Saturday, 18 April 2015

One God or Many?

Akhandadhi Das 'Thought for the day' BBC R4 17 April 2015

[link to audio file will break after one month]

Akhandadhi Das cramming as much Hindu philosophy into 3 minutes as possible. Including reference to the concept of Brahman, which is a level of unchanging reality which transcends the creation and stands behind it, but is also mysteriously present all through the created world.

Brahman is also the supreme and transcendent deity of the Hindu pantheon. Like other polytheistic religions, the Hindu pantheon can be, and sometimes is,  read as a more or less disordered collection of tribal and ethnically-based deities. But in fact, in the Upanishads the other gods are clearly subsumed in Brahman. So something very sophisticated is going on here.

Das also talks about 'the one' and 'the different' in Hindu thought. This parallels the concept of 'the same' and 'the different' in Plato. Both are key to the business of philosophy.

There is a lack of clarity and agreement about the actual age of the Upanishads, which were originally transmitted orally, before being later committed to writing. The oldest are at least contemporary with classical Greece.

Plato clearly refers to a single supreme and transcendent deity in his writings, who is ultimately responsible for the creation (via the demiourgos). Yet he is writing in the cultural context of a polytheistic pantheon. Classicists have shown a remarkable lack of concern about this apparent disjunction. It is one of the reasons why Plato's writing about the creation is often treated in terms of a species of literary fiction, having very little to do with Greek patterns of thought outside the Academy.

Are these parallels significant? I think that they are. The reason they exist is because they are built on similar inferences about the nature of reality.

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