Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
We were discussing monotheism during my Sunday School lesson Sunday and were bringing up examples of monotheism when one of my students brought up Hinduism. I put it on the board because at its core, Hindus do believe One God, and I had her explain this more in depth which she did successfully in the context of Monism.
Indian thought believes that all the faces of the Gods in the seemingly polytheistic canon are actually just manifestations of the One God, who is the Eternal Self (Atman or Brahman) which exists essentially underlying all of Creation and life-monads.
So this brings up the question, what are some of the differences and similarities between this Indian monism and our Christian monotheism, especially in the context of the consubstantiality of the Holy Trinity.
From the Indian's perspective, I am sure they would assume we agree in this premise, of a plurality of gods being unified in sharing One Divine Nature/Essence/Godhead which is essentially the explanation in Indian monism and yet realistically part of how we explain the Oneness of the Holy Trinity. However, the one major difference I could come with when discussing this later with an Indian philosopher friend of mine (he is a genuine philosopher, he is Indian, travels to India at least once a year, and has a MA in Indian philosophy, being a true philosopher I asked him, "so are you looking for some adjunct faculty teaching positions at the local colleges?" He replied, "what for?"
) is that our Christian cosmology is dualist in its separation of created matter and Divine Essence. God exists, Father Son Holy Spirit, aside from His Incarnation, entirely separated from the physicality of Creation, where as in Indian monism the Creation IS in Essence the Creator, they are one and the same.
So while we may agree that a plurality in the Holy Trinity can be One God, just as the polytheistic canon of India is really just One Divine Essence, we do disagree that Indians take it one step further and not only make all of God's aspects from One Divine source, but indeed all of EVERYTHING is said to be God, where as we in Christianity separate God from His Creation, hence monotheism (One-God) instead of monism (universal oneness).
Now, this is a fundamental difference between our two Oriental theologies, however here is another intersection. Part of the explanation of Indian monism (realistically Pantheism in the Catholic language) is that the Omnipotence and Omnipresence of the Divine Essence or Atman-Self allows the Divine to permeate every aspect of Creation. Further, as perpetual Sustainer of the Creation and living-monads (lesser deities included), the Divine is always in full control and existence behind all other living beings or even inanimate matter because of the Divine Omnipotence. In our Christian theology, couldn't we be construed as arguing something similar in the all pervasive Will of God? Yes, God grants free-will, but that is a matter still of His Divine Power, He gives free-will, and yet as Sustainer still controls it. After all, if God did not sustain every aspect of our existence, we would simply cease existing and therefore could have no free-will, and so while we and all other living beings express a free-will power, God who sustains our very existence is really in full control.
So aside from the duality between Divine Essence and physical matter, does the Omnipotence of God in premise agree somewhat with the Indian omnipotence of the Universal Monad, the Atman-Self of God who exists behind all matter? While we separate God physically from matter, we still acknowledge that matter only perpetually exists because of the constant power of God, nothing is self-existing in Christian theology correct?
We are continuing this discussion this upcoming Sunday and I am sure it will come up again, especially as we discuss the Trinity in November, considering how bright my students seem to be when we discussed the Divine Nature in the context of monotheism.