Hinduism 101: How the Diverse Beliefs About the Supreme God Shape Hindu Culture and Practices

Hinduism 101: How the Diverse Beliefs About the Supreme God Shape Hindu Culture and Practices


Hinduism 101: Exploring the Different Views on the Supreme God


Hinduism is one of the oldest and most diverse religions in the world. It has no single founder, no single scripture, and no single authority. It is often described as a way of life rather than a religion. Hinduism encompasses a variety of beliefs, practices, traditions, and philosophies that have evolved over thousands of years.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Hinduism is its diversity of views on the concept of God. Unlike some other religions that have a clear and definitive doctrine about the nature and identity of God, Hinduism allows for multiple interpretations and perspectives on the Supreme Being. In this article, we will explore some of the different views on the Supreme God in Hinduism and how they relate to each other.

Monotheism

Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God who is the creator and ruler of the universe. Some Hindus hold a monotheistic view of God, believing that there is only one Supreme Being who is called by different names and forms in different traditions. For example, some Hindus worship Vishnu as the Supreme God, while others worship Shiva or Devi as the Supreme God. These are not different gods, but different aspects or manifestations of the same God.

Some Hindu scriptures also support a monotheistic view of God. For example, the Rig Veda, one of the oldest Hindu texts, declares:

● There is only one God, though the sages call him by various names. (Rig Veda 1.164.46)

Another example is the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most popular Hindu texts, which states:

● I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts. (Bhagavad Gita 10.8)

Monism

Monism is the belief that there is only one reality or substance that underlies everything in existence. Some Hindus hold a monistic view of God, believing that there is only one Supreme Reality that is beyond name and form, and that everything in the universe is a manifestation or expression of that Reality. This Reality is often called Brahman in Hindu philosophy.

Some Hindu scriptures also support a monistic view of God. For example, the Upanishads, which are philosophical texts that explore the nature of reality and self, declare:

● Brahman is the only truth, the world is illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.1.20)

Another example is the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, which was founded by Shankara in the 8th century CE. Advaita means "non-dual" and Vedanta means "the end of knowledge". Advaita Vedanta teaches that Brahman is the only reality and that everything else is an illusion or ignorance caused by Maya (the power of illusion). The goal of Advaita Vedanta is to realize one's true identity as Brahman and attain liberation from Maya.


Polytheism

Polytheism is the belief that there are many gods who have distinct personalities and powers. Some Hindus hold a polytheistic view of God, believing that there are many gods and goddesses who are responsible for various aspects of nature and human life. For example, some Hindus worship Ganesha as the god of wisdom and success, Lakshmi as the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Saraswati as the goddess of learning and arts, etc.

Some Hindu scriptures also support a polytheistic view of God. For example, the Puranas, which are stories that narrate the deeds and adventures of various gods and goddesses, declare:

● The gods are many; they have different forms; they have different powers; they have different names; they have different abodes; they have different vehicles; they have different weapons; they have different consorts; they have different children; they have different devotees; they have different festivals; they have different temples; they have different rituals; they have different mantras; they have different offerings; they have different blessings; they have different curses; they have different glories; they have different histories; they have different mysteries. (Padma Purana 6.236)

Henotheism

Henotheism is the belief that there are many gods but one god is supreme or more worthy of worship than others. Some Hindus hold a henotheistic view of God, believing that there are many gods but one god is more important or relevant to them than others. For example, some Hindus worship Vishnu as their supreme god but also acknowledge other gods as part of his family or entourage. Similarly, some Hindus worship Shiva as their supreme god but also respect other gods as his associates or aspects.

Some Hindu scriptures also support a henotheistic view of God. For example, the Ramayana, one of the epic poems that narrate the life and deeds of Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu), declares:

● I bow to Vishnu who pervades all beings with his might; who has four arms holding conch-shell, discus, mace and lotus; who has a dark complexion like a rain-cloud; who wears yellow garments; who has a garland of forest flowers around his neck; who has earrings shaped like sharks; who has a crown adorned with jewels; who has eyes like lotus-petals; who has a smile like moonlight; 

who has a chest marked with Srivatsa (a curl of hair)

who has Lakshmi (the goddess of fortune) residing on his chest

who reclines on Sesha (the serpent king)

who is served by Garuda (the eagle king)

who is worshipped by Brahma (the creator)

Shiva (the destroyer)

Indra (the king of gods) and other gods

who is the lord of all worlds

who is the protector of all beings

who is the source of all virtues

who is the supreme soul

who is beyond words and thoughts; who is beyond birth and death

who is beyond time and space

who is beyond cause and effect

who is beyond attributes and modes

who is beyond form and name

who is beyond duality and diversity

who is beyond pleasure and pain

who is beyond ignorance and knowledge

who is beyond bondage and liberation

who is Vishnu. (Ramayana 1.1)


Pantheism

Pantheism is the belief that God is identical with the universe or nature. Some Hindus hold a pantheistic view of God, believing that God is not a separate entity but the essence of everything that exists. For example, some Hindus worship nature as a manifestation of God, such as the sun, the moon, the river, the mountain, the tree, the animal, etc.

Some Hindu scriptures also support a pantheistic view of God. For example, the Isha Upanishad, which is one of the shortest and most profound Upanishads, declares:


● All this is full of Brahman. Whatever moves in this moving world is enveloped by Brahman. Therefore enjoy what is given by Brahman; do not covet what belongs to others. (Isha Upanishad 1)

Another example is the Vedanta Sutra, which is one of the foundational texts of Hindu philosophy, which states:

● That from which this world proceeds, in which it subsists and into which it dissolves - that is Brahman. (Vedanta Sutra 1.1.2)

Panentheism

Panentheism is the belief that God is both transcendent and immanent in the universe or nature. Some Hindus hold a panentheistic view of God, believing that God is both beyond and within everything that exists. For example, some Hindus worship Krishna as the supreme personality of Godhead who has unlimited forms and qualities but also resides in the hearts of all living beings as the Paramatma (the supersoul).

Some Hindu scriptures also support a panentheistic view of God. For example, the Bhagavata Purana, which is one of the most popular and influential Puranas, declares:

● He who exists within everything and within whom everything exists - He alone is to be known as the Supreme Truth. (Bhagavata Purana 1.2.11)

Another example is the Vishnu Purana, which is another important Purana that focuses on Vishnu and his incarnations, which states:

● Vishnu is both within and without all beings; he pervades all things; he is both manifest and unmanifest; he is both near and far; he fills everything; he is both movable and immovable; he is both subtle and gross; he is both supreme and subordinate; he is both cause and effect; he is both one and many; he is both independent and dependent; he is both eternal and temporal; he is both personal and impersonal; he is both formless and with form; he is both knowable and unknowable; he is Vishnu.


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