Is Hinduism Pantheistic, Panentheistic, Polytheistic, monotheistic or henotheistic?


12. Core Philosophical Beliefs of Hinduism


There are many sects in Hinduism. Core Beliefs can change with the philosophies that sects adhere. The author, Amrut, will explain the core philosophy from advaita viewpoint.


Core beliefs of Hinduism are:

  1. One Supreme Godhead - Brahman

    1. Brahman is attributeless, formless, unchanging, unmanifested, eternal, unborn supreme reality

    2. Brahman is sat-chit-Ananda i.e. Truth-Existence-Bliss or Truth-Consciousness-Eternal Bliss

  2. Brahman is indescribable. It is beyond the reach of 5 senses. Hence from absolute viewpoint, Brahman cannot be described.

  3. Brahman is non-dual in nature. Anyone who realizes the true nature of Brahman, merges in it, losing his/her individuality identity.

  4. Brahman is pure consciousness. Anyone who has raised his/her consciousness to this level enters into nirvikalp samAdhi, the highest state that consciousness can ever ascend. Hence it is said that the knower of Brahman is Brahman itself, as the process of observer (experiencer), object of observation and process of observation dissolves into oneness. In other words duality of observer (meditator, devotee) and object of observation (God) dissolves into Non-dual consciousness.

  5. Brahman’s potency is mAyA - the dynamic power

  6. Brahman and mAyA are inseparable and unborn

  7. Brahman can exist without mAyA, but mAyA cannot exist without Brahman. Brahman can stay in inert state. Brahman is like canvas and mAyA is like paint brush, colours and painting. Canvas can exist without any painting, but in order to paint something, canvas is needed.

  8. Though unborn, mAyA is not experienced in the state of nirvikalp samAdhi, which is a state of realising our true nature as Brahman, a state which transcends mAyA and it’s three guNA-s - satva, rajas and tamas

  9. mAyA is called as garbha (womb) or prakRti as it creates the world with it’s three guNa-s.

  10. There are two types of unmanifested Brahman - Higher and Lower - refer BG 8.18-20. Higher Brahman is nirguNa brahman which is attributeless and remains untouched by mAyA and it’s creation. Lower Brahman can be referred to as formless Ishvara, omnipresent, all powerful, who is mAyA pati, the lord of mAyA. For sake of simplicity, Brahman two types of Brahman are not taught.

  11. Brahman takes the form of trinity brahmA-viShNu-rudra for creation, preservation and destruction.

  12. Whenever any form of Ishvara is worshipped, formless Brahman is worshipped.

  13. Whenever any form of Ishvara is eulogized as sole creator, preserver and destroyer, then it is the eulogization of Brahman only.

  14. Brahman is inside all creation (as a cause) and is also not in the creation at the same time (as Brahman remains untouched it creation).

  15. Creation is inside Brahman, but Brahman is not touched by it.

  16. From absolute viewpoint, neither creation (in reality) is inside Brahman, nor Brahman (in reality) is inside creation. This is because, the creation is not absolute reality. When creation is absent nor there is mAyA (because mAyA is introvertedly merged into Brahman i.e. is in inert state and does no activity) then one and only Brahman exists as said in nAsadiya sUkta, bhagavad gItA BG 9.4-6 and chatusloki bhAgavat, a part of bhagavAt purANa BP 2.9.30-36.

  17. Truth (realilty) never dies, and untruth (unreal) never exists (BG 2.16). An example of untruth / false is Rabbit’s horn. A rabbit does not have a horn.

  18. The inbetween state, which is experienced yet is not eternal is called as mithyA (Mithyā, मिथ्या). Though mithyA is translated as ‘illusion’, at times, it gives wrong impression. SrI vidyAraNya svAmI in panchadashI has said that mithyA is ‘that which is neither real nor unreal’. Madhusudan sarasvatI in his scholarly composition ‘advaita siddhi’ has cleared many doubts about the word ‘mithyA’ and has given five definitions of ‘mithyA’. mithyA is often translated as ‘unreal’, which again gives wrong impression while explaining certain concepts like creation, solid experience of the world as live in, etc. There is no perfect word for mithyA. We may translate mithyA as ‘relative reality’.

