Vishwarupa: a Cosmic form of Vishnu

Vishwarupa, a cosmic form of Vishnu. Bhagavad Gita, ca. 1740. US public Domain via wikimedia
Vishwarupa, a cosmic form of Vishnu. Bhagavad Gita, ca. 1740. US public Domain via wikimedia

In the image above we see Vishwarupa, a cosmic form of Vishnu. Vishnu ( विष्णु) is the Supreme God of Vaishnavism, one of the major traditions within Hinduism.

Vishnu is depicted as the one “who has neither a beginning nor an end” and as “the great effulgence.” He is “pure consciousness.” He is depicted as having “a thousands or infinite heads, thousands of eyes and thousands of feet.For some Vishnu is known primarily as a deity of worship and for others he is an image of the csomic Self.

According to Shankara’s commentary on the Ten Principle Upanishads, Vishnu is the form of Brahman, the supreme Self and eternal Truth. Ultimately, all things are are representations of eternal Truth. Vishwarupa is a reminder of this truth.

We cannot perceive the true nature of Brahman (the supreme Self) by form or by properties. The supreme Self is neti neti, ‘not this, not this.” Because the eternal Truth is beyond representation, we represent this Truth in images and forms of the deity, such as Vishnu or Indra. Shankara says as much in his commentary on the Keno Upanishad

The Keno Upanishad states:

“What speech does not enlighten, but what enlightens speech, know that alone to be Brahman [the Supreme Self], not this which (people) here worship.” (Keno Upanishad, Verse 4)

Shankara Comments:

“The preceptor conveyed that Atman is Brahman, the disciple doubted how the Atman could be Brahman. The Atman as is well-known, being entitled to perform Karma and worship (of the gods) and being subject to births and re-births seeks to attain Brahma or other Devas, or heaven, by means of Karma or worship. Therefore, somebody other than the Atman, such as Vishnu, Ishvara, Indra or Prana is entitled to be worshiped”….

“So says the Sruti [most authoritative, ancient religious texts], know this Atman to be the Brahman, unsurpassed.” (Shankara’s comment on Verse 4 of the Keno Upanishad)

What Shankara seems to be saying is that we can worship Vishnu, or Ishvara, or Rudra or Indra, but these are all simply images of the supreme Self (Brahman).

Carl Jung also understand the Self to the archetype that gives rise to the god image. In Symbols of Transformation (CW 5), Jung speaks of the God Rudra, quoting a passage from the Shvetashvatara Upanishad:

There is one Rudra only, they do not allow a second, who rules all the worlds by his powers. Behind all creatures he stands, the Protector; having created them, he gathers all beings together at the end of time. He has eyes on all sides, faces on all sides, arms on all sides, feet on all sides. He is the one God who created heaven and earth, forging all things together with his hands and wings. You who are the source and origin of the gods, the ruler of all, Rudra, the great seer, who of old gave birth to the Golden Seedgive us enlightenment! (In Jung, para 176).

Jung says: “behind these attributes we can discern the All-Creator,” confirming the idea in the following passage:

Beyond this is Brahman [3], the highest, hidden in the bodies of all, encompassing all. Those who know him as the Lord become immortal.”

Notes and references:

  1. Upanishads and Sri Sankara’s commentary, translated by S Sitarama Sastri p. 30- 60.
  2. The Esoteric Codex: Deities of Knowledge by Harold Burham
  3. Please note that Jung uses the word ‘Brahma’ here when it should probably be Brahman. I have found that it is common for scholars of this era to say Brahma when they mean Brahman. I offer Max Müllers interpretation from Sacred Books of the East Volume 15: The Upanishads. “Those who know beyond this the High Brahman, the vast, hidden in the bodies of all creatures, and alone enveloping everything, as the Lord, they become immortal.”
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