Polytheism and development of universal ethics
- K. K. Verma, Ph.D. and Rashmi Saxena, Ph.D.*
Among organised religions the major polytheistic religion is Hinduism. Let us interpret the 'shittuf' concept in the Hindu religion in terms of Hinduism. A basic concept "adwaitvad", according to which God or the Supreme Power or the Life Force resides within living individuals. If godliness is specially pronounced in an individual, he/it is taken as an incarnation or 'personification" of God or an "avtar", and is worshipped as a deity. It is believed that, when the society in general becomes unethical and deviant in behaviour, God takes a mortal form, and is born as an "avtar" to put things right. Thus. though a number of deities are worshipped, the basic concept is of one God. The 'avtars" may be interpreted as 'shittufs" to take us close to God. When thus interpreted, the chasm between Hinduism and monotheistic religions is greatly reduced.
It may be emphasized here that the above interpretation of Hinduism is not an individual opinion of the authors of these lines. A very much similar opinion is readily derivable from the verses or "shlokas" of the highly revered Hindu scripture 'Geeta'. which contalns philosophical teachings by Lord Krishna, speaking as God himself to Arjuna. Some "shlokas" of 'Geeta" are given below in a translated form. Lack of perfection in translation may please be excused.
Chapter 7, Shloka 21.
Whoever devotee wants to worship a particular deity with devotion, I bless his devotion with stability.
Chapter 7. Shloka 22.
When a man, full of devotion, worships a deity. he gets the desired results through that deity, as stipulated by me.
Chapter 7, Shloka 24.
Man, Iacking in wisdom, does not comprehend my uncomparable, indestructible and organ less state, and worships ever blissful God, taking him as an individual who has taken birth (in the usual human way).
In the shloka 25 of chapter 7 it has been said that man, Iacking in real knowledge, takes birth less an indestructible God as a human mortal, subject to birth and death. Verma and Saxena (2000) have pointed out that Hinduism is an ancient religion of an ancient people, which has been evolving for a long period. Its evolution may be compared with the evolution of the modern man (Homo sapiens). Just as the present human species has been evolving, both culturally as well as biologically, for over 100,000 years without any further speciation, Hinduism has been evolving for a long period without much of fragmentation into new religions. As a result there is considerable diversity with regards beliefs and practices within the ambit of Hinduism. But since the days of Vedas (1000 BC ?) the basic theme of this religion has been 'adwaitvad', which amounts to universal monotheism.
Polytheism generally includes idol worship, and in monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, idolatry is strictly forbidden. An idol is actually a symbol, which helps developing concentration or 'dhyan" in the worshipper, and the symbol is very variable. It could be the form of a humanised deity, or it may be a river, or a mountain top, or the rising flames of a sacred fire or 'Havan". In the Aurbindo Ashram in Pondicherry (India) worshippers concentrate on a candle flame to attain 'dhyan", and in the Vivekanand Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari (India) for this purpose there is the sign of "ohm' in the 'dhyan" chamber. Thus idol worship is not so widely different from the worship of a formless God. Idols are actually "shittufs'.
Religions, only superficially understood, have led to a lot of conflict in human history. But, if correctly comprehended, they may help developing a universal ethics.
Gold, A. "Is monotheistic theology an obstacle to universal bioethics?" EJAIB 11(2001), 50-1.
"Medbhagwat Geeta' (54th Edition. 1998). Beeta Press, Gorakhpur, India.
Verma. K.K. and Saxena. R. 2000. Man in Biological perspective (Himanshu Publications Udaipur-New Delhi 2000). (This book is on the internet under the heading 'Essays on Man by Students of Biology <http.//www.biol.tsukuba.ac. jp/~macer/verma.html>)
HIG 1/327 Housing Board Colony,
Borsi, Durg 491001, India
* Assistant Professor of Zoology,
Bhupal Nobles P.G. College, Udaipur (Raj,), 313001, India
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 11 (2001), 156.
With increased speed of communication and greater interaction among different nations and communities, need for development of a universally accepted ethics is being increasingly felt. That monotheistic religions are no serious obstacle to achieving this has been convincingly demonstrated by Gold (2001). He has shown that the concept of 'shittuf' or an intermediary in approach to God, bridges the gulf between monotheistic and polytheistic religions.
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