From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

Hinduism is set in a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning henotheism, monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism and atheism among others.[1][2][3][4] It is often aptly termed monistic theism and even open monotheism by some scholars, but is not purely polytheistic as outsiders perceive it to be. Worship (Bhakti Yoga) is one of the three yogas to attain Mokṣa.[5] Monotheism is known in Hindu scriptures as Ekāntavāda, and some sects practice it staunchly, such as the Arya Samaj, the Vaiṣnava Pushtimarga and Vaiṣnava Ekasarana.

Hinduism has often been considered to be polytheistic because of one leading denomination, Smartism, which follows the Advaita philosophy of absolute monism, and includes worship of all kinds of personal forms of God. Absolute monists see one unity with all personal forms of God as different aspects of one Supreme Being, like a single beam of light separated into colors by a prism. Thus Smartas consider all personal forms of God as equal including Devi, Viṣṇu, Śiva, Ganesh and Skanda but generally limit the recognized forms to be six. Other denominations of Hinduism don't adhere to the Smarta viewpoint, but are quite unlike Western perceptions of monotheism. Additionally, like Judeo-Christian traditions which believe in angels, Hindus also believe in other less powerful entities, such as devas.[6]

Contemporary Hinduism can be categorized into four major sects:

  1. Vaishnavism
  2. Śaivism
  3. Śaktism
  4. Smartism

Vaiṣnavism, Śaivism, and Śaktism worship Viṣṇu, Śiva and Devi - the Divine Mother as the Supreme Being respectively or considering all Hindu deities as aspects of the Supreme Being or Brahman.[7] Other minor sects such as Ganapatya and Saura focus on Ganesha and Surya as the Supreme.

Even the earlier Mandalas of Ṛgveda[8] which contain hymns dedicated to devas, are thought to have a tendency toward monotheism.[9] Often quoted isolated pada of the Ṛgveda[10] states (trans. Ralph T.H. Griffith):

English Sanskrit
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.
Indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamaghnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo gharutmān
ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ

Further, the Ṛg Veda states, “There is only one God, worship Him“[11] and “Do not worship any one beside Him“[12].

The Brahma Samhitā[13] declares, Lord Viṣṇu is milk; Lord Śiva is yogurt. Other aspects of God are expansions or aspects of Viṣṇu or Śiva which is detailed in various Purānas. Vaiṣnavites, like other Hindus, have tolerance for other beliefs because Kṛṣṇa, an avatār of Viṣṇu, said so in the Gitā. Kṛṣṇa says:
"Whatever deity or form a devotee worships, I make his or her faith steady. However, their wishes are only granted by Me alone."[14]
Another quote in the Gitā states:
"O Arjuna, even those devotees who worship other lesser deities e.g., devas, with faith, they also worship Me, but in an improper way because I am the Supreme Being. I alone am the enjoyer of all sacrificial services (Seva, Yajna) and Lord of the universe."[15]

Upaniṣad Era

In the time period that the Upaniṣads were written, worship of gods within Hindus is turning into worship of primarily one god. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad states,
“God is only one, not a second.“[16]

The "Rudra Upaniṣad" from the Atharva Shiras Upaniṣad reads of Rudra declaring himself as Brahm, and describing his attributes. The text also reads:

O Rudra, O Ishana, O Maheshwara, O Mahadeva, O lord, for thou art Parabrahm, the one and only god![17]

Bhakti movement

See also: Bhakti movement, Bhakti, Bhakti Yoga, Svayam Bhagavan
See also: Krishnaism

Krishnaism is one notable instance of Vaiṣnava monotheism popularized in the Bhakti movement. Krishnaism refers to Krishna with the title Svayam Bhagavan, meaning 'Lord Himself' and it is used exclusively to designate Krishna as the Supreme Lord.[18] Certain other traditions of Hinduism consider Krishna to be the source of all incarnations,[19] and the source of Vishnu himself or to be the same as Narayana.[20][21][22] The term is seldom used to refer to other forms of Krishna and/or Viṣṇu within the context of certain religious texts such as the Bhagavata Purāṇa.

Though Krishna is recognized as Svayam Bhagavan by many,[23] he is also perceived and understood from an eclectic assortment of perspectives and viewpoints.[24] When Krishna is recognized to be Svayam Bhagavan, it can be understood that this is the belief of Gaudiya Vaishnavism,[25] the Vallabha Sampradaya,[26] and the Nimbarka Sampradaya, where Krishna is accepted to be the source of all other avatars and the source of Vishnu himself. This belief is drawn primarily from the famous statement of the Bhagavatam[27]:[28]

All of the descents and incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead.

