Friday, August 19, 2005

Is Hinduism Monotheistic or Polythiestic

This is part of an discussion I once had with a Muslim. In this apart from Motheism, polyhteism etc, I have also tried to put my views on Brahman and the reason and working behind idol worship. The text in blue is question(the opposing side), and the text in balck my views on the questions

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Thanks to a brief "Concept of God in Hinduism" by Zakir Naik, many Muslims by reading that one page feel that they have known what Hinduism is, and that the Hindus are all along wrong in their concpet of God, and by mistake worship the idols, not even knowing what their own scriptures say.

But be assured, Hindus are doing what their scriptures say, and what these ideas of polythesism etc are not in contradiction to what the scriptures say.

One may or may not agree to the idea of personal god/idol worship. My idea is not prove these things in this post, but only to show that there is no contradiction in the scriptural references and practice of Hindus


Its a long post, hope you will have the patience to read.


1. "Ma cid anyad vi sansata sakhayo ma rishanyata"
"O friends, do not worship anybody but Him, the Divine One. Praise Him alone." [Rigveda 8:1:1]

2. "Ekam evadvitiyam"
"He is One only without a second." [Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1]

Now in these two instances, the reference is ONE god. Are these texts talking about Monotheism?


Dictionary meaning of Monotheism is: "The doctrine or belief that there is only one God"

So, according to this, NO where does Vedas teach monotheism.

The concpet of God you are talking is according to the Advaita School of philosophy. So all the later views are also in accordance to that school.

The God which is referred there is called by the sanskrit word "Brahman" (not the caste brahmin).

This Brahman according to it is "the purnah" or "the whole", that is sum total of all elements in the universe, and beyond universe(if any).

There is a difference between Monotheism and Monoism. The verse you referred to speak of monoism and not monotheism.

Lets take a example: If I say there exists only one Earth in the Universe, then I am implying that there exists a earth, and there exists someother things, which are not Earth, and there exists only one Earth. Same with the case of Monotheism. There exists a God, and there exists some other things that are not God, and this God is Unique and one.

But if I say there exists only one universe, then if I say there does not other universe, it not just does not mean that there are someother things which are not universe, but means that there is only one universe, and as the universe encompasses everything, there is nothing beyond it, or nothing which is second to it. It is all.

In the case of Monotheism there exists God and non-God which covers Earth, humans, Satan etc. But in the case of monoism, there exists only God, and there is no non-God. So the verse there is no second to it, still is correct, without reference to monotheism.

The God which the Upanishad there talks about is the Brahman, which is infinite in nature. So we say there is nothing beyond that Brahman(beyond infinite will again be part of infinite)

So it is in no way supporting the monotheism, as the Abrahamic faith see it.

While the one God that Muslims talk does not include any other God; the Brahman Hindus refer to, do not exclude any God or human or any animan or plant(so the reverence to literally everything) Muslims it is like only one way of writing a word; for Hindus, it is what ever way you write the word, the meaning is one. Except the one, there is nothing in common.

But the Upanishad refers as "Without Second", so does it mean that it is denying all other Gods?

It does not mean that there are some other things, and they are not Gods, but means that there does not exist anything else, so no other Gods are also there.

Then you may ask how come Hinduism has so many Gods. Well in reality, Hinduism talks of one reality Brahman, and says that all the other forms are just manifestations of the same Divinity.

Like a ocean and waves in it. In the same way, there may be many waves in ocean, all these are divine, as they are part of the ocean (thats the reason why Hindus revere almost everything as Divine.. humans, animals,trees.. all are part of that divinity). At the same time there exists only one ocean, and the same water. Just they are different manifestations.

so then how many Gods are there in Hinduism?

There is no one answer for this. To tell you how many Gods are there, first we have to define what we mean by God.

In other religions, the definition of God is contant, and hence the number of Gods also. But in Hinduism there are many different ways of looking at what God is, so the number of Gods will also change accordingly.

Hence to avoid confusion, lets stick to Advaita, the school of thought which is related to the quote from Upanishad you gave.

According to Advaita, there is only one God. But this does not mean ONE god as in the case of Islam. Here Advaita says that there is ONLY GOD. Not just God is one, but there is only God existing. The difference between the statements 'there exists only ONE earth', and 'there exists only Universe'. As there does not exist anything beyond this Universe, the Universe is ONE.

In case of Islam, the ONE God is personal ie., he is a consious entity: he creates, he sustains, rewards etc etc. He is consciosly doing so.

But in this case of Brahman, it is impersonal. It just happens to do so. There is no such thing as it as or does not have to do so. Like the case of fire burning. The fire just burns. It does not think I have to burn this, should not burn this. It is its nature, and it does that. Thats all.

