Hindus and Monotheism



By Dr Koenraad Elst

The Arya Samaj and Monotheism . Is there a Vedic monotheism? The occasion for this paper on monotheism and its presence or absence in Hinduism is an upsurge in the Arya Samaj’s long-standing campaign to convince Hindus of the superiority and Vedic basis of monotheism. Founded in 1875, the Ârya Samâj, in effect “Society of Vedicists”, was a trail-blazer of Hindu revivalism and anti-colonial nationalism until Independence. It worked bravely for the reconversion of Indian Muslims, the only humane solution to India’s communal problem. Some of its spokesmen gave their lives for speaking out on Islam, most notably Pandit Lekhram in 1897 and Swami Shraddahananda (co-founder of the Hindu Mahasabha) in 1926. The Arya Samaj also led the way in the abolition of caste discrimination and the acceptance of widow remarriage, both as a matter of Vedic principle and in order to free Hindu society of its weaknesses which its enemies were exploiting to their advantage.
Unfortunately, in its opposition to the predatory religions of Islam and Christianity, it interiorized some of their beliefs and attitudes. Foremost among these was the assumption that monotheism, the belief in a single God annex the condemnation of all worship offered to any being but Him, is the supreme form of religion. Hence, the Arya Samaj decreed that the Vedic religion had always been monotheistic, so that Islamic and Christian missionaries had nothing to teach the Vedicists about the true religion of the One God. If Hinduism now seemed like the polytheistic religion par excellence, this was partly due to post-Vedic degenerative developments and partly to textual misinterpretation of the seemingly numerous god-names in the Vedas. In reality, or so the Arya Samaj claimed, these many gods were only different faces of the One God.Until Independence (completed by the struggle against the Nizam of Hyderabad for Hyderabad’s accesion to the Indian Union in 1948, in which the later Arya Samaj president Vandematharam Ramachandra Rao took a leadership role), this monotheisticreinterpretation of the Vedas could be excused as a tactical device useful in the Arya Samaj’s main struggle, viz. against the predatory monotheistic religions. Ever since, however, and especially in the recentmost decades, the Arya Samaj seems to have forgotten its original mission, and is now turning the bulk of its polemics against fellow Hindus who have not embraced this monotheistic reading of the Vedas. In effect, the Arya Samaj has become Christianity’s and Islam’s first line of attack against Hindu polytheism.
As an organization, the Arya Samaj is no longer very powerful or important, but its message has spread far and wide in educated Hindu society. The same is even more true of a similar movement, the Brahmo Samaj (°1825), a flagbearer of the Bengal renaissance which tried to translate Hinduism into rational-sounding concepts acceptable to the British colonizers and the first circles of anglicized Hindus. Whereas the Arya Samaj embraced a Christian-like religious theism, the Brahmo Samaj tended more towards a modern Enlightenment-inspired deism, i.e. the philosophical acceptance of a distant cosmic intelligence rather than a personal God biddable by human imprecations and sacrifices. But like the Aryas, the Brahmos rejected Hindu polytheism as a degenerate aberration from the true Vedic spirit.


 In the course of the 20th century, the Arya and Brahmo views of Hindu tradition have become mainstream among English-speaking Hindus. Many introductory textbooks on Hinduism used in India, and most of those used in NRI-PIO circles, deny Hindu polytheism and insist that the many Hindu gods are merely faces of the One God. Thus, among the textbook edits proposed by two Hindu foundations that triggered the California textbook controversy of 2005-2009, a prominent one was the replacement of “gods” with “God”.Before entering the specifics of the monotheism argument, let us say beforehand that we don’t believe the contents of this argument have been decisive in the Arya Samaj’s prioritizing the struggle against polytheism nor in its abandonment of its original alertness against Islamic and Christian aggression. On both issues, the organization is simply riding with the tide. Now that Nehruvian “secularism” has become the norm, it is just not done to criticize Christianity or Islam (except by the brave) or to describe their conversion offensive as a problem. The Arya Samaj has abandoned its own raison d’être. We may not be able to counter anyone’s opportunistic reasons for being on the safe side of an existing trend; but we are in a position to refute the theological justification which the Arya Samaj proclaims for its adoption of “Vedic monotheism”.


1. The dawn of monotheism


Monotheism is not merely the cult of a single god, which would be called henotheism, but also implies the active rejection of all other gods. The recipient of monotheistic worship is notHeis Theos, “one god”, but Ho Monos Theos, “the only god”. Thus, Hindus worshipping an ishta devata, “chosen deity”, selected from among many, are henotheists but not monotheists. A Hindu who never worships any god except Shiva, but doesn’t object to his neighbour’s worshipping Krishna or Durga, fails the test of monotheism.


