Hindus love Gods, so much so that there are thousands of them (may be even more). People following other religions are often confounded by the existence of multiple Gods in Hinduism, which is in stark contrast to their own belief that there is only one God. However understanding Hinduism is like peeling layers of onion. One layer is revealed after another and as you dig deeper, somewhere during the process, you realize that even Hinduism teaches that God is one.
There is a peculiar analogy that exists between water and soul – just like water is essential for the body, soul is essential for life. Considering the case of water, sea water is no different from distilled water, except for the presence of impurities in sea water. These extra elements or impurities impart their own unique qualities to water – like taste, color, density etc. Additionally, water acquires different shapes depending on the shapes of the containers it is confined within. Similarly, when soul is placed in a container (body and subtle bodies) it acquires characteristics based on the shape of the container and imbibes the qualities based on the elements present within the container (i.e. the quality of the mind and intellect). However, just like sea-water, which has been distilled has no taste of salt or other impurities, the soul, which has been uncovered from its acquired characteristics, is free from qualities of being good or evil. Essentially, water wouldn’t be water if it is anything other than H2O and soul wouldn’t be soul if it is anything other than, well, Soul! Therefore in reality the whole concept of multiplicity (i.e pure water-dirty water, good soul-evil soul etc.) is delusional.
Coming on to multiplicity of Gods in Hinduism…There are many Gods in Hinduism but they represent the same supreme consciousness, which is wearing different characteristics and playing different roles. I’ll explain this again in the context of water: if you implant a seed in a moist or wet soil it will germinate. Here the water is concerned with starting the process of life i.e by utilization of soil-water for metabolism of the nutritional content stored in the seed. Then you regularly sprinkle water on the plant so that its growth is sustained. Here water acquires a certain nurturing quality – metabolizing, as well as, transporting the nutrients to various parts of the plant. All this can go on happily for some time and suddenly a flood comes, uproots the plant, and washes away the plant en-masse. The same water which caused the seed to germinate and the plant to grow also caused the plant’s death because water had acquired the qualities of speed, turbulence and force. This is similar to the Holy Trimurti in Hinduism – Brahma, who creates world – like water in the soil for the germination of the seed; Vishnu who sustains the world – like rain water for the growth of the plant; and Mahesh who destroys the world – like the flood water, which uproots and kills the plant. Essentially, similar to soil water, rain water, and flood water, which are nothing but water which has acquired different characteristics and roles, these three Gods are also the same supreme consciousness; it’s just that they have taken on different qualities or characteristics and play different roles while carrying out the divine will.
Most Hindus tend to have their favorite God based on their specific characteristics or qualities and like most Hindus I too have my favorite God – Lord Hanuman. Though my affinity towards him is not based solely on his characteristics; I just happen to like him a lot, not for any particular reason, except that I have been a regular visitor to a Hanuman temple, since I was a child. However, I can still pray to lord Hanuman in a Shiva statue or pray to lord Shiva in a statue of Hanuman because I know essentially they are one and the same and I am actually praying to the same supreme consciousness irrespective of the characteristics it has taken.
Below is the picture of Lord Hanuman, from the temple I was talking about. Like many others, I used to go to the temple and ask him for different things like for passing marks in my mathematics tests or for selection in the college sports team, etc. With practice, I had developed an intuition of looking into his eyes and knowing whether my prayers will be answered or not. However, he was very precise in granting me what I wished for. For example – When I asked for passing marks in my maths test I got exactly what I asked for, not one mark less nor one mark more; similarly when I prayed to get selected in the sports team, I did get selected, but only as an extra/substitute 😦 . Subsequently I became very precise and detailed in my prayers while asking him for something. However, now I just let him decide what’s best for me and usually don’t ask him for anything specific when I pray. I know he’ll take care of me, in a way much better than my little intellect could ask for 🙂 . I know this because it was through him that my spiritual journey started.