—Srimad Bhagavatam[29]

Vaiṣnavism is one of the earliest implicit manifestations of monotheism in the traditions of Vedas. Svayam bhagavān is a Sanskrit term for the original deity of the Supreme God worshiped across many traditions of the Vaiṣnavism as the source of all, the monotheistic absolute Deity.[20][21] [30] Within Hinduism, Krishna is worshiped from a variety of perspectives.[24] However, the Svayam bhagavan concept refers to the Supreme Being of the Orthodox Gaudiya Vaiṣnavism,[25] the Vallabha Sampradaya and the Nimbarka Sampradaya, where Krishna is worshiped as the source of all other avatars (including Vishnu).[31] [32] [33] A distinguishing feature of the Vaisnava teachings is that God, Krishna or Vishnu,[21] is a real person and His variegated creation is also real.[21][34] Krishna worshiped in Vaiṣnava religion as the Supreme came into being as soon as all creatures came into existence. Brahma was the first Vaiṣnava. In Gaudiya Vaiṣnavism, Śiva Mahadeva is also a Vaiṣnava; in Śaivism, by contrast, Śiva is the supreme God. The ancient Prajapaties are all Vaiṣnavas. Narada who is the born child of Brahma, is a Vaiṣnava. Thus pure monotheistic Vaiṣnava religion began with the beginning of history.[34] In the recent times man arrived once again at the instinctive monotheism of the Aryans and Vaiṣnavas.[35]

A different viewpoint, opposing this theological concept, is the concept of Krishna as an avatāra of Nārāyana or Vishnu. However, although its is usual to speak of Vishnu as the source of the avatāras, this is only one of the names of god of Vaishnavism, who is also known as Nārāyana, Vasudeva and Kriṣna and behind each of those names there is a divine figure with attributed supremacy in Vaisnavism.[36] 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".[27] Gaudiya Vaiṣnava 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 Viṣṇu, Narayana and many of their associated avatars.[37]

"Krishna is the primeval Lord, the original Personality of Godhead, so He can expand Himself into unlimited forms with all potencies." page 161</ref>[38] Others have translated it simply as "the Lord Himself".[39] Followers of Vishnu-centered sampradayas of Vaishnavism rarely address this term, but believe that it refers to their belief that Krishna is among the highest and fullest of all avatars[40]

Shree Krishna stands at the top of this series. He is therefore called by his votaries as Purna Avatāra or the highest and fullest incarnation of the Lord.</ref> and is considered to be the "paripurna avatāra", complete in all respects and the same as the original.[41] Parashara Maharishi, Vyāsa's father had devoted the largest Aṅṣa[42] in Vishnu Purāṇa to the description of Sri Krishna Avatāra the Paripoorna Avatara. And according to Lord Krishna's own instructions upadeṣa, "he who knows the secrets of His (Kṛṣṇa's) Janma[43] and Karma[44] will not remain in saṅsāra[45] and attain Him after leaving the mortal coil."[46] Parāsara Maharishi ends up Añṣa 5 with a phalashruti in an identical vein (Vishnu Purāna[47]

The prime supporters of the Krishna-centered theology, Gaudiya Vaiṣnavas and followers of the Vallabha Sampradāya Nimbarka Samprādaya, use the Gopala Tapani Upaniṣad,[48] Vedanta Sutras[27] and other Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavata Purāna and the Brahma Vaivarta Purāna, among others, 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.[27][49] While Krishna himself if mentioned in one of the earliest texts of Vedic literature - Rig-Veda.[50]

In the sixth book of the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, the Bhishma Parva[51] Krishna offers numerous quotations that reaffirm the belief that he himself is the Svayam Bhagavan. Verse 7.7 of the Bhagavad Gitā, is often used to support the opinion that Krishna himself is the Svayam Bhagavan, and that no impersonal form of Brahman supersedes his existence, as it is a common view that Bhagavad Gitā was propounding Krishna-theism before first major proponents of monism of the Smarta school.[52]

Smartha view

The system prevalent in Hinduism is defined by the Smartha philosophy; this theory allows for the veneration of numerous deities, but on the understanding that all of them are but manifestation of the one divine power.[53] That ultimate divinity is termed Brahman or Atman and is believed to have no specific form, name or attribute.[54] Only a Smartha, or follower of the Advaita philosophy, would have no problem worshiping every imaginable deity with equal veneration; as the view is that all names and forms of deities are merely manifestations of the same God. Other Hindu sects such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism conform more closely to a Western understanding of what a monotheistic faith is. For instance, a Vaishnavite considers Vishnu as being the one and only true God, an attitude that resonates with that of the Abrahamic religions. However, it is Advaita philosophy that defines the Smartha sect of mainstream Hinduism, and imparts to Indic spiritual and religious traditions their renowned liberalism.

