In what I intend to be a series of posts on the many faces of Vishnu, the most logical place to start – the “form” of Vishnu which represents that Singularity which I referred to in the last post, is that of Mahavishnu. Why not start a series on the many faces of Vishnu with the one without a face?
My local temple is holding a Mahavishnu puja tonight which I will not be able to attend, so Mahavishnu has been on my mind anyway. Also I have been reading a ton about the nature of Brahman lately. Of all of the “faces” of Vishnu, that of Mahavishnu is the most comparable to Brahman, in that like Brahman, Mahavishnu is formless.
Mahavishnu, the first purusa, or “person” according to Gaudiya Vaisnavism, is one of a triad of forms of Vishnu. Most of what I will write here relates to Gaudiya Vaisnavism as I understand it, though I am not myself an adherent to the sect. The other two forms in this triad are Garbodakshayi Vishnu and Ksirodakasayi Vishnu. To make it more complex Mahavishnu Himself has no fewer than 34 avatars, which I will not go into.
Maya is said to be the cause of the perceivable world, but Mahavishnu’s seed planted in Mahamaya is the cause of that cause, if that makes sense. It is from there that the torch is passed to Garbodakshayi Vishnu, which is the form of Vishnu from whose navel Brahma (the Creator) is born, making Vishnu the “cause of the cause” yet again. I have written of this process many times, in rudimentary form, without even knowing the name of Garbodakshayi Vishnu. No worries. If Mahavishnu is beyond form then it truly is beyond name as well, and we needn’t concern ourselves with names of God anyway. They are just ways of understanding the multiplicities which we perceive. And so I am introducing you to them and their names.
And so, on to Ksirodakasayi Vishnu. He is the Supersoul of all living entities, devas and demigods, etc. He is Paramatma. Paramatma is that which is worshiped by those who cannot conceive of the formless, attribute-less Supreme Brahman, but also do not see the infinite in living manifestation of Vishnu such as Krishna, or Rama. Like the avatars, Paramatma takes form; it is in everything including the dirt under our feet. Everything. Paramatma is the gateway for worshipers of the embodied avatar to discover Brahman, it seems. That is Ksirodakasayi.
As Narayana is the transcendent form of Vishnu, it seems as though Narayana is Mahavishnu, having taken form and attributes. Since the transcendent is changeless, it seems that Narayana is the player, and Garbodakashayi and Ksirodakasayi are facets of His game. Being that I have so closely associated them with Brahman the formless reality, and Brahma the creator of the material world, the game of course is Maya.
Then again I am not an adherent to Gaudiya Vaisnavism, as I said. This is just my meditation on how it all goes together.
Jai Mahavaisnave Namah!