The Spiritual Tenets of Vishnupurana

This article is part 5 of 20 in the series Puranas

In the Vishnupurana, the verses that profoundly inspire and extol devotion towards the nation are especially noteworthy. These verses unambiguously declare that Bharatavarsha is a Karmabhoomi par excellence, that one takes birth in this land due to the merit of Punya and that this rare fortune is not easily available to everyone:

atra janma sahasrāṇāṃ sahasrairapi sattama।
kadācillabhate janturmānuṣyaṃ puṇyasañcayāt॥
gāyanti devā: kila gītakāni dhanyāstu te bhārata bhūmibhāge।
svargāpavargāspadamārgabhūte bhavanti bhūya: puruṣā: suratvāt।। (2.3.23, 24)

We have already mentioned that the Vishnupurana is akin to a poetry of high standard containing lovely descriptions. As an example, we can consider this description of the autumn season:

mayūrā maunamātasthu: parityaktamadā vane |
asāratāṃ parijñāya saṃsārasyeva yoginaḥ ||
utsṛjya jalasarvasvaṃ vimalāḥ sitamūrtayaḥ |
tatyajyuścāṃbaraṃ meghā gṛhaṃ vijñānino yathā ||
tārakā vimale vyomni rarājakhaṇḍamaṇḍalaḥ |
candraścaramadehamātamā yogī sādhukule yathā || 

This description of the autumn season, prolifically filled with a superb lineage of similes, occurs in the tenth chapter of the fifth Amsa and is extremely enchanting. Likewise, the description of the Gopis who were immersed in devotion towards Sri Krishna, is also lovely.

taccitta vimalāhlāda kṣīṇapuṇyacayā tathā |
tadaprāpti mahāduḥkha vilīnāśeṣapātakā || (5.13.21, 22)

It is noteworthy that Mammata, in his kāvyaprakāśa (in Ullasa 4.81, 82) cites both these verses. In fact, the fifth Amsa which contains Sri Krishna’s story, is itself an epic poem.

The Vishnupurana not only engages in deep contemplation about spiritual topics but expounds high ethics in a deeply meaningful fashion. Several writers of subhāṣitas have compiled numerous verses from the Vishnupurana in their works on ethics and morals. We can consider this verse as an example:

yā dustyajā durmatibhiḥ yā na jīryatijīryataḥ |
tāṃ tṛṣṇāṃ saṃtyajet prājñaḥ sukhenaivābhipūryate ||
jīryanti jīryataḥ keśā dantā jīryanti jīryataḥ ||
dhanāśā jīvitāśā ca jīryatopi na jīryataḥ || (4.10.26, 27)

The verses in the sixth Amsa that talk about the excesses occurring in the Kali Yuga are highly interesting:

sarvameva kalau śāstraṃ yasya yadvacanaṃ dvijaḥ |
vivāhā na kalau dharmyā na śiṣyagurusaṃsthitiḥ ||
na dāmpatyakramo naiva vahnidevātmakaḥ kramaḥ |
vedādānaṃ kariṣyanti vaṭavaścākṛtavratāḥ |
yaśca yascābalaḥ sarvaḥ sa sa bhṛtyaḥ kalau yuge ||  

The elements of astronomy discussed in this Purana are more less affirmed by modern science. There is evidence to show that the author of this Purana had knowledge about astronomy. We can summarize the essence of the astronomical topics in this Purana as follows. All this occurs in chapters eight through twelve in the second Amsa: “The Sun does not rise or set. In common parlance, when people see him, they say that he has risen and when he fades away, they say that he has set. Reasons have been set forth to prove the durational variations in day and night. The Sun sucks water from the sea and in turn, showers rain. When the Moon sits in an equidistant territory between the Sun and Earth, the New Moon occurs. Winter Solstice, Summer Solstice, the Equator, the Aries and other constellations have all been recognized according to scientific principles. The Earth’s shadow has been called Rahu. On the Full Moon Day, Rahu lives near the Moon and on the New Moon Day, lives near the Sun. The sky contains an infinite cluster of stars. This Great Wheel of Celestial Illumination is bound by the vāyuraśmi (literally, Aerial Rays), which keeps it together in Space (ākāśa). The Sun has held the Earth in its place. The Sun and other planets have been held together by the Pole Star acting through the agency of the selfsame vāyuraśmi. In turn, the Pole Star has been held in its place by the śiśumāra Constellation (constellation between Pegasus and Aquila). Finally, Sri Narayana holds the śiśumāra Constellation in its place.”

