Be Empty

The Teachings of Sri Tirtha Lal Mahanandhar

Another Book of Nothing         Chapters 10-13:      

Get back!               A rose by any other name              Sweet surrender               All you need is love

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Get back!

‘Get back to where you once belonged!’

Curiously, the greatest demons in Indian mythology, through their evil deeds compelled God to incarnate in human form, and being killed by his or her hand, were released from the wheel of birth and death.

The story goes that the great demons or rakshasas, Ravana, and his brother Kumbhakarna, were previously gatekeepers of the God, Lord Vishnu, but fell a victim to pride one day by refusing entry to one of the immortal rishis, or sages, who cursed them to be born in the world. Desperate with grief, they ran to Vishnu who told them even he couldn’t countermand the word of such a great being, but he offered them 7 lives on earth as his devotees, or 3 lives as his enemies. Being great devotees, almost united to their lord in love, they chose the shorter term of separation, and thus it was that Vishnu himself incarnated as Lord Rama, their mortal enemy, in order to destroy them, thus giving rise to the universal blessing of His story and teaching, the Ramayana.

No doubt there are many ways to skin a cat. The point here is that despite their heinous deeds, in their obsessive determination to defeat Rama, such total focus and absorption, even through hatred, completely subsumed any idea of their individualised existence. They thought about God all the time!

Such is the ultimate goal - when the mirror alone remains as it is, reflecting nothing, not even itself. To attain such concentrated focus we have so many images of gods and goddesses,prophets and incarnations, saints and sages; their words and stories, miracles and wonders. We have rituals and remembrances; religions, rules and regulations. But please do judge for yourself their validity and relevance. Test them! Taste them! Try them! See whether they take you closer to the centre of your soul - or do they engender fear and deny your right to see God yourself.

The great ones of this world have all spoken the simple truth of their realisation, but others, often even their immediate followers, have added much, much more. Many times have the original words been ‘twisted by knaves into a trap for fools’, and often they have been usurped to provide credibility to the continued survival of existing power structures. Vast organizations and hierarchies have grown to claim the authority of interpreting the enlightened ones’ words and propagating them according to their understanding and priorities. Such organizations, inevitably involving power, politics and control, that claim to represent God and the authority to determine whatever may be God’s will, often seem more intent on increasing the number of their members and their submission to those they have appointed to be in authority - all in His or Her name! Such ‘authorities’ may even contradict the very words and teachings they claim to espouse, by placing themselves and their rules and regulations between you and God – even threatening eternal damnation!

Indeed, there seems to be no shortage of politicians who love to claim that God is on their side in order to boost their power base, and similarly no shortage of religionists who would have the state enforce adherence to their beliefs and obedience to their dictates. All too often, what seems to happen is that words that were originally intended to lead us to total spiritual freedom become selected and manipulated to perpetuate our dependence, bondage, and fear of some external authority in this world or beyond.

When dear Jesus says: “The kingdom of god is within you,” surely he means in you. Not the church, mosque or temple, priest, imam or guru. Even if they have true realisation, it has to be yours to be real. Jesus’s statement, and indeed all his teaching, predicates no external authority between you and himself or the kingdom of heaven - between you and God; and for this alone he paid the supreme sacrifice in this world.

As I understand it, he said nothing about sex before marriage or with the same sex either; divorce, abortion or birth control, let alone smoking tobacco or drugs, what or what not to eat and a host of other worldly matters that we are told by religionists are very important – but are they? He spoke about feelings and purity of heart - to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and his teaching was to deal with the world as it demands, but not to confuse its regulations and opinions with the love of God - and to clearly distinguish between them.

                  Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God, that which is God’s.

                  Gospel of St. Mark 12:17

All his words are about how to seek the kingdom of heaven by loving God - with all our heart and soul and mind - and to let God’s will, whatever will be, be done. Krishna similarly says:

                  Fix your mind on me, be devoted to Me, 

                  worship me and bow to me; 

                  so shall you without doubt reach Me. 

                  This I promise to you; for you are dear to Me. 

                  Surrendering all duties to me, seek refuge in Me alone. 

                  I shall absolve you of all sins; grieve not.

                  The Baghdad Gita 18:65,66

And of course, Jesus said:

                  Love the Lord your God with all your heart 

                  and with all your soul and with all your mind.

                  This is the first and greatest commandment. 

                  And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.

