When Hinduism Confuses and Frustrates Me

Modern Pagans consider many religions to be our spiritual cousins: Shinto, Vodou, Santeria, First Nations religions, etc… One of our spiritual cousins, from our point of view, is Hinduism: a religious movement as diverse and fluid as our own Paganism. Some Hindus feel the same way towards us, as evidenced by the presence of the Hindu American Foundation at PantheaCon last year.

One thing I recall vividly from observing the HAF panel last year is how Hinduism is taught as monotheism, but Hindu practice uses the language of polytheism. It’s a fascinating thing, especially as the nesting-doll theology (All Gods Are One) is very similar to much of Wiccan theology.

What deepens my confusion and frustration with Hinduism today is a link that I shared on social media yesterday from HuffPo. Arvind Sharma explains patiently and, to a Pagan point of view, offensively that Hinduism isn’t “pagan” because “pagans” are polytheists and idolators.

The Abrahamic religious traditions, as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are collectively called, associate paganism with the worship of many gods, and their many idols. The former is condemned as polytheism and the latter as idolatry; and the two are viewed as inextricably intertwined forms of worship, which has been superseded in the aniconic monotheism and which these religions self-consciously uphold and propagate.

Hinduism at first blush appears to conform to paganism. It seems to worship many gods and seems to do so by worshipping different images. It thus comes across as polytheistic and idolatrous and therefore pagan. This perception fuels the missionary zeal of the Abrahamic religions to destroy such paganism.

[Emphasis mine]

It is precisely this sort of misinformation and appeasement that holds minority religions back. I don’t know a single Pagan who worships an image, and to see a Hindu spout this “ignorant statue worshipper” nonsense is disheartening. Frankly, Catholics have more taboos and superstition regarding their icons and symbols than we have regarding our religious artwork. Muslims most certainly do.

Hinduism is diverse. There are plenty of polytheistic Hindus. Hinduism in it’s practice is as polytheistic as Wicca or NeoPlatonism, which both hold that there is a Universal One behind all of the Gods. There are also monotheistic Pagans, but they rarely try to convince Abrahamic religions that they aren’t Pagan in order to gain acceptance.

The truth is that claiming an essential monotheism underlying a polytheistic practice isn’t going to stop the coercive conversion. It’s not going to stop discrimination. It’s not going to buy you a seat at the table. It’s not going to keep Abrahamic faiths from denouncing your religion. Making a great effort to distance yourself from Modern Pagans in the West only serves to alienate your natural allies, who don’t care whether you are monotheistic, pantheistic, henotheistic, panentheistic, polytheistic or atheist.

For Modern Pagans to read articles like Sharma’s is disheartening. We feel that not only are we being thrown to the wolves by our spiritual cousins, but that the grand, verdant diversity of Hinduism is made invisible by such statements.

Sharma’s semantic argument boils down to we are not like the “evil” pagans, we are just as good as you. And that makes me very sad.

If I could say one thing to Sharma, it would be that perpetuating misinformation only harms your cause, and polytheism is a wonderful thing. You shouldn’t be ashamed of being associated with it.

What do you think? And check out the conversation this sparked over on G+. What do you think of the comments made by Rodney Orpheus and Greg Harder?

Also, it appears members of the Hindu American Foundation will be at PantheaCon this year as well (Sunday, 9 AM: Pagans and Hindus Together: One Billion Strong). If you’re going, it’s worthwhile to check them out and hear what they have to say, particularly regarding the challenges they face regarding coercive conversion in India.

And for the record, whoever came up with the idea that to be truly polytheistic you must worship every single God (at the same time), have you ever actually met a polytheist and what kind of crack are you smoking? Seriously?

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000451145781 MrsBs Confessions

    Just like no Pagan is ever going to be able to speak for us all, I think that no one of any other religion can speak for all of them, either.  Though this is definitely disheartening, I’m sure there are plenty of other Hindus who would speak against this article and it’s contents in our favor.  

    • Ryan

       I am a Hindu who is against this article and in your favour.

      Seriously, Hinduism is very diverse, and while some of us- many of us, these days, in fact, are functionally monotheistic, such a belief is NOT neccesary to be a Hindu. Hinduism has no mandate against polytheism or even athiesm, and many Hindus are these things.

