Friday, November 4, 2022

Sanatana Dharma Transcends Monotheism and Polytheism

A Page From Isha Upanishad

The idea that religions were either monotheistic or polytheistic became popular in the Middle Ages, after the rise of the Semitic religions. The Semitic ideologues and warlords labelled their own religion as monotheistic and the ancient religions as polytheistic. They propagated that only their kind of monotheism would lead to salvation and that the polytheists could not attain salvation since they were the worshippers of false Gods. They exhorted their followers to wipe out polytheism by forcibly converting the polytheists. 

But Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), which was branded as polytheistic in the Middle Ages, is not polytheistic. It is not monotheistic either. Sanatana Dharma is eternal dharma which transcends the simplistic Semitic conception of monotheism and polytheism. In the theology and practice of  Sanatana Dharma we find a unique blend of monotheism and polytheism. 

In Sanatana Dharma, the goal of existence is the Brahman. The term “Brahman” has originated in the Rig Veda. It is described as the substratum of the universe. Everything that exists—all living beings, heavenly bodies, and space and time—originate from the creative powers of the Brahman which is uncreated, absolute, and eternal. The Upanishads contain an extensive discussion of the concept of the Brahman. According to the Upanishads, the true nature of the Brahman is “sat-chit-ananda,” which means “truth, consciousness, and bliss.” Though it is the creator of the universe, the Brahman retains its uncreated and eternal form. 

The Upanishads preach that the Brahman has two aspects: Saguna and Nirguna. The term “guna” means a quality. Saguna means the qualities of the Brahman that can be understood and described by human beings, while the nirguna means the qualities that cannot be understood and described. Adi Narayana, or Sri Krishna, is the personal form of Saguna Brahman. Nirguna Brahman, also known as Para Brahman, pervades existence and is beyond all descriptions and conceptualizations. If we examine the aspects of Nirguna Brahman, then Sanatana Dharma seems monotheistic. But Saguna Brahman has polytheistic aspects.

From Saguna and Nirguna aspects of the Brahman, and other elements in the theology of Sanatana Dharma, it becomes clear that this ancient religion cannot be explained by using the Semitic labels of monotheism and polytheism. Sanatana Dharma is an eternal religious system (dharma) derived from the cosmic vision of the rishis who lived thousands of years before the rise of Semitic religious doctrine.

No comments: