Saturday, October 21, 2023

Vishnu, the collectivist; Shiva, the individualist

Parvati and Dancing Shiva 

Ellora cave

Vishnu is the collectivist, Shiva the individualist. In his avataras, Vishnu builds great coalitions which destroy the forces that are trying to rip apart civilization and culture. Conserving the forces of civilization is the primary task of Vishnu’s avataras. 

In his Rama avatara, Vishnu builds a coalition with kings and communities to destroy Ravana who threatens civilization. In his Krishna avatara, he plays a pivotal role in strengthening the Pandava alliance to enable them to destroy the evil Kaurava alliance. 

Shiva does not intervene to conserve civilization. He lives in the mountains and forests. From time to time, he acts individually to fulfill his divine task of annihilating powerful forces which threaten humans and Gods. The destruction of evil armies and empires is his primary task.

The tradition of Sanatana Dharma rejects the idea of dichotomy between individualism and collectivism. During the Vedic period (more than 3000 years ago), the sages saw individualism and collectivism as the two inseparable attributes of civilized society. 

The idea of dichotomy between individualism and collectivism is a myth crafted by the European intellectuals of the nineteenth century. These intellectuals propagated the false idea that collectivism implies communism and individualism implies capitalism. 

Civilization and culture are fundamentally collectivist. Modern civilization is the outcome of thousands of years of collectivist tendencies: religions, movements and philosophies. Without collective thinking, there can be no culture, no civilization.  

Sanatana philosophy awards equal importance to individualism and collectivism. The Vedic and Puranic texts exhort us to develop our individualistic way of thinking, perform our original acts, within the framework of culture and civilization.

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