      The monism associated with Hindu philosophy really implies that all beings in the universe are divine- that God, so to speak(Brahman) manifests as all beings. This does not mean that the Gods do not exist. My own belief is that they do exist and ought to be worshiped, and this does not conflict with my belief in universal divinity. So, yeah, it is really offensive when one person pretends to speak on behalf of all of us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21716648 Jay Logan

    Who the hell answered that “Frequently Asked Question”??  Obviously not a polytheist, or anyone who knows even the slightest bit about polytheism.  I mean, the idea that you have to worship all of the gods simultaneously sounds, frankly, exhausting.  Especially considering that, as a polytheist, I tend to allow that all of the gods, in all of the pantheons, throughout time and space, are real, divine beings worthy of worship.  That’s literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of gods – exhausting!!  In most of my rituals these days I tend to worship one or two at time, the best way, as I see it, to give proper focus to my work.

  • sindarintech

    Keep in mind that Hinduism is a human-made religion, just like all the others. In the West we tend to hold it in high esteem because we think that something that’s been around for 4000 years should be given a little respect. But Hindus can be just as intolerant of others as right-wing evangelicals. Afterall, Buddhism started in India and was eventually eradicated due to relligio-political intolerance. 

    • Hinduhumanrights

      Excuse me Sindarintech but when exactly were Hindus intolerant towards Buddhism? Buddhism flourished in India until the advent of Islam. And where did the Dalai Lama and his followers find refuge? Yes, India. Indeed he helped found the VHP. India is the only country where, as attested by French scholar Leon Poliakov, Jews flourished for 2000 years without the threat of anti-Semitism. India has more Muslims than Pakistan and a variety of sects than in any Islamic country would be at each others throats. Where did the followers of Zarthustra seek sanctuary when Iran was conquered by Islam? yes, India and among its Hindu majority.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I don’t know a single Pagan who worships an image

    Yes you do, Star:  me.  (And, I am being serious here…)

    Please don’t make the mistake of distancing yourself from those of us who do have practices that include adorations of images, statues, and the like, and not merely as “symbols” or other such notions, in the same way that this particular Hindu is distancing himself–and attempting to distance his entire religion–from “those evil polytheists.”

    As others have commented, and even more so due to the sheer number of modern Hindus and their very vibrant pluralism, this one single person cannot speak for all of Hinduism.  Unfortunately, Christians and others who might be reading his comments probably don’t know that, as they tend to think other religions have authoritative hierarchies and so forth, and thus someone making such a statement is “definitive” in doing so…But in any case, it is sad that such is the case.

    The “philosophical modern Hindu,” who tends to have a monistic approach to the plurality of deities, does ultimately line up more with monotheism (as well as what many people think of as “mysticism,” which is a misnomer, but also the broad rhetoric of sections of the interfaith movement, etc.), and is entirely off-putting from my viewpoint.  The historical span and geographic range of Indian religious history has meant that intra-pantheonic syncretism has been built in to the eventual development of Hinduism as we know it now; in other words, originally separate regional cults, myths, and gods got merged into larger narratives and turned into epithets of a more major god as peoples mixed, traveled, and as rulers eventually had influence over larger territories.  (The same happened in ancient Greece, Egypt, etc.)  But because the Upanishads took a particular interpretation of these things–and, note, it’s not “reality,” it’s just a potential philosophical interpretation–and those texts and philosophies went on to become extremely popular and expedient to creating social cohesion, they increased and eventually have assumed a status as a kind of orthodoxy.  This became even more the case when Islam and Christianity came onto the scene in larger ways in India, and when the British had their (Christian) Empire; it also highly influenced both the theological development of Buddhism (long before Christianity was a factor) and Sikhism (several centuries after Islam was a factor).  It is unfortunate that the “modern philosophical Hindu,” usually also urban and educated, has this view, and even looks down on the “primitive” and “unsophisticated” folk Hindu practitioners in the more remote areas, whose theologies and practices are much closer to, or actually are, polytheistic rather than monistic.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Fascinating, you worship a discrete, concrete object? Not merely as a representation of something else? I did not know that! You are literally the only Pagan I know who does that!

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        Yes–lots of them, actually; some of them are objects in my home shrine space, that share in the divinity of the being that they represent; others are the literal features of the land I inhabit, e.g. a particular nearby mountain, particular rivers, etc.

