God and Self in Hinduism

Isvara, the Supreme Self

by Jayaram V

In Hinduism the highest and absolute God is called Brahman, who is without a beginning and without an end, who is beyond the mind and the senses, whose nature is bliss and oneness, who exists in all beings and in whom exists all.

He is the paramatman or the transcendental Supreme self, the creator of all.

He is with and without qualities.

He initiates the process of creation by becoming nirguna Brahman or the Brahman with qualities.

He sacrifices His own primal matter in the ritual act of creation to manifest the worlds and beings, dharma and cosmic order as an offering to Himself for His own pleasure.

His is the subjective reality, beyond all notions of duality, in contrast to the objective reality of ours which is steeped in duality.

The self is called atman or soul. It is the microcosmic aspect of Brahman, smaller than an atom and vaster than the earth, the ether, the heavens and all the worlds, without qualities and having the same consciousness as that of Brahman. The self is subject to illusion, bondage and the laws of karma. When it achieves liberation it regains its true nature and either rejoins Brahman or exists eternally in its purest state. Different schools of Hinduism interpret the nature of relationship between atman and Brahman differently. According to some schools they are one and the same and according to some they are different and exist separately. According to some they are one and the same but with some subtle differences that cannot be truly considered as differences. The Chandogya Upanishad equates Brahman with the all pervading Self in the following words.

Truly what is called Brahman
is the same as that space outside a person
Truly that space which is outside a person is
the same as that which is inside the person
and that space which is inside a person is
the same which is inside the heart.
That is fullness. That is the unchanging.
One who knows this
invariably gains full prosperity and
unwavering happiness

Hindus also worship several gods and goddesses. They are not different entities but different aspects of the same highest Brahman. In their deepest essence, they are same as Brahman. They also have some features or qualities or energies that distinguish them from other divinities and which are essential to uphold the Divine Law or Dharma. There is also a belief that the gods of Hinduism, including the Hindu Trinity are advanced souls of previous cycles of creation, and they are elevated as gods by virtue of their good deeds. Devout Hindus worship them as their personal gods and goddesses representing the highest Truth. One of the tenets of Hinduism is, "ekam sat viptra bahuda vadanti", which means the Truth is one but perceived and spoken in different forms. If God has many forms and if they are all the same in the final essence, it logically follows that He can be worshipped in many ways and that we can reach Him through any of His forms and manifestations.

Akasat patitam toyam yatha gacchati saagaram,
Sarva deva namaskara kesavam pratigacchati

Which means:

Just as the rain water wherever it falls finally flows down into the ocean, so also worship offered to any god will ultimately reach the supreme God.

According to Hinduism all life is sacred and every being is an aspect of God in a latent form. God creates the worlds and populates them with different beings for His own pleasure. A self realized person is but God in human form. God also incarnates upon earth from time to time to restore order and protect the weak and the meek from the evil. The fact that different gods are but aspects of one and the same God only is made clear in the following conversation by Yajnavalkya (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad).

Then Vidagdha Sakalya asked him: 'How many gods are there, O Yagnavalkya?'
He replied with this very Nivid: 'As many as are mentioned in the hymn of praise addressed to the Visvedevas, viz. three and three hundred, three and three thousand.'
'Yes,' he said, and asked again: 'How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?'
'Thirty-three,' he said.
'Yes,' he said, and asked again How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?'
'Six,' he said.
'Yes,' he said, and asked again:' How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?'
'Three,' he said.
'Yes,' he said, and asked again: 'How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?'
'Two,' he said.
'Yes,' he said, and asked again: 'How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?'
'One and a half (adhyardha),' he said.
'Yes,' he said, and asked again: 'How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?'
'One,' he said.

Share This


Suggestions for Further Reading