                  Gospel of St. Matthew 22:37

There can be no controversy following the words of Christ alone, and using them in one’s personal devotion to Him, as an ideal of goodness to try to emulate, and as a guide and symbol in seeking the final answer to life’s problems - turning the other cheek, and judging the right and wrong of their actions against the clarity of their heart. But when it comes to all the extra ideas and rituals that have been added in His name, it is our right to judge whatever people say with heart and reason - and to beware of red herrings!

A story goes that once a boy was watching as his father prepared a religious ceremony to gain merit for his family. All was in place for the ceremony to proceed when a stray cat entered the scene. Not wanting the cat to interfere with the proceedings, the father took a string and tied it to a post. Years later, when the boy’s turn came to perform the same ceremony and when everything was nearly ready, he said, “And now we have to find a cat!”

And so it often goes.


A rose by any other name

… would smell as sweet.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa - (Paramahamsa means a ‘great swan’ that is said to be able to sift the milk of truth from its dilution in the waters of earthly existence), said:

“All religions are but different paths that lead to the same Reality”

Doesn’t the world need to hear this? Doesn’t the world - in which power depends on the perpetuation of the division between ‘us and them’ - need to hear this?

Surely it does. But I fear there are many whose belief forbids it; they are subject to the politics of control by separation, the policy of divide and conquer. Doesn’t everybody’s God create the world and everything in it? I think it only takes just a little contemplation of this statement to recognise its truth. In such a simple way, Sri Ramakrishna also said that if God is indeed all knowing, then like a mother who knows her baby is calling her - with cries, gurgles, words or names in any language – runs to her darling child without a second thought - what difference can it make what those words are, and would not the Universal Mother respond likewise?

In the wonderful ‘Parliament of the Birds’ by Farid ud-din Attar, a Sufi allegorical work describing the stages leading to the vision of God, there is a very touching story that once the angel Gabriel saw ‘The lips of Allah trembling with the word of perfect acceptation’ of a devotee’s prayer, and wondering who such a perfect devotee could be, went searching high and low all over the world in all the mosques and places of prayer, but in vain - until seeing in God’s eyes, that the prayer was ‘rising like incense from the lips of one who to an idol bowed – as best he knew, under that false God, worshipping the true’. (Translated by Edward Fitzgerald 1889)

Although I would take exception to the idea of a ‘false god’ because as this story itself illustrates, as with any image or idol, or even a name or word such as ‘God’, ‘Allah’, ‘Shiva’, ‘Buddha’, ‘Om’ and so on, being sincerely loved and worshipped and taken as a symbol to identify the nameless and formless Divine Reality - when it comes to devotion, the heart is all that matters. When the true worshipper folds or holds their hands in prayer before the Divine, whether in mosque, church, temple, synagogue or any shrine, is it not with the same degree of emotion, faith and love in their hearts?

In the book ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel, it tells how, as a boy, Pi studied and followed the stories and practices of the Hindu, Moslem and Christian faiths simultaneously, loving each approach to God – even to the extent of running to thank Krishna for having led him to Christ. Then, in a beautiful passage that was unfortunately omitted from the movie, Pi is walking with his parents on the seaside promenade of Pondicherry when by chance they met with the local Hindu priest who told the parents what a good Hindu the boy was, then the imam from the local mosque who told them he was a good Muslim boy, and finally the Christian priest who declared him to be a good Christian - all happening to come together at the same time. Thereupon the priests and imam started arguing vehemently among themselves as to which religion was the best – to the bewilderment of Pi and his parents. Finally, Pi’s mother asked him what he thought an he said, “(Mahatma) Bapu Gandhi said all religions are true. I just want to love God”. His father then said, “I suppose that’s what we’re all trying to do – love god” – to which they all, if grudgingly, had to agree.

Those who seek to gain some commission for their deeds or remission of their sins by setting out with the purpose converting others to their faith, however sincerely held, or denigrating that of others must unfortunately have a far more debased and prescriptive image of God than this, and how many have died or been killed in the name of such?

Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita says:

                  In the very last of all births, 

                  the man of realization worships me, 

                  realizing that all this is God. 

                  Such a great soul is very rare.

                  The Bhagavad Gita 7:19

Yet, Krishna himself changed his form to that of Rama, his previous incarnation, when Hanuman, the great devotee of Rama, came to see him, knowing that his love and devotion was focussed on that earlier form of his.