1.1. Akhenaten’s solar Monotheism


At the present state of knowledge, the first recorded monotheist was Pharaoh Akhenaten or Ekhnaton (r. 1351-1334 BC).  He not only worshipped a single god, the solar disc Aten, but also tried to terminate the worship of other gods, starting with the removal of Amon from his own original name Amenhotep (“Amon is satisfied”), which he replaced with Akhen-Aten (“Living spirit of Aten”). Later, his son would make the reverse movement, changing his own name from Tut-ankh-Aten (“Living image of Aten”) to Tut-ankh-Amon. Akhenaten’s monotheism didn’t survive him for long because it went against the grain of Egyptian culture and sensibilities.


Perhaps he could have made people accept his religion sincerely if he had at least combined it with political successes and prosperity. In his own new capital Akhet-Aten (“Horizon of the Aten”, Amarna) he concentrated a community of followers that enjoyed privileges provided for from the state treasury, which means the rest of the people had to subsidize his socio-religious experiment. His foreign policy was a disaster, he neglected diplomacy and military fortifications and thus greatly weakened his empire. After his death, the Egyptians tried to quickly forget him.


Akhenaten’s present popularity, attested by his enormous overrepresentation in textbooks on ancient Egypt, is a consequence of the plentiful and innovative artworks depicting him, his chief wife Nefertiti and his Aten cult; and mostly of his monotheism, deemed uniquely meritorious. Since Moses, the founder of Israelite monotheism, lived in Egypt about a generation after Akhenaten, it is widely assumed the Pharaoh influenced the Prophet.


 1.2. Moses’ monotheism


Moses found his One God when he was living in the desert as a guest of Jethro, the priest of the Beduins of Midian (Exodus 2:15 ff.), a region in the northwestern corner of Arabia where he had fled to as a fugitive from Egyptian criminal justice, wanted for manslaughter. He experienced an audio-visual sensation while looking into a burning bush, a desert plant from which an ethereal oil evaporates that catches fire in the noontime heat. A voice told him to take off his shoes as he was standing on hallowed ground, i.e. in the presence of a divine being. The god, when asked by Moses for his name, introduced himself as “I am that I am” (eheyeh asher eheyeh). Biblically, this is understood as a hint at the name Yahweh, interpreted through approximative folk etymology as “the Being One”, “the One Who Is”; or by later exegetes with airs of profundity, as “the One Whose Essence is Being”.


In fact, as the great Orientalist Julius Wellhausen has shown, the name Yahweh is Arabic (its root is attested in the Quran) and means “the Blower”, apparently the Beduin god of wind and storm. Egypt’s Nile Valley has an extremely stable climate with endless sunshine, but the desert is subjected to sand storms, hence the logic of Moses’ replacing the Pharaoh’s sun god with a storm god.


After having fallen from grace in Egypt, Moses fashioned himself a new career as the national leader of the Semitic immigrant population in Egypt, which he led away to Palestine. Along the way, in the wilderness of Sinai, he staged a show with smoke and trumpets and had the gullible people believe that he had seen God on the mountain and received the Ten Commandments from Him. These consist of two unrelated parts. The second part is age-old general morality of the “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not commit adultery” type. Of course people don’t need a divine revelation to know that societies couldn’t function for long without such a set of basic rules. Other nations didn’t bring God in and called these rules the mos maiorum, “the ancestral customs”. In this case, however, they were tagged on as a second half to the first set of commandments, which by contrast went completely against the tradition. Rendered more acceptable by the coupling with indisputable rules of morality, this first part was quite revolutionary, viz. Moses’ new theology. This included a prohibition on using God’s name lightly (a taboo also found in other religions), on making images of God, and most of all, on offering worship to any god beside Yahweh.


The first thing Moses did when he came down from the Sinai mountain with his rock-hewn Ten Commandments was to slaughter 3000 religious dissenters. These were enthusiasts of Ba’al, “Lord”, originally a generic term of address for kings and gods, later used specifically for the Northwest-Semitic fertility god Hadad. He is known from Semitic royal names like Jeze-bel,Bel-shazzarHanni-bal and Bal-thazar. This traditional fertility god was typically depicted as a bull. For the purposes of worship, the devotees in the Sinai had fashioned a statue (what Hindus call a mûrti) of the bull god from their own jewelry: the “Golden Calf”.


