ANSWERING A MUSLIM' S DOUBT ON IDOLATORY & MONOTHEISM
The Doubt : (received through Whatsapp Msg.
"[8/10/2015, 3:38 PM] Bahadurbhai: Heara Enakku oru doubtu. You said there is only One God who is the Supreme Truth. Then why are there so many temples for various gods. Somewhere I read there are more than million gods from trees, various animals and human beings and legendary gods with wives and children and gods specific for Tamil speaking Hindus etc. There are also many many arakkans and devathais. Could you please shed some light on this. I am pretty confused."
ANSWER given in the background of current events.
Quran Verse 2:44 , TO THINK .
This verse exhorts to read and think. Now most people do not read their own religious texts. And those who read, the majority of them do not try to evaluate and understand its contents. Most read the scriptures mechanically , thinking in their mind that it is just another religious obligation. Just read to earn 'Sawaab' for the hereafter.
IGNORANT LEADERS & MEAT
I can say with surety, majority Hindus in India do not read own scriptures. Many do not have even the 'basic' texts in their homes. A devotee(of Swamy Chinmayananda) remembers that Swami Chinmayananda used to say that 'He has got regular professional listeners.' What he meant was that during each Gita Yajna(discourse) in a particular place, he sees the same set of listeners, and he felt that they listen without proper understanding. He would have judged them while interacting with them before and after the Yajna.
If ignorance of religious texts is common amongst the Hindus, one can imagine about their political leaders. They are having scant knowledge of their texts. .
In the great epic Mahabharatha you come across events, involving meat as sacrificial offeing, a no of times. Meat was distributed as 'prasada' , ie.left-over of sacrificial offerings and distributed to those who participated in the ancient ritualistic Yajnas.
But finally the Mbh gives the message that if one wants to liberate oneself from the bondage of this world, it is essential that he abstains from meat-eating. And further, refining of oneself, means abstaining from all food, and depend only on water and air. One may make this choice.(the free-will is limited to this extent.)
Further in the Apad-Dharma Parava of MBh, (Chapter 121)a story is told that the great Sage Viswamithra, ate dog- meat and that too as per the prescribed rituals. Well this action is contextual.(We must use discretionary/discriminative thinking when reading this story). He had done so in the time of extreme adversity in the kingdom. The dog-meat he had tried to steal from the house of a Chandala/Paraya, when the latter was asleep.But the Paraya wakes up, and there is a very interesting conversation between the Paraya and the sage.All these stories point to a time,when learned and thinking men were in charge of our society, and those times our society had prospered well.
NOW consider the English versions of Quranic verse(cited above) from two translators. http://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=2&verse=44
(1)Version Sahih International: "Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Then will you not reason?"
(2)Version Muhammad Sarwar: "Would you order people to do good deeds and forget to do them yourselves even though you read the Book? Why do you not think?"
The idea is more or less the same in the two translations. ie One must read (scripture) and think. Maybe during those times, Scriptures(Jewish & Christian) might have been the one and only reading source, in the deserts of Arabia, and that too in its urban centres.
COMPETITION SHAPING IDEAS & GROUPS
Now one must consider how this valuable bit of advice was overlooked or ignored during the time of Prophet Muhammed (PUBH) itself. Is it because of the competition existing between various groups/communities during that period in that place? (Arabia/Middle-East). Consider Verse 2:213 "Mankind was a single community, then God sent prophets to bring good news and warning (ie good and bad news), and with them He sent the Scripture with the Truth, to judge between people in their disagreements. It was only those to whom it was given who disagreed about it after clear signs had come to them, because of rivalry between them. So by His leave God guided the believers to the truth they had differed about: God guides whoever He will to a straight path."
The Prophet was keen to win in this competitive environment. And the competing groups consisted of various tribes, eg: Desert Arabs (Verse 9.97), and the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians.(Verse 9.62). To win over the competition, one copies various ideas and strategies adopted by the rivals, especially of those that are winning or have won. This explains most of the commonalities of Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions. The second chapter of Quran shows that it has borrowed heavily from Jewish and Christian religious thinking. At the same time leaders also try to highlight the differences in ideology and conduct, to stress the distinguishing characteristics between various groups. All these group dynamics had been played out in the Middle-East. It is played out in modern India too. All political parties irrespective of ideology stress 'development' as their goal. To differentiate themselves, one talks about a common civil code, the other stress about secularism & privatization and the third talks about nationalisation of productive assets of the nation.
IDOL WORSHIP - MEANINGS DIFFER.
One amongst the core tenets , which is common to Jews , Christians and Muslims is the abhorrence of idol worship.How this thinking came to them is steeped in mystery !!!? Was the Patriarch Abraham or the men(Prophets)after him, trying to distinguish themselves from the Pagan tribes around them? The wikipedia article about idolatory gives a fairly good 'picture' of Middle-Eastern thinking on this matter.
