Q: Question: I have this question on the Hindusium, There is only one God everybody knows in and around the world, How the hindu people beleive that there in many gods and Godesses. I understand this way, The Father,Son Jesus Christ and the Holy sprit is name as Shiva,Brahma,Vishnu according the Hindu Dharma.
A: If ever there was a question whose answer depended on whom you ask, you certainly found it. Not only are there many traditions and variations within the religions, there are any number of personal conceptions, not to mention misconceptions, on this issue. So, I’m going to try to answer your question by sticking to the more conventional versions of the religions.
I am delighted to see that you are aware of the fact that there is only one God. Of course, there is a difference between saying so as an abstract belief and really living according to the truth that there is one infinite God, who exceeds us in all respects and to whom we are accountable. Many people say that there is only one God, but then pretty much ignore him, while they follow the many so-called deities, semi-gods, or saints.
A question that comes up is the nature of the one and only one God. If he is authentically God, then he must be true to his nature and cannot be a self-contradictory being. Some obvious points are that he cannot make himself not-exist or not be God. Furthermore, the way in which different people conceive of God are mutually exclusive. For example, look at three versions of Vedantic Hinduism. According to Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta philosophy, Brahman is the only true reality, and he (it) is impersonal, whereas Ramanuja agreed with Shankara’s monism, but contended that the Ultimate is personal. Then, as though he wanted to really confuse people, Madhva came along and taught a dualism in which God and the world are two separate realities. What I’m getting at is that saying that there is only one God may not be conveying as much content as it one might think. There is a world of difference between how various religions conceive of God. To be honest, I find little in common between, say, Shankara’s impersonal pantheism and the personal God of the Bible.
Still, as I said, there are big differences within the religions as well as between them, so let me just leave that point aside for now, and move on to the heart of your question: the relationship between the one God and what, for want of a better term, I shall call his “subsistences,” e.g. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in the Hindu dharma, or the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Christian theology.
How can three entities also be one entity? How can one God also be Gods? Well, nobody who understands these religions makes such statements. Since theologians or gurus accept the same arithmetic as anyone else, even if they should delight in paradox, to have one God with three subsistences needs some form of clarification. Hinduism goes the route of the contrast between reality (sat) and unreality (maya), while Christianity makes contrast distinguishes between the one Nature of God and the three Persons.
As I’m sure you know, Hindus call their triad the trimurti, which means “three-shaped.” The idea for this nomenclature is that God (Brahman) manifests himself in the three forms of these three devas, which also, of course, need to include the beings associated with them: their shaktis, off-spring, avatars, and so forth. And, of course, they need a universe in which to function. If you take the Advaita Vedanta position, then these are all a part of Brahman’s emanations; none of them are actually real. Only Brahman is real, and so even the gods, including the trimurti are maya. In some Hindu schools of thought, maya is at most derived reality; for Shankara it is downright illusion. So, in the Hindu dharma, insofar as one intends to accept the notion that there is an analog to the Christian trinity based on Brahman manifesting himself as Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, the three subsistences are not real, except as faces of Brahman. Consequently, it is not surprising to me that, as I mentioned above, many people focus on the subsistences and ignore the one God.
The Christian understanding of the Trinity is very different. God is real, and the three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are also real. The key to understanding the logic of the Trinity is to maintain the distinction between God’s Nature and his Persons. There is no contradiction if you maintain that God is one (1) in one category and three (3) in another category. There are a number of words that are acceptable to express God’s oneness and unity: his Nature, Substance, or Essence, for example. The three subsistences are known as his Persons. Each of them is equally the one God in Substance. As the three Persons, they subsist eternally.
So, there is a clear difference between some major forms of Hinduism and Christianity in two respects:
a) In Vedantic Hinduism, where you are most likely to encounter the Trimurti, God (Brahman) is impersonal and purely immanent (which makes him identical with the world). In Christianity, God is personal; he is both transcendent (beyond the world) and immanent (within the world).
b) Vedantic Hinduism preserves the distinction between the one God (Brahman)and the three devas—beginning with the trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva—by considering them to be emanations that are actually maya, which is considered to be illusion. In Christianity the distinction between the Godhead and the three subsistences is made possible by differentiating between his one Substance and three Persons.
But this is not the end of the story. Having said the above, it is still the case that some people are putting the details to the side and are trying to equate the three subsistences with each other. They use the three categories of Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. In fact, a number of Christians have switched to these terms apart from trying to build a bridge to Hinduism, simply in order to avoid the traditional terminology of the Father and the Son.
So, let us line them up in parallel:
a)The Creator: Brahma (Hinduism) or the Father (traditional Christianity);
b)The Redeemer: Shiva (Hinduism) or the Son (traditional Christianity);
c)The Sustainer: Vishnu (Hinduism) or the Spirit (traditional Christianity).
Looks pretty good, huh? To be honest, it’s utterly forced.
When you were a little child, did you play the game, “One of these is not like the other; one of these doesn’t belong.”? Well, that’s what this line-up reminds me of. Let’s begin with the Creator. There is no question that Brahma is often identified with the Creator; nevertheless, there are other deities credited with creation as well. Sometimes they are thought to be equivalent with Brahma, sometimes not. E.g. Both Prajapati and Ishvara are often equated with Vishnu. Similarly, on the Christian side, in the light of verses in the New Testament, such as John 1:3, one can only wonder as to why someone would use the term Creator specifically to refer to the Father, and not to the Son. This verse, along with other similar ones, says of Christ, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.” So, to limit the term “Creator” to the Father makes no sense.
Then we come to the title of “The Redeemer.” This is a word that is frequently and accurately applied to Christ, the Son, in Christianity. It refers to the fact that Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for us. He, the sinless Son of God, took the punishment that we deserved for our sins. Afterwards, he ascended to heaven where he is available to give us salvation if we come to him by faith and to respond to our prayers. Which part of this story is anything like what has been written about Shiva? Okay, I know that Shiva died of grief at one point, though Kali revived him. How is that a substitutionary atonement?
And finally, the Sustainer. Here is where the name fits Vishnu like a glove. He sustains the universe and the dharma. When necessary, he becomes an avatar in order to preserve the dharma. The Holy Spirit, among many other things, preserves our hearts in faith; he also convicts us of sin, illuminates Scripture to our minds, and points us to Christ. The fact that one can with a minimum amount of justification apply the term “Preserver” to him is both the beginning and the end of what he and Vishnu have in common.
What all of this comes down to is this: Pretending that there are similarities where there aren’t any is not only self-deceiving, it also harms you in your faith because faith built on self-deception is going to be powerless. Each religion has its own unique integrity, and it is only fair to let each religion speak for itself without trying to force it into artificially fabricated categories. You can be a Hindu or a Christian, but you cannot be a Chrindu or a Histian. The supposed parallels must have been invented by someone who did not want to face up to the need to make a choice. But they are not real, and you cannot be both. As you mature, coming to a settlement on what you personally believe, rather than what others have coached you to say you believe, becomes a part of a life lived with integrity. May God guide you into the right direction.