Nowadays this term is used as shorthand for crass materialism and greed, as if this moral vice were needed to justify the devotees’ mass slaughter by Moses. In fact, they were anything but greedy, they donated their wealth in exchange for the joy of having a focus for their religious exercise of worshipping Ba’al. It was not because of a moral vice that they were put to death, but only because they worshipped another god than Yahweh. The latter could not tolerate this since he was, in his own words (as reported from Mount Sinai by Moses), “a jealous god”.


Moses did not live to see the conquest of the Promised Land, of which he only caught a glimpse from afar. His successor Joshua devised a clever strategy of keeping the non-combatants concentrated outside the war zone and attacking the cities one by one. Citing orders from God, he eliminated the native fellow-Semitic population, the Canaanites. This he justified with a promise which he claimed Yahweh had made long before (scholars’ estimate: 4 to 5 centuries) to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Note that the natives were not asked for their theological opinions. They were not killed because of their polytheism, and it seems unlikely that they could have saved themselves by quickly converting. At that time, Yahweh was still the god of a nation, not of a community of like-minded believers.


1.3. Henotheistic origins


It is widely assumed among scholars that the Yahweh cult was initially henotheistic rather than monotheistic. Yahweh insisted that his followers worship only him and no other gods, but this did not immediately imply that other gods were deemed non-existent and illusory. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, the first of the Ten Commandments, can be read as a husband’s claim on the absolute loyalty of his wife. By no means does such a husband deny the existence of other men, he merely demands that his wife disregard all other men and devote herself exclusively to him. In the initial phase, Yahweh’s religion makes no truth claim about the non-existence of other gods, rather it sees them as dangerous seducers who have to be kept at bay. From the 13th to the 7th century BC, Israelite monotheism was in a formative stage of a henotheism increasingly hyperfocused on the chosen One God, leading to the ultimate black-out of the other gods. From seductive rivals to Yahweh, they shrivel to become illusory projections of the human mind.


This evolution is summarily acted out in the evolution of the Biblical god’s other name, Elohim. In Northwest-Semitic (Canaanite, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Hebrew), this is a masculine plural form, meaning “gods”. The Semites had a god El, whose name lives on in personal names like Gabr-i-el, “my strength is God”, Mi-cha-el, “who is like God?”. In cuneiform, this name was rendered with the sumerogram Dingir, showing a star. That indeed is the original West-Asian concept of the gods: they were stars, collectively “the heavenly host”. One of the oldest epithets of Yahweh is “Lord of Hosts”, i.e. the supergod presiding over the army of gods in their daily march across the sky (which again presupposes that the other gods were real, though lesser in stature). The contrast between polytheism and the first monotheism was quite literally that between the numerous stars in the night sky and the lone star of the day sky.


A noun derived from El is the feminine abstractive noun Eloha, “a god”, “deity”, better known in its Arabic form Ilâha. This countable noun referred to any of the numerous gods worshipped by the Pagan Arabs. With the South-Semitic definite article al-, this becomes Al-Ilâha, “the god”, better known in its contracted form Allâh. Both in Hebrew Elohim and in Arabic Allâh, we see how the conception of the One and Only God, to judge from his name, is rooted in the polytheistic conception of “god” as a countable noun, “one of the gods”. As if a single star was selected, looked at ever more closely until it outshone and rendered invisible all other stars, and was then reinterpreted as the only star in existence.


This rootedness in polytheism is found in most languages where the concept of a single God was introduced. To the pre-existing Greek and Latin generic terms theos and deus, “a god”, the emerging Christian Church assigned the new monotheistic meaning “God”. In Germanic, the word god seems to have been a uncountable noun since pre-Christian times, but of neutral (rather than of masculine) gender, i.e. impersonal: “the numinous”, “the divine”. Its Sanskit etymological equivalent is hutam, “(that which is) honoured with libations/sacrifices”, “(that which is) worshipped”. Here too, the Christian monotheistic term is borrowed from a pre-Christian non-monotheistic conception, viz. of the divine as a numinous essence present in an undefined number of gods and perfectly thinkable apart from a single personal God. In Chinese, Protestant missionaries have chosen the old term Shangdi as their translation of the Biblical names for “God”. They may not have realized that in Chinese, which doesn’t morphologically distinguish plural from singular, this ancient term had been conceived as plural: “the powers on high”, “the gods above”.


In the 19th century, the idea of an Urmonotheismus, a primeval monotheism, gained ground. It meant that the historically attested polytheistic religions had come into being as aberrations from an older monotheistic religion. Islam had pioneered this idea with its claim that Adam had been the first Muslim and that the Kaaba, built by Adam, had later been usurped by the Pagans for the polytheistic worship which Mohammed had found (and destroyed) there. But in the actual history of early monotheism, we find its cradle was polytheistic, with no trace of a reference to an earlier, primeval monotheism.


