Showing posts with label AN Murthy Rao. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AN Murthy Rao. Show all posts

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Evil, Freedom, Suffering and Sport

AN Moorthy Rao

Let us consider how some people explain the existence of evil: "God bestowed on man, right at the time of creation, all the powers and qualities that man needed. He does not want man to be a puppet in His hands. He has, therefore, given man freedom of will. Man is free to use these God-given qualities according to his own judgment. If he uses them for evil purposes it is, then, his own fault and not God's".

Let us apply this logic to the events in this world - past and present. Some years ago, an American youth gained notoriety by committing a series of murders. That is how he decided to use his God-given freedom. He was convicted all right. But, what about the victims of his freedom? Just as he had the 'freedom' to commit the murder, did his victims not have the freedom to live and not to be murdered? To say that they had the 'freedom to escape' is perverse logic. Someone may fire at me through the Window when I am just passing by. How can my freedom prevent it?

God gave freedom to Hitler and millions of people fell victims to it. God gave Gen. Dyer[1] freedom which he too used to slaughter men. Did the victims of these two men I have the freedom not to be killed? Perhaps yes, theoretically. Even so, they were not capable of saving themselves, faced with murderers. Can we throw someone into the sea, bound hand and foot, and then tell him, "You have the freedom to save your life?"

Did God punish Hitler? Eventually, he was defeated and he died. Well, he had to die some day; only, he died • a few years earlier. As for Dyer, he was honoured (for saving the Empire by butchering the innocent) by his people with a purse of 26000 pounds.

Even if they were punished, what did it matter to their victims! Anyway, that there is evil in this world is clear. Where does it come from? Just as there are some religions which believe in a virtuous God, so there are also religions that believe in a person that is evil incarnate. In the Bible, he is called Satan. He is said to be at the root of all evil. But surely, Satan did not create himself. All creation, including Satan, is the work of one God. Then, the responsibility for creating even the evil Satan is certainly God's. There has been no convincing answer to the question: 'Why did God create evil'? So, one can only conclude: 'Evil exists, God does not!’

The Problem of Pain and Misery

For the sake of convenience, let us club mental agony and physical pain and refer to them as 'suffering'. The problem of suffering has troubled me more than the problem of evil. Evil and suffering are possibly, but not necessarily, related. Why did God permit suffering? So far as I know, there are four answers to this question.

1. "Without the experience of suffering, we cannot know happiness". (Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume this to be true, the question arises: why did not God enable us to enjoy happiness without suffering? Well, let us leave it at that.) This is a far-fetched argument. If true, it leads to the conclusion that one cannot be aware of suffering unless one experiences happiness'. But, neither of these two arguments is sound. Is 'happiness' happiness only when it follows sorrow? Can one experience the sweetness of sugar only when one has tasted the bitterness of worm­wood earlier? Give a three-day old infant sugar and it relishes H. This is my personal experience. I was completely unaware of the anguish .of parents who had no children. There was a time when I used to say 'I would rather not have children at all. Nor the responsibility of bringing them up. And if I do have children, I will happily give them away to someone who does not have a child'. But I was, nevertheless, happy when my children were born. I shouldered the responsibility quite gladly - with no prior experience of suffering though!

2. "What we call suffering is, in fact, not suffering in the true sense. Viewed from a narrow and egoistic standpoint, it may be suffering. But for some reason and in some way, our suffering becomes essential in the larger interests of the world. God looks at 'suffering' from a cosmic point of view. Our finite minds are incapable of taking such a cosmic view. So, we experience suffering". This argument can be answered as follows:

  1. That suffering is essential for the larger good of the world is only conjecture, speculation, while suffering is a fact of life.
  2. Could not the all-powerful, all-knowing God achieve the good of the world without suffering? (God has had to face no end of criticism on account of His omnipotence and omniscience!)
  3. The proponents of this agreement assert "Our finite minds are incapable of taking a universal view. We, therefore, experience suffering". Now, what does it imply? That suffering is only an illusion? Even if it is, is the experience of' suffering not real? I knew an elderly gentleman. He headed a govern­ment department, earned a handsome salary and was also quite affluent. But, owing to some mental illness in his old age, he suffered from an illusion that he was extremely poor and, in fact, lived the life of a destitute. He hesitated to spend even a meagre sum on medicines. He complained about his plight to everyone. Till his death, he was a victim of this hallucination. His 'poverty' was, of course, only an illusion, but his suffering as a result of that illusion was a fact!

There is this limerick, ridiculing the view that suffering is not really suffering:

There was a faith - dealer of Deal[2]
Who said 'Pain isn’t real',
But when I sit on a pin,
And it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel!

3. Sport: The ‘sport’ theory is similar to the 'interest of the world' theory. Just as our finite minds cannot comprehend the cosmic system so they cannot comprehend God's sport ('Leela') either.

All that we see in the world around - goodness and evil, pain and pleasure - is God's sport, maya. This is how D.V. Gundappa put it[3]: "Why does the infant in the cradle move its limbs, its eyes and tongue? For sport, just sport. Play is natural to energy. God's energy is infinite and His energy plays in a hundred different ways. It is natural for energy to act. It knows no laws. Divine energy indulges in sport as it wills. Creation, the working of the world, the dissolution of the world, all flow from this sport. They are all the sport of Ishwara .... And since He is Ishwara he must have subjects, mustn't He? Or else, whose 'Ishwara' or Master is He? Ishwara is a relative term. It requires action. God wished to rule and so created this world.

And so, this world was created that God might rule.
... ·purusha evedam sarvam', 'Sarvam khalvidam Bramha'.

DVG did not invent this argument. It has been advanced for centuries. The authorities[4] cited by him in support of this argument make this clear.

The idea of God's sport is found in the West also. We find these words in Shakespeare's 'King Lear':

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport. (IV, 37-8)

(These are the words of one of the characters - Gloucester; we should not assume that they express Shakespeare's own views.)

The same view is found in Thomas Hardy’s novel 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'. At the end of the novel, after the heroine Tess has been hanged, Hardy bitterly comments on 'the sport of God’: 'The President of the Immortals had ended His sport with Tess'.

The words of Shakespeare and Hardy do not support 'the sport of God'. Bitterness, man's helplessness and the feeling that God is heartless are strikingly expressed in them. But DVG accepts and commends this sport. If we examine his argument it will be seen that orthodoxy has got the better of logic. Explaining the amusement of the sport, he compares God's 'leela' to an infant's movements of its limbs. He says that this activity is mere sport. In other words, there is no purpose behind these movements. To act, to engage in play is in the very nature of energy'. Where there is energy, there is sport. The sport is not governed by any set of rules.

