“Worship of Lord Vishnu is extremely essential for those who wish to receive the supreme salvation.” (Purana 1.3.1)
This is, for me, the first time that these Puranas have taken a path that reads like one of the Abrahamic faiths. This is the first time that the reader is told there is one, mandated, path to salvation, and it is through the worship of a particular deity. Therefore, Vishnu is now the deity I feel I want to know the best, the deity in whose worship, salvation lies.
The description of Vishnu starts from here with a statement I find troublesome, “Lord Vishnu gives his virtues through physical appearance.” (Purana 1.3.1) Perhaps there are other meanings, but I struggle with the suspicion that this is meant to tell me that inner virtue, comes from outer appearance, rather than that virtue is more important than appearance. This seems to backed up in Purana 1.3.3 “The first virtue of Lord Vishnu is his peaceful appearance.” The first virtue, the first thing to be mentioned about this god, the god you must worship to receive supreme salvation, is his appearance.
The rest of his description doesn’t bring me more ease. He has thrown away all his worldly status and is the feeder of the world, but he also holds a wheel and punishes those who go against his will, and uses his conch shell to remind his followers to stay on his path.
This isn’t that different than other religions, with one clear path to salvation, but it is also something I find myself struggling with as I debate how exactly one worships the unknowable, and how one learns to know these mysteries.
Image found here.
Based on this brief purana, Sarasvati is my favorite goddess. She is the goddess of knowledge and “without worshiping her no one can be a learned person.” (Purana 1.2.1)
“Without literature and music,” the purana records a sage as saying, “a man is not more than an animal.” (Purana 1.2.2) As a writer and a painter, a lover of the arts, this feels true in the very center of me. What is it, I ask, that holds us apart from the other creatures of this world? Some would say that it is some indefinable thing given to us by God, a soul, immeasurable, unprovable, uncertain. This sage doesn’t ask me to believe in that which cannot be seen, but rather that what separates us from other things is our ability to read and to create art.
Sarasvati represents that with a book in one hand, and a lyre in two others. The goddess of all knowledge, carries with her the objects through which we gain knowledge of the world and of ourselves.
Image found here
In my personal life, I have recently experienced some difficulty with how different people see the same set of actions. What we see as the truth, may not be the same for different people, even when describing the same sequence of events. I have, I believe, lost friends over this discrepancy in how we view things and in my truth being different from that of another person.
In dealing with all of this I found some comfort from something I read as part of this project, “everything is destructible, only the truth can not be destroyed.” Only the truth can not be destroyed. That’s beautiful to me. Don’t set aside the truth in seeking out comfort or temporary things, because in the end, the truth is the only thing that will last.
I had a very difficult time when we tried to read the Rig Veda. It had little meaning for me because I didn’t know any of the background. All the characters were little more than names with no distinction for me that I could not help but flounder through the reading. So I was excited to jump into the Puranas instead. I was thinking of mythology as stories, and expecting a creation story. I suppose I got the creation of a god when the first line read “Brahmaji was born on the lotus that had arisen from the navel of eternal ommipresent Lord Narayan Vishnu.” (Purana 1.1.1)
From there the rest of the Purana was still confusing to me and I am still floundering, just outside my experience level. I think we’ve found what teachers would call my “zone of proximal development” the place where I can learn something new because the material is challenging, but not so challenging I can’t work it out.
I can’t wait to start!
The image is of Lord Brahma, described in this section as a four faced god judging the creatures, and deciding their next incarnation based on their deeds in this one. He hold the vedas to remind of the indestructibility of the truth, and the rosary to remind us to keep on saying the name of god. The bowl is coconut shell and holds water to symbolize a hassle free existence, and the lotus, rising from “the muck” is a reminder to be pure no matter where we come from. The image was acquired from I Love India.
First, we had a holiday.
Skye and I live in Beijing, which means that in January we had a major holiday (Chinese New Year aka Spring Festival) that gave us over two weeks off work. I took the time off work to run back to America and visit my loved ones, while Skye traveled to a new area of China looking for a mountain to conquer.
When we returned we tried to dive into our fourth holy book – the Rig Veda. And we read every day. But what we learned is that hymns without context are almost completely meaningless. It is…somewhat possible to get a sense of the character of the assorted gods through reading hymns, but without any other context or cultural background in the religion, it was slow moving.
And so we decided to take a little break while we looked for an alternative to the hymns. We decided to read the 18 Puranas, the myths and legends of Hinduism, instead. And so, we’re back now with a slightly altered plan and a new vigor to understand this religion.
I, personally, have been really struggling with some of the reading lately. I just don’t have a lot to say about the hymns that we’re reading because I don’t have the background for them. So I was trying to find a way to connect better with them and I found this course from EdX.
I love this program that allows me to audit courses and learn online completely for free. This particular program is a six course plan that I have just started. The first course is a series on religious literacy and how we study scripture in an educational manner. After that, there is a course on each of the major religions, the ones that we are trying to understand.
I am looking forward to understanding more of what I read 🙂
A kind word and forgiveness is better than a charitable deed followed by hurtful words: God is self-sufficient and forbearing. Believers, do not cancel out your charitable deeds with reminders and hurtful words, like one who spends his wealth only to be seen by people, and not believing in God and the Last Day. Such men are like a rock covered with earth: a shower falls upon it and leaves it hard and bare. They will gain nothing from their works. God does not guide those who deny the truth.
These are the reminders I was craving in this search through holy texts. The admonishments to treat each other with kindness, to watch the way we speak and act, and to show respect and consideration for other human beings.
According to Pew Research there were 2.2 billion Christians and 1.6 billion Muslims in the world in 2010. That’s at least 3.8 billion people who have a holy text admonishing them to be kind, and yet, I am actively seeking reminders of human kindness in this world and the commands of our holy figures to treat each other respect in order to help counter-act the cruelty and awful treatment that dominates my news each day.
“All that the heavens and the earth contain belongs to God.” (Al-Baqarah 284a)
I’m not a believer myself, of any religion. But perhaps our world would be a better place if we believed, and if we obeyed the commands of the holy figures. Treat the world as if it belongs to one whom we respect, and treat other people as if they are the beloved of someone to whom we give honor and praise.