What does it mean when Goddess Laksmi’ is addressed as the consort of Visnu’? Is it just a concept?

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Everything in this creation, including you and I, is a combination of two principles: Person and personality. We find the play of these principles wherever we look in the relative universe. A glowing bulb is the result of the union of its filament and electricity, neither of which can illuminate a hall on its own. Light is only possible when these two factors combine. Electricity manifests as light through the bulb.

The universe is also a creation of the union of Person and personality, known as purusa and prakrti in Sanskrit. Person is the Consciousness, and personality is the matter. Consciousness manifesting through matter becomes creation, life. Consciousness and matter are relative manifestations of brahman. The Person, Consciousness is usually looked upon as the male principle and personality, matter is looked upon as the female principle. The union of these two results in creation.

Hence, gods also have consorts. Nothing can be accomplished without the involvement of the two principles. Even as I speak now, the Person, Consciousness, is functioning through the organ of speech. Action also can take place only when there is a union of Person and personality. Brahma, the creator, is the purusa aspect as far as the creation is concerned. Functioning through his consort Sarasvati he creates. Lord Visnu functioning through Laksmi sustains and Rudra/ Siva functioning through Parvati/Sakti/Durga dissolves or destroys. Of course there are no strict compartments because these names of gods are also ultimately relative.

Lord Visnu can also be looked upon as the ultimate truth.

In one form such as Visnu we can invoke saguna-brahma as well as nirguna-brahman. When we invoke the saguna aspect, brahman with attributes, then we call him protector and as nirguna He is Satchitananda, beyond all attributes, names and forms. It is the same with Lord Siva. In the corresponding puranas we find that respective Gods are presented as creator, sustainer and dissolver/ destroyer. So there are no hard set rules. Generally however, Brahma is looked upon as creator, Visnu as preserver and Siva /Rudra as destroyer.

The idea of the consort is that without Sakti, prakrti, the female principle, the male principle cannot accomplish anything. Action or creation can only take place when both principles are involved. Therefore there is a consort associated with every god, and the nature of the consort will correspond with the function to be performed. For Brahmé to create, knowledge is required. Sarasvati is the goddess of knowledge. So they are associated with each other. For preserving and maintaining, resources are required. Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity is the consort of Lord Visnu. Power is required for dissolution. Parvati/Durga is the goddess of power with which Lord Rudra/ Siva destroys.

Swami Viditatmanand Saraswati

Excerpts from: Hindu Dharma, Basics & Beyond

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Do Hindus worship one God or do they worship several gods?

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Hindus worship one God in many forms. The Vedas explain that there is one God and all there is, is God. He is. both the creator and the creation. He is both the efficient and the material cause – the maker, and the material. For example, in the .case of a clock, the clock-maker… is the intelligent or the efficient cause. The matter from which the various parts are made, is the material cause. But in case of the universe, God is both these causes.

The universe, whatever it is, however it is, is never apart from God, godliness and divinity. The wholeness and completeness that is God is all-pervasive, and since wholeness, completeness and truth can only be one, and if, God is all this, he cannot be many. He has to be one and non-dual. This is what the Vedas, particularly the, upanisads teach us.

It can therefore be said that Hindus do not believe in many gods, or even one God. They believe in the only God. Ask any child in India where God is and he will say, “Everywhere.” This may be just a statement, for it is true that an ordinary person does not see God everywhere. But, they accept that God is everywhere, and that divinity, beauty and harmony are everywhere.

If Hindus believe in one God, then why are there so many devatas?

God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He is the creator, the sustainer, the dissolver and the ordainer. Since this means he is everything, any one of his aspects can be worshipped as being predominant. If worshipped predominantly as the creator, we call him Brahma; predominantly as preserver, we call him Visnu; predominantly as destroyer, we call him Rudra.

Now, since the entire universe is the manifestation of God, all natural forces – wind, fire, earth, Sun, Moon etc. – also become manifestations of God. The Vedas worship these forces as devatas, and address them by different names. According to the famous statement “The truth is one, the wise people call it by different names,” all these names, such as Agni, god of fire; Vayu, god of wind etc., are but different manifestations of the one Truth, God.

