, but as a DIY study regime results in confusion and distraction from true Philosophy.
Please put aside your Purāṇas and start studying Vedānta - you will find it a lot more exciting and edifying than confusing, contradictory and fantastical stories.
Is it possible to separate philosophy, theology and mythology in Hinduism? Does Hinduism have a theology in the first place?
Philosophy and theology are mixed in Hinduism and are known by the term DARSHANA - which means “A View” of reality. Hinduism acknowledges that there are different “views” of reality which are conditioned by many factors such as the personality (svabhāva), the level of education and experience (bhūmika) and capabilities (adhikāra) of the viewer.
Some views are simply wrong and others are just different, but no single “view” has a monopoly on truth. Darshana is the core and the bedrock of Hinduism which is a fellowship or co-operative of many different sects with varying views.
Mythology is merely a vehicle for philosophy and theology. Its a pictorial and narrative form for conveying teachings in an entertaining and attractive way to the common people. The sages realised that most people are captivated by entertainment (note the proliferation of “gaming”) and so they wove philosophy, theology, ethics, common sense teachings etc. into charming and entertain narratives and legends and propagated them for the masses. These myths were turned into themes for dance, drama and song and in this way popularised and introduced the lofty teachings even into the huts of the poorest people.
The same teachings can be delivered neatly, efficiently and succinctly when stripped of all the mythology. This is being done by all the modern Vedānta and Yoga institutes around the world.
Hinduism stripped of its mythology still shines in all its glory - but is a lot poorer for it I think.
Why do most of the Hindu scholars on Quora defend obvious myths in Hindu Puranas?
There is a MAJOR confusion about what exactly is meant by Myth. Myth in daily parlance means false, misconception or imagined. Mythos in Greek simply means a story.
There are 2 ways of acquiring knowledge, analysing it, thinking it through, communicating and application in one’s life — mythos and science. These are two complimentary ways of arriving at truth — they are not mutually exclusive. The one deals with the external dynamics the other deals with humankind’s perennial search for meaning.
Science (sakala) is the critical intelligence; the rational, pragmatic and scientific approach to life that enables us to function well in the world in which we live. Science relates to facts and figures and corresponds to the objective world of our common experience. Science looks ahead and tries to improve and discover new ways of being, and doing. More efficient ways to manipulate and exert control over our environment. It’s function is to improve, to invent and innovate. The scientific approach cannot solve the existential problems of human existence — unhappiness. It can assuage physical and mental pain and suffering through medication and technology, but it cannot answer questions about the ultimate value of human existence.
Mythos (niṣkala) is the creative intuition; the source of inspiration. It’s primary concern is with what is timeless and constant in our existence. Mythos is retrospective and deals with the origins of life, to the source of a culture and to the content of the collective unconscious. It responds to the questions: Who am I? Why am I here? And what do I do next? How should I live my life? How should I relate to others? Myth is not concerned with pragmatic day to day issues but rather with meaning. Mythos provides a spiritual context that helps us to make sense of our day to day lives.
The mythological stories of the Purāṇas and Itihāsas deal with psychology and the unconscious mind — they are attempts at comprehending the inexplicable and integrating it into our lives.
Is Hindu mythology true?
There seems to be an insurmountable confusion and misunderstanding on Quora about the academic nature and role of MYTHOLOGY.
Myth - Wikipedia
There are, for the individual, two sources of TRUTH - science and religion.
Every religion consists of three parts.
The foundation of all religions, including the Abrahamics is their theory of God, creation, nature of humankind, God’s plan for the world, the nature of evil, final things, Day of Judgement and destination of souls.
This THEORY is then expressed and given form through MYTHOLOGY - The majority of characters and incidents mentioned in the Bible and the Quran are mythological, from Adam and Eve, Noah, through Abraham and Moses to Jesus and his miracles, his death and resurrection and ascension to heaven through the clouds. And dare I say, like many of the incidents in the life of the prophet - like his ascension through the seven heavens on a Buraq - a horse with a woman’s head. All accounts of miracles and supernatural intervention are myths. There may be kernels of “truth” in some of the stories but they are expressed through the language of MYTHOLOGY.
The myths of a religion are dramatized through the ritual and practice.
Likewise the basic foundation of Hinduism is VEDANTA - the philosophical teachings of the Vedas, the pantheistic nature of the universe, the connection between individual selves (jīvātma) with the Supreme Self (paramātma), the doctrines of Karma, Dharma and reincarnation. The psychic composition of the individual and her psychology, the cycles of evolution and involution of the universe, the cyclic nature of time and the multiple levels of spacial dimensions etc. etc. etc.
