Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Polytheism


It’s a constitutional malady of the west to classify and label anything and everything under the Sun even though they may know very little or close to nothing about it.

Instead of cultivating the humility and patience to grasp what is foreign to their culture, or simply admitting that they do not have the adequatio to understand certain things, particularly the sublime things of the East, they take the easy and presumptuous route of classifying the thing into one of their available gross categories.

And unfortunately, the thing, over a period of time, actually becomes transformed, at least in our perceptions, to a lower, inferior form of itself in order to fit into the flimsy shell that has been accorded to it.

The Sanaatana Dharma became Hinduism, one of their silly childish ‘isms’.
The Vedas cognized by the sages became ‘mere rituals and rites’ and ‘songs by bards’.
The sublime knowledge that form and formlessness are the necessary manifestations of the Supreme One became ‘stone and animal’ worship.
Eating with one’s fingers became ‘barbarism’.
And more...

Polytheism is one such thing.
It’s a ‘universally known’ fact that Hindus are polytheistic.
We have this wedged and entrenched so deeply within our minds that if I were to tell you that we, the Hindus are monotheistic, you would dismiss me.
But that’s what I am going to do.

We do worship many many Gods and Goddesses – but in doing so we only worship different forms of the same God.
We believe that God is one, but there are many manifestations, many forms, so each one of us may pick that which appeals most to our own nature, inclinations and most importantly, purpose.
The Supreme One with a thousand attributes is represented by thousand forms, one form for each attribute. Lakshmi for bounty, Saraswati for learning, Brahma for creating, Vishnu for sustaining, Shiva for destruction and so on... but we know that there is Only One God.

And how many proponents of this Unity, this Oneness there are! One does not have to dig deep into scriptures, they are right before us – and yet we do not see.

There was Adi Shankara who professed Advaitha – non duality or Oneness – not only of God but of all creation.

The Gita says – Sarva Dharmaan Parityajya maam EKAM sharanam vraja...
(if the numerous Gods, philosophies and traditions confound you), then, leave them all and resort to ME ALONE.

A simple subhaashita says
Aakaashaat patitam toyam yatha gacchati saagaram sarva devanamskaaram Eeshvaram prati gacchati
Like all water falling from the sky eventually flows into the Ocean, prayers to the many deities reach One God.

The shaasanas or stone edicts, that record the rule of kings and emperors, thousands of years old, profess the unity of God. Here is just one among them.
Yam shaivaaha samupaasyate shiva iti brahmeti vedaantinaha, bouddhaaha Buddha iti pramaana patavaha, karmeti meemamsakaaha arhan ityati jaina shaasanarathaaha, karteti naiyyayikaaha soyambho vidadhaatu vaanchhita phalam trilokyanaathassada
The One who is worshipped as Shiva by some, as Brahma by the Vedaantis, as Buddha by the Buddhists, as Arhan by the Jains...may HE grant all their wishes.

Whereas, polytheism of the Middle East is very different – there, people indeed worshipped different Gods and not merely different forms of the same God.

Moreover, the above is the only explanation that will save the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam.

A year ago I read the Old and the New Testament.
When I read about the Lord God of Israel, again and again asking his people to set fire to that town, or kill these people because they worshipped a different God, when he brought plague and starvation upon his own people for going to a different God, I wondered “what sort of a God is this and what sort of people are these who burn towns and kill people simply because they worship a different God?”

I asked how such intolerant religions came to be counted among world’s great religions.

I was hoping I had missed something.
I thought there was possibly some interpretation that helped to uncover some profound truth behind these seemingly defective aspects of these religions.

Now perhaps, I have stumbled upon an explanation.

The people upon whom Lord God of Israel frowned did not merely worship different forms of the One God but actually worshipped different Gods, perhaps lesser Gods, Gods that did not stand for truth and love, but lesser things. Hence God of Israel became angry. Which is understandable.

Otherwise, if that different God was just a different form of the One God and The lord of Israel had people killed and burned for worshipping ‘that other God’ and if that implies that such a God would like to see us, the people of the East ‘who don’t worship him but other Gods’, burned and killed too, then, I am not willing to think much of such a God or of the religions who follow such a God.

