One of the main oppositions to Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) is that of there being many gods (Polytheism). Sanatana Dharma accepts the existence of one God, the Supreme (Brahman).
- Hindu belief is that:
- Brahman created the different Avatars.
- Brahman represents the Supreme Reality for Hindus.
- Whatever your religion it is the same god. Your name for god is but a human name, god transcends humanity and your view is just as valid as anyone else’s.
Jews and Muslims believe that god never appeared on earth. Christians believe that God appeared as Jesus Christ his Son. Hindus believe that God has appeared in Human form many times and does so whenever there is great need. Christians believe that only Christ gives salvation and that if Jesus hasn’t saved you that you were destined to eternal damnation (through no fault of your own). Hindus believe in Karma and Kripa (meaning in this case) Justice and Grace and therefore cannot accept that God would destine those who hadn’t heard of him to eternal damnation in the way that Christians would have us believe.
Hinduism varies wildly from Islam. Islam believes it is an offence to worship images of God. Hinduism uses images of God as a tool to connect with God. During heir early occupation of India Muslim extremists destroyed many thousands of Hindu temples. Today, most of the oldest temples are in the South of India. Though they largely reject Hindu teachings Judaism, Islam, and Christianity’s mystic foundations (the Kabbalah, Sufism and Gnosticism respectively) show many parallels with Hinduism.
A unique and all-encompassing characteristic of Hinduism is that one devotee may be worshipping Ganesha while a friend worships Siva or Vishnu or Kali, yet both honour the other’s choice and feel no sense of conflict. The Hindu religion brings us the gift of tolerance that allows for different stages of worship, different and personal expressions of devotion and even different gods to guide our life on this earth. Christian missionaries complained that Hindus were difficult to convert. They said that many Hindus on hearing about Jesus would place his image next to Lord Shiva or Lord Krishna on their home altar.
The tolerance within Hinduism is largely due to the diversity of India. There are approximately 80,000 subcultures, over 325 languages, thousands of dialects and 25 commonly written scripts. Though generally tolerant, some factions within Hinduism are known to vigorously disagree at times, so much so that a Hindu called Adi Shankar formed his own sect called “the Smartas”. Smartas worship major Hindu forms of God (Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Murugan and Surya)
To categorise, Hinduism, it has been described as Pantheistic Monotheism, Polytheistic Monotheism or just Pantheism. There is some belief that originally in Vedic times many gods were worshipped (Polytheism) but that this has altered over time. The belief that supports Hinduism is that God is one but pervades the entire universe.
Female forms of God are just as divine as masculine forms and have been understood as being the power (Shakti) of the male form. Female consorts such as Sri Radha and Sri Sita are considered aspects and integral completions to God themselves.
Forms of God from the Vedic period differed from those today and were based upon elements of nature. They are called the Devatas and consist of Agni, Vayu or Indra, Surya and Soma. It is generally accepted that though these forms are usually humanlike, that spiritual advancement comes with connecting with god in the formless aspect.
There are four main denominations within Sanatana Dharma. A general explanation of these is:
Vaisnavas-Followers of Lord Vishnu and his various avatars
Saivas-Followers of Lord Shiva
Shaktas-Followers of the Goddess
Smartas-followers of all major Hindu forms of god equally