The Supreme is enshrined in the hearts of all He alone is the Supreme Reality. So renounce and rejoice in Him and covet not. In the Vedas, we find nowhere any such mention which may be concluded to show that Hinduism believes in more Gods than one. Vedas, Upanishads and all other authorized scriptures clearly speak of One God and the only God that permeates the universe.
He is the Supreme Being – Yajurveda (XLI) says, ”By one supreme Ruler is the universe pervaded. Even every world in the whole circle of nature, He is the True God… For Him, O Man, covet not unjustly the wealth of any creature existing. Renounce all that is unjust and enjoy pure delight, true spiritual happiness.”
Similar ideas are expressed in Isopanishad as stated above in the beginning.
Rg Veda says, ”I am God Almighty. I am light of the world like the suns. Neither defects, nor death can ever approach Me. I am the controller of the universe. Know Me alone as the creator of all – I am the cause; I am the support of all that exists in the universe. May ye never turn away from me May ye never accept any other God in my place, nor worship Him.“
Similar thoughts find expression in Yajurveda (VIII-4) “God O men! Existed in the beginning of the creation. He is the creator, support and sustainer of the sun and other luminous worlds. He was the Lord of the past creation. He is the Lord of the present. He will be the Lord of the unborn universe. He created the whole world and He sustains it. He is the Eternal Bliss.”
Now look at the Upanishads. Attareya says, ”Before the world was created, the Self alone existed.” Kena says, ”He is that which can not be expressed by speech, that by which speech is expressed, that alone is Brahman; that which mind can not comprehend, but by which mind comprehends, that alone is Brahman. Brahman is the Self that exists in all objects. He is the inner operator by which one sees, by which one hears, by which one smells odors and by which one utters speech and by which one tastes the sweet and the sour.” In short, the Upanishad seers visualized the Truth thus – “The Infinite pervades all and nothing pervades it.”
Key to Understanding Hinduism
There prevails some sort of confusion that leads to non-understanding of Hinduism as such. We forget that Hinduism gives full freedom to its devotees. Every individual is free to worship according to his own choice and liking. In due course of time, this oldest religion, of about 6000 years, has developed four major streams of religion today. They are:
1 – Saivism, 2 – Shaktas, 3 – Vaishnavas and 4 – Smartans.
Surprisingly we find in them more similar but minute dissimilar differences, though the common trend and undercurrent remains the same in all these denominations:
- They declare their faith in Karmic Laws
- They believe in reincarnation and
- rebirth till salvation
- They believe in the Infinite Truth, Pure Consciousness – Both as Sagun (with Attributes) and as Nirgun (without any attributes)
- They believe in a Supreme Being which is absolutely formless and birthless. They also believe in the One with form and attributes. It is God – The generator ,Sustainer and Destroyer
- All the four denomination agree that there is no intrinsic evil as the cosmos is projection of God and is permeated by Him.
- All these four streams believe in Maya (Illusion) in their own ways and interpretations.
- All of them believe in Ahimsa (non-injury) and
- Need of a Guru as guide and philosopher and in a desire to seek self-realization
- They prefer cremation of body and
- ascribe to the authority of Vedas and Upanishads, Geeta and Brahma Sutra.
The One Supreme God as Viewed Under These Denominations
Saivism: It believes in one and the only one God, that is Siva. Siva is worshipped in home and temples alike. They have different ways of worship and its varying aspects. Along with Siva, Lord Ganesh and Kartikeya are also worshipped but not as God, the Supreme. For these worshippers of God, Siva is pure Love, compassionate, immanent and transcendent. Saivism does not adhere to the teachings of any earthly incarnation of Divine as a Supreme Being. To them, Siva and Soul are in fact one and the same, but it is through Siva’s grace that Soul achieves realization. This is Advaitic (Monistic) Truth of Saivism. Saivism bases God on Bhakti (Devotion), emphasizes on Sadhna and austerity, Yoga and Asceticism.
Shaktaism: Shaktaism worships the Supreme God as the Divine Mother Shakti or Devi. She is possessed of many forms, both gentle and fierce. The worship consists in chanting, holy diagram, yoga and rituals through which they summon cosmic forces and awaken the great Kundalini power within the spine. The Divine Mother Shakti is mediatrix, bestowing Advaitic Moksha (Salvation) on her worshippers. One may understand that this denomination is a later day addition in Hinduism, resulting in the absorption of many non-Aryan tribes in its liberal fold.