All this theory is expressed through the MYTHOLOGY of the Vedas and especially the Puranas, and as I said before, there may be kernels of historicity in them but they are embellished and expressed through the language of Myth.
Mythology then forms the basis of Hindu religious practice - sacred sites, pilgrimages, festivals, fasts and ritual practices are ALL based on the theoretical view of the Universe and our place in it. All art, music, poetry, drama in Indian culture is based on Mythology.
So we need to go beyond the ancient narratives, accept them for what they are, enjoy them, learn from them, be entertained by them but stop trying to critically analyze, rationalize and politically deconstruct them.
So many Hindus seem to be obsessed and tyrannized by the Puranas! I wish they would stop reading them, pack them up in trunks and store them away, and pick up some books on Hindu Philosophy - and start studying DHARMA - that would be far more profitable than all this tiresome nit-picking about ancient narratives and arguing about who did what to whom and why!!
Is it true, Hinduism is only a mythology?
Hinduism has an extremely rich mythology which is illustrative of its philosophical bedrock which is Vedanta. The philosophical truths and values of Vedanta are conveyed to the general public in the form of mythological narratives. If you erase all of the mythology, Hinduism stands unshakable — except that it is less juicy! Dry philosophical discourse soon induces sleep!! In fact the average Hindu would only know about 1% of the vast body of Mythology - so it would be irrelevant anyway.
The Abrahamic religions on the other hand are theologies (not philosophies!! ) grounded in mythology. If you subtract all the mythology in their 2 Holy Books their religions collapse.
This is what happened in Europe with the dawning of the Age of Reason from the 1600’s onwards. The great philosophers and intellectuals began question the myths upon which their faith was based and found them wanting — Christianity is very much on the wane today.
Adam & Eve, Noah and the flood, Exodus from Egypt, King Solomon and his wisdom, talking donkeys and snakes, Job and the test, Jonah being swallowed by a fish, God being born from a virgin, his death and resurrection, riding on clouds, horses with a woman’s head carrying prophets through 7 heavens — these are all clearly Myths which are promoted as History. If these are removed what remains?
HINDU PURANAS DEAL WITH PSYCHOLOGY
There is psychology scattered throughout the Puranas and Upanishads but the primary sources of Hindu psychology are the Sankhya Kārika and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The sūtras are very terse and pithy aphorisms which require elaborate commentaries - so the ideas of Patanjali are elaborated upon in the Vedanta texts. In India psychology and philosophy are inseparable — both in Buddhism and Hinduism.
Indian philosophy is essentially pragmatic. All the philosophical systems begin with the default ontological state which is called duḥkha. Duḥkha is derived from two roots:– duḥ = bad or negative, and kha = space. This refers to the mental state of unease, discontent, unhappiness, confusion, malaise, depression etc. which is common to all of us - a low level neurosis!!
So Hindu philosophy is an analysis and solution to a psychological diagnosis.
The drives common to all sentient beings are the desires to be happy and to avoid suffering. Yet no matter how hard we strive to achieve abiding happiness we are unable to do so. All our goals and achievements and happiness projects bring only temporary relief and pleasure and then we are off on a new project. This is called the hedonic treadmill - always striving but never attaining abiding sukha - “good-space”. SO we are perpetually seeking but never finding happiness.
So why is this?
Its because of avidya - root nescience - i.e. spiritual ignorance - not seeing the world as it really is, distorted cognition which leads to the creation and assumption of identities — asmita. This concept covers every sort of identity that we assume to give meaning to our lives — such as caste/class, race, gender, nationality, religion, relationship, hobby etc. etc. All these identities are false - they are distorted self-perceptions which cause us to see the world in as a binary — those who are with us and those who are against. We are attracted to anything or person which validates our identity (rāga) and we are repulsed by any one or thing that challenges our identity (dveṣa). This binary force leads to a state of confusion, delusion and cognitive conflict in which we become possessed by our ideology and become further entrapped in the cycle of suffering, stress, anxiety and depression (abhiniveśa).
The way to break this cycle and to achieve abiding happiness and well-being is to study the teachings of Vedanta and to discover our true nature.
So this is the basic paradigm of Hindu psychology.
The other very important concept which every Hindu should know is the formation of saṁskāras and its relation to KARMA. A saṁskāra is defined as a “subliminal activator.”
Every experience that we have has the threefold effect upon us — it either produces pleasure, pain or is neutral. A positive or negative mental impression produces a “seed” or a saṁskāra which sinks into the unconscious mind. Every saṁskāra is conditioned by the time (kāla), the place (deśa) and the other characteristics (paristhiti). Later on, the event of any one of these connected condition will cause the saṁskāra to arise and activate a desire (iccha) either to repeat the experience or to avoid it.