        “Enlivened” statues and other “objects with souls” are at the very heart of many animist practices (and, in fact, in most animist practices there is no such thing as an “inanimate object” of any kind!).  Other religions have practices like this as well, including the Hindu practice of making food offerings to a murti, whereupon it is considered “alive” and can no longer be moved, etc.  (So, saying that Hindus don’t “worship statues” is not entirely true…the distinction between the means used to do cultus and the object of the cultus is one that many people don’t ever make.)  Egyptian practice also does this; and, some neoplatonic practices do as well, including some that have filtered into (or, according to Don Frew and others, have been continued in) certain forms of Wicca and ceremonial magic.

        I suspect, thus, that you probably know more people than you may realize who do this…!  :)

      • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

        When I offer my statue of Anubis incense, or feed Him water or offer Him food, I am not doing so as if the statue is inert.  I am treating the statue as Egypt’s own priests once did: that He is inhabiting the statue, that He is present as I worship Him in the statue as I perfume the statue with smoke, give it water and food.  The statue is holy because the presence of Anubis is within it.  It is consecrated to Him, and while it is only about 3.5 inches tall, it is still Him, and still holy.  

        • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

          Precisely, Sarenth–I was thinking specifically of many Egyptian/Kemetic and Egyptian-connected modern Pagan practitioners in my “there are others as well” statements in this comment thread.  Thank you for confirming that!

        • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

           But if that statue breaks or is consumed in a fire, Anubis is not dead.

          My athame is the most sacred object I own. I possesses a spirit and I salute it with a kiss when it is withdrawn and when it is returned. It is fed and reverenced and treated with more care and taboos than any other religious object I own. But in the end it is a tool, and if necessary, I can make another. The loss of my athame doesn’t equal the loss of my faith.

          • Brannen

            If you break your hand does that end or kill you? (Barring freak chances, no). No. But would you argue that because the breaking of the hand doesn’t end you that it is NOT you? Of course not. 

          • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

             That’s ridiculous. Discrete, geographically diverse objects do not form a corporeal body. By that logic most of the Gods should have died of mortal wounds due to the destruction of temples during the rise of Christianity.

          • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

            It’s not ridiculous at all.  Why should the corporeality of *gods* be required to be contiguous or bound to one location?  Though a better analogy might be that each ensouled image (and not all images are ensouled!) is one *cell* in the corporeal body of that deity.  And we all know that the cells in our bodies are regularly dying and being replaced by other cells.

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            No; but it is a loss, isn’t it?

            Even Jewish congregations hold funerals for Torah scrolls that have become worn out and have to be retired.  The same could very well be true for any polytheist’s sacred objects.  Just because the deity who empowers an object doesn’t die with the object doesn’t mean that there isn’t a loss and a diminishment as a result of a particular important object’s destruction.  The object deserves to be honored for itself, not just for its utility as a channel for divine energies, etc.  In this view, nothing is “just a tool.”

          • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

             Not to mention, as I remember, if someone drops the Torah scroll the whole congregation has to fast for 40 days :)

          • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

             Purification rituals are very different from worship. There are a lot of taboos regarding the American flag, but we don’t worship it.

          • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

            Perhaps no “official doctrines” of any Americans suggest worship of the flag under those terms; but from a sociological/anthropological view, the American reverence for the flag and the customs surrounding it are little different than the Roman cultus of the standards, with the exception that the standards in a legion had their own shrine and received sacrifices.  We are not, as Americans, required to bow to or salute our President, or any elected officials; but we stand, put our hands over our hearts, and say a “Pledge of Allegiance” (look at those words!) to the flag, and have various hymns to assist us in such.  We have color guard units in all of our military branches whose job is to honor and protect the flag and know all the ceremonies associated with it.  Very little difference…

            And, have you talked with some right-wing American patriots recently?  I’d say what many of them do qualifies as worship of the flag over and above what I’ve outlined previously.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

       An interesting trend that seems to be catching on among modern Pagans is to “own” and embrace idolatry. Personally I see this as a very positive development. An image that is actively used in worship is very much alive and divine. At the very least it is a sacred object, and it is no more simply inert, dead matter than is an Athame, or any other similar magical/sacred object.

