Hinduism and Buddhism monotheistic

Hinduism and Buddhism monotheistic


 General remark on Buddhism and Hinduism as ‘monotheistic’ religions:

 From the studies of all the Indian ‘holy’ scriptures as described above, it is now evident that one can find in them a general acceptance of the existence of an Ultimate Spiritual Reality in a kind of Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Krishna, and of which the other multitude of Saints (gods) are an expression or emanation of the Ultimate Reality in their different forms and expressions. This means that Hinduism can now be considered not so much as a pantheistic religion but can be brought under the umbrella of monotheistic religions.

    The same can be said of Buddhism where there is also an overall acceptance of a Spiritual Ultimate Reality as the origin and the final destination of all human beings as well as of all living and other material things, of which the Buddha has been the main prophet. Also here the multitude of Saints (gods, bodhisatvas) are historical expressions of deeply religious human beings, who are being revered more as Saints than as ‘gods’. This means that also Buddhism can be brought into the realm of monotheistic religions.

The text hereunder in a statement ‘Honouring the divine in each other’ by the United Church of Canada on Hindu Relations,  Aug. 2015, confirms what I have tried since years to proclaim the monotheism of both religions.

Hinduism as a Monotheistic Religion

Monotheism—worship of one god—has generally been understood to characterize the Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, while the multiple images of the Divine in Hinduism have been interpreted as worship of many gods. The use of these images in devotion has further led to accusations of idolatry.

Most Hindus will point out that all worship is directed toward one ultimate reality, Brahman, given particular form in the spirituality of the worshipper. Each form or image expresses different attributes of the one divine power; devotion to one of these images is an expression of devotion to the ultimate.

The multiplicity reflected in the gods and goddesses of Hinduism is rooted in an understanding that the ultimate/

Brahman is a mystery far more deep and complex than can be represented in a single image of divinity. Thus while individual Hindus will worship the deity that expresses their relationship to the Divine, most would acknowledge that their particular deity is one manifestation of the absolute or ultimate reality.

Followers of other traditions can find in Hinduism connections to their own understanding of monotheism in affirmations that the God who is One is indeed portrayed in multiple images and called by many names throughout scripture Honouring the Divine in Each Other and tradition. Muslims speak of the thousand and one names for Allah; Jews and Christians both are rediscovering a metaphorical theology that celebrates the multiple ways God’s presence is known in the lives of believers.

For some Christians, the use of icons as a focus for devotion may be not unlike the role that images of deity play in Hindu worship, which offers another challenge to the way that claims of “idolatry” have been used to denigrate different faiths and their particular revelations of the Divine.

That God is indeed both one and many may be an affirmation that Christians and Hindus can find ways to share.


 1. Hindu Holy Scriptures:                                                                                                          Vedas: 3000 years B.C., 4 Vedas (samhita) :                                                                                    1. Rig-veda: verbal traditions, songs and prayers, myths.

2. Sama-veda: offer rituals                                                                                                                   3.   Yajur-veda: White and Black Yajur-veda: more complicated rituals, higher priest influence.

4.   Atharva-veda: songs, less offer rituals, magic exorcising texts.

Upanishads (Vedanta): 900-800 years B.C.  (upanishad = sit down at the feet of the master): compilation of 108 treatises.

Most popularly known upanishads: Brihad-aranyaka, Chandogya, Taittiriya, Isha (heavenly god), Kena, Mundaka, Mandukya and Kausitaki upanishad.

The ‘Gods’ or better the ‘saints’ in the Upanishads: Indra, Varuna (heavenly god), Rudra (god of storm and violence), Agni (god of fire), alhough the later popular saints Shiva and Vishnu still in a marginal role.

Languages: Sanskrit, Pali, Dravidian. 

Puranas: epic poems The Puranas are the richest collection of mythology in the world. Most of them attained their final form around 500 A.D. but they were passed on as an oral tradition since the time of Krishna (c. 1500 B.C.).: 500BC - 800 AD. (Birth of Buddha : 563 BC)

Two epic poems :

- Mahabharata: 200BC-200AD, author: Vyasa. The Bhagavad Gita poem on King Dhritarastra and his son Duryodhana and nephew Yudisthira still very popular. Dialogue between Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, resulting in saving ways such as the bhakti-yoga or affectionate surrennder, the jnana-yoga or liberating insight.

