Vishnu/Krishna’s Partnership with Shiva
Vishnu symbolizes the metaphysical principle of the Preserver. Periodically throughout the Cycles of Time, Vishnu incarnates for the purpose of persevering and protecting the world. He eliminates the ‘bad’ guys.
From the perspective of the soul traveling in time and space, lost in lifetime after lifetime of our own play, the cosmic force that "preserves" the universe is the lifeboat, the refuge.
The Preserver is revered and worshipped so that we, who are enveloped in the appearance of separation, may achieve our dreams. We offer our prayers and sacrifices to that energy which will bring a long healthy life, wealth and a good family. When storms assail us, we immediately turn to whatever we believe will protect us - in the hope that we will not be destroyed. Vishnu symbolizes this refuge, protection, and preservation.
However from the perspective of the Oneness that manifests the universe and the enormous variety of beings playing herein, the Preserver is the metaphysical principle that holds the temporal illusory hologram in tact.
The Principle of Cohesion
The Preserver's job is to infuse the holographic universe with cohesion. Vishnu is the metaphysical force that holds the temporal illusory hologram together. The appearance of cohesion allows the creative powers of Maya to continually weave ever more subtle and seductive webs to entrap us in increasingly dense delusion, as the cycles of time progress into greater solidification. We cannot play without a universe to play in!
Just as a spider can be lured into the seemingly invisible web of another spider and find itself caught, it legs being bound until it is helpless to fend off death - so we wander into webs of our own making in the endless quest to satisfy the thirst of our desires, that thirst which can never be filled.
Krishna moves the universe from one cycle of time to the next
In the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata, Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu the Preserver – but if we view Krishna from the perspective of the Oneness, we may shed new light on his often-mysterious behavior. We perhaps come to understand that Krishna's role in the grand epic tale is to bring on the next cycle of time. Krishna appears to be facilitating the emergence of the Kali Yuga at the end of the Dvapara Yuga. In fact, it is commonly accepted that the Kali Yuga begins the moment Krishna leaves his body in 3603 B.C.
Krishna in the Mahabharata is aware that he is the incarnation of Vishnu, unlike Rama in the Ramayana. Krishna refers to himself as that immutable, eternal, imperishable Oneness which all souls must inevitably resort to. "I support this entire universe constantly with a single fraction of Myself!” (BhG.X.42).
In Chapter XI of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reveals his real nature to his friend Arjuna through the astonishing ‘Vision of the Universal Form’. Krishna is clearly all-powerful, but in the epic tale he only rarely exhibits these powers. Krishna does not actually physically fight in the battle itself, and instead chooses to be the driver of Arjuna's chariot.
Keep in mind that the Krishna in the Mahabharata is not the Krishna in the later Sanskrit text the Bhagavata Purana. The delightful sweet cowherd stories of that text are not included in the older Mahabharata. In fact Radha is never mentioned. Krishna marries Rukmini, although he also has 16,000 other wives!
Krishna’s propitiations to Shiva
Towards the end of the Mahabharata’s Great War, we learn that it was Krishna’s ‘propiations’ to Shiva that had caused Shiva to intervene and protect the Panchalas, led by the sons of Pandu - Arjuna, Yuddisthira, Bhima and the twins, the side of the family that Krishna supports. In other words, the war had gone favorably for Arjuna and his brothers thus far because of Shiva’s honoring and respecting Krishna’s acts of austerity.
With truth (satya), purity, honesty, with renunciation, austerity (tapas) and restraint, with forbearance, devotion, resolve, and understanding and speech, has Krishna, whose actions are unsullied, propitiated (aradhana) me.
Therefore none is more favored by me than Krishna.
To honor that dear man and to assess you I have intervened to protect the Panchalas and displayed multiple illusions.
- K. Crosby, The Mahabharata, Clay Sanskrit Library; 7.60-62
The Sanskrit word TAPAS is derived from the verb-root ‘to burn’ and is defined as heat, energy, penance, austerity, and concentrated discipline. It is a bit like a bank of acquired powers. Great beings and masters who perform such Tapas are often described as standing on one toe in the icy Himalayas for 2000 years!
Krishna gave his armies to the enemy and became Arjuna’s charioteer because his power to control the outcome of the war did not lie in his vast armies, but rather in Krishna’s capacity to propitiate Shiva. These propitiations apparently have a time limit on them, as Shiva explains:
By protecting the Panchalas it is him that I have respected.
But they are overpowered by Time.
Today their life runs out.
Does the same Krishna, who in the Bhagavad Gita revealed to Arjuna his astonishing and all-powerful Universal Form, require some sort of extra power from the god Shiva? What we are being led to understand here by the author of the Mahabharata is the deeper metaphysical meaning personified by these deities.
As the incarnation of Vishnu, Krishna is playing his role as the metaphysical principle of Preservation and cohesion. Shiva’s domain is that of the Destroyer. Krishna protects and inevitably gains victory for Arjuna’s side through the propitiation of the Shiva principle - that powerful energy which controls the forces of destruction.
Shiva and Krishna/Vishnu are working together to unfold the woven universe within which the Oneness plays in Its myriad of veiled forms. They are two of the three metaphysical principles.
Vishnu is the principle of “the cohesive, or centripetal, tendency known as the sattva quality … while Shiva, the centrifugal principle, means dispersion, annihilation, nonexistence, darkness.” (A. Danielou)
The third principle, represented by Brahma, lies between the centripetal and the centrifugal principles. “It is a balance between concentration and dispersion, between a tendency toward existence and a tendency toward annihilation, between light and darkness, between Vishnu and Shiva” (A. Danielou). Brahma is the great Immensity, the Fullness envisioned as the Creator in Space and Time.
Krishna as Vishnu protects the universe and intervenes to allow the movement of one cycle of time to the next. He is the sustainer of the hologram we play in. When we are weary of our play, it is logical that we may turn to Shiva – the metaphysical principle that is the Destroyer, the force that destroys our delusion.
In the timeless Nataraja image of Shiva as Cosmic Dancer, he dances in waveforms as rings of fire on the dwarf of delusion and ignorance.
As metaphysical ideas these deities are the various expressions of the One, that That-ness, the eternal imperishable Oneness we all are - our eternal Home. While Shiva dances on our self-created delusion, Krishna invites us to enter into his consciousness.
Krishna promises to lift up out of eternal transmigration - the ocean of birth and death - the one who thinks of God, whose mind is absorbed in and whose thoughts have entered into the Supreme Self (XII.7).
Either way, we return to being that which we always are.
Mahabharata, Book Ten, The Sauptikaparvan, Dead of Night; translated by Kate Crosby; The Clay Sanskrit Library; New York University Press, JJC Foundation, 2009.
The Gods of India, Hindu Polytheism, by Alain Danielou; Inner Traditions International Ltd., New York, 1964 & 1985.
The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Winthrop Sargeant; State University of New York Press, 1994.
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