      In Buddhism a very important ritual is the “eye opening ceremony” for an image of the Buddha placed on the main altar of a temple. These kinds of ceremonies are essential to all Pagan traditions.

    • Illiezeulette

      I agree with you, Sufenas.  I remember studying in one of my art history classes in college that the images of deities were often considered divine in and of themselves.  Images are meant to point toward something else, but that doesn’t mean that the image doesn’t have its own divine essence. Especially in the Byzantine church, or at least historically, people viewed icons of the Virgin and the Christ as literally holding their essence, divine in itself.  They even took scrapings of the paint used in paintings to ingest because they believed it would heal people of sickness (though the paint had lead in it and probably made them sicker…).  I can’t remember if it was in Greece or Rome, or both, that statues of deities were also considered to be divine in themselves. 

      When I worship at the lararium and I perform the adoratio to Venus, I perform it not only to the Venus “out there” but also to the Venus statue sitting on my altar. 

      As far as my studies of Hinduism go, many temples and their pujas have a deity invoked *into* the statue and then the icon is worshipped.  Priests bathe, clothe, and make offerings to the statues, and even sing wake-up morning hymns and lullabies to the statues. 

      That, or my collegiate education and pursuit of a degree in religion has all been a lie. 

      • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

        I suspect the only “lie” involved is when these very real phenomena are ignored, downplayed, or an attempt to justify or explain them away is made on the part of (usually dominant monotheist) religious studies scholars who don’t want any of the “taint” of idolatry to go anywhere near anything they feel is worth talking about in other religions.

        The bathing of images and such that you describe (and which also happened in Egypt–Egypt and India have so many practices in common it’s astonishing!) is a beautiful example of this sort of thing in action.  As someone who, when I lived across from a lake, did a yearly bathing of my principal image of Antinous at dawn on Summer Soltice for a few years, I can state specifically that it’s quite a moving process to be a part of something like that, and I can only imagine what it would have been like to have a riverside temple, with a whole community of onlookers and well-wishers, and a whole choir of other priests and functionaries chanting hymns, putting on a procession to and from the temple, etc.

        I’d go as far as saying that almost everything “interesting” and “fun” in many religions, often that involves processions and such, is an example of idolatry of this sort put on exuberant display, and it’s wonderful to see it happen, I think!

  • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

    There were a few years I spent surrounded by Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus back in my late 20s. The Hindus were quite clear when explaining themselves to Christians – and you have to remember, as Christians are to Western Pagans so Muslims are to Hindus – that, and I quote, “We are not idiots. We’re not worshipping the bloody statue. We’re worshipping the power behind the statue, that the statue represents.”

    If anything, they’re arguing a Gnostic view. There’s a lot more to this than Pagan versus Hindu – Hindus themselves say that Hindu just means “believer” and that there’s another name for the actual religion. There’s also a whole lot of Western versus Eastern perception going on, and none of it can be fully understood in a single conversation.

    Here’s something we Pagans have to consider: if Hindus don’t want to be identified as Pagan, we don’t get to claim them. To do so is the utmost in jingoism.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       I don’t think we should claim anyone, but if I wrote an article about how you don’t have to worry that Pagans are anything like Hindus, with the implication that Hindus are undesirables, you can bet I’d have Hindus taking issue with my stance.

      • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

         That’s definitely fair.
        One thing I learned from direct contact is that Hindus are far, far from what modern Pagans would consider progressive – those that adopted Western habits often did it as acts of rebellion, not because they saw something positive or freeing in any western values. This tangle of thought and perception is going to make it more difficult, especially given that Hindus like many south Asians have a very strange love/hate relationship with people that practice genuine witchcraft.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

       “Here’s something we Pagans have to consider: if Hindus don’t want to be
      identified as Pagan, we don’t get to claim them. To do so is the utmost
      in jingoism.”

      That is just plain wrong. First of all, Hinduism is incredibly diverse, and at least some Hindus do feel that there is a real spiritual kinship between Pagans and Hindus. Second of all a great many Hindus feel a close and very natural affinity for the pre-Christian religious traditions of the West (regardless of what, if anything, they might think of modern Wiccans, etc).

      No one speaks for all Hindus, just as no one speaks for all Pagans. The question of what, if any, relationship there is between the two groups is an open question about which people in both groups hold a wide variety of opinions.

