DIETIES AND YOU
In this article I wish to respond to a letter we
have recently received from a devotee. It is all about deities
and the God who is supposed to rule over them. The devotee’s
problem is basically the following: It is said there is only
one God. But there is also talk of deities, description that
particular deities deal with particular issues/departments,
that prayers for worldly needs do not necessarily reach God,
etc. The writer wants to know if all this means that certain
prayers of his to Swami get delivered to deities instead of
to Swami, and that his request does not receive attention
from Swami but rather from some lesser deity? What precisely
is the protocol followed in the Upper World? Why can’t
Swami personally handle these matters, and why does He need
assistants? The devotee ends his letter with the query: “I
have been under the impression Sai handles everything –
and now this new found info complicates my understanding regarding
prayers and their answers!”
This is an interesting letter. Many people have similar
doubts, and in fact, long ago when I had not made an in-depth
study of Swami’s teachings, I too struggled with all
kinds of doubts of a similar nature. Let us examine our devotee’s
difficulty in some detail. I would like to start by considering
what the statement that there is only One God means. Swami
makes this point even more explicitly. He says: “There
is only God and nothing but God.” That shall be our
The first thing that logically follows from the above
is that if there is only God and nothing but God then clearly
there cannot be any deities! At this point, I can hear the
listener say, “But listen, authorities greater than
you have talked about deities. Are you telling me they all
are fools?” Good point and I shall take that up next.
If we go back in history we would find that in pre-historic
times, people in all communities without exception, were overawed
by the forces of Nature. I mean, who wouldn’t be? The
power of a typhoon is not to be sneered at. As Swami sometimes
reminds us, “Has man made a fan that can blow wind more
powerfully than a cyclone?” So, these ancients intuitively
recognised that there was a power superior to them and started
not only giving names to the deities they thought were responsible
for these forces of Nature but also propitiating these “Spirits”
as they often were referred to. In fact, they devised various
ways to propitiate these deities. Thus, in this manner, the
Greeks had a god for rain, a god for fire, and so on; so did
the ancient Hindus. Indeed, tribes everywhere from Africa
to America did the same. I mean there was hardly any place
where they did not worship deities representing the forces
of Nature in ancient times. The names might have been different
and the procedures of worship might have varied, but all without
exception did acknowledge in their own respective ways the
existence of superior powers to which they all bowed. That
is point number one.
Let me now move on to point number two. Many societies
were content to rest matters there. That is, they were quite
happy to keep themselves busy propitiating the deities and
asking for all kinds of favours from them. But the more intensive
seekers in ancient India decided to probe further and concluded,
in the first instance, that there must be an overlord for
these deities. The deities were like Viceroys, and there must
be a Rex or a King who ruled over them. Thus it is that they
convinced themselves about a Power superior to the deities.
That power was called God.
Now arose an issue. Whom to worship?
Some said, “Worship the deities for particular favours,
and worship the God who ruled them when the deities were unable
to deliver the goods.” Thus in ancient India, many started
worshipping Varuna the God of
Rain when the monsoon failed but prayed to the God who ruled
Varuna when they wanted progeny
or cure from illness and things like that. This is like going
to different counters in a bank when one needs different kinds
At this stage, some thinkers said, “Hey wait
a minute. Let’s examine this business in some more detail.”
They did and came up with an answer that is best illustrated
by using the Bank analogy I just mentioned. In fact, this
analogy can be seen in action all the time here in Prashantinilayam.
Just go to, say, the main office of the State Bank of India
during the working hours. You will find that many customers
are seated with the Manager. Often, these are people from
overseas who have big deposits in the Bank. They may have
things they want to do like withdrawing some money, getting
some foreign currency cashed, making new deposits and so forth.
For every such activity, there is an assigned person and a
counter for conducting the transaction; yet the VIP customer
gets all his jobs done simply by sitting with the Manager.
In the same way, these profound thinkers in ancient India
came to the important conclusion that indeed all the favours
one wants can be granted directly by God and that there was
no need to separately take these issues up with the deities.
Doubts will not cease and some may protest saying,
“Mister, is this not short-circuiting the structure
inherent in Creation? If deities exist, it means that God
created them. And having created them, God also presumably
gave them jobs to do. What then is the big deal in by-passing
them? Is this showing respect to God?”
A good point, and so let us examine further. Here
I shall lean upon an illustration given by Swami. Let us say
there is a lady. She is married, has children, and looks after
the house. Now to her husband, this lady is the wife. To her
children, this lady is the mother. To the father of her husband,
this lady is the daughter-in-law. To the servant, she is the
boss, to the street vendor she is a customer, and so on. One
lady, but playing many roles. In the same way, God plays many
roles. Actually there is no such thing as a separate deity;
it is God Himself who plays that role. When we pray to a deity
we are in fact praying to God but without understanding that
it is really God who is functioning as what we imagine to
be a deity. On such occasions, God functions within certain
parameters that are normally associated with deities.
