Inhabitants of the Worlds
The worlds are inhabited by countless grades of beings, ranging from the highest Devas (of whom there are many classes and degrees) to the lowest animal life. The scale of beings runs from the shining manifestations of Spirit to those in which it is so veiled that it would seem almost to have disappeared in its material covering. There is but one Light, one Spirit, whose manifestations are many.
A flame enclosed in a clear glass loses but little of its brilliance. The light is dimmer if we substitute for glass, paper, or some other more opaque yet transparent substance. A covering of metal may be so dense as to exclude from sight the rays of light that burn within with equal brilliance. As a matter of fact, all such veiling forms are maya.
They are none the less true for those who live in and are themselves part of the mayik world. Deva, or “heavenly and shining one” – for spirit is light and self-manifestation – applies to those descending yet high manifestations of the Brahman, such as the seven Shivas, including the Trinity (trimurtti), Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra. Devi, again, is the title of the Supreme Mother Herself and is again applied to the manifold forms assumed by the one only Maya, such as Kali, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Gauri, Gayatri, Sandhya, and others.
In a sense also in which it is said, “Verily, in the beginning, there was the Brahman. It created the Devas,” the latter term also includes lofty intelligencies belonging to the created world intermediate between Ishvara (Himself a Purusha) and man, who in the person of the Brahmana is known as Earth-Deva (bhudeva). These spirits are of varying degrees, for there are no breaks in the creation, representing an apparent descent of the Brahman in gradually lowered forms. Throughout these forms play the divine currents of pravritti and nivritti, the latter drawing that which the former has sent forth to Itself.
Deva, Jiva, and Jara (inorganic matter) are, in their real, as opposed to their phenomenal and illusory, being. The one Brahman, which appears thus to be other than Itself through its connection with the upadhi or limiting conditions with which ignorance (avidya) invests it. Therefore all beings which are the object of worship are each of them, but the Brahman is seen through the veil of avidya. Though the worshippers of Devas may not know it, their worship is, in reality, the worship of the Brahman. The Mahanirvana Tantra says, “As all streams flow to the ocean, so the Brahman receives the worship given to any Deva.” On the other hand, those who, knowing this, worship the Devas do so as manifestations of the Brahman and thus worship It mediately. The sun, the most glorious symbol in the physical world, is the mayik vesture of Her, who is “clothed with the sun.”
The Devas are of two classes: “unborn” (ajata) – that is, those who have not, and those who have (sadhya) evolved from humanity, as in the case of King Nahusha, who became Indra. Opposed to the divine hosts are the Asura, Danava, Daitya, and Rakshasa, who, with other spirits, represent the tamasik or demonic element in creation. All Devas, from the highest downwards, are subordinate to time and karma. So it is said, “Salutation to Karma, over which not even Vidhi (Brahma) prevails” (Namastat karmmabhyovidhirapi na yebhyah prabhavati). The rendering of the term “Deva” by “God” has led to a misapprehension of Hindu thought. The use of the term “angel” may also mislead, for the world of Devas has, in some respects analogy to the angelic choirs. The Christian conception of these Beings, their origin, and functions do not include, but in fact excludes, other ideas connoted by the Sanskrit term.
The Pitris, or “Fathers,” are a creation (according to some) separate from the predecessors of humanity and are, according to others, the lunar ancestry who are addressed in prayer with the Devas. From Brahma, who is known as the “Grandfather” Pita Maha of the human race, issued Marichi, Atri, and others. His “mental sons”: the Agnishvattvah, Saumnyah, Havishmantah, Ushmapah, and other classes of Pitris, numbering, according to the Markandeya Purana, thirty-one. Tarpanam, or oblation, is offered daily to these Pitris. The term is also applied to the human ancestors of the worshipper, generally up to the seventh generation, to whom in shraddha (the obsequial rites), pinda and water are offered with the mantra “svadha.”
The Rishi are seers who know and by their knowledge, are the makers of shastra and “see” all mantras. The word comes from the root rish Rishati-prapnoti sarvvang mantrang jnanena pashyati sangsaraparangva, etc. The seven great Rishi or Saptarshi of the first Manvantara are Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulaha, Kratu, Pulastya, and Vashishtha. In other Manvantara there are other sapta-rshi. In the present manvantara the seven are Kashyapa Atri, Vashishtha, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni, Bharadvaja. To the Rishi, the Vedas were revealed. Vyasa taught the Rigveda so revealed to Paila, the Yajurveda to Vaishampayana, the Samaveda to Jaimini, Atharvaveda to Samantu, and Itihasa and Purana to Suta. The three chief classes of Rishi are the Brahmarshi, born of the mind of Brahma, the Devarshi of lower rank, and Rajarshi or Kings who became Rishis through their knowledge and austerities, such as Janaka, Ritaparna, etc. The Shrutarshi are makers of Shastras, as Sushruta. The Kandarshi are of the Karmakanda, such as Jaimini. The Muni, who may be a Rishi, is a sage. Muni is so called on account of his mananam (mananat muniruchyate). Mananam is that thought, investigation, and discussion which marks the independent thinking mind. First there is shravanam listening; then mananam, which is the thinking or understanding, discussion upon, and testing of what is heard as opposed to the mere acceptance on trust of the lower intelligence. There two are followed by nididhyasanam, which is attention and profound meditation on the conclusions (siddhanta) drawn from what is so heard and reasoned upon. As the Mahabharata says, “The Veda differ, and so do the Smriti. No one is a muni who has no independent opinion of his own (nasau muniryasya matang na bhinnam).
The human being is called jiva – that is, the embodied Atma possessed by egoism and of the notion that it directs the puryashtaka, namely, the five organs of action (karmendriya), the five organs of perception (jnanendriya), the fourfold antahkarana or mental self (Manas, Buddhi, Ahangkara, Chitta), the five vital airs (Prana), the five elements, Kama (desire), Karma (action and its results), and Avidya (illusion). When these false notions are destroyed, the embodiment is destroyed, and the wearer of the mayik garment attains nirvana. When the jiva is absorbed in Brahman, there is no longer any jiva remaining as such.
Ordinarily there are four chief divisions or castes (varna) of Hindu society – viz.: Brahmana (priesthood; teaching); Kshattriya (warrior); Vaishya (merchant); Shudra (servile) – said to have sprung respectively from the mouth, arm, thigh, and foot of Brahma. A man of the first three classes becomes an investiture, during the upanayana ceremony of the sacred thread, twice-born (dvija). It is said that by birth one is shudra, by sangskara (upanayana), dvija (twice-born); by study of the Vedas one attains the state of a vipra; and that he who has knowledge of the Brahman is a Brahmana. The present Tantra, however, speaks of a fifth or hybrid class (samanya), resulting from intermixture between the others. It is a peculiarity of Tantra that its worship is largely free of Vaidik exclusiveness, whether based on caste, sex, or otherwise. As the Gautamiya Tantra says, “The Tantra is for all men, of whatever caste, and for all women” (Sarvvavarnadhikaraschcha narinang yogya eva cha).