January 23, 2019
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The Place of Ishvara in the Hindu Pantheon and Mythology

Ishvara (Sanskrit Īśvara) is a theological concept in Hinduism translating to “lord”, applied to the “Supreme Being” or God in the monotheistic sense, or as an Ishta-deva in monistic thought. Much like “lord” (dominuskurios) in Western usage, the Sanskrit īśvará primarily (late Vedic Sanskrit) has a temporal meaning of “lord, master, prince”. The theological meaning “the Supreme Being” first arises in the Manu Smriti, while īśa is used as a name of Rudra somewhat earlier, in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (c. 300 BCE), considered the first evidence of the development of that deity, the later Shiva, into a supreme, cosmological god. In Saivite traditions of Hinduism, the term is used as part of the compound “Maheshvara” (“great lord”) as a name for Shiva. In Mahayana Buddhism it is used as part of the compound “Avalokiteśvara” (“lord who hears the cries of the world”), the name of a bodhisattva revered for her compassion. When referring to divine as female, particularly in Shaktism, the feminine Īśvarī is sometimes used. In Vedanta Ishvara is a transcendent and immanent entity best described in the last chapter of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita, known as the Isha Upanishad. It states īśā vāsyam idaṃ sarvaṃ, “enveloped by the Lord must be this all”, suggesting a kind of panentheism. The conception of Ishvara in Hinduism is very much dependent on the particular school of thought. While any one of five forms of a personal being can embody the concept of Ishvara in Advaita Vedanta, schools of Vaishnavism, on other hand, consider only Vishnu and His incarnations as the ultimate omnipotent Ishvara and all other forms as merely expansions or aspects of Vishnu. Advaitism holds that when human beings think of Brahman, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit is projected upon the limited, finite human mind and appears as Ishvara.  Therefore, the mind projects human attributes, such as personality, motherhood, and fatherhood on the Supreme Being. An interesting metaphor is that when the “reflection” of the Cosmic Spirit falls upon the mirror of Maya (Māyā; the principle of illusion, which binds the mind), it appears as the Supreme Lord.[1]Brahman is not thought to have such attributes in the true sense. [2] However it may be helpful to project such attributes onto Brahman. In Vishishtadvaita, Ishvara is the supreme cosmic spirit who maintains complete control over the universe and all the sentient beings, which together also form the pan-organistic body of Ishvara. The triad of Ishvara along with the universe and the sentient beings is Brahman, which signifies the completeness of existence. Ishvara is Para Brahman endowed with innumerable auspicious qualities (Kalyana Gunas). Para Brahman (IAST para-brahmaṇ) or Parama Brahman (the Highest Brahman; not to be confused with brahmin, an Indic social class designation) is a term often used by Vedantic philosophers as to the “attainment of the ultimate goal.” As such, Ishvara is perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, creator of the world, its active ruler and also the eventual destroyer. He is causeless, eternal and unchangeable — and is yet the material and the efficient cause of the world. He is both immanent (like whiteness in milk) and transcendent (like a watch-maker independent of a watch). He is the subject of worship. He is the basis of morality and giver of the fruits of one’s Karma. He rules the world with His Māyā — His divine power. According to the Dvaita school, Ishvara possesses all the qualities seen in Vishishtadvaita. Ishvara is the efficient and material cause of the universe and the sentient beings and yet exists independently. Thus, Dvaitism does not separate Ishvara and Brahman, and does not believe that the highest form of Brahman is attributeless, or that Ishvara is incorporeal.  Instead, Ishvara is the highest form of truth and worship of Ishvara involves belief in an infinite and yet personal and loving being. Acintya bhedābheda is a school of Vedanta representing the philosophy of inconceivable one-ness and difference, in relation to the power creation and creator, Ishvara, (Krishna), svayam bhagavan. [3] and also between God and his energies [4] within the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition. In Sanskrit achintya means ‘inconceivable’, bheda translates as ‘difference’, and abheda translates as ‘one-ness’. It is believed that this philosophy was taught by the movement’s theological founder Chaitanya Mahaprabhu [5] and differentiates the Gaudiya tradition from the other Vaishnava Sampradayas.

Tree of Life Attribution

ISHVARA designates a level of Cosmic Consciousness which is very close to the western idea of God.  ISHVARA PRANIDHANA is the state of permanent communion with the Cosmic Consciousness and of total surrender to the Cosmic Will. It means placing your consciousness, mind and body completely, absolutely, thoroughly into the Superior Cosmic Will.  It means to cooperate with the higher levels of cosmic manifestation through a sincere and intense yearning toward integrating your being into the Universal Harmony.

Another correspondence for Chokmah is Ishvara according to Israel Regardie. In his book A Garden of Pomegrenates, Regardie explains to his readers the nature of Ishvara saying: “When the neutral, absolute reality of Braman takes on attributes, it become Ishvara, god or overlord.  Ishvara is said to have three aspects: Brahma, Shiva, and Visnu.” [1]  Crowley makes no mention of this or at least he doesn’t metions Ishvara by name in his qabalistic writtings.

Western occultists describe Chokhma as the creative, active principle behind the cosmos. It is force, the ultimate Subject, as compared to Binah, the ultimate Object. In this respect, it is very similar to the idea of Shiva in the Shiva-Shakti duality of Shakta tantra. Chokhma and Binah are compared to the fuel and the engine of a car. Chokhma is the fuel, pure force, and Binah is the engine, pure potential. One without the other is useless, both are needed to drive the cosmos.


[1]  Israel Regardie, A Garden of Poemgretates, notes, p. 59.
[2] Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism (Viveka Press 1994)
[3] Kaviraja, K.G. Sri Caitanya-caritamrita. Bengali text, translation, and commentary by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.Madhya 20.108-109 “It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna because he is the marginal energy of Krishna and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire.”
[4] Prabhupada, A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami (1972). Bhagavad-gita as it is. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Los Angeles, Calif.7.8
[5] Lord Chaitanya taught that as spirit souls we are part of God and thus we are one with Him in quality, and yet at the same time we are also different from Him in quantity. This is called acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva, inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and difference.


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