People often think that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. They ask me, “Why do you have so many gods?”
Hindus worship one Supreme Being called Brahman though by different names. This is because the peoples of India with many different languages and cultures have understood the one God in their own distinct way.
Supreme God has uncountable divine powers. When God is formless, He is referred to by the term Brahman. When God has form, He is referred to by the term Paramatma. This is almighty God, whose three main forms are Brahma; the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer and Shiva, the destroyer.
Hindus believe in many Gods who perform various functions; like executives in a large corporation. These should not be confused with the Supreme God.
The unique understanding in Hinduism is that God is not far away, living in a remote heaven, but is inside each and every soul, in the heart and consciousness, waiting to be discovered. And the goal of Hinduism is knowing God in this intimate and experiential way.
Hinduism is both monotheistic and henotheistic. Hinduism is not polytheistic. Henotheism (literally “one God”) better defines the Hindu view. It means the worship of one God without denying the existence of other Gods. Hindus believe in the one all-pervasive God who energizes the entire universe. It is believed that God is both in the world and beyond it. That is the highest Hindu view.
Hinduism gives the freedom to approach God in one’s own way, encouraging a multiplicity of paths, not asking for conformity to just one. It allows people to believe in and pray to their own conceptualizations of the Divine in whatever form they choose, while at the same time elevating all of them to their ultimate reality, which is the singular omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient Divinity, who demands no allegiance, punishes no one for lack of belief, yet provides wisdom, comfort, compassion and freedom to those who seek it. All they need to do is look within, according to Ramdas Lamb, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii specializing in religious studies, mysticism, Indic religions, the interface between religions and society, and field studies.
The unchanging reality is, that God that exists in each individual as the Supreme, Changeless Divinity. In Sanskrit, this concept is “tattvamasi,” which can be translated as “You are that” or “That you are.”
Hindus believe in the formless Absolute Reality as God and also in God as personal Lord and Creator. This freedom makes the understanding of God in Hinduism, the oldest monotheistic religion.
Hinduism is also unique in saying that God can be experienced, and, in fact, that is the ultimate goal of one’s soul.
Aparna Chawla is a licensed dentist practicing in Central Jersey. She is a member of the Franklin Township Interfaith Council and Somerset County Cultural Diversity Coalition.
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