  19. Two levels of reality (truth) - relative and absolute. The state of nirvikalp samAdhi is said to be absolute truth. Relative reality is not eternal truth. It is dual in nature It needs or is dependent upon the witness or experiencer. Relative reality is further split into empirical reality and dream reality.  So three types of realities are -

    1. Empirical reality or vyavahArika satya - True in waking state, is continuous i.e. next day the reality is experienced as continuity of yesterday. Absent in deep sleep and dream world.

    2. Dream reality or prAtibhAsika satya - True in dream state. Is abstract, disconnected with previous night or dream. Absent in deep sleep and practical world.

    3. Absolute reality pArmArthika satya - Eternally present in all three states of consciousness (as the cause of all). World exist because Brahman exists and not vice versa. Exist independently even when all three states are absent i.e. one rises beyond three states of consciousness. Hence this state is called as ‘super consciousness’ or ‘God consciousness’.

  20. Creation is 1/4th part of Brahman as mentioned in purusha sUkta

  21. Mind is not destroyed until all desires (vAsanA-s) are uprooted by contemplation on Brahman and being steadfast in it.

  22. During rebirth, mind along with 5 senses transmigrates into another body. CAusal body or kAraNa sharIra is said to be indestructible until moksha.



13. Is Hinduism Pantheistic, Panentheistic, Polytheistic, monotheistic or henotheistic?


Pantheism is the belief that the Universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent god. Pantheists thus do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.


Panentheism meaning "all-in-God", also known as Monistic Monotheism, is a belief system which posits that the divine – whether as a single God, number of gods, or other form of "cosmic animating force" – interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly (and, presumably, spacelessly) beyond it. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical, panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.


In pantheism, the universe and everything included in it is equal to the Divine, but in panentheism, the universe and the divine are not ontologically equivalent. God is viewed as the soul of the universe, the universal spirit present everywhere, in everything and everyone, at all times. Some versions suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifest part of God. In some forms of panentheism, the cosmos exists within God, who in turn "transcends", "pervades" or is "in" the cosmos.


Polytheism refers to the worship of or belief in multiple deities usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals. In most religions which accept polytheism, the different gods and goddesses are representations of forces of nature or ancestral principles, and can be viewed either as autonomous or as aspects or emanations of a creator God or transcendental absolute principle (monistic theologies), which manifests immanently in nature (panentheistic and pantheistic theologies).


Henotheism is the belief in and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be served.


Monotheism is the belief in a single all-powerful god, as opposed to religions that believe in multiple gods.

Note: Here, in monotheism, it is not necessary for God to be impersonal. God can have form or without form, but he is the sole almighty worthy of worship.


There is a lot of confusion as what is the exact philosophy that fits Hinduism, as more than one definition fits well in Hinduism. It looks like Hinduism is the fusion of all philosophies. The confusion arises because we either take only absolute reality or relative reality.


Acceptance of more than one form of God is true from relative or empirical reality, however, from absolute reality, there is just one God - Brahman. In real sense, no one philosophy can be exclusively applied to Hinduism.


After clearing this confusion, on the basis of two realities and various states of consciousness and taking additional factors into consideration, we explain the presence of other philosophies in Hinduism.


But before we move ahead, we will take certain factors into account.


  • Since Brahman created universe from itself, universe is a part of it. It is his divine expression through his mAyA (energy).

  • Brahman is independent of his creation, but his creation and jIva-s (souls) are dependent upon him for their existence.

  • Creation (jagat) and jIva-s (souls) are part (ansha) of Brahman. Brahman is whole (complete in itself).

  • Since both jIva and jagat are created from Brahman, they are qualitatively same, but quantitatively different. Jagat is created from 1/4th part of Brahman, jIva is infinitesimally small.

  • jIva does not have any gender. In one birth it can be masculine, in next feminine.

  • Mind is not destroyed until moksha. jIva when associated with mind creates unique personality built on personal interpretation and unique perception of experiences it passes through. In this sense, each one of us are unique. No two souls are equal. Demi-gods are highly evolved souls than us. King of demi-gods bhagavAn Indra is highly evolved soul than demi-gods and experiences 100 times more bliss than them.

  • For inner purification, worshipping many Gods and demi-gods is encouraged, however, upon getting sufficiently inwardly pure, rites and rituals, worshipping only one God is practiced.

  • Siva and shakti are Identical and different only for name sake. They are inseparable just like fire and it’s heat. They both interpenetrate each other and are interdependent. This experience of union is called as sAmrasya.


