It seems to me that most Vaisnavs are devotees of a particular manifestation of Vishnu. Namely Rama or Krishna. Most Vaisnavs are really “Kraishnavs” or “Ramites.” Shiva has His own avatars but most Shaivites I know worship Shiva directly. They do not consider Shiva’s avatars as higher than their source, whereas many Vaishnavs, i.e., ISKCON, seem to believe that Krishna is the source of all, including Vishnu.
Though many devotees of Sathya Sai Baba or Shirdi Sai Baba, for example seem to be Shaivites while referring to Sai Baba as “the Lord”, mostly Shaivites worship Shiva in and of Himself. And we don’t worship Brahma at all, most of us. That is another story altogether, and in fact there are many stories behind why that is.
Three members of the Trimurti, and three very different approaches. Non-worship, multiple worship, and direct worship.
One could argue, as I myself would, that worship of Rama or Krishna is in fact worship of Vishnu. If this were not so, and Krishna worship were really different from Vishnu worship, why then do you not hear too much about worship of Varaha or Kurma or Matsaya? I mean maybe it is because the fully human avatars seem more “likely” to worshipers? But yes I do think it is because they all are one and the same, in and of Lord Vishnu.
But I still find it odd that so few people I have met, read from, or read about, just worship Vishnu. I would say that worship of Narayana, the “infinite form” of Vishnu may be the closest thing to what I am truly talking about here. If Krishna and Rama were a tangible from of the infinite then I want to worship the infinite source of all.
Maybe my viewpoint on this arises from the fact that I am a White American, and many of the White Hindus one sees are of the Krishna Consciousness variety. Maybe it is because I still have a little bit of Godist in me. By that I mean when I was younger, and fringe-Christian, because I could not believe some of the things that were said about Christ, I took to saying of myself “I am a Godist. Meaning I believe in God. Period.”
I have expanded my point of view drastically on this over the years, obviously, now identifying as Vaishnav. With all of the avatars of Vishnu playing such an important role in the Vaishnav story of who we are and where we came from, they are indispensable to the worship. But this is a skeptic age (yuga) we live in. Many people have an easier time believing there is a God in general than they do believing in the stories of God-Become-Man of various religions. Too much myth involved. Whereas “God” to many is of another plane of existence, so many think “Sure why not, God exists.” Somehow that seems easier to swallow, intellectually. And as I said, I once felt the same way.
I have written before about whether Krishna really walked this Earth and if so, did he indeed deliver the Gita word for word to Arjuna at Kurukshetra? And I will point out that there is a fair amount of evidence to back up that parts of the Ramayana are historical. The land bridge between India and Sri Lanka, for example, can be detected on images of the Earth from space. I need not link to it because there is so much about it available online. Check it out, come to your own conclusion. Feel free to comment.
The part that is difficult, given the aforementioned skepticism of the world, is the coming of future avatars. Think about the Christians I mentioned above who are kind of iffy on some of the core beliefs of Christianity. Some of them have a hard time picturing Christ making a dramatic reappearance, the earth opening up, the dead rising and Final Judgement being made – that whole bit. Certainly not during their own lifetimes. Kalki Avatar, it is said, will not appear until quite a long time in the future. As time goes by, human minds evolve, and we become supposedly more open-minded. But I think that we become more closed-minded to some things. That which we consider “myth” being one of those things. So by the time that Kalki is scheduled to appear, what will be the state of the human mind? At what level will be its skepticism?
This post may seem to lack direction and purpose, but I hope you can suss out some kind of inter-relativity in it all, as a whole. And hopefully you, dear reader, can provide some perspective even if on some miniscule part of this post.
Aum, Shanti. Shanti. Shanti!