                  Arjuna, howsoever men approach me, 

                  even so do I approach them;

                  for all men follow my path from all sides.

                  The Bhagavad Gita 4:11

For achieving the contemplation, concentration and absorption required to reveal the truth of God within, a single image or personage - a chosen symbol in which to invest the energy of our being and concentrate our feelings and intellect - is the usual way of devotion. We worship one form to encompass all forms, one thought to encompass all thoughts, one concept to encompass all concepts, a haven for the spirit and an image of love - an imagination that will dissolve all our other imaginings.

Jesus says:

                   If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

                   Gospel of St. Matthew 6:22

By concentrating on one image and stilling the mind in an attitude of surrender we are opening our hearts to that Reality which lies behind both the symbolism and even the manifestation of all we see.

But please let us not deny that all forms are God - infinite manifestations of the one we choose to focus on. Above all, when others cry with equal sincerity to another form, name or concept, can we not see our God in the all those different forms that are worshipped throughout the world, and the ultimate glory of the One Single Truth as that which encompasses all forms, yet which, in Itself, has no form at all?

Can we expand our image of God to be truly all that is, and honour all those images, whatever their forms, and the places where they are loved and revered as countless generations of others have before us, holding only God and goodness in their hearts?

                  I go into the Muslim mosque 

                  and the Jewish synagogue 

                  and the Christian church 

                  and I see one altar.




Sweet surrender

Is it really possible to see God in all that is - including the good, the bad and the ugly?

There was a wandering ascetic or sadhu, as wandering ‘holy men’ in India and Nepal are known, who came to a village and asked to spend the night in a deserted temple that local people said was haunted by an evil spirit. The people were horrified and told him no one who stayed there lived to tell the tale. Undaunted, he was lying down to sleep in the temple, when a terrifying demonic form appeared, threatening to devour him. However, the ascetic merely bowed and folding his hands in worship said, “I know who you are - every form is in truth but an image of God – and I am so happy to see you!” Needless to say, he passed the night happily, free from harm.

The bottom line in any path to understanding is surrender, to be receptive, and indeed to under-stand or stand under in order to be able to receive the knowledge and blessing of the divine. Things are as they are whether we like it or not. In the play of life, we ultimately have no control over anything, although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make our universe a better place to be, and thereby cultivate compassion in our heart regardless of whether we succeed or fail.

In Christianity this attitude is crystallized in the dictum of The Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, or from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, “Man proposes, God disposes”. Indeed, it is our disagreement with the way things are, the frustration of our desires and our rejection of that to which we are averse, that quite obviously perpetuates our separation from the divine.

                  Let violent winds which characterise the end of aeons (kalpas) blow; 

                  let all the oceans unite, let the twelve suns burn (simultaneously), 

                  still no harm befalls one whose mind is extinct. 


                  Yoga Vasishta

                  Even here is the mortal plane conquered 

                  by those whose mind is established in equanimity; 

                  since the absolute is free from blemish and equanimous, 

                  hence they are established in the eternal.   


                  The Bhagavad-Gita 5:19

It is quite unusual in modern ‘western’ culture for anyone to bow before another and humility is often taken to be a form of weakness or subservience. In most Eastern cultures however, greetings such as putting the hands together, from in front of the body to the head and above - and bowing, from a slight inclination to placing one’s head on the ground, as for example before one’s family elders – are used to denote varying degrees respect and gratitude, and in everyday situations symbolize recognition of the divine in all. Contrary to this, it is often the case that those who are most intent on presenting an image of strength, power or stubborn independence and pride do so to compensate for a sense of weakness within, and behaving with such rigidity denies them a source of sweetness and joy, especially when it comes to the surrender of our lesser selves in worship and devotion. 

Certainly, a culture of blind obedience to anyone deemed superior due to wealth or social status, and the ridiculous idea that such people are perfect in every respect can lead to an even greater sense of pride and entitlement - and rather pathetic examples of ‘the emperor’s clothes’, for example, when no one will dare to point out the most obvious failings or problems in an organisation so as not to cause any loss of face for those in charge. In either case, taken to extremes, such arrogance believes that man is superior to all, and that eventually even nature itself will succumb to his will – but a will for what? To claim that he is not himself the product and a part of nature too?

