There is quite some confusion about what ‘God’, if any, is worshipped by followers of Sanatan Dharma, aka Hindus. We Hindus pray with equal intensity inside temples dedicated to various ‘Gods’, to trees, to coconuts/ areca-nuts, the earth, at the sea-shore or to a mountain, a stone, or a river. We revere animals, especially desi humped-cows and elephants with the same intense faith. Ravens are given their due importance. If we have a living Guru we will do his puja. We touch the feet of our elders with respect. We recognise the divine energy in everyone, we welcome strangers with a ‘Namaste’, which means we recognise the ‘Ultimate power who is focussed infinity’ in them. (Namaste is a Sanskrit word which means, the paradox of the Para. Union of illusion and wisdom together. Depth of stillness and flowing movement together. The eternal unborn one in solitude.)
However different the external forms of the object of worship may be, the common theme is that we adore the ‘Parabrahma’. One might say he worships Vishnu, Brahmadev or Shiv but he will agree that he really worships the ‘Para’. The Para-brahma is the one beyond-para, the intelligence-brahma, who cannot be described in the limited language of this manifested world, the source of us all. For every Hindu the goal of life is to attain Moksh, ie to experience his own true nature. The individual soul/Jivatma takes several lives, creates and works out his karma. The law of karma is executed by the personal conscience-Antaratma. Whatever you act, think feel etc, this is evaluated by your own personal conscience. You are your own judge of your act, you pass judgement also allot and demerit/ merit.
So the ‘god’ of Hinduism is the beyond, Para. And everyone of us is that same Para. Just we have forgotten our reality. Everything you see, feel, do etc is the Para which has taken on different forms. Follow whatever you choose. All paths lead to the same destination, enlightenment Moksh. The only difference between your own soul and the Universal Soul-Paramatma is the binding of karma.
Then the question is, if we worship one Singular Para, why this multiplicity of ‘gods’? Shiv, Vishnu, Brahmadev, Indra, Varun, Agni, Savitr, Prajapati, Shakti, Laxmi, Ganapati, Skanda, local gods, family gods, village gods, tree gods, mountain gods, the list is endless. The reason is that there is a multiplicity of human nature, each one is different. Some prefer worshipping a female-Devi deity, some prefer a child-bala form, a terrible-ugra form, a peaceful-saumya form, or the elements rivers- Aap, fire- Agni, etc. There is essential freedom in Hinduism, you can worship any form you choose. There is no compulsion to follow a rule-book. In fact there is no rule-book! You should choose the route which stills your mind’s chattering ’spiritual practice’ should be as per your inclination. And every route you choose will take you to the Source, because everything, including you, is a Ray from that same Source.
Our bodies, are composed of these different energies, the 33 classes of deities, the 5 elements Pancha-bhoot, the 7 types of essences sapta-dhatu, the 5 sheaths kosh, the different types of vital energies/pran, etc.
Our soul, now that is different, it is Para.
The Shri-chakra is my favourite yantra. It is easy to explain too because it is visual. You always focus on the central Bindu. This increases the intelligence levels which is an asset in material life. And acts as a guide map for the internal geometry to copy and set itself correctly. Each point and each line of the yantra is defined as a deity, ie an intelligent consciousness. When you stare at the yantra so many types of tremendous energies look back at you with intent attention. Each of these has a name (listed out in the Khadgamala at 2.41 seconds to 7.50 seconds is the main stotra). All of these points and lines are conscious intelligence increasing in energy intensity. Eg the outermost deities will grant you Siddhi-abilities to manipulate time/space/energy, anima, garima, ishitva, vashitva etc. Siddhi are looked down upon by the really serious practitioners. (Eg my cousin 2000km away was in shock, it took 2 seconds of focus to set his energy and physical body right. But if I feed my ego with this, it will create problems in my practice, my focus will waver.) They all pull you towards themselves. But you should understand that that if you gain the whole, these parts will be yours by default. Gain the Bindu and everything below it is automatically yours. You should focus on the central dot always.
This Shriyantra is You! Your energy diagram, you are focussing worshipping adoring your own Entire Self. Liberation is not going to come from outside, it is within you.
Then as you intensely focus your mind, the deities/ conscious energies of the inner circles also offer you abilities. The concentration of your mind is tested to the extreme at every step. You refuse to get caught in their gifts and focus even more intently till you see just the center-most equilateral triangle and the central Bindu. (You will actually see it in your Dhyan, a downward pointing triangle, the brahmanadi within the Sushumna). This means you have reached the Satva-Raja-Tama gun.
Now the test of focus becomes very subtle, the triangle has to be perfectly balanced for you to enter the inner most Bindu mandala, the region of the central Bindu. The three Gun are the essential substance of manifestation. All three are equal in power and importance. All three Gun are equal and they sort of merge form and reform in random continuous motion. This motion is the cause of manifestation. You need all three in perfect balance.
Without Raja-gun you will have no movement. To set the unbalanced Gun back in balance you will need to use the power of movement with intention. This means you will have to understand Raja-gun in its deepest sense. So the defining mantra of Sanatan Dharm is the Gayatri mantra linked to the active principle of Raja-gun, Sarasvati. Every Hindu is required to recite the Gayatri mantra every day! Raja-gun acts on Satva and Tama and puts them out of balance initially. So Raja-gun will be used intentionally by you to bring it all back into balance again.
