Hindu Beliefs – Concept of God

Hinduism is an extremely diverse religion. Although some tenets of the faith are accepted by most Hindus, scholars have found it difficult to identify any doctrines with universal acceptance among all denominations.  Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (The continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).

Concept of God

Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism and atheism. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (devotion to a single God while accepting the existence of other gods), but any such term is an oversimplification of the complexities and variations of belief.

Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul—the true “self” of every person, called the ātman—is eternal.  According to the monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit. Brahman is described as “The One Without a Second;” hence these schools are called “non-dualist.”  The goal of life according to the Advaita school is to realize that one’s ātman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul.  The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of one’s own self, realizes their identity with Brahman and thereby reaches Moksha (liberation or freedom).

Other dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality and worship Him or Her thus, as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva or Shakti depending on the sect. The ātman is dependent on God while Moksha depends on love towards God and on God’s grace.  When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle) God is called Ishvara (“The Lord”), Bhagavan (“The Auspicious One”), or Parameshwara (“The Supreme Lord”).  However, interpretations of Ishvara vary—ranging from non-belief such as followers of Mimamsakas, in Ishvara to identifying Brahman and Ishvara as one as in Advaita.  There are also schools like the Samkhya which have atheistic leanings.


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