Hence the correct statement will be to say there exists only God according to Hinduism, instead of saying there exists only one God in Hinduism. Hope one understands the subtle yet significant difference between the two statements.

Now if all the Gods we see are manifestations of the Only reality(God) Brahman, is it then correct to call all these Gods as demigods?

Again there is no single answer for it. In Hinduism, most of the things does not have rigid definitions and concepts, but are dependent on the individual state of mind.

Hence whether these manifestations are demi gods or not, is something dependent on the person in case, and what is his attitude.

Lets take another example: Suppose differnt toys, figures are made of clay. There may be a clay elephant, clay horse etc. But in reality all are actually clay.

If you understand what this clay is completly, you can understand how anyhting made out of it works.

Suppose if you take a clay pot. Now if a person is intrested in understanding how this pot works, then his knowledge will be limited to just this case. He is just intrested in the working of the pot alone, nothing more. His knowledge is hence partial and limited.

But suppose if he takes up the study of the pot, not to understand the pot, but to understand the clay, then his knowledge is not limited, and the possibilities of the clay are still unlimited.

The difference is that in one case: we study the pot, just to know what it is. But in the other case, we study the pot as a means to know everything. Hence the attitude we maintain will decide whether the power of it is limited or unlimited. The pot in itself cannot be categorised as limited or unlimited, but has to be done on the basis of what our attitude towards its study is.

In the same way, if a person takes up worship of a God, just to satisfy his personal goals, and for material desire, then his knowledge is limited to just that concerning to those material ideas of that God, and hence, in this case the god becomes demi-god... limited in powers.

But if he approches a God not with the motive of limited desires, but as a window to the infite reality, then the God will not be a demi-god, but will be GOD as this now become the means to understand everything

Is the controlling power of the universe then with the Brahman. Does he control everything

As I said earlier, controlling assumes there is a personal conscious entity. There is A, there is B more powerful than A, and consciously contolling him. But the Brahman is impersonal. It has no desire to control/not to control.

Earlier I gave the example of fire. The fire just burns. It does not control or decide which to burn, which not to.

Also to have a controller/controlled, we need two entities atlest- one controller, and one controlled. But when there is no second, but only one, then there does not arise the question of control.

Hence your statement the one God as controller of others is self contradictory. We cannot say 'fire' controlled a 'flame' or to say 'water' controlled the 'wave'. It is one and the same, and so there will be no controller, no controlled. The fire, water etc are impersonal. Same with Brahman.

See this verse

"Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures." [Bhagavad Gita 7:20]

Here Krishna condemms the ppl who worhsip demi-Gods


Read the verse carefully, it does not condemn anyhing/anyone. It just states that those who worhip with materilistic desires, surrender to demigods, which is exactly what I tried to explain earlier by saying the a God being demigod or not is soemthing deendent on the individual's attitude.

6/8/2005 10:13 PM
Sri Krishna there is just saying that those who worhip the limited, will be bound in the limited. Its just statement of facts, and no condemnation.

He is just telling that going to God, and asking for some little limited desires to be fulfilled is like going to a king and asking for brinjals. The king is capable of much more. Nor does it it mean that the king is not capable of giving brinjals.

In the same way, we can approach reality for anything, and anything possible, but why aim for small, if infinite is achievable. But still if one wants limited only, he is free to do so. None is condemmed from doing so.

The Brahma Sutra says:

"Ekam Brahm, dvitiya naste neh na naste kinchan"

"There is only one God, not the second; not at all, not at all, not in the least bit."

Now here there is no ambiguity. It talks of 'only ONE', and not only God referred earlier.


Brahma Sutras are written by Badarayana, believed to be Vyasa. This along with Gita and Upanishads form the set of three central books of Hindu philosophy, and are also called Prasthana traya.

Brahma Sutras are NOT the primary authority of Hinduism like Vedas, and hence the meaning of verses to be taken in context and not in . It is a logical text that sets forth the philosophy systematically, and not a authority. But still they form a very imp part of the Hindu philosophy, as they systematically brings out the various concepts of Vedanta.

Now coming to the verse, I think the translation is wrong. Zakir Naik gave references to all the other verses, but not to this(???). I am not a scholar in sanskrit, but as I undestand it, the correct translation will be:

Ekam means one, brahm refers to Brahman, dvitiya- second, naste not there, neh na naste kinchan- no not at all.

It simply means "Brahman is one; there is no second, no not at all", hence simply pointing to what I said earlier.

Why then are there so many different views among the Hindus themselves about Hinduism being Monotheism, polytheism, Monoism etc etc. Only one can be correct right?