But, DVG has attributed to this God, who is not governed by any law or compulsion, the desire for action ­'karma'. "God decided to rule and hence created this world". But ruling requires a system, a machinery (we have discussed this earlier). A system demands willed action. This means that God must have decided, prior to creation, the nature and form of the world He was going to create. Creation, then, could not have been as purposeless an act as the movements of an infant! 'Everything is just 'leela' and 'this world was created only so that Ishwara may rule over it' - one of these statements must be wrong!

'Sarvam khalvidam Brahma' (all this is Brahma) and. 'Purusha evedam sarvam' (all this is Purusha) - DVG has quoted both these statements ( 'Devaru' - page 21). The statement 'all is Brahma' contradicts the other statement that God created this world. If all is Brahma, then, this world could not have been Brahma's creation, but only His manifestation.

Looking at the ways of the world, one hardly finds any evidence of a wise force with clearly defined aims at work. About one lakh people died in Iran in an earthquake last month. A larger number must have been injured and rendered homeless. Why do such things happen? Why should the lava spew out of volcanoes and kill people? Why wars? And why homicidal tendencies in man, insane tendencies that destroy millions of innocent people, tendencies that even slaughter our own people? Why is. it that we are still slaves of emotions like selfishness and hatred, even millions of years after Homo Sapiens first appeared on this planet and in spite of the teachings of men like Socrates and Buddha? Who planted this weakness in us?

From my teens, I have often seen a heart-rending scene: little children in rags, some even naked, with pathetic faces, broken earthen pots in their hands, hovering around houses where auspicious pipes are playing and happy events (like marriages) are celebrated, and these children and their parents, grabbing at the left­over food that is thrown into the dust bins. This is such a common sight that even as I write these lines, I cannot help feeling that this is a cliché. Cannot God see this? Has even one of those hundreds of children ever risen above that plight and tasted happiness? Can they ever even dream of rising above it? Dare we tell those children "Your hunger is in fact not hunger, shivering is not shivering and your agony is not agony. It is all just one facet of the Universal Order" or "All your suffering is God's lila (Maya)"? Is it for this kind of 'governing' that God created this world? Is He governing or is He indulging in bizarre games?

Our Mahabharata is, in fact, a scathing indictment by Vyasa of this theory of 'Lila Vilaasa'. Yayathi who sought to satisfy his lust even at the cost of his son's youth: Shantanu, who for the sake of his own happiness could deny conjugal happiness to his son: Ganga, who threw away her children into the river: the same Shantanu who acquiesced in the murder of his children lest his lust should be denied satisfaction: Kunti, who, in the foot-steps of Ganga, set her own son afloat in a river; Duryodhana, who tried to kill the Pandavas by setting fire to the house of wax where they were staying; Dhritarashtra, who so doted on his son that he kept exclaiming 'Has he won? Has he won?' though the son cheated at dice, and who till the very end,danced to the evil tunes of his wicked son: Bhishma and Drona who were contemplating finer points of Dharma when Draupadhi was being disrobed and Duryodhana bared his thigh to her; Draupadhi who, as if she had not suffered enough because of the atrocities of Duryodhana and others, was again harassed by Jayadratha and Keechaka; Bheema, who drank the blood of Dushyasana and so on and on - did God - a sportive God! - indulge in a sport by making puppets of these men and women?

Finally, the Pandavas are said to have won the war, but for what enjoyment? Yudhishtara was not delighted on ascending the throne! It seems Mahabharata is also called 'Jaya' (victory). This is an irony. But the greater irony is the sight of even Duryodhana, Dushyasana and their friends triumphantly seated on thrones in Heaven!
If God who plays such strange and perverse games were to tell us: "Surrender to me and I shall take care of your welfare" ('Mamekam sharanam vraja' or 'Yogakshemam vahamyaham'), then man must summon the courage to tell Him: "Don't you trouble yourself. I shall seek my fellowmen's help and take care of myself" (Vahami Aham). Salvation of man can come from man alone. This, for us, would be a healthy attitude.

4. The fourth answer to the question of suffering and also the answer to the question: "Why did God create evil?" are the same: "God did not force suffering on you. It is your own making. It is you who misuse God-given freedom and resort to unjust action. Your suffering is the result of your own actions (karma)".

We have already discussed the issue of 'freedom' earlier. Those who argue" It is you who resort to unjust actions" must answer the question; who is this 'You'? It cannot be, obviously, individuals. It has to refer to the whole of mankind. The proponents of this argument seem to treat all mankind as 'one individual'. If the whole population of the world be only one individual, then it is possible to say "Well, you did it and you pay for it". But, there are in this world, billions of people. Quite often the ones who commit evil deeds and the ones who suffer the consequences of those deeds are entirely different. The victims of Gen. Dyer's monstrous act were innocent people! And, Gen. Dyer got in return not suffering but a reward of 26,000 pounds.

Misery is not always the result of someone's evil deeds. It may also be due to natural phenomena such as an earthquake. But one can find sufficient evidence to show that human suffering is more due to God (if He exists) than to man's evil actions or natural phenomena. Suffering and violence are woven into life. We cannot separate suffering from life any more than we can separate our limbs from the body. Carnivorous animals like the tiger and the lion kill deer for their food. This cannot be called an 'evil' deed or a 'sin'. It is their nature to eat flesh, not grass. If they don't kill other animals, they themselves will have to starve to death.
Zoologists say that if there were no carnivorous animals, there would have been an excessive growth of the deer population leading to starvation deaths among them. May be that is true. But, what a cruel system! There is no life without suffering!

Bacteria causing diseases like cholera, plague and typhoid have no ill-will towards us. To live and grow inside our bodies, causing suffering and even death, is their very natural activity. We cannot brand those activities as 'sin'. Just as burning is the very nature (Dharma)[5] of fire, so causing diseases in man is the very nature of these bacteria. Our survival demands that we kill them. If we don't, we cannot live!

Life on earth is built on such a strange, harsh and cruel system! Why couldn't the all-knowing, all-powerful God think of a better system?

The very existence of evil, violence and suffering only makes it abundantly clear that "A merciful and compassionate God does not exist".

[1] This man, Gen. Dyer, butchered thousands of innocent and unarmed men and women at Jalianwallabagh in Amritsar in 1919. The govemment found him guilty and secured his resignation. But, it granted him a pension and other benefits.