They are also called Dharmashastras - large religious, ethical, social and political teachings.

Translated in 2001 in Dutch ‘Bhagavad Gita, Het Heilig Boek van de Hindoes’, from the original Sanskrit text, by Gerda Staes and Prof. Winand Callewaert, Davidsfonds, Leuven. (Book of Prof. Callewaert: De Wijzen gaven Het vele namen”, 1998also“India, Betoverende Verscheidenheid”, Davidsfonds,2000).

Ramayana : King Dasharatha and his son Rama.

Yoga-sutra’s :  surmisedly by Patanjali, 2nd century BC.


Another important writing: Manu Smriti or The Laws of Manu, 2nd C. CE. or earlier. This writing was used by Pushyamitra as an aid to the building of the Brahmin Kingdoms. The Laws of Manu are also at the origin of the caste system of Brahmans, Kshatriya (army), Varsya (farmers), Shudras (untouchables).

Other writers of Indian classical drama : Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhartrihari, Jayadeva, Panchatantra, Tulsidas, Vidyapati, Chandidas, Ramprasad, Ramdas, Tukaram, Tiruvalluvar, Kamban, Nanak, Kabir, Mirabai, Shaiva Saints, Alwar ….

Vedanta philosophy: teacher Shankara (788-822) (vedanta=completion of the veda). The guru’s of this period are called Shankaracharya. The advaita-vedanta philosophy has become an essential part of the Hindu religious mind.

HolyTrinity: Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Upkeeper; and Shiva, the Creator and Destroyer.

Historical note: In 1253, William van Ruysbroek, in the service of King Louis of France, accompanied by an Italian Franciscan Bartholomew of Cremona, left from France to reach 3 months later Karakorum and meet the Mongol Emperor Mongke Khan. At that time in Karakorum there were, according to Ruysbroek, 12 Buddhist temples, 2 mosques and a Nestorian church. William returned in 1255, without any real success as a missionary or as a spy. 

Jainism : Sanscrit : jina = victor, very strict vegetarianism, extreme non-violence practices. Rise of tantric Hinduism. Founder Mahavira, the last of the 24 tirthankara’s (about 560 B.C.), contemporary of the Buddha. Ranakpur: most beautiful 16th century Jain temple in Rajasthan (1444 pillars). Holy mountains: Mount Abu in Rajasthan, Mount Shatrunjaya (600m) in Gujarat. Now 0.5 % of the population.

Sikhism : historical development of the Hindu Vaishnava Bhakthi movement. Walking ministrels stimulated this devotion : Kabir (abt 1440-1518, strongly influenced Guru Nanak (1469-1531) who founded the Sikh community. Guru Nanak preached universal brotherhood, fighting the caste system and started the institution of common kitchens in which persons of all castes dine together and eradicate untouchability. Contemporary of Babur, grandfather of Akbar. Belief in one powerful omnipresent God and in the importance of the guidance by a Guru. His teachings became a social reform movement and finally a religion. Male adepts are recognizable by their turban headdress. Golden temple of Amritsar in Punjab, Tulsi Das (1543-1623, pioneer of the vernacular language), Chaitanya(1486-1533, exstatic devotion to Krishna, origin of the Hare-Krishna movement. Sikhs represent currently 2% of the population.

Later Hinduism: after 800 AD. Vishnuism becomes the main stream with further growth of the Bhakti piety, which can be called a theistic faith-practice, believing in a personal god Krishna as a manifestation of Vishnu. This has been further developed in a religious-philosophical way by Ramanuja (1050-1137), known as the vishista-advaita thought-system.

Neo-hinduism : from 1800 -

Creation of Brahmasamaj in 1882 by Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), back to pure hinduism with protestant christian influences. Elite rather limited group, with as famous exponent the mystic poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).

