A teacher whom I greatly esteem is P.V.R. Narasimha Rao; I so admire his accessible, lively writing, the clear-minded simplicity with which he answers questions, as well as his dedication to teaching fire-worship to everyone.
Today he posted a wonderful analogy to the vedic-wisdom e-mail group, to simply explain the Hindu view regarding “one god,” versus the “many gods” that people see when looking at Hindu altars and temples. I thought to share his post here, since I know that most of my readers are not Hindu and may be confused about this particular point.
“When one is thirsty, one can drink water (H2O) to get some energy. From the same water, we can also make different mineral waters, vitamin waters, flavored waters, soft drinks of various kinds, etc. and drink them instead of water.
Hindu scriptures say that there is only god (Brahman or Aatman or Self), but that god manifests as different devatas (deities) with various natures, qualities, and energies.
The one god – Brahman or Allah or Holy Spirit – has no qualities (like form, color, shape, nature, etc.) and is beyond description and the source of all deities. Similarly, plain water – which is the source of all other drinks – has no taste or smell or flavor. Deities arising from that one god have various qualities (gentle, fierce, etc.). Similarly, many kinds of flavored water and soft drinks have different taste, smell, and flavor. Just as one can drink whatever drink one likes, based on one’s taste, to quench thirst, similarly one can worship whatever deity one likes, based on one’s taste, to quench the inner thirst of one’s soul and give it energy to do its work.
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Just as Abraham said no to the worship of idols and forms and installed the notion of one god, one can ban flavored drinks and say that only plain water can be drunk. That is not wrong, but most people find water too plain and prefer different drinks. Similarly, most people cannot relate to ONE formless (i.e. beyond forms) god, and using specific forms based on one’s mental state helps improve devotion.
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Just as different people may call water with different names (water, paani, jalam, tanni, neellu, acqua, wasser, etc.), similarly different people may call the one god as Brahman or Parabrahma or Aatman or Buddha or Self or Allah or Ahora Mazda or Holy Spirit or whatever. There’s nothing in a name. Fighting that Allah is superior or Brahman, is akin to fighting that paani is superior to jalam!
When you have water or a drink, the key is to drink it and get energy. If one stores it, flaunts it and looks at now and then, it won’t quench thirst. Similarly, keeping a god’s idol or picture or a scripture or reading it now, it won’t quench the inner thirst. One needs to think of god in mind, contemplate on the nature of god and get some of that nature within oneself through resonance. That gives energy and transforms one.
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People have the notion that there are different gods who created different people. But the fact is that one god created this whole universe, and god is beyond forms, beyond knowing, beyond understanding, and beyond describing. People who have experienced different aspects of this one god have given different names and descriptions and different paths to reach god.
Despite the existence of many religions and many notions of god today, one thing we can declare confidently is that god is one and all religions are different attempts to reach that one god or cosmic consciousness. Infinite god cannot be captured completely by anything finite, including religion. God can be realized only though internal experience and not through reading books or intellectual discussions or hearing about someone else’s description of god.”