      • http://blog.dianarajchel.com Diana Rajchel

        Nothing you said indicates my comment is factually wrong. and I’m very well aware no one speaks for all Hindus. There is an enormous amount of cultural context involved both in the statements quoted in the blog – by a person to whom may well be unaware Wiccans/Pagans even exist – and for those Hindus who are choosing to reach out to Wiccans/Pagans. If an individual Hindu chooses to identify as Pagan, that’s a personal choice. I am certainly not advocating denying them a seat at any Pagan table.

        If the person who made the public statements was advised that there’s more to the world than the Muslim/Christian culture that Hindus must deal with constantly and still  made the same statement, then the ethnocentrism would be on him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

    I think the definition of Hinduism as monotheism is not quite accurate.
    Monolatry is more precisely to the point.  One in the Many, the Many in the One- (see Erik Hornung, “Relgion in Ancient Egypt” for a deeper definition).  Monotheism, on the other hand,  is one god, pretty much just one dogmatic way within that Faith’s tenets in order
    to view it.  Hindusim, some forms of Kemeticism and other African
    Traditional Religions (ATR’s), up to and including Vodou, Santeria, etc. ( and Paganism, too),  fall
    more under monolatry. Paganism, or at least modern Neo-Paganism is still
    defining what it is. 

    The problem comes when Pagan practitioners, for whatever reason.   likes to claim X religion in its ranks, for whatever reason – to create warm fuzzies of we are growing and powerful in the face of a world that seems to cater to the Big Three – J, C,. and I.   When that happens, I have seen that  other religion’s adherents adamantly distance themselves from such a presumptions by the Pagan community for various reasons.  First Nations religions, particularly the Lakota et al, declared war on the spiritual misappropriation of their faith(s). ATR’s and Vodou and other religions will keep Pagan practitioners at arms length and not without just cause. Too many people go to a single puja or ceremony, read a couple of books and then start claiming to be high priestess of X deity because they had some spot of personal gnosis along the way. 

    Many of those faiths have very stringent requirements as to who can say they are a Priest or Priestess and Wicca, and other Pagan faiths have (for the mostpart) rather lax requirements of Priesthood than they do. Eg. It takes no less than a decade, probably closer to two, for someone to be considered a holy person within some First Nations.  In the Kemetic faith that I have been a part of i, it is no less than five years for even the  beginning levels with no guarantee of ever advancing further.   When you tell a would-be Priest or Priestess that they had best buckle down for a long haul if they really want it, 9 times out of 10 they bail for lack of patience, discipline or being able to acknowledge the idea of an actual hierarchy within these other non-JCI faiths.

    The right  of elf-definition is absolutely essential for any spiritual tradition of any sort and while we as Pagans demand that of the world around us, are we in fact willing to accord that sam  to others of faiths who are absolutely and  completely UN-comfortable with the “Pagan” label? 

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       I don’t see any Pagans claiming Hindus are Pagan here, only disappointment in this author.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685041384 Fanny Fae

        Sadly, I see it all of the time, not so much in the article, but in practice. 

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    “Sharma’s semantic argument boils down to we are not like the ‘evil’ pagans, we are just as good as you. And that makes me very sad.”

    Bullseye. Fortnately, there are inspiring counter-examples to this kind of groveling before the God of the monotheists. In a 2003 interview Sita Ram Goel stated, “I have no use for God. In fact, the very word stinks in my nostrils. This word abounds in the Bible and the Quran, and has been responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.”

    He then went to explain that “I am devoted to Sri Krishna as he
    figures in the Mahabharata, and the Goddess Durga, as she reveals
    herself in the Devi-Bhagavata Purana. I feel free and shed all fear when I meditate on them. They promise to clean up the dross that I carry within me. They prepare me for battle against forces of darkness and destruction.”

    Sharma peddles the idea of “primitive monotheism”, an idea invented by Christians and Muslims to turn history on its head by claiming that humanity originally worshipped one and only one God, and that polytheism was a later “degeneration” from this original, pure monotheistic religiosity.

    Monotheism (and very appropriately so) means one and only one thing: the exclusive worship of one and only one God, combined with the explicit rejection of all other Goddesses and Gods, either denying their existence or denying that they are worthy of worship. Anyone who understands what monotheism means (and has always meant) understands that it is completely incompatible with Hinduism in any form.