Creation of Arya-Samaj group in 1875 by Dayanand Sarasvati (1824-1883), tainted nationalistic in opposition to the Western domination

Group of followers of the mystic Ramakrishna (1836-1886), all religions are equal in their saving ways. Main disciple: Narendranath Datta or Vivekananda (1863-1902) who founded the Ramakrishna-Mission as a strong socially oriented organization, establishinbg schools, hospitals, etc. Vivekananda was one of the speakers on the World Congress of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Another follower: Sri Ramana Maharshi (    -1950).

Mahatma Ghandi (Mohamdas Karamchand Gandhi)(1869-1948): born in Porbandar, on the Arabian Sea in the Gujarat state. Launched the Pranami movement with its religious philosophical concept of satyagraha, the searching for and grasping of truth (satya) in non-violent protest (ahimsa). Resulted in the creation of the Sarvodaya-samaj movement in 1947. Jain-motto: Ahimsa paramo dharma, non-violence is the highest religious duty.

Currently 82% of the Indian population is Hindu. (Christians 2.5%)

Languages in India : 16 official languages, of which 11 derived from Sanskrit.

At the time of the reign of Sultan Ibrahim II (1580-1627), in the Bijapur region of Southern India, the language of the “Dakkani” (Deccan plateau) at the court was a mixture of the Arabic and Persian of their origin, the North Indian Urdu of their past, the Sanskrit of the Brahmins, and the Marathi, Telegu, and Kanada language of their subjects. This “Dakkani” language became the quasi-official Hindi language at court as well as the practical language of the bazaar and the camp. Ibrahim II spoke e.g. better Dakkani and Marathi than he spoke Persian. (from ‘The Marathas’ p.51). Hindi is spoken by 2/3 of the population, mainly in Northern India.

The ‘Sati’ or women immolation at time of the death of a King or highly placed Brahmins, was banned by Governor-General Lord William Bentinck in November 1829. As an example of this cruel custom, according to some statistics, some five thousand young women were being sacrificed in this way between 1815 and 1825.

States: 28 states with frontiers mostly based on the regional language. In January 2000, three new states were added to the former 25 states: Chattisgarh (in Madhya Pradesh), Uttaranchal (in Uttar Pradesh) and Jharkhand (in Bihar). Uttaranchal and Jharkhand are inhabited by indigenous tribes people.

Education: The first school for girls in India was started in Poona in 1848 by Jyoti Rao Phule, inspired by other social reformers, including Panduranga Lourkadkar and G.H.Deshmukhe, resulting in an enrollment of 275 girls in 1853. Important university in ancient India: Nalanda University: founded during the age of the Mauriya Gupta dynasties (ref.: “Arthasasthra” by Kautilya) (324-    ). Ruins at Baragaon, near Parna in Bihar State. Also detailed accounts in the writings of three Chinese pilgrims who studied at this university: Fa-Hien (399-414), Hiuen-Tsang (636-646) and I-Tsing (675). The university buildings covered an area of 1.6km x 8km. The central building had eight big halls attached to it and 300 smaller apartments and a splendid library. There were 9000 students and thousands of teachers. Greek Ambassador Meghastenes mentions in his writings the existence at that time of 7 castes: Philosophers, Husbandmen, Herdsmen, Hunters, Artisans, Soldiers and Overseers. 


Sidharta Gautama, who became the Buddha, was born in 567 BCE. in Lumbini on the Nepal border. Died in 487 BCE. after a continuous life of teaching of 45 years.

The main Indian rulers who promulgated and promoted Buddhism in their territories :

-   The Mauriya Emperor Ashoka (272-231 BCE), capital Pataliputra (Patna in Bihar). Known by his Pillar and Rock Edicts, as moral prescriptions to the people. Third Buddhist Council in 240. He sent out Buddhist missionaries to the border countries of his empire. Buddhist monks were most probably received by Ptolemy II of Egypt and lived in the two main Egyptian cities of that time, Alexandria and probably also Memphis.