Vaishnavaism: It is of recent origin yet it claims a wider sphere of influence, mostly in the South and North India. It worships Lord Vishnu as the Supreme and also believes in incarnation of the divine in any material form on earth, especially of Lord Krsna and Rama. They follow the path of Bhakti (Devotion) and devotional discipline. The devotees can communicate with and be benefited by the grace of gods and goddesses through worship of the icons. Like two feathers of a bird to fly, they believe in karma and Jnana yoga to reach ultimately the Bhakti yoga. The devotees chant the names of the incarnations and believe in Prapattivada (Self- surrender) to deity of Vishnu, Krsna or even to his beloved consort Radha. They think that it brings them liberation from the world. Vaishnavites do not aspire for complete unison with God but for nearness with God so that the individuality of the devotee remains in contact, enabling him to go on with his devotion of the Supreme. To them God and Soul are eternally distinct and through Vishnu’s grace Soul is destined to worship and enjoy Gods nearness. They too have firm faith and absolute belief in a Supreme God, the Infinite Truth.
Smartans: Smartans believe that man and Ishwar (god) are one and in reality the Absolute Brahman. They follow the path of Jnana Yoga ( Path of Wisdom ). It is a perfect intellectual path devoted to Self-Enquiry – Who am I? and meditation on its awareness. It is a non-kundalini way. The Self and the God seem separate as two because of Maya (Ignorance). It is Jnana (wisdom) that dispels the illusion and ignorance and brings illumination. So is achieved oneness with God through understanding and awareness.
It should be carefully noted that when these sects speak for one, they pay all primary importance to that one. You are free to go to any God. If you watch closely you are going to find that Shakti devotees sing salutations to Vishnu and Lord Shiva also. They even speak out Vishnu mantras. The Siva devotees also worship Rama likewise and pray to him. They also say salutations to Siva. It means that all are one and the same. It is only just to focus on one path that it is said that one path is best and is the only one path. In fact all are the best and the same.
The Nature of Various Gods and Goddesses
The word Deva and Devatas, Devi coming as gods and goddesses has erroneously been translated by orthodox Hindu scholars and western researchers. Devata is the one who is possessed of useful and great qualities, higher and far above ordinary individual. The earth is called Devi Maa, Sun is Deva and so on. But they have never been termed as God, the Supreme or even as one fit for our adoration. God, The Supreme sustains all such devas and devis. He alone is adorable. He is the Infinite Bliss. He alone is worthy of Bhakti (Devotion). So the word Deva and Devies does not mean God anyway.
Rg Veda’s Nasadiya Sukta (10-129) says about creation that, ”Whence was it born, and whence came the creation? The Gods were born later than this world’s creation.” So the Hindu knows that the gods and the goddesses are neither formless nor unborn nor immortal but are sustained by God, the Supreme.
God is the supreme Lord, the source and foundation of all Reality. Other religions believe in a number of divine beings known as angels, gods, divines etc. Hindus believe that the universe is possessed of beneficial beings called devas or devatas ; all of whom are servant of the Supreme Lord and we can propitiate them in need but we fully know and realize that devas have their origin and sustenance in the Supreme Lord who sustains all beings.
In Hinduism, Deva is a celestial power, particularly a manifestation but not at all a personification, of a natural power. It is generally benevolent and beneficent, if propitiated through offerings. Devas are not immortal but may become death -postponing. Goddesses or devies are mostly the feminine counter part of Devas as their power, Shakti or energy in the cosmos. No god or goddesses has any sex or gender.
Literally speaking, whosoever has capacity enough to confer selflessly some benefit or advantage and is capable of uplifting, illuminating and teaching is called Devata. If the reader is possessed of such qualities, he is also a Devata. He gives and does not expect any thing in return. He is Light but the light of all Lights is the Supreme God, the Deva of all the Devas is God. The Supreme God acts and works through these Devas and Devies.
Yagvalka in Brah (III-I-9) says that there are 33 gods. On repeated questionings, he says that there is only one God, the Absolute Brahman. His integrated view expressed here is based on scientific tradition and spirituality.
