In one of the Simpsons episodes, their pastor, Reverend Timothy Lovejoy, is leading a community meeting. “We welcome all of the Christians,” he says, turning to the Simpsons, “all of the Jews,” turning to Krusty the Clown, “and, all of the . . . ahh . . . Miscellaneous,” turning to Apu and his family. Apu whispers to his wife, “Miscellaneous? Please! There are 950 million of us!”
Humor resides in truth, and this is funny because most of us know so little about one of the world’s major religions. All we see is the confusing plethora of eight-armed and elephant-headed gods (also parodied in the Simpsons).
The main God of Hinduism is Brahman, but, despite the capitalized name, there is nothing human about Brahman. Brahman is the essence of everything, every object, every action, every thought. Brahman is the totally transcendent, ultimate Ground of Being, being itself, the same as described by modern Christian theologians. (See 12/27 posting.)
All of the other Hindu Gods—Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Ganesha, and the rest—are anthropomorphic avatars of Brahman, understood to be creations of human imagination. They are the bridge from an ineffable, incomprehensible, transcendent God to something that is inspiring and can be worshiped. If you think another is needed, feel free to think one up. The Christian avatar, Jesus, would make a good one. Unlike Christianity, Hinduism does not insist their avatars exist in the Western sense, but neither do they insist they do not exist, since thoughts, too, come from Brahman. Hinduism is basically monotheistic.
A well-known Hindu vision of the universe is of Vishnu sleeping on the back of an endless, coiled snake floating on the Cosmic Ocean. Out of Vishnu’s navel grows a lotus stem, ending in a blossom with Brahma sitting in the center. The blossom represents the universe. When Brahma opens his eyes, the universe comes into existence. When he
closes them, it goes out of existence. Obviously, this is poetry, not theology. This photo shows a carving of the vision in the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Is this vision real? Not in our sense, but Hinduism, like modern science, is open to the possibility of other universes, so anything imagined could well exist somewhere else. No one can say for sure. Reality is a fuzzy concept in Hinduism.