33 million Gods ?

The four primary Vedas represent the accomplishment of a highly developed religious system and encourage satisfaction of material desires through worship of the demigods. They contain many directions for increasing one’s power and position, or for reaching the heavens in one’s future by properly performing particular sacrifices in worship to the devas (demigods), and so on.

Some people ask why there seems to be so many gods within Hinduism or Vedic culture. Yet, if we properly analyze the situation, we will understand that there is but One Supreme Being who has many agents or demigods(devtas and devis) who assist in managing the creation and the natural forces within. And, like anyone else, if they are properly approached with prayer or worship, they may help facilitate the person by granting certain wishes that may be within the jurisdiction of that demigod.

In some places in the Vedic literature it is explained that there are 33 Vedic gods, or even as many as thirty-three million. The 33 gods are calculated as being eight Vasus, eleven Rudras (forms of Shiva), twelve Adityas, along with Indra and Prajapati (Brahma). Then there are also other positions that are considered major or minor devas. According to the Vedas, the devas are not imaginary or mythological beings, but are agents of the Supreme Will to administer different aspects of the universal affairs. They also represent and control various powers of nature. Thus, they manifest in the physical, subtle or psychic levels of our existence both from within and without. In this way, a transcendentalist sees that behind every aspect of nature is a personality.

The names of these gods are considered offices or positions, rather than the actual name of the demigod. For example, we may call the president of the country by his personal name, or simply Mr. President. It’s the position itself that allows for him to have certain powers or areas of influence. In the case of the devas, it is only after accumulating much pious credit that a living being can earn the position of being a particular demigod. Then a person may become an Indra, or Vayu, or attain some other position to assume specific powers, or to control various aspects of material energy.

Another example is that when you walk into a big factory, you see so many workers and all that they are doing. You may initially think that these workers are the reason for whatever goes on in the factory. However, more important than the workers are the foremen, the managers, and then the executives. Amongst these you will find people of varying degrees of authority. Someone will be in charge of designing the products. Another may be the Chief Financial Officer or main accountant. Another may be in charge of personnel, while someone else may be in charge of maintenance in the factory itself. Finally, a chief executive officer or president of the company is the most important of all. Without him there may not even be a company. You may not see the president right away, but his influence is everywhere since all the workers are engaging in projects according to his decisions. The managers and foremen act as his authorized agents to keep things moving accordingly. The numerous demigods act in the same way concerning the functions of nature, all of whom represent some aspect or power of the Supreme Will. That’s why it is sometimes said there are 33 million different gods in Hinduism. Actually, there may be many forms, avataras, or aspects of God, but there is only one God, or one Absolute Truth.

This is often a confusing issue to people new to Vedic philosophy. We often hear the question among Westerners that if Hinduism has so many gods, how do you know which ones to worship? The point is that the devas affect all levels of universal activities, including the weather, or who is bestowed with particular opulences such as riches, beautiful wife or husband, large family, good health, etc. For example, one could worship Agni for getting power, Durgadevi for good fortune, Indra for good sex life or plenty of rain, or the Vasus for getting money. Such instruction is in the karma-kanda section of the Vedas which many people considered to be the most important part of Vedic knowledge. This is for helping people acquire the facilities for living a basic material existence.

There are, of course, various actions, or karmas, prompted by our desires to achieve certain results, but this is not the complete understanding of the karma-kanda section of the Vedas. The karma-kanda section is meant to supply the rituals for purifying our mind and actions in the pursuit of our desires, and not merely to live with the intent of acquiring all of one’s material wants and necessities from the demigods. By having faith and steadiness in the performance of the ritual, one establishes purification in one’s habits and thoughts. This provides a gradual process of acquiring one’s needs and working out one’s desires while simultaneously becoming purified and free of them. Such purification can then bring one to a higher level of spiritual activity. This was the higher purpose of the karma-kanda rituals. Without this understanding, one misses the point and remains attached to rituals in the pursuit of material desires, which will drag one further into material existence.

The reciprocation between the demigods and society is explained in Bhagavad-gita (3.10-12). It is stated that in the beginning the Lord of all beings created men and demigods along with the sacrifices to Lord Vishnu that were to be performed. The Lord blessed them saying that these sacrifices will enable men to prosper and attain all desirable things. By these sacrificial duties the demigods will be pleased and the demigods will also please you with all the necessities of life, and prosperity will spread to all. But he who enjoys what is given by the demigods without offering them in return is a thief.

In this way, it was recommended that people could perform sacrificial rituals to obtain their desires. However, by the performance of such acts they should understand their dependent position, not only on the demigods, but ultimately on the Supreme Being. As further explained in Bhagavad-gita (3.14-15), all living beings exist on food grains, which are produced from rain, which is produced by the performance of prescribed sacrifices or duties. These prescribed duties are described in the Vedic literature, which is manifest from the Supreme Being. Therefore, the Supreme is eternally established in acts of sacrifice.

Although the demigods may accept worship from the human beings and bless them with particular benedictions according to the sacrifices that are performed, they are still not on the level of the Supreme Lord Vishnu (who is an incarnation of Lord Krishna). The Rig-veda (1.22.20) explains: “The demigods are always looking to that supreme abode of Vishnu.” Bhagavad-gita (17.23) also points out: “From the beginning of creation, the three syllables om tat sat have been used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth (Brahman). They were uttered by brahmanas while chanting the Vedic hymns and during sacrifices, for the satisfaction of the Supreme.” In this way, by uttering om tat sat, which is stressed in Vedic texts, the performers of the rituals for worshiping the demigods were also offering obeisances to Lord Vishnu for its success. The four Vedas mainly deal with material elevation and since Lord Vishnu is the Lord of material liberation, most sacrifices were directed toward the demigods.

In Bhagavad-gita, however, Lord Krishna points out that men of small knowledge, who are given to worldly desires, take delight in the flowery words of the Vedas that prescribe rituals for attaining power, riches, or rebirth in heaven. With their goal of enjoyment they say there is nothing else than this. However, Krishna goes on to explain (in Bhagavad-gita 7.21-23) that when a person desires to worship a particular demigod for the temporary and limited fruits he or she may bestow, Krishna, as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, makes that person’s faith in that demigod steady. But all the benefits given by any demigod actually are given by Krishna alone, for without whom no one has any power. The worshipers of the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but worshipers of Krishna reach Krishna’s spiritual abode.

Thus, as one progresses in understanding, it is expected that they will gradually give up the pursuit for temporary material pleasures and then begin to endeavor for reaching the supreme goal of Vedic knowledge. For one who is situated in such knowledge and is self-realized, the prescribed duties in the Vedas for worshiping the demigods are unnecessary. As Bhagavad-gita (3.17-18) explains, for one who is fully self-realized, who is fully satiated in the self, delights only in the self, there is no duty or need to perform the prescribed duties found in the Vedas, because he has no purpose or material desires to fulfill.

However, another view of the Vedic gods is that they represent different aspects of understanding ourselves, especially through the path of yoga and meditation. For example, the god of wind is Vayu, and is related to the practice of yoga as the breath and its control in pranayama. Agni is the god of fire and relates to the fire of consciousness or awareness. Soma relates to the bliss in the samadhi of yoga practice. Many of the Vedic gods also represent particular powers of yoga and are related to the different chakras in the subtle body. It is accepted that as a person raises his or her consciousness through the chakras, he or she will attain the level of awareness and the power and assistance that is associated with the particular divine personality related to that chakra.

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Source: http://www.stephen-knapp.com/complete_review_of_vedic_literature.htm

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