1.4. The jealous God


In polytheistic pantheons, gods with a specific character are typically counterbalanced by gods with the opposite character, e.g. war-like Ares or Mars with harmony-seeking Aphrodite or Venus. No doubt the Arab Beduin storm-god Yahweh had brothers and sisters in the pantheon who represented less stormy traits to keep the whole in balance. If the idea of a single god had been thought up in the abstract, one could have expected him to be neutral, elevated far above all those pairs of opposition. Later thinkers working within a monotheistic framework will indeed try to understand their god in this manner: as a coincidentia oppositorum,  “unity of opposites” (thus German philosopher Nicolaus Cusanus, 15th cent.). Instead of a war-god held in check by a peace goddess, you would logically get a single god transcending the war/peace opposition.


However, that is not how monotheism originally came about. When all other gods were outlawed, Yahweh nonetheless retained his character of tribal storm god, but no longer counterbalanced by more pleasant fellow-deities. Though not as sexually playful as the Indo-European storm-gods Indra, Zeus, Jupiter, Perkunas, Perun or Donar (unless you include his begetting Jesus upon the Virgin Mary, and even that fling on the side he outsourced to the Holy Ghost), Yahweh resembles and outdoes them in choleric flare-ups and violent discharges of anger. Thus, his initiative to destroy mankind by means of the Flood was motivated by anger at the disappointing performance of his own human creatures.


Let Yahweh’s short temper be his privilege and that of his followers, the one thing truly objectionable about him from the viewpoint of the non-believers is only his effort to destroy alternative gods and their religions. Pre-Christian Israelite history is punctuated by episodes of slaughter against non-Yahwists. Thus, the prophet Elijah challenged a group of Ba’al priests to have their god produce a miracle and set fire to a sacrificial animal. Of course miracles don’t exist, so nothing happened; and when Elijah had Yahweh set alight his own sacrifice after he had sprinkled “water” on it, the gullible were taken in, but he had obviously used a trick (petrol?). At any rate, the next thing we know is that he had the 450 Ba’al priests put to death. His own disciple Elisha organized a coup against the Ba’al-worshipping queen Jezebel and killed her and 70 of her relatives.


However, until the expansion of Christianity, this campaign of destruction was limited to the Israelites or such foreigners as lived among the Israelites and had an influence on them. It did not interfere with the religion of “the nations”. To be sure, there was plenty of slaughter of non-Israelites during the conquest of the Promised Land. But this was simply to make way for the Chosen People, to create living space, not to make them change their religion. On the contrary, it was taken for granted that “the nations” (goyim) had other religions than that of Yahweh:“And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars — all the heavenly array — do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshipping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deuteronomy 4:19)


You’ve read that right: the heavenly hosts as the gods forbidden to the Israelites, have been “apportioned to all the nations” by Yahweh, who consequently didn’t want them to worship him instead of the gods given to them. This again testifies to the fact that Yahweh was originally conceived as a tribal god, entitled to the loyalty of his own tribe but without universal pretentions (just as a husband is entitled to his wife’s loyalty but not to that of all women).


The first dim apparition of Yahweh’s universal ambition is perhaps Prophet Isaiah’s fantasy of an end-time in which all nations come to pay tribute to the Israelites and their god in Jerusalem.  But it is only later, in the multicultural and universalizing climate of the Hellenistic states (4th-1st cent. BC), that some Israelites start conceiving of their God as universally valid. This didn’t make them embark on massive missionary campaigns, but on a small scale they did start to attract converts or “proselytes”. Jewish thinkers like Philo of Alexandria briefly tried to incorporate notions from Greek philosophy, such as Plato’s “idea of the Good” or Aristotle’s “unmoved mover”, into their conception of God.


It fell to Christianity to complete this job of incorporating the universalist Greek concepts of the Absolute into the monotheistic construction of God. Because Christianity had universal rather than national ambitions, it made the destruction of everyone else’s “false gods” its chief mission. This same mission was later interiorized and amplified by Mohammed. To the surviving non-monotheistic traditions, monotheism became an all-devouring predator and a self-declared enemy.
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  1. Mohan Sagar says

    A fantastic article!! Yes, I would concur that Hinduism is closest to the henotheism of early Islam and Judaism. It is interesting how, even the Vaishnavites, holding firm to their merciful god, still do not deny the existence or worship of others; only that the worship of these others does not lead to salvation.