Every repeated experience then reinforces the saṁskāra which then arises much more easily, eventually resulting in an habitual pattern formation (vāsana) - an addiction - either negative or positive.
Karma is the mass of saṁskāras and vāsanas which are located in our subconscious mind which are not erased upon our death. These saṁskāras and vāsanas constitute the kāraṇa śarīra (causal body) which leads to further rebirth and determine how we will act and react.
So when a baby is born it already has a svabhāva - a character or disposition with desires, habitual patterns, intelligence, phobias and attractions etc. which gradually manifest as it grows and matures.
So the focus of our spiritual practice (sādhana) is working with our saṁskāras and the best way to do that is through meditation (dhyāna) - which consists in watching our thoughts and recognizing the saṁskāras that spontaneously arise. When they arise, both the negative and the positive we just allow them to pass away without playing with them or reaffirming them.
Just a very short insight into some basic concepts of Hindu psychology.
MYTHS IN HINDU PURANAS -
Why did God create the asura or demons in Hinduism? Did God create them as evil or did they choose to be evil of their own free will?
Creation” is an inappropriate translation for what we term sṛṣṭhi – “projection”. The Universe is a projection of the divine consciousness not a “creation from nothing”.
The Universe in order to be manifest and to function requires polarities - positive and negative, day and night, good and evil, centrifugal and centripetal, evolution and devolution etc.
The grand narrative in the epics is the conflict and tension between CHAOS and ORDER.
You are thinking of Hindu deities like people living in the sky. Bob and his two wives Jane and Mary.
The Hindu deities are personifications of natural (objective) and psychological (subjective) factors of which the world is comprised. Here a knowledge of Sanskrit would have solved all your quandaries.
An example of the natural is AGNI (fire) he has two wives - SVAHA - the offering to the deities and SVADHA the offering to the ancestors.
An example of a psychological factor is one of the most powerful of all the deities who even oppressors them — KAMA-DEVA - the personification of desire - the root of all suffering and perpetuation in the cycle of samsāra. He too is a bigamist and his wives are PRĪTI = love and RATI = erotic desire.
The other most popular bigamist is SKANDA - the embodiment of skilful action (kuśala karma) - his two wives are DEVASENA who embodies the formal and conventional practices and VALLI who represents the informal and popular practices.
The Devas or Suras (gods) are the forces of ORDER and the Asuras (anti-gods) are the forces of CHAOS. It is important to note that the Asuras are not “evil” in the Abrahamic sense, as in devils or forces of wickedness, they are the forces which disrupt order and within ourselves they are representative of the psychological forces such as selfishness, anger, delusion, hubris, envy and greed.
So the stories of the battles between the Devas and Asuras represent the inner-conflict that we all deal with on a daily basis between integration and the dissipation of energies.
Why did Goddess Durga kill Mahishasura?
questions about iconography and mythology in relation to Durga.
Sanskrit etymology is very important.
DUR-GĀ means “hard to reach” or “hard to vanquish” - she represents our higher Selves. The story is well known so I will just highlight some aspects to engender insight.
Mahishasura means the buffalo-demon and the buffalo is a proverbial symbol of ignorance (avidya) and intertia/sloth (tamas). He kept on shape-shifting while battling Durgā. So he is representative of the unenlightened mind lacking in insight and wisdom – he represents the demons which are skulking in the hidden recesses of all our minds. We are all capable of wickedness.
When our egos or assumed-identity games are challenged we find a myriad of ways for self-justification and rationalization to preserve our fictitious egos and maintain our psycho-dramas we inhabit. But eventually with perseverance and supreme effort we can and must confront our demons and destroy them.
The spiritual path is not for snow-flakes who seek out “safe-spaces” and teddy-bears and comfort food. The spiritual path is one of transformation through struggle and combat - the path of the vīras or heroes!
The Upanishad loudly declares “nāyam ātma balahīnena labhya” — the realization of the Self cannot be obtained by the weak!
The power of Durgā is required to break through our delusion and cut ourselves free from attachments!
The other demon who plays a role in the story is Rakta-bīja which means “blood-seed-demon”. Every time a drop of his blood fell on the ground another demon like him would arise. This symbolizes DESIRE and its dynamic - we are comprised of desires, and each time a desire is fulfilled it gives birth to another - like it and mostly even stronger. Durga became enraged and from her forehead Kali emerged. She struck off the demon’s head and drank his blood - thus solving the problem.
This indicates that desires can only be terminated through sublimation and integration - not through fulfillment. So a desire for revenge needs to be sublimated into something creative and beneficial. A desire for personal gratification and pleasure can be integrated into serving others etc. etc.
