ISHTADEVTA by Dr. Jayant Mehta, MD, FCCP

ISHTADEVTA   by  Dr. Jayant Mehta, MD, FCCP

Ishtadevta, literally “chosen deity” in Sanskrit finds a prominent place in apparently polytheistic religion such as Hinduism. Upanishada repeatedly advocated monotheism but multiple manifestation of One God was misinterpretaed as polietiesm. In meditation a person attempts to focus on one idea or an image. If one tries to worship Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Durga and Rama, all at the same time, how difficult it would be to concentrate on any one of them? How good is a prayer without concentration or deep commitment to the object of worship?  Idea of Ishtadevta in this respect is very crucial.

Swami Vivekananda in a lecture in 1892 at the International Congress of World Religions, held in Chicago, discussed both dualism and non dualism of Hindu philosophy. At the end of his talk someone asked him, “Swamiji, you are talking of one God, but Hindus worship millions of gods. How do you explain that?”

Swami said, “Yes we have 330 million gods. I wish we had a few million more. I would like to give you a god too, so you can keep Him as your own.”

Rig Veda says, “There is one God; scholars know it by different names.” Water is called pani in Hindi and aqua in Germany. In a laboratory it is two molecules of Hydrogen and one mol. Oxygen! The element is same.

Multiple gods are different manifestations of one God. Mr. Smith may be the CEO of his company, but he is at the same time a father to his son and a husband to his wife. Regardless of your idea on use of images, multiple ideas of God can create confusion. One can not stand on across road for a long time. You must accept one of the many ideas and start the journey. That selected idea or Image is Istadevta.

There are certain basic rules to selecting the Ishtadevta. They are listed below:

  1. The god should be a valid god in that he or she should possess certain virtues. You select your particular god based on what virtues appeal to you. If you would like a playful and charming god you might select Krishna. If you like Gyan with detachment, you would select Shiva. Lord Krishna asked Arjuna to worship goddess Durga before he entered the battlefield.
  2. Once you have selected your Ishtadevta, stick to him or her. Do not keep on changing. Once you have dug a hole, go deep enough till you find water. If water is 40’ deep, it is better to dig one hole 40’ deep than 10 holes that are 4’ deep.
  3. Do not be overwhelmed by the task. The ocean is vast. To appreciate that, you need to start at some point in the seashore, take your boat and start sailing to appreciate the infinite nature of the sea.
  4.  Do not insult or find fault with other gods or Ishtadevtas of other faiths. You are seeking love and kindness and such thoughts do not have a place there.
  5. Ultimately, this Ishtadevta will become the supreme Brahman. At that time do not hesitate to release this personal god. To see the infinite, one has to let go the limitations of the finite.

When you are in a house you need a window to see what is outside. Once you have gone outside and climbed the peak of a mountain, you no longer need the window to see what is around you. Remember, you are not forsaking the personal friend in your Ishtadevta. The infinite and your chosen deity have become one.

I think this idea of chosen deity is very useful to me. I hope it helps you in your devotional practice.

Ishatadeva– Can this concept work for a monotheistic religion?

I think the answer is in the affirmative. As long as the monotheism does not believe in exclusivity, this concept will be useful to say Christians and Muslims too. A Christian will take Jesus Christ as the Ishtadevta, but instead of starting with the entire idea of God he or she will start with some aspect of Jesus. Let us take Jesus as a teacher or baby Jesus as your Ishta. Through meditation and other methods of worship we can deepen our devotion. To sustain our faith, this “personal” should become real to us. Listening and reading from the scripture is a good practice. Sincere prayers, devotional music, certain rituals and meditation are well known methods of devotional practice. This concept of Ishta, facilitate such practices. It is difficult to swallow 16” large pizza in one piece. So we make small slices. Once you digest this pizza, the shape and size of the slice dissolve! Eventually all the valid methods lead to ONE eternal truth and reality; which is God. Trinity of the Christ, Father and the Holy Spirit become one.

Another option is to use a selected prayer or a paragraph from a scripture or a good book. Use this selected words repeatedly as you concentrate on the meaning. Select the verses that you like the most. This is almost like taking up a Mantra meditation. Recitation of these verses will act like an Ishtadeva. In the time of crisis this may serve as your best friend.

I feel this concept of Ishtadevta is very practical and a good way to embark on one’s spiritual journey.

Rivers of all religions and beliefs ultimately end in the ocean of silence.

Ishtadevta=chosen deity of an individual, Kuldevta= family deity, Gramdevta= Popular deity of the town, Sthandevta= presiding deity of the place of worship.

About Author: Dr. Jayant Mehta is a professor of Medicine and Chief of Division of Preventive Medicine at the James H. Quillen College of Medicine. He is one of the few physician faculty members who have been with the university since the inception of the COM. He has authored six books including a book of poetry in Gujarati. His one of the book is a text book for the Master of Arts in Gujarat at the Saurastra University, Rajkot, India. He has published more than 100 Scientific papers/abstracts, some of which have been presented at the national meetings. As the medical director of tuberculosis for the nine counties in the region, he is well respected in the field of tuberculosis. Many awards listed in his CV provide a proof of his achievement in multiple fields. He is well-liked as a teacher, doctor and an honest friend. In addition to his medical practice in pulmonary medicine, Jayant enjoys chess, eastern philosophy and poetry.

Source: Jaydeep Chaudhari via. WHN Publisher

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