Brahman overcomes all Muslim and Christian objections about Hindu believe in One God
Hinduism by Dr. Zakir Naik
CONCEPT OF GOD IN HINDUISM
1. Common Concept of God in Hinduism:
Hinduism is commonly perceived as a polytheistic religion. Indeed, most Hindus would attest to this, by professing belief in multiple Gods. While some Hindus believe in the existence of three gods, some believe in thousands of gods, and some others in thirty three crore i.e. 330 million Gods. However, learned Hindus, who are well versed in their scriptures, insist that a Hindu should believe in and worship only one God.
The major difference between the Hindu and the Muslim perception of God is the common Hindus' belief in the philosophy of Pantheism. Pantheism considers everything, living and non-living, to be Divine and Sacred. The common Hindu, therefore, considers everything as God. He considers the trees as God, the sun as God, the moon as God, the monkey as God, the snake as God and even human beings as manifestations of God!
Islam, on the contrary, exhorts man to consider himself and his surroundings as examples of Divine Creation rather than as divinity itself. Muslims therefore believe that everything is God's i.e. the word 'God' with an apostrophe 's'. In other words the Muslims believe that everything belongs to God. The trees belong to God, the sun belongs to God, the moon belongs to God, the monkey belongs to God, the snake belongs to God, the human beings belong to God and everything in this universe belongs to God.
Thus the major difference between the Hindu and the Muslim beliefs is the difference of the apostrophe 's'. The Hindu says everything is God. The Muslim says everything is God's.
2. Concept of God according to Hindu Scriptures:
We can gain a better understanding of the concept of God in Hinduism by analysing Hindu scriptures.
The most popular amongst all the Hindu scriptures is the Bhagavad Gita.
Consider the following verse from the Gita: "Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.”[Bhagavad Gita 7:20]
The Gita states that people who are materialistic worship demigods i.e. 'gods' besides the True God.
The Upanishads are considered sacred scriptures by the Hindus.
The following verses from the Upanishads refer to the Concept of God:
"He is One only without a second.”
[Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1]1
"Na casya kascij janita na cadhipah.”
"Of Him there are neither parents nor lord.”
[Svetasvatara Upanishad 6:9]2
"Na tasya pratima asti"
"There is no likeness of Him.”
[Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19]3
The following verses from the Upanishad allude to the inability of man to imagine God in a particular form:
"Na samdrse tisthati rupam asya, na caksusa pasyati kas canainam.”
"His form is not to be seen; no one sees Him with the eye.”
[Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:20]4
Vedas are considered the most sacred of all the Hindu scriptures. There are four principal Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvaveda.
The following verses from the Yajurveda echo a similar concept of God:
"na tasya pratima asti
"There is no image of Him.”
"He is bodyless and pure.”
"Andhatama pravishanti ye asambhuti mupaste"
"They enter darkness, those who worship the natural elements" (Air, Water, Fire, etc.).”They sink deeper in darkness, those who worship sambhuti.”
Sambhuti means created things, for example table, chair, idol, etc.
The Yajurveda contains the following prayer:
"Lead us to the good path and remove the sin that makes us stray and wander.”
The Atharvaveda praises God in Book 20, hymn 58 and verse 3:
"Dev maha osi"
"God is verily great"
The oldest of all the vedas is Rigveda. It is also the one considered most sacred by the Hindus. The Rigveda states in Book 1, hymn 164 and verse 46:
"Sages (learned Priests) call one God by many names.”
The Rigveda gives several different attributes to Almighty God. Many of these are mentioned in Rigveda Book 2 hymn 1.
Among the various attributes of God, one of the beautiful attributes mentioned in the Rigveda Book II hymn 1 verse 3, is Brahma. Brahma means 'the Creator'. Translated into Arabic it means Khaaliq. Muslims can have no objection if Almighty God is referred to as Khaaliq or 'Creator' or Brahma. However if it is said that Brahma is Almighty God who has four heads with each head having a crown, Muslims take strong exception to it.
Describing Almighty God in anthropomorphic terms also goes against the following verse of Yajurveda:
"Na tasya Pratima asti"
"There is no image of Him.”
Another beautiful attribute of God mentioned in the Rigveda Book II hymn 1 verse 3 is Vishnu. Vishnu means 'the Sustainer'. Translated into Arabic it means Rabb. Again, Muslims can have no objection if Almighty God is referred to as Rabb or 'Sustainer' or Vishnu. But the popular image of
Vishnu among Hindus, is that of a God who has four arms, with one of the right arms holding the Chakra, i.e. a discus and one of the left arms holding a 'conch shell', or riding a bird or reclining on a snake couch. Muslims can never accept any image of God. As mentioned earlier this also goes against Svetasvatara Upanishad Chapter 4 verse 19.
