Visnuism and Shaivism in the "Sanatana Dharma" (the Eternal Lore of India)
To begin with, it is necessary to explain that the Trimurti literally means "one who has three aspects". With this term we refer to a Supreme Body which in itself, as a single deity, gathers three aspects of three different deities. The three important Deva archetypes: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are related to the same and unique God also called Iśvara or Saguna Brahman. But this still does not explain the disappearance of Brahma from the official cult.
There are myths and legends that tend to prove the supremacy of Vishnu over the other gods of the trimurti and to explain why the god Brahma is not the object of worship in India. There are obviously shivaite myths and traditions that claim exactly the opposite and that is that Shiva is the greatest of the gods, which is the Absolute, the beginning of all things.
In short, the Skanda Purana, the Lingam Purana or the Vayu Purana narrate this story:
At the origin of the times, when nothing had been created or, more precisely, in the period between the destruction / absorption of the Universe and the creation of a new universe, Vishnu was lying on the serpent Ananta convinced that he was the most powerful god. Suddenly, however, Brahma appeared, attacked with an umbilical cord to Vishnu, the new born declared himself to be the creator of the universe, the one from whom all things would be created. A dispute arose between the two gods. But while the discussion was going on, in the immensity of the spaces there was a deafening roar, accompanied by a beam of light, and suddenly a shining column appeared that from the underworld came up to the supernal spaces piercing the oceans and the earth. It was an infinite and shining, fiery and powerful lingam that left the two gods astonished and terrified.
"What is it?" Vishnu and Brahma wondered. To understand it Vishnu turned into a boar and threw himself into the ocean, Brahma turned into a wild goose and flew into the celestial spaces. Their journey lasted more than a thousand years, but no matter how hard they tried, they could not reach the ends of the column of fire that continued to grow.
Returning to the surface, the two looked at each other, Vishnu admitted that he could not find the beginning of the lingam, Brahma instead, who wanted to win the challenge, lied saying he had reached the summit of the flaming lingam. At that moment, however, in the column of fire a slit opened from which came out Shiva, the lord of the lingam, who manifested himself and proclaimed his supremacy as Absolute, as creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe and all that exists including the two gods who at that point, prostrated before the great God, adored him recognizing his supremacy.
But it didn't end there. Shiva in fact launched an anathema against Brahma who had lied by falsely claiming to have reached the summit of the fire lingam. No cult would have existed in his honor. And so it was.
Making a more in-depth analysis of the tradition of Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Lore) we discover, however, that both Vishnu and Shiva are actually two deities prior to the Vedic Brahmanical culture, brought to India by the Arian invasion of pastoral and warrior populations from the Caucasus, the same as in the era late Neolithic invaded Europe, erasing the pre-existing Matristic culture, replacing it with their patriarchal culture and their male divinities.
In fact in the Indian Vedic tradition we discover the presence of Indra, the god of lightning (equivalent to Jupiter) as head of the gods, Varuna, the god of foams (equivalent to Poseidon), Agni the god of fire (equivalent to Vulcan), etc. Vishnu and Shiva (the latter with the name of Rudra) were later inserted into the Vedic Pantheon. From which it is assumed that these were indigenous deities absorbed only later in the Gotha. In particular the consideration must be made that Rudra (an aspect of Shiva) was considered a terrible god, evidently badly seen by the first brahmins. We have the evidence of the very ancient presence of this divinity in India following the excavations carried out at Mohenjo Dharo and Harappa in the Indus valley (now Pakistan) where his images were found in which he exhibited long horns and wears animal skins, he was in fact considered the Lord of the animals (Pasupata).
Strangely, the Vedic culture that at first tried to colonize India as the centuries went by had to reintegrate the ancient autochthonous divinities until even these assumed the predominance on all the other imported gods. So strong was the change by which one can guess why the creator Brahma was no longer the object of adoration, he remained only as an appellation stuck to the caste of the priests, called brahmins, who actually became officiant of the cults of Vishnu and Shiva.
The story of Vishnu is also lost in the mists of time, its main incarnations, among many others, were Rama and Krishna, two divine characters, comparable to our Christ, who lived several thousand years before the Christian era. The two main Indian epics were dedicated to them, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which together with the Vedas are considered the sacred Indian scriptures par excellence. Shiva also has several sacred scriptures, such as the Shiva Puranas and other more recent texts written by the sage Shankaracharya which is considered an emanation of his.
If we were to examine and describe in a few words the aspects that distinguish these two lines of Hindu thought, we can say that Vishnu represents devotion to the ideal, the duty of doing good, love of neighbor, adherence to ethics, etc. Shiva instead represents the Master, the primordial Guru, who imparts the knowledge of the Self, and directs the adepts towards the realization of the non-dual Absolute.