MIXING OIL & WATER
Mixing Indian version of idolatory with that of Middle-East is akin to mixing oil and water. First consider the etymology of the word idolatory as given in wikipedia.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idolatry . It is related to "image, figure" etc. So the idea and understanding connected with the word in the Middle-East & Europe deteriorates to image and figure worship. The Sanskrit terms for "image and figure" is, "bimba, pratima, roopa, chitra" etc. The Sanskrit term for worship is 'aradhana'. And 'idol worship' in Sanskrit is 'Vigraha-aradhana', which is not at all equal or equivalent to idolatory or idol-worship. One does not use the words Krishna-bimba, Krishna-pratima or Krishna-roopa when refering to figurines used for worship. One only says 'Krishna-vigraha'. The act of worshiping God is called 'Vigraha-aradhana' or 'Vigraha-pooja' and NOT 'bimba-pooja' or 'pratima-pooja' or 'roopa-pooja'.
And one of the meanings (which is prominent )of the term 'Vigraha' is- that which is not easily understood or difficult to understand or conceive. Therefore to aid in our conceptualisation or imagination or picturization which develops and advances our learning and understanding,(of any subject) a symbol or figure is made and it initially becomes the object of our contemplation and respectful worship. The inconceivable cannot be worshipped by none, and some reference point(eg. facing the Kaaba) or place is absolutely essential for worship, thereby showing our reverence to that humanly unimaginable Being. A story illustrating this idea is given in the Brahma Purana, which is considered to be the first out of the eighteen Puranas.
Situations similar to the conceptual difficulty in imagining the unimaginable (ie. GOD) are encountered during learning of various subjects , which is solved with the help of scaled down models and drawings. Those who had learned Geography in their school days , must be aware of this. When we hear the word earth, the picture or image that is most likely to come to our mind will be that of the miniature globe on its slanting axis held in a C-shape bracket on the staff-table. The continents with nations marked on it in different colors along with the oceans painted in blue -this image also will spring to the mind. Further to learn and understand about the earth in a more refined way we draw lines ie. longitudes and lattitudes on it.(the model). This is to learn about time, seasons , etc. And now those who are using Google Maps will know how this kind of learning and understanding is helping car-taxi drivers in cities.
When we mature in our thinking, if we further dwell on the topic, it strikes us immediately that, in reality the earth is not having any lines drawn on it, it is impossible to draw any such lines on its surface. And we do not consider as having fooled ourselves when we see NASA pictures of our earth. We know that such practical studies(using the model of the earth) only had helped NASA in taking the pictures.
WORDS ARE ALSO BUILDING BLOCKS FOR IMAGES.
We have heard about the proverb 'that a picture is worth a thousand words'. It also means that picture and words are interchangeable. One may draw a picture using pencil or brush on paper or on a wall. The artist is copying the picture on his mental wall (??) on to paper or other medium. Similarly an author is trasferring the picture in his mind to paper or parchment through words. Thus God is picturised through words in the Sacred Scriptures. Is this not akin to constructing graven images through words ? Thus the Religious Texts thesmselves are forms/idols crafted out of words !!!! (Why everyone graduated from plain sms to whatsapp ??? Because it can transmit images and videos. Imagine the same picture or video, one conveying through words? The volume of words required will be very huge. ) Images or figurines thus are a great means to convey spiritual and religious ideas. Eg. The cross, the crescent moon, Arabic caligraphy, picture of Kaaba. While constructing a place of worship , say a Church or Mosque, certain rules apply. Similarly, well-defined rules are there for the carving or casting of Vigrahas.(eg. stone vigrahas and panchaloka vigrahas) This also serves to express artistic talents of many and also livelihoods to many.
MENTAL IMAGINING OR IMAGINING
How can anyone deny fundamental human characteristics.? Can anyone insist that human beings should not be hungry , or try to delibrately snuff out thirst without giving water ? Can any creed be obstinate enough to say that men should not sing or dance ? These are all natural to human beings . Mental imaginining is a similar process in humans which cannot be prevented by any means. One must consider the image conjured up in the mind when each verse of the Quran is read.
Based on the Indian thinking on this subject, all Religions practice 'Vigraha-aradhana'. (Buddha had said not to make his statue, but finally Buddhists could not do without it.)
MONOTHEISM -IMPRACTICAL DOGMA
The corollary to the above idea of mental imagery, is that ,'MONOTHEISM' is an untenable idea. The crores of gods in the Hindu pantheon, is the mental image of as many no of people, all trying to reach out and experience God. And thus the infinite Almighty is conceived/grasped through infinite images/idols. Finally trying to reach the one and only God in their own ways. Who are we to stop them reaching God in their own ways?
My appeal to all,especially youngsters, when you read scriptures read critically and above all
READ & THINK !!!!!