A popular misconception about Hindus is that we have “millions of gods”. Yet we have at our core one God the absolute, formless, only Reality – the Supreme Universal Soul, who is called Brahman. Recently I had a visit from two very nice ladies of a religious order whose mission is to gain converts via door to door proselytizing . They introduced themselves, and one of them gave me a small publication (which she referred to as a magazine). To be polite, I accepted it and after a cursory browse put it where I put other such materials.
I completely forgot about the visit until this morning when they returned and asked me had I had a chance to read it. Before any further ado I informed her that I am a Hindu and that I am quite happy with my path.
Instead of discouraging them the more vocal of the two perked up and informed me that she is quite familiar with Hinduism having grown up in Sri Lanka. We talked and somehow the topic turned to God’s name. At that point, the lady who had not spoken much asserted very confidently and factually that “God’s name is Jehovah.” I have to admit I admired her sanguine. It was as if she were there when God was named.
I told her with what I hoped was matching assurance that God’s name is Brahman. At that they said they needed to go but would like to continue our discussion. I sincerely invited them back.
I welcome such encounters in that they sharpen my ability to defend my path, and also to provoke contemplation on the one whose name is among others, The Almighty.
Strangely, in all of my seeking and searching, I never really concerned myself with a name. I was more preoccupied with how and where to find God and, well, who I was to God.
Actually, God has as many names as worshipers. Just about every culture on earth has a name for the one who created and controls the universe.
Muslims are asked to call upon God during their supplications by the most appropriate names that relate to what they are asking. For example, if one is seeking forgiveness from God for a sin they have committed, they would call upon Him by His name “Al-Ghaffar,” meaning “The Ever Forgiving.” If one is asking for peace and tranquility in their life while experiencing a period of tension, they would call on God by His name “As-Salaam,” meaning “The Ultimate Source of Peace.”
To Christians, God has among other names, Yahweh, Elohim and Jehovah. Some names within Judaism include Adonai, Yahweh and Elohim.
“Shinto gods” are called kami. They are sacred spirits who take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami.
A popular misconception about Hindus is that we have “millions of gods”. Yet we have at our core one God the absolute, formless, only Reality – the Supreme Universal Soul, who is called Brahman. Brahman has many aspects, all of whom represent the many facets of our one supreme absolute.
Similar to Muslims we call upon that aspect of God that fits our need. However unlike they do, we embrace an aspect(s) as our Ishta Devata or personal deity who can be related to as a person instead of as an impersonal force. Remembering the deity and internally building a relationship with (or through) them is considered essential to our path.
A few of the better known deities are Brahma, the Creator, (not to be confused with Brahman), Vishnu, the Preserver Shiva, the Destroyer, Ganapati, the Remover of Obstacles, Avatars of Vishnu ( the most well-known is probably Krishna), Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning, Lakshmi the Goddess of fortune and wealth, and Durga who is a powerful, goddess who fights fiercely in order to restore dharma (virtuous conduct and “right” way of living).
After research, prayer and a personal revelation, Lord Shiva became my Ishta Devata. He has a direct line to Brahman and his son Lord Ganesha has a direct line to him. At least that is how I envision the spiritual hierarchy. However if you ask 10 or 20 other Hindus you may well get ten to twenty different answers.
So many are the names of God that it would take a much larger format than this to examine them all. Based on my limited research, there have been very few if any societies on earth that have not had some concept of a God or supreme being.
Seemingly, the need for a supreme director of the cosmos is something universally innate in humans, (although some Atheist might contest that), and correspondingly there appear to be as many names for this supremacy as there are people who call upon it.
When it comes to God’s name, perhaps the main thing to remember is the words of Lord Krishna, “In whatever way people surrender unto me, I reciprocate with them accordingly“. Everyone follows my path, knowingly or unknowingly, O son of Pritha. (Bagavad Gita Ch 4:11)