Are Shiva and Vishnu One or Different?

By Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura

The following excerpt is from Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s Madhurya Kadambini. The translations used are from Gaudiya Kutir’s edition with the commentary of Pandit Sri Ananta Das Babaji Maharaja. Ordering information is available, here.

The second nama-aparadha is to consider Mahadeva and Vishnu to be fundamentally different, or to think of them as separate deities defined by distinct powers. Since many people have difficulty understanding these distinctions, Visvantha Cakravarti Thakura goes into some detail and discusses the issue over the next few sections:

Conscious beings (caitanya), are of two types: independent and dependent. The first of these is the all-pervading Lord, or isvara caitanya. The second is the dependent jiva, or jiva caitanya, a particular energy of the Lord that is controlled by him and pervades only its own body.

Isvara caitanya is again of two types: untouched by maya and accepting the touch of maya by his own will. When free from the touch of maya, he is known by such names as Narayana. The Bhagavatam says, “Sri Hari exists beyond the three modes of material nature and is completely transcendental. Therefore, he alone is the supreme transcendental personality.”1

The second isvara caitanya accepts the touch of maya by his own will and is known as Shiva. The Bhagavatam also says, “Shiva is always associated with maya; he is the predominating deity of three types of ego: vaikarika (in the sattva-guna), taijasa (in rajoguna) and tamasa (in tamo-guna). He is thus covered by the three qualities of material nature, sattva, rajas and tamas.”2

Even though he is covered by three gunas, one should not think Shiva as a jiva, for Brahma-samhita says, “As milk is transformed into yogurt, yet yogurt is not different from milk, its cause, I worship the Primeval Lord, Govinda, who similarly accepts the form of Siva by his own will for the specific purpose of destruction.”3

In the Puranas and many other scriptures Siva is identified as God. One verse in the Bhagavatam says, “The Lord accepts the forms of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe.” Due to being mentioned together with Vishnu and Shiva, it is generally thought that Brahma is also isvara tattva, but this is true only in the sense that he is empowered by the Lord’s specific energy for creation. This is confirmed in the Brahma-samhita, which says, “As the sun manifests some portion of its own light in the sun crystal, similarly Brahma creates this universe being empowered by the Lord’s energy.”

Srimad Bhagavatam says: “Smoke is superior to wood, a transformation of the earth. Fire, the base of sacrifices prescribed in the Vedas, is superior to smoke. In the same way, rajoguna is superior to tamo-guna, and sattva-guna is superior to rajo-guna. One can only realize Brahman through sattva-guna.”4

This verse establishes the superiority of rajo-guna over tamo-guna. Even so, the realization of the Lord, representing pure light, is not possible in rajo-guna, which is here compared to smoke, the way it is in sattva-guna, which is being compared to the burning fire. Of course, one can perceive the Lord even in the tamo-guna, which is here compared to wood, as he is present within it also. That perception is found in deep sleep, which gives a happiness comparable to consciousness of the undifferentiated state of oneness. One should understand the relative positions of Shiva and Brahma in this way.

Dependent consciousness or the individual soul is of two types: one covered by ignorance, the other not. Covered souls or jivas include the demigods, human beings, and other living creatures. Non-covered jivas are of two types: either imbued with God’s power or not. Those not imbued with God’s power are also of two types: those who have merged into God by the practice of jnana, and others who remain separate from God by practicing bhakti. The first of these are in a lamentable state while the second are not, for they are in a position to relish the sweetness of the Lord. The empowered jivas are again of two types: those imbued with spiritual knowledge and others empowered for the purpose of universal creation. To the former group belong great teachers such as the four Kumaras, to the latter, Lord Brahma and others.

Due to having the same type of caitanya, Vishnu and Shiva are non-different. Devotees desiring nothing other than the Lord must discriminate between Vishnu and Shiva as worshipable or non-worshipable on the basis of their nirguna and saguna character. Due to the non-similarity of caitanya, Vishnu and Brahma are different. Sometimes the Puranas speak of the nondifference of Vishnu and Brahma. This nondifference may be considered like that of the sun and the sun-crystal when it channels the power of the sunlight. In some maha-kalpas, even Shiva, just like Brahma, may be a jiva who is empowered by the Lord. Sastras say, “Sometimes a jiva is also empowered as Siva or Brahma.” Sastra also says, “One who considers Lord Narayan, who is supreme among the gods, as equal to Brahma, Rudra, and other demigods is certainly an atheist.” This scriptural evidence will be considered proper when Shiva and Brahma are both in the category of eminent jivas.

Those who have not discussed these truths say, “Vishnu is the only Lord, not Shiva. We are exclusive devotees of Vishnu and will not even look at Shiva.” Or, “Shiva is the only Lord, not Vishnu. We exclusive devotees of Shiva will not even look at Vishnu.” Their minds thus absorbed in petty bickering, they commit an offense. If in time such offenders get the association of sadhus expert in discussing all these truths and are enlightened by them, they can also realize how there is no difference between Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. Then by doing nama kirtana, their aparadha is nullified.

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10 Responses to Are Shiva and Vishnu One or Different?


    Never knew there was even a city in southern India named after Hinduism’s intriguing syncretic deity of Harihara, also alternatively referred to as Shambhu-Vishnu or Shankara-Narayana.

  2. Radha Krishna dasa

    Sastra also says, “One who considers Lord Narayan, who is supreme among the gods, as equal to Brahma, Rudra, and other demigods is certainly an atheist.” This scriptural evidence will be considered proper when Shiva and Brahma are both in the category of eminent jivas.

    The sanskrit verse for the above translation is:

    yas tu narayanam devam
    samatvenaiva vikseta
    sa pasandi bhaved dhruvam
    (Hari-bhakti-vilasa (1.73)

    My question is: Does this verse lose significance when Shiva is not in the category of eminent jivas, i.e., when he is in his constitutional position as Shiva tattva?

    When isvara caitanya accepts the touch of maya by his own will and is known as Shiva. In this sense Lord Vishnu is non-different from Lord Siva. But does “non-different” mean “equal in every respect”? Because, the second offense to the holy name:

    sivasya sri-visnor ya iha guna-namadi sakalam dhiya bhinnam pasyet sa khalu harinama-hita-karah (Padma Purana, Bhama-khanda 25.15)

    is translated as “The second offense is to consider the names of the demigods such as Lord Siva as equal to or independent of the holy name of Lord Vishnu” So non-equality is indicated in this translation.

    However, another translation of this verse is: “One who sees difference between any of Lord Siva’s qualities and names and those of Sri Visnu is an antagonist to hari-nama”

    To me, there seems to be some conflict/disharmony in these two translations of the above verse from Padma Purana. So, how can we harmonize these two translations? Perhaps, both non-difference and difference are indicated by the different translations above. It would be great if Sripada Tripurari Maharaj could shed some light on this.

    • Pundarika Vidyanidhi das

      It seems like many people tend to forget the main philosophical feature of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, namely acintya-bhedabheda-tattva. Prabhuapada sometimes says that the jivas are also minute isvaras. Consider this quote from the introduction to Bhagavad Gita As It Is:”Now the jīvas, or the living entities, have been accepted by the Lord, as we will note in the later chapters, as His parts and parcels. A particle of gold is also gold, a drop of water from the ocean is also salty, and similarly, we the living entities, being part and parcel of the supreme controller, īsvara, or Bhagavān, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, have all the qualities of the Supreme Lord in minute quantity because we are minute īśvaras, subordinate īśvaras…”
      Lord Siva is neither Vishnu-tattva, nor jiva-tattva and the quote from the Brahma Samhita above clearly describes that. He is his own tattva, siva-tattva. I have researched the topic very deeply and it is not really possible to discuss all the aspects of the oneness and the difference between Vishnu and Siva, who is Harihara etc. But in short Siva cannot liberate the conditioned souls, but he can serve as their benefactor and on special occasions as their instructor on the path of bhakti. Prabhupada explains that in this purport to Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Chapter 7, Text 14:”The words mām eva are also significant. Mām means unto Kṛṣṇa (Viṣṇu) only, and not Brahmā or Śiva. Although Brahmā and Śiva are greatly elevated and are almost on the level of Viṣṇu, it is not possible for such incarnations of rājo-guṇa (passion) and tamo-guṇa (ignorance) to release the conditioned soul from the clutches of māyā. In other words, both Brahmā and Śiva are also under the influence of māyā. Only Viṣṇu is the master of māyā; therefore He can alone give release to the conditioned soul. The Vedas confirm this in the phrase tvam eva viditvā or “Freedom is possible only by understanding Kṛṣṇa.” Even Lord Śiva affirms that liberation can be achieved only by the mercy of Viṣṇu. Lord Śiva says:
      mukti-pradātā sarveṣāṁ viṣṇur eva na saṁśayaḥ.
      “There is no doubt that Viṣṇu is the deliverer of liberation for everyone.” Therefore the second offense.
      But the point is “simultaneously one and different”- whenever a jiva focuses on the oneness he loses perspective on the difference, and vice versa.
      your servant,
      Pundarika Vidyanidhi das