    • http://wp.wiccanweb.ca/ Makarios

      Bingo!

  • Greg Harder

    Yes, Hinduism is absolutely Pagan.

    It was not long ago that Hinduism was characterized by much of the western media and many academics as as a primitive cult of loin cloth clad devotes worshiping monkeys, cows, and elephants.  This racist propaganda was certainly was the justification for the British imperial takeover of India.  However, India managed to throw off the Western –  British yoke, maintain much of their culture and native religion, and then along with China and Japan become technological and economic powerhouse nations of the world.  To now say that they are backward and primitive in need of more westernization and more Jesus does not quite work as a credible argument any longer.

    Many here in the Western World still have this “manifest destiny” and religious problem with “Paganism”  There are clear Abrhamic rules against associating with Pagans other than to try and conquer, convert, or kill them.  Such an attitude will not help the western balance of trade, or our nation’s GNPs with these Asian powerhouse economies or markets. So some religious scholars and diplomats have been trying to get around their own rules problem by trying to define what is clearly Pagan as somehow not really Pagan. Then it can  become OK to talk to them.  A good example of this kind of circuitous  thinking is expressed by Arvind Sharma in the Huffington Post.  

  • http://wp.wiccanweb.ca/ Makarios

    Prof. Jordan Paper, in The Deities are Many, notes that, in his experience, Hindus who claim that their religion is monotheistic are all academics who do not actually practice their religion, while Hindus who do daily Puja readily acknowledge being polytheistic. I have no idea how representative his sample might be. Submitted FWIW.

    • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

      The one problem with that statement is that is limits what can be considered as “practice” more narrowly than Hinduism historically does.  There have been strands of Hinduism for centuries in which the core practice was philosophical study, not ritual.

      It might be appropriate to say that there is a strong correlation in Hinduism between monotheistic ideation and philosophical idealism, and a converse correlation between polytheistic ideation and ritualism.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        The Indian “academics” that Jordan D. Paper refers to in “The Deities Are Many” are not Hindu philosophers in any meaningful sense. Their academic training has been in the educational system established by British missionaries and colonialists for the express and explicit purpose of converting India to Christianity.

        But if we look at actual Hindu philosophers, such as Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Ram Swarup, and so forth, we find the usual “exuberance” (to use Plotinus’ word) of polytheism.

        Monism and idealism in Hinduism are closely associated, obviously, with Advaita. But Adi Shankaracarya himself composed hymns in praise of Shiva, Vishnu, Sakti, Ganesh, Murugan, Lakshmi, etc.

  • http://henadology.wordpress.com/ Edward

    Characterizing Neoplatonism as holding that “there is a Universal One behind all of the Gods” is really unhelpful to those of us attempting to wean everybody (including scholars who write this sort of thing in banal secondary literature) off this shallow misreading of Platonic thought. The One is not a universal subsuming the Gods, and pagan Platonists did not deploy it in this fashion, not just because they were pagans, but because they were philosophers, and a One conceived in this fashion does not do the philosophical work the One, as principle of individuation, needs to do. The One neither is, nor is one.

    Also, using Vedanta to monotheize Hinduism is a category mistake, even when modern Hindus do it. Vedanta is not intended to speak to the number of deities there are, but to the nature of the mediation existing between the individual soul and the object of worship, whoever or whatever it may be.

    Philosophical and theological positions are not simply interchangeable. A doctrine regarding the nature of substance is not to be used as a head count of entities in the universe; to do so is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of metaphysics.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       Plotinus is shallow? As someone studying Iamblichus I share your distaste for this theory, but to call it “shallow NeoPlatonism” or misrepresenting Platonic thought seems farfetched. As the Recons say, cite your sources.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Edward is not saying that Plotinus is shallow, rather he is saying that a monotheistic reading of Plotinus is a “shallow misreading”.

        In Enneads 2.9.9 there are multiple references to “Gods”, plural. It is important to emphasize that in this passage Plotinus not only argues for the existence of many Gods, but also that these many Gods should be worshipped.

        According to Plotinus, Pagan theology should not “crush the Divine into a unity”. Our theology should rather, “display the exuberance” of the Divine in multiplicity, just as the Divine itself does.

