Discussion in 'Hinduism' started by fitd, May 18, 2011.
thanx Kenneth.... there is tranquility found in reading that....
I believe that Hinduism is monotheistic, and that the different deities are the representations of the different aspects of the one true God, Brahman. Most Hindus that i have met and talked too also share that opinion. They seem to find the different deities as a way to get closer to Brahman and as a pathway to understanding God's true form.
I believe that this view is shared among the majority of Hindus and that this is the generally accepted view among the hindu community. The preconception of the west that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion is mainly due to a misunderstanding of the core beliefs in the Hindu religion and the lack of comprehension of the complex system of the Hindu gods.
Here is a short essay that i wrote several years back, i hope it will be useful to the readers of this forum:
Is Hinduism monotheistic, polytheistic or non-theistic?
Hinduism can be described as monotheistic, as it based upon one main god, Brahman.
Brahman is the one and only true god of Hinduism. He is the creator of all, and the destroyer of all. Brahman is represented in many different ways, but is essentially just one god.
Brahman is represented in several different ways so that Hindus can connect with Him and relate with Him more easily. One way in which He is represented is in the form of the Trimurti: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Brahman is represented in this way to help people understand the different aspects and attributes of Brahman.
But the Trimurti is not the only way that Brahman is represented. He is represented in many other ways as well. Brahman is represented in the form of Shakti, the goddess, who is represented in many different forms herself. Brahman is also represented as avatars, where a god appears on Earth in human or animal form. Each god in Hinduism is used to represent a different aspect of Brahman. But they are only representations of Brahman, and are not gods in their own right.
However, Hinduism can also be described as polytheistic.
There are many different gods. Each god serves a different purpose and is worshiped differently. These gods have different roles in the Hinduism; some are powerful, others not so; some are worshipped around the world, others are particular to a single community.
For example the purposes of the Trimurti are:
To create the universe including planet Earth and all its living beings (Brahma).
To keep the universe going (Vishnu).
To destroy the world in order to re-create it (Shiva).
The four main gods and goddesses are Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), Shiva (the destroyer), and Shakti (the goddess). Hindus normally mainly worship one of these four, depending on the sect. The fact that there are these four gods that most people worship suggests that Hinduism is polytheistic and that the gods are constantly watching over the cosmos, and making sure that the universe does not turn into chaos.
Hinduism can also be described as non-theistic, but very few people support this theory.
Atman, the spirit of Brahman which is found in every living being, is very much like the western concept of the soul. This gives promotes idea that Brahman is not a god but another term for the soul. The concept of Atman is very similar to the concept of a soul inside every living thing, in the way that the body lives and dies but a persons spirit lives on.
Whether Hinduism is polytheistic, monotheistic or non-theistic depends on what school of Vedanta you choose to follow. Different schools of Vedanta express different philosophies:
Avaita believes that the purpose of life is to merge into oneness with God, saying that everyone and everything is also God.
Bvaita philosophy that the individual soul and God are eternally separate.
Gaudiya Vedanta believes that the soul is an eternal servant of Lord Krishna.
The Samkhya philosophy believes in a dual existence of Nature and Soul and has no place for a God.
Most Hindus believe that Hinduism is monotheistic, as everything is part of Brahman, the ultimate spirit, the one and true God. However most westerners believe that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion due to the fact that there many gods, but most westerners do not understand that the gods are just representations of Brahman.
In my opinion, Hinduism is monotheistic, because it is based on a one and true God, Brahman, who is represented in many different ways and takes many forms.
I would have attached it as a PDF but I currently do not have that capability on this website.
Thank you for reading,
iv just read it again, and i must admit: its not very well written :/
I like it. You know that some early Christian (pre-Nicean) sects had 365 gods-in-one. That neo-Vedantic approach always appealed to me, but it is hard for me to defend, not being a Hindu. As I read any of the great masters (at least to our Western Mindset, like Ramakrishna Paramahansa or Vivakenanda or Yogananda or Ghandiji) that sense of monotheism cloaked in polytheism comes through quite strongly.
