Some Thoughts on God in Hinduism

A  key message of Hinduism is that unlike mathematics and argumentation, lived life as well as visions of the Unknown are not built in a framework of rigid rationality, but in an elastic web of contradictions and complementarities. One who has grown up in Hindu culture is thus able to withstand contradictions in one’s own belief-system and behavior more easily that people brought up in many other cultures. This is what enables Hindus to pay respects to all gods, not just Hindu, but Christian and Jewish, Islamic and whatever. This is why Hindu atheists can still sing bhajan songs, prostrate before an icon of  Ganesh, and invoke Rama and Krishna freely: a capacity that people of few other groups enjoy.
This has advantages as well as disadvantages. The disadvantage is that it can drive your opponent nuts when you argue about these matters. It also allows many Hindus to tolerate the most absurd and silly superstitions. It is okay to decide on the time for a rocket launch on the basic of astrology. But it also makes us morally ambivalent, sometimes incapable of taking a firm stance on issues. The advantage is that Hindus can be more tolerant of the nonsensical beliefs of other groups than is possible for most people
Elusive Divinity is given form and substance through Puranic im­agery, If gods are endowed with many arms and heads, it is to re­mind us of divine omnipotence; if monkeys and serpents, rivers and mountains are worshipped, it is to affirm the omnipresence of the divine principle. Indeed, in the Hindu vision, every aspect of the world is an expression of the Cosmic undercurrent. As the mystic poet sees the world in a grain of sand, the religious seeker discovers god in every atom of the physical world. If it is religious awakening to see god in everything, the Hindu framework goads us to that wisdom. That is why, paraphrasing the Vedic aphorism, we may say, God is one, the Puranas call it by various names.
There is also much esoteric meaning in the forms and faces, sub­tle symbolism in the genesis and doings of Hindu gods. In the Puranic tales and epic allusions it is suggested again and again that divinity is by definition that which transcends the constraints of space and time, of causality and conservation, even of ethical categories. A god may be good and bad, beautiful and ugly, merciful and cruel, majestically grand and dwarfishly small, handsome as a hero and plain as a tortoise. Brahma grants boons to the deserving, yet schemes to deprive a miscreant of what he has won. Vishnu is majestic and manly, but he also becomes gynomorphic as Mohini. Siva is austere and ascetic, yet lusts for Parvati, he is supremely continent and erotical­ly virile.  Puranic gods love and hate one another, collaborate and com­pete, cooperate and are in conflict.
Mutual incompatibilities arise from our narrow perspectives. But in the cosmic grandeur they all dissolve. The same vast sky can be pitch black at night and gloriously bright at noon. We can float on the ocean, and also sink to its dark depths.
Such are the inspirations behind the panoramic pantheon of Hin­duism. In our own times, when physicists wonder how the same elec­tron can be both particle and wave, the ancient Hindu insight comes in handy to resolve the paradox. The world results, not from con­tradictions, but from complementarities. There are no absolutes. Our descriptions depend on our reference system. Two valued logic is useful and appropriate in certain contexts, but they are too restricted in the vision of the infinite.
With all that, when a devout Hindu thinks of God, it is a faceless, ornament-less, vahana-less, invisible personage that comes to mind. The God one invokes in silent prayer or closed-eye meditation is often not one of the Puranic deities, nor even the all-too-abstract Brahman, but a very real personal God who has no features, nor forms. If the Puranic gods are like integers from one to infinity, the personal God of the practicing Hindu is like the symbol x in algebra         which could stand for anything, yet is not anything in particular. This God is refer­red to as bhagvaan.

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Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.

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One thought on “Some Thoughts on God in Hinduism”

  1. Absolutely wonderful. I feel I must connect you with our own Hindu religious studies educator, Sushma Sahajpal. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Pandeism!!

    Many blessings

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