If you are thinking that there is one steroetyped form of Hinduism, with some set of teachings which is standard for every Hindu, then you are mistaken.

Is there a standardized view amongst Hindus about Hinduism being which "ism- No

Are there Hindus who are polytheists? Yes

Is Hinduism polytheist then? partially yes.

Are there Hindus who feel Hinduism has thought monotheisms? yes

Is Hinduism monotheistic then? partially yes

Are there HIndus who feel that Hinduism talks of momoism? yes

Is Hinduism monoism then? partially yes

Does the verses from upanishads etc which were given earlier prove that Hinduism is monotheistic, and the other existing views in Hinduism are result of Hindus not being aware of what their scriptures teach? NO. These verses does not prove that Hinduism is monotheistic. All the same verses are actually explained by monoism, and thus these does not necessarily extablish that Hindus should worhip the ONE god, but they are mistaken and not doing so.

What then is Hinduism? Hinduism is monoism, monothism, polytheism etc according to different ppl.

Is there no single concept or answer to this? Hinduism accepts that the concpets of God for different people may be different. It thus does not try to standardize these thinking, respecting the individual freedom and growth.

Truth can only be one, isnt then obscure that different ppl have different views of God? The Reality may be one, but what we think as reality is actually what we see through the prism of mind.

A child may not see a theif in world; the same child after he grows may see thiefs everywhere. The world has not changed, but the child's concept of world has changed. In the same way, what we think of God is not actually direct perception of God, but God seen though the prism of our mind. Hence it is perfectly natural that different ppl see it differently according to their mental nature.

Now if the Hindu scriptures talk of the reality as being a formless, attributeless entity, are not then the ppl who follow polytheism wrong?

Its not true that polytheism is against Vedanta texts. No it is not. Arre.. I feel the personal manifestation of the god is one of the greatest things man has ever thought of.

Its like this:

Is light green? - yes

Is light blue? - yes

but what is the colour of light? - white

In the same way, the concept of Brahman is as referred to totality. But there can be manisfestations of this reality, as we have seen in the case of above example.

Hinduism does not say that a person moves from false to truth, but says he moves from lower truth to higher truth. Hence we condemm none.

Now the question comes, why should he then follow the lower truth, instead of the highest, and be a polytheist.

The answer to this depends on what is the goal we have in mind. Hinduism is not about 'following the orders of god' that we should know what that god is. Hinduism is about the man going beyond the limitations of nature. Religion for us "the struggle of man to transcend the limitations of the nature/senses"

To accomplish this we have to also take the human limitations into consideration. No matter how much you try, the man cannot comprehend the infinite. Did you ever try to think of infinite, all that comes to our mind may be empty space. Even this empty space that is outside our body. With the help of many other such illustrations, I can safely say that as long as the idea of body is there, man cannot comprehend the concept of infinite.

Its not just about knowing of the word infinite, but perceiving it, feeling it, without any limitations. Which is almost impossible for most of us.

Hence we adopt the concept of personal god. I am pretty convinced that if a buffalo has to ever think of God, it will think of it as a bigger buffalo, with 10 horns etc. This is coz our conception of infinite is through our mind.

Thats why there is this concpet of Avatara in Hinduism- God as human. We attribute human qualities to him, not because they are his attributes, but coz they help us expand our idea of infinite. Ishvara(meaining Personal God) is the highest manifestation of the Absolute Reality, or in other words, the highest possible reading of the Absolute by the human mind

So, all the arguments that polyheists being 'wrong' fall apart, as there the assumption is that the person is doing something wrong. Whereas he is not doing anything wrong. He may not be aware of all it, but still does not matter. A child likes to play. We allow it, as it is good for his health etc. But neither does the child know about advatages of playing, nor about the human anatomy. But as person who knows all that also will not stop the child as, the child may not know how it works, but he not doing something wrong.

But then again, if one wants to know the workings, it is also available.

To give a crude example: In caluclus we solve for some equations, which in some case may be infite. So what we do is, we replace the inifite with a X, and put a limit, and proceed to solving the poblem as if X is a finite quantity. At the same time we know that X is not finite.

But we understand our limitation in solving it directly with the infinite in place. So we use a intermediatery called X which though infinte, is seen as finite. After solving, we simply replace the X with infite, and get what we want.

This feeling is beautifully expressed in this poem: "I will follow him(Krishna) to Mathura, where he now dwells. And if I find him, though I know his consciousness is as the ocean, I will bind him with my sari and drag him home with me!"- making God not a just an abstract concept, but someone very near & dear at the same time.