The All Pervading and the All Encompassing Reality is Divided into Four Groups:
- Adhidaivik (phenomenal world)
- Adhyatmic (psychosomatic)
- Adhibhautic (Interaction between internal and external world) and
So the perceptive world becomes the collection of 33 symbolic divinities called 33 gods. They are 8 vasus from the cosmos (5 cosmic elements of earth, water, fire, ether and air plus sun, moon and constellation.) 11 Rudras of the inner world (Ten Pranas and the Atmana, Soul) which means the 5 sense organs and 5 motor organs and the eleventh is mind. Time is eternal and is differentiated with 12 Adityas (Suns, the sons of Aditi, the Eternity), representing the 12 months of the year. The remaining two gods are Indra and Prajapati. The former is all pervading electricity and sustains and the latter is creative energy. So Hindus have these 33 gods but the God of all gods is the Supreme God. The Hindus believe in one God, the Supreme God and this is the monism of Vedas, which is by inclusion and not that type of monism which lives by exclusion as is witnessed in case of many other religions by exclusion.
Hindus do not worship idols as stones. They employ sacred imagery in worship. These sacred images can be in form of statues, models or yantras. This practice is common in all religions. Catholics venerate statues, Protestants pray at the cross, and Muslims pray towards the Kaaba. Hindus understand that the Infinite cannot be contained in the finite, in a limited statue or image. But is not God omnipotent? Does not God permeate all and nothing permeates Him? So He is sure to be present in the sacred image. God is merciful and loves His devotees for their sake He is sure to make Himself available to His devotees. Such is the grace of God. This is the mindset that prevails behind deity worship. It is never the worship of stone or earthen pot. The question is how can Hindu worshippers be called idol worshippers in the sense the Muslims and the Christians understand their own false worshippers of the idols?
In case of Devas, the researchers have failed to consider that, as can be observed in Durga Puja and Ganesh Utsava, the idols are decorated, sung and glorified with great pomp and show but after the ceremony, these idols are immersed in running waters with great enthusiasm. The Hindu knows that they are not immortals, unborn and eternal. They only serve as medium to reach the Supreme Being. One has to go beyond the ladder; he climbs, to reach the top. Some say that Hindus worship stones. What nonsense? Not stones but image of God. Image or Symbol worship is not idolatry. The critics have to understand Hindu thought first through proper teacher so as to reach the right conclusion.
Hinduism adopts a number of approaches in the path of worship of the Supreme. It gives complete freedom of adopting countless ways of different types of worship which suits the individual concerned according to his requirements on different levels. Vedic culture had been intermixing with different groups and sects with their own patterns. Hindus never uprooted the cultural elements of these people who embraced its fold. They neither condemned nor neglected any of these, rather accepted their gods and goddesses and their form of worship in the mainstream. The seers tried to move people beyond the low type of sacrificial religion to higher and still higher type of sacrificial religion and worship It made the devotee grasp the highest spiritual Truth. So we witness different groups and their varying forms of worship. This is liberalism of Hindu way of life. Such a freedom is rare. Despite this Hinduism has never lost sight of the ultimate end of the goal – The Supreme God – the Infinite Existence, the Infinite Knowledge, the Infinite Bliss.
All these sects and groups ultimately aim at the One Supreme Reality which pervades the universe.
The second fact to note is that Hindu religion emphasizes on exploration inwards towards enlightenment peace and emptiness (Sunyata). This is an inverse system. The extroversive system explores the meaning and value of which has been discovered outside the body and its relation into whom people enter. It is relational. Pointing at the union with God, it is a matter of emphasis. An inverse system is also attentive to extroversive system and vice versa. As Hindus internalize, they move on into further exploration and discovery of Who Am I? No language, no form of worship, no system can encompass God but they open up the way to possibility. One can only find God when he is being found by God.
No large scale or small scale, coherently organized with a strong centre of authority, hierarchical with strong sub systems can lead to God but only pave a way as all paths go to the same God. Let us know that religious organization is not an end in itself but only a means to an end. Ultimately it is a matter between the devotee and the God, the Self and the Pure Conscious Self.
A confused Classification of Form of Worship
The scholars have struggled to understand Hinduism by observing its denominations outwardly and failing to touch the inner chord. To them, it seems that Hindus worship a number of gods as Supreme and thus the religion is diverse in belief, practice and forms of worship. So some of them labeled Hinduism as Polytheist, some coined a new term Henotheism, in view of its baffling array of spiritual traditions. Only a few realized that, this oldest living religion of the world today, in process of time now consists of four afore said principal denominations – Saiva, Shaktas, Vaishnavas and Smartans besides Arya Samaj and others. It is as a result of liberal Hindu view that so many sects and groups have mixed and merged in Hindu way of life with their identity in tact, resulting in various ways of worship but ultimately reaching the same Infinite God, the Supreme Awareness. The Hindu religion retains its essentials and ultimately remains Monistic as the Vedas and all scriptures reveal.