    • Although Lord Siva is considered to be under the influence of Maya, he is not considered bound by her as a conditioned soul or baddha Jiva is.

      Both Lord Brahmā and Lord Śiva are incarnations of Lord Viṣṇu, but Lord Brahmā is in charge of the creation whereas Lord Śiva is in charge of the destruction, (SB 4.24.18 : PURPORT)

      “In answer to this argument, it may be said that the word guṇa means “regulation.” Lord Viṣṇu, Lord Brahmā and Lord Śiva are situated within this universe as the directors of the three modes, and their connection with the modes is known as yoga. This does not indicate, however, that these personalities are bound by the qualities of nature. (Adi 5.86 : PURPORT)

      Otherwise it is true that Lord Siva cannot directly release the conditioned soul the way Lord Visnu or Lord Krsna can by their mercy.

      Yet by Lord Siva’s mercy one can attain the mercy of Lord Visnu, in exactly the same way that by the mercy of a Jiva tattva who is fully surrendered and under the influence ot Sakti tattva (the internal Potency) one may receive Lord Visnu’s mercy as well.

      Another difference is in the percentage of transcendental qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan Sri Krsna, that a person may display. Even the most advanced transcendental devotee who is Jiva tattva can embody only up to 78% of the qualities of Bhagavan Sri Krsna. Such as Lord Brahma has. Lord Siva, being a more directly an incarnation of Lord Visnu has 84%, which is more than even the purest marginal living entity can display. But still he cannot display the amount of qualities that even an shaktavesa avatara of Visnu can, which is 93%.

      SB 1.3.28 : PURPORT :
      The summum bonum Kṛṣṇa is one without a second. He Himself has expanded Himself in various parts, portions and particles as svayaṁ-rūpa, svayam-prakāśa, tad-ekātmā, prābhava, vaibhava, vilāsa, avatāra, āveśa, and jīvas, all provided with innumerable energies just suitable to the respective persons and personalities. Learned scholars in transcendental subjects have carefully analyzed the summum bonum Kṛṣṇa to have sixty-four principal attributes. All the expansions or categories of the Lord possess only some percentages of these attributes. But Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the possessor of the attributes cent percent. And His personal expansions such as svayam-prakāśa, tad-ekātmā up to the categories of the avatāras who are all viṣṇu-tattva, possess up to ninety-three percent of these transcendental attributes. Lord Śiva, who is neither avatāra nor āveśa nor in between them, possesses almost eighty-four percent of the attributes. But the jīvas, or the individual living beings in different statuses of life, possess up to the limit of seventy-eight percent of the attributes. In the conditioned state of material existence, the living being possesses these attributes in very minute quantity, varying in terms of the pious life of the living being. The most perfect of living beings is Brahmā, the supreme administrator of one universe. He possesses seventy-eight percent of the attributes in full. All other demigods have the same attributes in less quantity, whereas human beings possess the attributes in very minute quantity. The standard of perfection for a human being is to develop the attributes up to seventy-eight percent in full. The living being can never possess attributes like Śiva, Viṣṇu or Lord Kṛṣṇa. A living being can become godly by developing the seventy-eight-percent transcendental attributes in fullness, but he can never become a God like Śiva, Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa. He can become a Brahmā in due course. The godly living beings who are all residents of the planets in the spiritual sky are eternal associates of God in different spiritual planets called Hari-dhāma and Maheśa-dhāma. The abode of Lord Kṛṣṇa above all spiritual planets is called Kṛṣṇaloka or Goloka Vṛndāvana, and the perfected living being, by developing seventy-eight percent of the above attributes in fullness, can enter the planet of Kṛṣṇaloka after leaving the present material body.