Just as you can draw my attention by touching any part of my body, one can reach God no matter, which aspect of his -Agni, Vayu, Surya, or the creator, sustainer, dissolver – one worships. The various names and forms are a way of helping devotees relate to one God in their own personal way. It is but the worship of the only God through these different manifestations.

Therefore, Hinduism is not polytheist or pantheist. Hinduism believes that all there is, is God.

Swami Viditatmanand Saraswati

Excerpts from: Hindu Dharma, Basics & Beyond

When did Hinduism begin and who founded the Hindu religion?

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This question arises because we take for granted that a religious tradition must necessarily be founded, and that it must be historical; but this is not the case with Hinduism. It was not founded by an individual and we do not think that it even has a beginning.

The fundamental scriptures of Hinduism are the Vedas. The word Veda is derived from the root ‘vid’, which means “to know.” The Vedas are a body of sacred knowledge or wisdom, Knowledge is never created. It is eternal. It just becomes manifest. The Vedas consist of mantras, the sacred hymns and passages. They were not composed, but were revealed to the risis, or the sages, who on account of the power they attained due to penance, concentration, and devotion and worship of the Lord, attained a very refined state of mind, in which they were able to see the mantras. Thus Vedas are not written by anybody. The eternal knowledge that they teach was revealed to the sages by Isvara, God.

Like the laws of nature, that scientists such as Newton and Einstein came to understand later, always existed, the Vedas were always there, and since they are a collection of the revelations that many sages received, it is the truth revealed in them, and not one who speaks in them, is important.

Humans have a natural urge to know and to live the truth. Our intellect has a natural affinity for the truth. It never wants falsehood. This is expressed in the famous prayer in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, “Lord, please lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.” (1—3-28) The Vedas reveal a way of life to fulfill this human urge.

However great a person is, his statements and insights are limited by the limitations of the human intellect, such as ignorance, doubt, misapprehension etc., and by the limitations of the senses and the mind. As a consequence, books written by them will reflect those limitations. Since the Vedas were revealed, and not composed, they are free from the limitations, or defects, of the human intellect. We therefore look upon them as pramana, or a valid means of knowledge.

In summary, Hinduism has no beginning, was not founded by a single person, and is hence not limited to the views and teachings of a person. Its teachings are based on the Vedas, and are broad and universal. Since the Vedas reveal the fundamental truth of life, and the truth has no beginning, it can be said that the Hindu religion also has no beginning. It is as ancient as mankind.

Swami Viditatmanand Sarswati

Excerpts from: Hindu Dharma, Basics and Beyond

How वैराग्य renunciation – necessary for the attainment of bhakti – is obtained?

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At first, pleasure is associated with the lower sense-organs; but as soon as an animal reaches a higher plane of existence, the lower pleasure becomes less intense. In human society, the nearer a man is to the animal, the stronger is his pleasure in the senses; and the higher and the more cultured a man is, the greater is his pleasure in intellectual and other such finer pursuits. So, when a man goes even higher than the plane of the intellect, higher than that of mere thought, when he reaches the plane of spirituality and of divine inspiration, he finds there a state of bliss compared with which all the pleasures of the senses, or even of the intellect, are as nothing. When the moon shines brightly all the stars become dim, and when the sun shines the moon itself becomes dim. The renunciation necessary for the attainment of bhakti is not obtained by killing anything; it comes naturally, just as, in the presence of an increasingly stronger light, less intense lights become dimmer and dimmer until they vanish away completely.

So this love of the pleasures of the senses and of the intellect is all made dim and thrown aside and cast into the shade by the love of God Himself. That love of God grows and assumes a form called para-bhakti, or supreme devotion. Forms vanish, rituals fly away, books are superseded; images, temples, churches, religions and sects, countries and nationalities – all these little limitations and bondages fall away naturally from him who knows this love of God. Nothing remains to bind him or fetter his freedom. A ship all of a sudden comes near a magnetic rock, and its iron bolts and bars are all attracted and drawn out, and the planks are loosened and float freely on the water. Divine grace thus loosens the binding bolts and bars of the soul, and it becomes free. So in this renunciation auxiliary to devotion there is no harshness, no dryness, no struggle, no repression or suppression. The bhakta has not to suppress any single one of his emotions; he only strives to intensify them and direct them to God.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Vivekananda – Yoga & Other Works, Bhakti Yoga

Knowledge is inherent in man. The external world is simply the suggestion!

