AllFaith: Aum Truth

Which is Older?
Monotheism or Polytheism?

By John of AllFaith © 12.21.08

It is generally believed among Western educators that Abraham was the first monotheist. He lived circa 2000-1800 B.C.E. Prior to this time, it is generally believed, most people worshiped many different gods (often called asuras in the Middle East and suras in India).

Abraham is believed to have revolutionized religious thought by declaring there is but one true God.

According to the Torah (the first five books of the "Old Testament") Adam was the first human and the first monotheist. By the time of Abraham everyone on earth -- presumably except Abraham -- had embraced polytheism and forgotten the One True God.

Abraham's (Abram) father Terach made idols for a living. One day when his father was out young Abram smashed all the idols in his shop, except the biggest one. He placed a hammer in this ones hand. When his father returned he was furious! "Who did this!" he demanded to know.

Abram replied, "He did!" pointing at the remaining idol.

"He's just an idol! How could he do this!" Terach scoffed.

Abram smiled knowingly, "And yet you worship him as a god when you don't even believe he could smash little clay images?"

With this, most Westerners believe, monotheism was born with the worship of El/Elohym/HaShem/Allah: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Ismael (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

However some western scholars argue that Zarathustra (Zoroaster) was the first monotheist with his devotion to Ahura Mazda. This is debated on various points and in my opinion is debatable. Zarathustra's birth and other dates are uncertain, they vary from as early 6000 B.C.E. (placing him earlier than Abram) to as recent as 100 B.C.E. We simply don't know; probably somewhere in the middle is most likely. My guess is that he was a contemporary of the Hebrew prophet Daniel (but that's just conjecture on my part).

There is no question that Zoroastrianism had a profound impact on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Regardless of this debate however, the worship of Ahura Mazda leads us to my answer to this question of which came first polytheism or monotheism.

Zoroastrianism is actually named Mazdayasna: "the Worship of Mazda."

So, who or what is Mazda?

Ahura Mazda appears to have been an Iranian (Persian) version or development of the much older Vedic belief system -- that according to the Vedas is the original Truth.

Ahura Mazda::

    Ahura: asura: sura: demi-god (in India the asuras (anti-gods) fought the suras (gods, aka devas) during certain battles but both groups are "sura" or gods (or demigods). The asuras are not so much "demons" in Vedic thought as they are defeated or displaced gods.

    Mazda: wisdom/intelligence coming from the older Sanskrit word medha meaning "intelligence" or "wisdom."

Hence although Ahura Mazda is generally viewed as a monotheistic "One God," and indeed today is viewed as such by the remaining Zoroastrians, many scholars believe his origins are likely Vedic. If Vedic, then Ahura Mazda is reckoned with the Vedic sura (god) Varuna (compare Rigveda 8.25) who grants his holy mazda or medha to his devotees.

Now, I'm not trying to confuse you here, bear with me a bit longer... The point is not whether or not Ahura Mazda is a monotheistic deity, but rather the understanding of deity from which he arose.

The Vedic (Sanatana Dharma/Hindu) understanding of deity -- from which Ahura Mazda arose and through which the three Abrahamic faiths were so deeply influenced -- is essentially monotheistic -- not polytheistic as is generally believed. Among the earliest and most established views of the Sanatana Dharma (the Vedic religion that became known as Hinduism later) is the following affirmation:

Ekam Sat: Vipra Bahudha Vadante:

"Truth is one; sages call it by various names."

In other words, there is but One God (Ekonkar): Ek Devata.

However Ekonkar is beyond all description! Even to translate this word as "God is One" is not completely accurate because the One God is utterly transcendent to all comprehension.

The word "Ek" means numerically "One." The word "Onkar" however does not literally mean "God" as generally conceived. It is more specific. Onkar is derived from the Sanskrit bija or root "Om" (i.e. Omkara), which of course is the fundamental Sound Vibration from which all else arises. In the same way, we can understand that Onkar -- which is grammatically related as the Primal Sound (ie the Omkara) -- is the essential nature or being of God rather than a title! This Omkara (as Pranava) is the "first breath of God" and hence is likened to and one with the One God (Ek Devata). Therefore Omkara is actually another name for the One God rather than a generic description as "God is One!"

Since Ek (the One) is so utterly beyond comprehension, fragments of the One Truth are revealed at various times in various ways that humans can comprehend. These are the devas, the avatars, the suras and asuras ... the gods and divine manifestations conceived of in countless ways. Therefore Asura Mazda/Varuna is the god of wisdom, Vivasvan is the god of the sun and so on and yet ultimately Ekonkar: God is One.

To those who do not understand the nature of these teachings it APPEARS to be polytheism however it is actually a monotheism so sublime that it acknowledges the utter transcendence of the Ek Devata: The One God. In humility this understanding acknowledges that no one and no teaching can correctly claim to fully comprehend or encompass the vastness of God! God is ALWAYS More.

This truth is explained in the Sanatana Dharma Scriptures in various ways, including the following as we read in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.1:

"Then Vidaghdha, son of Shakala, asked him, "How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"

Yajnavalkya, ascertaining the number through a group of mantras known as the Nivid, replied, "As many as are mentioned in the Nivid of the gods: three hundred and three, and three thousand and three."
"Very good," said the son of Shakala, "and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"One and a half."
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Ek [one]."

So in reality, in my opinion, monotheism is the oldest and original belief system.

From time to time this understanding has been lost or forgotten. The Scriptures explain how this monotheistic wisdom is periodically restored.

In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita we find the following:

Bhagavad Gita 4:1: The Blessed One said: I instructed this immutable yoga system to the sun god Vivasvan. He taught it to Manu and Manu taught it to Iksvaku.
4:2: Thus through disciplic succession the royal sages understood this knowledge, but with the passing of time this great yoga system was lost to this world, O chastiser of enemies.
4:3: Today this ancient yoga system is declared by Me unto you. Because you are My devotee and friend I will fully reveal this foremost of all mysteries. Source: My translation and bhasya:

This restoration is said to have occurred circa 5561 B.C.E. by the mercy of God.

At the time of Abram (circa 2000-1800 B.C.E. ) the One God used him to restore it again, and not only to his people (the Hebrews/Jews) but to much of the world through Judaism, Christianity, Islam and all those these faiths have touched for the good.

God is ONE

    John of AllFaith

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