      Thus Lord Siva is simultaneously one with Lord Visnu in his terms of being in a transcendental position, and not being bound by Maha Maya, yet different in the manner in which he contacts Maha Maya, in the percentage of the Qualities of Bhagavan Sri Krsna he may display, and the fact that he cannot directly release a conditioned soul the way Lord Visnu can.

    • Radha Krishna dasa,

      In the verse “sivasya sri visnu . . .” the word sivasya can also be taken to mean “auspicious.” In this case the verse means that Sri Visnu’s name, form, qualities, pastimes and so on (guna namadi) are all-auspicious (sivasya) for all beings. If one considers them to be material phenomena and different from Sri Visnu himself, this is an offence to the holy name. Thus the doctrine of non difference between Visnu’s name, etc. and himself is propounded. Without theoretically understanding this—without this sambandha jnana—one is susceptible to nama aparadha.

      Otherwise the verse also seeks to dismiss the doctrine of bhav-isvara-vada, or the doctrine of many isvaras. To think that Siva is a controller that is independent of Visnu creates an obstacle to one pointed Hari-bhakti. Siva’s power is a partial manifestation of Visnu’s power. At the same time to think of Sadasiva as something other than Visnu transforming himself for his own purpose is also an offense. Thus without this sambandha jnana in place one is also susceptible to other nama aparadhas.

      In this way sambandha jnana is the means to overcome nama aparadha.

      • Radha Krishna dasa

        Maharaja, Thank you for your answer.

        Would you agree that the answer in response to my specific question above (Does this verse (HBV 1.73) lose significance when Shiva is not in the category of eminent jivas, i.e., when He is Shiva tattva?), would be yes.

        Would you also agree that both difference and non-difference between Lord Visnu and Lord Siva is indicated in the above Padma Purana, Brahma-khanda 25.15 verse quoted above? Non-difference in the sense of isvara-caitanya but difference in the sense that Lord Visnu is completely independent while Lord Siva is not.

        Thank you for helping me to understand the subteties of siva-tattva. As Srila Sridhar Maharaj has been quoted saying: “There are three things that are inconceivable: the position of Lord Siva, hladini sakti, and, yes, guru-tattva.”

  3. “Brahma is also isvara tattva, but this is true only in the sense that he is empowered by the Lord’s specific energy for creation”

    The point you have written might only be a way of expression
    In many other Scriptures, and Smarta philosophy (most ancient and purest Hindu philosophy), “The Lord” that you are trying to refer is actually Shiva – the Counter part of Shakti
    Shiva – Matter
    Shakti – Energy

    The three forms Brahma Vishnu and Shankara ( which you are referring to as Shiva, which actually is diff. from Shiva ) are modes of the Energy (specific energy you mentioned) that transforms the Main Form

    There are many pictures and elaborations that show Shankara, Parvati, Ganesha, Vishnu worshipping the Lingam that Represents Lord Shiva

    Shiva is actually Shiv ( शीव ) that has an altogether different meaning and implication
    It does not represent one entity but rather all Materialistic entities as one

    • Shankaracharya accepts only Nārāyana as saguna Brahma.

    • Your comment can be disregarded totally when you said smarta philosophy is the purest and the most ancient, and plus we are not hindus. lord shiva himself says in the satvata tantra and the adi varaha purana that only narayana was worshipped in satya yuga. and all were intelligent beings and were vaishnavas. your statements seem to contradict adi shankaracharya, who says that shiva’s crown touch and seek blessings from narasimha deva, yes smarta may cry out that he uses the word rudra, and rudra is different from shiva etc, but smartas are also the ones who’d say read shata rudriya, sri rudram etc, and the supremacy of ‘vasudeva’ alone is found, throughout in the works of adi shankaracharya. as said by bramha, only krishna is parama ishwara, and no one else. according to the bramha sutras, and the vedas, narayana, vishnu alone is the creator preserver and destroyer, everything comes from vishnu during each cycle of creation, and during pralaya, everything dissolves unto him.

  4. One actually knows of a very interesting experience
    Paurnamasi Yogamaya shares with Gopisvara Mahadev
    but carry on carry on i won’t interrupt any further

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