For many Hindus, especially those of the Advaita school of Vedanta, the god Vishnu, along with Shiva and Brahma, the other members of the great Hindu triad of deities, is an emanation of the ultimate absolute, Brahman, the transcendent but immanent source of the universe. Brahman is expressed in the individual soul as Atman, total consciousness or self-identity, the embodiment of the realization that one’s true inner self is the same as the transcendent self. If Brahma is the creator of the universe and Shiva is the force that destroys or changes it, Vishnu is its preserver or sustainer. Vishnu contains the whole universe within himself, a universe made real by his consort or Shakti, Lakshmi, the manifestation of his divine energy. Vishnu takes particular worldly forms as required to sustain life. These forms, or avatars, serve at various stages in human history to preserve a balance between the forces of nature and the universe. The two most important avatars are Rama, the hero of...
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