There is an axiom in the metaphysical literature - devo-bhūtvā devam yajet — to worship a god one must become a god. The purpose of these images is to act as meditation devices. In meditation we visualise the Goddess, contemplate upon her virtues and strengths and then absorb or introject the Shakti into our unconscious minds - to empower, to embolden us and enable us to relentlessly pursue our spiritual goals.
How true is the story of Bhakta Prahlada? Is there any archaeological evidence that it is more than a mythological story? Where did the story originate?
We need to stop thinking in terms of history and think in abstract terms of “allegory” or “metaphor” - all these stories are mythology - stories with profound psychological and philosophical meanings that are teaching values and directing behaviour.
Here’s a hint - if Devas and Asuras are involved then it means MYTHOLOGY. Devas or Suras are the cosmic forces of ORDER and the Asuras are the cosmic forces of CHAOS.
In Sanskrit deva or sura comes from the root LIGHT and asura is the opposite meaning DARKNESS - i.e. the light of wisdom and darkness of ignorance - so any story involving these two is discussing psychology and the play between ignorance and wisdom.
This story is quiet complex but it is teaching three things:–
All three major characters in the story are aspects of our own psychological makeup.
Hiranya-kashipu is the name of the incumbent Asura. Hiranya means golden and kaśipu means food and clothing - this name is indicative of the material nature body and mind and possessions through which we achieve Self-identity (asmita) and Ego (ahaṅkāra). He received a boon from Brahmā that he could not be killed by any of the binaries in the universe. He thought he was thus invincible and extended his selfish and self-serving and self-glorifying hegemony over the land and forced all the citizens to comply with and participate his ego-centric agenda cause suffering and chaos.
This is emblematic of what we as deluded beings do - we create our own Psycho-drama in which we are the most important people in the universe and we think everything exists to serve our personal needs and we suck everybody else into our ego-centric psycho-dramas.
Prahlāda was his beloved son - the name is derived from hlād which means delight and joy. Prahlād refuses to be sucked into his father’s melodrama and remains firmly attached to Viṣṇu - which means “the-all-pervading-absolute” - recognising that ultimate joy and delight lies in the identification with the unchanging essence of the universe and not with the body and possessions i.e. his father.
Narasimha is the man (Nara) + Lion (simha) a composite being who includes but all transcends all binaries - neither human nor animal, neither male nor female – He represents our higher- ātman transcending the pairs of opposites, and the same ātman dwells within all things - including the pillar of the palace.
Hiranya-kashipu then smites the pillar with his sword in a vain attempt to prove to his son that matter is just matter - devoid of all consciousness, Narasimha then emerges and rips Hiranyakashipa apart - not in the palace or outside but in the doorway, not on the earth or the sky but on his lap and not with metal or wood but with his finger-nails _ thus he transcends all binaries and polarities and remains the totally free and transcend Supreme being.
So the Vedantic lessons learned are:–
Asmita or self-identity is avidyā or spiritual ignorance. This self of self-identity leads to attraction (rāga) and aversion (dveśa) these two binaries then produce the immersion in worldly dramas (abhiniveśa) and dread of death which results in duḥkha – sorrow both for ourselves and for others connected to us.
The way to overcome sorrow is to learn about the true nature of the ever-blissful and conscious ātman (Self) and then to link to the Paramātman (supreme Self) through steadfast devotion or Bhakti.
Through our true self-realisation and steadfast Bhakti we are able to confront our rampant and uncontrolled ego, and summon up the force within us, to rip our egos apart and to be united with the transcendent Divine which is our true refuge and goal. Order, Dharma and peace is thus restored.
Is this history? No - it is our ongoing battle everyday - the struggle of the spiritual with the material, wisdom with ignorance, Dharma with Adharma and order against chaos.
All the mythological stories of the Puranas can be, and should be interpreted in this manner and not analysed to find history or biology or cosmology or any other kind of ology.
What is the story of Brahma's incestuous relationship with his daughter as per Hindu scriptures?Brahma was the first manifested principle of creativity. He was the original personified ZYGOTE comprised of male (puruṣa) and female (prakṛti). His story is one of binary fission.
When he awoke from meditation he realised he was alone, and desire (kāma) arose within him so he split into two (mitosis). He then copulated with his other half (śata-rūpa which means “hundreds of forms”) and produced offspring. She kept shape-shifting to get away from him - and he kept emulating her and continued with his copulating until all the species were born.
So as Rushida has so eloquently stated the question of “incest” is fatuous. Its a poetic description of creation from a singular cell.