[2] I am relying entirely on my memory and hence may not be accurate. I do not remember the poet's name.

[3] 'Devaru' - pages 20-21

[4] DVG has also quoted the words "devasyaisha swabhavoyam" from the Mandukyakarika (1-9) and 'lokavattu leela kaivalyam from the Brahmasutras (2.1.33) (page 20)

[5] In this context, 'dharma' means inborn quality. That quality without which X cannot be X is its 'dharma'

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

This essay is Chapter VI (Evil, Freedom, Suffering, and Sport of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995

Friday, 26 April 2013

Excellences and Values

A.N. Moorthy Rao 

From the stage when man regarded nature forces and animals like the crocodile, the snake and the monkey as God, we rose to the stage of the ‘Trimurti’ concept and have presently reached the vision of a single God. We may rightly say that our cogitation has indeed progressed. It is true that in popular legends, many human vices have been attributed to God. But, as civilization advanced, the tendency to attribute to God the virtues of man along with his vices, a tendency which had been present always became pronounced. This tendency is evident in the concept of the Trimurthis. We have seen earlier that Vishnu symbolizes a full life while Shiva stands for restraint and renunciation. We may, therefore, reasonably expect our ‘one God’ to be a harmonious blend of these two qualities. It would suffice to refer to Him as just ‘God’, no other nomenclature is necessary. Once the labels of Vishnu and Shiva are done away with, the stories they recall can also be forgotten. Everyone - the Dwaitis, Advaitis and Vishishtadwaitis and others - could accept without squabbling, the position that God is only one.

This synthesizing process had in fact been at work in the minds of our people. The supreme deity of Dwaities and Vishishtadwaitis, Krishna (Vishnu), can shun ostentation and affluence like Shiva. Did He not relish the frugal rice flakes offered by Sudama? When He went to Hastinapura as the ambassador of peace, He stayed in Vidura’s house, not in the magnificently furnished royal palace. With Arjuna sitting in the chariot, Narayana (Krishna) was only his charioteer. Krishna, the author of the Gita, toils, though he needs no reward.

Shiva is the Lord of all wealth – ‘ekaishwarye sthitaha’. He is not without wealth, only He is not attached to it. In non­attachment and renunciation He surpasses ascetics; yet, He is no stranger to love. He is ‘Ardhanareeeshwara’ (half man and half woman). When we reach the point of recognizing in a single entity a synthesis of these two principles - involvement and Withdrawal, enjoyment and detachment, passion and renunciation, opulence and uninvolvement - we will have moved beyond mythology and theology and will have taken the first step towards philosophy, that is, a major step in our quest for truth.

Excellence-Related and Value-Related Qualities:

We have seen the list of human shortcomings that have been attributed to God. Now, let us turn to His virtues, which are of two categories. First, God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. These underline God’s power and capabilities and His greatness. These qualities (if they truly exist) may benefit the world or may not: that depends on whether God chooses to exercise them, and, if He does, in what manner.

The second category of qualities relates to the values that inevitably arise from any interaction between God and living beings, values like justice, nonviolence, compassion and love. From our point of view, these qualities are very important. Theologists may revel in eulogizing God’s greatness; the ordinary man seeks help and sympathy from God. We' need help and sympathy. Nature has no interest - neither love nor hatred at all for us (that is, living beings). The sun sheds welcome warmth during winter not out of his love for us but because heat is natural to the sun. An earthquake is not caused by nature’s displeasure towards man: an earthquake has to take place under certain conditions. Nature functions according to its own laws. It never takes into account what is good or bad for us. If justice, compassion etc., are what we are looking for, then, we must seek them elsewhere. That is why we visualize a God. Therefore, from our standpoint, His value-related qualities become more important than His powers.

But the exercise of values in life demands power. Therefore, the qualities of the first category also have their own value. Our feelings about God relate to both these categories. For example, the fear of God is due to His powers: but devotion and love relate to values. This then, isbroadly, the conclusion: an element of fear be may be embedded in devotion.

Power-Related Qualities:

Let us admit that God, if He exists, is omnipresent - that is, present everywhere. But as for His other two power-related attributes - omniscience and omnipotence - can both these qualities be present in the same person at the same time? Can God, in addition to being omniscient, also be omnipotent?

The prefix ‘omni’, in the context of time, includes the past, the present and the future. If omniscient, God must have certain knowledge that a particular event will take place in future, that it is inevitable and that is impossible for anyone to change or prevent it. If, indeed, it is possible for anyone to interfere with that event, then God cannot be said to know the future for, it is now uncertain. And If He does not know the future, then He is not omniscient! Let us take an example. In 1986, Halleys’ Comet came very close to the earth. If He is omniscient, God ought to have known about it. Now if the comet had not, in fact, come close to the earth, that would have belied God's omniscience. It had to come, and it had to be beyond anyone’s, even God’s, powers to prevent its coming. But, if even God did not possess the power to prevent that event, how can we call Him omnipotent?

One of my friends objected; “No, this logic is not sound. God is quite capable of stopping the comet. But, He just does not wish to do so”. Now, this argument is not tenable. How does this gentleman know that God does not wish to stop the comet? Also, the relevant issue is not whether God has the wish or not to stop the comet; Irrespective of the desire He must have the power. If, with such powers, He had prevented the comet from appearing, then His previous understanding (that the comet will come) would have been falsified: His omniscience would then be open to question. If He possesses that power, then, He cannot be omniscient: and without that power He is not omnipotent. Logically omniscience and omnipotence cannot both be present at the same time.

Value-Related Qualities

Let us now turn to the value-related qualities. Our account of the qualities that God is said to possess is in reality, only an account of what we yearn to see in Him. The descriptions of God that readily come to mind are: ‘God is just, He punishes the guilty and protects righteous people, He is compassionate and He is the embodiment of Love’.

God should be the symbol of the qualities we consider the highest and the noblest. Let us now, for the purpose of argument, admit that God (if He exists) is the repository of all those virtues. Since He Himself symbolises many great virtues, it is only natural that righteous persons are dear to Him. Still, assertions such as ‘He is on the side of justice, He punishes the guilty, He protects the righteous’ and so on are debatable. It may be that God upholds justice. But if He should mete out strict justice, would we, human beings, welcome it? Who can dare pray for pure justice? Who knows how often the noblest of men have stumbled? The misery they might have caused and the heinous thoughts that might have crossed their minds? Can we pray for an absolutely just dealing for such acts and thoughts? And if God so deals with man would He still be the Fountain of Mercy? In Shakespeare’s play ‘King Lear’ these lines occur:

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us[1]

(King Lear, V, 3, 170-1)

Should this be true, what fate awaits us! There is no dearth of ‘pleasant vices’ in us. A human father is gentle with his wayward son. God is the Father of the Universe; could His heart be harder than that of man? Which should dominate His nature - compassion or the desire to mete out strict punishment?

