BUDDHISM AND HINDU DEITIES
“In writing Peak XV, the learning curve of understanding Buddhism, Hindu Deities, and their religious symbolism and significance was sweeping. Exploring and learning about these wonderful religions was an incredible journey in itself. ”
– Stephen Shields
Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. There are 535 million followers worldwide. Buddhists seek to reach a state of nirvana, following the path of the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, who went on a quest for Enlightenment around the sixth century BC.
There is no belief in a personal god. Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent and that change is always possible. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.
Buddhists believe that life is both endless and subject to impermanence, suffering and uncertainty. These states are called the tilakhana, or the three signs of existence. Existence is endless because individuals are reincarnated over and over again, experiencing suffering throughout many lives.
It is impermanent because no state, good or bad, lasts forever. Our mistaken belief that things can last is a chief cause of suffering.
The history of Buddhism is the story of one man's spiritual journey to enlightenment, and of the teachings and ways of living that developed from it.
Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha, was born into a royal family in present-day Nepal over 2500 years ago. He lived a life of privilege and luxury until one day he left the royal enclosure and encountered for the first time, an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. Disturbed by this he became a monk before adopting the harsh poverty of Indian asceticism. Neither path satisfied him and he decided to pursue the ‘Middle Way’ - a life without luxury but also without poverty.
Buddhists believe that one day, seated beneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening), Siddhārtha became deeply absorbed in meditation and reflected on his experience of life until he became enlightened.
By finding the path to enlightenment, Siddhārtha was led from the pain of suffering and rebirth towards the path of enlightenment and became known as the Buddha or 'awakened one'.
Hindu deities are the gods and goddesses in Hinduism. The terms and epithets for deity within the diverse traditions of Hinduism vary, and include Deva, Devi, Ishvara, Bhagavān and Bhagavati.
The deities of Hinduism have evolved from the Vedic era (2nd millennium BC) through the medieval era (1st millennium AD), regionally within Nepal, India and in southeast Asia, and across Hinduism's diverse traditions. The Hindu deity concept varies from a personal god as in Yoga school of Hindu philosophy, to 33 Vedic deities, to hundreds of Puranics of Hinduism. Illustrations of major deities include Vishnu, Sri (Lakshmi), Shiva, Sati, Brahma, and Saraswati. These deities have distinct and complex personalities, yet are often viewed as aspects of the same Ultimate Reality called Brahman. From ancient times, the idea of equivalence has been cherished for all Hindus, in its texts and in early 1st millennium sculpture with concepts such as Harihara (half Shiva, half Vishnu), Ardhanārīshvara (half Shiva, half Parvati), with myths and temples that feature them together, declaring they are the same. Major deities have inspired their own Hindu
traditions, such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism, but with shared mythology, ritual grammar, theosophy, axiology and polycentrism. Some Hindu traditions such as Smartism from mid 1st millennium AD, have included multiple major deities as henotheistic manifestations of Saguna Brahman, and as a means to realizing Nirguna Brahman.
Hindu deities are represented with various icons and anicons, in paintings and sculptures, called Murtis and Pratimas. Some Hindu traditions, such as ancient Charvakas rejected all deities and concept of god or goddess, while 19th-century British colonial era movements such as the Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj rejected deities and adopted monotheistic concepts similar to Abrahamic religions. Hindu deities have been adopted in other religions such as Jainism, and in regions outside India such as predominantly Buddhist Thailand and Japan where they continue to be revered in regional temples or arts.
In ancient and medieval era texts of Hinduism, the human body is described as a temple, and deities are described to be parts residing within it, while the Brahman (Absolute Reality, God is described to be the same, or of similar nature, as the Atman (self, soul), which Hindus believe is eternal and within every living being. Deities in Hinduism are as diverse as its traditions, and a Hindu can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist.
Millions, One or One-Ness
Thirty-three divinities are mentioned in other ancient texts, such as the Yajurveda; however, there is no fixed "number of deities" in Hinduism any more than a standard representation of "deity." There is, however, a popular perception stating that there are 33 million deities in Hinduism. Most, by far, are goddesses, state Foulston, and Abbott, suggesting "how important and popular goddesses are" in Hindu culture. No one has a list of the 33 category goddesses and gods, but scholars state all deities are typically viewed in Hinduism as "emanations or manifestation of a genderless principle called Brahman, representing the many facets of Ultimate Reality."
This concept of Brahman is not the same as the separate monotheistic God found in Abrahamic religions, where God is considered, states Brodd, as "creator of the world, above and independent of human existence," while in Hinduism "God, the universe, human beings and all else is essentially one thing" and everything is connected oneness, the same god is in every human being as Atman, the eternal Self.