Sunday, April 22, 2012


The ONE true god: Some Reflections by Vijaya Rajiva 22 Apr 2012 The historical record of conquest and violence by believers in their ONE true god (monotheism) is well known (and well documented) and need not be repeated here. What is of interest to the non-believer, especially those accustomed to the democratic nature of Polytheism, is why this belief arose. Speaking about the Islamic faith, some historians opine that it was in reality a pan-Arabism which was seeking legitimacy through a religious belief. This would apply equally to the Christian faith, since it is only after the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity that the conquest of peoples to the new faith (and the attendant violence) became a way of life. With the Nicene Council of 325 AD, the stage was set for the imperial development of Christianity as a world proselytising religion. In due time, while ‘pagan’ believers in their own faith were systematically destroyed (notably Greece and Rome) by the two monotheistic faiths (Islam and Christianity), there evolved a philosophy and a theology that extended their control of the world. The rise of colonialism/imperialism went in hand with this belief system and brought the whole enterprise full circle, as far as the Christian component was concerned. With the Islamist enterprise, it was a straightforward invasion and conquest. But has this belief in the ONE true god outlived its original impetus towards violence and conquest? Both the Islamic and the Christian West’s success in this continues, while the fanatical believers of their faiths continue in tandem. In India, both continue their attack (both physical and philosophical) on the only surviving Polytheistic faith, namely Hinduism and its ancient civilization. It is no accident or coincidence that the late Pope John Paul II on his visit to India said publicly that in the first millennium Christianity spread to Europe, in the second to the Americas, and in the third it will spread not only to Asia, but to India! The pontiff was hoping for what he called the “harvesting of souls”. Do Hindus need this unattractive religion? If not, it must be summarily rejected without further ado, quite simply and firmly rejected. Bharat has been and always will be Hindu, so thanks, but no thanks, Pontiff! The Kanchi Sankaracharya was quite right in stating that unless conversions stopped there could not be any dialogue with this proselytising faith. Indeed, it is not still clear to the present writer why there should be any dialogue at all from the Hindu side. This talk of dialogue is a sleight of hand trick by which Hindus are made to believe that they have done something wrong in remaining Hindu! What precisely is there to ‘dialogue’ about? It is only about conversion to Christianity? Demographics predict a future Islamic mode in India (as the recent series on this webiste by R.K. Ohri ‘Demographic Coup of Islam’ demonstrates). But Christian competitors are not far behind. In such a context, it might seem futile at first glance to discuss the merits of Sanatana Dharma, especially the link between Monism and Hindu Polytheism, which sets it apart from the proselytising faiths. In a demographically superior Islamic India, Hindus can at best hope to live as second class citizens. At worst, they will be eliminated as has happened to the Hindu populations of Pakistan and Bangladesh. But is there an even worse possibility? The present writer proposes to explore this matter. The possibility of the rich diversity of Hindu Monism - Hindu Polytheism, starting with the legacy of the Rig Veda, being forcibly abandoned for belief in a ONE true god presents a BLEAK landscape. Socially, it is depressing to say the least. Philosophically, intellectually, spiritually, it is a dead end. Why is this so? Theoretically, it does not stand scrutiny. The notion of a ONE god is a contradiction in terms. It began with Abraham’s declaration of a ONE true god, continued into Christianity, and thence to Islam. No other god(s) exist for the monotheists except for the ONE they worship. This narrow definition of God is different from that of the Greeks. Plato began by talking about the Demiurge who was responsible for creation in his dialogue Timaeus. Aristotle spoke of a First Cause behind motion in the world. Aristotle was not interested in a personal god, but in the question of who started the motion of the world. Whichever Cause started it, was for him the Unmoved Mover. His notion of a First Cause is close to Satchidananda and may indeed have been borrowed from Hinduism. It is eternal and conscious. Aristotle’s First Cause was borrowed after narrowing it down to fit the Abrahamic framework by Catholic medieval philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas as an explanation for the Creator god of Christianity. Although this theory was criticised by many Western philosophers, notably Immanuel Kant and David Hume, and is today known in philosophical circles as the Cosmological Argument for the existence of god, what is relevant for us as Hindus is to note that there is a close binding link between the ONE existing god of monotheism and his being THE ONLY TRUE GOD. This is quite different from Hindus saying that their gods and goddesses are manifestations of the Infinite Divinity (Satchidananda). This is also the important reason why Hindus should not confuse Monism (Satchidananda) with Monotheism. A persuasive argument against the ONE true god of the Abrahamic faiths is offered by French Indologist Alain Danielou in Hindu Polytheism (1964): “A supreme cause has to be beyond number, otherwise Number would be the First Cause. But the number one, although it has peculiar properties, is a number like two, or three, or ten, or a million. If ‘God’ is one, he is not beyond number any more than if he is two or three or ten or a million. But although a million is not any nearer to infinity than one or two or ten, it seems to be so from the limited point of view of our perceptions. And we may be nearer to a mental representation of divinity when we consider an immense number of different gods… for the number one is in a way farthest removed from divinity. Though, in its manifest form, divinity is of necessity multiple, in its ultimate essence it cannot be said to be either one or many”. Here it is important to supplement Danielou’s argument by emphasising that the Hindu Satchidananda (the Infinite Divinity) is worshipped by Hindus as an Infinity, not as a ONE. As the present writer has pointed out previously, the notion of an absolute ONE is a contradiction in terms. You cannot theorise about an absolute deity in terms of number, since number would constitute a limit of sorts. The limitless Infinity cannot be boxed into a ONE. Socially, spiritually and religion wise, the BLEAK nature of the landscape of ONE god-ism is especially marked in contrast to the richness and diversity of the Rig Vedic tradition. Here, there is no ONE god that is imposed on anyone. Instead we have an Infinite Being that is described by humans as being eternally Existent, Conscious, and Blissful (Sat, Chit, Ananda respectively). We can speak of it as Satchidananda. And the earth, especially the Punya Bhumi (sacred earth) is peopled by a plenitude of gods and goddesses who are manifestations of this Infinite Being. This is no angry or jealous god who threatens punishment, hell fire and damnation if HE is not worshipped. Hindu rituals capture this abundance and richness because the Rig Vedic seers worshipped the terrestrial, atmospheric and cosmic deities. The intimacy generated by these celestial beings is captured in the 1008 plus hymns of the Rig Veda. Even the very first famous hymn to Agni ends with the invocation that Agni will come to the worshippers as a father to his son (Book 1, Hymn 1 by sage Angiras). The gods and goddesses are repeatedly called upon to come and be seated on the kusha grass. Hindus do not fear their gods. And to the extent that they relate to Satchidananda, this, too, is an ecstatic experience. Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman) is the Upanishadic affirmation of Satchidananda in the plenitude of its Being. The individual Hindu is allowed to merge with Satchidananda if that is the path he or she chooses. This is a matter of choice by the individual, depending on his/her spiritual evolution. In a spiritually elevating comment on the Rig Vedic ritual ceremony, the yagna, the Kanchi Sankaracharya observed: “… a yajna is making an oblation to a deity in the fire with the chanting of mantras. In a sense the mantras themselves constitute the form of the deities invoked. In another sense, the mantras, like the materials placed in the fire, are the sustenance of the celestials invoked.” (Hindu Dharma: The Vedas). As for the celebratory nature of Hindu festivals, does one need elaborate? In view of the above can there be any sort of serious contest between a BLEAK landscape and a joyous one? Can Hindus ever opt for the former? The answer is obvious. (The writer is a political philosopher who taught at a Canadian university)

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