MANY MANY MANY GODS OF HINDUISM
by SWAMI ACHUTHANANDA
BOOK REVIEW BY TOM BRYSON
Even atheists will enjoy this great read!
Did you know?
- That Hitler’s concept of a ‘pure Aryan Race’ was fatally flawed and based on inexact, prejudiced research.
- That the Hindu caste system was abolished in 1949
- You can join Hinduism even of you want to retain your atheism. (“All paths lead to God”).
- There is no such thing as “Sin” or “Hell”.
- And “much, much, much” more…
These fascinating insights, and a host of others, are contained in this excellent and accessible book about the beliefs, history, social and geographical origins and evolution of Hinduism. (I hesitate to call it a book about the Hindu “religion”, because Hinduism (and its “cousins” Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism are as much “philosophies” as “religions”).
The book’s title reflects the polytheistic belief systems in Hindu tradition, and yet can still accommodate monotheism –even atheism! Pragmatic and ever-evolving; Science and the Big Bang Theory are even accommodated in this all-embracing belief system. The sophisticated, elusive principle at the heart of Hinduism is “cosmic consciousness”. Is this eclecticism all too good to be true? Well, there are sub-divisions and traditionalists who reject ‘modernist’ tenets. Even Mahatma Gandhi was once refused permission to enter the great Hindu temple at Guruvayoor because he was accompanied by lower caste followers. An ancient temple in Kerala still has at the entrance, a sign that reads: “Non-Hindus not allowed”.
The book is written as a series of essays covering the Culture, Concepts and Controversies in Hinduism, and explores and explains complex ideas in simple, often conversational prose. Sprinkled with human stories, parables and personal views (and occasional “peeves”), the writing is always engaging and at times delightfully controversial. There were moments when I wanted to leap up and pump the air with a balled fist and shout “yes, yes, yes”; at other times shake my head and mutter “No, no, no”. This book is more than a primer; it would make an excellent debating resource and is an invitation to further reading and learning. You will get behind the myths and misunderstandings that prevail about reincarnation, many gods yet one god, yoga, etc.
The essay on ‘The Milk Miracle’ of 1995 strikes a balance between blind faith and scientific explanation, leavened with humour. In fact, a gentle irony runs through many of the essays.
‘Contrast and Compare’ type discussions are used to open up – and explain – differences and similarities with other mass religions like Islam, Christianity, Judaism.
Boxed quotes from historical and contemporary figures enrich and reflect the text e.g. after the essay on “The Search for Aryans”, Margaret Attwood is quoted: “I hope that people will finally come to realize that there is only one race – the human race – and that we are all members of it.”
Amen to that, I say.
In conclusion, I think the author, Swami Achutahnandu, takes the reader on a journey of understanding that embraces Hindu history, belief systems, nature, and geographical -even social – mobility. He does this like a friendly guide; sincere, knowledgeable and serious. Although he can get tetchy now and then (especially so in the case of academics obsessed with Freudian psychoanalysis) – you always feel there is a twinkle in his eyes and a sense of shared humanity. A first class read!