Fear of God; Fear of the Law, of Punishment

It may be argued that the fear of divine punishment will make us watch our steps. In English, to call some one a ‘God- fearing man’ is high praise. According to the Old Testament, when God saw that ‘the wickedness of man was great in the earth’, He caused a deluge and destroyed the whole world (except Noah and his collection of animals). Later, when evil again flourished in the renewed world He burnt to ashes the sinful cities and unleashed terrible diseases on Egypt. Such stories evoke the fear of God.

The question of fear is a complex one. One may argue that ‘fear’ itself is deleterious. Some times fear drives us to evil or wrong acts. Animals charge us out of fear. The fear that another person may harm us provokes the evil in us. Perhaps the fear of God is an exception. But should the fear of punishment keep us to the straight path? That would mean that if one were certain of not being caught, one could be wicked. And it would amount to virtual licence for the wickedness of nonbelievers.

Generally, it is not the fear of God that keeps people righteous - although this cannot be entirely ruled out. I remember a newspaper report of a priest appointed to perform worship in a temple, stealing the jewels of the deity. Today (29-7-1990), as I prepare the press copy of this book, the Deccan Herald’ has reported that servants have been regularly stealing money from the hundi (collection box) at the Tirupathi Venkataramana Swamy temple. Venkataramana is reputed to be a sternly righteous God, who inflicts punishment if He does not receive the money or the service that is His due. And yet, His own servants are reported to have looted crores of rupees. Two Assistant Executive Officers are reported to have amassed wealth to the tune of 70 lakhs to a crore of rupees. A servant of the temple is worth 30 lakhs, it seems. And these are the persons who work right in the presence of the Lord!

There are those who amass a crore of rupees by unfair methods and then, a little troubled, say to themselves, “It is prudent to remain on the right side of God”, and spend ten lakhs out of their ill-gotten wealth and build a temple or present a crown to the Lord. The Thugs, it seems, used to offer prayers to Goddess Kali, and set out on their mission of murdering travelers, confident that the grace of the Goddess was with them. There were people who believed that human sacrifice would bring them the fulfillment of their desires. I am told that there are such people even now. In such situations, the fear of God, far from deterring crime, emboldens the criminal.

If the fear of God keeps even a few persons on the path of righteousness, let us welcome it. But no matter whether we have cause to fear some one or another, evil should be revolting just because itis evil. We ought to love goodness because it is good. This is the attitude we have to cultivate.

(We cannot say that fear has no role at all in the world. It is difficult to imagine a civilized state without the police the judges and those who carry out their judgments - when we recall the level man has attained today! I have read in America reports of convicts released on parole[2] committing crime after crime. Here is one such incident: a convict on parole butchered the very people who employed him and fed him and lavished affection on him, violated their women and fled! I hesitate to concede that even a few persons are born evil; but I cannot brush aside the possibility. True, such people are a rare breed, but they are there. Fear of punishment is imperative in such cases) .

What is stated in the brackets above refers to the fear in man - fear of the law, of punishment. Fear of God is something different. Why cannot God transform wicked persons into good ones instead of meting out punishment? After all, it should not be difficult for an omnipotent God to do so! Instead of being the enemy of evil persons, He could be the enemy only of evil. He can destroy evil and save the evil ones. If it is true that He is ‘All Merciful’, only this course would be natural to Him.

[1] These are the words of a character called Edgar. His view need not necessarily be Shakespeare’s opinion.

[2] Parole: A serving convict, who has displayed good behavior in prison, is permitted to leave the prison for a specified period on a written undertaking that he would be law-abiding even outside the prison. He is said to be on parole.

The word for “Excellences” used in the original is ‘mahatvagalu’. The English word does not fully convey the connotation of the word ‘mahatvagalu’ - Translator

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

This essay is from Chapter III (Stories about God) of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Concept of One God

A.N. Moorthy Rao

We have not succeeded in our attempt to understand the nature of God by the inductive method. Since each one of the gods that we encountered in our attempts has some shortcoming or the other, none of them could be the Supreme God, the Monarch of the Cosmos. We describe God with weighty epithets such as the Holiest, the Sinless, the Chaste, the Benign, and the Compassionate. But, none of the gods that we have considered so far merits these descriptions. Let us, therefore, bid them all good-bye here and proceed further.

The very people who attributed to God all the vices that we saw in the last chapter also claim that God is not only omniscient and omnipotent but is also the perfect repository of all virtues. At least some thoughtful persons must have noticed this contradiction long ago. They are the ones who went beyond that stage and reflected deeply on the matter. The first stage in their reflective process was the conclusion that there cannot be more than one God. Some among them also felt that God ought not to be labelled.[1]

Let us now consider the thoughts of one such reflective person. There is this verse in the 'Shvetashwatara Upanishad'.

Eko devaha, sarvabhutheshu goodhaha
Sarvavyapi, sarvabhootanataratmaa |
 Karmadhyakshaha, sarvabhootadhivasaha
Sakshee, chetha, kevalo nirgunashcha ||

[The gist: God is only one. He is omnipresent, and is present in everything. He is the soul of all living beings. He is the Lord of all Karma, the witness, the Energy Manifest, without attributes, and absolute. (Nothing exists except Him)].

The God described above is at a higher level than the ones we saw in the stories before. Yet, when we analyze this description logically, we encounter difficulties. That God must be only one is self-evident - for there cannot be more than one omnipotent entity. Nor is there any contra­diction in the descriptions that He is the Primordial Spirit and that all our energies are derived from Him. And right now, let us not raise the question whether such a person exists.

We may even accept the description that God is ‘without attributes’ by assigning the word a special sense. The logic of this interpretation is: God is infinite; no limits can possibly hem Him in; attributing any quality to Him only results in imposing limits on Him. For example, no sooner do we describe Him as ‘smaller than the atom’ than we are implying that He cannot be bigger than the atom. But, how can there be something with absolutely no properties? Such a thing just cannot be. If God is without attributes, then God does not exist, and if He has attributes He cannot be God. To escape from this trap, some people interpret the word ‘attribute’ differently: “God cannot be said to possess any particular quality. But he possesses all qualities - all qualities without exception”. This is mere jugglery of words. Also, we are resorting to the same jugglery when we say ‘Anoraneeya’, ‘Mahatomaheeya’ (smaller than the minutest, larger than the largest). To avoid explaining the identity and nature of God by saying ‘Neti’, ‘Neti’ (‘not this’ ‘not this’) is also a similar attempt to wriggle out of these logical contradictions. We need not be critical of such attempts. Once we say, “God is beyond the reach of the senses, the mind and words retreat, unable to grasp Him”, any attempt to describe God necessarily involves such jugglery of words.

