Unity in diversity, huh? Gandhi, Kofi Annan, Nehru, Audre Lorde and a whole assortment of acclaimed thinkers whose quotes are decorated and available online talk about love, tolerance, culture, unity, diversity, world peace, and so on. There is no denying their golden words but here’s a tidbit worth considering: what if we didn’t need the good ol’ spirit to look at the world as a united piece of lava, but rather believed we have sufficient proof that we’re actually one, an odd similitude branching into our everyday living?
Culture, mythology, and religion across the world from a bird’s eye view are just versions of interpretation that compel scattered communities to believe in one version till they die. All these pillars of society and human existence are simply a practice, a reminder, a cue to who we may have been, speculations at times and hope otherwise. They are devised and put to use as binding agents to keep the flock together, to keep them from retreating into solitary life. Before civilization, our hunger, thirst, geography, shelter, etc commanded our unity and now the same is called upon by culture, mythology, and religion. A simple example could be considering the vastly varied yet similar interpretations of Lord Ram and multiple versions of the Ramayana amongst the South Asian countries like India, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Jakarta, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Let’s talk about the Trinity
What I consider my discovery is: the obvious recurrence of a trinity across world cultures and religions. Now, maybe I’m generalising the term, knowing that ‘trinity’ is etymologically a Christian reference, but spare me. But before we talk about trinity, let’s also explore the over-appearing significance of three in our daily lives, our belief systems, our sciences. As a digit we may know all about the three digit- smallest odd number, prime number, etc., but this digit is held in high regard culturally and religiously.
Pythagoras postulated that numbers had meaning above their functional values, and stated ‘three’ to be a perfect number as it signifies the ‘beginning, middle, and end’; one in harmony, wisdom, and understanding. It is also visible in the passage of time-past, present, and future. Spiritually speaking, the entire creation is a triad-heaven, Earth, and waters which make mankind threefold too-the body, soul, and the spirit. Neurologically speaking, words in a set of three have a higher recall for the brain, simply a pattern-seeking machine. This rule has been applied across history for slogans, speeches, comedy, rhetorics, literature, poetry, and folklore. Three, as per explorers, is also the symbol for the Land of Mu, the lost continent, also called Lemuria. A triangle is also considered the strongest geometric symbol. Three as a number has manifested itself as an apt representation of all things perfect throughout history, discovery, sciences and culture. Freud’s theory of personality- id, ego, and superego is also a triad. This threeness repeats itself in essential patterns all the time, we just need the ‘third’ eye to see it. (yes, we can’t move on without a pun.)
Three in Religion & Belief
Hinduism: The religious and mythological base of the ancient Hindu way of life stems from the existence of a trinity of the one who created, sustained, and destroyed the world: Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Protector) and Mahesh/Shiv (Destroyer). In the Indian Context, the ‘trimurti’ hold great importance in both worship and religious study and are considered as the primal deities under whom the rest seek guidance. The recurrence of three in Hinduism is widespread with the following:
The concept of Triloka (three worlds): Heaven, Hell, and Earth.
The worship of Lord Dattatreya: A three-headed God meant to signify the Trimurti.
The confluence of three rivers or Triveni Sangam (Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati) is considered sacred.
The number 3 is believed to be the depiction of AUM- the sound of the universe.
The worship of the primal Goddesses (consorts of the Trimurti)- Kali, Lakshmi, Saraswati.
The significance of the inner third eye which seems to perceive reality on the spiritual and spatial level.
Christianity: The coinage of the term ‘Trinity’ is owed to the Christian belief which uses this system as a central affirmation of God's existence. Like Hinduism, they too believe God to be a threefold figure: The Creator (also Lord, Father or Judge), His son, The Resurrected One-Jesus, and The Holy Spirit-the intercessor in the power of new life. Other significance of three in Christianity are as follows:
The veneration of the three archangels of God: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
The three-day timeline of Jesus’ resurrection.
The 3 patriarchs before the flood were Abel, Enoch and Noah. The 3 patriarchs after the flood were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God showered Israel with three things: the land of Israel, the law of God, and the world to come.
Islam: Now, Islam doesn’t believe in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but there is still ongoing debate on the matter. We see the repetition of the three archangels in the Islamic belief and literature. Each Hadith from the Sunnah Acts is divided into three tasks/things to be done or avoided by Muslim believers. Islam also believes in the concept of hell, heaven, and Earth.
Celtic Belief: In the pre-Christian Celtic Society, the Triune Mother Goddesses are worshipped: Minerva, Apollo and Mercury. This triad is an overarching essence of Celtic Mythology. Celtic art and literature has been preoccupied with the number three. Figures in Celtic Art are often grouped in clusters of three, creatures have three heads, objects repeat three times, or a single head might have three faces.
Greek Belief: The number three was repeated across the rich Greek mythology: The Holy Trinity, the three Fates, three Gorgons, three Graces, and the three Furies. Multiples of three also seem to repeat themselves through the nine Muses and the twelve Olympian gods.
Taoism: Taoists worship the Three Pure Ones/Three Divine Teachers who constitute the Taoist Trinity: Yuanshi Tianzun, Lingbao Tianzun, Daode Tianzun. Taoist Belief postulates: ‘One produced Two, Two produced Three, and Three produced all things,’ which explains the significance of three.
Buddhism: The Buddhist believed in the existence of three bodies of Buddha or Trikaya- the Dharmakaya (body of essence); the Sambhogakaya (body of enjoyment); and the Nirmanakaya (body of transformation). This belief is also common to Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism.
To wrap this up, I’d say, no part of this was implicit, it was in our faces all along. Trinity? Trimurti? Triad? The three Pure Ones? Every explicit detail is similar to another, symbolising a union of belief, of mythology, of existence. I, for one, simply pointed out that we’re culturally and religiously more similar than one would propose and these patterns repeat themselves to utter perfection. To me, the recurrence of Trinities in religion and the significance of the three in culture, mythology, and sciences is like the Golden Ratio: a naturally occurring symbol of perfection and familiarity to an extent that we barely notice it as extraordinary. It is common, repeated, similar as if it’s the modus operandi of our cosmos. Isn’t it intriguing to wonder what else repeats itself to unite us but we never notice it?