Tuesday, November 27, 2012
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’.
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?