Rig Vedic Polytheism and Punya Bhumi – Vijaya Rajiva

Gods venerate Mahalakshmi

Savinirmadi: Woman Scholar of Kolar (10th century)The link between Hindu monism and Rig Vedic polytheism establishes the richness of both dimensions: the Infinite Divinity and the infinite manifestations of this Divinity in the Gods and Goddesses that Hindus worship. – Dr Vijaya Rajiva

The Rig Vedic worship of many Gods and Goddesses provoked commentators from Abrahamic faiths (mainly Christians) to call the system polytheism (the worship of many gods). Many Hindus and respectful foreign students of Hindu philosophy now prefer the more neutral term, pantheism, to denote the Hindu pantheon, as polytheism was used in a derogatory way.

Modern Hindus are no longer intimidated by the polytheist label. Hindus believe that their land is punya bhumi (sacred earth) inhabited by the Gods and Goddesses of the universe, who are invited to special open air feasts (yagnas) and also housed in temples built for them by devotees. Perhaps no country in the world has so many temples, from north to south, east to west and no other religious tradition has invoked the presence of deities in the Vedic yagnas, and their successors in the Agama traditions of ritual and worship.

The Hindu bhakta knows that the Gods actually EXIST, but the educated Hindu elite are reluctant to admit to their heritage thanks to the massive indoctrination by the Macaulayian educational system and the missionary onslaught on Hinduism which denounces it as “pagan”, “polytheist”, etc. They contrast it with their ONE true god in whose name they have visited death and destruction on the planet.

Recent commentators from the Hindu side, such as Swami Devananda Saraswati (a Dashanami sannyasin) and earlier still, the philosopher-historian, the late Sita Ram Goel, have pointed out that the contemporary educated Hindu elite have been misled by their ill-conceived identification of monotheism and monism, and their inability to understand that the difference is crucial to understanding polytheism.

Sita Ram Goel prefers the word panentheism to polytheism (to describe Hinduism) since the former emphasises the special Hindu concept of ishta-devata, the special deity to whom a worshipper can relate to (a phenomenon unique to Hinduism).

The crucial difference between monotheism and monism is that the former believes in a ONE true god, and denounced the Gods of other faiths as “false gods”, whatever that means, for how can a God be “false” if the concept of God is real?

Monism believes in the infinite existence of the Divine, which is characterised by Existence, Consciousness and Bliss (Sat, Chit, Ananda). This is better known as Advaita Vedanta or Non-Dualism (unity, non-divisiveness). Its best articulation came with Adi Sankara. There are two other major Vedantas, the Qualified Non-dualism of Ramanuja and the Dualism of Madhva.

Modern practitioners of Monism are many, the most renowned being the Kanchi Mahaswami Chandrashekarendra Saraswati who specially highlighted the importance of the many Gods in Hinduism:

“… a yagna 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: Chapter on The Vedas).

Elsewhere, the Mahaswami remarked that the devout Hindu also sees the forms of the celestials appearing in the yagna fire.

These preliminary remarks are intended to emphasise the link between Hindu monism and Rig Vedic polytheism. It allows for an enriched Hindu polytheism where the devotee does not consider his / her chosen deity (ishta-devata) as the only true god, and does not anathematise the Gods of other faiths, as happens in Abrahamic monotheism. This is, of course, the difference between Abrahamic monotheism and Hindu polytheism.

Abrahamic monotheism must be rejected by Hindus for two reasons: 1) political, and 2) religious.

Politically, monotheism has been the source of conquest, violence and intolerance, both in Christianity and Islam. It is important that Hindus are always vigilant to this dimension in the interests of security. The security question arises not only in the crude context of everyday dangers such as the throwing of a severed cow’s head by miscreants inside a Hindu temple or the verbal abuse of Hindu scriptures and temples, but the equally looming danger of sophisticated inculturation. Here we perceive both Islamist and Christian attempts to find their monotheistic doctrines reflected in the Rig Veda, and the sophisticated attempts to wrest the “Rishi tradition” as they call it, from the Hindus, distort it and appropriate it for their own purposes.

