A Different Idea Of The Divine

Jonardon Ganeri discusses (NYT) how, in Hinduism, “a personal God does not figure prominently as the source of the idea of the divine, and instead non-theistic concepts of the divine prevail”:

One such concept sees the text of the Veda as itself divine. … Recitation of the text is dish_vedapic itself a religious act. Another Hindu conception of the divine is that it is the essential reality in comparison to which all else is only concealing appearance. This is the concept one finds in the Upanishads. Philosophically the most important claim the Upanishads make is that the essence of each person is also the essence of all things’; the human self and brahman (the essential reality) are the same.

This identity claim leads to a third conception of the divine: that inwardness or interiority or subjectivity is itself a kind of divinity. On this view, religious practice is contemplative, taking time to turn one’s gaze inwards to find one’s real self; but — and this point is often missed — there is something strongly anti-individualistic in this practice of inwardness, since the deep self one discovers is the same self for all.

Ganeri also emphasizes the religion’s “long heritage of tolerance of dissent and difference” – a heritage he attributes, in part, to Hinduism’s approach to religious texts:

One explanation of this tolerance of difference is that religious texts are often not viewed as making truth claims, which might then easily contradict one another. Instead, they are seen as devices through which one achieves self transformation. Reading a religious text, taking it to heart, appreciating it, is a transformative experience, and in the transformed state one might well become aware that the claims of the text would, were they taken literally, be false. So religious texts are seen in Hinduism as “Trojan texts” (like the Trojan horse, but breaking through mental walls in disguise). Such texts enter the mind of the reader and help constitute the self. The Hindu attitude to the Bible or the Quran is the same, meaning that the sorts of disagreements that arise from literalist readings of the texts tend not to arise.

(Image: Rigveda manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century, via Wikimedia Commons)