The Hindu view of creation is far more compatible with modern biology than an invisible Sky God created stuff from nothing!
A (not-so-)common misconception primarily stemming from incomplete knowledge about the myths and scriptures of ancient Hindu literature, combined with an ignorance of the science behind incest or its repercussions, as well as extreme confidence in societal views of frowning upon it.
incest, or sexual relations between relatives, is frowned upon simply because the child from such an alliance can have genetic problems. And given that we all have some or the other common ancestor, every sexual relationship you have, is by definition, incestuous. The incestuous relationships that should be frowned upon socially are where the two living beings are closely related to each other (like brother-sister, or first cousins), simply because the resulting child is at a heavy threat of genetic disorders.
Now coming to Brahma, last I checked, he is a god, without genetic makeup of a human. And his wife, Saraswati, who is sometimes referred to as his daughter by some geniuses (sarcasm), was created by him as per mythology, and not given birth by him like humans do. So I am confused as to how two beings without genetic makeup could even have an incestuous relationship.
BRAHMA has 4 Heads -
The greatest conundrum for Hindus today is the inability to separate mythology from philosophy and iconography from reality.
Here is an excerpt from my blog Hindu Iconography - which you should read. Icons are our graphical user interface with the all-pervading Ground-of-Being and are sign-posts and maps - not the actual destination or the terrain.
Images of Brahmā are quite rare in India but more common in South East Asia. He is usually depicted in art in association with others and seldom on his own. Brahmā as the Creator God is always shown with four heads which represent the four volumes of the Sacred Scriptures — the Vedas by the power of which Brahmā effects the work of creation. In Hindu mythology Creation occurs by Brahmā projecting created beings from his own mind into the four directions - so the act of “creation” is a transformation of the potential into actual.
Brahmā is the Space-Time or Revolving Principle of the Cosmos. The possibility of manifestation requires a "space" in which to appear or expand — a "space" which is the result of an equilibrium between the two forces of concentration (Viṣṇu) and dispersion (Śiva). Brahmā thus represents the possibility of existence resulting from a union of pairs of opposites. He is the "immense being" a personification of the great vastness — the first personal stage of existence.
In terms of consciousness and states of mind, Brahmā represents the waking state of externalised awareness (jāgrata) — awareness and interaction with the world around us. The four heads also represent expansion or projection of awareness into the four directions of space.
The offering spoon — held in his right upper hands symbolises the principle of sacrifice upon which the world is based. For something to be created or achieved something needs to be sacrificed whether it be resources, energy, time effort etc. All our "happiness projects" are like fires which need to be fed with the appropriate fuel. For example, friendship is cultivated through offering gifts, invitations to bonding functions, supportive actions and edifying conversations, without these friendship dies out.
The receptacle of water — held in the left upper hand represents the all-pervading principle of life and consciousness. The heart of the devotee should be ready like the jar to contain and hold the life-giving waters of truth and universal wellbeing.
The rosary — held in the lower right hand indicates spiritual practice and meditation which are necessary for personal upliftment from the world of transmigration.
The book — held in the lower left hand symbolises intellectual pursuit of knowledge and the study of the Dharma.
Brahmā’s vehicle is the Swan — a creature, according to Hindu mythology, which can separate milk from water. It thus represents the virtue of Discrimination (viveka) — pure white symbolises purity and the ability to remain unaffected by the water in which it glides about i.e. Detachment (asaṅga).
Is history related to religion?
History is of major importance to the 3 Abrahamic religions which conceive of Time as linear.
They believe that “God works through time”, that he has “grand narrative”, a “plan” for his chosen ones, and that he intervenes in history in order to shepherd his flock into the final ever-green and luscious paddock to enjoy with him for eternity. He sends prophets and messengers to call those who are backsliding back to him, and in the case of Christianity sends his first begotten son to die for the sins of all humanity so that he may save us from eternal damnation.
So for these belief systems “History” is of utmost importance. Although almost all of the prophets, and kings of the Bible and Quran are mythological characters it is imperative that their historicity be maintained - if the history is impugned the grand narrative fails. If Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are proven to be myths - their religion crumbles into dust.
Oriental Dharma religions (Hinduism, Buddhism Jainism) view Time as cyclical. There is no grand narrative, no divine plan, no agenda, no God working through history. There is a belief in avatāras or buddhas or jīnas that appear from time to time in ever recurring cycles to enlighten humankind - but they are at best archetypes and their historicity is irrelevant. They are exemplars and teachers of ancient wisdom - it is their teaching and example that matters, not the date and places of their birth.
The Dharma religions are all grounded in sound philosophy, metaphysics and critical thinking, even if all the buddhas, avatāras and jinas are erased, the philosophical foundation remains firm and unshakeable.
