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Is Hinduism a Polytheist religion?
By Shree Krishna Bastola -
Editorial for 4-12-2000
Traditional belief in the west is that the Semitic religions   (Christianity, Islam and Zudeism ) are the monotheist religions and the eastern religions including Hinduism and Buddhism are polytheist.
Oxford dictionary defines polytheism as, belief in or worship of, more than one god (please note that god is spelt with a small g). It also defines god as, "a superhuman being regarded and worshipped as having power over nature and human affairs" and the example it gives is "Mars was the Roman god of war". Monotheism on the other hand is defined as," the doctrine that there is only one God" (please notice that it has a capital G) and that it defines God as "the creator and the ruler of the universe in Christian Jewish and Muslim teaching". Please notice that there is no mention of Hinduism here. 

The dictionary is 1995 edition and not 1930. The oldest book in the world ,Rig Veda, says that "there is one God but people call it by different names". While Adi Sankaracharya says that ekoh bramha dutia naasti which means there is one God and no second God. God is generally regarded as Omnipotent , Omniscient, Omnipresent, Timeless (no beginning or end) and Creator of the universe. The ancient Hindu seers agree to that; in addition they  also tried to discus why God created the universe, coming to the conclusion that God is incomprehensible .From the above discussion it is very clear that Hindus have not yet been able to apprise their belief to the west or the west is deliberately suppressing the truth. I would not like to discuss it further because I believe truth will win satyameba jayate. In fact I would say the study of God in Hinduism is unparalleled in any other religion.
 The dictionary defines monotheism   as 'belief  in one God'  whereas polytheism is defined as 'a belief in many gods'. The ancient Greeks and the Romans had gods for various activities. They regarded one   of those gods as greater than others, but they did not have what we understand now by God. Concepts of monotheism and polytheism arose when Christianity came as an alternative religion to the Greeks and the Romans, whose religion was rightly called polytheistic. Now when you come across a religion which has got both God the supreme being and various other gods (deities) i.e. Hinduism, it doesn't fit into either category so easily. To understand Hinduism.......
Let us delve into human feeling and relations and how they progress from a lower level of friendship to the highest level of Moksha.

Assume that two people (souls) meet. This meeting, if goes positive, will lead to friendship or if negative, will lead to hostility. Lets talk about the positive side here and say that they liked one another and the bond developed into friendship. If this friendship becomes deeper it become love. When love becomes deeper and respect is added to it , it becomes adoration. When adoration becomes deep and awe is added to it becomes a prayer (puja) in which the lower soul asks for favors from the higher soul. When love increases further the person continuously thinks about the higher soul and concentrates on the higher soul, this is called meditation. When meditation is very deep, various channels are open and it will lead to samadhi and then to final Moksha if God pleases.  

Hindus know that every human being is the manifestation of God. Some Hindus say that Hindus pray to gods because they are the manifestation of  God and that ultimately they are praying to God. A gnani can do that but for average people  that would mean thet one person should pray to other, because all people are manifestation of God. This doesn't and should not happen. As I pointed out in the previous paragraph, there is  certain criteria for that which has to be met before one prays or does puja.It is not essential to pray to God only. The above thought seems to stem from the fact that only God should be prayed (as some religion claim), which as we shall see later is not the case.

 Before we talk about gods in Hinduism let us try to understand a little bit of Hindu culture and what  praying is:

 Hindu culture has always visualised living and non living things into those that have beneficial effect , which are called divine qualities and those that are harmful to us , which are called devilish qualities. Any thing that has divine quality is praised and respected to the extent of deifying it e.g. Cow (We do not eat beef because of respect of this animal, which has such divine qualities , contrast that with Muslims not eating pork  which is out of devilish (negative) thoughts, that it is dirty), and Soma rasa. When a person says and does namaskar he is saying 'I salute the divine qualities in you'. This is also what we do when we are doing puja. The idea in puja or prayer is to praise the deity , along with Namaskar, so that the deity becomes happy and grants what the prayer wants.

