Self-Realization through Yoga Meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra

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Deities in the Himalayan Tradition
Swami Jnaneshvara 

In our tradition deities are thought of only as symbols, not as realities to be worshipped. Swami Rama explains it well in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (3.11-3.12), where he writes:

The ignorant think that gods dwell in celestial worlds and have power to control human destiny. Such gods are merely projections of one's internal organization; the creation of gods in the external world is a projection of the unconscious. The belief in gods was created to help those who are not aware of their internal resources and are in need of an objectification of supernatural powers. They need to believe in gods that will help them fulfill desires that they feel inadequate to fulfill through their own means. It is said that those who have seen gods are fools, for they have seen something of their own self and mistakenly believe that they have seen gods. Externalists have created gods for their own convenience, but in actuality those gods are symbols of unknown phenomena that occur within.

For those aspirants who cannot contemplate on the attributeless Eternal, symbols are recommended by spiritual teachers. In the path of meditation certain symbols are used to make the mind one-pointed. The student is then advised to go beyond the symbol to comprehend its meaning rather than remaining dependent on the symbol forever. Thus in meditation one leaves the symbol behind and goes forward.

The ignorant worship the symbols without knowing and understanding that which lives behind and beyond the symbol. But if one is capable of exploring that which is being expressed by the symbol, he may eventually discover the existence of the formless archetype that is clothed in the forms of the symbol.

With further work he may attain direct experience of the archetypes, not as objects but by becoming one with the archetypes themselves.

Swami Rama writes of meditation on the formless Absolute in his commentary on Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita (3.1-3.2):

Most people cannot fathom the idea of meditation on the Absolute, which is formless and attributeless. Only a fortunate few are able to attain that highest state of realization. The path of bhakti (devotion) is considered to be superior for those who are unable to realize the pure Self. It is difficult to conceive of meditating without a form or object on which to focus the mind.... Whether one follows the path of bhakti or the path of jnana (Self-realization), a one-pointed mind is important, and that cannot be achieved without concentration. Concentration of mind and faith are essentials for treading either path. The ordinary sadhaka or aspirant should have a concrete form for concentration and meditation before his mind is prepared for the higher realms.

Swami Rama describes the meaning of the symbol of Ganapati as follows in his commentary on Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita (3.21-3.24):

In the ancient times there were no printing presses, tape recorders, or writing paper. Therefore the ancients left certain symbols for future generations so that they could understand the way the ancients lived. For example, if the pictorial symbol of Ganapati, the elephant god, is properly understood and analyzed, it becomes clear that the ancients described the ideal qualities of a leader through that symbol. The head of an elephant symbolizes that a great leader should not be violent, for elephants are very calm. They do not live on the flesh of other beings; elephants are vegetarians, and they are both healthy and intelligent. Using an elephant as an example dispels the notion that it is necessary to eat meat in order to maintain health and vigor. Ganapati has a big belly, which means the leaders should be able to accept all sorts of suggestions from various quarters for the sake of doing justice and selfless service to society. Ganapati is shown with a mouse, meaning that leaders should have counselors like mice who, with the help of their sharp teeth, can cut the net of entanglements and conspiracy that tend to develop around leaders. There are many other aspects, such as the cross, the star of David, and the lotus that are adored and worshipped without knowing their meanings. That is a serious error. The method of understanding such symbolism is a knowledge in itself, like the method of studying dream symbols. It should be studied if one is to understand the world within and without.

Examples of Symbols

Following are a few examples of how this works, where some may consider these as deities or gods to be followed, petitioned, or worshipped, but which are actually symbols. The symbols mentioned and the descriptions are not meant to be complete, but rather, are just to give you an introduction to this process.

Hanuman: The monkey is held as a symbol of the human mind, and its habit of running here and there, constantly active and never restful; it is fickle like the monkey. Hanuman is a symbol of training that monkey mind, bringing it to peace and tranquility. Prayer to Hanuman as a deity is thought to bring devotion and purity.

Ganesha: While there are many other symbolisms, Ganesha is a reminder to be like the elephant, strong and wise. The elephant is independent, a strong creature living in the wilds of the jungle, harming no one for food, as he is vegetarian. Others view Ganesha as having human form, but with an elephant head; he is petitioned as a remover of obstacles.

Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiva, Rudra): As symbols, these represent the three universal processes of coming into being, existing for some time, and going (receding back into the formless). A flower comes, is, and goes. Our lives in these physical bodies in this world goes through this process of birth, living, and dying. Thoughts also come, stay for a while, and naturally dissipate. Others view these symbols as deities to be worshipped or petitioned.

Shiva and Shakti: These are universal process of the static ground (shiva) and the active (shakti) manifesting outward through many levels. As a metaphor, it is somewhat like the countless words and sentences which may be written with the use of the underlying same ink. While the ground is shiva (which is one and the same with shakti), it is the power of shakti that manifests as the entire universe and all its diversity. Others perform rituals as if Shiva and Shakti are anthropomorphic beings to be solicited for various reasons.

Mahatripurasundari: Central to the practices in our tradition is meditation and contemplation on the one consciousness which is the source of, and permeates the three (tri) levels (cities or "pura") of sleep, dreaming, and waking. That consciousness is considered to be great ("maha") and most beautiful ("sundari"). Others worship her as a goddess.

There is no gray bearded god in the sky who is the creator and manager of the physical universe. Rather, to a yogi of our tradition, this beautiful art from the Sistine Chapel would be seen as a symbol of the one Reality manifesting outward as life in our world, as humanity and other beings, the expression of sat, cit, ananda (existence, consciousness, and bliss).

Stories and Symbols

It seems to be a common human practice to wrap principles of living inside of stories, whether through poetry, books, or screenplays. The ancient symbols of deities were described in stories, such as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the epic poem, Mahabharata. We can wonder if, over the coming centuries and millenia, todays stories of heroes may also come to be perceived as deities, and treated as religious symbols to be worshipped. We each have the choice of how to view these characters and their stories: are they "real" or are they symbols used to convey wisdom? Reflecting on such questions can give us greater insight about how the ancient symbols have come to been seen as something other than the symbols they actually are.




This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.