It is most unfortunate that so many educated Hindus today are struggling to climb on the “history” band-wagon and fighting for membership in the monotheistic club. They are going to enormous and flawed attempts to introduce “history” into the Dharma discourse and to squeeze the epics and Puranas into the laboratory test tube for some sort of validation from others.
Lets just enjoy the Epics for their literary worth and learn from their enchanting and wondrous stories, metaphors and allegories and not try to force them into fake historical time-lines in emulation of the Abrahamics.
What is the philosphical significance of Ramayana?
It is very important for all western-educated savants to learn about Indian categories of knowledge and see things through an Indian lens rather than a western one.
Valid knowledge in Hindu epistemology is defined as:–
yathāvasthita vyavahāra anuguṇa jñānam pramā
That knowledge which corresponds to a thing as it actually is, and has practical value in daily life is VALID KNOWLEDGE (pramā)
So in other words, any form of knowledge, in order to be considered “valid” must correspond semantically to the object or event being described and must have a practical application in one’s daily life.
So take one incident — Rama fighting and killing a ten-headed demon/brahmin king of Lanka.
Applying the definition of Valid Knowledge
Now it may indeed be true and actually did happen in earthly time and place — but even in that case it is useless information.
That same goes for many types of knowledge. Knowledge about rocket science is true but I personally cannot utilize it in my daily life – it passes one of the criteria but not the other – hence for ME it is invalid knowledge, but for a scientist involved in space research it IS valid.
The sacred literature of India generally has three levels of meaning:
The Rāmāyaṇa encompasses all three levels of meaning.
Much of the hidden meaning is found in the names of the characters..
Dasaratha — 10 chariots. A chariot is symbolic of the body. 10 chariots symbolize the body with its 5 sensory organs and 5 motor organs.
Dasaratha has 3 wives which symbolize the three forces of the mind
Jñāna śakti = cognition (Kauśalya), iccha śakti = emotion (Kekayi) and kriya śakti = action (Sumitra)
The four sons represent the four aspects of Dharma.
Jñāna śakti (Kauśalya) produces satyam (Rāma),
iccha śakti (Kekayi) produces tapas (Bharat)
kriya śakti (Sumitra) produces 2 sons yajña/sacrifice (Lakṣmaṇa) and dāna/generosity (Śatrughna).
About the names and the character e.g. Bharat was the embodiment of tapas - he refused to rule Ayodhya and lived in hermitage, Lakshmana - means to attain the goal and he sacrificed everything for serving Rama. Saturghna is generosity. In the Veda it says gifts and generosity can even overcome the worst of enemies - Satrughna means the destroyer of enemies. Like this each character can be analysed
Janaka was a raja-rishi (enlightened sage-king) while plowing he discovers Sītā. Sītā means both furrow as well as “shining, pure, light” — she symbolizes supernal wisdom (brahma-jñāna).
Satyam (Rāma) is married to Brahma-jñāna (Sīta)
There are 3 brothers in Lanka:–
Manthara means stupid, foolish, silly, lacking in discrimination.
Through stupidity and ignorance (Manthara), emotion (Kekayi) takes control of mind and exiles truth and wisdom to the forest.
And the rest is history as they say :-)
What is the evidence that Ramayana was real?
The answer depends on (a) which version you are reading - there are hundreds of different Ramayanas with many variations and (b) which level of interpretation you are reading. And There are three levels.
śabdārtha — The literal Ramayana is a story about a prince who may or may not have been an historical character like Shivaji or King Henry 8th. There is absolutely no concrete evidence or even a way of knowing this. Some believe he was a real king and some believe he was a literary creation of Valmiki.
But the story itself is embellished with mythology, legends, divergent narratives, literary devices, descriptions, pathos, etc. which are neither natural nor historical nor even plausible but make entertaining and exciting reading.
bhāvārtha – the figurative meaning. Within the story there are dozens of profound teachings and examples of how to deal with various situations we encounter in our lives. The ideal behaviour is contrasted with the harmful and all the characters can be analysed psychologically and perennial morals and lessons drawn.
The Rāmāyana is a treasure of teachings on DHARMA - this is its primary value - the narrative itself being only a vehicle - so don’t get hung up on the historicity or literary criticism - that is just the package and not the essential content.
Lakṣyārtha - the esoteric meaning. There is a very profound and admirable way in which the author has woven esoteric and transcendental teachings into the narrative. For want of space and the limited attention of readers, I shall just give a few hints.
The four brothers represent the four feet of Dharma. Rāma = Satyam - Truth, Lakṣmaṇa = Sacrifice - Yajña, Bharat = austerity - tapas, and Śatrughna= generosity - dāna.
