In the previous bit, I claimed that the monotheistic religions’ concept of god has no counterpart in the dharmas (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.) In the former set, you have an entity that creates the world much like a watchmaker fabricates a watch. The watchmaker and the watch are necessarily distinct. They describe the world with an engineering metaphor. The world is a fabrication.
In Hinduism, however, the world is not a fabrication but is an expression of the ultimate reality or “Brahman.” Nobody knows what Brahman is but whatever it is, it pervades the entire world, and is in fact congruent with the world. Brahman is not a creator god because all of existence and Brahman are identical.
In a definite sense, the dharmas can be said to be agnostic. We just don’t know. We don’t know what is reality and cannot know but we are it. We are part of the reality and therefore we cannot know that reality. An analogy may be helpful. The eye sees what’s out there but it cannot see the eye.
What is the Brahman which is the foundation of everything? The attitude is “neti, neti” (not that, not that.) Is Brahman good? Neti, neti. Is Brahman <characteristic X>? Neti, Neti. You can go through every conceivable X and the answer is always “nothing that you can possibly imagine or name.”
The Brahman can only be defined in the negative — that it cannot be defined or captured in mere words. It’s like the Tao. The Tao Te Ching wisely says, “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”
The religions say, “God is this and that.” The dharmas say, “Not that, not that.” The dharmas are agnostic. The ultimate expression of agnosticism is contained in one of the creation hymns of the Rig Veda, the Nasadiya Sukta which ends with this verse (variously translated):
“Who knows for certain? Who shall here declare it?
Whence was it born? Whence came creation?
The Gods are later than this world’s formation,
who then can know the origins of the world?
None knows whence creation arose
Or whether he has or has not made it –
He who surveys it from the lofty skies.
Perhaps he knows, or perhaps he knows not.”
The most important distinction between the dharmas and the religions is that the dharmas are presented symbolically whereas the religions are literal. The former are ahistorical but the religions are historical. God created the world on a particular date. Worked at it for six days. Then he goes about destroying the world by various means — floods, pestilence, etc. — when he realizes that he’s messed up and has to reboot the world.
God decided to create humans because he wanted to be worshiped. How a being who is posited to be perfect could want — which implies a lack — something makes no sense.
The creator god makes no sense. If it is omniscient, then it cannot possibly have free will. (Let me know if you need a simple explanation of that logical impossibility.) Then there’s the problem of suffering and evil: if god permits suffering, then he’s not omnibenevolent; and if he cannot prevent suffering, then he’s not omnipotent. Theodicies fail to explain away the contractions inherent in the formulation of a god.
In Hinduism, the phenomenal world is a lila (play or drama.) There’s Brahman, the ultimate reality. Brahman has three aspects: Bramha, Vishu and Shiva — the creator, preserver and destroyer, respectively. The world is a dream dreamed by Bramha and when he awakens, the world dissolves. And this cycle of dreaming the world into existence and out of existence goes on for infinity.
The shloka from the Isa Upanisha says, “Purna madah, purna midam …”
That is the infinite; this is the infinite. When this infinite is taken from that infinite, that infinite alone remains.
That’s an example of the deep philosophical foundations of the dharmas. Nothing comparable exists in the religions. They are literal and therefore limited.
Since the world is Brahman, and everything is part of the world, everything is Brahman. Therefore, “I am Bramha”. Therefore “Tat tvam asi” (I am that.)
I have heard people say, “I’m not religious but I am spiritual.” It’s retarded and generally uttered mostly by misguided Hindus who want to appear modern, progressive, secular and sophisticated.
Here’s my position. I am definitely not spiritual or religious. That’s too much woo-woo for me. I am a Hindu, I am an agnostic and I am an atheist. Agnostic because I cannot claim to know the truth (whatever that is) and I definitely don’t believe in the existence of god as understood in the religions.
To round off this bit, if you are into Hindustani classical vocal music, here’s late Pandit Jasraj singing the shloka referred to above. Listen.
More to come.
Be well, do good work, and may your god go with you.
[Image at the top of the post: Shiva as Nataraja, the King of Dancers, dancing the Tandava, the dance of creation and destruction.]
4 thoughts on “Good God – Part 2”
Yes, the main difference between ‘hinduism’ and semite religions is said to be polytheism vs monotheism but however both christianity and islam have pantheon where one can find God (,son of God, Holy mother), legions of angels, ascended saints/prophets ( Should I include ‘houris’?) …. All those below ‘God(,son of God, Holy mother)’ can be considered minor deities. Lucifer, an archangel, once rebelled against God(/Yahweh/Allah) and 1/3 of the angels sided with him. So strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as ‘monotheistic’ religion.
Do the average adherents of religions really care about ‘philosophy’? As I point out before, religions at the grass root level is ‘cultural heritage/being and identity/tribalism’
Some interesting points:
–Question:How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? The mathematical answer to this jest is ‘Infinite’. My goodness, I read Hinduism only has about 300-400 millions gods/goddesses
–Since you posted a pic of Lakshmi; Why’re there a number of hindu deities with multiple limbs?
The non-spiritual answer I found is very unpleasant.
–Why Lucifer/Satan/Shaitan is often portrayed as an ugly creature with horns? Answer: The semite religions during their expansion had encountered antagonist religions with bovine or goat deities; the best example is the ‘Golden Calf’ during the Moses Exodus. There’s also a Ram god…
Lin, thanks for your comment. Sorry but I think you misunderstand my basic point. Hinduism is so unlike the Abrahamic religions that comparing them amounts to comparing cars and boats. I am not comparing; I am describing them. More in a future post.
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IMHO, the biggest philosophical idea of Dharmic thought is that they are not bound by time. The “god” has no beginning or end – because time is a human concept – applicable to humans.
There’s also school of though that says God to be “Nirgun” and “Nirakar” – no traits and no form.
In short, Abrahamic philosophy describing the supreme being is human centric – where as Dharmic philosophy transcends it.
This explanation was good. Among the different Hindu scriptures like Hiranyagarbha Sukta, Purusha Sukta, Nisadaya Sukta, Upanishads, Puranas and Brahmanas, the Nasadiya Sukta and the Upanishads comes closest to having a sophisticated( agnostic and skeptical) take on the matter of universe and creation.
Another point to note here is, dharmas are ahistorical but religion is historical. Is this really a good thing? Maybe this is the reason why the ancient history( Vedic and pre-Vedic) of our subcontinent is so muddled up and the truth of the matter is very contested – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puranic_chronology#Puranic_chronology.