"Na tasya pratima asti"
"There is no likeness of Him"
The following verse from the Rigveda Book 8, hymn 1, verse 1 refer to the Unity and Glory of the Supreme Being:
"Ma cid anyad vi sansata sakhayo ma rishanyata" "O friends, do not worship anybody but Him, the Divine One. Praise Him alone.”
"Devasya samituk parishtutih"
"Verily, great is the glory of the Divine Creator.”
Brahma Sutra of Hinduism:
The Brahma Sutra of Hinduism is:
"Ekam Brahm, dvitiya naste neh na naste kinchan"
"There is only one God, not the second; not at all, not at all, not in the least bit.”
Thus only a dispassionate study of the Hindu scriptures can help one understand the concept of God in Hinduism.
Hinduism by Dr. Zakir Naik
Brahman is the central theme of almost all the Upanishads. Brahman is the indescribable, inexhaustible, omniscient, omnipresent, original, first, eternal and absolute principle who is without a beginning, without an end , who is hidden in all and who is the cause, source, material and effect of all creation known, unknown and yet to happen in the entire universe.
He is the incomprehensible, unapproachable radiant being whom the ordinary senses and ordinary intellect cannot fathom grasp or able to describe even with partial success. He is the mysterious Being totally out of the reach of all sensory activity, rationale effort and mere intellectual, decorative and pompous endeavor.
The Upanishads describe Him as the One and indivisible, eternal universal self, who is present in all and in whom all are present. Generally unknown and mysterious to the ordinary masses, Brahman of the Upanishads remained mostly confined to the meditative minds of the ancient seers who considered Him to be too sacred and esoteric to be brought out and dissected amidst public glare.
Though impassioned and above the ordinary feelings of the mind, the masters of the Upanishads some times could not suppress the glory, the emotion, the passion and the poetry that accompanied the vast and utterly delightful , inner experience of His vast vision. In the Mundaka Upanishad the mind explodes to reverberate with this verse," Imperishable is the Lord of love, as from a blazing fire thousands of sparks leap forth, so millions of beings arise from Him and return to Him.”Again in the Katha Upanishad we come across a very poetic and emphatic expression," In His robe are woven heaven and earth, mind and body...He is the bridge from death to deathless life.”
The Brahman of the Upanishads is not meant for the ordinary or the ignorant souls, who are accustomed to seek spiritual solace through ritualistic practices and rationalization of knowledge. Discipline, determination, guidance from a self-realized soul, purity of mind, mastery of the senses, self-control and desireless actions are some of the pre-requisites needed to achieve even a semblance of success on this path. Only the strong of the heart and pure of the mind can think of dislodging layer after layer of illusion and ignorance that surrounds him and see the golden light of Truth beckoning from beyond.
He is not like the other gods either. He is incomprehensible even to almost all the gods. And He chooses not to be worshipped in the temples and other places of worship but in one's heart and mind as the indweller of the material body and master of the senses, the charioteer. He is too remote and incomprehensible to be revered and approached with personal supplications although He is the deepest and the highest vision mankind could ever conceive of or attain.
The weak and the timid stand no chance to approach Him even remotely, except through some circuitous route. For the materialistic and the otherworldly who excel in the art of converting everything and anything into a source of personal gain, He does not offer any attraction, solace or security as a personal God.
That is why we do not see any temples or forms of ritualistic worship existing for Brahman either at present or in the past. We only hear of fire sacrifice, later to be called Nachiketa fire, to attain Him, which was taught to the young Nachiketa by Lord of Death, but lost in the course of time to us. Perhaps the sacrifice was more a meditative or spiritual practice involving the sacrifice of soul consciousness than a ritual worship.
Whatever it is, the fact is that Brahman of the Upanishads is more appealing to the seekers of Truth and Knowledge than seekers of material gains. Even during the Islamic rule when the principles of monotheism challenged the very foundations of Hinduism , Brahman was never brought into the glare of public debate to challenge the invading and overwhelming ideas of the monotheistic foreign theology.
And even during the period of the Bhakti movement , when the path of devotion assumed unparalleled importance in the medieval Hindu society, Brahman was somehow not made the center of direct worship in the form of Brahman as such. He became the personal God with a name and form, but as Brahman remained out side the preview of the Bhakti movement.
Perhaps the exclusion was so evident and seemingly so intentional that even Lord Brahma, the first among the Trinity and the first among the created, was also simultaneously excluded from the ritualistic worship, probably for the similarity in names. Very few temples exist for this god even today in India, probably as He is seen more as a source of intelligence and creativity than of material wealth.
Some Upanishads do describe Brahman as the Lord of Love. It is a description born out of pure personal experience of a seeker of truth, not from a devotee's imaginative and self-induced emotional energy. The description and approach, therefore, is more philosophical and impressionably revelatory in its approach than feverishly emotional or reverently devotional. The reason was not difficult to understand.
Brahman was too remote, indifferent, disinterested, too vast a principle to be reduced into meaningful and intellectually satisfying forms and shapes and worshipped as such. Existing beyond all the surface activities of illusory life, he was like the remote star, heard but rarely seen, seen but vaguely remembered, remembered but rarely explicable, unlike the daily sun that traversed across the sky spreading its splendor in all directions and appealing to the common man with its intensity, visible luminosity and comforting him with its assuring and predictable routine.
Hidden, however, in the practice of Bhakti was the inherent and inviolable belief that the aim of all devotion was the attainment of the Supreme Self, though the path chosen for the purpose was circuitous and symbolic, rarely suggestive of any direct involvement of the eternal Brahman Himself in His original formless condition. Since the mind could only comprehend and derive inspiration in a language that it can understand and interpret, the Saguna Brahman, Iswara in the form of various manifestations became the object of devotion and personal worship.
But the same was not true of the formless Nirguna Brahman, beyond duality and activity. Ignoring the citadels of human civilization, He, the Absolute, continued to remain in the hearts of His spiritual aspirants, away from the din of materialistic life. He remained confined even as of today, to a few illumined minds, guiding them in His mysterious and invisible ways through the minds of self-realized souls, who have been too spiritualistic and disinterested in worldly life to consider any thing other than self as a matter of spiritual interest.
The ancient seers described Brahman as the One eternal principle, the unity behind all, the connecting principle, the light shining through all. But at the same time they also referred to him variously as almost every thing. He was thus One and the many, the finite and the infinite, the center as well as the circumference, the enjoyer as well the enjoyer, the hidden as well as the manifest, in a nut shell, every thing and any thing that we can conceive of or imagine or perhaps much more than that. Incomprehensible even to the gods, as Kena Upanishad narrates, He stands above all, tall and mysterious, almost incommunicable except through personal experience and inner voyage.
As a formless Being He was the Nirguna Brahman, the unqualified principle totally beyond the reach of all levels of intelligence. Assuming myriad forms He becomes Saguna Brahman, the one with attributes and qualifications. In this capacity as the formless and the One with form, He becomes all the multiplicity in this vast universe. He becomes everything and also nothing. Thus He is the day and night, light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance, the river and the ocean, the sky and the earth, the sound and the silence, the smallest as well as biggest of all and also the abyss of the mysterious nothingness.
The attributes are many and repetitively suggestive of His universality and His unquestionable supremacy. This existence of the duality and the myriad contradictions inherent in the creation of life are the riddles which the minds of the disciples were expected to understand and assimilate till all the confusion and contradiction becomes reduced to one harmonious and meaningful mass of Truth.
In the Katha Upanishad we come across this explanation of Brahman being compared to the Aswaththa tree in reverse ,whose roots are above and the branches spread down below.”Its pure root is Brahman from whom the world draws nourishment and whom none can surpass.” Actually this is an analogy drawn from the Sun whose base is above and whose rays spread downwards in thousand directions.
Myriad are the ways in which Brahman is described in the Upanishads. The verses strenuously struggle to explain the novice students of spiritual practice the immensity of the object of their meditation. Theirs is a feeling of respect and reverence mixed with fear and awe. Even the gods seems to be not very comfortable with this concept of an unknown, mysterious and unfathomable God. The Lord of death explains to the young Nachiketa," In fear of Him the fire burns, the sun shines, the clouds rain and the winds blow. In fear of Him death stalks about to kill.”
He is the creator, the life giver and also the reliever of the devoted and determined from Bondage. The manifest universe is his creation. He created it through Self-projection, out of Ananda, pure Delight. The process of creation is not very explicitly mentioned but one can draw some inferences from verses such as this," The deathless Self meditated upon Himself and projected the universe as an evolutionary energy. From this energy developed life, the mind, the elements, and the world of karma.”