Welcome friend, pax et amore omnia vincunt!
thank u for sharing u'r essay
my knowledge of Hinduism is paper thin
(though my interest is growing)
so take this (my particular sense of context) with a grain of salt
from 8000-bce to circa 500-bce "Polytheism" grows & develops
into the Temple Religions of the great ancient agrarian civilizations
creating a bureaucratic "council" of the gods with one god at the top
(from Sumer to the Yellow River to the Indus to the Nile , & later to Meso-America)
each great city-state (even each small hamlet) has its Patron Deity
plus a Temple dedicated to this deity , & carefully trained priests
to feed & cloth & clean a Sculpture of this deity in the Temple's holy-of-holies
(the god's spirit resides within the Sculpture
& will remain there only so long as his or her needs are satisfied)
this Patron god is the protector of the city & if catastrophe comes
it is because the god (angered at the citizens) has abandoned the city
(departed from it's home , the Temple)
cities often contain smaller temples to several other gods (with separate priests)
priests control the cult , & have very precise and intricate formulas
for interacting with & serving their particular deity
priests come from the successful well-to-do families who rule the city or town
(ruling the city is earliest done by a council of leading citizens
later , ruled by a judge selected by these councilors
who as a group serve as advisors to this judge
& still later serve as the elite councilors & supporters of , a king)
only these "first families" are wealthy enough to sacrifice consistently at the large temples
average citizens pay homage & sacrifice to household gods
& to their ancestors
or go to the smaller temples to prostrate themselves to
the lesser gods , local deities within their neighborhood
this polytheistic system works fine (for centuries , for millennia even)
till sometime after 1000-bce , when (in Persia & China & India & the Eastern Mediterranean)
this whole polytheistic system hits critical mass
u pray at the temple for protection & prosperity
but u'r city's protection relies more & more on paid mercenaries (who can turn on u)
& prosperity relies more & more on donkey-caravan & sea trade to extremely distant places
so that this "protection" & "prosperity" seems far beyond the reach of u'r city's patron god
& (in short) the civilized world undergoes a massive panic-attack
& as intelligent individuals begin to get their bearings
(individuals typically not from the ruling class , but from the immediate underclass)
it begins to dawn on them that the problem (the cause of the anxiety) stems
from the Temple & from the Priests
& they begin to realize that the solution lies elsewhere
they begin to experiment with ideas &
seek a divinity (a spirituality) which is
more universal & more abstract than what the Temple deities can offer
&/or seek a morality which is
embedded within the conscience of the individual person
instead of within the laws (the bloodrites) of the clan or tribe
2500 years ago (an "Axial Age") , the first cracks in the "ancient" world appear
& from out of those cracks , a "modern" world begins to emerge
the literati of China create Confucianism & Taoism
the ascetics of India create Vedanta Brahmanism & Buddhism
the sophists of Greece create Philosophy (based upon propositional-logic)
the prophets of Judea create Monotheism (based upon ethical-conduct)
(not to mention Zoroastrianism in Persia , which precedes them all
postulating an eternal battle between "Light" & "Darkness")
all these new religions , in a sense
are searching for "The Light"
the rest (literally) is history
now , Hindu Gura
had history stopped right here
u could make a fair case for
Vedanta Brahmanism/Hinduism being something akin to Monotheism
(in that , all the new spiritual & moral systems look pretty similar
being united by what they each are rebelling against , Temple Polytheism)
in the centuries to come , there is much backsliding & compromise
with Polytheism (to re-synthesize the old system into the new schemas)
citizens of European cities stop praying to Patron gods & start praying
to Christian Patron saints (who transfer messages to the Supreme Deity)
sectors of Judaism & Christianity (& later , Islam) replace subordinate gods
of the Polytheistic "divine hierarchy" , with Archangels & Angels
(labeled now as "aspects" of the Divine Oneness)
while Hellenistic neoplatonists begin to see the world as being chock-full of (godlike) archetypal Ideals
as centuries pass , Buddhism fudges in the same way (1000s of Bodhisattvas)
& the high Brahmanism of Axial-Age Vedanta-Hinduism collapses
(under the weight of all these "aspects" into Polytheism reborn)
in China , Confucianism & Taoism are practiced only by the educated classes (the literati)
while the mass of people continue to honor their folk-gods & ancestors
indeed (from the Mediterranean to India & China) , the anti-Polytheistic purism (largely) disappears
(a purism maintained only by educated elites , & only by sects of those)
where the household deities & neighborhood gods of average-folk reemerge
in slightly new clothing (saints/angels/divas/ideals/bodhisattvas)
Temple Polytheism (of the old economic & priestly elite) has ended
but folk-polytheism of the average person has just gone slightly underground
(or all the way into the collective unconscious of each new religion's growing tradition)
so , Hindu Guru
Hinduism (as Brahmanism) once may have contained a purism akin to Monotheism
but not today (2500 years later)
(no major religion that has survived 13-25 centuries
is that "pure" anymore
certainly not Judaism nor Christianity nor Islam
the tradition is too long , the ancient collective unconscious runs too deep)
except for the elite theologian who can parse stardust
polytheism is buried in the heart & soul in every "Person of the Book"
religion will always be (to the average person) folk-religion
religion which is familiar & comforting
asking anyone but yourself to believe in a purist Brahmanism
(or purist Yahwism/Christism/Allahism)
is probably asking too much of that other person
but for u , u'rself
Hindu Guru ?
