Hinduism is Not Polytheistic
by Brandon Closson
Hinduism is Not Polytheistic
By: Brandon Closson
Polytheism does not describe Hinduism. In fact, neither does the word religion. In the 1800s, European and American academics began the study of what we now call Comparative Religion. They held conferences inviting religious leaders from all over the world in what seemed to be an attempt at unity. The consequence of these conferences is that this field of study began to be defined in the context of Jesus Christ and Christianity. But there are many concepts in Hinduism that we do not even have words for and to try to understand these concepts through our dualistic minds was a mistake.
The good news is mistakes are often more complicated than just being “bad” and mistakes have and always will be made. It is clear from the beginning of the first book in the Vedas that this Universal Quest for Truth would not be perfect. The fact that we even started to comprehend Hinduism was of course a step forward for the West in understanding the world beyond Europe. To know it existed, even in the wrong context, at least gave a path forward to correct what we had misunderstood or interpreted in favor of our own culture or religion.
So yes, there are hundreds or thousands or even millions of Gods and Goddesses in Hinduism but it is not polytheistic. I found this shocking because aside from Roman and Greek mythology, I think we ascribe the word polytheism to Hinduism more than any other cultural or religious identity. How can you have 33 million Gods and not be polytheistic?
There is another word that still does not describe the religious aspect of Hinduism fully but gets closer: henotheism. This is the belief that there is one overarching God while not denying the existence of lower deities. Personally, to me this was reminiscent of saints in the Catholic Church, but upon closer examination, the Godhead is more like what Christians call the Trinity.
The best way I can currently describe the Gods and Goddesses of Vedic literature is thus: they are boundless surges of the same eternal energy known as the Supreme Universal Consciousness. So as a “practicing Hindu”, you can choose to worship Krishna, the 8th avatar of the higher God Vishnu, as your personal Supreme God, your Lord of All. But you can also recognize that Ganesha is a manifestation of Krishna himself in the form of the playful, helpful Elephant God.
What truly embraces the concept of Universality is the widely held Hindu belief that Jesus, Mohammed, and other prophets and Gods from around the world are in fact included in this Godhead. Godhead is the word for the sum of all of the manifestations of your chosen Supreme God or Goddess.
This becomes easier to comprehend when you release the Gods and Goddesses from the confines of their physical forms. Yes, the Godhead shows up as superhumans or animals or whatever they choose, but that is not their true form. The deities are instead more like concepts or attributes of our shared consciousness. Krishna is compassion, Ganesha is determination and humor, Laxmi is beauty and wealth. And these all exist inside of us for we are the Godhead. The God is all of creation and we are surges of the Godhead occupying vessels (our bodies) of that instrument of creation. We are the bursts of fire and light that come from Nothing to form all that is the material world. If we tap into this underlying energy that existed before Creation, then we too can have “power over the elements” (this is more scientific and less magical than it sounds).
And this is where Chakra come in. They are psychospiritual vortices into the Supreme Consciousness through the Goddess known as Shakti or Devi or hundreds of other names. Unlike meridians in acupuncture, there is no actual Chakra location you can physically touch. They serve more as metaphors for different ways to channel the infinite creative and destructive power of the Godhead.
So you may never see Shakti in the form of laser beams shooting from your third eye (please prove me wrong, that would be awesome) but we have been given near scientific mental tools by which to manifest as our inner God or Goddess in this material world. This is a lot and it is hard at first but I can promise that over time, hopefully through this blog, you will notice patterns and things will start to solidify. Meditation will get easier and you truly will notice subtle, positive changes or reflections of the work you put into experimenting with Truth in your daily life. I know this because I have experienced it and experience, more than anything, is Truth.
Later today we will start looking at the actual texts behind the Chakras we know in the West so keep reading along. Understanding other cultures can radically transform and expand your mind’s ability to think beyond the concepts instilled in us in Western Philosophy. We have never had the opportunity like we do now with the Internet to understand others and to miss out on that, in my opinion, would be a great loss.
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