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The Rahasyatraya Sara is a work by the Sri Vaishnava Acharya Vedanta Desikan, concerning the meaning of the Rahasya Traya or three secrets of the Sri Vaishnava sect (of which I'm a member). In this excerpt from the Rahasyatraya Sara, Vedanta Desikan discusses why Hindu scripture describes other gods as aids to attaining Moksha, when Vishnu is described as the sole path to Moksha:

If, in some places, these gods are spoken of as assisting in the attainment of moksha, it should be understood to mean that they, like Acharyas, assist by imparting knowledge and in other such ways. This is also the purport of the following passage; "The man who is a devotee of the god of the sun (Surya) will, after seven more births, become a devotee of Rudra by the Sun's grace. He who is a devotee of Sankara will, after seven more births, become a devotee of Vishnu by the grace of Sankara." And again:- "He who is a devotee of Vasudeva will, after those seven births, become one with Vasudeva by His grace."

My question is, what scripture contains these quotes about a Saura (devotee of Surya) becoming a Shaivite after seven births, a Shaivite becoming a Vaishnava after seven more births, and a Vaishnava attaining Moksha after yet another seven births?

I expect it's from one of the Puranas, but I'm not sure which one. Are there any commentaries on Vedanta Desikan's work which address this?

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    @iammilind First of all, Vaasudeva has always been a name of Vishnu, long before the birth of Krishna; see my answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/6923/36 Vishnu has been called Vaasudeva in numerous scriptures including the Valmiki Ramayana, the Taittiriya Aranyaka of the Yajur Veda, and the Pancharatra Agamas. In fact, the whole reason that Krishna was born to someone with the name Vasudeva is so that his name would be Vaasudeva, reflecting the name of Vishnu. Sep 9, 2015 at 10:11
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    @iammilind Also, just because a scripture originated in the past 5000 years does not mean that its truth isn't timeless and universal. The Mahahbharata, the Puranas, and the Brahma Sutras were all composed by Vyasa in the end of the Dwapara Yuga/beginning of the Kali Yuga. But their truths are still timeless and universal, because Vyasa composed these works using his abilities as a Trikalajnani. So if the quotes in my question are found in one of those works, it will be true, full stop, not merely true for the past 5000 years. Sep 9, 2015 at 10:15
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    @iammilind In any case, I don't think the quote is precluding the attainment of Moksha in other ways. It's just saying that if you're living an otherwise ordinary life with the one distinguishing feature being that you're a devotee of Surya, then seven births later you'll become a devotee of Shiva, seven births later you'll become a devotee of Vishnu, and seven births after that Vishnu will grant you Moksha out of compassion. That doesn't stop you from doing other things to get Moksha in the mean time. Sep 9, 2015 at 10:19
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    @iammilind "Looking forward for an answer which would also contain a proper definition of Vishnu which is neither limited to current Indian subcontinent nor limited only to how Indians define Vishnu." I'm not sure what you mean. How Indians define Vishnu is the correct way to define Vishnu, insofar as those Indians are relying on Hindu scripture for their understanding of Vishnu. I'm not sure what the point is of a definition of Vishnu that's from something other than Hindu scripture. But you may be interested in my answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/6896/36 Sep 9, 2015 at 10:52
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    @iammilind "Transferring a devotee from Shiva to Vishnu is something debatable." Well, it's debatable for the time being, at least until we find a scriptural reference to confirm it. That's why I asked the question. Sep 9, 2015 at 10:58

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This is stated in the Brahma Mahā-Purāṇa.

Although the "seven-births" parts are not explicitly stated (and the devotee ladder starts from Agni-deva), the rest of it, all matches with what Vedanta Desikan says in his work.


Chapter 121 - Manifestation of Māyā, Brahma-purāṇa

व्यासमुनिसंवादे विष्णुभक्तिहेतुकथनम्


व्यास उवाच

Vyāsa said:


श्रृणुध्वं मुनिशार्दूलाः प्रवक्ष्याम्यनुपूर्वशः । यथा कृष्णे भवेद्‌भक्तिः पुरुषस्य महाफला ॥ २२९.३ ॥

  1. Listen, O leading sages. I shall mention in due order how a person shall attain devotion to Viṣṇu with great benefit.



संसारेऽस्मिन्महाघोरे सर्वभूतभयावहे । महामोहकरे नॄणां नानादुः खशताकुले ॥ २२९.४ ॥
तिर्यग्योनिसहस्रेषु जायमानः पुनः पुनः । कथंचिल्लभते जन्म देही मानुष्यकं द्विजाः ॥ २२९.५ ॥

  • 4 & 5. The worldly existence is extremely terrible. It strikes terror into all living beings. It causes sorrow to men. Hundreds of miseries abound in it. A soul is born again and again in thousands of species of lower living organisms, O brahmins, and with great difficulty it attains human birth.