All spiritual paths seek to reduce our dependence on external identity and to encourage the surrender of our personal pride and interest in favour of humility. As Jesus says:

                  Who, by taking thought, can add one cubit to his stature?

                  Gospel of St. Matthew 6:27

In the Tibetan region of the Himalayas, there is an ancient legend about the enlightened God-like King Gesar, the stories of whose miraculous exploits have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and are sprinkled throughout with words of the highest wisdom and which, thanks to Douglas J. Penick, are now also available in English. In ‘Crossings on a Bridge of Light’, Gesar travels to hell, the lowest of the six bardos or realms of existence to rescue his deceased mother, and from there ascends with her, experiencing each world in turn until finally becoming absorbed ‘in the golden light of the Wisdom Of Equanimity’ – the non-dual Reality of all existence, before moving to the next. Each bardo has its own particular brand of suffering, and that which distinguishes the realm of humans, is the ability to change their environment according to their desires and ideas, firmly convinced there is nothing that is beyond their ability to achieve or attain thereby.

                  Endowed with the powers of change,

                  Moved by waves of passionate longing, rage, fear, and despair,

                  Ideals, nostalgia and dramas shape and encase your perception,

                  You and the realm itself

                  Are constantly changing.

                  Creating systems of thought and action,

                  Following spiritual and secular paths,

                  Endowed with great intelligence and the power to change,

                  You seek to establish a reality that will never change.

                  Searching for the truth

                  In the mirror phantasmagoria of ‘self and other’

                  Here, you live in the relentless duality of the Human Realm.

                  This duality can never be resolved:

                  It is the display of that

                  Which is beyond duality and beyond mind.

                  Douglas J. Penick, Crossings on a Bridge of Light

And as Rudyard Kipling said:

                  If you can dream and not make dreams your master.

                  If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,

                  If you can meet with triumph and disaster

                 And treat those two imposters just the same…

Indeed, by thinking, are we making ‘thoughts our aim’? The thinker is not a thought, any more than the hearer is a sound, or the seer a sight. The perceiver of all cannot be that which is perceived; the subject cannot be an object of its own perception. Thoughts and perceptions flow out from their origin, appear and disappear - but cannot take you back there because you are already there and always have been - here and now!

In a small and rustic Nepali tea shop, I once bought a cup of tea for a nameless Sadhu (wandering holy-man) and laid three rupee coins on the table before him. Understanding my unspoken request, in return he said:

                  “Shanti meh, sab ata, sab jata”

                  “In peace - everything comes, everything goes”.

The aim of meditation or prayer is the absorption of all thinking in a state of surrender. This may be powered emotionally by devotion to any idea or image in a relationship of love, or intellectually by a calm disassociation from thought and identity.

In regard to the method of restraining thought by means of the constant repetition of a prayer or ‘mantra’, Sri Ramakrishna told the story of a man who begged a ‘yogi’ to give him control over a ghost or disembodied spirit. The sage warned him that if he could not keep the spirit busy it would devour him, but the man could not be swayed from his determination, and so his wish was granted. The spirit had the power to manifest anything the man desired, and this certainly proved no problem to begin with. The man requested gold and palaces and everything he’d ever wanted, however, the spirit produced them all in a flash; so of course he soon began to run out of things to request.  Fearing for his life, the man ran back to the yogi, pleading to be saved from the hungry spirit. Taking pity on him the yogi told him to get a curly-tailed dog and ask the spirit to comb its tail straight. No problem, thought the spirit, but every time he combed it straight it straightway curled up again. Exasperated, the spirit finally begged the man to release him.

The koans of Zen have a similar effect of exhausting the mind’s ability to comprehend some statement such as the famous sound of one hand clapping, leading ideally to its complete surrender.

The nature of the mind is to promise everything, yet it never leaves us in peace. Thus all religious practices have in common this aim to tame the power of the mind by controlling its focus to one degree or another – at least until the water and waves are seen to be one.

You may consider surrendering thus to be a kind of trick or a means to an end, but what’s the alternative?

As the great Sage Vashistha said to Rama:

                  Even the slightest thought immerses a man in sorrow. 

                  When devoid of all thoughts, he enjoys imperishable bliss.

                  Yoga Vashistha


All you need is love

Love offers us that sweet feeling of completeness and unity of spirit, of unconditionally accepting and being accepted for what we are - yet it exists in the form of many different relationships.

