I'd written this a couple of months ago. Still unfinished!
According to Dr. Dawkins, in his wonderful book “The God delusion”, Polytheism for Hindus is essentially monotheism in disguise. He also claims that Buddhist and other eastern traditions are “philosophies of life” and not religions.
“There is only one God - Lord Brahma the creator, Lord Vishnu the preserver, Lord Shiva the destroyer, the godesses Saraswati, laxmi and Parvati(Wives of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Lord Ganesh the elephant god, and hundreds of others, all are just different manifestations or incarnations of the one God.”
Later in the section on polytheism, Prof. Dawkins analyzes the Roman Catholic version of polytheism and refutes it with utmost wit.
There are two limitations with this approach. First of all, limiting himself to the religion of God, he saves himself from the trouble of analyzing the atrocities of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. The lack of an almighty entity in these eastern traditions, according to him disqualifies them as being part of the world religions. Interestingly, both of them are attacked by an older British heretic, Bertrand Russell. Though Russell’s focus was on Christianity and perhaps other Semitic religions, he did superficially touch upon Hindu and other eastern traditions. At the same time, Russell admitted fully that the scope of his analysis was indeed the western world.
In an effort to generalize his refutations for the Semitic god, Prof. Dawkins neglects far eastern traditions and trivializes Hinduism as “monotheism in disguise”. Doing this, his theory automatically applies for all world religions (as defined by him) and he conclusively proves that all world religions are false and harmful. This neglect and trivialization is similar to Prof. Steven Weinberg (in atheism tapes on BBC) saying that “Hindus have not thought about the nature of their gods, they don’t really know who Shiva is”.
We are in no way suggesting that this is not the case! Our only concern is that, to understand the nature of psychological control and the inflicted horrors by the Hindu and similar such religions (Jain, Buddhist and even the other atheist in ancient India), we need a different theory than the one used for Semitic religions.
The above quoted trivialization of the Hindu religion is not even the most popular image of the same amongst its followers. None of the Hindus would consider Lord Brahma as the creator of the universe. The Hindu mythology, unlike the Abrahamic one, doesn’t start at a certain point of time. The Hindu time line is always circular, the history repeats itself in form of Yugas. The lives and souls are carried over from one life form to another, from one Yuga to another in a continuous cycle. There is no one almighty god (as suggested by Dawkins) the gods, as a matter of fact, are not even important in the theoretical framework of the religion.
Two things can be considered important in the theoretical framework of the present day Hinduism. One is Brahma, which is similar to the Monad of Leibniz or the substance of Spinoza. The other is Karma which is a balance of good vs. evil deeds of a given individual. Karma is balanced by itself without intervention of any particular God. God or Iswara is felt / perceived by human experience only because our knowledge of the Brahma is faulted in a process of Maya. When the individual attains perfect knowledge of “what is”, he can see the Brahma and no god or gods are required for such individuals. The founders of the theoretical principles of Hinduism (Vishistha Adwaita) were ready to accept that Jain ascetics had acquired Brahma, even though Jainism is a strictly atheist religion. Thus the two main functions of the western god, that of (a) creation and maintenance and of (b) punishment and justice are taken care of by (a) cyclic nature of time and (b) Karma theory, rendering the God useless and absent.
In other words, if one were to analyze Hindu religion from its theoretical principles, (similar to the treatment Dawkins has given to Semitic religions) he/she has to classify it as “monism” and not “monotheism”. Further criticism of eastern “monism” is eagerly awaited as it still remains a physically unreal theory. We will not go into the matter of “what Hindus actually believe?”, since it’s a question enormously difficult to tackle. But the main reason is that in his thesis, Prof. Dawkins has always criticized the Christian religion “as defined by the church” or “as a theology” not as practiced by the masses. Hence, in criticizing the Hindu religion from its founding principle, one should identify with the vast difference between the Semitic theology and the Indic theology.
Interestingly mass of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists still remain religious and perhaps more superstitious than their western counterparts with a strong God tradition. This observation perhaps has led Prof. Dawkins to conclude the similarity between Indic and western religion (“Monotheism in disguise”). It is both interesting and horrifying that such mentality can exist even without a presence of an omnipotent and omniscient God. Different tools of analysis are required to decipher the Hindu version of “thought crime” and “big brother” if any.
Thus, according to us, it is in no way helpful to trivialize and dismiss the Hindu religion. Firmly believing in the irrefutable logic of Prof. Dawkins, we expect a similar dissection of the Hindu religion, both in theory and practice. Perhaps by him or someone else.