In Sanatana Dharma (Hindu dharma), we find there are many different idols, many different forms of Gods. If the Puranas (ancient divine stories) are to be believed then we find there are 33 crore (1 crore = 10 million) Gods in Sanatana Dharma (Hindu dharma). Why do we have so many Gods?
Let's look at some basics...
Firstly, the Sanskrit term for God is Devata, which actually means ‘illumined ones’. Illuminating what one may ask? Well, illuminating the dead world of matter, bringing sentiency (life) in the insentient (lifeless). The laws that illumine or enliven the phenomenal forces like the sun, moon, wind, waters, rains, etc. are called the devatas such as Surya, Chandra, Vayu, Varuna, Indra, etc. Every element, molecule, atom and every phenomena in this universe is governed by a law, a principle which science only comes to discover in time. But these laws are in place since the beginning of time. These laws are not created or governed by science. Thus, the governor and illuminator of these laws which make the world of matter interact with each other and express as life, is what are called the Devatas. Since there are so many laws known and unknown to man, there are so many devatas. This is the understanding we get from the Puranas. However, just as cabinet ministers who are in-charge of the different portfolios in the governing of a country, have a leader in the Prime Minister, in the same way… the enlivener of all these Devatas, from whom they get the power to govern and execute is that Supreme Lord, Ishwara in Sanskrit. So devatas are many, but Ishwara is One.
A simple example to understand the one GOD in the many...
H.H. Swami Chinmayananda a world renowned Vedanta Teacher used to give us the example of electricity which enlivens all electrical equipment be it a fan, a bulb, a TV, a computer, a radio, a fridge or a heater. All the expressions and functions of the equipment are different, the light of the bulb, is not the sound of the radio which is different from the coolness of the fridge, etc. In its functions and expression, electricity takes different avataars so to speak, but essentially, the power behind all of them is one! That electricity is the same. According to religion, God is mainly projected as an external phenomenon, but in its depth we find that this God is a very personal internal presence. This is when religion becomes philosophy, knowledge becomes WISDOM. The many forms of the Lord are nothing but the many doorways to the halls of this greater spiritual awakening. Just as in the dream, the dreamer sees many other forms, many faces, recognizes the friend from the foe, but on waking realizes that all the participants in the dream were actually nothing but him alone, in the same way, all the many Gods roll away in the understanding of that Higher Supreme Power alone.
Why are many forms of GOD provided?
But initially, the many forms are provided so that people with different temperaments can identify with a particular form and a name of the Lord that suits their temperament. The next step is to form any type of relationship with that Lord of either a devotee, or a father, mother, son or daughter, teacher or student or even as a friend… any relationship as you please. In that relationship we then offer all our thoughts that agitate or excite us. When times are unbearable, we try to understand the entire scheme of this world by understanding the purpose of our creation and that of our surroundings. When we go beyond our day to day happenings and ask the deeper questions in life without an answer, we finally grow impatient within to get the answer. When we thus get absorbed in knowing - Why all this? What’s the point? - All other thoughts drop off and there is silence! There is peace that is beyond understanding. That Higher state of awareness is beyond all thoughts but holding all thoughts together. This is the One God behind the many. When this God is realized to be none other than an impartial enlivener of all our thoughts ( ‘Pratibodh Viditam Matam’ – as the Kena Upanishad says) the substratum on which every moment we think, breathe, eat, sleep, etc. and play in this world achieving success and suffering failures, through the path of devotion or through mediation we then gain the complete fulfillment of our spiritual journey as experienced by all the great masters and saints of the past.
Bramhachari Adarsh Chaitanya serves as the Resident Acharya of Chinmaya Mission Auckland and conducts weekly spiritual classes for children, youth and adults. For more information about the Chinmaya Mission and Bramhachari Adarsh Chaitanya please follow this link: www.chinmaya.org.nz or contact him at 2756954