The three Rakṣasa brother represent the three guṇas. Rāvana = Rajas, Vibhiṣaṇa = Sattva and Kumbhakarṇa = Tamas.
Dasa-ratha (ten-chariots) is correlated to Dasa-grīva (ten-heads) and Sītā represents Brahma-vidya = Divine knowledge. Hanumān the power of Bhakti etc. etc. etc.
So the Ramayana is TRUE on many different levels but not necessarily on the superficial level of historicity. Traditionally Hindus never asked is it true? they asked “what can this text teach me and what can I do with it?”
According to Indian epistemology there are three perspectives of TRUTH:–
HINDU ITIHASA Vs ABRAHAMANIC HISTORY
Hindu belief is based on philosophy, rational inquiry, argument and refutation. So dismissing 2500 years of vigorous philosophical debate and fine tuning or arguments to withstand criticism from the opponents cannot be dismissed as “false belief” without actually engaging with the arguments.
The next 2 points have created the most confusion in the minds of Indians. This confusion I think is due to the unfortunate decision to translate HISTORY in Hindi as ITIHĀSA - which is totally misguided. It would have been better to retain the English word of if in need of a colloquial term the Urdu TĀRIKH should have been retained.
Iti-ha-sa = literally means “as it happened” and is the equivalent of the English “once upon a time ……”
Itihāsas (Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa) were never written as “History” since the ancient Indians did not have the same concept of the past as the Greco-Romans did - who invented and pioneered the discipline. They were written as DIDACTIC treatises - that means the were meant to TEACH about metaphysics, philosophy, principles of the good-life, how to acquire Dharma, to promote techniques for prosperity (Artha) and to facilitate enjoyment and to entertain (Kāma), and to insulate pathways to Liberation (Mokṣa). They were never meant to be taken as Historical accounts of the actual and factual happenings 5000 years ago.
Just like the Bible, Quran and other world sacred literature there are some kernels of “Historical data and characters” but the legends, stories and anecdotes are MYTHS.
A Myth is defined as:-
Mythology is a collection of narratives of the gods, kings and heroes, provides a religious account of the beginning of the world, the creation and time cycles. Retells legends about the cosmic struggle between the gods (forces of Order) and the antigods (forces of Chaos) as a result of which the world, nature and culture were created together with all parts thereof and given their order, which still obtains. A myth expresses and confirms a society's religious values and norms, it provides a pattern of behaviour to be imitated, provides the reason for fasts and festivals and testifies to the efficacy of ritual with its practical ends and establishes the sanctity of temples and pilgrimage sites.
History is the accurate, verifiable record of the events concerning kings and merchants. The moment you introduce gods, demons, sages, heroes, talking animals and shape-shifters - you are entering the realm of Mythology.
So the sooner that educated Hindus take this on board - learn the differences and investigate and apply the amazing lessons we can learn the better it will be for all.
This endless fruitless argument and anxiety about Belief and Mythology vs History is vexatious and pointless in the light of modern, verifiable science based on observation, evidence and refutability.
The invariable outcome for educated young Hindus is either cognitive dissonance or a total rejection and opting out.
HINDUISM - PHILOSOPHY VS MYTHOLOGY
Philosophy is the study of:–
Mythology is a collection of narratives of the gods, kings and heroes, provides a religious account of the the creation and dissolution of the universe the and time cycles. It’s the retelling of legends about the cosmic struggle between the gods (forces of Order) and the antigods (forces of Chaos) as a result of which the world, nature and culture were created together with all parts thereof and given their order, which still obtains. A myth expresses and confirms a society's religious values and norms, it provides a pattern of behaviour to be imitated, provides the reason for fasts and festivals and testifies to the efficacy of ritual with its practical ends and establishes the sanctity of temples and pilgrimage sites.
The two are related, in that mythology is the vehicle of the philosophy. Since the majority of people are either incapable of comprehending or disinterested in philosophy, mythology is a very entertaining and efficient means of teaching fundamental concepts.
This diagram, courtesy Google images corresponds to the Hindu philosophical concept of Sakala and Nishkala.
We receive and process data through our left brain (SAKALA — sa = with, kala = parts.) The left brain activity is associated with PHILOSOPHY.
The way we make sense of the data, process it, personalise it, and assimilate our experiences is through the right brain (NISHKALA — nish = without, kala = parts.) The right brain is related to MYTHOLOGY.
So the Sakala realm corresponds to the path of JÑĀNA YOGA and the Nishkala realm is our inner world of experience and corresponds to the path of BHAKTI YOGA.
