June 18, 2006

Vedic Pluralism and Biblical Monotheism

How I Became A Hindu - My Discovery of Vedic Dharma By David Frawley SPIRITUAL PATHS AND DISCOVERY OF THE VEDAS
Biblical traditions reflect a one God who is an authoritarian figure, having his chosen people, demanding allegiance, exhibiting jealousy, and lording over his creation like a king, if not a tyrant. While some may argue that this is a misinterpretation or a simplification of a deeper view, and it may be, it has been the dominant impulse behind missionary efforts all over the world. In the Christian view God has his heaven and hell to reward his followers and punish his enemies. Islam follows the same model. Such a God is looked upon with fear and trembling. His believers follow him as a role model and easily become intolerant and authoritarian themselves, asserting dogma rather than seeking truth, trying to make everyone follow the dictates of their imperious deity.
The Vedic view, on the contrary, is of many Gods and Goddesses, each with its appropriate and unique place in the cosmic order. Behind them is not some domineering personal Creator but a Great Spirit or Parabrahma, which is our higher Self beyond all outer limitations. The Vedic Gods form a vast and friendly brotherhood and work together to manifest the Great Spirit. While some like Rudra are figures of some fear or dread, representing difficult aspects of life such as death and suffering, even these can be propitiated and turned into benefic forces of light and love. Perhaps the Old Testament God was originally such a Rudra-Shiva like figure that got scaled down into a more limited or exclusive model over time. Rudra is also called Yahva in the Rig Veda, perhaps cognate with the Biblical Yahweh. [ Back ]
In the Biblical tradition human beings are fallen creatures, existing in sin and exiled from God, who stands with a threatening gaze in his heaven beyond. In the Vedas, human beings form a brotherhood with the Gods and have a common origin, nature and kinship with them. Human beings can become Gods and gain immorality along with them. There is no overriding or ultimate sin but simply ignorance and impurity that must be removed to allow our true nature, which is pure awareness, to manifest without obstruction.
Biblical monotheism tends towards exclusivism – if you are not with us, you are against us. The Vedic view reflects unity-in-multiplicity – those who sincerely think differently than us are also with us, because there is no one way for all. The Vedic view is of a pluralistic world order that accommodates many variant views in a vast harmony. It is aware of the Absolute Unity of Truth but also recognizes its many creative forms in manifestation.
The main Biblical view is that "I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God and thou shall not worship other Gods." The Vedic view is "That which is the One Truth the Seers declare in manifold ways (Rig Veda I.164.46)", and "May noble aspirations come to us from every side (Rig Veda I.89.1)." The Rig Vedic original man or Manu states, "None of you Gods are small or inferior. All of you are great. All the Gods that dwell here, who are universal to all beings, may you give your protection to us and to our horses and cattle (Rig Veda VIII.30.1,4)."
The Biblical view is of a One God who is at war with other gods. The Vedic view is of One Truth that has many forms, expressions and paths of approach. Whether it is Indra, Agni, Soma and Surya of the Vedas or Shiva, Vishnu, Devi or Ganesha of later Hinduism, each is the Supreme Self in form, aspect or approach and includes the other Gods in a greater harmony.
Vedic pluralism gives rise to a free and open spiritual path, the many ways of yoga. It is not limited to monotheism, though it includes theism as an important approach at a devotional level. Vedic pluralism does not give rise to any need to convert the world but rather to the nurturing of ever new insights and local applications of truth. Nor is it a form of polytheism, reflecting a belief in many separate gods. It is a free approach to monism on an individual level, recognizing both the universal and the unique in human beings. Such a view is necessary today to link all the varied religious aspirations of humanity and the many sages, teachings and forms of worship that are our heritage as a species.
The Hindu way is a universal pluralism that combines the one and the many, the unique and the all. It is not a pluralism of anything goes, a mere promiscuity, but a truth that is vast, many sided and adaptable, like the great forces of nature. It is the pluralism that arises from the One, but the One that is infinite and unlimited. Such an inclusive view is necessary to integrate human culture throughout the world today, which is and should remain diverse. The exclusivist model belongs to the Middle Ages and reflects the urge of one group to triumph over the rest, which leads to conflict and destruction.
Hinduism does not claim to hold the big or the final truth, or to dispense it to a doubting humanity from on high. It holds that a Supreme Truth, a unity of consciousness, does exist but that it is beyond human manipulation and outside of human history. This spiritual truth has nothing to do with proselytizing and is not bound by any belief, identity or leader. Discovering it is ultimately a matter of individual search and aspiration. Hinduism provides tools for this self-discovery, but leaves the individual free to find out directly what it is. As a religion it makes itself dispensable and does not make itself into the last word. Once we know ourselves we go beyond all the limitations of humanity. But at the same time we become connected to all the great seers and yogis of all time. [ Back ] [ David Frawley ] [ Up ] [ Next ]

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