This is not the God who can be supplicated with rituals and sacrifices. The Upanishadic seers did not show much respect to the outer aspects of religious practice. The rituals according to them constituted the lower knowledge.”Such rituals," declares Mundaka Upanishad," are unsafe rafts for crossing the sea of worldly life, of birth and death. Doomed to shipwreck are they who try to cross the sea of worldly life on these poor rafts.”The argument does not end here. It goes on," Ignorant of their ignorance, yet wise in their estimate, these deluded men proud of their learning go round and round like the blind, led by the blind. Living in darkness, immature unaware of any higher good or goal, they fall again and again into the sea.”
Hinduism: Belief in One God
The Hindus believe in many gods and goddesses. At the same time they also believe in the existence on one Supreme God, whom they call variously as Paramatma (Supreme Self), Parameshwar (Supreme Lord), Parampita (Supreme Father). Iswara, Maheswara, Bhagawan, Purusha, Purushottama, Hiranyagarbha and so on.
God is one, but also many. He manifests Himself in innumerable forms and shapes. As Purusha (Universal Male), He enters Prakriti (Nature, Matter or Divine Energy) and brings forth the numerous worlds and beings into existence. He upholds His entire creation with His unlimited powers.
He is both the Known and the Unknown, the Being as well as the Non- Being, Reality as well as Unreality. As the Unknown, He is rarely known and worshipped for difficult and painful is the path for those who choose to worship Him as the Unmanifest (The Bhagavad-Gita XII.6).
He exists in all and all beings exist in him. There is nothing other than Him, and there is nothing that is outside of Him. He is Imperishable, unknowable, immortal, infinite, without a beginning and without an end. All the same when worshipped with intense devotion and unshakeable faith, He responds to the calls of His devotees and comes to their aid and rescue.
All the gods and goddess are His manifestations only. In His female aspect He is Shakti, who as the Divine Universal Mother assists the whole creation to proceed through the process of evolution in Her own mysterious ways.
The relationship between man and God is purely personal and each can approach Him in his own way. There are no fixed rules and no central controlling authority on the subject of do's and don'ts. There are of course scriptures and Smritis but whether to follow them or not is purely an individual choice.
The concept of monotheism is not new to Hinduism. It is as old as the Vedas themselves. References to One indivisible and mysterious God are found in the Rigveda itself. The concept is the central theme of all the Upanishads in which He is variously referred as Brahman, Iswara, Hiranyagarbha, Asat etc.
While the students of Upanishads tried to understand Him through the path of knowledge and there by made it the exclusive domain of a few enlightened persons, the bhakti marg or the path of devotion brought Him closer to the masses. The One Imperishable and Ancient Being was no more a God of remote heights, but down to the earth, ready to help His needy devotees and willing to perform miracles if necessary.
The rise of tantric cults added a new dimension to our understanding of Him. To the tantric worshipers the Supreme Self is the Universal Mother. Purusha is subordinate to Her and willing to play a secondary role in Her creation. By Himself He cannot initiate creation unless He joins with His Shakti.
On the abstract level He is satchitananda. Truth, Consciousness and Bliss. He is the inhabitant of the whole world. There is nothing that is outside of Him or without Him. He exists in the individual being as Atman, the Enjoyer who delights in Himself, without undergoing any change, but willing to participate in the cycle of births and deaths and bear witness to all the illusions of life.
He can be realized in many ways, which broadly fall into three main categories: the path of knowledge, the path of devotion and the path of renunciation. Of this the middle one is the best, the first one is very difficult and the third one requires immense sacrifice and inner purification. In the Bhagavad-Gita we come across the path of action which combines the rest of the three into one integrated whole in which a devotee has to live his life with a sense of supreme sacrifice, performing his actions with detachment, without any desire for the fruit of actions and offering them to God with pure devotion and total surrender.
Hindus have a very broader approach to the concept of God. The names that people give to Him are just mere reference points for the sake of our understanding. How can He have names, who is actually beyond all words and thoughts? He represent the loftiest ideal which mankind can aspire to achieve. He is the goal and reaching Him in our individual ways is the very purpose of our lives. Those who quarrel on his name are blind men who grope in darkness and go to the worlds of ignorance.
Truly the Brahman of Hinduism represents the Highest principle which the human mind can ever conceive of. He is not God of just one world or a few worlds, but represents the entire known and unknown Universe as well as the past, the present and the future that is yet to come.
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