Hindu Unity within Diversity

Every Hindu understands the fact that the religion accepts varying forms of worship and every method the devotee offers the prayers. They believe that the prayers offered to every form of God are for the same Almighty who will come to protect them. Many believe that the multiplicity of deities makes Hinduism polytheistic. Such a belief is nothing short of mistaking the wood for the tree. The faith accepted the varying levels of understanding of the faith even at this early period as similar and the theory of One God with different names and varying forms or no form at all accepting all names and all forms of worship without a dogma was seen in Rig Veda.

The bewildering diversity of Hindu belief - theistic, atheistic and agnostic - rests on a solid unity. Ekam sat, Viprãh bahudhã vadanti, says the Rigveda: The Truth (God, Brahman, etc) is one; scholars call it by various names. What the multiplicity of deities does indicate is Hinduism's spiritual hospitality as evidenced by two characteristically Hindu doctrines: The Doctrine of Spiritual Competence (Adhikaara) and The Doctrine of The Chosen Deity (Ishhta Devata). The doctrine of spiritual competence requires that the spiritual practices prescribed to a person should correspond to his (or her) spiritual competence. Each person studies learns and follows a level of Spiritual study according to their needs and that they can understand and follow.

An illiterate villager who worships a stone or clay image, decorated, in his fields and prays with simple songs, is no different from a village priest who offers the devotional prayers to a statue to the likeness of ones favorite Deity and to a well-read scholar who meditates on the Supreme with all the knowledge of the qualities of Almighty the Formless or reads and recites the sacred scriptures. So, the different forms of religious practice and images are to serve the mass according to each one's knowledge and understanding capacity.

It is counter-productive to teach abstract philosophical concepts to a person whose heart hungers for faith in a higher power and vice versa. The doctrine of the chosen deity gives a person the freedom to choose (or invent) a form of Brahman that satisfies his spiritual cravings and to make it the object of his worship. In many instances, the ancient history [Purana] dictates the family or a local community to choose such a Deity for themselves according to the needs. Notice that both doctrines are consistent with Hinduism's assertion that the unchanging reality is present in everything, even the transient. This Immanent Reality Itself makes the various Transcendent Forms for our understanding the truth as It is.

In spite of this diversity in the forms of worship and practice, there is a subtle unity that is understood by all Hindu devotees, though few ignorant ones may find ways to "prove" the superiority of their own beliefs. The true knowledgeable ones always finish their prayers with the statement "Like all the rain waters that fall flows through the rivers to the same ocean, let all my prayers to various forms of the Divine ultimately flow to the same Almighty Kesava. There are five elements that contribute to the essential unity of Hinduism: common ideals, common scriptures, common deities, common beliefs, and common practices.

By: Bala N. Aiyer, M.D.

The Faith of Hindus ⮜ Previous                 Next ⮞ Basic Disciplines of Hindu Dharma

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