Skip to content

On polytheism

I recently started the book The Myths And Gods Of India by Alain Daniélou (1907-1994). The book was originally titled Hindu Polytheism and now subtitled The classic work on Hindu polytheism. I don’t think there is polytheism, especially not in Hinduism. Polytheism is also often an ‘accusation’ against ‘pagans’. Some of the modern ‘pagans’ indeed do regard themselves polytheists, I definately don’t!
Let me start with two quotes from the book:
“The notion of divine unity is […] a fiction, a mental construction which is merely a projection of the living notion of individuality into the causal complex, a shaping of “god” to the image of man.” (p.35)
“In any form of ritual, of prayer, of mystical experience, man can approach only one of the manifest aspects, one of the several “gods”, never can he reach the vague Immensity, which, in any case, could bring him no comfort but that of nonexistence.” (p.36)
I wonder, did Daniélou not understand, does he contradict himself on purpose? These two quotes are close to stupidity or ignorance. I even marked the second with “duh” in the sideline. First, if the Divine is one, why would this “one” by man-shaped? Second, that the Ultimate Divinity is out of the human reach, does this mean that it is nonexistent?
“Whenever he carries any form of experience to its farthest limit, man has a glimpse of an unknowable “Beyond” which he calls divinity. This divinity cannot be grasped nor understood for it begins where understanding fails.” (p. 5). Beautiful!
“The theory of polytheism is based on a similar attempt. It is only through the multiplicity of approaches that we can draw a sort of outline of what transcendent reality may be.” (p.5)
Indeed, the gods are part of the Ultimate, therefor in my view, many gods does not necessarily mean polytheism. In the end, all is one, or in the words of Daniélou himself: “Whatever we try to worship, the worship ultimately goes to Him who is everything.” (p. 10). Exactly my idea!
Daniélou gives several descriptions of Divinity: transcendent reality (p.5), supreme cause (p.6), Brahman (p.7), nondual Immensity (p.7), Immensity (p.20), undifferentiated supreme self (p.8), the Soul” (p.16). This definately is a Hindu doctrine, so why does the writer deny it?
“The Soul is the sum of all the gods. “All the gods are this one Soul, and all dwell in the Soul.” (Manu Smrti 12.119/ [13])” (p.16)
A strange play of words this writer makes. I agree with the man, but what he calls (and proves not to be) “polytheism”, is not in my opinion, there is nothing outside of Brahman.
(For the rest, this is supposedly the ultimate work on Hinduism.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *