Are GODs just symbolic ???

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Thu Jul 18 12:27:22 CDT 2002

On Tue, 16 Jul 2002, Srikrishna Ghadiyaram wrote:

> The Swami repeatedly said, "there are only two type of accounts, one
> Historical and the other Symbolic. There is no mythological account." On
> several occassions, the talks conveyed that even the story of Bali,
> Prahlada, and churning of milk ocean etc. is only symbolic. However, the
> swami classifies Rama and Krishna as Historic.

This doesn't make any sense.  For a start symbolism and historicity are
orthogonal.  For example the Jalianwalabagh massacre was a historic event
which had a great symbolic significance for the independance movement as a
symbol of colonial perfidy.  Other historical ones have no symbolic value
and other symbolic ones have no historic value.  Secondly his
classification seems rather arbitrary.  What historical evidence do we
really have of Rama or Krishna?  Is it because the idea of a King of
Dwarka or Ayodhya seems more plausible than an ocean of milk?  Then that
is merely prejudice without sound reasoning to back it up.  As Jagannath
mentioned, myths do often have a historical basis if one cares to look.

My dictionary explains myth as "a traditional story accepted as history
which serves to explain the world view of a people." This illustrates an
important difference between history and myth.  History represents a
sequence of events, Mythology gives value to events.  History would be
history regardless of whether anyone studied it or not.  Mythology is
social, its' value come from it being known amongst a group of people.

So whether or not something was historic is in the end not really relevant
for the reason we are reading the shastras which is to understand the
philosophical and religious basis of our culture.

> Personally, I am not happy when I hear all such puranic stories as
> symbolic, and also give just symbolic status to Vishnu, Siva, Brahma, Devi
> etc. This can be a hindrance to Bhakti.

I think you are making the same mistake as the Swami of assuming that
symbolic means not real or inferior.  This is only the case if you believe
that perception is the only valid pramana.  Science does this so todays
muddle-headed modernists try to show how "scientific" our religion is.
But people who actually have a clue about science and history are not
going to be impressed by such reasoning.  Personally, I'm happy to let
science deal with scientific things and religion deal with religious
things without trying to mix them together.

> However, I read very encouraging and positive enforcing talks of HH Swami
> Chandrasekhara Saraswati, describing these stories are real, though we can
> not believe, etc.

What is reality?  Advaitins of all people should know there are grades of
reality.  The dream is 100% real until you awake.  The waking reality is
100% real until compared with Brahman when it will seem totally false.
Take for example the U.S. dollar.  It is a symbol of value.  It used to be
based on something real (i.e. physical) In theory you could take a dollar
to the US treasury and redeem it for a certain amount of gold.  But the US
left the gold standard long ago.  Nowadays, the only thing that gives the
dollar value is the belief that the dollar has value.  But the next time a
bill collector comes to see you, try telling him "money is only symbolic"
and see how far it gets you!

> What is the accepted Advaitic View on this subject. Please give me
> references.

What we call God or the Lord is Brahman in the saguna aspect.  And yes
names and forms eventually have to be transcended but what remains at the
end is not just a cipher.  See
for a post in which Shankaracharya shows that even the famous "neti neti"
does not give an agnostic but a positive description of Brahman.  So
moving from saguna to nirguna is not a denial of God but a fuller
understanding.  To achieve that understanding doesn't require giving up
the prior one only understanding its' proper place.  See
for a quote from Shankaracharya on the place of the worship of God who is
explicitly called Narayana and equated with the highest self.  In the
bhashya on another sutra which unfortunately I can't give you a reference
right now, which discusses certain jivanamuktas who were reborn, he quotes
examples from Itihasa-Puranas such as the story of how Apantarasa Gautama
became Veda Vyasa.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>
It's a girl! See the pictures -

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