Let us try to understand what god (deity) is in Hinduism  and why they are so many of them:

The various gods are known as deities in Hinduism. These deities have done something good for the mankind when they were here in previous ages,  now they live in their abodes. They were many of them because they lived in what we called satya yuga which is the age when beings were in exalted state,  by virtue of their exaltation they had spiritual powers. Their action were divine in nature and were awe inspiring. Because of the exalted age they were many of them , that is why we have so many deities each deity has his or hers own temperament . There is nothing wrong with them being so many .Neither you have to know about all of them nor you have to pray to all of them. You can pick and choose any deity which suits your temperament.  It is soothing to know that we had so many souls who did good work. Compare that with present age of Kali in which we are all in a debilitated  state and have no spiritual power and have to struggle a lot to attain such power. They (deities) have the power to change people's karma (you will know that many Gurus who are sidhas do have the capability to change the peoples karma to some extent, so it is not surprising that the deities who lived in satya yuga to posses power to modify peoples karma). It has to be clearly understood here that these deities are mere elevated souls they do not have the power to create the universe and they do not have the others powers of God e.g. omnipotence , omniscience etc. Therefore these gods (deities) are in no way equal to the God (permeshwore). It has been erroneously written 'Gods' instead of 'gods' while writing about   Hinduism by many Hindu and non Hindu writers. God is singular, because there is only one God. It cannot be pleural.

Lets take an example of Lord Ganesha and see the status that he has:

When one goes through the puranas one will find that Ganesh has done a lot of good work for the people with  his spiritual powers He has killed several demons, who were giving lot of trouble to the people at that time, creating a sense of awe in the people. He also is brilliant and he showed his brilliance (divine quality) to his father Siva and got the boon that he should be prayed first in a puja. He is also easily pleased . That's why he is so popular. Since he was of satya yuga he had spiritual  power by which he could change our Karma. It is important to remember that he is not a God but  a god (deity).

Since Hinduism have the distinctly monotheistic component  and it also has many deities it should be called MONOTHEISTIC POLYDEITIC religion.

Let us see what Christianity and Islam really are:

In Christianity, there is Holy Trinity, in which  there is God , Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It has been a problem in Christianity that people are mostly praying to Jesus and forgetting God. Here you'll find that the God in Christianity has the power to create the universe and is omnipotent , omniscient etc. but Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit do not have that power, but have created a sense or awe, and are therefore prayed , so they should be called gods or deities. So as per the above discussions Christianity should be called MONOTHEISTIC BIDEITIC religion. Now the colonial power is gone things should be defined as per logic and truth rather that force and arrogance.

One can wonder,  why Jesus is more popular then God. I think one of the reason is people can identify themselves with Jesus, the man, and hence have developed a special bond with him. It is something like the appearance of a person from minority community in the TV who can be identified as a role model for the people of that community. This is why I say there is nothing wrong with worshiping deity despite some religions not allowing it. In Islam, there is a sura (Al-ahxab 33:56) in Koran in which Allah says "Allah and his angels are praying on the prophet, o believers pray on him(Mohammed) and send him utmost greetings" by which Islam should be called  MONOTHEISTIC MONODEITIC religion, but because other Koranic passages which specifically dictates that only Allah is worthy of praying, the prayer of Mohammed  either did not start or died in course of time. It should be noted here that while Muslim  follow and live according to the rules of Koran to be near God and the Christians talk of quiet contemplation for the monks to be near God, the Hindus talk about deep meditation and realisation of the spirit (truth) when they are living at present and not only after death.. One can easily understand which is the greater form of worship as specified in passage dealing with progress of human relations, from low to high.

Is praying to a  deity (god) a bad practice?

I don't think so. As  human beings we are in need of things and therefore we ask for favors .This is a natural human reaction. We go to the person who has got the capacity to do things for us, to ask something (various lobbying groups). Similarly people go to church or temple to ask the deities to do us favors. It is amazing to see people bonded with their deities. This gives them a sense of  security, peace and a feeling of someone with you, if nothing else. This itself is the very thing we need in this age because many people do not trust anybody, have nobody to rely on and feel so insecure, loosing their mental peace.  In Hinduism you have many deities with various temperaments and nature, so you have the luxury of choosing and  bonding with the deity which suits your nature. You don't have to know all of them and  pray to all of them.  While Christians worship two deities we worship several.  Gita says that people can worship the deity they like; in fact the lord will enhance bond between the two. It also says that those who go to the deities abode after death will have to return while those who go to the permeshwors abode do not have to. It must be stated clearly that  praying to the God is higher form of worship then praying to the deities (gods). One should strive for the former because that is the ultimate goal. I would again say that it is not essential to pray to God; people can pray their deity and be happy.

(c)2000, Krishna Bastola





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