Swami-VivekanandaKnowledge is inherent in man. No knowledge comes from outside; it is all inside. What we say a man “knows” should, in strict psychological language, be what he discovers or unveils; what a man “learns” is really what he discovers by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge. We say that Newton discovered gravitation. Was it sitting any— wherein a comer waiting for him? It was in his own mind. The right time came and he found it out. All the knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in your own mind. The external world is simply the suggestion, the occasion, which sets you to studying your own mind; but the object of your study is always your own mind. The falling of an apple gave the suggestion to Newton, and he studied his own mind; he rearranging all the previous links of thought in his mind and discovered a new link among them, which we call the law of gravitation. It was not in the apple nor in anything in the center of the earth. All knowledge, therefore, secular or spiritual, is in the human mind. In many cases it is not discovered, but remains covered. When the covering is being slowly taken off we say that we are “learning,” and the advance of knowledge is made by the advance of this process of uncovering. The man from whom this veil is being lifted is the knowing man; the man upon whom it lies thick is ignorant; and the man from whom it has entirely gone is all-knowing, omniscient. There have been omniscient men, and, I believe, there will be yet; there will be many of them in years to come.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from: Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works, Karma Yoga

Beautiful and inspiring truth that love, the lover, and the Beloved are one!

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We all have to begin as dualists in the religion of love. God is to us a separate Being, and we feel ourselves to be separate beings also. Love then comes between, and man begins to approach God; and God also comes nearer and nearer to man. Man takes up all the various relationships of life—such as father, mother, son, friend, master, lover—and projects them on his ideal of love, on his God. To him God exists as all these. And the last point of his progress is reached when he feels that he has become absolutely merged in the object of his worship.

We all begin with love for ourselves, and the unfair claims of the little self make even love selfish. At last, however, comes the full blaze of light, in which this little self is seen to have become one with the Infinite. Man himself is transfigured in the presence of this light of love, and he realizes at last the beautiful and inspiring truth that love, the lover, and the Beloved are one.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Vivekananda, Yoga and Other Works. Bhakti Yoga

Vedanta does not preach an impossible ideal, however high it be, and it is high enough for an ideal.

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Vedanta preaches the ideal, and the ideal, as we know, is always far ahead of the real, of the practical, as we may call it. There are two tendencies in human nature: one to reconcile the ideal with life and the other to elevate life to the ideal. It is a great thing to understand this; for we are often tempted by the former. I think that I can do a certain kind of work. Most of it, perhaps, is bad; most of it, perhaps, has a motive power of passion behind it—anger, or greed, or selfishness. Now, if any man comes to preach to me a certain ideal, the first step towards which is to give up selfishness, to give up self-enjoyment, I think that that is impractical. But when a man brings an ideal which can be reconciled with my selfishness, I am glad and at once jump at it. That is the ideal for me. As the word orthodox has been manipulated into various forms, so has the word practical. “My doxy is orthodoxy; your doxy is heterodoxy.” So with practicality. What I think is practical is to me the only practicality in the world. If I am a shopkeeper, I think shop-keeping the only practical pursuit in the world. If I am a thief, I think stealing is the best means of being practical; others are not practical. You see how we all use this word practical for things we like and can do. Therefore I will ask you to understand that Vedanta, though it is intensely practical, is always so in the sense of the ideal. It does not preach an impossible ideal, however high it be, and it is high enough for an ideal.

