One God, Many Faces
This blog is part of a series, which I will be writing for the next three months. It will coincide with a course I am teaching at Salve Regina University, Called “The Quest for the Ultimate: Dialogue with Global Religious Traditions.” This course is a required course for all sophomores at Salve. Several different instructors are offering this course, but all from a different angle. My angle, from which I will study all of the world’s major religions, is the angle of the “Anawim.” “Anawim” is a Hebrew word, which literally means, “Little ones, who cry out to God for justice,” so in other words, the disenfranchised, the ones who have no power, no voice, no equality. Specifically, we will look at the poor, women, and, in response to requests from my students last semester, LBGTQ persons, and how the major religions of the world respond to their cry for justice.
The first major world religion we are studying is Hinduism. Hinduism, considered more a philosophy than a religion by many of its adherents, is considered the oldest living religion in the world. After Christianity and Islam, it is the third largest religion in the world., with close to a billion followers. Its roots hail from the Indus Valley, and today it is most predominant in India and Nepal, but has spread to other countries as well. In both Great Britain and the United States, Hinduism experienced a new birth beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s, partly through the Beattles. Beattle George Harrison was deeply devoted to the Hindu philosophy.
This past Monday my students were blessed to have a fabulous guest speaker, Coral Brown. I have known Coral for almost twenty years, as her grandparents, and aunt and uncle are very active members of my church. Years ago, when Coral was on her own quest for a spiritual tradition, hr mother suggested she explore yoga and the Hindu philosophy. Coral responded, “Oh, that’s only a fad.” Her mother responded, “A 5000 year old fad is something you should think about.” Coral has been following the Hindu philosophy ever since.
Coral began her presentation by focusing on the Sanskrit symbol OM. This is chanted, usually, at the beginning of every yoga practice. OM literally is AUM, the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet meaning, the One who is the beginning, the middle, and the end. For those of us who are Christians, we may think of “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the One who is and who was and who is to come.” (Rev. 1:8 and 21: 21:6) Most outsiders think of Hinduism as a polytheistic religion, but Coral emphasized that there is actually one God, who comes to us through many and various representations. She spoke of what is often referred to as “the Hindu Trinity:” Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Sustainer, and Shiva, the Destroyer/Dissolver, who wipes the slate clean so there can be new creation. In the Hindu philosophy these male gods have female counterparts (Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati/Durga/Kali, respectively, and various avatars or incarnations, but they are all expressions of the One.
The thing Coral emphasized in her presentation, is that in the Hindu philosophy, as well as in most religious traditions, life may be looked at through a dualistic or a non-dualistic lens. We can look at “God” as outside of us, as above us, as separate from us (dualistic lens), or we can look at God as within us and all living beings (non-dualistic lens). The greeting/bow with which people acknowledge one another in India, which is also said at the beginning and ending of every yoga class, is “Namaste.”
Literally, this means, “May the Holy /Sacred in me acknowledge the Holy/Sacred in you,” and in all beings. This is the non dualistic expression of the Hindu philosophy. For the students I compared this to something expressed by my husband, Ted, new to the Christian faith, who always says, “The problem with religion, is when people see God as separate from us. Then they argue with each other, and think our religion is better than yours, and end up fighting wars with each other over religion. But when you realize that God is within everyone, how could you ever harm another, who is “in the image and likeness of God”? (see Genesis 1:27) As we will see in the weeks ahead, this dualistic or non-dualistic approach will determine how we treat the Anawim, the disenfranchised who cry out to God for justice, namely the poor, women and LBGTQ persons. Do we see God and them as separate from us? Or are we able to see the face of God in the poor, in women as equally as in men, in LBGTQ persons?
In next week’s blog we will see how the Hindu philosophy specifically views the Anawim.
Over the years, I have come to espouse, more and more, a non-dualistic understanding of God. I believe we cannot separate God from others; therefore, my prayer for you is,
This day, may you see the face of God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the face of God to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright September 17, 2015
Photos: Linda in Box Canyon, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Charlene at Yoga; Ted and Sylvie