  2. Mohan Sagar says


    For the most part, Joseph Campbell seems to be presenting Adisankara’s concept of Hinduism. I do not see a connection between this, which is largely rooted in sankhya, mimasakha and Vedanta, and the Arya Samaj belief To me, the Samaj appears to be a radical departure from Sankara’s ideas in favor of a return to Rig Vedic thought, i.e., agnihotram and sandhya vandanam.

  3. sayanthan says

    Mohan, I have nothing against opinions and in my opinion, we should not judge the thought process and ideals of a sect or any branch of sanatan dharma by the acts of the people associated with it. If that would be the case, then other people would associated Hindus and Hinduism with dowry, cast system, infanticide etc. Therefore what Vedas teach is not exactly equal to what Indians or Hindus really do. Similarly, what Aryasamaj teaches or concepts of Adishankara be, is not equal to what Aryasamajis or followers of Adishankara do.

    Vedas promote vegetarianism, meditation, yoga, and restraining of senses. How many Hindus actually act on it? To be precise, some even justify their hooliganism and verbal abuses calling it ‘kshatriyata or dharmic’. Should we conclude, like you did, that “Hinduism/Hindus appears to be a radical departure from Vedic ideas”?

    Similarly, Buddha was against animal killing. But many Japanese and chinese buddhists are hardcore non-vegetarians. Should we say, “Buddhism/Buddhists appears to be a radical departure from teachings of Buddha”? It only sounds absurd.

    Therefore a true buddhist is one who ideally follows teachings of Buddha, a true Vedantist is a one who ponders and abides by that spiritual teaching of the Vedas and similarly a true AryaSamaji is a one who follows the message of Dayanand Saraswati.

    Regarding agnihotram : http://agniveerfans.wordpress.com/category/vedas/page/7/ :)

  4. DoesItMatter says

    Brilliant article. Hinduism has the theistic and philosophical component. The theistic component is clearly polytheistic. The common person on the streets does not view his or her gods the same way a monotheistic worshiper views his or her God. Polytheism provides a fabric of sustainability – Dharma.

  5. M Raghavan says

    @sayanthan: I am not judging anything, nor am I forming some opinion. It is a fact that Adi Sankara was through and through an Vedantin. He strongly held to the position that nothing other than jnanam can lead to Brahmavidya. All else, dharma, karma, etc. is within the bonds of maya.

    The late Joseph Campbell was an admitted advaitin who held to the same views. I see no correlation between him and Arya Samaj. And, frankly I don’t think the Samaj needs to hold to Sankara to justify its position. What Swamy Dayanand Saraswati is logical argument in and of itself.

    What people practice and how people practice has nothing to do with what the teachings are. I hope we can limit this discussion to a healthy exchange of ideas (not opinions) such that we can all learn from one another.

  6. M Raghavan says

    @DoesItMatter: an excellent observation. As a follower of Hinduism, I find that the pantheistic nature of the faith takes away the sense of fear and obligation associated with the monotheistic paths. It should be noted that monotheistic elements do exist in Hinduism, particularly in some of the nyaya arguments, as well as among Tamil scholars. But, this monotheism is quite distinct from that of the West, in that the Supreme is acknowledged as the Ultimate Benefactor to society; and as such, all things are His (Her) Blessing and all souls are already “saved”.

  7. DoesItMatter says

    M.Raghavan: Thanks, I agree with all you have said, but for the last part :-) There is no saving of souls.

  8. M Raghavan says

    @DoesItMatter: of course not; if the Supreme Being is so kind, then we have never left Heaven. That is why we are already saved. We are here on this earth, because the Supreme feels that we are useful here. At least, this is the position of the Tamil scholars.

  9. Girdhar says

    @Raghavan :

    IMO, the essence of sanskrit literate is often distorted and destroyed when translated into the inferior English language. The westerners degraded the term dharma to english term “religion”, which has no connection even remotely to the true essence and understanding of the word ‘dharma’. Similarly, there is no connection between the term theism and astik for theism derives from western literatures and their connection to the term ‘religion’ which often undermines questioning. Moreover, it propogates attachment to the name of one god in their ‘book’. Whereas, astik relates to Vedas which promote questioning and the nameless, attributeless ultimate reality which is unborn, unmanifested, formless yet called by various names and manifested in various forms which are further adored via various paintings and idols.

    Therefore, English “tags” like monotheism or polytheism is still a gross distortion of the ultimate reality. The unknown, the infinite, the unborn can neither be one nor many. It is beyond the known and unknown. What I see is that people are using the abrahamic definitions like *theism (* = mono/poly/etc) to justify their affinity to their individual subjective tagging of the ultimate truth. The very usage of these tags is a reduction and limitation of the ultimate reality and hence IMO, the terms like astik, nastik, dharma, deva etc should be used in their sanskrit form in English language too without corresponding mapping to the English words.

    It is because of these tags and translations into the English language that the works of different schools of thoughts be yoga and sankhya, dayanand saraswati or shankara seems different.

    Immature persons say that ‘Saankhya’ and ‘Yoga’ are different; but the wise do not. A person who perfectly follows one attains the result of both. That very state which is attained by the followers of ‘Saankhya’ is also attained by the followers of ‘Yoga’. One who sees ‘Saankhya’ and ‘Yoga’ to be one and the same, sees truly. (BG 5.4-5)

    What is the color of the sky? Does it contain “one” particular color or “many” colors? Or is it colorless? :)

    IMO, we need to read the works of Saraswati, Shankara and other Indian philosophies in hindi or sanskrit to truly understand their essence instead of sticking to English ones.

    Westerners, for their political mileage, divided the Indian philsophies into various isms and now we are dividing the essence by tagging into the inferior English words.

    Sri Aurobindo, on how words and the meanings change, says, “What is the use of avoiding the word “God” and speaking always of the Supreme as “It” simply because the Sanscrit usually, — but not, be it observed, invariably — employs the neuter gender? The neuter in Sanscrit applies not only to what is inanimate but to what is beyond such terms as animate and inanimate, not only to what is below gender but to what is above gender. In English this is not the case. The use of “It” may therefore lead to far more serious misconceptions than to use the term “God” & the pronoun “He”.”

    So what is the ultimater reality is it, “he, she or it”?

    Not woman is He, nor man either, nor yet sexless; but whatsoever body He take, that confineth & preserveth Him. (Svetasvatara Upanishad, 5.10)

    Please note, we are still reading the above translation in the inferior English format. :)

  10. Mohan Sagar says

    @Sayanthan: sat-cit-ananda is a description for Brahman in Sanskrit. The Tamil schools did not look at the Supreme Being as Brahman in the way the Upanishads did. Their reasoning was far more inductive, e.g.:

    1. All things are either born or are created. Ultimately there must be One Creator who is the origin of all things.

    2. Since The Creator is providing all that we need to survive and thrive as a people, this Creator must be Very Kind.

    3. Since the Supreme is the cause of all that is, all of this is His(Her) Gift of kindness, and in essence all belongs to the Supreme; therefore all are dependent on the Supreme

    4. Knowing that He(She) is there for us, knowing that life is a gift, we need not worry for ourselves. Rather, we should seek to be useful to others in this life, in the spirit of gratitude to the Supreme.

  11. M Raghavan says


    I beg to differ. To suggest that Hinduism is somehow so distinct from other belief systems that it cannot be discussed to or from a Western framework takes away from its universal message, which we call Sanatan Dharma.

    It should also be noted that many Western authors are quite fluent in Sanskrit and other vernaculars. And, point of fact, German is so close to Sanskrit that it has become quite easy to translate between the two.

    With regards to polytheism, monotheism, and so on, these references are quite relevant to Hinduism as it contains both of these aspects and more. A healthy exchange of objective ideas regarding these will perhaps remove the cloudy ideas that most Hindus have floating around in their heads.

  12. Girdhar says

    @Mohan :

    The whole universe consists of matter and energy. From that rises another body of ‘matter and energy’ e.g humans, and into that matter and energy it dissolves again. The one who is kind enough as you say, is it isolated from that ‘matter and energy’?

    This is what the shrutis call as infinite, indivisible, unborn and umanifest. A small wave in ocean may be temporary but it is still a part of that ocean! Even mathematically, infinite cannot be ‘visualised’. The very moment you visualise it, you’d be reducing it. Therefore it cannot be called ‘poly’ as the numbers are still a part of that infinite and it cannot be called just as one for that would contradict the very definition of infinite. Divide infinite by a number and you’d still get infinite! We call the ultimate truth as one as it comes close in expressions. We call it single truth as it makes sense. We cannot call “many truths” as it may lead to contradiction between those truths. ‘Ekam sat vipra bahudanti’

    But that truth is not the same as the monotheistic god of the abrahamics which has some particular gender and cannot be spoken of via other names or greedy to convert people and dividing the humanity between ‘us and them’.

    @Raghavan :

    It doesn’t matter to me if the westerners are fluent in sanskrit, but I was only talking about the damages and distortions done when many words in sanskrit are mapped to English.