In one word, this ideal is that you are divine. “Thou art That.” This is essence of Vedanta. After all its ramifications and intellectual gymnastics. you know the human soul to be pure and omniscient; you see that such some superstitions as birth and death are entire nonsense when spoken of in connection with the soul. The soul was never born and will never die, and all these ideas that we are going to die and are afraid to die are mere superstitions. And all this ideas as that we can do this, or cannot do that, are superstitions. We can do everything. The Vedanta teaches men to have faith in themselves first. As certain religions of the world say that a man who does not believe in a Personal God outside of himself is an atheist, so the Vedanta says, a man who does not believe in himself is an atheist. Not believing in the glory of our own soul is what the Vedanta calls atheism. To many this is, no doubt, a terrible idea; and most of us think that this ideal can never be reached; but the Vedanta insists that it can be realized by everyone. There is neither man nor woman or child, nor difference of race or sex, nor anything that stands as a bar to the realization of the ideal, because Vedanta shows that it is realized already, it is already there!

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works, Jnana Yoga

The world is just a playground, and we are here having good fun, having a game!

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We may well say that we are all playing in this universe. Just as children play their games, just as the most glorious kings and emperors play their owr1 games, so is the beloved Lord Himself playing in this universe. He is perfect! He does not want anything. Why should He create? Activity, with us, is always for the fulfillment of a certain want; and want always presupposes imperfection. God is perfect. He has no wants. Why should He go on with this incessant work of creation? What purpose could He have in View? The stories of God’s creating the world for some end or other that we imagine, are good as stories, but not otherwise. It is all really sport; the universe is merely His play. The whole universe must after all be a big piece of pleasing fun to Him. If you are poor enjoy being poor, as fun; if you are rich enjoy the fun of being rich; if dangers come it is also good fun; if happiness comes there is more good fun. The world is just a playground, and we are here having good fun, having a game; and God is playing with us all the while, and we are playing with Him. God is our eternal playmate. How beautifully He is playing! The play is finished when the cycle comes to an end. There is rest for a shorter or longer time; again all come out and play.

It is only when you forget that it is all play and that you are also helping in the play-it is only then that misery and sorrows come, that the heart becomes heavy, that the world weighs upon you with tremendous power. But as soon as you give up your serious belief in the reality of the changing incidents of the three minutes of life, and know it to be but a stage on which you are playing, helping Him to play, at once misery ceases for you. He plays in every atom. He is playing when He is building up earths and sons and moons. He is playing with the human heart, with animals, with plants. We are His chessmen: He puts the chessmen on the board and shakes them up. He arranges us first in one way and then in another, and we consciously or unconsciously help in His play. And oh, bliss! We are His playmates.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works, Bhakti-Yoga

All the actions in the world, are simply the manifestation of the will of man. The gigantic will which manifested Buddha and Jesus—whence did it come?

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The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit kri, “to do.” All action is karma. Technically this word also means the effects of actions. In connection with metaphysics it sometimes means the effects of which our past actions were the causes. But in karma-yoga we have simply to do with the word karma as meaning work.

The goal of man is knowledge. That is the one great ideal placed before us by Eastern philosophy. Not pleasure, but knowledge, is the goal of man. Pleasure and happiness come to an end. It is a mistake to suppose that pleasure is the goal; the cause of all the miseries we have in the world is that men foolishly think pleasure to be the ideal to strive for. After a ‘time a man finds that it is not happiness, but knowledge, towards which he is going, and that both pleasure and pain are great teachers, and that he learns as much from ’pain as from pleasure. As pleasure and pain pass before his soul, they leave upon it different pictures, and the result of these combined impressions is what is called a man’s “character.” If you take the character of any man, it really is but the aggregate of tendencies, the sum total of the inclinations of his mind; you will find that misery and happiness are equal factors in the formation of that character. Happiness and misery have an equal share in molding character, and in some instances misery is a better teacher than happiness. Were one to study the great characters the world has produced, I dare say it would be found, in the vast majority of cases, that misery taught them more than happiness, poverty taught them more than wealth, blows brought out their inner fire more than praise.

