Hindus following Dvaita Vedanta consider that the individual souls, known as jīvātmans, and the eternal metaphysical Absolute called Brahman in Hinduism exist as independent realities, and that these are distinct. Such a philosophical system of Dvaita or dualism as it developed in the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, especially as set out in the Vedas and popularised by Madhvacharya in the 13th century has been influential on Hinduism. Especially the influence of Madhva's philosophy has been most prominent and pronounced on the Chaitanya school of Bengal Vaishnavism.Madhva says that in the beginning there was only one God and that was Narayana or Vishnu and refused to accept any claims that other Hindu deities, such as Brahma or Shiva, might be equally the highest.
It has been claimed by some scholars that the Dvaita tradition founded by Madhvacharya in 13th century is based on a concept similar to God in other major world religions. Their writings also led some early colonial-era Indologists such as George Abraham Grierson to suggest Madhvacharya was influenced by Christianity, but later scholarship has rejected this theory. Madhva's historical influence in Hinduism, state Kulandran and Kraemer, has been salutary, but not extensive.
Henotheism was the term used by scholars such as Max Müller to describe the theology of Vedic religion. Müller noted that the hymns of the Rigveda, the oldest scripture of Hinduism, mention many deities, but praises them successively as the "one ultimate, supreme God", alternatively as "one supreme Goddess", thereby asserting that the essence of the deities was unitary (ekam), and the deities were nothing but pluralistic manifestations of the same concept of the divine (God).
The idea that there can be and are plural perspectives for the same divine or spiritual principle repeats in the Vedic texts. For example, other than hymn 1.164 with this teaching, the more ancient hymn 5.3 of the Rigveda states:
You at your birth are Varuna, O Agni.
When you are kindled, you are Mitra.
In you, O son of strength, all gods are centered.
You are Indra to the mortal who brings oblation.
You are Aryaman, when you are regarded as having
the mysterious names of maidens, O Self-sustainer.
Related terms to henotheism are monolatrism and kathenotheism. The latter term is an extension of "henotheism", from καθ' ἕνα θεόν (kath' hena theon) — "one god at a time". Henotheism refers to a pluralistic theology wherein different deities are viewed to be of a unitary, equivalent divine essence. Some scholars prefer the term monolatry to henotheism, to discuss religions where a single god is central, but the existence or the position of other gods is not denied. Another term related to henotheism is "equitheism", referring to the belief that all gods are equal.
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?
The Vedic era conceptualization of the divine or the One, states Jeaneane Fowler, is more abstract than a monotheistic God, it is the Reality behind and of the phenomenal universe. The Vedic hymns treat it as "limitless, indescribable, absolute principle", thus the Vedic divine is something of a panentheism rather than simple henotheism. In late Vedic era, around the start of Upanishadic age (c. 800 BCE), theosophical speculations emerge that develop concepts which scholars variously call nondualism or monism, as well as forms of non-theism and pantheism. An example of the questioning of the concept of God, in addition to henotheistic hymns found therein, are in later portions of the Rigveda, such as the Nasadiya Sukta.Hinduism calls the metaphysical absolute concept as Brahman, incorporating within it the transcendent and immanent reality. Different schools of thought interpret Brahman as either personal, impersonal or transpersonal. Ishwar Chandra Sharma describes it as "Absolute Reality, beyond all dualities of existence and non-existence, light and darkness, and of time, space and cause".
Influential ancient and medieval Hindu philosophers, states philosophy professor Roy Perrett, teach their spiritual ideas with a world created ex nihilo and "effectively manage without God altogether".
In Hinduism, Brahman connotes the highest Universal Principle, the Ultimate Reality in the universe. In major schools of Hindu philosophy, it is the material, efficient, formal and final cause of all that exists. It is the pervasive, genderless, infinite, eternal truth and bliss which does not change, yet is the cause of all changes. Brahman as a metaphysical concept is the single binding unity behind the diversity in all that exists in the universe.
While Hinduism sub-schools such as Advaita Vedanta emphasize the complete equivalence of Brahman and Atman, they also expound on Brahman as saguna Brahman—the Brahman with attributes, and nirguna Brahman—the Brahman without attributes. The nirguna Brahman is the Brahman as it really is, however, the saguna Brahman is posited as a means to realizing nirguna Brahman, but the Hinduism schools declare saguna Brahman to be ultimately illusory. The concept of the saguna Brahman, such as in the form of avatars, is considered in these schools of Hinduism to be a useful symbolism, path and tool for those who are still on their spiritual journey, but the concept is finally cast aside by the fully enlightened.
The Bhakti movement of Hinduism built its theosophy around two concepts of Brahman—Nirguna and Saguna.Nirguna Brahman was the concept of the Ultimate Reality as formless, without attributes or quality.Saguna Brahman, in contrast, was envisioned and developed as with form, attributes and quality. The two had parallels in the ancient pantheistic unmanifest and theistic manifest traditions, respectively, and traceable to Arjuna-Krishna dialogue in the Bhagavad Gita. It is the same Brahman, but viewed from two perspectives: one from Nirguni knowledge-focus and other from Saguni love-focus, united as Krishna in the Gita.Nirguna bhakta's poetry were Jnana-shrayi, or had roots in knowledge.Saguna bhakta's poetry were Prema-shrayi, or with roots in love. In Bhakti, the emphasis is reciprocal love and devotion, where the devotee loves God, and God loves the devotee.