if believing in a one-god Brahmanism
transfigures u as a person
morally & spiritually
i say , forget the semantic squabbles bouncing around u'r head &
go with u'r heart
Thank you salishan,
It is very much true what you say, and i do not disagree at all with what your point of view. However i must stress that what i talked about in my previous posts was more so about the pure idealism of the core functions and beliefs of the sanatan dharma, hinduism. and i must agree that each culture, found in each city, suburb or village has developed to form their own values. But are not all gods personal gods?
Does each person, in christianity for example, view their god as the same?
From my experiences across the religious world, each person has different views and beliefs about their god. It seems, that in any religion, God appears to depicted in the imagination of an individual; each individual sees them in a different light. The way in which one person views God is, in my opinion, a symbol of their personality and character, their true self. Theoretically, this could be what brahmins and gurus talk about when they talk about the atman, the inner self as being a part of Brahman. This could be an expression of this personal view of God.
Folk religion is merely one group of peoples views and if we split god and religion into these different subsections, it would be difficult to say that people are part of the same religion at all. All people would have to limit themselves to the views of one community, and then we would not be able to debate in this way whatsoever
Finally, I must say that i following my heart is a great joy, yet without trying to solve these semantic squabbles, i would have little opportunity to exercise and stretch my mind.
I have to say i very much enjoyed reading your posts and exploring your points and i must thank you for going into so much detail for mine and the rest of the forum's sake.
Oh i almost forgot, if you would like to read more on my simplistic views of purist brahmanism, visit my site. Its mainly basic stuff but i would appreciate it greatly if you did.
i cant post urls on here so for directions:
type 'gcse hinduism beliefs and worship' - its the secon one with hinduculture in the url.
i have to say, i almost missed your post entirely. you say that the neo-Vedantic view is difficult to defend as you are not a Hindu. I can see how that could be a problem, yet i strongly encourage you to explore Hinduisms depths as i find it to be a very interesting subject.
I like the quote, and im sure ive heard it before but i cant quite pin where. Believe it or not i studied a bit of Latin at school. From my limited knowledge, i think it translates roughly as 'peace and love conquer all'. Am i right?
Thanks for the post, it was short yet sweet. I implore you, please if you do study more into hinduism you will find as much love for it as i do.
Thank you very much,
I love all the religions to include hinduism, however some really misinterpret their own scriptures not saying hindus do.
its true i must say many misinterpret their scriptures and i cannot say that Hindus do not either. Everybody has their own views and nobody can change that.
There is a well known philosophical maxim regarding the "absolute-ness of absolute Truth" ---it goes, The question is: "How do you know who your real father is?" to which the answer is "Ask your mother" ---this is a reference to sastra's absolute revelation of Sattva-tattva.
