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In this chapter of the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata, Shiva extols the great qualities of Vishnu. In particular, he says this:

The illustrious Hari, the puissant Narayana, is verily, the foremost of all beings in Heaven. Adored, he adores, and honoured he honours; unto them that make offerings to him, he makes offerings in return. Worshipped, he worships in return, if seen always, he sees the seers always. If one seeks His refuge and protection, He seeks the seeker as his refuge in return. Ye foremost of all righteous ones, if adored and worshipped, He adores and worships in return. Even this is the high practice of the faultless Vishnu. Even this is the vow that is practised by all righteous people, of that first of all deities, that puissant Lord of all creatures. He is always worshipped in the world. Verily, that Eternal Being is worshipped by even the deities.

My question is, what does Shiva mean by saying that Vishnu worships those who worship him, seeks the protection of those who seek his protection, etc.?

Is this just a roundabout way of saying that he does good to and loves those who worship him? That would fit with the line about "this is the vow that is practised by all righteous people", i.e. gratitude to those who have helped you.

In any case, are there any commentaries on the Mahabharata that explain this quote?

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    interesting question. :) I dont think you will get an answer for this on any forum. It is something you have to ask Lord Vishnu Himself sitting in your Heart :)!! – Sai Jun 13 '15 at 16:18
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    @Sai Thanks! Yeah, it's possible that it's something that can't be explained in words, only experienced, but I hope it's something concrete that commentaries have discussed. – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 13 '15 at 21:02
  • @Keshav - Parasara Bhattar in his bhasya (Bhavad guna darpanam) on Vishnu sahasranama number 683 Sttota says that "Lord Praises those who praise him" and quotes from Hari Vamsam Kailasa Yatra " He who is praised makes the praiser praise worthy and praised. He who is saluted makes the saluter saluted by others" – user808 Sep 16 '15 at 16:45
  • @Krishna Are you referring to his commentary on the name Mahahavih? – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 16 '15 at 17:24
  • @Keshav - Stota nama in "Stuti Stota rana priyah" – user808 Sep 16 '15 at 18:10
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This is a recurring theme throughout the scriptures. Krishna says in the Uddhava Gita (Chapter 9):

  1. Neither Brahma, nor Shiva, nor Balarama, nor Lakshmi, nor My own form is so dear to Me as you. [addressing Uddhava, who Krishna says is the supreme devotee of the Lord]

  2. With a view to purifying Myself by the dust of his feet, I always follow the sage who cares for nothing, is calm, bears enmity to none, and is even-minded.

  3. O Uddhava, neither Yoga, nor knowledge, nor piety, nor study, nor austerity, nor renunciation captivates Me so much as a heightened devotion to Me.

And in the Gita:

VI. 30. He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, to him I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.

VI. 31. He who having been established in oneness, worships Me dwelling in all beings--that yogi, in whatever way he leads his life, lives in Me.

VII. 17. ...For supremely dear am I to the man of wisdom, and he is dear to Me.

IX. 29. I am the same to all beings; to Me there is none hateful or dear. But those who worship Me with devotion--they are in Me, and I too am in them.

The Lord cannot resist true Bhakti, true love which asks for nothing in return. He is drawn to true love as iron is drawn to a magnet. Thus, as it says in the Uddhava Gita, he follows a true sage in order to get the dust of his feet.

In the Shakta tradition, the Divine Mother is sometimes shown with dust on Her - this is the dust of the feet of Her true devotees, as She will lay on the ground so that they may walk over Her so that She can collect the dust of true love.

  • OK, but what does it mean to say that Vishnu seeks the protection of those who seek his protection, for instance? – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 12 '15 at 13:30
  • Also, that Uddhava Gita quote seems strange to me. How does Krishna purify himself with the dust of his devotee's feet? I can understand if he said he loves the very dust of his devotee's feet, but what does it mean to say that it purifies him? – Keshav Srinivasan Jun 12 '15 at 13:34
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    What the Lord is saying is that the Lord feels that the love of a true Bhakta is so pure that the dust of his feet has the power to purify Him who is Purity itself... – Swami Vishwananda Jun 13 '15 at 5:00
  • O my Great Mother Mahakali. Why would mother Lalita lie down for us, sinful, walk over Her Head. I think the true devotee of Mother Durga is Durga himself. – user9392 Apr 24 '17 at 15:14
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This is from Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 4, Verse 11

ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते तांस्तथैव भजाम्यहम् | मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते मनुष्या: पार्थ सर्वश: || 11||

ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāns tathaiva bhajāmyaham mama vartmānuvartante manuṣhyāḥ pārtha sarvaśhaḥ

ye—who; yathā—in whatever way; mām—unto me; prapadyante—surrender; tān—them; tathā—so; eva—certainly; bhajāmi—reciprocate; aham—I; mama—my; vartma—path; anuvartante—follow; manuṣhyāḥ—men; pārtha—Arjun, the son of Pritha; sarvaśhaḥ—in all respects

Translation

BG 4.11: In whatever way people surrender unto me, I reciprocate with them accordingly. Everyone follows my path, knowingly or unknowingly, O son of Pritha.