Nirguna and Saguna Brahman concepts of the Bhakti movement has been a baffling one to scholars, particularly the Nirguni tradition because it offers, states David Lorenzen, "heart-felt devotion to a God without attributes, without even any definable personality". Yet given the "mountains of Nirguni bhakti literature", adds Lorenzen, bhakti for Nirguna Brahman has been a part of the reality of the Hindu tradition along with the bhakti for Saguna Brahman. These were two alternate ways of imagining God during the bhakti movement.
The Yogasutras of Patanjali use the term Ishvara in 11 verses: I.23 through I.29, II.1, II.2, II.32 and II.45. Ever since the Sutra's release, Hindu scholars have debated and commented on who or what is Isvara? These commentaries range from defining Isvara from a "personal god" to "special self" to "anything that has spiritual significance to the individual". Whicher explains that while Patanjali's terse verses can be interpreted both as theistic or non-theistic, Patanjali's concept of Isvara in Yoga philosophy functions as a "transformative catalyst or guide for aiding the yogin on the path to spiritual emancipation".
Patanjali defines Isvara (Sanskrit: ईश्वर) in verse 24 of Book 1, as "a special Self (पुरुषविशेष, puruṣa-viśeṣa)",
This sutra of Yoga philosophy of Hinduism adds the characteristics of Isvara as that special Self which is unaffected (अपरामृष्ट, aparamrsta) by one's obstacles/hardships (क्लेश, klesha), one's circumstances created by past or one's current actions (कर्म, karma), one's life fruits (विपाक, vipâka), and one's psychological dispositions/intentions (आशय, ashaya).
Madhvacharya was misperceived and misrepresented by both Christian missionaries and Hindu writers during the colonial era scholarship. The similarities in the primacy of one God, dualism and distinction between man and God, devotion to God, the son of God as the intermediary, predestination, the role of grace in salvation, as well as the similarities in the legends of miracles in Christianity and Madhvacharya's Dvaita tradition fed these stories. Among Christian writers, G. A. Grierson creatively asserted that Madhva's ideas evidently were "borrowed from Christianity, quite possibly promulgated as a rival to the central doctrine of that faith". Among Hindu writers, according to Sarma, S. C. Vasu creatively translated Madhvacharya's works to identify Madhvacharya with Christ, rather than compare their ideas.
Modern scholarship rules out the influence of Christianity on Madhvacharya, as there is no evidence that there ever was a Christian settlement where Madhvacharya grew up and lived, or that there was a sharing or discussion of ideas between someone with knowledge of the Bible and Christian narratives, and him.
A different viewpoint, opposing this theological concept is the concept of Krishna as an avatar of Narayana or Vishnu. It should be however noted that although it is usual to speak of Vishnu as the source of the avataras, this is only one of the names of god of Vaishnavism, who is also known as Narayana, Vasudeva and Krishna and behind each of those names there is a divine figure with attributed supremacy in Vaishnavism.
The theological interpretation of Svayam Bhagavān differs with each tradition and the literal translation of the term has been understood in several distinct ways. Translated from the Sanskrit language, the term literary means "Bhagavan Himself" or "directly Bhagavan".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.
Earlier commentators such as Madhvacharya translated the term Svayam Bhagavan as "he who has bhagavatta"; meaning "he who has the quality of possessing all good qualities". Others have translated it simply as "the Lord Himself". 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 and is considered to be the "paripurna Avatara", complete in all respects and the same as the original. According to them Krishna is described in the Bhagavata Purana as the Purnavatara (or complete manifestation) of the Bhagavan, while other incarnations are called partial.
^ abJulius J. Lipner (2009), 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."
^Lester Kurtz (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, ISBN978-0123695031, Academic Press, 2008
^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."
^Wiman Dissanayake (1993), Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice (Editors: Thomas P. Kasulis et al), State University of New York Press, ISBN978-0791410806, page 39; Quote: "The Upanishads form the foundations of Hindu philosophical thought and the central theme of the Upanishads is the identity of Atman and Brahman, or the inner self and the cosmic self."; Michael McDowell and Nathan Brown (2009), World Religions, Penguin, ISBN978-1592578467, pages 208-210
^ abFor dualism school of Hinduism, see: Francis X. Clooney (2010), Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries between Religions, Oxford University Press, ISBN978-0199738724, pages 51–58, 111–115; For monist school of Hinduism, see: B. Martinez-Bedard (2006), Types of Causes in Aristotle and Sankara, Thesis – Department of Religious Studies (Advisors: Kathryn McClymond and Sandra Dwyer), Georgia State University, pages 18–35
^Flood, Gavin D. (1996). An introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 341. ISBN978-0-521-43878-0. Retrieved 21 April 2008. gavin flood.
"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."
^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
^"Sapthagiri". www.tirumala.org. Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2008.
Parashara Maharishi, Vyasa's father had devoted the largest Amsa (part) in Vishnu Purana to the description of Sri Krishna Avatara the Paripoorna Avatara. And according to Lord Krishna's own (instructions) upadesha, "he who knows (the secrets of) His (Krishna's) Janma (birth) and Karma (actions) will not remain in samsara (punar janma naiti- maam eti) and attain Him after leaving the mortal coil." (BG 4.9). Parasara Maharishi ends up Amsa 5 with a phalashruti in an identical vein (Vishnu Purana .5.38.94)
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