“May good thoughts come to us from all sides.” -Hindu prayer
For Hindus, there is a single, universal god known as the Supreme Being, or Brahman. Brahman contains in itself both being and non-being, and is the sole reality — the ultimate cause, foundation, source and goal of all existence. Brahman is the creator, preserver, transformer and reabsorber of everything.
Numerous gods and goddesses — known as deva (masculine) and devi (feminine), meaning "heavenly," "divine" and "anything of excellence" — represent one or more of Brahman's aspects. Among the many Hindu gods and goddesses are the Holy Triad (Trimurti) of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer) and Shiva (the destroyer) of worlds. This article is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
"Between Brahma and Shiva is Vishnu, full of guile and smiles. Unlike Brahma, he is not attached to the organization. Unlike Shiva, he is not disengaged from it. Like Brahma, he creates. Like Shiva, he also destroys. Thus he creates balance, harmony. A mixture of heart and head, engaged but not attached, constantly aware of the big picture." ~Devdutt Pattanaik, mythologist
The peace-loving preserver and sustainer of life, Vishnu represents the principles of order, righteousness and truth. Vishnu is not a literal person but the aspect of AUM (OM) that preserves the functioning of the universe.
Hindu faithfuls who pray to Vishnu are called Vaishnavas. For some, the goal of religious devotion (bhakti) to Vishnu is liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara). For others, it is health and prosperity in this life, good crops, success in business or thriving children. Most Vaishnavas hope to spend eternity in Vishnu’s presence after death.
(More on the practice of devotion in Bhakti Yoga: How the Path of Devotion Connects Us in a Disconnected Modern World.)
Vaishnavas believe that in times of disorder, Vishnu will emerge from his transcendence to restore peace and order on Earth. He is often said to have more than 10 avatars, or incarnations. Despite the difference in form, or time, all of his incarnations had one common goal: to end all evil and to re-establish dharma (law of the universe), the path to salvation. It is for this reason that Lord Vishnu is known as the protector and preserver of the universe.
The Ten Avatars of Vishnu
In his most common form, Vishnu is portrayed as having a dark complexion (blue) — the color of passive and formless ether — and with four hands. However, each incarnation has a different form and purpose. Vishnu’s ten avatars include Matsya (fish), Koorma (tortoise), Varaaha (boar), Narasimha (the man-lion), Vamana (the dwarf), Parasurama (the angry man), Rama (the perfect human of the "Ramayana"), Balarama (Krishna's brother), Krishna (the divine diplomat and statesman) and the yet-to-appear 10th incarnation called the Kalki avatar. Some sources also consider Buddha as one of the avatars of Vishnu.
When men are faced with a challenge, a particular avatar descends to address the issue. The avatars are not random, arriving at specific periods of time when needed the most. Of them all, the two most widely recognized avatars is that of Rama and Krishna.
Rama is the god of truth and virtue. He is considered the perfect embodiment of humankind: mentally, spiritually and physically. Unlike other Hindu gods and goddesses, Rama is widely believed to be an actual historical figure whose exploits form the great Hindu epic, "Ramayana." Hindu faithfuls celebrate him during Diwali, the festival of light.
(More on this celebration in Happy Diwali! Illumine More Than Just Jack-O'-Lanterns This October for India's Festival of Lights.)
Krishna — one of the most beloved of Hindu gods — is the deity of love and compassion. He is frequently depicted with a flute, which he uses for its seductive powers. Krishna is the central character in the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.
The Four Hands of Vishnu
- In one of the backhands, he holds the milky white conch shell, or sankha, that spreads the primordial sound of Om.
- In the other hand, he holds a discus, or chakra: a reminder of the cycle of time, which is also a lethal weapon that he uses against evil.
- The other hand hold a lotus, or padma, which stands for a glorious existence.
- The fourth holds a mace, or gada, that indicates punishment for indiscipline.
The Pose Dedicated to Lord Vishnu
Vishnu is often depicted as reclining on Sheshanaga: a coiled, many-headed snake floating on cosmic waters that represent the peaceful universe. This pose symbolizes the calm and patience needed to face your fears and worries, represented here by the poisonous snake. The message here is that you should not let fear overpower you and disturb your peace.
Anantasana is a side lying, reclined pose dedicated to Vishnu. This pose is designed to release tight shoulders and hips all while creating length in your torso, arms and legs. You will also engage your core, strengthening and stabilizing your spine.
- Roll onto your right side so your lying right at the edge of your mat. Use this as a guide to keep you straight.
- Extend your right arm along the edge of the mat with the palm of your hand facing down. Resting your left hand on the floor in front of you to establish stability, press your heels away from your hips encouraging lengthening through your legs and side body.
- Firm your core and prevent your lower back from overarching by drawing your tailbone down, lengthening through the front and back body.
- Now, bend your right elbow resting your head in the palm of your hand.
- Bend your left knee and bring your foot on the floor just in front of your right thigh.
- Gently begin to press your left foot against your right thigh and then bring your left hand onto your left leg just below your knee. Gently press the left knee back. Isolate this movement in order to find stability.
- Hug the left knee in close to the armpit and hold the big toe with your index finger, middle finger, and thumb.
- Pressing your big toe against your fingers, slowly extend your left leg toward the ceiling.
- Continue to reach out through the right heel and draw the sacrum and right shoulder blade in toward the front body as you firm the navel in toward the spine.
- To release, bend your left leg, roll onto your back, and begin the pose on the left.
By staying sensitive, clear and courageous in all of your poses, you can become more aware of the tiny adjustments that you need to make in order to stay stable in Anantasana.
Vishnu in Your World
Learning the peace and love that radiates from the teachings and incarnations of Lord Vishnu should inspire all whom become aware to practice loving-kindness and peace as we walk about this world. As Vishnu is known as a god who does not lose patience even in uneven circumstances, be also ready to help others and never lose patience.
Om namo narayana
Acknowledging the Divine in every individual
(Read on for why Patience Really Is a Virtue: One Yogini's Daily Struggle to Practice It More.)