71BADE62-69DE-48C6-A22A-01951CFCB181‘Thanjavur Ganesha’ – Unknown author, 1820 – Wikimedia


Regarding all things spiritual, I have always trusted the vision of India’s perennial understanding. And there is one thought that bothered me recently, which is simply: why do Hindu gods need a vehicle, a mount? Why do they all have an animal by their side, or to ride on? For god is God. All powerful and reaching far and wide. Self-sufficient and contained in Itself. So why would Shiva need a bull as his vehicle, why would Saraswati have a swan by her side, or Kartikeya a peacock, Lakshmi an owl, Indra an elephant, or Durga a tiger? Why such partnership? And for what purpose?

So I pushed further my enquiry. I discovered that these vehicles, these animals, symbolise some of the qualities inherent to the god they are attached to. For example, the swan represents the beauty, wisdom and grace in Saraswati. Or the peacock the splendour and majesty contained in the Hindu god of war. Many qualities like strength, swiftness, sharpness, fierceness, speed, effortlessness, and so many others, are attributes of god which are reflected in, or represented by, their own vehicles. So I looked at myself, as I am too, deep down, this radiating presence of consciousness, of god’s being. Could it be that, in the same way the dreamer becomes conscious of a dreamt world through the agency of a subject of experience in the dream, consciousness is experiencing a world through its being refracted by a mind? So the mind is the vehicle that consciousness needs to experience a world. Doesn’t that make me, in some way, the vehicle of the Self? And do I radiate the qualities of this presence as should a vehicle of god?

So I pushed further my enquiry. The name for these vehicles in the Hindu tradition is ‘Vahana’, which literally means ‘that which carries, bears or conveys’. I have also read that ‘Vahana’ “denotes the responsiveness of the deity” or refers “to a stream or a flow”. The image is beautiful. Are we ourself, as a body-mind, the very stream that carries consciousness in the world, and is responsible to bring about its qualities? Well, that brings our responsibility — and our responsiveness — to a higher level, doesn’t it? So it seems that in the same way that Hindu gods need a vehicle to move around in the world, consciousness needs the presence of a mind to experience a body and a world. But there is more to it…

So I pushed further my enquiry. Only to find out that there is a darker side to it. For these vehicles, these animals, also represent some of the evil or negative forces that can appear as a result of this partnership. There is vanity in the peacock by Saraswati’s side, and thoughts multiply and race around like rats. Crows can be thieves, and tigers prone to inextinguishable anger. So the darker side of having a mind is that it might start to have an illusory idea about itself. It might start to feel it is separate, and as a result need to alleviate its suffering, or acquire happiness through the objective experience of the world. So the qualities that such a mind radiates are no longer coming from God’s presence within, but from the surging of an illusory self that has cut itself from God.

So there is now the vanity of a peacock in ourself, and we have become blind to the splendour and majesty of our own being. We have now indolent and useless thoughts racing like rats in our mind, and we miss the speed and sharpness of a clear mind. We have separated the vehicle from its deity, and have so deprived ourself from God’s presence and qualities. We have made ourself a second to god and by doing so have downgraded our being. For the vehicle has no life of itself. It borrows its mind from the Mind of God’s being within. The veiling of this reality will lower the vehicle’s qualities and expressions to the level of its own conditionings and limitations. Either the mind realises its oneness with consciousness and refracts God’s qualities, or the mind forgets its identity as consciousness and reflects the suffering of separation. 

So we have here a partnership with God. The purpose of our experiencing and engaging with the world is to bring us to the realisation that there is no such experiencer, but only god or consciousness knowing or experiencing itself, as the world. Our body-mind acts as the vehicle that god needs to experience the world. But the trap is that such a mind might start believing that this experiencing is done on behalf of a separate entity living inside the body, although it is in fact only awareness knowing — and rejoicing in — itself. This has only a celebratory purpose. Consciousness is refracted by the presence of the mind as an infinite number of experiences in a world, while it is in fact only resting still and at peace in itself all along. It is only from the separate self’s illusory position that it is lived either as a search for happiness or a protection from suffering, both being reminiscences of this celebratory and knowing quality of consciousness as it peacefully experiences itself. 

The vehicle’s position is one of humility. This is the key for opening in oneself the valve for the flooding of the profuse qualities of its owner. For god is doing a prowess here, by being all at once the mind, the body and the world, without ever leaving Itself. It will peacefully and compliantly refract all that needs to be refracted. Be it the painful expression of our separateness, or the joyful celebration of our oneness with god. So what position do we want to adopt? The stubbornness of a raging bull or the strength of Shiva’s majestic presence? The insecurity of a mind cut from the God’s eternal being, or the radiating presence of consciousness in ourself? These are two very different things: A life lived experientially as a vehicle for our desperate attempts at bridging our sense of separation, or a life lived as the vehicle for God’s celebratory purpose. 



Text by Alain Joly



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6 thoughts on “A Vehicle for God

  1. Interesting perception about the divine’s vehicles. One aspect is ecology as animals and plants are associated with the Divine and is respected and destroyed . Cow is worshipped and take the milk only after the calves are fed. Shiva in his aspect as Bhairava, had a dog as a vahana (vehicle) (mentioned in the Mahabharata). Khandoba, a deity, is associated with a dog on which he rides. Dattatreya is associated with four dogs, considered to symbolize the four Vedas.

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