Let me give an example. A farmer wants rain, and
so he prays to Varuna, the Rain God. If he is deserving, there
might even be rain. The farmer also wants a son. However,
he cannot say, “Hey Varuna, why don’t you be considerate
and grant me a son?” If he did that, he would be told:
WRONG COUNTER! Just like in bank.
what is the lesson? Simple. Treat God as the Almighty, and
you can place before Him ALL your wants. If you imagine that
there are deities, then you have to go this deity for this
and that deity for that. But forget deities and remember only
God; then there is single-window clearance as they say. I
hope our listener friend understands. The Lord makes this
very clear in the Gita, in Chapter
9, for example. He says:
O Arjuna, I
give heat; I send forth rain as well as withhold rain; I am
Death as well as Immortality; I am Being as well as non-Being.
in Vedic rituals worship Me with sacrifices and pray for Heaven;
on death they would reach the world of the gods or Devas and
share celestial pleasures with them.
of the Heavens they certainly enjoy but merit exhausted, they
return forthwith to the world of the mortals. Chained thus
they are to the recurring cycle of births and deaths.
those devotees who endowed with faith worship the minor gods
worship none other than Me though not by the proper method.
Indeed I am
the Receiver and the Enjoyer of all offerings made. But not
recognising me in entirety, they slip back to the mortal world.
Those who worship
the gods go to the gods. Those who worship the manes go to
the manes. Those who adore the spirits go to the spirits.
But those who worship Me come to Me!
Well, that is what the Lord says
and that really forms the bottom line. Incidentally, the Brahmaarpanam
Sloka that we all chant is nothing
but a reiteration of the statement I started with, namely
that everything is God and nothing but God.
I now wish to take up another important aspect of
the remarks made by our listener friend, namely asking God
for this and that. There are many views on the subject, with
some saying we can ask God for anything as long it is not
bad while others saying no we should not burden God. What
is the correct viewpoint?
The answer is clear. Swami says that if we must ask,
it is better to ask God than to beg others. However, having
said that, I must also point out that God would prefer that
we did not ply Him with requests. Here allow me to recall
a story narrated to me by late Dr. Fanibanda. He told me this
many, many years ago, one night when both of us were seated
in the Warden’s Office in Brindavan – a Summer
Course was in progress then. Dr. Fanibanda’s story made
a deep impression on me and I have never forgotten it. This
is what he said.
It appears that many years ago, Swami
was showering a lot of attention on a particular devotee.
I mean lots of Interviews, gifts, vibhuti,
rings, watches and what have you. There was another devotee
who was doing a lot for Swami but hardly got any attention.
And this other devotee who was apparently ignored neither
felt bad nor complained. However, others who were watching
all this from the ringside simply could not keep quiet and
one fine day, one person blurted out, “Swami, You are
giving so much attention to A but what about B? He is doing
so much more and he seems to receive hardly any attention
from You. How are we to understand this? In what way does
Divine Grace work?” Swami smiled and replied, “That
is simple. A is all the time telling Me about what he has
done and I promptly reward him for that – all accounts
immediately settled. B is not cashing his cheques and therefore
earns My Grace. In a house there is a lady and also a servant.
The servant does some work and gets paid. The lady does much
more household work. But is the man of the house giving his
wife a salary like he does to the servant? No, instead he
gives her his love, provides security and takes care of all
her wants. That is precisely the way the God operates!”
Well I suppose that story would make
you think! Let me now briefly refer to the various types of
devotees who come to the Lord. The Lord Himself has categorised
them in the Gita, and I am sure
you are all aware of it. At the bottom of the totem pole are
those who want this and that, then come those who are suffering
misery and want that removed, still higher are those who seek
Knowledge and at the top are those who want nothing, absolutely
nothing. Instead, their prayer is like that of St. Francis,
which, by the way, we had published in one of our earlier
issues – a great prayer. I think the Lord would prefer
we go to Him with that kind of prayer.
Which brings me to yet another story and with that
I shall sign off. This happened some years ago. A devotee
had been given an Interview, and in the Inner Chamber where
Swami engulfs the devotee with incomparable and Infinite Love,
Swami told the devotee, “Ask for anything you want.”
The devotee replied, “Swami I want nothing.” Swami
then said, “I know, but ask nevertheless. There surely
must be something you want.” Again and again Swami urged
the devotee to ask and again and again the devotee insisted
that Swami had already given everything and that he did not
want anything more. Finally, giving in to Swami the devotee
said, “Swami I shall ask for one thing.” “What
is that?” “Swami, I want everyone to be happy
and to receive Your Grace.” Swami was overjoyed and
said, “You know, that is the best prayer one can ever
make – to ask nothing for oneself and the very best
On that wonderful message of Swami, let me conclude,
inviting you once more to write to us with your comments.
By the way, I wonder if you have noticed that your questions
make our work more purposeful, focussed and also very interesting
for us. So, keep writing for we do welcome your response.
Jai Sai Ram. G.Venkataraman