In this project, the Vedas are no longer dismissed as “paganism”, but viewed as harbingers of the two monotheistic faiths. This can range from the crude attempt by evangelical Christian (and Islamic counterparts) to find references to Jesus in the Rig Veda, and / or references to the coming of the prophet and so on, to the more sophisticated attempts by scholars (mainly Catholic, but also such persons as Dr Zakir Naik) to find parallels in the thinking of the Veda and their own scriptures and beliefs.

In this way, inculturation, or the process by which another culture is absorbed—subsumed—into one’s own, has become a current trend. The aim, of course, is to eradicate the visited local culture. It is not some gentlemanly exercise or purely scholarly enterprise. The agenda is clearly there.

The link between Hindu monism and Rig Vedic polytheism establishes the richness of both dimensions: the Infinite Divinity and the infinite manifestations of this Divinity in the Gods and Goddesses that Hindus worship. One can theorise about this link, as have the great Hindu philosophers such as Adi Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. But for our purposes it is important to keep in mind that these manifestations are the murtis (derided as “idols” by monotheists) that Hindus consecrate and install in temples and worship. Hence, the importance of murti reverence and temples in Sanatana Dharma.

When the barbarian invaders arrived, their first task was to destroy as many temples as they could. Thousands of Hindus lost their lives in defence of these temples. The shocking desecration of murtis by Islamists and Evangelicals continues to this day, though on a smaller scale, and mainly by Evangelicals and in some cases by Islamists.

If the underlying unity between monism and Hindu polytheism is not clearly understood, many Hindus get misled to believe that the ONE god of the monotheists is the same as satchidananda (Infinite Divinity) and go on to downgrade Vedic polytheism as an accidental / incidental feature of Hinduism which Hindus outgrew in their historical development and are now presumably moving towards the higher (sic) faith of Abrahamic monotheism. This is a profound mistake and merely parrots the narrative put forward by the ONE god-ists. Nor is the ONE god the same as the ishta-devata of Hindus. The ONE god is held by its followers to be the ONLY true god with all other Gods being FALSE Gods. Whereas the ishta-devata is only one among many Gods and each devotee is allowed to worship freely his / her own ishta-devata (who may be different from the kula devata or even the grama devata).

The difference is politically significant since the ONE god-ists are prone to intolerance, violence, conquest and proselytisation, as happened historically and continues with a renewed sense of urgency by the Evangelical today. Hinduism, thus, is always in danger of attack from the ONE god-ists. The punya bhumi is the land peopled by the Gods and Goddesses of the Rig Veda and many other divinities and eminences of the Indic tradition who are not mentioned specifically in the Rig Veda. It has to stay that way.

The further philosophical / religious / spiritual dimension of the satchidananda-polytheism link is that while Vedanta stresses the former aspect, the latter is important for the householder (grihastha). The four stages of life (varnashrama dharma) each have their own dharma. Even Adi Sankara, as far as is known, stressed that the householder must fulfill his / her duties before taking up the last stage of sannyasa. In this he was different from the Buddha, for whom the monastic life could be taken up at any time that the individual desired.

» Dr Vijaya Rajiva is a political philosopher who has taught at a Canadian university in Montreal.

Rudra Yagna

Theology of monotheism is disguised materialism – Sita Ram Goel

Moses & Jehovah

Sita Ram GoelOne may spend a lifetime searching this theology of Monotheism for a factual or rational proof of what it proclaims so pompously. But the search will be in vain. For, all the time it assumes what it wants to prove, and proves what it has already assumed. At its best, it is a syllogism of which the major as well as the minor premise are arbitrary assertions. – Sita Ram Goel

Let us for the time being forget the Freudian analysis of Christianity and Islam, though that analysis provides an intimate peep into the psyche of these primitive creeds. Let us have a look at the philosophy underlying their doctrines, and find out if they have any share in the spiritual seeking which is intrinsic to human beings and which stands systematized in Sanatana Dharma.

Christianity and Islam differ on many points of detail. But they share a common view of what they invoke as the creator and controller of the cosmos, as well as of the cosmic process. In the language of theology, they describe their basic dogma as Monotheism as opposed to what they denounce as Polytheism and Pantheism. It is this basic dogma which needs a philosophical probe deeper than that to which it has been subjected so far.

