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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Understanding Hindu Polytheism

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Everybody knows that Hindus worship many Gods. To many Westerners raised on the idea of monotheism this seems rather odd and maybe a little backward. Yet, in the Hindu literature we see references to “God” just about as often as references to a particular God such as Shiva. There is absolutely no conflict here. To understand this we must understand the fundamental difference in the way Hindus see time.

In the west we see time as linear. It starts, it flows and it ends. In Hinduism time is seen as cyclical. A wheel. It never starts and never ends but repeats. Add to this the twin concepts of reincarnation and the incarnation of avatars i.e. gods who take different forms in different times and places and it is easy to see why Hinduism is so welcoming to new gods. So, Christ comes along as a compassionate God of love? Easy. A Hindu recognizes and incarnation of Krishna when she sees one. A powerful omniscient creator God? Why, Brahma of course. A god capable of the destruction of all life on Earth? Why, Shiva of course.

Where a Jewish, Christian or Muslim conqueror would, as his first order of business destroy the idols of the conquered land a Hindu would invite them into the temple and consider all Gods as just the same Gods with different faces and different names.

The Hindu “Trinity” known as “Trimurti” consists of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Taken together they represent all of the phases of the created universe of forms within which we all dwell. This universe is created, exists for a time and then is destroyed to be created anew. Yet, there is another Hindu vision of God and that is “Brahman” not to be confused with “Brahma”. Brahman is the underlying unity, the One. Brahman is not created nor can it be destroyed. In this sense one could say that Hinduism is pantheistic.

So, when looking at the great and ancient tradition which is Hinduism you will see that she is at the same time polytheistic, monotheistic and pantheistic and that there is no conflict between these three.

๑ Samsaran ๑

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