The statement that God is ‘without form’ also will have to be interpreted similarly: “No particular form can be ascribed to God, but He comprehends all forms”. If this is accepted, it renders all objections to idolatry baseless. If we concede that God exists and that He transcends all limitations of name and form, then, why can we not visualize Him in a human form with four shoulders? It is just one of the infinite forms that He can assume. After all, even the idolater does not claim that his idol is God’s only form. For the purpose of worship, God may be invoked to rest in the idol. Worship over, one may not even recognize it as God, or, since every thing is, at all times, God only, the idol is God, even after worship, one may say. In fact, even those who oppose idolatry do pay some obeisance to some symbol - for example: the cross or the icon of Mary.

Two concepts, in the verse from Shvetashwatara Upanishad quoted above, generate controversy - Lord of Action (‘Karmadhyaksha’) and witness (‘Sakshi’), Dr. D.V. Gundappa, in his small book ‘Devaru’ has quoted an interpreted this verse. In DVG’s words, ‘witness’ mean “The Spirit which is itself not a part of the universe but only its observer”. Again, in DVG’s own words, the Lord of Action (‘karmadhyaksha’) means, “The Superintendent of all that man does or does not do, that is, one who provides the energy necessary for all action, but is Himself beyond all action” (‘Devaru’ - pages 15 - 16). We must also take note of DVG’s statement in the last chapter of his book: “He (God) rules the entire universe”. The word ‘Karmaadhyaksha’ also suggests governance.

  1. God is neutral, only a witness
  2. He rules the world, as ‘Karmadhyaksa’.

Are these two descriptions logically consistent?

This is how DVG explains the concept of ‘neutrality’:

“The man who stands on the bank of the river, watching others struggling in the water and drowning, is the neutral one, the witness” (Page 16). This means: although capable of saving the drowning man, God does not interfere but remains aloof.

  1. Witness: One relevant question here is: is it fair for God to remain neutral, only a witness? And if He does, does He not become irrelevant to our life? Still, I am not, at the moment, raising that question. I am only asking whether the definition of this concept, accepted by DVG and others, is logically tenable. If God is only a witness, and is inactive, doing nothing at all, how can He rule the world? Ruling involves action of some kind. He will have to make laws to regulate people’s conduct. He must ensure that the laws are obeyed by the people: judges must be appointed to inquire into complaints of violations of the laws: if the violations are proved, then there has to be a mechanism to mete out punishment to the guilty. A mere witness cannot accomplish any of these. God has two options - to act and get things done or to do nothing and remain neutral. We can not expect Him both to act and not to act, at the same time. If He is only a witness, He cannot rule, and if He rules, He IS no witness.
  2. Karmadhyaksha’ (Lord of Action): This word creates other difficulties. As we have seen before, DVG while explaining the meaning of the Upanishadic verse, has entrusted the Lord of Action with two tasks :

1.      He supervises all action. What does ‘supervision’ mean? DVG himself has said that God has no responsibility of action. Therefore, we will have to conclude that “God’s only job is to award the just fruits of action”. But, is it not the deeply prevailing conviction that ‘karma’ (action) yields its own fruits? There is the inevitable cause-and-effect relationship between karma (action) and its fruits.

Who does anything, what can anyone do?
My actions in a former birth haunt me.

So sang Purandaradasa - and this faith manifests itself again and again. The most common answer to the question why God does not save us from suffering is this: “It is our karma. We must suffer it. Even God cannot undo it”. If this is true, then God (karmadhyaksha – ‘Lord of Action’) has no work at all. The chain of karma and the fruits of karma moves inexorably.

2.    It may be said that the ‘karmadhyaksha' (Lord of Action) provides the energy required to perform action. That this can only be done by God, the Primordial Spirit, is also a tenable argument. But, is it that He gives me Just the right measure of energy for each of my actions - for example, when I pick up the pen or sit or stand or go for a stroll? Or is it that He grants all the energy at once and is done with it? There is also the argument that “God has already bestowed all attributes and energy on His creation - man, animals and objects. It is for us to decide to what use we put them. Having completed creation, God now has nothing to do with it. This, broadly, is the stand of the deists. If this is true, then, God’s position, after creation is only titular.   

This is the contradiction in the Upanishadic verse. But leaving it aside, let us concede that God (if He exists) could only be one and proceed further.

[1] I remember reading somewhere that the belief among the Jews is that God is nameless. But even they referred to God by the name of Yahveh. That word is used even to day as Jehovah. But in English there is only one word, God

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

This essay is Chapter IV (The Concept of One God) of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Qualities Man Attributes to God (Stories about God - III)

AN Moorthy Rao

The issue of the superiority of Vishnu or Shiva came up incidentally. Now, let us return to our original subject.

We began - didn't we? - by considering the stories about God which are prevalent among the common people and trying to understand through them the nature of God. Now, let us list the qualities[i] and beliefs about God that emerge from them:

  1. God is not necessarily immortal. Even He could die.  Example: Our Dakshyani, Asiris of Egypt, Balder of the Norse people.
  2. Gods love being worshipped. We must perform ‘vratas’ and so on and they will grant our prayers. Example : Satyanarayana Vrata
  3. Gods are short-tempered and, at times, even merciless. They kill young boys. Proof: Shiva killing t e y who was later to become Gajanana: Athena of Greece who, casting her spell on Ajax, caused him to commit suicide; Sathyanarayana, who because the merchant’s daughter failed to partake of His prasada, caused her husband's ship to sink.
  4. Gods love money and ostentation. Proof: Venkateshwara who accepts offerings and grants prayers and who is pleased with the golden sheets to cover this temple towers; Udupi Krishna who wants a silver (or, is it gold?) chariot and a diamond crown.
  5. They do not hesitate to commit even heinous deeds in return for some benefit. Proof: Vishnu, who violated the modesty of Brinda.
  6. It is likely that they lack discrimination. Proof: some of the boons they granted to monsters: Shiva, who fixed up the head of an elephant for Ganapathi, instead of Ganapathi's own head.
  7. They could be womanizers, too. Proof: Zeus of the Greeks, our Indra, and Shiva, who fell at the feet of Mohini.
  8. They are not ail-knowing. Shiva could not know that Parvathi had asked Ganapathi to stand guard.
  9. They are not omnipotent, either. Proof: Shiva, who chased Mohini, could not check his own lust. There is a belief among some people that if we master some 'mantras' we can even gain control over deities. In Janamejeya's 'Sarpa Yagna', the moment the priest chanted "Sendraya Takshakaya swaha", Indra, along with Takshaka, would have fallen into fire, if he had not taken proper care! There are also stories in which men are said to have cursed God.