Now the next question which may come into ones' mind is "Is not this concept of personal god in contradiction to the idea of only God?"

Not really. If you have a pot filled with water, and you place this in a ocean, and even the pot here is made of ice. Then by the idea of Brahman, everything is water. But as long as one has the idea of pot, the idea of ocean is never complete. The water in pot is the man, the pot is called maya. Here the demarcation is not really present, but still 'appears' to be present.

So, as long as the idea of pot is there, the idea of not-pot is also there, hence limiting our ability to think of infinite Brahman.

Thus we accept this fact, and the aim is to remove this idea of "I". This is the core of spirituality- Self-Abnegation. You try to remove the idea of "I", by negating the ego. It may be done in an unsophisticated manner, but still this the principle. Whether it is the concentration of raja yoga or the total self surrender to god of a bhakta or neti neti of a vedantin, self-abnegation is one principle they are trying to express. Some understand why they are doing so; some others do not- but still all are going towards the same Goal; some consciously, some unconsciously.

Hinduism thus condemns none. There is no fear of mistakes either, as Hinduism does not give its follower just one chance, and if you goof it up, you are damned in eternal hell. It continues to give chances as long as the person has finally succeeded. Until he succeeds, he will be continue to get chances in the form of births. This is what I call infinite grace. A grace giving limited chances cannot be termed infinite, but will be a limited grace.

5 Comments:

Blogger PROUD said...

Awesome I must say. A brilliant answer to Zakir Naik and ignorant muslims who just read one page and analyze.

Keep it up:)

Regards,
Prince:)

7:13 PM  
Blogger Faiz Ahmed said...

What you have written is quite impressive. I have read and heard a lot about Hinduism on similar lines.

I have a few comments on a couple of things:

For Muslims, God is Allah...Allah is referenced by many names or attributes like 'The most High', 'The most Merciful', 'The Creator', 'The Protector'..etc. We say that these qualities are for Allah alone. Why? Because humans are limited to what they can do. But all these names are not different gods with separate duties or characteristics. How can god be all powerful if he can only create and for something else there is another god and for some other task there is a third god and so on. We believe that god is only one who has the power of saying 'Be..' and it will be. You are explaining what is right to say with reference to Hinduism but not providing a specific answer...you say that to say 'There is only god' in Hinduism is correct. Your explanation on that point is very vague.

What I understood from what you have written is that you can accept god in any form as you want as long as you 'grow'. So you can limit yourself to a limited nature or explore beyond. My question is...what for? I mean what is the end? See, for Muslims..you have put it bluntly as 'following the orders of god'..that is true..but it isn't just that. Why do Muslims pray, follow orders of god etc. Because Allah has given us so many gifts of vision, of independent thought, of hearing, of speech etc. We thank Allah each day. We are nothing if Allah had not created us. We cannot reach the stature or even come close to what Allah is. This world is feeble, you live for 70-80 years and then what?...everyone dies. The world after death is what Muslims think about most. A person, when he does something good, he is not only doing good for this earth but preparing a better life for himself after death. This world is a test. When you take an exam each year in your high school, you proceed to the next level. So you study the year round and grow in knowledge and understand a lot of things. Then you take the test to go up. Similarly, each day we have to prepare for the final exam which will take place the day we die!

6:04 PM  
Blogger mohammad said...

well
u cant say that one thing can b right
and wrong at the same time...
but using the excuse of different school of thought u teach contradictory things..for ur scripture has been changed so contradiction..
now u have to folow kalki avtar muhammad..which ur books guides u to follow..u will find it in ur book as some truth has been left there..if u use ur intellect u will understand as quran says truth stands out clear from error..then u have to follow ur conviction for this the test of character that u follow ur coviction or not..and brahama will punish u for u dont follow ur conviction..

u say the whole universe is brahama..
but brahama has also been called truth or pure..so how can it contain
eviel and rakshas..

11:40 PM  
Blogger Surya S said...

mohammad,

Some things are obviously foolish and require no special refutation. Your post is one of them.

I find it below by intellectual level to even bother replying to it. So and make merry.

However, you can do me a small favour- thanks to your revelations, its certain that I am going to hell. When you go to heaven, at that time tell your god to fry me only in vacuum packed double refined sunflower oil. I am allergic to other types of oils. also non-stick frying pan is a must. not those old type of sticking pans. Thanks in advance.

1:06 AM  
Blogger ladlesh said...

so than can we say that no one can attain moksha by bhakti yoga or cannot understand the infinite by bhakti and it is just the first step
is it not possible for d peoples practisin bhakti yoga to uderstand infinite that is brahman

2:48 AM  

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