When I was flipping through a magazine recently, something interesting caught my attention. It was a half page article bullet-pointing the main characteristics of Hinduism. Now, it caught my attention because I have been studying Hinduism in depth lately for a writing project I'm working on... and I find the religion absolutely fascinating. Anyway, here's what really grabbed me about the article: It stated that Hindus worship many gods, but may choose one particular God to which they focus greater attention.
It is my understanding that this statement is absolutely not true. Hindus do not worship many gods. Hindus believe that there is but one God, which they call Brahma. The other prominent images in Hinduism, such as Ganesh and Vishnu, Shiva and Rama, are simply an incarnation of that one God that embodies specific characteristics. So, for example, I am simply one "me." But I am also mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend... each of these aspects of myself projects a different aspect of my character. It personalizes the relationship that someone has with me. This is how Hindus relate to God.
Will you see various images being worshipped at shrines and temples, on home alters and depicted in books? Yes. These images help the worshipper to invoke different attributes of him or herself: With Vishnu it's balance and ultimate good, with Shiva it might be self-control, or with Ganesh- wisdom. One might pray to the characters of Ramayana when seeking out the path within the construct of family... how to be a good wife, brother, father or son. The way a Hindu worships these "gods" might be similar to how a Catholic prays to different saints, or to the Holy Trinity. (However, I haven't begun to dig deeply into Christianity, yet... Maybe that will be my next project! But which denomination of Christianity? There are so many!)
To further illustrate my point that Hinduism in not polytheistic, I discovered that Hindus believe that even when a Christian prays to Christ or a Muslim to Allah, they are all praying to the same God. God is one. Not that the other religions are praying to the Hindu God, they take no ownership over God. They simply believe there is One, and people choose to worship Him in different ways.
Would this message of complete inclusion of all religions, as simply different paths to the same God, build a peaceful world if it were deeply embedded in every faith tradition? I tend to think so.
But I have so much to learn...