Having bestowed names, forms and bodies similar to those of himself on God, it was only natural that man should also ascribe to God his own qualities - good and bad. Also, such attributions give us a certain kind of joy. Through such attributions, God, instead of being remote and abstract, comes close to us. That explains why we talk of the ‘marriage’ of Gods, harassment by the sec­ond wife and so on. Krishna, it seems, got a taste of it after He married Satyabhama. It is pleasing and comforting to know that even Vishnu was not spared these tribula­tions.

But, in reality, what have we done? We have brought down God from His sublime status and we have made Him just another human being. It is difficult for us to attain sublime heights and so we brought Him down to our level. The happiness we get from the feeling that even the one whom we revere is not spared our travails is trivial.

Some decades ago, Sthanam Narasimha Rao's troupe from Andhra staged the play 'Sri Krishna Parijatha' (?) in Mysore. The play was full of the envy between Rukmini and Satyabhama. The younger wife Satyabhama was very aggressive and domineering. Krishna appeared helpless before her, which pleased the audience no end.

Some folk stories, which describe the jealousy between Ganga and Gowri, give us great happiness. Even Kalidasa had described it in his 'Meghadoota'[ii].'The hero of that epic, Yaksha, tells Megha: 'Go to Kanekhala. There Gange, the daughter of Jahnu, who elevated the sons of Sagara to heaven, has come down from the Himalayas. Her jealousy aroused by the approach of Gange, Gowri stands frowning. Laughing derisively at her displeasure Gange pulls down Shiva's hair with her billowy hands'.

Both 'Sri Krishna Parijatha' and Kalidasa's poem attribute envy to the gods. Both these give us happiness. But, this happiness is not trivial. Our happiness here is not because God is brought down to our level but because the context is beautifully rendered Art veils, in literature and music. (one recalls Jayadeva's 'Geetagovinda' ) value ­related shortcomings But, all rational persons would agree that God cannot have such shortcomings.

Obviously, the qualities listed above cannot be those 0 an all-knowing, all-powerful God Who rules and sustain the world and Who is to serve as the model for all man kind. Is it not our belief that God is immeasurably noble than man? But, the God who emerges from these stories is certainly not superior to us if we ignore his ability t break the laws of nature. That one power alone cannot make Him great. Even we ordinary mortals do what we can for those who praise us. We cheat. We do have the shortcomings of anger, lust, revenge etc. And, sometimes, we do good things, too.

These stories affirm that in all these matters, God is very much like us. If that is true, how is He superior? We cannot but say that He is no God.

[i] Clearly, it is the stories which attribute them to God, not I.

[ii] Tesmadgacharanukhanatehalam Shilarajavatheeram
Jahnoh kanyam Sagarathanayaswargasopanapanktim|
Gowrivaktrabhrukutirachanam' yaa vihasyea vhenyaha
Shambhosh keshagrahanamakarodindulagnormihasta||
(Meghadootam' edited by KoB. Pathak - Poorvamegha - 52)

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

This essay is from Chapter III (Stories about God) of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Use of Myths - Stories about God - II

AN Moorthy Rao

It is possible that at least some of the myths mentioned above have a symbolic meaning. Whether the authors off these stories really meant to convey that meaning or they were stuffed with the significance later, it is difficult to say. Our innocent ancients did not write essays about what they learnt from life: they embodied it in stories. Perhaps the story of ‘Kaama Dahana’ is one such example. But we may, possibly, read too much into these stories. The Dashavatara story seems to depict the evolution of life very broadly. Beginning with fish which could live only in water, it traces its evolution into the tortoise (‘koorma’) which lives both in water and on land and goes on to the pig (‘Varahaavatara') which lives only on land and the half-man and half-beast ,in Narasimha. Finally, life reaches the stage of man - the stunted dwarf, 'Vaamana'. Then comes Parashurama - who, although a developed human being, is unable to check his emotions of anger etc. His body is well developed but not his mind. Then it is Rama who is physically and intellectually well-developed and who has formulated virtues and values. This process of evolution appears to have reached its zenith in the personality of Krishna. In Him we see (in addition to virtues) a perfect blend of a taste for arts, experience of life and practical wisdom. This is why Krishna is said to be a ‘perfect incarnation’. Now comes the ascetic Buddha, who renounced the world. Finally, it is ‘Kalki’, who completes the cycle of life.

Who knows if those who conceived the Dashavatara stories had these things in mind! Or, who knows if the stories were written by one person during a particular period or by different persons at different times? If, on the basis of these stories and their interpretations, someone comes to the conclusion that our ancients knew the Theory of Evolution, it is only madness - not a very rare type of madness. I myself know of a professor who, on the basis of the story that Rama returned to Ayodhya in Pushpaka Vimana, concluded that our ancients had mastered the technology of making aeroplanes! We can benefit from mythical stories only if we remember that they are only myths and not literally true. Quite often, they tell interesting stories. The particular meaning that we are attributing to them mayor may not be embedded in them, but sometimes they do set us thinking. For example: Kashyapa Maharshi married two women - Dithi and Adithi. Dithi's children were monsters and Adithi's children were gods. Monsters and gods have the same father. That is, both evil and goodness have the same origin! Though seemingly contradictory, they are, strangely, related! The myth of churning the ocean also depicts this curious relationship - deadly venom (‘haalahala’) and life-giving elixir are both the products of the same ocean.

According to a mythological story of Jews and Christians, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, with the warning that they were forbidden to eat one particular fruit in the garden. Adam and Eve did not heed the warning and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The minds of those who eat that fruit are set on the path of knowledge. Why did God forbid it? Could it be that God wants to condemn man to ignorance for ever? I asked myself this question. It is this myth which provoked the question.

