Vedas and Bhagavad Gita
April 3, 2021 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Please help me understand how the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita both fit into Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita seems monotheistic but is welcomed by Hindu practitioners and this confuses me as the Vedas are clearly pointing to a polytheistic approach, and Hinduism in general follows the polytheistic approach. I am confused how Hinduism accepts Bhagavad Gita as not somehow usurping the Vedic understanding.

The explanations I have seen online were all fairly abstract and vague (i.e."the Vedas are the music and the Bhagavad Gita describes the time signature used for the music") and didn't really get into how the two philosophical approaches find harmony within the larger Hindu faith. I'm sure we discussed this in undergrad when we read the Upanishads but that was a long time ago and I do not remember what was said.
posted by crunchy potato to Religion & Philosophy (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There are different strains of Hinduism, and it's a very individuated, personal spirituality. In the type my family follows, the divine is a single entity with multiple manifestations. Neither monotheistic nor polytheistic, but more of a both/and. (Bonus: we get the wacky antics like in Greek mythology and also the deep philosophical pondering of the nature of suffering like in Buddhism!) There's also a fair amount of animism for good measure. Not to mention a millennia-old tradition of Hindu atheism, including in the Rig Veda itself!

Also keep in mind that the Vedas were written about 1000 years before the Gita. An analogy might be how Christians accept both the Old and New Testaments. But in general it's hard to map Western concepts like theism onto something as malleable as Hinduism; you just gotta accept it on its own terms, and luckily those terms can be as broad or narrow as you'd like.
posted by basalganglia at 1:40 PM on April 3 [13 favorites]

Hinduism started as a vast number of religions in small villages in India, which, with the advent of reasonably modern travel and communication, slowly combined into one overall religion. I'm not a Hindu, but I admire it for this - there's no overall dogma, and you can use whatever structure and gods belong to the tradition you grew up with. Hinduism is a tree with many roots and branches, and if you see contradictions, they're not errors, they're part of it.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 1:52 PM on April 3 [4 favorites]

I was raised as a Hindu and I'm finding it a bit weird that you make a distinction between the vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. Or to put it another way, didn't you find any differences of note within the various vedic texts alone? If you can accept Rig Veda and Atharva Veda as belonging to the same dogma, then the Bhagavad Gita also belonging is hardly a stretch. The vedas have everything including the kitchen sink in them: animism and pantheism and narcissism and rules for how to be a good prostitute and political pointers for dying dynastic scions and the 80,000 names for one of the gods. Like what even IS it. It's completely incoherent. It's not an ideology. It's a thousand different men's random-ass spiritual ruminations over the span of a thousand years all cobbled together into a few books. You take what you want from it. Hinduism has no central ideology. It's a buffet. There's no promise that it all fits together in a balanced meal with complementary flavors. Try a bit of everything, and hope you find something you like!
posted by MiraK at 7:48 PM on June 1

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