as a single force in space can be mathematically conceived as having various
spatial components, the Supreme Being or God, the personal form of the
Ultimate Reality, is conceived by Hindus as having various aspects. A Hindu
deity (god or goddess; note small g) represents a particular aspect of
the Supreme Being. For example, Saraswati represents the learning and knowledge
aspect of the Supreme Being. Thus, if a Hindu wants to pray for acquiring
knowledge and understanding, he prays to Saraswati. Just as sunlight cannot
have a separate and independent existence from the sun itself, a Hindu
deity does not have a separate and independent existence from the Supreme
Being. Thus, Hindu worship of deities is monotheistic polytheism
and not simple polytheism.
Hindus declare that there is only one Supreme Being and He is the God of all religions. There is no "other God." Thus the Biblical Commandment "Thou shalt have no other God before me," really means, "Thou shalt not deny the Ultimate Reality or worship any power other than the Ultimate Reality."
Hindus view cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation, and dissolution and recreation. Hindus associate these three cosmic tasks with the three deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Brahma brings forth the creation and represents the creative principle of the Supreme Being. Lord Vishnu maintains the universe and represents the eternal principle of preservation. Lord Shiva represents the principle of dissolution and recreation. These three deities together form the Hindu Trinity.
One must clearly understand that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are not three independent deities. They represent the same power (the Supreme Being), but in three different aspects. Just as a man may be called a doctor, father or husband based upon the tasks he performs, the Supreme Being is called Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva when conceived as performing the three different cosmic tasks of creation, preser-vation, and dissolution/recreation. "The oneness of the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is brought out by the mystic symbol AUM where 'A' represents Vishnu, 'U' Shiva and 'M' Brahma."
Hindu religion is often labeled as a religion of 330 million gods. This misunderstanding arises when people fail to grasp the symbolism of the Hindu pantheon. According to the Hindu scriptures, living beings are not apart from God, since He lives in each and every one of them in the form of atman (BG 10.39). Thus each living being is a unique manifestation of God. In ancient times it was believed that there were 330 million living beings. This gave rise to the idea of 330 million deities or gods. Actually, this vast number of gods could not have been possibly worshipped, since 330 million names could not have been designed for them. The number 330 million was simply used to give a symbolic expression to the fundamental Hindu doctrine that God lives in the hearts of all living beings.
- Bansi Pandit