Strabo, the famous Greek geographer was informed by Aelius Gallus, the then Prefect in Egypt around 24 BCE that no fewer than 200 ships sailed to India from the port of Myoshormos in southern Egypt alone (“The Original Jezus”, pp.70-71). There is no doubt that in this period of history, along the silk road trade route, there was going on a tremendous cross-exchange of Hellenistic ideas and Indian Buddhist concepts, so that Buddhist scriptures must have been available in the Hellenistic world, in Antiochia, Egypt and also in Palestine at the time of Jesus.

(Cfr.: The Original Jesus, The Buddhist Sources of Christianity, Elmar R. Gruber & Holger Kersten, German original edition by Langen Müller, Munich, 1995, and in English by Element Books, UK, USA, Australia Jesus lived in India, Holger Kersten, Penguin Books, 1994; and The Lost Years of Jesus, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Book Faith India, 1994..)

-    The Gupta Mauriya Emperor Harsha (605-646): under his reign took place the Fourth Buddhist Council, and the Kanauj Assembly in which participated 20 kings, 1000 scholars from the Nalanda University, 3000 Hinayanists and Mahanayists, and 3000 Brahmanas and Jains. Witnessed and described by the Chinese pilgrim Huien Tsang (600-644) who stayed 10 years in India (624-644), while also studying at the Nalanda University.

-   The Moghul Emperor Akbar (1542-1605). From an orthodox Sunni Muslim, he underwent influences of Sufism and of the Bhakthi Movement and became inclined to Buddhism in 1574, treating all religions of his time on a basis of equality. Abul Fazl, his intimate friend and companion became his historiographer.

Buddhism, mainly through the expansion of Islam, almost disappeared from India, currently only 1% of the population. Under the influence of the late Dr. Ambedkar (see under) many Dalits have since 1956 converted to Buddhism.

Islam:  the expansion to the East took place from around 630 till 1300, with the subsequent conquering of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Persia, and parts of Turkestan, Afghanistan and India, of which the cruelty, the destruction of cultural and religious assets, and the millions of human victims have been surpassed maybe only at the time of the invasions of Genghis Khan (1160-1227) and of Timur (Tamerlane)(1336-1405) in almost the same regions.

The Sind region in North-West India was taken in 712, followed by the invasion in other kingdoms in North and North-West India till the Mongol invasion begin 14th Century and the beginning of the Moghul dynasties, by which Hinduism was replaced for a great part by Islam.

Tribes people in India:

The tribes people or Girijans of India live on hills and in forests. According to an estimate by Roy Burman in 1971, there were 427 of these Girijans groups in India, while there were 314 according to an estimate of the Anthropological Survey of India in 1967.

The numerically larger groups with from 2 to 3 million each, are:

Gonds:  in Madhiya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh.

Bhils:       in Rajasthan, Gujurat, Maharashtra, Madhiya Pradesh.

Sabthals:  in Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal.

Groups with one million:   Mina, Munda and Oraon.

Groups with half a million of people or less: Adi, Bhuya, Bhumiji, Chenchu (Andrha Pradesh, Dora, Garo, Kawar, Khariya, Khasi, Konda, Koraku, Koya, Lambadi, Lodha, Mizo, Savarain the Eastern Ghats areas, east of Visakhapatnam), Toda ((South India), Yerokala and Yanadi (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu).

Their language in South India is mainly a mixture of Tamil, Kannada and Telugu.

The Dalits (Untouchables) and the Caste System in India

(compiled form “Dalits and Women”, edited by the Gurukul Summer Institute 1992, Madras, India,, based mainly on the writings of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar  (Babasaheb)(1891- 1956 ), edited from 1917 to 1987.

Dr. Ambedkar, although from Dalit origin, studied in England, became Minister of the Indian Government and was the main actor in the abolition of the caste system in 1955 and other societal unequalities and in the democratic formulation of the Indian Constitution (1947). He converted to Buddhism in 1956 and became the leader of a Buddhist revival in India by which many Dalits converted to Buddhism. Their main center with Buddhist temple is in Nagpur.

