Brahma and Vishnu
It all, I mean all begins with Brahman, who is the creator god. Brahma is IT—the only game in town. The cosmic creative principle is the only being who has true existence and so everything and everyone else is just an illusion. In essence, life is but a dream (as the circular song “row row row your boat” so aptly reminds us), the dream of Brahma, who dreams the universe into being. When Brahma wakes up, the universe disappears. Brahma is most often unmanifest and so this is about all we will say about him, since we do not want to disturb his sleep, because it is all over if we do. (Yet, if I do say more and wake him up, I will be finished and will not have to finish this . . . hmmm.) Thus, from within this dream the different lila’s begin. Other versions of this creation myth have Vishnu asleep on the milky ocean and the universe arises as a dream out of his navel (Campbell, 1995). We have already seen the lila of the Goddess and her maya.
Vishnu awake is much more interesting than he is asleep: sometimes playful, but tricky, too. He is Mayavin, a Trickster. Vishnu changes his surface appearance often, but underneath it all, he remains stable—which is a good trait for a preserver god. Compared to Shiva, as we will see, when Vishnu plays, he does not get as involved with the process. He is able to stay out of the game in a sense and manipulates through his maya. Vishnu's trickiness serves him when needed, as opposed to Shiva who ends up getting tricked. When Vishnu plays, there are no real rules in his game; he is able to manipulate the rules completely, such as when he plays dice with Lakshmi. When Vishnu wins through cheating, Lakshmi gets mad and takes away her maya—all the riches, beauty, and splendor in Vishnu’s world—but for Vishnu, all is not lost. He merely creates a double of her out of himself, so that she is forced to acknowledge his superiority and in this way Vishnu can be seen to have won (Handelman & Shulman, 1997).
Sri Ramakrishna tells a story about Vishnu’s maya (Eliade, 1991a): Narada asks Vishnu to see the magical power of his maya, and Vishnu consents and they begin to walk down a dry hot desert road. Vishnu gets thirsty and asks Narada to get him a glass of water at a nearby village. So Narada goes to the village and a beautiful girl opens the door, and forgetting all about the glass of water, Narada falls for her, marries her and has three children and after twelve years inherits her father’s farm. Then a torrential rain comes and he loses everything, the house, the animals, even his wife and children. Bereft and stranded on a rock Narada bursts into tears when he hears Vishnu’s voice asking where Narada has been, and remarking that Vishnu has been waiting for a half an hour. Narada then looks around and sees the prior scene of the hot desert landscape, as Vishnu asks: “Now, do you understand the secret of my maya?” Narada has experienced maya, but does not understand entirely, but he does know one essential thing, Eliade notes: “Vishnu’s cosmic maya is manifested through time” (pp. 70-71).