There is a child’s love for its mother or father, and their love for the child; there is the love for a brother or sister, and that for a friend; there’s the love of lovers and the love between husband and wife - and there is love for a mistress or paramour in a secret affair. This last form, directed towards one’s chosen ideal, believe it or not, is said in Hindu scriptures to be an analogy of the highest spiritual love. Why? Because the soul yearns for its lover so much that a moment’s separation becomes unbearable to the point of hardly being able to breathe, and despite being involved in the daily duties of life and family, the heart and mind are continuously, totally, absorbed in the object of love.

Love in all these different forms, however, is love. One form cannot really be said to be superior to any other. It is a human emotion, and as such we may feel most attracted to love a form of God as our child, mother, father, brother, sister, friend or lover – or even an animal or nature herself. In this path of devotional love, known in Hinduism as Bhakti Yoga, the stories and images of the Hindu divinities provide ample scope to direct and transform one’s most heartfelt emotions into the quest for spiritual fulfilment. What can be purer than this? Indeed, the idea of ‘holiness’ can sometimes seem to put God far beyond our reach, when surely God’s holiness is all that is, and all that is, is God.

The acceptance of any form of God, as we have discussed, initially at least, is a matter of imagination, and a conscious choice to believe and have faith in that form or concept, or else a belief in the faith and knowledge of what others tell us, when for example as children we accept the beliefs of our parents. Among the common forms, names or images (or non-images) that are worshipped or revered in the world today, there are those of historically enlightened beings who are regarded as messengers, prophets or the ‘son’ of God, Buddhas, or even those regarded as the incarnations of God himself. Then there are also those deities such as the pantheon, or ‘super-family’ of Hindu Gods and Goddesses whose origin lies far back before the beginning of historical records, but which have yet continued to be loved and venerated and their stories nurtured by the communal belief of a whole society and embedded in its culture.

In this respect, Hinduism, and to a somewhat lesser extent perhaps, the Gods that have merged into Tibetan and Nepali Buddhism, is unique in having no traceable historical foundation other than the very beginning of creation itself. The wisdom of the Vedas and Upanishads, together with the stories and teachings of the Gods themselves – continuously reaffirmed with minimal variation throughout history in the experience of a succession of enlightened souls – are such that they cannot be claimed by any particular individual or religious leader as their own unique revelation.

On the other hand, those religions that, like a pyramid, depend primarily on the authority of a single figure, have often in the years and centuries after their passing, been subject to schisms as debate has raged as to the correct interpretation of their originator’s’ words, or over who is the true inheritor of their wisdom. This alone has led to countless wars and feuds, many of which continue still, and which are oftentimes encouraged by political and material agendas greedy to claim such enormous bases of power. Such power depends on separation, and thus the exclusivity of these faiths has often been promoted to justify violence and destruction that has sometimes remained ongoing for centuries.

Hinduism may have its faults, especially when connected to the politics of nationalism and the division of society into ‘us against them’, however in its essence it is generally inclusive of all spiritual aspirations. Over the millennia, almost any religion has been able to find a sympathetic hearing and a home in the lands of India and Nepal and despite periods of fanaticism and instances of intolerance which have preyed upon the unfortunate tribal tendency of humans to identify with one grouping or sect, they have survived and flourished. Ideally, those who follow the teachings of Shiva, Krishna, Rama or any of the Gods and Goddesses, learn from them to have an open-mindedness that is capable of absorbing any and every spiritual path or opinion within an understanding of this very basic human need for a connection to the divine.

                  Arjuna, even those devotees who, endowed with faith, 

                  worship other Gods, they too worship Me alone…

                  Bhagavad Gita 9:23

At its best then, the religion known as Hinduism encompasses the whole gamut of human spiritual yearning and experience. Taken as a whole, it embraces monotheism, polytheism, both and neither - recognising God in any and every form from a stone to the most ethereal abstract principle having no form at all, being simultaneously both with form and without, or even neither one or the other and indescribable in words – but always, in the final analysis, as the name, manifestation or symbol of One Single Truth. Thus the incarnations, saints and sages of all religions are generally honoured and accepted in what may indeed be called a universal religion.