The caste system is a division of society into four classes with certain social and religious rights to each of these groups. But it is also a division of people in specific economic activities. The important economic features of this economic division are as follows:

a.    Fixation of occupation for each caste group and continuance thereof by heredity.

b.    Unequal distribution of economic rights and privileges among four caste groups. The principle of graded inequality carried into the economic field as well.

c.    It not only fixes the occupation and does so in an unequal manner i.e. (a9 and (b) but also treats some occupations as superior and the others as inferior. It thus maintains a hierarchy of occupations based on the stigma pf high and low.

d.    The Hindu religious order recognized slavery and the principle of graded inequality is extended to slavery    across caste groups/

e.    It provides for a coercive mechanism to enforce thus unnatural economic order.

The caste regulations have been formulated as being of divine origin in the ‘Manu Laws’, religious writing of about 200 A.D., naming the four caste groups as:

1.    Brahmins to whom were assigned teaching and studying of the Veda scriptures, sacrificing for their own                 benefit and for others, giving and accepting of alms.

2.    Kshatriyas – military and commercial class, to whom the three duties assigned to the Brahmins are not   applicable.

3.    Vaishyas – agricultural and craft laborers.

4.    Shudras – the common people, who had to serve the other three castes. Becoming later the Dalits or   Untouchables. Mainly belonging to the indigenous rather dark colored Dravidian population, subdued by the white colored Turkish-Aryan Muslim invaders

Only two examples from the Manu prescriptions, x.129: “No superfluous collection of wealth must be made by a Shudra, even though he has a power to make it, since a servile man who has amassed riches, becomes proud and by his insolence neglect giving alms to Brahmins.” and VIII.413. “A Brahmin may compel a Shudra, whether brought or unbrought (under the service of the other three higher classes), to do servile work for he is created by the creator to be the slave of Brahmins.”

The Shudra was not only not to study the Vedas but he was not allowed to even hear them, which was expressed in another ‘Gautama Law’ book as follows: XII.4. “If a Shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda, then his ears should be filled with (molten)lead and lac; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off; if he has mastered the Veda, his body should be cut to pieces.”

In this way illiteracy became an inherent part of Hinduism and of the rigid separation of society in four immobile classes, with all its pernicious result on the economic overall situation by a high level of inefficiency in resource allocation.

Dr. Ambedkar wrote: “Most people believe that untouchability is a religious system. It is however also an economic system which is worse than slavery. In slavery the master at any rate, had the responsibility to feed, clothe and house the slave, and keep him in good condition lest the market value of the slave should decrease. But in the system of untouchability the Hindu takes no responsibility for the maintenance of the untouchable. As an economic system it permits exploitation without obligation. Untouchability is not only a system of unmitigated economic exploitation, but it is also a system of uncontrolled economic exploitation.”

During the British period some changes occurred in the rigid economic order of the caste system. A major change came after Independence and acceptance of the new Constitution. The legal and moral support to the old system was withdrawn and specific rules were framed to overcome economic, educational and social disabilities of the low castes, based on Art. 46 of the Constitution “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interest of the weaker section of people and in particular SC/ST(Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes) and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.”  The Untouchability Abolition Act was passed in 1955, and amended by the Protection of Civil Right Act, of November 1976.

From the way these programs are designed and implemented, one can expect : (a) literacy rate and level of education among these groups to increase, (b) their share in government services and other statutory institutions such as universities and colleges to increase, (c) the proportion of employment in non-agricultural sectors to go up and in agriculture sector to decline (as most of the policy measures tend to promote jobs in non-agricultural sectors, (d) the proportion of self-employed workers such as land-owning cultivators to increase and that of agricultural labor to go down, (e) the social discrimination and atrocities to go down mainly because of  general improvement in the social and economic environment and the gap between Dalits and non-Dalits to minimize.

In spite of all the improvement laws and regulations by the Indian government before and after independence, there still were 52 million of India’s population living as slum squatters, mostly of the Dalits caste in 1991. 22.5% of the total population of India belongs to the so-called Scheduled Castes and 8% to the Scheduled Tribes, which means that 30% or 300 million of the population are still struggling for their food and shelter.

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 Lucien F. Cosijns, Binnensteenweg 240/A26, 2530 Boechout, Belgium

Tel.: + 32 3 455.6880       lfc.cosijns@gmail.com