The term Monotheism casts such a magic spell on certain minds that they stop at its literal meaning—the concept of one God as opposed to many Gods. But the literal meaning tells us little, almost nothing, about its theological inspiration or its practical implications.

In the theology of Monotheism, God is extra-cosmic. He created the cosmos out of Nothing in order to demonstrate his almightiness and, consequently, kept himself outside and above the Cosmos. There is nothing in God’s creation which can partake of God’s divinity. The elements and forces of Nature are devoid of any divinity whatsoever. The sky is empty space, and the Sun and the Moon and the Stars are only bright spots in that sky. Matter is absolutely material, and animals and birds are mere brutes unless they are domesticated when they show some improvement. Trees are timber, and the flowers embody no more than colour and fragrance. Air and water and fire and earth are what they are, and point to nothing beyond.

It is only man who is placed on a higher pedestal because the Almighty God blew his own breath into the handful of dust which he used in order to manufacture Adam, the male ancestor of the human race. Woman cannot share man’s status because Eve, the female ancestor of the human race, was carved out of Adam’s rib without the benefit of God’s breath being blown into it. Man is thus the best of God’s creation, the ashraf-ul-makhlûqãt.

But it is an unpardonable folly and a cardinal sin for man to fancy that he shares even an iota of God’s divinity. The only privilege which man enjoys as God’s best creation is to lord it over the lower creation which God has made for man’s use and benefit. Man can exploit the material resources of the earth in whatever way he pleases. Man can eat every bird and fish and animal for God has created them specifically for man’s consumption. And man can marry and divorce and keep as his concubines any number of women, at any stage of his three score and ten years. (The monogamy we find in Christianity is not prescribed by the Christian scripture. It was an institution which it borrowed from the pagan Romans.)

As man is likely to be carried away by the freedom of will which has been bestowed on him, and forget his creator, God has been sending prophets from time to time to restrain him from worship of false gods and philosophical speculation, and to turn his thoughts towards a higher purpose—obedience to God’s will as revealed through the prophets. The complete code of such do’s and don’ts has been conveyed by God in his final revelation—the New Testament according to Christianity and the Quran according to Islam—through his only son who is Jesus for Christianity or the last prophet who is Muhammad for Islam.

The supreme purpose of man’s life is to worship this extra-cosmic God with whom man cannot communicate directly, lead a life of piety according to rules laid down in the final revelation which man cannot question, and seek the intercession of the only son or the last prophet whose claims man cannot scrutinize in terms of his natural reason or normal moral sense. If man can thus bid good-bye to his critical faculty and conscience, “the seats of the Satan”, he can hope for an eternal heaven at the end of the only life God has granted to him. But if man wavers, or questions, or criticizes, or tries to understand, or judge these mysteries by using his own mind or moral sense, he becomes bound for an eternal hell from which there is no escape, and where the torment turns worse and worse with the ticking of every moment.

Whether all this applies to woman as well has been a point of dispute among Christian and Muslim theologians. Nevertheless, this much is clear that Islam at least assigns the same role to woman in heaven as she is expected to play on this earth—to serve man in servile obedience and to provide sexual pleasure to her male master. The only concession extended to woman after she enters heaven is to be spared the pains of maternity and old age. She becomes a houri endowed with eternal youth and unfading beauty. In Christianity, woman is essentially a temptress who leads man to hell. Her role in the hereafter has not been clearly defined.

An added duty of all true believers is to band together in a Church or an Ummah for propagating the only true religion, and to prop up the only son or the last prophet by all means including force and fraud. The fraternity thus formed is expected to invite all unbelievers to get converted to the only true creed, and to declare a crusade or jihãd against all those who refuse to be persuaded peacefully for saving themselves from eternal perdition and for securing an eternal heaven. The Church is expected to secure the aid of its secular arm, and the Ummah is expected to convert itself into a theocratic state in order to carry forward the struggle.

There is no limit to what these holy wars can legitimately do to the unbelievers except the limit imposed by power equations at any time. The least that the wars should do at the first available opportunity is to destroy the false Gods of the unbelievers, and the unholy temples where those Gods are worshipped. The holy warriors are under no obligation at all to prove that they are better human beings as compared to those they are expected to convert, or kill, or enslave, or subjugate. Their only qualification is that they believe in the only son or the last prophet, and follow the only true religion.