The personalities and stories of Hinduism are practically infinite. The very name is a comparatively recent one for what has always been known as Sanatana Dharma, or the ‘Eternal Truth’. As such it goes back before time, and considers time itself as but a concept barely noticeable on the bosom of the infinite. The very lifespan of creation is said to be but a breath of God, and yet may also be contained in less than the space between two thoughts. Against this background, historical veracity is of little concern, and its relevance pales before such profound philosophy, sublime teaching, and the overwhelming moral authenticity of its stories.

In as much as devotion to God as a personal deity is not divorced from everyday human nature, taking the form of the familiar relationships of love, but directed towards the divine child, father, mother, playmate or indeed lover, so the array of Gods and Goddesses portray those archetypal human forms. Indeed, Hindu philosophy ultimately renders every human activity divine as the “Lila” or play of God. Its cosmology of divine images and symbols provides pictorial delight, while the classical music of the Indian subcontinent, owing in fact as much to Muslim as to Hindu masters, sings the spirit of our emotions through from heart-piercing pathos to transcendent joy and the heavenly enjoyment of the Gods themselves. And yet it is understood that in its panoply of paintings, art and images, none can be found more vibrantly beautiful – and real - than that beheld in the devotee’s heart!

In the human psyche it seems there has always been a desire to believe in the existence of beings with ‘super-human’ capacity and power over nature. Indeed, I dare to suggest that there has never been a society that did not idealize some such ‘god’ and such power is part and parcel of the very concept of any God. Where the excitement has faded in relation to traditional gods, that admiration, love and awe have been transferred as it were to local heroes, myths and legends, and any being, real or imagined, that transcends the normal limitations of human existence. In the absence of divine beings, the same kind of ‘idol worship’ is often centred on music, sports and movie stars, and fictitious characters such as the cartoon ‘super-heroes’ of America, Japan, and other places.

                  Every such creature as is glorious, brilliant or powerful, 

                  know that to be a manifestation of a spark of my effulgence.

                  Or what will you gain by knowing all this in detail, Arjuna? 

                  Suffice it to say that I stand holding this entire universe 

                  by a spark of my yogic power.

                  Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, 10:41,42

Many societies used to have a living belief in Gods and Goddesses, but few remain today. In Europe, the Nordic, Greek and Roman gods, among others, once held sway, but hardly a soul worships them now. In India and Nepal however, the ancient gods remain very much alive in the hearts and minds of the people, but why? I believe the answer to this lies in the fact that ultimately the roles and worship of the Hindu Gods has always been associated with the teaching of liberation from worldly bondage and the transcendence of the human condition - coupled with a profound philosophy that has never feared to propose the ultimate negation of all, including the Gods and Goddesses themselves, in a state of supreme enlightenment.

Nevertheless, it is this underlying acceptance that all originates in the human mind, which itself is nothing but an imagined state of ‘existing’, that allows imagination to expand and be fully included within the infinite boundaries of our so-called reality.

Tirtha Lal has said that although the path of devotion may take some effort to begin with, with determination and dedication there comes a time when after making effort and striving to attain the Supreme, one’s heart is instead actually pulled towards contemplation of one’s beloved. What is more, a dedicated belief and faith in such a ‘super-reality’, as so many great spiritual beings have confirmed, can reveal a level of being and experience wherein the vision of these divine forms speaks to us directly from the archetypal spirit and building blocks of our souls, teaching us and compelling the surrender of our hearts in a vision and simultaneous understanding that outshines all other human experience in its purity and all-embracing love.

Over the many years I spent with Sri Tirtha Lal and his family, there was plenty of time to read and absorb and hear so many of the famous epics and stories about the Hindu family of Gods and Goddesses. I say family because depending on whose story you are reading, each of the major divinities can be regarded as the original manifestation of the One, formless Supreme, and thereby the progenitor of all the others. As a result of this gradual absorption and the surrounding environment of temples and shrines dedicated to these deities, not to mention my own practice of contemplation – and perhaps, who knows, some previous birth - I developed a deep feeling of familiarity and love for them all, and with that, a profound respect for any genuinely spiritual image or person.

So, according to my humble lights and personal understanding, I would like, in the next few chapters, to give a brief introduction for those for whom they are perhaps less familiar, of the best known forms of God in India and Nepal - an archetypal family indeed, and a communal imagination if you like, in which the aspirations, joy and suffering of countless generations have been entwined and their faith sustained. In doing so I will relate a few favourite stories concerning each, that should demonstrate, to an unbiased mind, how the teaching of compassion and goodness is universal, and not the property of any single religion.


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