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Author Topic: Monism vs Monotheism  (Read 1879 times) Average Rating: 0
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HabteSelassie
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« on: September 21, 2011, 02:19:48 PM »

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?" Wink ) 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.

Stay Blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2011, 02:26:39 PM »

While Monotheism is Monistic, the opposite is not necessarily true. Modern Hinduism, as I understand it, is pantheistic.
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« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2011, 02:37:12 PM »

While God is separate from the creation insofar as He is distinct from it, it's also important to note how God pervades all of creation deeply in the Orthodox vision, and how everything in creation is considered to move toward God and have God as its ultimate purpose.

There is but one world and it is not divided into parts. On the contrary, it encloses the differences of the parts arising from their natural properties by their relation to what is one and indivisible in itself. Moreover, it shows that both are the same thing with it and alternately with each other in an unconfused way and that the whole of one enters into the whole of the other, and both fill the same whole as parts fill a unit, and in this way the parts and uniformly and entirely filled as a whole. For the whole spiritual world seems mystically imprinted on the whole sensible world in symbolic orms,for those who are capable of seeing this, and conversely the whole sensible world is spiritually explained in the mind in the principles which it contains. In the spiritual world it is in principles; in the sensible world it is in figures. - St. Maximus the Confessor, The Church's Mystagogy

The spirit of the insatiable thirst for knowledge, the restless spirit of Faust, turning to the cosmos breaks through the constricting limits of the heavenly spheres to launch out into infinite space; where it becomes lost in the search for some synthetic understanding of the universe, for its own understanding, external and limited to the domain of becoming, can only grasp the whole under the aspect of disintegration which corresponds to the condition of our nature since the fall. The Christian mystic, on the other hand, entering into himself, and enclosing himself in the 'inner chamber' of his heart, finds there, deeper even than sin, the beginning of an ascent in the course of which the universe appears more and more unified, more and more coherent, penetrated with spiritual forces and forming one whole within the hand of God.
- Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church
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« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2011, 03:02:03 PM »

....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).
Your philosopher friend must be an adherent of Advaita, "non-dualism", which doesn't quite say that "everything is God", but that's a point I don't want to address right now. Rather, the idea that Hinduism is dominated by "non-dual" philosophy is the point I want to contest.

There are three major Hindu philosophical perspectives on ontology. One is that God and the cosmos are "not-two", or "non-dual"; this is the Advaita perspective: "the rope is not different from God". Another is that God and the cosmos are both "not-two" and "two"; this is the modified non-dual perspective, or Vishisht-Advaita: "the rope is both not different and different from God".

The third is Dvaita, or "dualism", in which God and the cosmos are radically different.

So it's not that Hinduism is completely (or even predominantly) Advaita, or non-dual, at all. Many, if not most, Hindus are not particularly exclusive supporters of Advaita, in part because it's very difficult to take both Advaita and Devotion/Worship of God seriously, simultaneously (though it can be, and has been, and is being, done). Most Hindus practice Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of Devotion, and many, if not most Hindus, are either Vishishtadvaita or Dvaita in philosophy, the two philosophies most conducive to devotion, worship, and prayer to a Personal Deity.

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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2011, 03:25:00 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

....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).
Your philosopher friend must be an adherent of Advaita, "non-dualism", which doesn't quite say that "everything is God", but that's a point I don't want to address right now. Rather, the idea that Hinduism is dominated by "non-dual" philosophy is the point I want to contest.

There are three major Hindu philosophical perspectives on ontology. One is that God and the cosmos are "not-two", or "non-dual"; this is the Advaita perspective: "the rope is not different from God". Another is that God and the cosmos are both "not-two" and "two"; this is the modified non-dual perspective, or Vishisht-Advaita: "the rope is both not different and different from God".

The third is Dvaita, or "dualism", in which God and the cosmos are radically different.

So it's not that Hinduism is completely (or even predominantly) Advaita, or non-dual, at all. Many, if not most, Hindus are not particularly exclusive supporters of Advaita, in part because it's very difficult to take both Advaita and Devotion/Worship of God seriously, simultaneously (though it can be, and has been, and is being, done). Most Hindus practice Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of Devotion, and many, if not most Hindus, are either Vishishtadvaita or Dvaita in philosophy, the two philosophies most conducive to devotion, worship, and prayer to a Personal Deity.


Agreed, I did not intend to insinuate that all Indian philosophies are the same, but the non-dualism is essential both from the Brahman, Jainist, and especially those who read the Gita.  True, the Yogic traditions are dual, and even rely heavily upon the same kinds of symbolism as say Cyrillian Christology, with the concept of the ignited iron taking on the aspects of the heat of the flame to explain Divine interactions with the physical Creation.  However, generally speaking, non-dualism seems to be a major influence in Indian thinking.

Specifically, for those Indians who do believe in Monism, I was hoping to elaborate on some of the mechanical differences between Indian monism and Christian monotheism in the context of the Holy Trinity.  Also, to elaborate on the concept of Indian Divine Omnipotence in the context of Monism (i.e., that the Divine Self of Indian thought permeates all of Creation because It is all of Creation, where as we in Christianity would argue such as being Pantheistic heresy).

stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2011, 03:33:34 PM »

Specifically, for those Indians who do believe in Monism, I was hoping to elaborate on some of the mechanical differences between Indian monism and Christian monotheism in the context of the Holy Trinity.  Also, to elaborate on the concept of Indian Divine Omnipotence in the context of Monism (i.e., that the Divine Self of Indian thought permeates all of Creation because It is all of Creation, where as we in Christianity would argue such as being Pantheistic heresy).
How are you defining "pantheism"?

A radical non-dualist would reject being called a "pantheist" because pantheism, as often defined  in the West, means that "creation/cosmos is the only thing that exists, and we may call creation/cosmos by the name "God"", whereas radical non-dualism argues that "In reality, there is only God -- what you think of as creation/cosmos does not exist as a separate reality".
« Last Edit: September 21, 2011, 03:36:21 PM by Jetavan » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2011, 03:37:50 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Specifically, for those Indians who do believe in Monism, I was hoping to elaborate on some of the mechanical differences between Indian monism and Christian monotheism in the context of the Holy Trinity.  Also, to elaborate on the concept of Indian Divine Omnipotence in the context of Monism (i.e., that the Divine Self of Indian thought permeates all of Creation because It is all of Creation, where as we in Christianity would argue such as being Pantheistic heresy).
How are you defining "pantheism"?

A radical non-dualist would reject being called a "pantheist" because pantheism means that "creation is God", whereas non-dualism argues that "there is only God".

Catholic Pantheism in the sense that if God is not separate from physicality, then all things physical would be God. I am not that deep in Indian studies, however I understand that the non-dualism of Indian thought suggests that all of matter, all of Creation, all living beings, are just a manifestation of the original, solitary, universally essential Self-Atman who is the underlying reality of all reality.  I also am not a Catholic, but I recall that such philosophies were condemned in the 13th and 14th centuries as pantheism in that "God and the world are one (by essence)"

stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2011, 03:46:00 PM »

I also am not a Catholic, but I recall that such philosophies were condemned in the 13th and 14th centuries as pantheism in that "God and the world are one (by essence)"
That leads to the question, what is this "essence" that is the essence of the world? Is essence something that can be measured, empirically?

An Advaitan might say since Brahman/God is infinite, then to posit any "essence" that is other than Brahman/God, would be to undermine His infinity.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2011, 03:48:25 PM by Jetavan » Logged

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In order to become whole, take the "I" out of "holiness".
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