This along with the points explained in the ‘Core Beliefs of Hinduism’, let’s continue to understand how other philosophies can find support in Hinduism. We will again take definitions one by one.


Pantheism is the belief that the Universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent god. Pantheists thus do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.


sanAtana dharma accepts the concept of avatAra and wholeheartedly accepts capability of Isvara to exist and manifest in different forms, which need not necessarily be only human. Hence sanAtana dharma or Hinduism does not fit into the definition of pantheism as Hindus have sung glories of personal God since time immemorial.


Pantheism rejects personal God, hence cannot be accepted.


Panentheism meaning "all-in-God", also known as Monistic Monotheism, is a belief system which posits that the divine – whether as a single God, number of gods, or other form of "cosmic animating force" – interpenetrates every part of the universe and extends, timelessly (and, presumably, spacelessly) beyond it. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical, panentheism maintains a distinction between the divine and non-divine and the significance of both.


In pantheism, the universe and everything included in it is equal to the Divine, but in panentheism, the universe and the divine are not ontologically equivalent. God is viewed as the soul of the universe, the universal spirit present everywhere, in everything and everyone, at all times. Some versions suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifest part of God. In some forms of panentheism, the cosmos exists within God, who in turn "transcends", "pervades" or is "in" the cosmos.


Panentheism can find support in some vaiShNava and Saiva philosophies, but it’s allowance that more than one form of God that can penetrate the whole universe and extends beyond it is not acceptable as it only makes other Gods at par with their chosen deity. Saiva philosophies like Kashmir Shaivism, Siva-advaita, siddha-siddhAnta-paddhati accept Siva as supreme, who has form and is also formless. Same is the case with shakta-s. Siva is replaced by shakti. Some Saiva philosophies consider viShNu as God without compromising the superiority of Siva. This is because unlike vaiShNava-s who only accept Brahman as  personal God, Saiva-s accept that Siva, who is Brahman, has both form and is formless. Hence viShNu and Siva are same or equal in their formless aspect. Here the two, does not remain two, but are one.  In other words, no two Gods can be considered as supreme while still retaining their individual personality. This rejects panentheism based upon above definition adopted from wikipedia.



Polytheism refers to the worship of or belief in multiple deities usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals. In most religions which accept polytheism, the different gods and goddesses are representations of forces of nature or ancestral principles, and can be viewed either as autonomous or as aspects or emanations of a creator God or transcendental absolute principle (monistic theologies), which manifests immanently in nature (panentheistic and pantheistic theologies).


Polytheism can find support in Hinduism in the veda-s in the samhitA and brahmaNa sections. Vedic ritualists known as mimAmsaka-s believe that different Gods exists independently and are not controlled by a supreme Godhead. veda-s themselves give the fruits of incantations and vedic rituals and not the supreme Godhead. Hardcore mimAmsaka-s do not believe in Godhead and reject the theory of one God as central and sole controlling authority. Verses explaining one Supreme Godhead as the sole controlling power are considered as arthavAda (exaggeration). They reject vedAnta on this basis. This attitude has been rejected by SrI Adi SankarAchArya jI. Though SankarAchArya jI accepted vedic rituals, AchArya has limited its use to ‘chitta-shuddi’ (inner purification). After purifying heart and mind, vedic rituals are to be rejected and one enters into purely monotheistic philosophy which is contemplation on formless undivided Brahman. Once one starts practising this philosophy, the devotee stops daily worshipping of personal Gods.  


Again, polytheism though is defined here in wikipedia has different definition amongst Abrahamic religions. The consider it to be ‘idol worship of more than one deity’. Hindus never worship Idols. Idols are useless stone images until and unless they are consecrated. So if idols are Gods then why are they consecrated? And who is invoked or called in to reside in Idol. It is the power or shakti of God that is invoked and requested to reside in Idol, thus making idol worthy of worship. Idol worship is not just ‘idol worship’ it is ‘ideal worship’. We worship the ideals behind the divine personality of Godhead. Resurrecting glories of God, his divine deeds and divine play naturally cultivates and deepens bhAva (spiritual emotion and attachment) towards personal God, thereby purifying mind and steadying it, making it ready for meditation. Alternatively we Hindus do not independently worship nature spirits who work autonomously and are not under anyone’s sway. Hence we are not pagans in context with the definition of polytheism as maintained by Abrahamic faiths.