Commentary

Here, Lord Krishna states that he reciprocates with everyone as they surrender to him. For those who deny the existence of God, he meets them in the form of the law of karma—he sits inside their hearts, notes their actions, and dispenses the results. But such atheists too cannot get away from serving him; they are obliged to serve God’s material energy, Maya, in its various apparitions, as wealth, luxuries, relatives, prestige, etc. Maya holds them under the sway of anger, lust, and greed. On the other hand, for those who turn their mind away from worldly attractions and look upon God as the goal and refuge, he takes care of them just as a mother takes care of her child.

Shree Krishna uses the word bhajāmi, which means “to serve.” He serves the surrendered souls, by destroying their accumulated karmas of endless lifetimes, cutting the bonds of Maya, removing the darkness of material existence, and bestowing divine bliss, divine knowledge, and divine love. And when the devotee learns to love God selflessly, he willingly enslaves himself to their love. Shree Ram thus tells Hanuman:

ekaikasyopakārasya prāṇān dāsyāsmi te kape

śheṣhasyehopakārāṇāṁ bhavām ṛiṇino vayaṁ (Vālmīki Ramayan)[v14]

“O Hanuman, to release myself from the debt of one service you performed for me, I shall have to offer my life to you. For all the other devotional services done by you, I shall remain eternally indebted.” In this way, God reciprocates with everyone as they surrender to him."

And this is from narayana suktam(yajurveda)-

" dhāta purasthādyumudājahār shakrah pravidvāmpradishschatasraù  tmevam vidvānmrta iha bhavati nānanyaù pantha ayanāya vidyate

The one whom Brahma saw and revealed, whom Indra perceived in all four directions, by knowing him I become immortal in this world. I know not anyone other than him.

ōm sahasraśīrṣaṁ devaṁ viśvākśaṁ viśvaśambhuvaṁ, viśvaṁ nārāyaṇaṁ devamakśaraṁ paramaṁ padam.

Aum, the god of infinite heads, the eyes of the universe, the source of all existence, this universe itself, is Nayrayana, the imperishable god, and the highest goal.

viśvataḥ paramam nityaṁ viśvaṁ nārāyaṇagï harim, viśvamevedaṁ puruṣastadviśvamupajīvati.

The highest of all, the eternal, this very universe is Narayana, the destroyer of sins, the Purusha, upon whom the universe and all this subsists.

patiṁ viśvasyātmeśvaragï śāśvatagï śivamacyutam, nārāyaṇaṁ mahājñeyaṁ viśvātmānaṁ parāyaṇam.

The ruler, supporter and protector, the lord of all the souls, the eternally permanent, the auspicious, and the strong willed is Narayana, the great one worthy of knowing, who is firmly devoted to the souls of all the beings in the universe.`

Both Bhagavad Gita and Narayana Suktam agree that once you devote yourself to Narayana - Narayana reciprocates by devoting himself to well-being of his devotee, by destroying your karma - your sins (thus the name hari) and Maya and thus lead you to spiritual enlightenment. :D

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I will give you a few examples. If you look in the mirror, you see your image, and your image sees you. You are "looking" at "yourself." "Looking" is an act, just as "worshiping" is. The act of "looking" is on "yourself." The act of "worshiping" is on "yourself" also. Your action is what the Godhead is doing right now. We are reflections of God as rays of the sun; we are NOT distinct from God. (God made us in His image.) When you look around you, you think you are seeing "other" people, "other" items, but in fact you are really seeing yourself. This is the blurring of perceived lines I will mention below.

God is in you. So, when you worship God, which is all-pervasive, the all-pervasiveness of God worships you. Transcendence has to do with blurring of the lines. The lines (your individual body compared to the other perceived bodies around you such as the desk, the stapler, the wall, people, etc.) will blur. God is everything. Whenever you worship, God is worshiping.

Another example. It's a sort of reciprocity that you may be familiar with from science. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you hit the tree hard with your fist, the tree will hit your fist just as hard. If you worship God, God will worship you.

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