Devis and Devatas (Goddesses and Gods) are Real, temporary but Real. As real as we people and all beings are…or are not. To be more precise, we all, people, beings, Devis and Devatas, are only “relatively real”, as it is in the whole world of names and forms. We can infere from here that if we deny the existence of devis and devatas, we should deny our own existence too. Let´s analize it.
Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is a set of profound philosopies with several layers of understanding, which do not contradict, but supplement each other. The Hindu philosophies, unlike the Abrahamic thinking, do not consist of black and white, but of an enormous array of possibilities which are all part of the Truth. Why? Because within the Dharmic world whatever one believes, the Ultimate will fulfill it: for instance, a devotee of Krishna, whose sole aim is to end his cycle of births and deaths in the lap of his Beloved, and s/he struggles for it, Bhagavan will grant an space in His lap as Krishna for him. While a pure advaitin, for whom the Ultimate Truth is the formless and attributeless Brahman, and s/he struggles for it, at the end of his spiritual evolution Brahman will be what this advaitin will attain. In the process, more complexities will happen, like that of relating with Devis and Devatas even in the case of Advaitins. Or other sublayers of possibilities which I do not have the adhikara* to see but I can sense they are there.
*adhikara: competence due to the sufficient spiritual level to understand something
This is because of the compassion of the formless Ultimate who, for the sake of the Love that S/He is, can become even the Ultimate With Form for His Devotee: Krishna, Siva, Kali, whatever form is the most cherished by the devotee.
Now let´s approach the topic. But first we have to keep in mind that from the Hindu view, time is not lineal but circular, consisting of yugas or cycles of time with a beginning and an end. In the beginning of each yuga everything including devis and devatas is created. At the end of each yuga, everything including Devis and Devatas is dissolved. Only Brahman remains.
From the Advaitic perspective which I suscribe, there are different levels of Truth, which could be summarize as:
- the “Ultimate Truth”: Brahman, the formless underlying essence of everything in the Universe, inexactly translated as “God”. It is the only eternal, with no beginning and no end. It is sat (truth)-chit (conciousness) – ananda (bliss). As Atman, Brahman permeates us in the form of our eternal essence.
- the “relative Truth”: we as a complex of body/mind/senses die, though our essence persists eternally. Devis and Devatas live as long as each yuga lasts, to be vanished and reborn again in the next yuga. This relative Truth is called Maya which is not illusion as such, as an imagination can be, but relatively real within its parameters. While we are sleeping, we live dreams as real. They are relatively real, because as long as we are dreaming we suffer and enjoy. But when we wake up, we realise that it was truth only while sleeping, and then we can call the dream as “an illusion”. Same happens when we wake up fully with the Enlightenment: then we´ll realize everything was “real while it lasted” but in a broad sense, from the awakened state, it was an illusion.
The vast majority of us are not enlightened. So for us Devis and Devatas do exist.As long as we live attached to the world of names and forms, and we identify ourselves with this complex body/mind/senses, we can connect them. And if it is in our grace, they will show up to us. Saints and sages of all times and the scriptures have demonstrated that they are present in our lives, within and without us. Because in the higher states of conciousness, which can be access virtually by everyone, we realise that the whole universe is within us, there is not “in” or “out”. Because as Atman or Brahman is in us, permeating everything, we as Atman permeate the whole universe. So going inside, one can experience in first person what it is a philosophical truth for Hindus. In Hinduism there is nothing to believe, but to strive to attain. Once attained, the spiritual truths impose themselves as unquestionable, with the help of the rishis and the scriptures having stated exactly the same truths as everyone can access.
So talking of “Hindu Mythology” is offensive for us. What about “Christian Mythology” or “Muslim Mythology”? They do not use these terms because it would be offensive for them as it amounts to deny the existence of their Jesus or Allah, as just Mythology, or “creation of the human imagination”. But all the Academias with Asian Studies and all western layman talk of Mythology when talking of Hindu Devis and Devatas. The term that we should use is “Itihasa” which could compare more to “History”. Whatever it is told in the Puranas about the Devis and Devatas happened in the spiritual realm or in the material realm when the Ultimate in different forms decides to relate with us or when we access the spiritual realm within us. Whether it was in the spiritual realm or the material realm or both is not important. The thing is that it REALLY happened. And continues to happen. Tell Shri Abhinava Vidyatirtha, from Sringeri Math, to give only an example, that Lord Siva is a Myth, when Shri Abhinava was instructed in seven consecutive dreams on yoga till the smallest detail by Lord Siva Himself, giving him a knowledge that he completely lacked of before these dreams, and that could be absolutely tested and verified with the scriptures and His own experience of enlightenment after the dreams.
And the truth is that material and spiritual realms are intertwined. Scriptures, sages and we ourselves can prove it. Can be proved the same the blind beliefs of the Abrahamic religions? So I ask people established in their western framework, be them westerners or not: first understand, and then judge. Do not dismiss as “Mythology” simply because you do not understand the reality. Hinduism is not a matter of beliefs, is a matter of pure experiences.
The typical western mentality tends to accept as real only material world and keeps in doubts the spiritual realm as something less consistent for them, something apart, specially those spiritual experiences that do not belong to their dogmas. We do not share the same worldview as they do. It is part of their “black or white” mentality and why it is not possible to understand the Hindu worldview unless one dives in it. If they do not have the experience, what they do is to characterize it within the framework that they can understand, and therefore the use of western terms that comply with western mentality such us “Mythology”. To avoid this, I agree with Shri Rajiv Malhotra in his proposal of sanskritizing English, or for that matter, any language in which we are talking of the Hindu world. That is why “Itihasa” is valid when talking of Devis and Devatas, in whatever language. And not “Mythology”. I request every Hindu to defend the purely Hindu terminology; if we use God instead of our “Brahman”, “Bhagavan” or “Ishwara” depending of the context. If we speak of “soul” instead of “Atman” or “jivatman” depending on the context. If we talk of “Mythology” instead of “Itihasa”, we are destroying the rich hue of meaning that each Hindu word has, that reflects experiences that people have had and everyone could have. By not using the Sanskrit term we are not protecting Dharma. We are giving way to the western (mis) understanding of the Hindu tradition. With the passage of time and the use of inaccurate, incomplete and even erroneous terms, the richness of the Hindu worldview could be lost.
Pls. see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJTXkvW6kkc “Sanskritization of English”, a 8 minutes video by Shri Rajiv Malhotra.
Living in a Dharmic way is being aware of the sacredness that permeates the Universe and acting accordingly. Devis and Devatas are arm to arm with us helping in our daily live, and it is a matter of only opening our spiritual eye to see it.