In order to explain creation, preservation and destruction, veda-s and purāṇa-s sing glory of many form of Gods. However, it is mentioned in both veda-s and purāṇa-s that there is only one God and that one God becomes many. This multiplicity is based on the work done by Brahman through his Māyā. Whenever any form of God is glorified as Supreme Brahman, it is the glory of formless Brahman only. Form is added for the convenience of devotees. In every religion, one needs a medium to reach God. In Abrahamic faiths, it is their divinely chosen saviour through which one reaches heaven. In Hinduism, it is done by worshipping a form of God under the guidance of a guru or āchārya. Hinduism is unique as it does not asks us to pledge in belief of one particular saviour. We do have great respect for Guru-s, however, they are not worshipped as God but are highly revered as they are chosen medium of God and hence are God-like to us.


Gods or Demi-gods are also worshiped to gain material objects or achieve objectives or for siddhi-s or to increase qualities. Yet all Hindus believe in concept of One supreme Godhead - Brahman. Sometimes to gain certain qualities a particular form of God is worshipped. For example, to increase intelligence gaNesha is worshipped, for heroism (shaurya), kartikeya (skanda, murugan), who is leader of army of devatA-s (demi-gods) is worshipped, for brahmachArya (celibacy), one-pointed devotion, courage and valour we have hanumAn. Sometimes female forms are worshipped by men for removing lust inside them.


Polytheism can be rejected on above basis, as it accepts that one than one form of personal God are supreme. As said earlier, either only one personal God is considered as supreme by one sect or the formless God is considered as supreme. Hence polytheism can be rejected as sole philosophy of Hinduism.


Henotheism is the belief in and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be served.


Since Henotheism does not describe its philosophy in detail like that in case of panentheism or on the nature of God, whether God can be formless or has to have a form, Henotheism seems to be one of the best definition that describes Hinduism.

However if we think of the combined culture practiced by whole hinduism, Henotheism seems to fit into the religious belief along with elements of panentheism. If idol worship is exclusively connected to polytheism, then we will have to add polytheism as well. Though one God is worshipped as ‘Brahman’, the supreme Godhead, other forms of God or his emanations or parts like visvaksheNa (gaNesha equivalent of vaiShNava-s) is worshipped. In vedic karma kANDa and in daily sandhyAvandanam ritual of brahmins, navagrah tarpaNa is done (worship of nine planetary demi-gods). vaiShNava brahmin skips navagrah tarpaNa so as to make everything that is worshipped to be either viShNu or part of him. Though viShNu and it’s avatAra-s are worshipped, they are treated different representations of him and hence not different from him or they are parts emanated from him. In either case viShNu is the only God that vaiShNava-s worshipped. In addition to this male-female pair like viShNu-laxmi, viShNu-tulsi, Siva-pArvatI or Siva-shakti, etc are also worshipped.  So one God is worshipped, but other forms are considered worthy of worship. Hence henotheism can be said to be the philosophy of part of Hinduism. As mind purifies and is intoxicated with Ishvara bhakti, only one God as Brahman is worshipped. Idol worship also drops, as God resides in our heart. If we strictly say that No God except one true God is to be worshipped, then even henotheism can be accepted upto certain point and then it has to be rejected.


Monotheism is the belief in a single all-powerful god, as opposed to religions that believe in multiple gods.

Note: Here, in monotheism, it is not necessary for God to be impersonal. God can have form or be without form, but he is the sole almighty worthy of worship.


Monotheism is said to be the topmost philosophy as preached by Adi SankarAchArya. No other God, either for material benefits or as a supreme Brahman is worshipped. Idol worship is also not practised. No parts or emanations of God are worshipped. Hence monotheism also fits into a part of hindu philosophy.


Hinduism as a collective culture of many philosophies is henotheist-panentheistic-polytheistic from viewpoint of relative reality. Hinduism is monotheistic from Point Of View of absolute reality. It is monotheist from relative reality for some sects who are of the opinion that God can be experienced separately and devotee can be in eternal company of his unconditional, infinite love and infinite grace.



Though there are many God in Hinduism, for an individual, only one God as Brahman is preferred to be worshipped as Supreme God. This chosen deity is called as  Īśṭa devatā. There are reasons for preference of worship of one God. One of the reasons is one-pointedness. Let's understand the concept of  Īśṭa devatā.