You will face these three as your kundalini enters the vama, jeyshtha and raudri chakras. (It is long route but because someone asked I am writing this.) If you practice regularly you experience this in a few years. The 3 Gun are represented by conscious energies called Vishnu-satvik, Brahma-rajasik and Shiv-tamasik. Each one of these are equal to the other, no one is bigger or smaller. All three gun are to be ‘defeated’ as they are a part of the manifested, your kundalini will move beyond them. They are not your focus point, just like the Siddhi-s you gain. You are not Vishnu, Shiv or Brahmadev. You reality is even more deeper than these. But they are important in practice. You need help, support, a crutch, these are the crutches. Your source of faith, your ishta-dev, your family gods, etc are very important as they are the support in your initial practice. As your practice deepens you will gradually link with the central Bindu directly. You leave behind the crutches as you learn to walk on your own.
You become what you adore. You practice Dhanur-vidya, science of making war, stilling your mind, with single pointed focus, you will become a warrior. You practice tantra, you will become adept at it. You follow a criminal, you will become a criminal. You do mantra-jaap of Gayatri mantra you will find your internal Light. You follow a Guru you will gain Moksh. What you choose to follow is as per your conscience. Choose a route which appeals to you. But remember the law of karma operates so choose wisely.
The Vishnu Sahastranama is a stotra-mantra where 1000+8 names of Vishnu are given. It is from the Mahabharat. Bhishma recites it and tells Yudhishthir that it is the sure-shot route for Moksh. Each one of these names starting from Vishwam to Sarvapraharnayudha are tremendous. Vishwam means ‘everything’ also ‘individual’ and Sarvapraharnayudha means ‘the one who is ready at all times in all ways to fight’ (but fight what? The vagaries of the mind!). Understanding and experiencing one out of the 1000 words may take a life time as they are all paradoxes. I have recited it innumerable times (takes 30 mins) and done its Homa (takes 1hr). The burst of energy from this practice is infinite. Its energies are healing, even if you cannot recite, listening to it (I like this recital by Uma Mohan) also benefits.
Its phala-shruti which is read last is narrated as a conversation. Here Parvati asks her husband Shiv to reduce the power of this 1000+8 names into one word. Shiv gives this word as ‘Rama’ as being equal to the 1000 names. Then Krishna tells Arjun, ‘the real power of my 1000 names is achievable by the recitation of a single shlok ‘Soham’. So now can you imagine the power Soham has? To understand Soham you have to understand these 1000 Sanskrit words first, each is a mantra in itself. And conversely if you understand Soham you automatically understand the 1000 names! Either way you look at it both outcomes are same. You choose which path you prefer, destination is same. The last shlok said by Brahma is exceptionally awesome, “Namo astu anantaya sahastra murtaye sahasra pada akshi shirh uru bahave sahastra namne purushaya shashvate Sahastra koti yugadhaarine namah”, the energy of this one line!
What is ‘Krishna’? Bhagwat Gita is a Yog-shastra by Yogeshwar Krishna, it has to be practiced in Dhyan. To someone who does Dhyan, Krishna is the undefinable energy seen at the Ajnya chakra. This energy is the Guru/force which pulls the kundalini up to unite with the Kutastha purush. This energy connects you to Reality.
Read the Vignyan Bhairav tantra. Here Shiv/Bhairav, describes the practice which helps attain the state of Para. Every book on tantra is described by Shiv to Parvati. Even Jyotish is described by Shiv to Parvati. Recently am reading a Sanskrit book on Ramal-jyotish ‘Ramal rahasya’, it starts with this, Shiv telling Parvati to teach this only to deserving students! No one book/practice is greater than the other. If you can become a real Jyotishi you can attain Moksh via this route too. Every Vidya, every Shastra every Tantra and each type of Yog will lead you to yourself. There is nowhere else to go! But whatever you choose to follow, you have to practice regularly.
If you are inspired by Vishnu Sahastranam, the last name is Sarvapraharnayudha सर्वप्रहरणायुध. Be prepared to fight, in every way, at every time, with all possible weapons, against all possible enemies. And there are several. If you are following the Bhagwat Gita route, you will meet the energies of the entire Kaurav army and Kuru warriors on the Kurukshetra of your Asan. Your final enemy will be your ego as Duryodhan. These stories Mahabharat or Ramayan or Devi Mahatmya actually happen in energy terms as you do your Dhyan.
In this life I have done pujas using Mahamryutunjai mantra, Gayatri mantra, Navavarna mantra, Shri-sukta, mantras/suktas/stotras from Devi Mahatmya, obviously I do Dhyan. The end result is the same, stilling of the mind. After you do your recital, homa, whatever practice, you have to sit motionless on your asan for at least 30mins. This stillness is of the mind too, only then it is really Dhyan. Whatever you experience in these minutes is your achievement, a few steps further on the road to Moksh.
(There was this question. As my answer was too long posted it as a full-fledged post.
Hi, But Shri Vishnu Sahasranama is suggested by Bhishma in the presence of Shri Krishna in the Mahabharat for Liberation. Doesn’t this mean worship of Vishnu as the god among the trinity is superior? Or is it suggestive of worship of Sattva Guna for transcending the Gunas? Thank you.)