In summary, polytheism of the Middle East, condemned in the Testaments, is not the same as ‘polytheism’ of the Far East.
We believe in One God and hence we are monotheistic, but THEN AGAIN, it is not the same as the monotheism of the Abrahamic religions.
There is the distinction – we don’t INSIST that there is one God, though we know it; we merely suggest. We not only allow complete freedom to all to choose their God from the many forms, but we accept into our midst even those who argue that there is no God!
Charavaka was an atheist and his works actually find a place in our religious libraries!
For, Sanaatana Dharma is not just a religion but also a social system, a way of living, a culture, God, spirituality, polity, economy, diet, science... it’s an integration of all the above, and an integration so complete so absolute that its components could never stand separately without losing some of their meaning and purpose.

The west may note therefore, that they do not really have a label at their disposal to confer upon a tradition such as ours.

But I am happy to see that things have changed in the recent past and are changing even now. Many people of the west, scholars as well as commoners have taken interest in the Eastern traditions, written sincerely about their greatness and accorded us the position, respect and recognition due to us.

What remains unfortunate however is that, our own people, especially the youth, having grown accustomed to the mean shanties that the west once assigned us to, have made it their home and now do not want to move to the palaces and mansions that was always theirs, for what else does it mean that Indians, especially the Hindus revel in self deprecatory talk?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good One ! LIFE OF PI - has reflected this aspect in the beginning of the movie..

Sachin Thombre said...

Very good one Sowmya.

I guess, anyone who is exposed to our Indian culture and has genuine interest in Indian philosophy understands/knows our concept of worshiping one God in its many forms. I dont think we can make generalizations in this age.

Except a handful of people who dont understand many things anyways, the world does respect the hindu philosophy.

Contrary to your belied, I would say that today's youth ( 18 to 30 yrs old) have a much better understanding of our roots and respect towards it, than the youth of the last few decades.


Anonymous said...

Hey,

so far I have read 4 of your works.
And for some unknown reason I feel most of them have an "Ouch" factor..

Faith & Act - A christian who believes in Bible said "Ouch!"

The Best City - A person who lives in Chennai(or Delhi or kolkata) said "Ouch!"

Polytheism - I said "Ouch that hurts!"

I don't know who you are, but I define you through your blogs.

-Another blogger

Sowmya said...

Thanks Sachin for the comments.

Anon,
We are used to the smooth, nice, sweet carpet - under which many truths, harsh and bitter have been pushed by spineless fellows to appease this party or that... I somehow feel its my responsibility to lift the carpet, reach for all that lies under it and display it for the willing and the blind to see...

Anonymous said...

Hey, no offense but for someone who believes in "Opposites attract" and "Peace loving" theories, you sure seem to have a funny way of lifting the carpet. Anyways I guess its your world and your choice..

But here's just a food for thought

If this could provoke me (a peace loving, laid back and extremely lazy to type) person to leave behind a comment, then I am just wondering what it would do to someone not so peace loving.
For all you know, this could have been the tiny drop of water that caused the mighty big black current in the ocean that wiped away many..

- Another blogger
(btw hi, I am also known as Nina Gray.)

Sowmya said...

Well Nina...

I too believe in 'opposites attract' but then 'to each his own' idea is relative and limited. People try to make it an 'absolute' so it will be very convenient and they can do whatever they please... Its just that I am sharp enough to see the idea for what it is.

And I am very very peace loving but certainly not detached, nor indifferent.

As for your suggestion that I may be provoking people, I find that these days, people are becoming more and more open about voicing their thoughts and less and less inhibitious...
All that was previously above and beyond criticism is now being critically discussed by various people.

As for my first post 'the best city' and such others written ages ago, it should be indicative of who I was when I wrote it and not what I am today - not necessarily. I find myself growing at such a rate that I would need to define myself newly every 3 months or so.

But then, I don't delete old posts that I no longer stand by because I am not afraid of fingerprints and don't feel the need to wipe them away.

Anonymous said...

Hey,

I was reading the last 2 paragraphs of your above comment and I must say, I could feel a smile spread over my face...

Have a good one!
-Nina

Sowmya said...

Where may I find your blog Nina? Thanks for coming here...

Anonymous said...


http://iknowyouhere.blogspot.com.au/

-Nina

Ranj said...

this is like one of those arguments: "ur bad because am just too good" And am good, because I know the definition of "being good"

And seriously, havent there been stories of Krishna getting angry. A story where Krishna, Brahma and Shiva fights with each other to know who is the greater God...You are making a very strong statement but it sounds like those "Westerners" who claim to know all about Hinduism and still slots "us" as polytheists...

