Hindu Views on Monotheism

Hinduism is a religion which incorporates diverse views on the concept of God. Different traditions of Hinduism have different theistic views, and these views have been described by scholars as polytheism, monotheism, henotheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, agnostic  humanism, atheism or non-theism.[1][2][3]
Monotheism is the belief in a single creator God who is almighty, omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent.[4][5] Hinduism does not posit or require such a belief, and is considered a non-monotheistic religion by scholars of religion.[6][7][8] Many traditions within Hinduism share the Vedic idea of a metaphysical ultimate reality and truth called Brahman instead. According to Jan Gonda, Brahman denoted the “power immanent in the sound, words, verses and formulas of Vedas” in the earliest Vedic texts. The early Vedic religious understanding of Brahman underwent a series of abstractions in the Hindu scriptures that followed the Vedic scriptures. These scriptures would reveal a vast body of insights into the nature of Brahman as originally revealed in the Vedas. These Hindu traditions that emerged from or identified with the Vedic scriptures and that maintained the notion of a metaphysical ultimate reality would identify that ultimate reality as Brahman. Hindu adherents to these traditions within Hinduism revere Hindu deities and, indeed, all of existence, as aspects of the Brahman.[9][10] The deities in Hinduism are not considered to be almighty, omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, and spirituality is considered to be seeking the ultimate truth that is possible by a number of paths.[11][12][13] Like other Indian religions, in Hinduism, deities are born, they live and they die in every kalpa (eon, cycle of existence).[14]
In Hindu philosophy, there are many different schools.[15] Its non-theist traditions such as Samkhya, early Nyaya, Mimamsa and many within Vedanta such as Advaita do not posit the existence of an almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God (monotheistic God), while its theistic traditions posit a personal God left to the choice of the Hindu. The major schools of Hindu philosophy explain morality and the nature of existence through the karma and samsara doctrines, as in other Indian religions.[16][17][18]
Contemporary Hinduism can be categorized into four major traditions: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism worship Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi — the Divine Mother — as the Supreme respectively, or consider all Hindu deities as aspects of the formless Supreme Reality or Brahman. Other minor sects such as Ganapatya and Saura focus on Ganesha and Surya as the Supreme. A sub-tradition within the Vaishnavism school of Hinduism that is an exception is dualistic Dvaita, founded by Madhvacharya in the 13th-century (where Vishnu as Krishna is a monotheistic God). This tradition posits a concept of monotheistic God so similar to Christianity that Christian missionaries in colonial India suggested that Madhvacharya was likely influenced by early Christians who migrated to India,[19] a theory that has been discredited by scholars.[20][21]

Vedic ideas

According to Rigveda 1.164.46,
Transl: Klaus Klostermaier[22][23]

Indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamaghnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo gharutmān,
ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ
“They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutmān.
To what is One, sages give many a title — they call it Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan.”



In Vaishnava Puranic scriptures, Brahma emerges on a lotus from Vishnu’s navel as Vishnu (Mahavishnu) creates the cosmic cycle, after being emerge by Shiva, Shiva told Vishnu to create, Shiva order Vishnu to make Brahma.[25]

Krishnaism is a sub-tradition of Vaishnavism wherein Krishna is considered Svayam Bhagavan, meaning ‘Lord Himself’ and it is used exclusively to designate Krishna as the Supreme Lord.[24][25] Krishna is considered as an avatar (manifestation) of Vishnu himself or to be the same as Narayana.[26][27][28] Krishna is recognized to be Svayam Bhagavan in the belief of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Dvaita sub-school of Hindu philosophy,[29] the Vallabha Sampradaya,[30] in the Nimbarka Sampradaya, where Krishna is accepted to be the source of all other avatars, and the source of Vishnu himself.[29][31]

The theological interpretation of svayam bhagavān differs with each tradition and the translated from the Sanskrit language, the term literary means “Bhagavan Himself” or “directly Bhagavan.”[32] Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition often translates it within its perspective as primeval Lord or original Personality of Godhead, but also considers the terms such as Supreme Personality of Godhead and Supreme God as an equivalent to the term Svayam Bhagavan, and may also choose to apply these terms to Vishnu, Narayana and many of their associated avatars.[33][34][35]

Gaudiya Vaishnavas and followers of the Vallabha Sampradaya Nimbarka Sampradaya, use the Gopala Tapani Upanishad,[36] and the Bhagavata Purana, to support their view that Krishna is indeed the Svayam Bhagavan. This belief was summarized by the 16th century author Jiva Goswami in some of his works, such as Krishna-sandarbha.[32][37]

In other sub-traditions of Vaishnavism, Krishna is one of many aspects and avatars of Vishnu (Rama is another, for example), recognized and understood from an eclectic assortment of perspectives and viewpoints.[38]