Monotheism is disguised materialism

One may spend a lifetime searching this theology of Monotheism for a factual or rational proof of what it proclaims so pompously. But the search will be in vain. For, all the time it assumes what it wants to prove, and proves what it has already assumed. At its best, it is a syllogism of which the major as well as the minor premise are arbitrary assertions.

Is there a proof that a being called Almighty God exists, and controls the cosmos? The answer is that the only son or the last prophet has said so. Who has sent this son or appointed this prophet to tell us about God and his doings? The answer is that it is God who has proclaimed the son or the prophet. What is the proof that what the son or the prophet pronounces as a divine revelation comes from God? The answer is that the revelation says so. And so on, it is an endless exercise in casuistry with no reference to human experience or human reason at any point.

In the last analysis, God is really a superfluity in this system of thought. A time comes when God imparts his final revelation to the only son or the last prophet, and retires to a well-deserved rest after entrusting the fate of his world as well as of his creatures to the keeping of the son or the prophet. In due course, the son or the prophet also is dead and gone after bequeathing his monopoly over truth and virtue to the Church or the Ummah. The Church or the Ummah, in turn, is dominated by a single man or a clique that can control and use a mighty military machine which has been built in the meanwhile. In the final round, it all ends up as imperialist aggression against other people in which a veneer of religious verbiage is retained in order to sustain the self-righteousness of the aggressor. The idols of the conquered people are destroyed and their temples pillaged, not because their Gods have been found to be false but because an imperialist always aims at destroying the self-respect of a people upon whom he wants to secure a stranglehold. It is in the nature of imperialism to indulge in cultural genocide on the slightest pretext, or at the first favourable opportunity.

The plight of the Allah of Islam is portrayed by Shykh Muhammad Iqbal when he puts the following question to Allah in his Shikwã: “Tujhko ma’lûm hai letã thã kuî nãm tirã / Quwwat-i-bãzû-i-muslim nê kiyã kãm tirã (Do you know of anyone who bothered about you before we came forward? It was the muscle-power of the Muslim which came to your rescue).” The God of the Bible is in no better position. He has been held aloft all along by Christian bayonets or Christian bags of money.

History is witness that Christianity as well as Islam have always expanded by the power of the sword, and seldom by power of any truth contained in their scriptures. In the words of Iqbal again, “Par tire nãm pê talwãr uThãî kisnê? Kãt kar rakh diyê kuffãr kê lashkar kisnê (But who did draw their swords in defence of your name and fame? Who was it that slaughtered the armies of the infidels for your sake?).” It is obvious that the Allah of Islam had to be thrust down people’s throats at the point of the sword. Otherwise poor Allah was a non-existent entity which no one was prepared to affirm. The same can be said of the Jehovah of Christianity, though no Christian poet has had the honesty of Iqbal to come out with the naked truth in a frank and forthright manner.

It is small wonder, therefore, that this politics of power masquerading as religion, cannot understand the language of spirituality which speaks in terms of a Divinity secret in everything, everywhere, and which enables human beings to dwell constantly in the company of Gods and Goddesses. This politics is too busy amassing wealth and power and pleasures of a material world to care for things which belong to the realm of Spirit.

Pained by the poverty of Muslims and the decay of the power of Islam, Iqbal has lamented: “Qahar tõ yêh hai ke kãfir ko milê hûr-o-qusûr / Aur bechãrê musalmãñ kõ faqat wa’da-i hûr (The terrible tragedy is that the infidels live in palaces and make love to houris in this life, while the poor Muslim has to remain content only with the promise of houris hereafter).” This is the highest aspiration to which this venerable Allamah of Islam could ever attain. It speaks volumes about Islam as a religion. Christianity too aspires towards no goal higher than this. Only its spokesmen are not so crude (or honest) in putting forward its case.

Hindu society has not only to recover the source of its own psyche which speaks in the language of Gods and Goddesses, it has also to realize that the psyche of Christianity and Islam hides vulgar materialism and imperialist ambition under a welter of high-sounding verbiage. – Excerpted from Defence of Hindu Society, New Delhi, 19??

Monotheism : No second opinion!