Let it be clear that in both traditions there have been saints and realized, because as it is said in various contexts and writings devotion and knowledge are like two wings that help man to rise from ignorance and animality.
The Vishnuite approach, however, starts from dualistic worship, called Dvaita Vedanta (dualistic Vedanta) which belongs to the path of Bhakti (devotion). From the point of view of beliefs this is the path that has a greater affinity with religions of Semitic origin: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. That is, the faithful believe in a personal God called Vishnu (or his incarnations Rama and Krishna). In Judaism this function is covered in part by Moses, in Christianity by Jesus and in Islam by the prophet Muhammad.
In the dualistic Vishnuite mythology, as in the Semitic religions, souls always remain separated from their creator and the greatest possible good is the ascent to a "paradise" in which to permanently enjoy the divine presence.
However, it is clear that this paradise, almost a space-time place, must be earned, with works of faith, hope and charity, and the entry visa is released by the divine incarnations, the Avatars, hence the need to be to them devotees to please their favors. Not all Vishnuite philosophy is totally dualistic there is also Vishishtadvaita, or differentiated non-dualism. However Vishnuism is linked to the formulation of a personal God, a simple religious form to be accepted by people who do not understand or ignore the upanishadic high philosophical speculations, but feel the need for a dialogue with the divine world. This is why dualistic Vishnuism is opposed to the Advaita Vedanta philosophy (non-dualistic Vedanta), akin to Shaivism.
The theology of the dualist school is based on pancabheda or five differentiations. According to this doctrine the divine is different from the jivas and the prakriti (nature). The jivas are different from each other and from the prakriti, and the various evolved from it are also different from one another. The dvaita metaphysics formulates two categories, to the first, independent reality, belongs only God, to the second, dependent reality, belongs all the rest. Vishnu is interpreted as a personal God, but in the highest sense he does not have a physical form, an anthropomorphic image, but he manifests himself through his avatars, among which Rama and Krishna are his main impersonators.
Fortunately in India all schools are considered valid for the purpose of a personal evolution, each school leads its students to the point where their mind is able to accept a truth, so all are useful for evolution. A little like what happens in scholastic culture, we go from kindergarten to university, following a course of teaching that does not exclude the various educational aspects, from asticle to the most profound scientific speculations. But in the end the "degree", that is the realization of the Self, is not achieved due to the accumulation of knowledge but due to the rise of a transcendental mystical experience that makes its way into the heart of the researcher to the point of overcoming any conceptualization.
In Shaivism, in fact, there is still a devotional approach, but it is directed towards the inner Shiva, the Self, or the consciousness-being that we all are, as well described in the mantra given by Shankaracharya: "Shivo-ham", I I'm Shiva. But this, exposed by Shankaracharya, can be understood as the purest form of Shaivism, obviously not intended as a monastic or priestly system in the typical Hindu religious structure.
However, from the point of view of inner research, I do not see substantial differences between the path of secular spirituality which I often mention and Shaivism, especially in its Kashmir form. The very definition of "lay spirituality" serves to establish its absolute and total independence from all beliefs (including atheism). In truth, different forms of lay spirituality are recognizable in Kashmir Shaivism and in the advaita vedanta which are the most ancient expressions of this spirituality ...
Shankaracharya, we said, is one of Shiva's manifestations. Shiva from the traditional point of view is considered the aspect of the Trinity in charge of destruction. But this destruction is directed above all towards the ego, or rather that separate identity that prevents man from recognizing himself as One with the Absolute. Therefore Shankara, which is one of the names of Shiva, means "favorable, favorable". He is the Absolute Himself, the inexpressible love that arises from the "I" principle devoid of all identification, the pure awareness of Self (in Sanskrit Atman). Shiva is also defined as "Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram" that is True, Auspicious and Enchanting.
It cannot be said that Nondualism can be perfected, but as far as the descriptive way is concerned we can say that this statement is appropriate in the case of the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, the sage who lived at the foot of Arunachala, the sacred mountain emanating from Shiva (who it is said to be the remnant of the column of fire described at the beginning of this article), where he remained in permanent retreat in the first half of the last century. Ramana is universally recognized as the modern divulger of Nondualist Saivism beyond the borders of India. In the X verse of his 'Forty Verses on Existence' he says: "There is no knowledge separate from ignorance, there is no ignorance separate from knowledge. Whose knowledge and ignorance are these? True Knowledge is that which knows the consciousness that knows, which is the basic principle ".