Vaishnavism is one of the earliest single God focussed traditions that derives its heritage from the Vedas.[26][27] [39] Within Hinduism, Krishna is worshiped from a variety of perspectives.[38][40]

A different Vaishnavism viewpoint, such as those in Sri Vaishnavism, opposing this theological concept is the concept of Krishna as one of the many avatar of Narayana or Vishnu.[41][42] The Sri Vaishnavism sub-tradition reveres goddess Lakshmi with god Vishnu as equivalent,[43] and traces it roots its roots to the ancient Vedas and Pancaratra texts in Sanskrit.[44]


  1.  [a] Julius J. Lipner, Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, 2nd Edition, Routledge, ISBN978-0-415-45677-7, page 8; Quote: “(…) one need not be religious in the minimal sense described to be accepted as a Hindu by Hindus, or describe oneself perfectly validly as Hindu. One may be polytheistic or monotheistic, monistic or pantheistic, even an agnostic, humanist or atheist, and still be considered a Hindu.”;
    [b] Lester Kurtz (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, ISBN978-0123695031, Academic Press, 2008;
    [c] MK Gandhi, The Essence of Hinduism, Editor: VB Kher, Navajivan Publishing, see page 3; According to Gandhi, “a man may not believe in God and still call himself a Hindu.”
  2.  Rogers, Peter (2009), Ultimate Truth, Book 1, AuthorHouse, p. 109, ISBN978-1-4389-7968-7;
    Chakravarti, Sitansu (1991), Hinduism, a way of life, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., p. 71, ISBN978-81-208-0899-7
  3.  “Polytheism”Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-05.
  4.  Bruce Trigger (2003), Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study, Cambridge University Press, ISBN978-0521822459, pages 473-474
  5.  Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty (2010), A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion, Bloomsbury Academic, ISBN978-1441111975, pages 98-99
  6.  Eric Ackroyd (2009). Divinity in Things: Religion Without Myth. Sussex Academic Press. p. 78. ISBN978-1-84519-333-1., Quote: “The jealous God who says, “Thou shalt have no other gods but me” belongs to the Jewish-Christian-Muslim tradition, but not to the Hindu tradition, which tolerates all gods but is not a monotheism, monism, yes, but not monotheism.”
  7.  Frank Whaling (2010). Understanding Hinduism. Dunedin Academic Press. p. 19. ISBN978-1-903765-36-4.
  8.  Hiroshi Ōbayashi (1992). Death and afterlife: perspectives of world religions. Praeger. p. 145. ISBN978-0-275-94104-8.
  9.  James Lochtefeld, Brahman, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 1: A–M, Rosen Publishing. ISBN978-0823931798, page 122
  10.  Gavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN978-0521438780, pages 84-85
  11.  Wendy Doniger (1976). The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. University of California Press. p. 63. ISBN978-0-520-03163-0.;
    Harvey P. Alper (1991). Understanding Mantras. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 210–211. ISBN978-81-208-0746-4.
  12.  Guy Beck (2005), Alternative Krishnas: Regional and Vernacular Variations on a Hindu Deity, State University of New York Press, ISBN978-0791464151, page 169 note 11
  13.  Bruce Trigger (2003), Understanding Early Civilizations: A Comparative Study, Cambridge University Press, ISBN978-0521822459, pages 441-442, Quote:[Historically…] people perceived far fewer differences between themselves and the gods than the adherents of modern monotheistic religions. Deities were not thought to be omniscient or omnipotent and were rarely believed to be changeless or eternal.”
  14.  W. J. Wilkins (2003). Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Courier. p. 354. ISBN978-0-486-43156-7.
  15.  John Bowker (1975). Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 194, 206–220. ISBN978-0-521-09903-5.
  16.  Kaufman, Whitley R. P. (2005). “Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil”. Philosophy East and West55 (1): 15–32. doi:10.1353/pew.2004.0044.
  17.  Francis Clooney (2005), in The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism (Ed: Gavin Flood), Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN0631215352, pages 454-455;
    John Bowker (1975). Problems of Suffering in Religions of the World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 194, 206–220. ISBN978-0-521-09903-5.;
    Chad V. Meister (2010). The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity. Oxford University Press. pp. 163–164. ISBN978-0-19-534013-6.
  18.  Francis X. Clooney (1989), Evil, Divine Omnipotence, and Human Freedom: Vedānta’s Theology of Karma, The Journal of Religion, Vol. 69, No. 4, pages 530-548
  19.  Sabapathy Kulandran and Hendrik Kraemer (2004), Grace in Christianity and Hinduism, James Clarke, ISBN978-0227172360, pages 177-179