Different Terms Used for Hindu Worship
Hindu scriptures describe the nature of the supreme in its own way and the ways too are various. This is common to all world scriptures. They describe the Supreme as Polytheism, Non-theism, Monotheism and by any other name, the God in all such names remain the same, The Supreme God.
Polytheism acknowledges that the Supreme Being is imperishable and ineffable. Like the Monist, they believe in the Supreme Being as an unmanifest God but it believes that the same formless and attribute less unborn God is also a manifested one and that He may be attained through grace of gods and goddesses or such images. The Hindu scripture Geeta (7/24) says, ’O Great Souled One, Bow to Thee. You are greater than all else, the primal cause even of Brahman. O Infinite Being, Lord of Lords, O Abode of the universe, you are imperishable and beyond both the manifest and the unmanifest.’ Geeta speaks about the nature of God, says ’the unintelligible think of Me as unmanifest becoming manifest, not knowing my higher nature which is imperishable and Supreme“ and also, ”I am not manifest to all veiled by magic illusion; this deluded world knows Me not as unborn and immutable.”
The non-theist believes that there is no God as such. Buddha spoke of suchness, worship of nature, spirit and ancestors. Taoism of Tao is the underlying reality, ”Tao is mystery. This is the gateway to all worship.”
Thus we observe that whatever title or name we give to form of worship, all religions accept Him as the Infinite Truth, Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Bliss. He is every where the same, we call Him God, the Absolute.
The Monism of Hinduism
The Hindu has always been the worshipper of Pure Conscious awareness called God, the Absolute, without any attribute, formless, immortal and unborn. Unfortunately some non-Hindu religions view the Hindu ideal in various hues suiting their designs but this oldest religion of the world remains still in tact. Max Mueller was most confused. He addressed Hindu worship of God as Henotheism or Kathenotheism. He outwardly noticed that the different Vedas take up different gods from hymn to hymn though through their description they directly addressed to one and the only one God who is the Supreme God, the Eternal God.
He failed to notice the underlying oneness and coined Henotheism to conclude that Hindus believe in the worship of one God but allows the existence of other gods. He forgot that whatever God is before singers mind at the moment is God, the Eternal God and none else but God, the Supreme God. He ignored the fact that the Vedas, Upanishads and all other authentic Hindu scriptures speak of one supreme God and none other; who pervades the universe and nothing pervades Him.
The west has greatly been impressed by the Hindu thought of Monism. Gonda in “Vedic Literature” writes about Rg Veda and other Vedas as “Succinct and carefully worded, yet bold and poetical, it heralds highly important, systematically elaborated ideas of the later periods tracing all things to one principle and declaring opposites as day and night, death and continuance of life, to be self-enfoldment of this One, it expresses the quintessence of monism.” The British historian ALBasham says, ”The monism of Fichte and Hegel might never have taken the form they did if it had not been for Anqueitil-Buperron Translation of Upanishad and the work of their pioneer ideologists.”
In Hinduism God is Lord Siva for the Saivites; for Shakats He is Shakti and for Vaishnavas, Lord Vishnu is the Supreme God. The Smartans have six deities as reflection of the One and only One God, the choice belongs to the devotee.
Hindu believes that God is not far away. He does not reside in heaven but is every where, among us and inside each and every soul. God is always within. Hindus never were nor are polytheist. They are perfectly monist. For the Hindus God is all pervasive, Light of all lights and illuminating. It is not that sort of pantheism which believes that God is the natural universe and nothing more. Hindu pantheism says that God is both in the world and beyond it. both immanent and transcendent. The Vedic belief in the words of Swami Vivekananda is, ”The Self of a man, the atmana (soul), higher than the sun and the moon, higher than the heavens, greater than the great universe itself – this glory of the Self appears as man, the most glorious God that ever was, the only God that ever existed and ever will exist with wisdom, sacrifice and renunciation.”
The monism of Hinduism has a world wide impact and to deny it is a travesty of truth.