Now knowledge, again, is inherent in man. No knowledge comes from out- side; it is all inside. What we say a man “knows” should, in strict psychological language, be what he discovers or unveils; what a man “learns” is really what he discovers by taking the cover off his own soul, which is a mine of infinite knowledge. We say that Newton discovered gravitation. Was it sitting anywhere in a corner waiting for him? It was in his own mind. The right time came and he found it out. All the knowledge that the world has ever received comes from the mind; the infinite library of the universe is in your own mind. The external world is simply the suggestion, the occasion, which sets you to studying your own mind; but the object of your study is always your own mind. The falling of an apple gave the suggestion to Newton, and he studied his own mind; he rearranged all the previous links of thought in his mind and discovered a new link among them, which we call the law of gravitation. It was not in the apple nor in anything in the center of the earth. All knowledge, therefore, Secular or spiritual, is in the human mind. In many cases it is not discovered1 hut remains covered. When the covering is being slowly taken off we say that

We are “learning,” and the advance of knowledge is made by the advance of this process of uncovering. The man from whom this veil is being lifted is the knowing man; the man upon whom it lies thick is ignorant; and the man from whom it has entirely gone is all-knowing, omniscient. There have been omniscient men, and, I believe, there will be yet; there will be many of them in years to come. Like fire in a piece of flint, knowledge exists in the mind. Suggestion is the friction which brings it out. So with all our feelings and actions. Our tears and our smiles, our joys and our griefs, our weeping and our laughter, on, curses and our blessings, our praises and our blaming – every one of these we shall find, if we calmly study our own selves, to have been brought out from within ourselves by so many blows. The result is what we are. All these blows taken together are called karma—work, action. Every mental and physical blow that is given to the soul, by which, as it were, tire is struck from it, and b, which its own power and knowledge are discovered, is karma, using the word in its widest sense. Thus we are all doing karma all the time. I am talking to you: that is karma. You are listening: that is karma. We breathe: that is karma. We, walk: that is karma. Everything we do, physical or mental, is karma) and it leaves its marks on us.

There are certain works which are, as it were, the aggregate, the sum total, of a large number of smaller works. If we stand near the seashore and hear the waves dashing against the shingle, we think it is a great noise. And yet we know that one wave is really composed of millions and millions of minute waves: Each one of these is making a noise, and yet we do not hear it; it is only when they become the big aggregate that we hear them. Similarly every pulsation of the heart is work. Certain kinds of work we feel and they become tangible to us; they are, at the same time, the aggregate of a number of small works. If you really want to judge the character of a man, do not look at his great performances. Every fool can act as a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man. Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness; but he alone is the really great man whose character is great always, the same wherever he may be.

Karma in its effect on character is the most tremendous power that man has to deal with. Man is, as it were, a center and is attracting all the powers of the universe towards himself, and in this center is fusing them all and again sending them off in a big current. Such a center is the real man, the almighty and the omniscient. He draws the whole universe towards him; good and bad, misery and happiness, all are running towards him and clinging round him. And out of them he fashions the mighty stream of tendency called character and throws it outwards. As he has the power of drawing in anything, so has he the power of throwing it out.

All the actions that we see in the world, all the movements in human society all the works that we have around us, are simply the display of thought, the manifestation of the will of man. Machines, instruments, cities, ships, men-of-war – all these are simply the manifestation of the will of man; and this will is caused by character, and character is manufactured from karma. As is the karma, so is the manifestation of the will. The men of mighty will the world has produced have all been tremendous workers – gigantic souls with wills powerful enough to overturn worlds, wills they got by persistent work through ages and ages. Such a gigantic will, as that of a Buddha or a Jesus could not be shunned in one life, for we know who their fathers were. It is not known that their fathers ever spoke a word for the good of mankind. Millions and millions of carpenters like Joseph had come and gone; millions are still living. Millions and millions of petty kings like Buddha’s father had been in the world. If it was only a case of hereditary transmission, how do you account for the fact that this petty prince, who was not, perhaps, obeyed by his own servants, produced a son whom half the world worships? How do you explain the gulf between the carpenter and his son, whom millions of human beings worship as God? It cannot be solved by the theory of heredity. The gigantic will which manifested Buddha and Jesus—whence did it come? Whence came this accumulation of power? It must have been there through ages and ages, continually growing bigger and bigger until it burst on society as Buddha or Jesus, and it is rolling down even to the present day.

Swami Vivekananda

Excerpts from: Vivekananda Yogas and Other Works, Karma Yoga