Friday, March 28, 2008
EACH GOD IS GREAT
For me, there is much that is appealing and meaningful within Hinduism. For many westerners ii is difficult to get beyond the exotic imagery of the Hindu deities. A few experts say that the Hindu tradition is basically for those born into and raised within a Hindu culture, where Hindu customs, mythology, and ritual are second nature. I can understand this point of view, but I don't believe it should prevent those who sense something very special within Sanatana Dharma (the official name of Hinduism) --- from pursuing their attraction to this most primordial of living faiths.
There are a very large number of deities in the Hindu Pantheon. Each individual usually has one or, perhaps, several to whom he gives special devotion. However, he/she does not denigrate the forms of God dear to others. Each God Is Great. Each God represents the totality of the "God-Head". The God, Vishnu is said to have a thousand names, a thousand perceptions. Yet, the totality of the "thousand" is in no way greater than that of just one of the names.
Hymns of praise (mahatmya) express devotion not to just that particular aspect of God -- but to the fulness of Divine Reality. In and through the particularity of this one god and image, the fulness of Reality is seen. Thus, to speak of many does not diminish the fact that the fulness of Divine Reality can still be seen through a single lens." (from Encountering God. Diana L. Eck)
Max Muller, a great German student of Eastern religions, said that he could not say that Hinduism was either polytheistic or monotheistic. Each god when the subject of a religious festival or of daily puja (personal worship) is the total object of devotion. Each god is as good as all the others. Each god is the conduit for the personal devotion of the worshiper towards the Ultimate Reality -- whatever name you give --it, her, her.
Hindus do not believe or feel that the murti (image) of the deity (Krishna, Kali, Shiva, Ganesh, Rama ...) IS that deity. To do so would be idolatrous.
They know that the Ultimate Reality cannot be grasped by a single name, image, idea. That humans must express their feeling towards the undefinable God through their own perceptions and imaginations.
An ancient South Indian folk song puts it this way:
"Into the bosom of the great sea
Flow streams that come from hills on every side,
Their names are various as their springs,
And thus in every land do men bow down
To one great God, though known by many names."