Moksha or Liberation from the limitations of human existence – basically the Karmic Cycle in existential terms – has been the main goal of all Spiritual pursuits, specifically in India. Towards that end, Yoga was the means. If Moksha was the goal, Yoga was the vehicle. And here, Yoga is absolutely not the poses and Asanas (although they serve a purpose but not in the way they are “taught” or done in most “yoga schools” today!). Yoga consisted of various tools to cater to different components of Human existence – Emotion (Bhakti), Action (Karma), Intellect (Jnana) and Energy (Kriya).
The most basic manifestation of Yoga – the Asanas, and its connected component – Meditation – are not just philosophies that one can debate or concepts that one can conjecture about. They are tools with empirical evidence regarding their impact on human body, mind and energy patterns. Yoga, even in its most basic manifestation – Asanas and Meditation – is so complex and intriguing in impact, that it obviously didn’t drop out of thin air. Its nuanced and subtle ways show a substantial effort and work that went into its creation.
Yoga came from Shiva, the Adi Yogi (or the First Yogi). Just as Yoga is not merely a concept, all those who contributed to it cannot be just “concepts”. They were beings who mastered these tools and practices after very clear understanding of the human existence.
If Shiva was the Adi Yogi and the origin of Yoga, beings like Patanjali and Krishna were the foremost exponents of this whole body of work as it was used in different ways. Bhagwad Gita discusses Yoga in all its facets. That is why it is known as Yogashastra. Every adhyaya (chapter) is an exposition in some facet of Yoga.
Beings as Gods
Just as there are billions of humans now and billions earlier, the ways to seek one’s ultimate dissolution were multitude as well. Even though the seeking of Moksha may be available in 112 ways in Yogic system as per Shiva Sutra, the use of these ways has been done as per the Guru’s own capabilities and capacity. Based on a Spiritual Being’s ways, s/he manifested the highest qualities of this existence. Like we have discussed, Shiva, Krishna and Ram have in their own way demonstrated 3 different paradigms of dealing with society through their own life examples.
God was always recognized in different ways in Hinduism – which can be said to be the translation of Yogic learnings into lay people’s life. The consciousness of Krishna or Vishnu or Shiva – the vibrant and reverberating energy manifestation – was the illustration of Divine for many. How these beings lived their lives – by being above the fray of life – showed their mastery of their own self. That was worthy of worship for people across the land. Here is a lovely description by Sadhguru on why we worship Ram.
Similarly, the lives of Goddesses were translated into benchmarks worth worshiping.
Energy Forms as Gods
There was another source of “God creation”. Kriya Yogis who could work with energy forms and mould them in certain ways so they could be used for different Spiritual purposes and pursuits. Those energy forms when properly consecrated and unleashed in society came to acquire the status of Godliness. They were in a way a manifestation of the Divine in a certain quality. For lay people with no understanding of the Yogic details, such energy forms remained available as only deities, who could be worshiped in specific ways – so as to invoke the maximum benefit of the form. That is how it was meant to be. Let us, for example, understand the form of Goddess Kali and its importance.
Why so many Gods?
Now that we have understood the mechanism by which some being or form acquired Divine status, let us understand why was there a need for such a diverse and large “crowd” of Divine beings?
What is Infinite can never be identified. That which is All, how can you point at it as one specific identity or form or quality? If you can identify something as one, then it is not Infinite and therefore, not God. It was clearly understood by the Yogis and the Hindus versed in scriptures, that God is the conscious energy that forms the substratum of this existence. Existence was a manifestation of that substratum. There was nothing called creation. Only manifestation. That is why Yogis never called this existence as Kriti. Rather they terms it as Srishti – originating from the word Srijan, which describes how a tree manifests from a seed. The forming of a tree from a seed is known as Srijan.
What is energy at the subtle level, is matter at the gross level. The subtle is the God and the gross is the existence or Srishti. So the primordial subtle was at once in everything and everything. For everything – from your hand and table to the furthest star was nothing but a manifestation.
What cannot be identified and one that is infinite, can also be defined as anything or everything. Just as the primordial subtle manifests as a tree, it does so as a form in the temple. And as the cow. Or a Tiger. Or a stone. Or a kid. Or an old man.. or an ant. Whatever is true of a tree at its most fundamental primordial subtle level is also true of a whale or a star. The Divine could therefore very easily be represented by any form and by any way.
The beings or things that did “make the cut” as more prevalent Divine representations were those which manifested the highest consciousness in very crystallized ways. Thus when a deity was consecrated by the process of Prana Prathishta, it represented a particular quality in the most crystallized manner. We have seen how Prana Prathishta can impart qualities to a form that can impact even physical qualities of things around them.
Gods in Hinduism were never a statement of a limited, singular and normative definition but an admission that such a thing was a worthless exercise. So, the Divinity was attributed to everything that was fragrant, or that nurtured, blossomed, loved, and enhanced life. Anyone who exhibited qualities that showed how s/he could handle his being in an unwavering way despite the storms of world and life was also worthy of worship.
Whether it was the energy forms created by Kriya Yogis, or objects that invoked love and compassion in people or great beings worthy of reverence – ultimately it was the consciousness that was the most fundamental marker of Divinity. For, Divinity of Krishna was never represented by his body or his clothes. Krishna’s Krishna-ness was in his Consciousness. Only touching that level of consciousness was aim of every devotee.
So why so many Gods and Goddesses? Because the omni-present and the highest of consciousness could be accessed in unlimited ways and means. Whatever or whoever could reverberate at that level was Divine or Godly. Multitudes of Gods of the Hindus is, therefore, not a statement of “confusion” but a profound understanding that Infinite can only happen in unlimited finite representations. Any restriction to the multitudes of the finite representations renders the Infinite consciousness unsustainable.