    The dharma of a science student is to question. Can it be said that the ‘religion’ of science student is to question? That would only be absurd! Dharma (righteousness, ethics, duty etc) doesn’t ‘tag’ you but religion indeed tags.

    Anways, I never meant that Vedic truth cannot be dicussed. The fact that we have so many shrutis itself means that it can be discussed. But discussion is not the same as ‘knowing’!

    You may discuss thought, but even modern science doesn’t know how, why and from where a thought comes into the mind. We may discuss universe, but the modern science doesn’t know why and how it came into being. It is still stuck with the debunked big bang theory and LHC experiments. Some are stuck saying modern science will indeed know all the answers. This behavior itself connotes blind belief in science or treating science as a religion.

    So please understand what I had stated. :)

  13. Arjun says

    “Therefore, English “tags” like monotheism or polytheism is still a gross distortion of the ultimate reality.”

    Why just blame the English when you have your own Indians defining themselves as ‘Monothiests, The Arya Samaj and the Singh Sabha are good examples maybe you should go and lecture them…

  14. Girdhar says

    After an explanation, if another person repeats the same mistake, then its called stupidity. I wasn’t blaming the English(men) or people in general, but the very use of English language to expand on profound Sanskrit terms! And for that very reason, people need to read scriptures in sanskrit or its derivatives like Hindi to understand completely what Adishankara, Saraswati or the shrutis have said.

    The practicing christian i.e Koenraad Elst repeats the same mistake again and again like many other people and some wise guys fight uselessly on the top of those mistakes and English comprehensions only, busy fighting, abusing and interfering in the civil discussions tagging them as lectures’. :(

  15. Arjun says

    “The practising christian i.e Koenraad Elst repeats the same mistake again ”

    That already proves what conspiracy theory mindset you have..lol

  16. DoesItMatter says

    @Raghavan: Can you point me in the general direction or give me the names of those tamil scholars? Thanks. The concept of Eastern Atma is not exactly the same as the Western concept of Soul. If one agrees with our traditional thoughts, then the Atmas are here because of its karma. Circle of life – samsara.

  17. Amit says

    Koenard is a Christian, really. I wonder why he hasn’t been excomunicated from the RC church by now for his views on monotheism. Anyone who has read this article will know that he isn’t a fan of monotheism and so calling such a person a christian in other words a monotheist ( Christianity isn’t really monotheism, but that how christians see themselves as) is kind of paradoxical. Anyway, its another great article from Koenard, relevant to the times that we are living in. Arya Samaj has given the hindu community great leaders, no doubts, however today Arya Samaj is a spent force who’s only claim to fame is abusing other Hindus and belite them by calling them.pauranics and moortipujaks. Funny thing is that many of these Hindus don’t follow the Puranas, but sadly anyone with a hindu sounding name who isn’t a communist or an Arya Samaji is a pauranic, lol.

  18. M Raghavan says

    @DoesItMatter: for an examination of the Tamil poems, I would suggest A K Ramanujan’s “Hymns for the Drowning” and “Speaking of Siva”. The former has an afterword which provides an excellent overview of the Tamil understanding of God.

    For an excellent summary of the message of one set of mystics, the Azhwars, please visit:


  19. Arjun says

    @Amit, Girdhar must be worshipping at the same church as Koenraad on Sundays so maybe thats where hes got the information from or it could be from the hindu loony conspiracy theory fringe lol

  20. Amit says

    Probably Giridhar isn’t aware of they used to do to people like Koenard back in the days for the apostasy and “heretic” writings. Merely aligning with heathens would be enough for the powers that be to treat such a person in the worst possible way that can be conceived. While the methods these people might have changed, the attitude is still the same. This is something that Hindus will have to learn if about the the monotheistic faiths and in this day and age of the internet, no one has the right to feign ignorance.

  21. sayanthan says

    Giradhar, I agree with you that infinite and indivisible cannot be mono or poly and that many sanskrit terms and concept get distorted when translated to English. I think those born and brought up in the western countries and the inferior English language can never truly understand the true essence of sanatan dharma.

    DoesitMatter, I do agree with you on this… “The concept of Eastern Atma is not exactly the same as the Western concept of Soul.” :)

    ArjunJi, “Why just blame the English when you have your own Indians defining themselves” …. “Your own Indians” that you say itself tells how condescending you are towards Indians. Indians do not use polluted English language or terms to understand the Indian philosophies. The Yagnas or prayers are not performed in English language.

    “We Indians” use words like “ekam sat vipra bahudanti”. Mujhe aise kyun lag raha hai ki mein angrezi bhains ke saamne desi been baja raha hoon?