An integrated personality or yuktātma is one who has integrated these two states of being and abides at ease in a rational as well as an emotional universe without conflict or cognitive dissonance.
I think that modern pedagogy with its emphasis on the left brain has created turmoil and confusion in the minds of many and alienated them from wonderment and mystical experience conveyed through mythology.
The most common question nowadays is — “what is the science behind this or that ritual or this or that belief or this or that story?” or the persistent but futile attempt to rationalize and historicize the rich and colourful mythos of the Puranas. The legends and narratives in the Puranas and Itihasas are allegorical and metaphoric - they are not meant to be taken literally - they must be read for their entertainment value as well as for the lessons and examples which they impart to us.
Being “integrated” is being able to live with the hard facts of science as well as the colourful world of beauty and imagination in our own minds.
Love, beauty, awe and wonderment cannot be reduced to algorithms and equations.
BTW - the right side of the brain (feminine) rules the left side of the body and the left side (masculine) rules the right side. I wonder why the Indian artists represented it in this way? An integrated person is one who has achieved internal psychological balance.
SOURCE OF TRUTH IN HINDUISM
There are 2 ways of acquiring knowledge, analysing it, thinking it through, communicating and applying it in one’s life — Mythos and Science. These are two complimentary ways of arriving at truth — they are not mutually exclusive. The one deals with the body and external universe the other deals with the unconscious mind and humankind’s perennial search for meaning.
Science (sakala) is the critical intelligence; the rational, pragmatic and scientific approach to life that enables us to function well in the world in which we live. Science relates to facts and figures and corresponds to the objective world of our common experience. Science looks ahead and tries to improve and discover new ways of being, and doing. More efficient ways to manipulate and exert control over our environment. It’s function is to improve, to invent and innovate. The scientific approach cannot solve the existential problems of human existence — unhappiness. It can assuage physical and mental pain and suffering through accessories and medication, but it cannot answer questions about the ultimate value of human existence.
Mythos (niṣkala) is the collective creative intuition; the source of inspiration. It is primarily concerned with what is timeless and constant in our existence. Mythos is retrospective and deals with the origins of life, to the source of a culture and to the content of the collective unconscious. It responds to the questions:– Who am I? Why am I here? And what do I do next? How should I live my life? How should I relate to others?
Myth is not concerned with how things are with regard to day to day issues but rather with their meaning and implication for meaningful action. Mythos provides a spiritual context that helps us to make sense of our day to day lives and how to respond to mental and spiritual challenges. The mythological stories of the Purāṇas and Itihāsas deal with psychology and the unconscious mind, they explore the tension and interaction between the forces of Chaos and Order they investigate and explore the complexity of Dharma (Right living) — they are attempts at comprehending the unknown and integrating our ordering our lives — there may indeed by some kernels of historicity in them but “his-story” should become “our-story” — this is the purpose of mythos.
Between these two realms or dimensions of being, there are certain times and seasons, and special places when there is a crossing (tīrtha) between them. For example, the River Ganges is a physical river but it is also believed to be a spiritual river as well. A bath in the Ganges cleanses us physically but it is also believed by millions to purify us spiritually. There are hundreds of sacred sites, almost all associated with water, which serve as tīrthas — fords, portals where we can, like in the movie Matrix cross over into the niṣkala dimension.
In the Āgamic (Tantric) practice, each and every temple is built to serve as a tīrtha, a place to commune with the Devas and experience the niṣkala realm. Hence specific temples like Srirangam, Tirupati are called bhūr-loka vaikuṇṭham — “heaven on earth”. Wherever Hindus migrate in the world they create these fords or sacred places, they sacralise the land and through the complex rituals replicate the sacred landscape of India in America, Australia, Europe, England, Africa etc.
Both these ways:– sakala and niṣkala are essential to our lives but should always remain parallel and not be conflated with each other. So arguing whether Rama or Krishna were historical characters and whether they actual fought and vanquished the Asuras they were reported to have etc. are all meaningless questions because all their pastimes relate to the niṣkala realm.
 It is important to reflect that the term ‘myth’ is commonly used for something that is false, untrue, or erroneous, but the academic definition is “a traditional story accepted by a culture which serves to explain their world view and to serve as a map for efficient and adaptive action.”
How should we take the Battles between Aryan and Dasyus mentioned in Vedas ?
Aryan” is not a racial epithet, it means “noble” and refers to one’s cultural qualifications as being high-minded. The wars mentioned in the Vedas between the Aryans and the Dasyus according to all the native commentators refers not to racial battles but to the eternal cosmic struggle between the powers of chaos represented by the Dasyus and the forces of order represented by Indra and the Aryans.
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