  • Arjun

    Very Good article.. Arvind Sharma is not only confused but is also confusing other hindus by promoting  monotheism as a  template for Hinduism when in reality its in total opposite to the spirit of Hindu Dharma

    Luckily now theres many hindus like myself who are proud of being called Pagans and are standing up against Hinduiusm being put into a monotheist straitjacket ..How this inferiority complex came about  in is clearly answered  in the following article by Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup
    The Origins of Monothiesm in Hindu Dharma

    http://www.chakranews.com/the-origins-of-monothiesm-in-hindu-dharma/1141

  • kenneth

        I’ve long had mixed feelings about the conflation of Hinduism with the contemporary Western pagan community.  It’s very tempting to assert some sort of solidarity with them and say we’re in the same boat because we both fall outside of the traditional monotheist mold. 
        The reality is a whole lot more complicated than that. Hinduism is tied up with many many centuries of social and ethnic and caste customs that are a lot more complicated than we tend to appreciate. It’s rooted in a culture which is very conservative in many ways and in many quarters deeply at odds with our own ideas about female empowerment and any number of other issues. It’s not surprising that many Hindu leaders would write us off as tree-hugging hippies as readily as would many American Evangelicals. 
         I’m leery of the Western habit of mind which tends to project what we want to see on Eastern religions in general.  Historically in the west we’ve tended to oscillate between writing them off as backward savages and idolizing every sadhu and yogi as infinitely wise spiritual jedi masters. We also like to appropriate the external forms of things like yoga and repackaged them to our instant self-help guru culture. 
       Think about it. One of the major reasons we’ve had trouble being taken seriously as a pagan movement is that we get lumped in with all of the New Age marketing nonsense, which is usually ripping off either Hindu Indian or American Indian motifs, along with UFOlogy and every pseudo-science and conspiracy theory that falls into its gravity well.  We ought to fight that conflation with everything we have. Western paganism is not simply “anything groovy which ain’t Judeo-Christian.”  In one way and another, we’re trying to tap into the wisdom, if not actual practice, of our aboriginal European and Afro-Caribbean ancestors. 

     We should also not read too much into the fact that Hinduism has some outward theological features which make it seem more like us than Christianity.  The fact that they look “pagan-ish” to us ought not to gloss over important differences. On a percentage basis, chimps and humans would seem to be virtually identical, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t care to arm-wrestle one of them, and they aren’t much interested in climbing the corporate ladder. 

       I think we’ll do very well to cultivate whichever individual Hindus appreciate our common interests in religious freedom, but I won’t presume that they’re part and parcel of the pagan movement. As for Arvind Sharma, I think the late Isaac Bonewits said it best when he said “sometimes your enemy’s enemy….is just your enemy’s enemy.”

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      Kenneth, you are complicating the simple, and, moreover, you are doing so by trotting out a litany of tired old stereotypes about Hinduism and Hindus.

      Also, for those of us of European descent, our ancient “aboriginal” religious traditions are not merely similar to, but directly related to modern Hinduism.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    I would encourage people to go and read a new blog post by Koenraad Elst on the subject: “Vedic monotheism? 1. The dawn of monotheism.”

  • Arjun

    Something on the same subject

    Almost a thousand years of cultural onslaught have left Hindus
    apologetic about their beliefs. They are keen to mould them into the
    framework dominated by a monotheistic mindset which holds sway even when
    it is mutated into terms such as rational, scientific and even atheist.
    Such is the power of monotheism that it infects even ideologies which
    purport to be antagonistic to any form of religious belief and it does
    so without most of us even realising.

    De-Monotheising the Human Mind the Hindu Way
    http://www.chakranews.com/de-monotheising-the-human-mind-the-hindu-way/2138

  • Tandava Nadesan

    As chance would have it I have just finished reading an article by a Hindu who is very much against this type of statement by HAF. She writes:

    This is outrageous. A Hindu guru who upholds the legitimacy for Hindus of the literature of another religion, and tries to make Hindu Dharma pass standards set by that intolerant sect, is betraying the Devas, the Dharma, the bhaktas, the Desh – nothing more need be said in this matter. In one stroke, he has also legitimised the missionary and jihadi hatred of and assault upon Hindu dharma in Hindu bhumi

    “Hindu bhumi” means the Sacred land of Hindus seen as a Goddess.


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