Polytheism and Monotheism in Hinduism

One and Many

by Jayaram V

In Hinduism, polytheism and monotheism are like two sides of the same reality. The difference is not conceptual but perceptual. It is a paradox, which Hinduism addresses with great subtlety and openness, while some traditions fail to appreciate it or embrace it. Hindus worship both the gods and the great God Brahman, not because of historical reasons or they arrived at the concept of monotheism slowly and gradually as some ignorant historians tend to present, but because such a practice is in conformity with our fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality and our existence.

For a Hindu everything in the world is sacred, because it is created, supported and pervaded by the eternal Self. While there may be external distinctions, internally all the diverse components of the universe are suffused with the effulgence of Brahman.

Our entire universe, including all the things and beings of this world, floats in the waters of pure consciousness, which is vast, infinite, constant and imperishable.

Just as the waves and currents of an ocean cannot be different in essence from the ocean, the ultimate reality of Brahman is not different from the reality hidden in His numerous manifestations. You may find Brahman in your own being, as your highest Self. With effort, you may even see an entire universe hidden within your own Self. You may find Brahman in any nook and corner of the universe or within your own heart.

You may worship Brahman or any of His numerous manifestations, with your heart focused on Him. If your intentions are pure and sincere, you will find Him everywhere, even in a stone, a plant, a planet or your village deity.

The mind sees the diversity of the world and considers each component of it different and separate. A self-realized yogi knows that they are mere appearances of the self-same reality, which is pervading the whole universe.

At the most basic level, the Universal Self is pure consciousness, just as our consciousness in its most essential nature is. The various manifestations arise in the consciousness as bubbles or reflections.

In the human mind, the reflections may stay for a little while because our minds are impermanent and unstable; but in the cosmic consciousness, they last much longer, thereby giving us the illusion that what we see around us as the phenomenal world is real.

In both instances, the dream states are impermanent and mutable. Things appear and disappear on the surface of the consciousness like clouds across the sky. Is the consciousness disturbed by their presence?

It certainly is, which is why we experience suffering and see the play of chaos and confusion around us. However, with practice we can stabilize the consciousness, suppress the reflections and bring it back to its pristine and pure state.

When that happens, we cease to be part of God’s long dream. We wake up from the torpor and the delusion into which we have subsided and return to our original state of pure awareness and truth consciousness.

What is the nature of this truth consciousness, which creates a world of its own by reflecting things when it is exposed to objectivity and duality? This consciousness exists in each of us.

We all can experience it anytime we want, by just withdrawing into ourselves and becoming pure observers. If we are caught in things, we cannot see it. If we cling to dreams and desires and the perpetuation of our limited selves, we cannot discern it.

If you remove all thoughts, feelings, images, emotions, notions, movements, ideas, memories, concepts, desires and impulses from your consciousness, even for a brief period, what is left is your pure consciousness. This consciousness is universal, divine and pure. Life arises from there and finally subsides into it only.

Forms arise and subside in that pure consciousness only. You can enter into that consciousness anytime you want. Right now you can do it; but most of us do not want to do it because we want to be part of the great Dream of Brahman rather than outside of it.

Pure Consciousness is Brahmic consciousness. It is divine and imperishable. It is the most ancient and most effulgent. It is extremely refreshing and reviving. In deep sleep, we enter into this state. Hence, when we wake up we feel so refreshed and energized.

In Hinduism, the dualities of life and the diversity of creation are finely integrated. Since the religion is free from dogma and the oppression of ecclesiastical tyranny, it has been greatly enriched by the freedom of thought and exploration of truth by free souls who were driven by the spirit of enquiry and passion for truth.

The scholars and philosophers of Hinduism therefore pursued both unity and diversity to understand the nature of reality and the reason for our existential suffering and its possible remedies. They looked to God and His manifestations seeking answers for the intriguing aspects of human life and our relationship with other components of Nature and reality.

The result of this incessant mental churning was the emergence of both theistic and atheistic philosophies and a fine blend of monotheism and polytheism in Hinduism. Hindus consider the whole universe as manifestation of Brahman.

He exists both in manifested condition and in unmanifested state. The unmanifested Brahman is the most mysterious and the least known. He is also the most difficult to worship. Even the gods have no clue about Him. He is prior to all. The yogis, however, consider Him their ultimate Goal and meditate upon Him constantly.

The manifested Brahman is a reflection of the unmanifested Brahman in the pure consciousness. He is made up of suddha sattva (pure sattva) or Isvara Tattva, in contrast to the three gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) with which the rest of the creation is made up.

He represents but a tiny fraction of the unmanifested Brahman. Still that tiny fraction is as vast and infinite as this universe, filled with numerous manifestations (vibhutis) and infinite powers. The manifested Brahman then descends into layers of objective reality laid out by Him only, through Nature and His Divine Maya (illusion).

In the highest planes, He manifests divinities of the highest order, who share with Him most of His absolute and infinite qualities and several functions of creation and cosmic order. In the lowers planes, descending further deeper into layers of elemental substances and nescient states, He manifests diverse living and non-living forms.

Thus, every creation is an aspect of Brahman, a reflection of Him in things and qualities, or a projection of Him upon the ocean of pure consciousness. The creation of Brahman is a dream state, which lasts for billions of years on the cosmic scale, in contrast to our dreams, which lasts for a few minutes or hours. Our days are shorter and so are our dreams.

A day of Brahma lasts for about 8.64 billion years. Therefore, his dreams last for millions or billions of years. Imagine that we have entered into a dream state and created a dream that lasts for a few billion years. The creation that we see all around us is the result of such a long dream, which has been going on for a longtime and will continue to be so for billions of years.

The beauty and marvel of this Vast Dream is that Brahman enjoys it from above, from below, from outside of it and from within. He also creates dreams within dreams and multiple realities.

In this great dream of Brahman, there are certain things that are permanent, such as our souls and some that are impermanent such as our minds and bodies and all the objects we see around us.

Now, as an aspect of Brahman, we have a choice either to pursue these impermanent things and become attached to them or get out of it and revert to the reality, which is Brahman.

We can either enter into the much deeper states of this dream by descending into the gross layers of objectivity or swim back slowly towards the higher realms and enter into the world of pure light.

We also have a choice to worship the divinities, who are part of this dream to enhance our lives and identities or give up everything, cultivate detachment and dispassion towards them and focus our minds solely upon Brahman, the Pure Consciousness, the imperishable, inexhaustible, immutable and transcendental Self, by knowing whom all becoming, striving and delusion end.

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