I grew up watching my mother worship every morning. She would light a small clay lamp, called a Deeya, and burn incense in front of an idol of goddess Durga, meaning “fortress” or “protector.” She would then fold her palms together, close her eyes and mutter a prayer, her head bowed.
My father never joined in this ritual worship called Pooja. Instead, he would sit on the floor in another room and meditate silently. Being the follower of the Arya Samaj, a reformist movement, he did not believe in idol worship.
My parents were not praying to different gods. My father meditated on the Formless Divine Energy that resides in every living being. My mother could not comprehend his abstract idea of God; to her, goddess Durga represented one aspect of God that would protect her family from misery. They were both Hindus, and both were right, but used different modes of worship.
We believe in one God who is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, self-proven, infinite and eternal. God has no beginning and no end. Everything on this Earth and beyond, seen or unseen, originated from Him. Our primary scriptures, the Vedas, have more than ample evidence to prove this concept of God. “He is one indeed; there is no second, third fourth or 10th; He is only ONE.”
HINDUS NOT POLYTHEISTS
There is no such thing as a Hindu God that is separate from other faiths. We believe that people of other cultures perceive and worship the same One Supreme God in their own ways and have different names for Him: Christians call Him our Father in Heaven; Muslims call Him Allah. Hindus have countless male and female names for Him.
If we believe in one God, then who are the numerous gods and goddesses we worship in our temples? The answer lies in our unique approach to worshipping God, explained in two ways.
One says God has endless attributes and aspects. Although God is formless, to make worshipping more tangible for ordinary Hindus, many forms and names were given to each. For example, God creates, sustains and dissolves this world, each represented in a beautiful image and worshipped as Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer) and Shiva (the regenerator).
Another explanation is that there are many divine beings or deities who live in unseen worlds and serve God. They are empowered by and subordinate to God. Again, Hindus have male and female names and images for these deities, whose worship is recommended but not mandatory for specific benedictions.
Worshipping idols or symbols caters to the needs of the aspirants who are at the beginning of their spiritual quest. Those who evolve to a more sophisticated stage do not require such aids to worship. Some Hindus, like my father, do not believe in idol worshipping and pray to a formless and abstract God. Chanting God’s name, singing His glory, repeating His name in silence, meditation, reading of holy scriptures and performing selfless service are other prescribed modes.
We Hindus feel frustrated seeing ourselves portrayed in film, media and books as polytheists who worship a multitude of strange-looking gods and goddesses. This profound misconception is so pervasive and has been perpetuated for so long in the Western world it may be difficult for many people to believe otherwise.
Ignorance of the Hindu idea of One God but many names and forms thrives in high places. For a February, 1988, multi-faith Heritage Day service, Hindu Canadians were shocked to find their leaders were not allowed to address the gathering. The coordinator of the event, a Christian clergy, said Hindus did not qualify, as their religion was not monotheistic. I hope the revered clergy reads this.
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Article by: Ajit Adhopia