    “You Indians”…..dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka na ghat ka!!

  22. vinod says

    A Rich Woman on a Traffic signal to a Beggar: Arey, I have seen You somewhere… . . . . . . . . Beggar : Memsaab, we are Friends on FACEBOOK…!

  23. Mike C says

    “A Hindu who never worships any god except Shiva, but doesn’t object to his neighbour’s worshipping Krishna or Durga, fails the test of monotheism.” According to this definition monotheism has to be intolerant to be monotheism, what rubbish! A Monotheist just needs to believe that there is only one God, by definition!

  24. Nahar Varma says

    Koenraad Elst says about Moses commanding that Ba’al’s worshippers be put to death:
    //It was not because of a moral vice that they were put to death, but only because they worshipped another god than Yahweh. The latter could not tolerate this since he was, in his own words (as reported from Mount Sinai by Moses), “a jealous god”.//

    Elst gives incomplete information. Ba’al, as he rightly said, was a fertility god, and he was worshipped with sexual rites, as the Torah text (Exodus 32:25) itself shows:
    “And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies)”

    Some translations render it as “the people were out of control”, but the Hebrew word here is ?????? i.e. “Paru’a” which occurs only in one another place in the Bible, which is Leviticus 13:45, where it is said of a leper that his clothes will be rent, and his head shall be bare (??????). As the Vulgate translates this verse, “Caput NUDUM”.

    In fact, the reason idolatry and the worship of other gods is condemned in the Old Testament is because the people around the nation of Israel committed such lewd acts and sacrificed humans, mostly their children, to their gods. This can be seen from Deuteronomy 12:31– “Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.”

    The punishment Moses gave was because they had committed acts of lewdness. These ‘sacraments’ were part of the cults of other gods.

    Finally, about the etymology of “Yahweh”: Julius Wellhausen was the proponent of the JEDP theory, which claims that the Torah is the product of four documents, and this argument is based on perceived differences in textual style in various portions of the Torah. However, different styles need not mean different authors. Moses is said to have written the Torah over a period of 40 years, and such a long time is enough to bring slight changes in one person’s style of writing. Anyway, the root of YHWH is considered to be H-Y-H, or its older form H-W-H, which means “to be”. (In Aramaic H-W-A is the root of “to be”) That Moses considered this the meaning of YHWH is seen from Exodus 3:14, in which God revealing Himself to Moses, when asked by him who He was, replied, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh!”, which means “I am Who I am!” The next verse has YHWH calling Himself the “I am”. I am not aware of any Bedouin group in ancient times worshiping YHWH.

  25. Nahar Varma says

    On Elst’s theory that Elijah used “petrol”? Laughable. Anyway, the relevant text (2 Kings 1:10) speaks of fire “descending from heaven”. Such a fire, whether natural or supernatural, would definitely vaporize whatever water was left on the sacrifice.

    About the Israelites’ “campaign of destruction” of the Canaanites: It was again because of their theological ideas; they indulged in sexual orgies and sacrificed their children as acts of worship to their gods. Leviticus 18 has a list of sexual sins that YHWH ordered Israel not to commit, at the end of the list it says that “Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” (Leviticus 18:24-25)

    Elst shows his ignorance further when he says of the Canaanites, “They were not killed because of their polytheism, and it seems unlikely that they could have saved themselves by quickly converting.”: The verse above contradicts that, and it seems he hasn’t read of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:9-11), who converted to “Yahwism” as Elst puts it.

    Again Elst shows his ignorance when he says that the early reigion of Israel was henotheistic only, nd had YHWH as just Israel’s tribal god. This is contradicted by Rahab’s own statement in Joshua 6:11 that “YHWH is God in Heaven and Earth.” From the beginning of the Torah, it gives the picture of YHWH as the only true God. Even Christianity has not traditionally denied the existence of other gods, but has interpreted them to demons. This can be seen for example in medieval Christian demonology turning the Canaanite fertility goddess Asherah into the demon Ashteroth.

    In fact, the universalist ideal of the Torah can be seen at least from the time of Solomon, King and prophet, who prayed at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem that “Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake; (For they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm;) when he shall come and pray toward this house; Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name.” (1 Kings 8:41-43). Moreover I wouldn’t call Isaiah’s vision of a restoration of knowledge of YHWH among all peoples of the earth a dim vision. The language of the book is rich and broad, and Isaiah’s vision even extends to animals. All in all, must say Elst hasn’t really read the Bible thoroughly. But hey, who says you need to be knowledgeable about something to write about it…

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