Hinduism: It’s not Monotheism vs. Polytheism
Hindu concepts of God or the Divine are more complex than being either monotheistic or polytheistic. The deepest spiritual truth gleaned through the Vedas, the oldest Hindu scripture, is that Brahman, or the Absolute (used interchangeably with “the Divine”, “the Absolute,” and “God”) pervades the entire universe. This divine reality or its essential nature is present in all living beings, eternal, and full of bliss. Moreover, Brahman is understood at the cause of creation — its creation, its preservation, and its dissolution. In Hindu lore, these three functions, of creation, sustenance, and dissolution, are often depicted to be the work of what is the commonly referred to as the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, respectively.
Within Hinduism, there is a broad spectrum of understandings about the nature of Brahman. Some Hindus believe that Brahman is infinite and formless and can be worshiped as such or in different forms – Nirguna. Other Hindus believe that the Divine is infinite and has a transcendental form – Saguna. For example, some Vaishnavas believe that the one supreme form is Krishna, while Shaivites understand this form as Shiva.
Here, we use the banyan tree to attempt to create a graphical representation of the myriad understandings of the divine. The banyan tree has a deep symbolism and within Hindu lore: it is one tree, made up of shared material, with multiple trunks! The trunks can be viewed as the variety of theistic traditions, multiple darshanas, bhakti movements, etc.
The material of the banyan itself, are the core beliefs:
- That Brahman (God) and atman (soul) are real (this distinguishes Hindus from Buddhism and Jainism)
- Belief in Karma, Dharma, Samsara, Moksha (the various trunks represent differing interpretations of this material)
- Many Hindus believe in the sacredness of the Vedas, but there are those traditions which have never even heard of the Vedas or don’t acknowledge them, but are still very much Hindu.