Shiva vs Vishnu

Author : Rami Sivan

How Shivam & Vishnavam think of each other:

The Acharyas teach, and many Srivaishnavas believe in the exclusive nature of devotion to a personal God named Vishnu/Narayana, the One and Only. They deny both Ultimate Divinity and salvific power to other Divinities mentioned in the Vedas and Shastras such as Siva, Ganesha, Subrahmania, Durga etc.

They aver that liberation from Samsara comes only through the grace of Vishnu/ Narayana and His incarnations — Krishna and Rama. This has historically led to many outright conflicts with the devotees of other aspects of the Godhead. Both camps denouncing each other and denigrating the form of Deity worshipped by each.

This, in my opinion (and I stress that this is my personal opinion and not that of the sampradaya) is a parochial sectarian view and cannot be consistently supported by the Vedas or by reason. The Puranas when taken in a limited sense have fuelled this conflict by their very methodology. In the Saiva Puranas the Supreme Being is identified with Siva; Vishnu and Brahma are made subordinate to him. In the Vaishnava Puranas on the other hand Vishnu/Narayana is identified as the Supreme Being and Siva is demoted to being his servant! Each sect quotes only its own Puranas and denounces the texts of the antagonists. Both sects quote extensively from the Vedas, Upanishads, and other literature to support their respective dogmatic and parochial claims to exclusivity.

When the Sacred texts are read as a complete whole, the pattern that one sees emerging is that each and every aspect of the Divine is taken up, elevated to the post of Supreme Being and praised as such. All other “devas” are declared to be manifestations of the same deva that has been exalted. The logical conclusions that one reaches is that all are in fact aspects of the One and Only Godhead viewed from different angles, according to the devotion of the individual, and so all are equally the Godhead!

Itis impossible to ignore the fact that Saivism is indeed as dogmatic in its claims of exclusiveness and as vibrant and passionate in its single-minded devotion to Lord Siva as any sect of Vaishnavism; and if numbers counted, the Saivites would win hands down!

In chapter 3 of the Svetasvatara Upanishad the Supreme Being is unequivocally identified with Siva/Rudra. In the Gita (10;23) Krishna declares that he himself is Siva.

The Narada Purana 1 :6:48 declares:—

The person who differentiates between Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, goes to an exceedingly terrible hell!

The Narayana Upanishad declares that Brahma and Siva proceed from Narayana and then later declare that Siva is indeed Narayana, it goes on to state that —

narayana evedam sarvam — “Narayana is all this”

Mahanarayana Upanishad 24:1 declares — sarvo vai rudrah — “Everything is Rudra”

According to logic if A = X and B = X then A = B.

In the Mahabharata (Santi Parva 341) Krishna expounds the connection between Himself and Siva and declares that they are one and the same Being appearing in different forms.

Ramanuja propounds the concept (samānadhikaraṇya) that names refer not to the external form but to the essential nature of a thing. So when the Vedas invoke the Godhead through different names they do not refer to different ontological entities but to the Unitary Godhead of which they are all embodiments. So when hymns are addressed to Agni, Indra, Siva, Ganesha etc. they all refer ultimately to Narayana — the Ground of all Being. If we accept this teaching in its broadest sense as referring to the Absolute Reality and Unified Field, and not cult deities, we can then achieve spiritual harmony, and avoid sectarianism and exclusivity which both end in spiritual arrogance, intolerance and conflict.

The reason why the sages have elevated each aspect of the Godhead to the position of the One and Only God is to foster personal devotion to that form alone. All names and forms are of the same Supreme Reality — to praise and elevate one is not to depreciate the others. So one may choose any form one wishes. As long as one realises the unity of the Godhead manifesting through all names and forms and does not think of them as separate and competing divinities.

This is the vision of Nammalvar the great-grandfather (kula-pati) of Srivaishnavavism.

Tiru Vai-moli 10.10.4

You who are exquisite fertile cosmic matter

You who mingled inseparably within it!

Glorious flame of the skies!

You are Brahma and Siva within [this domain],

O sage who created the divine ones and human beings!

How could you abandon me with my burden and let me stay here?

Nammalvar is cast into a dilemma: What to call God if He is One. God is not Two; He is not Three; if He is One. How to address Him?

Knowing that You are One God, and wanting to praise You, O Krishna,

0 Mysterious Lord, how shall I address you?

Shall I call You as The Colourful Effulgent Pleasing God?

Or, shall I address you – The Lord with Matted Locks,

Who has the Delicate Pleasing Moon on His Head?

Or, shall I just say, The Four-Faced Lord?

[All I know is that] all created beings praise You and worship You with gladdened hearts like hovering bees making joyous sounds.

0, Our Dear Lord known as The One Pleased by tulasi flowers. You are verily Inscrutable Mayon, The Mysterious Lord.

The last verse is very significant – he refers to God as the inscrutable mysterious one.

All forms of monotheistic sectarianism is spiritual childishness – its like kids arguing in a playground about who’s dad is the best in the whole world – and the basis for their learned decision is because he buys ME stuff and takes ME to places and loves ME.

Theology is best approached with an attitude of deep humility. We are all pixels in a painting – arguing about to which pixel the painting belongs!! Or which pixel understanding and appreciates the painting the best.

Seriously! Monotheists (of all persuasions) are pixels parading as art critics!!