But I have to say its so well-written...I had to read it twice to not fall for your idea (the power of words)...I hope in another 3 months you do change your point of view...Because there are no strong arguments here, its just a strong statement and you are responsible to give good arguments (unless its written just to create a shock value)

Sowmya said...

Ranj,

I think you missed my line, "I was hoping I had missed something.
I thought there was possibly some interpretation that helped to uncover some profound truth behind these seemingly defective aspects of these religions"...

And then I speculated upon a possible explanation that did make the anger of God justified, "The people upon whom Lord God of Israel frowned did not merely worship different forms of the One God but actually worshipped different Gods, perhaps lesser Gods, Gods that did not stand for truth and love, but lesser things. Hence God of Israel became angry. Which is understandable", though I don't know if that is the correct interpretation.

I have to tell you that while reading 'Autobiography of a Yogi', I noticed how Yogananda quotes from the Bible in almost every chapter and calls several of our saints as 'Christlike'.

Out of my sheer reverence for Yogananda, whose words I could never easily doubt, I am 'predisposed' to believe that these religions are/were inherently great.
Just the same I cannot stop seeing that the reading of their texts subjects them to many questions/doubts and that there is the need for interpretations that will make them seem less confrontational.

As for the knowledge that of the 10 religions in the world, 4 Middle Eastern - Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Zorastrianism and 6 Far Eastern religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism/Taoism, Shintoism, the Far Eastern religions have always co existed peacefully, and the Middle eastern or Abrahamic religions, though brothers have always been fighting with one another...,
this knowledge will serve as a fundamental premise that will guide all my perspectives on religion.

As for the fact that Hinduism is the most tolerant, the most inclusive of all religions and not confrontational in the least, there is going to be no change, not in the next 3 months, not in the rest of my years.

Anonymous said...

Anon because I'm too lazy to make an account just to comment. I know you wrote this post some time ago but I just wanted to comment. I find this concept very interesting. Regarding the God of Israel punishing people for worshiping another God, maybe you're right and it was because they were worshiping lesser Gods or maybe it's because there is no sincerity in one who worships many different Gods (which is different to worshiping different forms of one God).

I am a Muslim and all my life I've wondered about this. Do we all just worship the same God but do it in different forms? Is how we choose to show our love for the one God, all that divides us? After we all do want to please God, it's what we think will please God, that is different. Truth be told I feel a lot closer to anyone who believes in the existance of God, regardless of religion, than to atheists (many of whom tend to be ridiculously arrogant).

From your blog posts, I glean that you are not particularly fond of Muslims but I hope you don't mind me leaving a comment.

Sowmya Chakravarthy said...

Anon, Thank you for leaving your comment.

The reason why people fight is perhaps because they dont understand the below:
God sent different messengers to different places and people during different times in forms that were suitable to the respective space-times.
The specific teachings and messages were also different based on the particular context and the need of that hour - not all had the same needs and not all were at the same point of spiritual or material evolution. Some were in class 1, some in class 10, some in graduation and so the teachings had all to be different.
And yet they all converge - some will get there sooner, some later but they do converge.
The HINDUS, I believe always respected this, which is why we have had a place even for atheists.
But I am not sure why and how, but the Abrahamic religions insisted that theirs was the ONLY path... I still don't understand why and how their respective prophets did not forsee that the Abrahamic people would meet the others and conflict would arise... or did they make allowances in their scriptures that their followers refuse to acknowledge??

Anonymous said...

Thank you for replying. Didn't think you would as this blog post is quite old hehe.

That's a very interesting perspective, one which I'm inclined towards.

I'm not too sure about the other two major Abrahamic religions (and I wouldn't want to comment on what I'm ignorant of) but Islam certainly does make allowances however, sadly, Muslims of today are much more interested in strong-arming than getting along and living in peace. This is not to say that there aren't people who want this but the loudest and most zealous are the one that seek to divide. For an example, the Quran says that we should not even verbally insult, Gods others worship and show them some respect. However nowadays it is quite common for people to make fun of Hindu Gods and call them derogatory terms and I'm incredibly saddened to see this happen and I try my best to protest.However you are right that Abrahamic religions are not nearly as inclusive of atheists.