मानुषत्वेऽपि विप्रत्वं विप्रत्वेऽपि विवेकिता । विवेकाद्धर्मबुद्धिस्तु बुद्ध्या तु श्रेयसां ग्रहः ॥ २२९.६ ॥

  1. After human birth, he attains brahmin-hood, power of discrimination, a sense of piety, and happiness in successive births.



यावत्पापक्षयं पुंसां न भवेज्जन्मसंचितम् । तावन्न जायते भक्तिर्वासुदेवे जगन्मये ॥ २२९.७ ॥

  1. Until the ultimate destruction of all sins of men accumulated in different births, devotion to Vāsudeva (Vishnu) who is identical with the universe, is not possible.



तस्माद्वक्ष्यामि भो विप्रा भक्तिः कृष्णे यथा भवेत् । अन्यदेवेषु या भक्तिः पुरुषस्येह जायते ॥ २२९.८ ॥
कर्मणा मनसा वाचा तद्‌गतेनान्तरात्मना । तेन तस्य भवेद्‌भक्तिर्यजने मुनिसत्तमाः ॥ २२९.९ ॥

  • 8 & 9. Hence, O brahmins, I shall tell you how devotion to Viṣṇu is effected. A person may be devoted to other Devas mentally, verbally and physically. His soul is directed to those gods. Thereby, O excellent sages, he may become inclined to perform sacrifices.



स करोति ततो विप्रा भक्तिं चाग्नेः समाहितः । तुष्टे हुताशने तस्य भक्तिर्भवति भास्करे ॥ २२९.१० ॥

  1. Then, O brahmins, with great concentration and purity of mind be begins to love the Fire-god (Agni-deva). When the fire-god is propitiated he becomes a devotee of the Sun-god (Surya-deva).



पूजां करोति सततमादित्यस्य ततो द्विजाः । प्रसन्ने भास्करे तस्य भक्तिर्भवति शंकरे ॥ २२९.११ ॥

  1. O brahmins, he worships the Sun-god (Surya-deva) regularly. When that god is pleased he becomes devoted to Śaṅkara (Shiva).



पूजां करोति विधिवत्स तु शंभोः प्रयत्नतः । तुष्टे त्रिलोचने तस्य भक्तिर्भवति केशवे ॥ २२९.१२ ॥

  1. He performs the worship of Śambhu (Shiva) duly and strenuously. When the three-eyed god is satisfied he becomes devoted to Keśava (Vishnu).



संपूज्य तं जगन्नाथं वासुदेवाख्यमव्ययम् । ततो भुक्तिं च मुक्तिं च स प्राप्नोति द्विजोत्तमाः ॥ २२९.१३ ॥

  1. By worshipping the imperishable lord of the universe named Vāsudeva (Vishnu), O excellent brahmins, he attains worldly pleasures and salvation.

English Translation by G. P. Bhatt

One may access the Gita Press Gorakhpur's abridged Hindi version of the above from here. Also, the alternate link for the English Translation from here.



  • On a side note, a similar thematic narration, yet again from the Vaishnavite perspective, is also found in the Skanda Mahā-Purāṇa Verses 2.7.19.(13-26).



Further, similar "hierarchies" may exist for other sects' Supreme deities too; two examples out of many, being as follows -


  • One instance of which is described in the Devī Bhāgavata-purāṇa Chapter 1, Book 5; establishing the hierarchy of -
    [ Brahmā < Vishnu < Rudra < Devi ] in that order.