The term vātaraśmi that also occurs in the Vishnupurana stands for the power of gravity.


Now we can examine the spiritual concepts that the Vishnupurana propounds. Because this Purana is consonant with the Veda, the topics that it contains are entirely Vedantic (or Upanishadic) and not sectarian. Although it contains elements of the sāṅkhya School, these elements are Vedantic contributors and do not belong to the sāṅkhya system propounded by Kapila. The Vishnupurana does not vilify other darśana-s. However, it does criticize the cārvāka, bauddha, and jaina schools. Suffice to say that this is a rather common criticism because these schools do not accept the authority of the Veda.

As the name suggests, the Vishnupurana is dedicated to extolling the glory of Mahavishnu. We can now consider this question: when we say Vishnu, do we refer to the Parabrahma responsible for the creation of the trimūrti? When we study this Purana in a comprehensive and integrated fashion, we understand that the sagua Vishnu (Vishnu with external attributes and qualities) was manifested by the Advaita Brahma, which is nirgua (non-attributes), nirākāra (having no shape or form) and whose nature is Pure Consciousness (sat) and Pure Knowledge (Jnana). Thus, the Vishnupurana expounds Advaita Brahma. When this Brahma, through the power of its māya manifests itself in a tangible form, it shows itself as Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva, the trimūrti. Of these, Vishnu-mūrti (mūrti = form, attribute) is the perfect embodiment of the sattva-gua. Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that this Purana accords special esteem to Vishnu and praises him with great reverence. We can briefly elucidate this with some inferences.

The Nature of paramātman

The nature of the highest Spiritual Knowledge is very pure and crystal clear. However, as this verse shows, the power of illusion makes it appear to our eyes as a transactional truth.

jñānasvarūpamatyantanirmalaṃ paramārthataḥ |
tamevārthasvarūpeṇa bhrāntidarśanataḥ sthitaṃ || (1.2.6)

This verse clearly says that the aforementioned Brahma appears to us as the physical world due to the power of illusion. We must realise that Vishnu is essentially the embodiment of the Ultimate (philosophical) Knowledge and that the name of this Knowledge is Brahma:

viśṇorjñānamayosyoktam tajjñānaṃ brahmasañjñitam ||(1.22.51)

The term vijñānamadvaitam (1.22.48) affirms this. The Knowledge that is bereft of all contrasts, that which is Pure Consciousness, and that which language cannot express, and that which is realizable only through experience is known as Brahma:

pratyastamita bhedaṃ yat sattāmātramagocaram |
vacasāmātmasaṃvedyaṃ tajjñānaṃ brahmasañjñitam ||(6.7.53)

This Brahma of Pure Consciousness is the Ultimate Nature of the sagua Vishnu and that it is extremely rare, avers the next verse:

tacca viṣṇoḥ paraṃ rūpamarūpākhyamanusattamam || (6.7.54)

Devotees worship this sagua Vishnu who is endowed with a physical form, as one among the trimūrti-s. However, if we say that this Vishnu is also formless, the inevitable conclusion is that it is the selfsame Advaita Parabrahma. Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva are the different forms of the same Parabrahma. This Parabrahma becomes Vishnu when he is perfectly imbued with the sattva-gua. If he is imbued with the rajo-gua, he becomes Brahma, and if he is imbued with the tamogua, he is worshipped as Shiva. Thus, only the names are different in accordance with the dominance of gua. However, on the plane of philosophy, there is absolutely no difference. Creation, Order and Dissolution occur through the One Formless Brahma, who merely takes on the different forms of the trimūrti. The Vishnupurana expounds this philosophy at every step.

For the sake of fuller and greater clarity, we can consider some verses that bolster this.

To be continued



Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  



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