The answer to my question flashed to me when news came of the death of millions of people in Hiroshima where an atom bomb was dropped: ‘If man is provided with knowledge, this is how he will use it’. But after some time, I felt that this is no adequate answer. Yes, the bomb is a product of knowledge, just as venom was the product of churning. But, the medicine for the disease brought about by knowledge is more knowledge! The disease and the medicine, both are from the same source. We need to keep churning the ocean of ignorance. Elixir can rise only from that ocean.

Mythological stories can provoke such thought processes, but only if we keep in mind the fact that they are only stories and not actual events. Even after admitting this much, some mythological stories are indeed difficult to digest. The story of Radha and Krishna is said to be a symbolic depiction of the search of the ‘Jiva’ for and its eventual merger with ‘Paramatma'. Radha's husband symbolizes this world. To renounce him is to renounce the desires of this world. To become one with Krishna is to conduct oneself according to His instruction 'Sarvadharmam parithyajya maamekam sharanamvraja' (leave aside all dharmas and surrender to me). Let us take it that this is what Radha did. I have also felt that it must have been this sentiment which was in the minds of the authors of stories about Krishna. Other religions, too, have seen the love between man and woman as symbolic of devotion to God. But, shoud we lay emphasis on the physical aspect of love? Stories about Krishna do, at times, go beyond this limit. It is easy to brand this objection as 'prudery' and dismiss it. But, consider: if someone depicts us similarly (in today's social environment), do we accept it? While describing some one whom we hold in high esteem, do we resort to such depictions? We observe restraint in such contexts; should not the same restraint guide us when we portray God? Don't we have anything else to say about God? Even the descriptions of Krishna's ‘Raasa Leela’, I believe, have crossed the limits of decency. Referring to someone leading a loose life, we say, ‘Ah! He played Krishna-Ieele’. And that is not a compliment.

Recent Stories

Stories of recent origin degrade God more than the mythological stories. The beliefs concerning Lord Venkataramana of Tirupathi (said to be an incarnation of Vishnu)do not enhance His reputation. It is all right if you remain content with the faith that Lord Venkataramana will take care of your welfare just as He does of all others in the world. But, if you seek any special favours (like a very good job) from Him then you must take a vow that you will offer a specific amount or render some special service. If you do land the job, it is His grace: if you don't, well, it is your 'karma'! In case you get the job and go back on the vow, you had it! He will hunt you down for years. You got your job or whatever it was that you wanted and He will not spare you if you don't pay for it! It is business, you had better remember!

It appears Venkataramana had borrowed some money from Kubera for his ostentatious marriage with Padmavathi. (Wouldn't we be smart to transfer our devotion to Kubera? Kubera is rich, Venkataramana is a debtor!)That loan has to be repaid from out of devotees' offerings. Lavishness, vanity, ostentatious display - these are human short ­comings. Does even God desire them? It appears He does. We believe - don't we? - that He will be pleased if we present Him a golden crown or if we cover the towers of His temple with sheets of gold? This reminds me of our present day politicians. They will have to spend lakhs of rupees during elections. Once they win, they must recover the money through dealings in sites and so on, and then repay their loans. Of course, they need a few more lakhs for themselves, too. We have placed Lord Venkataramana also in this category!

Lord Narasimha is our family deity. He is Vishnu's incarnation. Venkararamana is another incarnation of the same Vishnu. Still, I am forbidden to visit Tirupathi either for His worship or for any other reason. The reason: we belong to the ‘stealthy lineage’ (‘kalla vokkalu’) - whatever that means. But, I may visit Tirupathi provided that I accompany someone who does not belong to the ‘stealthy lineage’ carrying their baggage or umbrella. I would, then, be their servant carrying their baggage. God does not harass the attendants of His devotees. I am, in reality, not an attendant. Only, Lord Venkataram~na does not see through my trick. He can be fooled easily.

Another incarnation of Vishnu is Sathyanarayana. Narayana is an old God. To name Him ‘Sathya Narayana’ is only a repetition. He is always the incarnation of Truth. We have given Him this name only to emphasize Truth. ‘Sathyanarayana Vrata’ is of very recent origin. I have heard that even three hundred years ago, such a ‘vrata’ was not in vogue. But now, thousands of people perform it. Unlike ‘Krishnashtami’ or ‘Ramanavami', no particular day is marked for this ‘vrata’. One may choose any day. The food-offering to this deity is called ‘sapaadabhakshya’. This dish, prepared with soji, sugar and some other ingredients is very tasty.

Sathyanarayana is a very scrupulous deity. Those who perform His ‘vrata’ will receive all they desire. This is only half the truth about Him. The other half, one has to be very cautious indeed. Those who attend the ceremony must not leave until it is over. And, to depart without partaking the ‘prasada’ is unpardonable, (This stipulation is excellent - considering how tasty the sapaadabhakshya is!) One must sit through the reading of the 'vrata'. If you leave before that, you are sure to meet with disaster!

This is the story: A merchant, who was issueless, took a vow that he would perform a 'vrata' if he was blessed with a child, A daughter was born to him and she grew up and was also married off, But, the merchant did not perform the 'vrata', Lord Sathyanarayana cursed him. The merchant and his son-in law, who were on a tour, were accused of theft. The king forfeited all they had and sent them to jail. One day, the merchant's daughter happened to partake of the 'Satyanarayana Prasada', offered by someone. She and her mother decided to perform the ‘Vrata’. The same night God appeared before the king In his dream and instructed him to release the merchant and his son-in-law. After their release the two left for their town by ship. The merchant's daughter was performing the Vrata. She learnt that her father and her husband were on their way home. Elated, she forgot to partake the 'Prasada' and ran out to receive her husband. Immediately, the husband's ship sank. A voice from the heavens announced: “All this is because she has neglected to partake of the Prasada: everything will be all right if she partakes of it”. She partook of the ‘Prasada’ and - lo and behold - the ship surfaced. The family lived happily ever after.

Sriman Narayana Himself, it appears, narrated this story to Narada, who In turn repeated it to Shounaka Maharshi and others, whom we are quite familiar with.

Clearly, someone has fabricated this story with a view to indoctrinating people about devotion to God. Can any rational person believe this? Can we really enter into contracts with God – ‘I will give you this if you give me that’? All right. We can suppose that the merchant had performed the 'Vrata' even though he did not have a child. Can God mete out such a terrible punishment to the young girl for such a minor lapse (If at all it is one!)? Even if we assume that the girl committed a mistake, what is her husband’s fault? Is it fair to sink his Ship as a punishment for his Wife s fault'? Isn't it only natural that the girl should have come running to see her husband who had gone on a long voyage? Sathyanarayana should, indeed, have blessed her smilingly! Is it not He who planted love in human hearts? This question of Kanakadasa is indeed a legitimate one:            

Ninna preraneyanthe nadedu nudidamele
Ninninde thappo nanninde tappo, Paramatma!

