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Part 3: Essay donated by Chintamani Rath

Gods and Goddesses in Hinduism.
The presence of evil in religions.

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Gods/Goddesses/Manifestations:

It may now be pertinent revert to a question cited early in this section, viz., why have so many gods and goddesses or "manifestations" of the Almighty? Is Hinduism really monotheistic or is it essentially polytheistic?

The answer is: Hinduism is certainly monotheistic. The Hindu Texts say: the Supreme Being ("Brahman") is formless, nameless and also without attributes of any kind. In the Texts, the Supreme Being is referred to as "It" or "That". Because this is an abstract concept, it has been made easier to understand for those who cannot easily think in abstract terms by speaking of different manifestations of "It" or "That". This has been done by deifying or personalizing different forces as "manifestations" of the Almighty.

There is more. Hinduism is so catholic a religion that it actually gives the authority to everybody to create his or her own "manifestation" of the Formless and Nameless Almighty. If someone said he was happy to consider a piece of stone or a tree or a lump of clay or anything else to be his preferred form or manifestation of the Almighty, Hinduism permits it without calling it sacrilege or blasphemy. Every person is free to worship according to his own particular set of values, conditionings and beliefs. If I worship a piece of stone as the Almighty, I am actually worshipping the Almighty itself in the form in which I find it easy to comprehend the Incomprehensible, the Formless, the Nameless, the Attributeless, the Infinite. I believe in the Yama principles set out above, I believe in the law of Karma and rebirth and I use my finite mind-intellect equipment to fix itself on the Infinite by means of a symbol (or, if I can be comfortable with an abstract and undefined concept, I transcend the requirement for a symbol). Ergo, I am a Hindu. It is as easy as that.

A well-known Sanskrit excerpt from our Scriptures says:

"Ekaiva Shaktihi Parameshvarasya
Bhinnaa Chaturdhaa Viniyoga Kale
Bhoge Bhavaani Purushaseshu Vishnu
Kope cha Kaali Samarecha Durgaa"

[Rough transliteration: "The one and indeed one only Force of the Supreme Being manifests Itself in four ways according to circumstances: During peace and prosperity, It is Bhavani, in Its Male Form, It is Vishnu, in Anger It is Kaali and in War It is Durga"]

The festivals of Durga Puja and Kali Puja - alluded to at the start of this article - merely signify, inter alia, the victory of good over evil. Yes, Kali is fierce and Durga, the Mother Goddess, is victorious in war: we bow to the forces of good that the beasts and demons in us be destroyed. Surely the reverend father who attacked Kali and Durga would have known this (having been an Indian in India), but, after all, being a convert to Christianity, it is likely he would have been more staunch a Christian (in a bigoted sense) than one born of an old Christian lineage in another country.....

The Christians have a cross as a symbol. The Muslims (who swear by a Formless Being) have a crescent moon and star as a symbol. Muslims keep a picture of the Kabah in Mecca in front of them when they direct their minds towards the Absolute. Others have other symbols. Even "extreme" Christians like the Jehovah?s Witnesses who profess to be against what they call "Churchianism" refer to the Infinite Power as "the Creator". I have the Pranava and other things as symbols. What problem does the reverend priest or the Muslim colleague have with that? Why must they embark upon a crusade of converting people into Christianity or Islam? More, on what authority do they so embark?

As a Hindu, I recognize the Absolute everywhere and in everything. As one of our great Texts -- the Chhandogya Upanishad -- says: "Sarvam Khalvidam Bramha Tajjalan Iti Shanta Upaseeta". This means as follows:

Sarvam = all; Khalu = indeed; Idam = this; [Khalvidam = Khalu + Idam] Bramha = the Absolute; Tat = That (meaning from and into That); Ja = is born; Lan = merges into; [Tajjalan = Tat + Ja + Lan] Iti = this (or such); Shanta = calmly; Upaseeta = contemplate.

[Transliteration: "All this (that we perceive through the ten senses* and the mind-intellect-memory-emotion equipment) is indeed the Absolute from Which all this is born and into Which all this merges; contemplate upon this (principle) with a calm mind"]

The presence of evil in religions:

So Hinduism is a very humanistic religion. It permits the individual enormous liberties, within a few rational and humane boundaries. As a result, many schools of philosophy have blossomed within its benevolent fold. Hinduism is therefore essentially a convenient word or a convenient concept to denote diverse ways of life that are all good, noble, pure and morally and spiritually elevating. Yes, there have been corrupt and sinful practices by people calling themselves Hindus -- practices that have been quickly and gleefully pounced upon by various Christian missionary sects to disparage the religion itself. If these evil practices (and admittedly there have been many through the course of Hinduism?s long, long history) are proofs that Hinduism itself is evil, cannot the same be said of Christianity or Islam, for there have been many equally corrupt and sinful practices perpetrated by people calling themselves Christians and Muslims?

The Christians may say: "These evil people are not actually Christians". The Muslims may say: "These evil people are not actually Muslims". Well, I too can say "These evil people are not actually Hindus". The Christians can say "If all were to follow the Bible the world would be a happy and problem-free place". The Muslims can say: "If all were to follow the Quran the world would be a happy and problem-free place". Well, I too can say: "If all were to follow the Bhagvad Geeta (or one of several great Books from the Hindu Scriptures) the world would be a happy and problem-free place". Is this something to quarrel about?

If those who seek to push, willy-nilly, their own Book would but study, with an open mind, that of the person whom they are trying to win over to their fold, and, thus understanding the greatness of that Book too, would but assist that person to follow his own Book rather than convert to the missionary?s belief system, the world would be a better place. Is it too much to ask the missionaries with the "altruistic" material handouts they so kindly dish out to those who will convert to their belief system to make the handout truly altruistic by assisting the recipient be a better person by properly understanding and following the recipient?s own religious tenets? Alas, I fear as things stand today, it perhaps is.

If I were a philanthropist with the resources to better the conditions of, say, a Christian in need, I would assist the Christian, saying to him, "Your own religion is a great one. Understand it properly and live by the Bible." I would do more: having read and understood the Bible (as I have) I would help him understand the Bible. This mindset makes me a Hindu. I am glad and humbly grateful I am one.

* Note: In Hindu thought, "senses" are subtle organs -- represented in the physical world by corresponding physical organs -- through which:

bulletPerceptions are gained from the external world, and
bulletImpacts are made upon the external world,

They are:

bulletFive "perception" senses (sight, audition, smell, taste, and touch) and
bulletFive "action" senses (speech, hands, feet, reproduction and excretion). Very often the mind itself is referred to as the eleventh sense. This is for a sound reason, but a discussion of that is beyond the ambit of this article.

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Copyright © Chintamani Rath. Contact Dr Rath for permission to use.
Initial posting: 2009-SEP-30
Latest update: 2009-SEP-30
Author: Chintamani Rath

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