  20.  Jones & Ryan 2006, p. 266.
  21.  Sarma 2000, pp. 19-21.
  22.  Klaus K. Klostermaier (2010). A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition. State University of New York Press. pp. 103 with footnote 10 on page 529. ISBN978-0-7914-8011-3.
  23.  See also, Griffith’s Rigveda translation: Wikisource
  24.  Gupra, 2007, p.36 note 9.
  25.  Bhagawan Swaminarayan bicentenary commemoration volume, 1781-1981.p. 154: …Shri Vallabhacharya [and] Shri Swaminarayan… Both of them designate the highest reality as Krishna, who is both the highest avatara and also the source of other avataras. To quote R. Kaladhar Bhatt in this context. “In this transcendental devotieon (Nirguna Bhakti), the sole Deity and only” is Krishna. New Dimensions in Vedanta Philosophy – Page 154, Sahajānanda, Vedanta. 1981
  26.   Delmonico, N. (2004). The History Of Indic Monotheism And Modern Chaitanya VaishnavismThe Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. Columbia University Press. ISBN978-0-231-12256-6. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  27.   Elkman, S.M.; Gosvami, J. (1986). Jiva Gosvamin’s Tattvasandarbha: A Study on the Philosophical and Sectarian Development of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Movement. Motilal Banarsidass Pub.
  28.  Dimock Jr, E.C.; Dimock, E.C. (1989). The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya Cult of Bengal. University Of Chicago Press.page 132
  29.   Kennedy, M.T. (1925). The Chaitanya Movement: A Study of the Vaishnavism of Bengal. H. Milford, Oxford university press.
  30.  Flood, Gavin D. (1996). An introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 341. ISBN978-0-521-43878-0. Retrieved 2008-04-21.“Early Vaishnava worship focuses on three deities who become fused together, namely Vasudeva-Krishna, Krishna-Gopala and Narayana, who in turn all become identified with Vishnu. Put simply, Vasudeva-Krishna and Krishna-Gopala were worshiped by groups generally referred to as Bhagavatas, while Narayana was worshipped by the Pancaratra sect.”
  31.  Dalmia-luderitz, V. (1992). Hariscandra of Banaras and the reassessment of Vaisnava bhakti in the late nineteenth centuryDevotional Literature in South Asia: Current Research, 1985-8. Cambridge University Press. ISBN978-0-521-41311-4. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  32.   Gupta, Ravi M. (2007). Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami. Routledge. ISBN978-0-415-40548-5.
  33.  Knapp, S. (2005). The Heart of Hinduism: The Eastern Path to Freedom, Empowerment and Illumination –. iUniverse. “Krishna is the primeval Lord, the original Personality of Godhead, so He can expand Himself into unlimited forms with all potencies.” page 161
  34.  Dr. Kim Knott (1993). “Contemporary Theological Trends In The Hare Krishna Movement: A Theology of Religions”. Retrieved 2008-04-12.…”Bhakti, the highest path, was that of surrender to Lord Krishna, the way of pure devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead”.
  35.  K. Klostermaier (1997). The Charles Strong Trust Lectures, 1972-1984. Crotty, Robert B. Brill Academic Pub. p. 206. ISBN978-90-04-07863-5For his worshippers he is not an avatara in the usual sense, but Svayam Bhagavan, the Lord himself. p.109 Klaus Klostermaier translates it simply as “the Lord Himself”
  36.  B. V. Tripurari (2004). Gopala-tapani Upanisad. Audarya Press. ISBN978-1-932771-12-1.
  37.  Gupta, Ravi M. (2004). Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta: Acintyabhedabheda in Jiva Gosvami’s Catursutri tika. University Of Oxford.
  38.   Mahony, W.K. (1987). “Perspectives on Krishna’s Various Personalities”. History of Religions26 (3): 333–335. doi:10.1086/463085JSTOR1062381.
  39.  Klostermaier, K. (1974). “The Bhaktirasamrtasindhubindu of Visvanatha Cakravartin”. Journal of the American Oriental Society94 (1): 96–107. doi:10.2307/599733JSTOR599733.
  40.  See McDaniel, June, “Folk Vaishnavism and Ṭhākur Pañcāyat: Life and status among village Krishna statues” in Beck 2005, p. 39
  41.  Bryant, Edwin Francis (2007). Krishna: A Sourcebook. Oxford University Press. p. 18. ISBN978-0-19-514891-6.
  42.  Matchett, Freda (2001). Krishna, Lord or Avatara?: the relationship between Krishna and Vishnu. 9780700712816. p. 4. ISBN978-0-7007-1281-6.
  43.  Matchett, Freda (2000), Krsna, Lord or Avatara? The relationship between Krsna and Visnu: in the context of the Avatara myth as presented by the Harivamsa, the Visnupurana and the Bhagavatapurana, Surrey: Routledge, pp. 4, 77, 200, ISBN978-0-7007-1281-6
  44.  Lester, Robert C (1966). “Rāmānuja and Śrī-vaiṣṇavism: The Concept of Prapatti or Śaraṇāgati”. History of Religions5 (2): 266–269. doi:10.1086/462526JSTOR1062115.

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