(When I have spoken and acted only as you prompted, is it my fault, or your fault, oh Paramatma!)

Ideas such as these which degrade the concept of God are found not only in our religion but in other religions also. I have heard some people say that authoritative religious tenets do not contain such ideas. But, there are, in fact, some religious texts with such ideas. Still, most of the stories, like the ones narrated above, are those fabricated by some silly people. Their intentions might have been good but the effects of their stories are not. There is no substance in the argument that we need not bother ourselves with the stories concocted by some ignorant 'Dasas' and performers of discourses. Whoever might have invented these stories, it is not just uninformed or illiterate people who are influenced by these stories. Even educated people, scholars and learned scientists supplicate the protection of the gods depicted in these stories. Some years ago, when I was about to leave a 'Satyanarayana Vrata' without partaking the ‘Prasada’, it was a scientist who asked me. Why do you tempt Providence?" Therefore, the argument, 'these stories are the inventions of silly people, we may ignore them' just does not hold. These concepts do exert considerable influence on our society.

We have talked earlier - haven't we? - about Vishnu and Shiva. The question, who is superior to whom? has bothered learned man more than ordinary people. There are stories to suggest that there is animosity between the two deities. But, the more dominant feeling is that they exist amicably. The supposed rivalry between them appears to bother us, - ordinary people and scholars alike - more than it bothers the deities themselves. In a way, this is only natural; one of them must gain an upper hand. All religions proclaim - don't they? - that God is omnipotent. There cannot be two omnipotent entities. The power of one curbs that of the other: the 'omnipotence' of one ends where that of the other begins.

It is, therefore, logically untenable to consider both Vishnu and Shiva as equal gods - if we accept the idea of God's omnipotence, that is. One of them must indeed be superior to the other. Who could be that 'superior' one? We cannot remain content saying "Let them resolve this themselves: it is not our business! We will offer both of them flowers and food". This is because, if we worship one of them the devotees of the other will be enraged - ­Hiranyakashipu, a devotee of Shiva, could not tolerate even his son Prahlada worshipping Vishnu! Leave alone the devotees, even God Himself will not tolerate it, if we are to go by the Old Testament saying which urges a man thus: “Kill your brother if ever he cajoles you to worship other Gods". (Deuteranomy 13, 6-9).

There is another reason why we place different deities at different levels. Suppose I am more inclined towards Shiva. Then, Shiva becomes an extension of my personality. He is my deity. Now, establishing the superiority of my deity becomes as important as establishing my own superiority. My deity has become part of my ego. This is a peculiar type of ‘soham’ (saha aham). Here, ‘ham’ (me) is more important than the ‘sahah’ (he).

So, for one who accepts the idea of the ‘omnipotence’' of God, it becomes logically inevitable to accept one God and to bring down another deity; even rejecting Him is not a rare attitude. Purandaradasa displayed no contempt for Shiva, and has even awarded Him the status of 'Padmanabha's (Vishnu's) Charanadasa' (The humble' servant of Padmanabha). Shiva, of course, cannot be awarded a higher status than this. Purandara Dasa has sung in another of his songs, “I do not want even the company of those who do not think of Hari as the Supreme”. The ‘Shaivas’ reject Narayana. It seems there is a saying among ‘Shrivaishnavas’ that one must not take refuge in a Shiva temple even when chased by an elephant.

We may, within out homes, worship only Vishnu and exclude Shiva, or vice versa; we may follow one set of religious rituals and leave out others or vice versa. Any way our deity is omnipotent and loves His devotees - if even Shiva means any harm to us, Vishnu will take care of it or vice versa. Let us grant others the same freedom of faith and worship that we enjoy. We will leave them and their deities alone. Why quarrel?

It is perhaps a curse to humanity - we are never willing to grant others the same freedoms that we wish for: as I said earlier, our deity becomes a part of ourselves, our ego. We must rush to defend His status and position. Couldn't He, the omnipotent god who is supposed to protect all, defend Himself? We never think of this. Fundamentalists and political leaders exhort people to 'take up arms to defend your religion, your God'. We dance to their tune and what follows is fighting, bloodshed - all in the name of God!

Two or three centuries ago, it appears, a renowned scholar called Appaiah Dixit (he is remembered even today) had established that the word ‘Narayana’ could also be interpreted to mean ‘Shiva’, if only the last syllable were slightly changed. Based on this, the scholars got into the act and came up with a whole host of interpretations. During the last century, it seems, another scholar by name Kunigal Ramasastry established that the word ‘Narayana’ could only be interpreted to mean Shiva. The other side arranged a debate, but had decided that, in case they lost the debate, Sastry would be thoroughly thrashed. The Resident at Bangalore, who got wind of this plan, ordered the cancellation of the debate.[i]

Even if Rama Sastry had triumphed in the debate the various deities would not have merged into one: nor would his defeat have meant that God who was one would have split into many deities. In fact, what goes on in such debates is only a display of linguistic and grammatical acrobatics of the scholars and not any meaningful assessment of the reality or otherwise of God. Rama Sastry himself, it appears, stated that his work concerned rules of grammar and not God.

The sensation of such debates and interpretations is not much in evidence now. But, the stories concerning the superiority of Shiva or of Vishnu are very much in circulation. There is no dearth of people who believe them to be literally true.

“When Rama (that is Vishnu) tried to bend Shiva's bow (Shivadhanus), it broke, so much for your Shivas' power!”

“When Rama killed Ravana, He came to be haunted by the sin of ‘Brahmahatya’ (the sin of killing a Brahmin). If He had not offered special worship to Shiva at Rameshwar, the sin would have swallowed him. Who, finally, saved Rama?, Shiva, of course!”

“Shiva has Himself conceded that Rama is superior to Himself.[ii] This is the only ‘Manthra’ that can save you. What is that 'Mantra'? Rama Mantra!”

All of us have heard this kind of talk at one time or the other.

[i] I read this in M.S.Puttanna’s work ‘Kunigal Rama Shastrigala Charitre’

[ii] I can recall only the first half of the relevant verse ‘Sri Rama Ramethi Rame Rame Manorame’. I know people who repeat this like the Gayathri Mantra.

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

This is from the Chapter III (Stories about God) of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995. For Part I of the essay Click Here


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