Calling shrI viSNu instead as “nArAyaNa” is a serious disrespect, even if borne out of ignorance, towards shrI viSNu: Narayana is a proper name of shrI sUrya, a Vedic god. Narayana as an epithet of shrI viSNu, no problems, but as a proper name itself — is a huge denigration of both shrI viSNu and Vedic Dharma.
nAra means waters, also means woman, mother.
And AyaNa : let us just say, it means “refuge”.
Indeed, we are not talking about “Samudra” (the Father) here, instead we are talking about Apah, nAra, Mothers’ expanse.
Who is the first born of Mother? In Shaiva tradition it is gaNesha, and equivalently in Vedic it is shri agni, also called “apAma-napAta” i.e. waters’ child.
Surya is the highest deity in the span of shri agni the aSTa-vasu and therefore understood as the very first manifestation of Creation from Mother’s womb of Infinity. The first God that we can understand in terms of forms and worship accordingly. The overlord, as well as the guide, of all Creation.
shri viSNu, a “composite God” like shri agni, has a still far greater scope (pervading virtually everything within it) than even shri agni, and therefore He obviously “contains” Surya also within Himself (in the infinite unbroken continuity of His being).
In this way He can assume any of the various deities’ names as His adjectives. This is not the same as calling His proper name as something which is a proper name of some other deity.
However, the avatAra who can indeed take Narayana as His proper name is the Avatara of Lord who comes in the Surya-mode of shri viSNu.
And that would be, shri rAma. Ever heard of “rAmAyaNa”? The sacred book that is the refuge of all mortals? Ramayana is Narayana.
Does Rama-Narayana ring a bell? yes?
Does Krishna-Narayana ring a bell? No?
If we try go deeper into the famed “nara, nArAyaNa, hari, kriSNa” found in the purANa-s, by comparing with the mahA-mantra “hare kriSNa hare kriSNa..” we find that hari and kriSNa are common to both listings.
nara is nothing but the divine human inflated within us. So we are left with the word nArAyaNa being same as the name rAma of the mahA-mantra.
shri rAma – the superhero of rAmAyaNa, when exhausted in the war against rAvaNa, was advised to worship shri sUrya (in Aditya stotram) in order to regain strength by tapping into His very own source (sUrya).
But do I mean then that shri rAma was an incarnation of sUrya deva, not of shri viSNu?
No. karNa in the mahAbhArata was a manifestation of sUrya. But when we talk about avatAra, we say: “shri rAma was viSNu’s avatAra in the mode of sUrya.” We can, otherwise, find many similarities between karNa and shri rAma. But karNa wasn’t an avatAra. People in the anga-pradesha even to this day remember the rule of karNa as fondly as the rest of Hindus remember the rAma-rAjya.
rAma nAma and nArAyaNa nAma:
Many Hindus cultivate a habit of using the rAma nAma frequently, such as by greeting each other using the nAma (“Jai shri rAma”, etc). The secret behind this is no secret at all: we do it so that the nAma is on our lips for one final time again when we are about to die.
RAma is the shortest path to what Vedanta knows as “moksha”. I equated rAma nAma to nArAyaNa earlier in this thread. Notice the “rA” sound common to both (same that occurs in surya who is bhArata-bhAratI).
So, yes, we are not talking about finite entities here at all. We are talking strictly about the “Infinites”, the “its” here.
Read the following carefully to understand this:
Let me explain the idea using the material analogy (a valid method). Let us then talk about the material space (bhaga-AkAsha) that we are surrounded with. How do we characterise this space?
Clearly, bhaga-AkAsha is attribute less. Yet we say, “here we have so and so length, so and so width, and so and so depth”. Thus, we still are able to talk about the infinite in terms of “length”, “width”, and “height” which are very much finites. This is known as understanding the infinite using the language of finite.
In surya who is bhArata-bhAratI, the bhArata-component is an aMsha of Sri Indra, while the bhAratI-component (a mighty Devi as well) is an aMsha of Narayana.
In this way, to the Vedic Rsis all knowledge was expressed in terms of the aindra (Vedic Sanskrit is called Aindra): Indra classifies the finites by “divide-and-rule”, but also makes out the infinites using the Aindra reception (also known as “inducing”, “induction” etc – these words are rooted in Indu and Indra).
To come back to the original analogy, what do the Aindra description of bhaga-AkAsha (material space) using length, width and depth (there could be actually many more such finites such as position, momentum, energy, etc) tell us?
This description by the three finites tells us about the existence of three Infinites within the space. What are their names?
Let us now come out of the analogy. The point I tried to demonstrate here was that: “there are more than one Infinite”. There are more than one States of what Vedanta calls “mOkSa”. And Narayana is the deity, the “it”, who is the closest such state. Narayana is therefore also the first deity of this class encountered by our specially talented ancestors, the Rsis, when they were on their “straightest path”, when they toiled hard to pave the way forward for humanity.
The names nara, nArAyaNa, hari and krishNa – spell out a very important formula (though still not the whole of the sanAtana-truth), and all these four names are seen on an equal footing, yet they are different from each other: nara is all the finite worlds combined, whereas the three others are three different Infinites, three different “its”.
I hope I made myself clear here.
On the intellectual plane, let me point out that the Rsis nara, nArAyaNa, hari and krishNa belonged to Satyuga (ref. MahAbhArata). In satayuga shri viSNu doesn’t incarnate: there is no need for it.
So these four were Rsis who specialised in four very important modes of shri viSNu. This is how these names today are quoted more in the context of Vaishnavism. Though, these four names, and the deities behind them, can in a still valid way appear in Shaiva or any other Dharmika paradigm as well. Thus, for example, we see Swamy Satya-narayana’s vigraha (in the ancient and important satya-narayana temple in Annavaram, Andhra Pradesh), though still considered on some kind of equivalence with shri rAma (who is believed to be the kshetra-pAlaka of the said temple), is also traditionally considered as “belonging” to all the three paradigms (also called deities): Shiva, Vishnu and BrahmA.