Do you view that the Absolute-truth is a singular Absolute as revealed in sastra?
i struggle with the idea of over-personalizing Gyd
the tradition i grow up in
(a heretical tradition 3.5 centuries ago)
favors a very individualized view of the Divine
an "Inner Light" within each person
this Light Within can produce intense spirituality
& an aggressive moral fervor against contemporary social ills
but (& here is the question)
can it (can any new sense of the Sacred) produce a Religion which
will span centuries , millennia ?
(and do so , without the inevitable ecumenical compromises
to prevent unending fissures within the faith ? )
Rodney Stark remarks that individual spirituality does not a religion make
it isn't a "religion" unless u can pass it along
(in some way , shape or form)
but (& this is a painful question)
what is lost when u must turn to a metaphor
as the means to
explain u'r sacred experience to others ?
& (what is lost) 100 years from now
when followers lose touch with this particular "experience"
& start worshipping the metaphor ?
all religions do this to greater or lesser degrees
the post-Polytheistic religions , each
recycle "songs of praise" & "wisdom literature"
"ritualized dress & diet" , "cosmogonic speculations"
derived (refined some , but mostly untransformed) from their Polytheistic usage
(the very usage , old metaphors which
each modern religion originally targets to rebel against)
how do u separate Scripture's modern components from its ancient ?
how do u extol Amos's prophetic critique while ignoring the folk-legend of Exodus-Numbers-Joshua ?
how do u embrace the Upanishads while shrugging off the Vedas ?
with most established religions , it's
here's the whole package
take it or leave it
it's all great literature , but
the ancient aspects of this literature always
point back to Polytheism
not to the future
not to a new way of living in the world)
Gyd is not a relic of the dead & dying past
Gyd is the present moment , stepping into the future
(within u'r life & mine)
in the world
(it's time , i think
to throw away the metaphors
to abandon all Polytheisms)
(but how ? )
Acts of Kindness is the way.
You ask the question wether religion can span over millenia, but do not take in the fact that like all culture and societies, religion evolves and the people of the orgiginal HIndu religion were to see it in its current form would not recognize it and say that it is another religion outright.
Furthermore how can one 'take it or leave it' for an entire religion. if one is to take or leave the whole package, one must surely therefore be able to understand the whole package. One would have to know all that there is to know and that my friend is an imposiible goal. As religion elvolves, it widens and spreads and so more and more of the religion becomes uknown to others who supposedly follow the same religion.
Lastly, you say that all polytheism should be abandoned. Why do you feel that it is your right to tell others what to believe? I dont know where your from, but where i live there is such a thing as freedom of thought.
salishan, u say that with all established religions, one must either take it or leave. I cannot stress how much i disagree with you on that point. For instance, Christianity, i'm sure you will agree is one of sed established religions. Yet their are over 33,000 denominations if Christianity which have different views on the nature of God.
AS to 'how do u embrace the Upanishads while shrugging off the Vedas?' - you pretty much c
woops accidentally cut myself off there. so:
AS to 'how do u embrace the Upanishads while shrugging off the Vedas?' - you pretty much can't because the whole purpose, if you look into it, of the Upanishads is to explain the meaning of the Vedas. It is (of sorts) similar to disregarding the entire old testament and embracing the new testament. Th old testament forms the basis of Jesus' parabels and teachings.
The old and new testament are really the same knowledge. Jesus never denied it.
literary critic Harold Bloom (Anxiety of Influence) calls this process
(the Strong Poet will aggressively "misinterpret" the past
in order to bend the cultural tradition , to
make it go the direction she or he wants it to go)
that (too) is what Jesus did with the Hebrew scriptures
his parables bend these ancient tales to serve new uses , his uses
(& Gyd's uses)
(i should probably be more circumspect , &
not so casually reveal to u my current theological quandaries)
i'm sorry , Hindu Guru
that u think i am dogmatically telling people "what to believe"
to me , it is more how than what
my sense of the Divine is that
Gyd leads , not follows
to "follow Gyd"
does not mean "to follow a religious tradition"
(to me) it means just the opposite
(with Gyd) to lead a religious tradition
to see the world new
(with "new eyes") & to lead u'r tradition forward
(with a heartening show of confidence
which is part real & part bluster) into
the (ever uncertain) future
Separate names with a comma.