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Monotheism or Henotheism ?

From: V SUNDAR (V1S_at_ecl.psu.edu)
Date: Tue Mar 19 1996 - 11:28:43 PST

Sri Vijay Srinivasan, concerned about an anti-monotheistic trend of the
day,  writes :

"...Anand's posting Vol 59?),(1) the supreme being is generally conceived as a 
formless (though most of them are willing to concede attributes such as love, 
Daya etc., to that formless Brahman) (2)The same Brahman expresses itself in 
various forms (3) It does not matter which form one chooses to worship or name 
that one selects to address it (it all amounts to the same and reaches the same 
supreme being).  (4)  Generally, people are tolerant to concede a favorite 
diety but without any superiority attached to it.

I would like to contribute my few thoughts on this. 

We, specifically as SriVaishnavas and as Hindus, in a more general way, are
very proud inheritors of an essentially tolerant tradition. "ekam sat
vipra: bahuDHaa vadhanthe" - as blind Dirghatamas said.  Even more
important, a tradition of ENQUIRY ! 

For me, personally, I consider the scriptural basis of the 4 vedas as distinct
from the bramhanas ( exegesis on legend and ritual ) and further yet removed,
the aranyakas/upanishadas ( an internalization of an 'outdoorsy' tradition ).
Each step built upon the former, trying to incorporate it.

This order in which I have mentioned them is generally conceded to be the
approximate chronological development order as well. This is an expression
primarily of the spirit of Mimamsa - Enquiry. That spirit is essential to our
journey, in search of truth, both with and without tradition. I would remind
our members that the first sutra of the Bramha Sutra begins :

" aTHatho bramha jignyaasa " - THUS and TEHREFORE the ENQUIRY into brahman.

Now that is a fairly open ended statement accomodative of a great many schools
of thought, is it not ? As evidence, all three vedanta margas have exegesis on
this sutra. I happen to prefer that of Sri Ramanuja as brilliant in its
simplicity, closest to my heart, and easy enough for even me to follow. Not
everyone may agree with this. Not everyone agreed with Sri Ramanuja even!

Even earlier the spirit of enquiry has expressed itself - to the point almost
of agnosticism. Eg.

" kasmai devaaaya havita vidhema ? " - to which deva shall we give havis ?

" so anga veda yadi vaa na veda" - maybe HE knows, maybe he does not!

These are not sensational out of context quotes. Merely 'stars' in a sky of Veda
that is pervaded with the wondering of seers that lived close to nature and
contemplated and wondered about it. From this wondering they built a great
store of legend and lore, with ritual to try control the essentially wondrous
nature of the world around them. Exegesis on that ritual, explanations and
handbooks on itgave us the brahmanas. A more detached exegesis, an 
internalization of the cosmos, and wonder at the mind and the soul gave us the
upanishadas.

If we do tend to question monotheism today is it not a progression of the
questioning done by much greater minds in days past ? Each of the Acharyas of
Vedanta schools must have surely gone through some incompatibility, some 
struggle, before coming up with their unique solutions ? I do not suggest that
we are comparable to those intellects. Merely that we follow their paths with
revernce for their insights, but with "brahma jignyaasa" of our own.

"svaDHarme nidhanam shreya: " says the Geeta. Your own dharma is the best of
paths. Traditionally, this is interpreted as an inherited tradition. Maybe 
some of us consider this as an invitation to think and determine for ourselves ?

And if we do, who am I to find fault with that ? =)

- Sundar, who may have raised more issues than answered them.