English: sage Ramanujacharya's statue
Ramanujacharya’s statue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monotheists, especially fundamentalist Christians, sometimes criticize Hinduism by saying it’s polytheistic. This kind of critique, however, doesn’t necessarily hold up. The actual picture in Indian philosophy is far more complicated than the one painted by some Christian fundamentalists.¹ So a critique of Hinduism based on the idea of monotheism can – and should be – further examined.²

A good example of the complexity of Hinduism can be found in the difference between two leading Indian sages and philosophers, Sankara (788-820) and Ramanuja (1017–1137).

Ramanuja founded the Visistadvaita school of philosophy. Ramanuja’s school challenged Sankara’s belief that only the Brahman is real and individuality is illusory (maya).

For Ramanuja, the Brahman is real and beyond pain and suffering. But individual souls (jivas) emerging from and ultimately resting within the Brahman are also real. While the Brahman is beyond the law of karma, the individual soul (jiva) is not. As a result, the jiva experiences the pleasure and pain of earthly life.

Liberation from samsara, the round of rebirth due to karma, is gained through individual effort as well as the grace of God (Vishnu).

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Further reading:

  • P. D. Devanandan, The Concept of Maya, London: Lutterworth Press, 1950.

On the Web:

¹ This is not to say that Christianity and Hinduism are necessarily the same. I don’t believe they are. But my reasons for saying this are mostly phenomenological. Unfortunately, I can’t share my personal experience with others, so I usually don’t say too much about this. I don’t want any “all religions are the same” people getting upset and judgmental over my simply stating what I’ve experienced. If they can’t see a difference, it’s usually not worth the hassle.

² Similarly, one can critique an argument about the existence of God while still believing in God.

³ JSTOR may be accessed from university and many public libraries. It’s also an app at Facebook.


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