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I understand that deities are One while seeming distinct in our perception of reality. Yet we do differentiate between deities (e.g. Hanumān is seen as distinct from Gaṇeśa).

So, before I read that the Bhāgavata Purāṇa states that Nārāyaṇa is Para Brahman I already understood that they are One. But, the statement itself would be unnecessary if everyone already knew they were One. So, how do/did people see Nārāyaṇa and Brahman as distinct?

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    Welcome to Hinduism.SE. You may understand the concept of Trinity in general term as: Lord Narayana (Vishnu) is Preserver, Lord Brahma is Creator, and Lord Shiva is Destroyer. Now, Brahma and Brahman are two different term. Brahma is Creator while Brahman is the Ultimate Reality or Supreme. Now there are many sects related to Lord Narayana and Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma. All these are supreme according to their followers. So, these all are referred as Brahman. – Triyugi Narayan Mani Jul 4 '17 at 13:13
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    But, doesn't the name (title?) Naranaya mean creator? No. Narayana is made up of two word nAra means water and ayana means residing. So, as a whole Narayana means who resides in water. And not only Vaishnavite but everyone call Vishnu as Narayana. – Triyugi Narayan Mani Jul 4 '17 at 13:34
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    Shriman Narayana or Lord Vishnu is Bramhan or Paramatma the omnipresent omniscent super soul. Lord Vishnu gave birth to hiranyagarbha or Bramha – Yogi Jul 15 '17 at 10:52
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    @RubelliteYakṣī BrahmA refers to the 4 faced Brahma, who is the creator of the universe, and first born from Brahman. BrahmaN is the inner-self of all beings and the supreme reality. And Narayana is synonymous with Vishnu and Brahman itself. Narayana is the inner-self of Brahma, Shiva, and everyone and everything else. The word "Narayana" etymologically means two things: 1) One who rests on water. OR 2) The resting place of all beings – Ikshvaku May 8 '18 at 21:34
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    Yet, that Supreme Para Brahman is superior and is the ultimate reality. That Para Brahman becomes Vishnu, Shiva, Brahmaa, Devi, Ganesha and all. By meditating and worshipping that Para Brahman only, Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Brahmaa, Ganesha et cetera have got their status. And Vaishnavas call that Para Brahma as vishnu, Shaivas call It Shiva, Shaaktas call It Devi, Gaanapatya call It Ganesha, and same for other sects. But at the End, the Supreme Formless Para Brahman is the Ultimate reality untainted by any discrepancies and the Supreme Bliss. – user14995 May 11 '18 at 9:46
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Trinity of Hinduism are actually three forms of Eternal Superme God or Sanatan Param Brahman. Brahma is one of the form of that Param Brahman like Vishnu. Kaivalya Upanishad Mantra 8.

स ब्रह्मा स शिवः सेन्द्रः सोऽक्षरः परमः स्वराट् । स एव विष्णुः स प्राणः स कालोऽग्निः स चन्द्रमाः॥८॥

  1. He(Superme God/Param Brahman) is Brahma, he is Siva, he is Indra. He is the imperishable, supreme self illumined Lord. He alone is Vishnu. He is the life giving breath. He is time, he is fire, and also the moon.

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The shloka is from Vishnu Purana.

Thus the one only god, Janárddana(Param Brahman), takes the designation of Brahmá, Vishńu, and Śiva, accordingly as he creates, preserves, or destroys.

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  • Right. This was all understood when I asked the question. However, even knowing all deities are one in Brahman there are differences between them within the māyā of how we perceive reality. – Rubellite Yakṣī Mar 13 at 17:57
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The confusion between the original question and the Answers & Comments previously given stems from a misunderstanding by the Asker (a younger me). Because things seem distinct by our perceptions even when someone understand all things are foundationally One, there can be confusion between ① the names of (seemingly) differing deities and ② different epithets for the same deity.

Here are two examples:

  • In Judaism, ʾĒl ʿElyōn ("God Most High") is understood to be an epithet for YHVH, not another name for YHVH nor the name of another entity altogether.
  • In Shaivism, Trilocana ("Three-eyed") is understood to be an epithet for Śiva, not another name or deity. In fact, "śiva" itself was originally an epithet for Rudra.

In a philosophy that describes all things as unified as One epithets can evolve into names. And, when one thing has multiple names it can easily be confused as being multiple things. Nārāyaṇa was an early epithet meaning "(that which) abides (within the) waters."

The waters are called narah, (for) the waters are, indeed, the offspring of Nara; as they were his first residence (ayana), he thence is named Narayana.

—Manusmṛiti: chapter 1, verse 10

Though this epithet predates the name Viṣṇu, both refer to the same entity.

Thus, the statement, "Nārāyaṇa is Para Brahman" is the same statement as, "Viṣṇu is Para Brahman." I'm not certain "how people saw Nārāyaṇa and Brahman as distinct," but I suspect that the concept of Nārāyaṇa was understood by people before the concept of Para Brahman. I believe so because aspects of reality relating to the elements are always understood by humans before more ideological concepts such as "that which is beyond all descriptions and conceptualisations." People had to understand each concept individually before they could understand them as the same thing.

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  • While explaining the epithet Nārāyaṇa, you had stated Though this epithet predates the name Viṣṇu. I don't know the basis for this statement. As far as I understood, Nārāyaṇa doesn't appear/refer to Vishnu, which is an epithead of Almighty in Rig Veda. If you had come across such mention in Rig Veda, please give reference, so that I can correct myself. – Srimannarayana K V Mar 13 at 23:56

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