Are Shiva and Vishnu One or Different?
Published on March 4th, 2019 | by Harmonist staff8
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.