Immutable One and the Baffling Many

There was a question in an earlier post of mine on Hinduism. Why the many Gods in Hinduism? If God is one why does He(or It?) consent to confound us with many forms. And why do we consent to cast Him into form anyway? This is my attempt at an answer to this important question.

Crowded Heavens!

Of all religions Hinduism is unique in its personifications of the One Divine. A hundred thousand Gods they say. The heavens of the Hindus must be crowded, even suffocating perhaps!

Atomic Scientists

This is perhaps best understood with an analogy. Think about how scientists study an atom. Historically the atoms were considered to be the fundamental unit of matter. Everything was a composition of a cluster of atoms. This view persisted for long. And then came the discovery of the Electron. Read this quote from Wikipedia

The concept of an indivisible amount of electrical charge was theorized to explain the chemical properties of atoms, beginning in 1838 by British natural philosopher Richard Laming;the name electron was introduced for this charge in 1894 by Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney. The electron was identified as a particle in 1897 by J. J. Thomson and his team of British physicists.

Methods of Modern Knowledge

The idea I want to highlight is this – First is the theoretical conception. A model that explains observed behavior. There is also the naming of the phenomena. And then someone comes along who conclusively provides proof and confirms the theoretical model. Or in some cases disproves the existence of said phenomena, and in doing so refines the conceptual model.

And so it goes. This cycle of unveiling never ends. The Atom has been broken down into as many as hundred sub-atomic particles. Check the Standard Model, as it is called, for the currently favored theoretical framework to consistently explain behaviors in the sub-atomic realm. And this is without accounting for gravitation!

Elect of Science and Soothsayers

And remember that commoners never get to see all these exotic beasts, they are reserved for the physicists and the elect of science. They come with their colliders and accelerators and study the remains of atomic accidents.

Not very different from soothsayers, who in ages long past, studied the entrails of sacrificed animals to divine the intent of the Gods.

Methods of the Rishi

The Rishi of the Vedic tradition too tried to understand and learn of things. Only he did not choose to study one element of reality, like the modern particle physicist does. He views upon the vast of existence as his laboratory, of which even he as an observer is an essential component.

The earliest Rishis, the seekers of the Answer, hunted down the cause and origin of this manifest existence. But the path was not easy, there was no written method. Or body of practice to stand upon and seek.

All he had was himself, the powers of his observation, his ability to think and this manifest existence.

Answer that hunts its Questions

But they had intimations. They had seen glimpses of it. The Powers often left traces of their workings. The flash of intuition, the rush of aspiration, the dawn of understanding. And the dreams, that subversive reality that crept upon him in sleep. Dreams that spoke another language.

The answer sought out the questions. The Rishi it seems was not without help.

And the Rishi named these powers. Named so he could identify it when it came again. And to talk about it to others like him.

Phenomena and Powers were laid bare to his acute observation. Each was seen to have a characteristic, each power had a character. And so the Rishi clothed and crowned these powers within his mind.

Lexicon of the Rishis

From this perceptual factory issued the Gods. Indra as Lord of Mind, Usha as heralder of Dawn, Hiranyagarbha as the Golden Womb that issued creation. These forms were not restricted to the benign aspects. The Rishi saw in destruction too the hand of God. This he called Shiva. Or even Rudra, the only Deity the Rishis were said to be actually afraid of. There was Kali, the mighty Mother. Kartikeya, Lord of the Armies of Light. There was too the wooer of the Soul, Sri Krishna. He who dallied with the human soul by the moonlight. And so it grew, the lexicon of the Rishis and thus of Hinduism.

The tools of this exploration are of the mind and often abstract. The subjects of these experiments are not often seen, just as those of the atomic scientist. But the methods and exactness of these experiments with the mind and soul are not very different from that of the modern scientist with his tools or in anyway less rigorous and serious.

And this is the reason for a hundred thousand Gods within the Hindu religion.

To The Skeptics

Skeptics abound, who view this excess as a waste, as an indication of a primitive and barbarian culture. To them I would say it is a question of acuteness of perception. Some choose to restrain their exploration of reality at the level of atoms. Some choose to dig further until reaching the foundation of creation. Each level of abstraction has its place and utility.

The formula of the scientist and the mantra of the Rishi are counterparts. Each explains an aspect of reality, lays bare a secret of existence.

Feynman in his lectures, Beethoven conducting the Ninth Symphony and Sri Krishna on the battlefield with Arjuna-each an aspect of the Infinite Divine explaining the fabric of reality a little more.

What We All Are

Eventually, all of us are journeymen. Whether we choose to name and pray every milestone on the way or head straight to the destination is a question of method or even a personal and a cultural preference.

No Lucifer in Hinduism


Idea of eternal damnation is an impossibility within Hinduism.

There is a hell, Naraka, for sure..and the hindu versions of boiling oil and other assorted cruelties remain. But the idea that an act, however heinous, once done condemns forever is not possible.

Allow me to explain. Every Asura, Rakshasa and other principalities of the nether world are all incarnations of a older, often nobler principle. Who by the deviance of their wills, or the pride of their powers, start their descent into the offices of ignorance.

Every chief power of the dark realm finds his or her end at the hands of a Divine manifestation within Hindu mythology. Death to evil in this case acts as a salvation, a redemption of the fallen soul.

Sometimes, one does not wait for Death to redeem. Either at the gates of death. Or in events that bring the full force of death, redemption is granted.

This idea of release from the karmic bonds of existence, however dire and twisted it may be, offers a hope which is absent elsewhere.

Shiva, in a poem by Sri Aurobindo, is referred thus “Is he God then, whom the forsaken seek, things of sin?”.


Hiranyakashipu, a demon who compels the descent of Vishnu as Narasimha, gains his powers by performing sever austerities to Brahma. Killed by Narasimha, the soul released from the shackles of the perverted self, would go back to its source after working out the fruit of its karma.

Ravana, said to be an ardent devotee of Shiva, had Vishnu as Sri Rama to come and stop him. Again, killed by a Godhead and the soul returns to source after karmic debts are paid.

The idea that God, who exceeds all our measures of morality, should be vengeful or wrathful to a tribe or people or non-believers, is to make Him or Her or It very limited in conception.

Above all to limit individual action by the notion of eternal condemnation is a brutal idea. Perhaps effective in keeping the simplistic lot under the umbrella of a particular creed. But utterly useless to anyone who ventures to think deeply.

An Omniscient God would, by definition, pervade all things. Including the evil that befalls the world. Including the other sundry godheads that may piggyback on His Omnipotence. His infinite variety would not be limited to a single name. Or form.

The Highest God would be compassion and love, instead of breathing fire. One day he might come as warrior, as the cleanser of our souls. Another day as the lover, who woos us with the music of heavens. Yet another day perhaps he might come as the mother who lulls us into a primordial sleep. Each manifestation would take the most beneficial aspect towards the child-soul.

The next time, someone condemns you in the name of religion, remember the karmic dues might take an eternity to pay but your reaching the highest goal, to the very bosom of the Infinite, is a done thing.

Lucifer and his ilk, are the spiritual counterparts of Icarus, not examples to prove the irreversibility of the effects of sin. Let your heart be not worried.


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