Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hinduism: One God or Many

Vast is That, divine, its form unthinkable; it shines out subtler than the subtle: very far and farther than farness, it is here close to us, for those who have the vision it is here even in this world; it is here, hidden in the secret heart.
Mundaka Upanishad III.1.6

The biggest criticism of Hinduism from some practitioners of other religions is that Hindus worship many Gods and therefore are superstitious and ignorant of God's real nature. A little analysis of this view shows that the criticism is unfounded, and that the Hindu approach reflects a mature and creative approach towards spirituality, showing an intimate connection and experience of the Divine on many levels, as well as maintaining the Oneness of God, which upholds the entire creation.

Hindu Concept of the Ultimate Being

Hinduism has always recognised the Oneness of God, but the view is different to the Abrahamic concept, which conceives of God as a Male figure who resides in heaven. Hinduism believes that in the ultimate analysis nothing truly exists except for God, the Only Reality is God. The Divine Spirit pervades all phenomenal existence that we see around, and is the sole unchanging reality and support of the universe. The Divine Being transcends all human conceptualisation, yet can be approached in many ways.

Hindus may worship the divine in many forms but do not call their Gods either "One" or "Many". According to Hinduism, what is worshipped is One Reality, ekam sat, which is differently named. This Reality is everywhere, in everything, in every being. It is One and Many at the same time yet also transcends them both. Everything is an expression, a play, an image, an echo of this Reality. Hindu sacred texts abound with verses depicting the Oneness of the Divine Reality. This can be seen from the following verse from the most ancient Hindu text, the Rig Veda:

Indram mitram varuNam agnim ãhuh,
atho divyah sa suparNo garutmãn,
ekam sad viprãh bahudhã vadanti,
agnim yamam mãtarišvãnam ãhuh.

(They hail Him as Indra, as Mitra, as VaruNa, as Agni, also as that divine and noble-winged Garutmãn. It is of the One Truth that the wise ones speak in diverse ways, whether as Agni, or as Yama, or as Mãtarišvãn).

The Distinction in Hinduism is Between a True Way of Worship and False Way of Worship

The Hindu approach to worship goes to the very essence of the human spirit. In this deeper approach, the distinction is not between a true One God and the false Many Gods; it is between a true way of worship and a false way of worship. Wherever there is sincerity, truth, and self-giving in worship, that worship goes to the true altar by whatever name we may designate it and in whatever way we may conceive it. But if it is not desireless, if it has ego, falsehood, conceit, and deceit in it, then it is unavailing though it may be offered to the most True God, theologically speaking. 'He who offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, that I accept from that striving devotee,' says Lord Krishna in the Gita.

Eskimoes have 48 names for snow in their language!

Having many names for something is not necessarily a sign of ignorance of its real nature. On the contrary, it may indicate an intimate knowledge of it. For example, Eskimos have forty-eight different names for snow in their language because they know snow intimately in its different variations, not because they are ignorant of the fact that all snow is one. The many different deities of Hinduism reflect such intimate realizations of the Divine on various levels. Just as the Eskimos know snow in great and intimate detail because they lived with it closely, Hindu civilisation knows God and the secrets of the Spiritual life in intimate and unparalleled detail.

Hindu Voice UK


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