Why do some scriptures declare other gods to be Supreme?
Question: If we find that certain Upanishads or certain Puranas or certain verses seem to say that Shiva is Supreme or they give some other truths which are contradictory to what we hear in Krishna Consciousness then how do we see it?
Answer: There are three possibilities in this. First, of course, is that there may be interpolations. They may have happened and Baladeva Vidyabhushan in his Siddhanta-Darpana clearly mentions Devi Bhagavata. That book is a significant example of this kind of thing. The glories of the Devi are well established but the Devi Bhagavata is, at several places, trying to usurp the Srimad Bhagavatam. For example, the Devi Bhagavata says ‘This is the real Bhagavata Purana and the Vaishnava Bhagavata is not bonafide. The Vaishnava Bhagavata is not even aware of the existence of the Devi Bhagavata’ …in that sense you know….So basically there are many places where the Devi Bhagavata…The Devi Bhagavata, if you see the traditional naming of the Puranas, the Devi Bhagavata, nobody talks about it… So he says that the glories of the Devi which are given over there, if they are in agreement with what the Bhagavatam says or general Vedic understanding, that is ok. Otherwise, we have to take it with due scepticism. So, it is possible that somethings within what is known as the vedic canon, canon means certain scriptures which are considered sacred in a particular tradition, certain books themselves might be interpolations not just the later issues of interpretation, the books themselves may have significant interpretation, that’s possible. The authority of Devi Bhagavata has not just been questioned by Baladeva Vidyabhushan, in other Vaishnava sampradayas also and other scholars also have questioned it. Although it may be popular now because of the worship of the Devi, but its authenticity is questionable.
Second possibility is that, there is interpretation. So for example, Madhvacharya in his Vishnu Sahsranam commentary explains how when Vishnu Sahsranam talks about Shiva as Supreme, so at that time what is that we…(unclear) ‘sarva sharva shiva sthanam bhutadim ….’ So sarva shiva is there. So he explains if you see, there is a proper noun and there is a common noun. So, proper noun refers to the particular name of the person. Common noun is a generic quality. So, in many cases in the Vedic context there are names which can be proper noun and which can be common nouns also. So therefore when this particular ‘shiva’ comes over there, it is referring to the quality of all-auspiciousness. And that is present in Vishnu because He is , the Vishnu Sahsranam says’ pavitranam pavitram yo mangalanam ca mangalam’. So that is talked about not just at this place, many places it is talked about. So what it means is that, that name originally applies to Vishnu because He has that quality. But as a proper noun it may also apply to a person secondarily. Actually there is an elaborate analysis given like this. So he says that the original referent for this name is Vishnu…. Vishnu is sarva namavan. So there may be an issue of interpretation over there. In some cases where the names or the passages are not interpreted accurately and that’s why some other devatas may be considered as supreme.
Now third is that we have the system of multilevel worship and when the system of multilevel worship is there, at that time in this system the Puranas in goodness consider one devata as the Supreme, Puranas in passion consider another devata to be Supreme, we know that system…Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva…. like that. So now this is the Vedic system itself and this is talked about in the Puranas itself. The Vamana Purana talks about this classification. And then there is a verse in the Skanda Purana where Lord Shiva is saying
siva-sastresu tad grahyam bhagavac-chastra-yogi yat paramo visnur evaikas taj jnanam moksa-sadhanam shastranam nirnayas tv esas tad anyan mohanaya hi. iti.
Basically, what the verse says is that if there is a contradiction between the Shiva shastra and the Vishnu shastra then the Vishnu shastra is considered to be higher. Now the point here is that it is accommodated within the Vedic tradition. That there can be multiple levels of worship. So for those who are in the mode of ignorance or influenced by the lower modes they get a particular conception and that conception is not considered wrong. It is accepted. They understand this way and its ok. So we don’t have to necessarily question that. So this whole concept of demigod worship, I have a full class on that and maybe I can send you a link for this but the principle is, Krishna Himself says
yo yo yäà yäà tanuà bhaktaù
tasya tasyäcaläà çraddhäà
täm eva vidadhämy aham
So Krishna says in BG 7.21 that it is I who gives faith. So if they have a desire to worship a particular God, I give faith and our Acaryas have explained how does Krishna give faith? One is as the Supersoul within the heart. But He also gives the faith through the specific Puranas. So there are sections in the Puranas where particular devatas are mentioned as supreme…..(not clear) The Upanishads, although they are revelations but they are revelations which, in some cases, have come as discussions. So if there is a discussion between two sages and if one particular sage has a particular orientation of worshipping a particular devata then that will be reflected in the conversation also. So therefore we can’t absolutise every statement in the Scripture nor can we consider one statement in scripture as a contradiction to the teaching of the scripture elsewhere which is repeated. So if we see now, the Bhagavad Gita is also accepted as Upanishad, Gitopanishad and it’s quite categorical where Krishna is declaring His supremacy. So in that sense we understand that, just as the Puranas are divided into three modes and accordingly different devatas are considered as Supreme, so similarly this happens to some extent, not generally in the full Upanishads, but in sections of Upanishads it may happen. And based on that, certain Upanishads are considered to be more important by the followers of that tradition.
So we don’t necessarily have to always consider that the whole book is itself an interpolation or that there is issue of interpretation. We also understand the fact that in some cases that is a part of the Lord’s plan to give people faith and to have them elevated accordingly. So i give the example of… how the prodigal son has gone away. So the father is a king who wants his son to come back but the son is not ready to come back. So the father sends a minister and then for the son, the minister says ” I will offer you money, i will give you a good job, come and stay with me” By that the father gets the son back in the kingdom. The minister is being paid by the king and whatever the minister pays to the son is coming from the king only. Similarly, Krishna says
sa tayä çraddhayä yuktas
labhate ca tataù kämän
mayaiva vihitän hi tän
Whatever the devatas are giving, it is I who am giving it to them. So by that Krishna gets people atleast within the Vedic fold and from there they can elevate themselves gradually further up. It may take future lifetimes, but atleast they are on the progressive spiritual path. So there are three ways: It is interpolation, or it is misinterpretation, or it is an intermediate step for gradual elevation. In this way we can understand such statements where other devatas are considered Supreme in some scriptures.
Here is the Skanda Purana verse:
siva-sastresu tad grahyam
paramo visnur evaikas
taj jnanam moksa-sadhanam
sastranam nirnayas tv
esas tad anyan mohanaya hi. iti.
ata – therefore; uktam – said; skande – in the Skanda Purana; sanmukham – Karttikeya; prati – to; sri-sivena – by Lord Siva; siva – of Siva; sastresu – in the scriptures; tat – that; grahyam – to be accepted; bhagavac-chastra-yogi – appropriate for the scriptures of Lord Visnu; yat – what; paramah – Supreme; visnuh – Lord Visnu; eva – indeed; ekah – one; taj – that; jnanam – knowledge; moksa-sadhanam – bringing liberation; sastranam – of scriptures; nirnayah – the conclusion; tv – indeed; esah – this; tat – that; anyan – another; mohanaya – for bewilderment; hi – indeed; iti – thus.
In the Skanda Purana, Lord Siva tells Karttikeya:
The statements of the Siva scriptures should be accepted only when they agree with the Visnu scriptures. Lord Visnu is the only Supreme Lord, and knowledge of Him is the path to liberation. That is the conclusion of all the scriptures. Any other conclusions are meant only to bewilder the people.”