  • Yet another similar hierarchy is found in the Kulārṇava Tantra (II. 7-8) too, which establishes the hierarchy as follows -
    Vedācāra < Vaiṣṇavācāra < Śaivācāra < Dakṣinācāra < Vāmācāra < Siddhāntācāra < Kaulācāra
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As an answer is already given let me choose another path from different point of view.:

In different chakras it goes differently.:

  • Anugraha (liberation).: Bhagawan Sada-Shiva/Ishana.
  • Tirobhāva (concealment).: Bhagawan Mahesha/Tat Purusha.
  • Saṃhāra (annihilation).: Bhagawan Rudra/Aghora.
  • Sthiti (maintenance).: Lord Vishnu/Vamadeva.
  • Sarga (creation).: Lord Brahma/Sadyojata.

So, Yes, Lord Vishnu is the highest but in Sthiti Chakra only where he performs all 5 activities.

Shiva Purana 6.15.:

  1. Viṣṇu was born from a thousandth part of Rudra. In the form of Vāmadeva wheel he is the presiding deity of the principle of water.

  2. He is associated with Lakṣmī Śakti on the left. He is the protector of all. He has four arms. He has eyes as splendid as the lotus. He is dark-complexioned and bears the characteristics of Śaṅkha etc.

  3. Of him alone is the set of four Vāsudevas in the Vyaṣṭi form. It bestows liberation on the devotees of Viṣṇu engaged in worship through meditation.

  4. This set of four consists of Vāsudeva, Aniruddha, Saṃkarṣaṇa and Pradyumna. This excellent wheel of sustenance is well known.

  5. Sustenance means the protection of the existing universe along with its creator until the completion of the pleasures of the souls, the reapers of the fruit.

  6. Protection is the activity of Viṣṇu. In the sustenance also the lord has five activities, viz; creation etc,

  7. The deities of whom Pradyumna is the chief are absolute and without distress. They cause bliss to liberated souls.

  8. O Brahmin, this wheel of sustenance which is permanent is presided over by Viṣṇu. It is the highest abode.

  9. This region is attainable by those who serve the lotus-feet of Viṣṇu. This wheel yields Sālokya etc. to the devotees of Viṣṇu.

In Highest Chakra it goes like that.:

Shiva Purana 2.2.43.:

Lord Śiva said:—

.

  1. The base man who differentiates the deities of the Trinity[1] certainly stays in hell as long as the moon and the stars shine.

  2. My devotee may worship the gods. Being so absorbed he will attain knowledge leading to eternal salvation.

  3. Without devotion to Brahmā one cannot have the devotion to Viṣṇu; without devotion to Viṣṇu none will have devotion towards me.

Skanda-Māhapurāṇa, Suta Samhita, Muktikhanda, 3.40-47.:

Lord Shiva said- The devotees who worships other gods, attains Salokya etc. due to the difference in the superiority of the idol to be worshipped and the difference in the way he worships himself. Then, on becoming eligible for Krama moksha, he comes to me through Brahmaloka and Vishnuloka and attains Kaivalya after getting the Vedanta knowledge about God from me. The one who is not eligible for Krama moksha enjoys many pleasures in the world he worships and then gets a human body again. The person who thinks that 'I am Shiva present in all the idols and worships me in this way, he also attains my supreme form in the above mentioned order according to the superiority of the particular idol to be worshipped and the difference in the one who worships, and attains Kaivalya by taking knowledge from me situated in Uttam Apa. But the one who believes in me in all the idols, attains me sooner than the one who does not think so. O Vishnu! In the same way, by external actions also, by attaining me in a systematic manner and by taking the knowledge of Shiva from me, the soul becomes free, if the external action is performed with a pure heart.

Skanda-Māhapurāṇa, Suta Samhita, Muktikhanda, 3.27-31.:

Lord Shiva said- Hey Janardana! The person who worships you daily with devotion, this person with pure mind attains you and (after receiving teachings from you) in due course of time, finally attains me. In the best worlds, even after enjoying the sensual pleasures, the living being becomes liberated by attaining knowledge. Or if the mind is not very pure, then after attaining Sarupya, Samipya or Salokya, it can gradually move towards salvation (or can come back to the mortal world). Hey Vishnu! One who worships your other forms, gets liberated gradually after getting this closeness. O Achyuta- One who worships your symbol or idols, after attaining this Salokya, gradually attains salvation as per his feelings and finally after having vision of mine he attains Kaivalya through Tatvajnana.

I hope this helps your queries. Prd..

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