Swaminarayan view

Swaminarayan, founder of the Hindu Swaminarayan sect, said in verse 115 of their scripture, Śikśapatri said, "Shree Krishna Bhagwan and Shree Krishna Bhagwan's incarnations alone are worthy of meditation. Similarly, Shree Krishna Bhagwan's images are worthy. And men or devas, even if they are devotees of Shree Krishna Bhagwan or brahmavettaa,[55] they are still not worthy of meditation and thus one should not meditate upon them."

The Brahma Samhitā[56] declares, Lord Vishnu is milk; Lord Shiva is yogurt.[57] Followers of Swaminaryan are Vaishnavas, but differ from the viewpoint attested by Gaudiya Vaishnavas who emphasize Shiva as a subordinate demigod expansion of Krishna. For example, Swaminaryan states: [58]

And the oneness of Nārāyaṇa and Shiva should be understood, as the Vedas have described both to be Brahmaroopa or form of Brahman, i.e., Saguna Brahman, thus indicating that Vishnu and Shiva are different forms of the one and same God. And that Ishvara is Shree Krishna Bhagawan,[59] who is supreme Parabrahm, Purushottam, our Ishta-deva[60] worthy of worship, and the cause of all incarnations.[61]

Swami Vivekananda

According to the speech of Swami Vivekananda in Chicago during 1906, the monotheism of Hindu is not only for Hindu. It can effective for every human living on the earth. The verse,

English Sanskrit
It means the rain water fallen from the sky go to the ocean, the same worship of every deity goes to only one God." (Here in this verse God is mentioned as Keshav (one of the name of Krishna). It doesn't matter, you are Hindu or not.
Every worship goes to that God.
akāsāt patitaM toyam yathā gacchati sāgaram
sarvadeva namaskārān kesavam prati gacchati

See also


  1. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}
  2. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}
  3. "Polytheism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-05. 
  4. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=citation }}
  5. The other two are Gyāna Yoga and Karma Yoga.
  6. Template:Cite book
  7. See advaita, or impersonalism.
  8. Ṛgveda books 1 and 9
  9. Macdonell, Arthur Anthony. Vedic Mythology. Forgotten Books (May 23, 2012). P. 17. ISBN 1440094365.
  10. Ṛgveda 1.164.46
  11. ṚgVeda, 6.45.16
  12. Ṛgveda 8.1.1
  13. Brahma Samhitā 5.45
  14. Gitā 7:21-22
  15. Gitā 9:23
  16. Chāndogya Upaniṣad Ch. 6.2.1
  17. P. 443 Researches Into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology By Vans Kennedy
  18. Gupra, 2007, p.36 note 9.
  19. 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 avatāra and also the source of other avatāras. 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
  20. 20.0 20.1 Template:Cite journal
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Template:Cite book
  22. Template:Cite book page 132
  23. Template:Cite bookpp.234-239
  24. 24.0 24.1 Template:Cite journal
  25. 25.0 25.1 Template:Cite book
  26. Template:Cite book"Early Vaiṣnava worship focuses on three deities who become fused together, namely Vasudeva-Krishna, Krishna-Gopala and Nārāyana, 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 worshiped by the Pancaratra sect."
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 Template:Cite book
  28. Essential Hinduism S. Rosen, 2006, Greenwood Publishing Group p.124 ISBN 0-275-99006-0
  29. Śrimad Bhagvatam1.3.28
  30. Template:Cite journal
  31. Template:Cite book
  32. Bhag 1.3.28 Chapter 3: Kṛṣṇa Is the Source of All Incarnations
  33. See McDaniel, June, "Folk Vaishnavism and Thākur Pañcāyat: Life and status among village Krishna statues" in Template:Harvnb
  34. 34.0 34.1 Template:Cite journal
  35. Template:Cite journal
  36. Template:Harvnb
  37. name=Knapp2005>{{cite book | author = Knapp, S. | year = 2005 | title = The Heart of Hinduism: The Eastern Path to Freedom, Empowerment and Illumination - | publisher = iUniverse | isbn =
  38. Template:Cite journal..."Bhakti, the highest path, was that of surrender to Lord Krshna, the way of pure devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead".
  39. Template:Cite book p.109 Klaus Klostermaier translates it simply as "the Lord Himself"
  40. Template:Cite book