Evaluating Hinduism

Photo: The Hindu God Shiva performs his “Dance of Creation, Destruction, & Creation Anew”


Evaluating Hinduism

“All the world’s major religions contain both factual errors and poetic wisdom.  So do Homer’s Odessey, Melville’s Moby Dick, and Aesop’s Fables.”  —  your author, J.X. Mason 

Hinduism is an unlikely mix of abstract theology and a huge cast of wild and weird gods and goddesses.  In this Essay from the book, Nature’s Path of Continuing Creation, we evaluate Hinduism. We find many Strengths in Hinduism’s abstract theology, and many Shortcomings in its pantheon of fantastical deities.


The word “Hindu” originally meant anyone who lived in the Indus Valley (in the northwest of pre-1947 India; in Pakistan today), an area that encompassed many different tribes, languages, cultures, beliefs and practices. This diversity still exists today. “India is beyond statement, for anything you say, the opposite is also true. It’s rich and poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry but peaceful, ugly and beautiful, and smart but stupid. It’s all the extremes.” 1

Linda Johnsen, a recognized expert on Hinduism, writes: “Hinduism is by far the most complex religion in the world, shading under its enormous parasol an incredibly diverse array of contrasting beliefs, practices, and denominations. Before the arrival of the Muslims around 1000 CE, Hindus handily assimilated all the would-be conquerors who came storming over the northern borders. The Kushans (Mongolians), the Parthians (Persians), and the Huns all eventually melted into India’s embrace, disappearing into the sea of Hindu culture.” 2

Today, Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion by population, and the majority religion in India, Nepal, Mauritius and Bali (Indonesia). About 60 million Hindus live outside India, including 2 million in North America 3

Hinduism holds hundreds (possibly thousands) of colorful, fanciful anthropomorphic gods and goddesses, each of whom represents some aspect of Brahmanthe Godhead, Ultimate Reality, or Ultimate Consciousness — which lies beyond human description.

Hinduism and Judaism vie for the honor of being the oldest extant religion in the world. Small earthen statues unearthed in India provide anthropological evidence of pre-Hindu gods dating back 4,500 years.  4

The earliest Hindu texts, the Vedas, date back to 1700-1100 BCE.  5 Over the centuries, new books have been added to the thousands of pages of sacred literature totaling many times the length of the Bible. This huge corpus of sacred literature contains evidence supporting almost any theological doctrine and human behavior that one can imagine. This is a Shortcoming of many religions, and especially Hinduism.

Like the sacred books of all the other major religions, the revered Hindu texts were written long before modern scientific knowledge was accumulated by Western civilization starting in the 1700’s. Therefore, Hinduism cannot account for the effect that the Processes of Emergence and Evolution (cosmic, geologic, and biologic) now have on our modern understanding of Life’s Meaning and Purpose. This is another major Shortcoming of Hinduism. (See our two Essays: Nature Creates Increasingly Complex Systems, and The Processes of Evolution & Their Meaning.)

On the other hand, Hinduism’s continual openness to new ideas and new writing means that modern texts could be written that incorporate modern science and technological progress. This would be a distinct and unique Strength for Hinduism. 6

Later, the more philosophical, wisdom-seeking sacred texts of Jnana (“Knowledge”) Era of Hinduism taught that the goal of human beings is to escape the struggle and suffering of life and achieve moksha.  But moksha means more than escaping life’s suffering. It also means escaping death itself.

Moksha can be achieved by accumulating enough karma (good behavior and inner virtue). This can seldom be done in one lifetime, so people are reincarnated over and over again until they accumulate sufficient karma to escape saṃsārathe cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth.

If and when they are free from the cycle of birth and death, Hindus are able to merge with the Godhead, the Ultimate Consciousness, the Ultimate Reality, which is Brahman. Brahman is the Hindu concept that is most like what Westerners call God, and most like what Co-Creators in the Flow of Our Practice call, Nature’s Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos.

In Hinduism, the qualities of human behavior and social forces are personified by anthropomorphic deities. Hindus are free to follow whatever gods or goddesses, whatever religious tradition, makes sense to them.  Or they can fashion a new spiritual path that is all their own. This freedom of belief is a Strength of Hinduism.

There is no hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority in Hinduism – every Hindu guru (teacher) is allowed to formulate his own doctrine. In the last century, every school of Hinduism, (many Hindus would say virtually every religion in the world), has come to be seen as “climbing up the same spiritual mountain.”  Over the centuries, Hinduism has given “new” religions an open hearing… and then Hinduism has simply absorbed many of them. The experiences of Buddhism and Christianity in India bear that out:

  • Buddhism originated in India around 600 to 500 BCE.  After becoming popular there, the Indian ruler Ashoka sent missionaries to China circa 250 BCE.  From China, it was exported to Korea, and then reached Japan as a flourishing independent “Way” around 550 BCE. But back in India, Buddhism eventually fell out of favor. Today, most Hindus regard the Buddha as just one of many important gurus who have taught in India over the centuries. (See our Essay, Evaluating Buddhism.) 
  • “Christian missionaries often complained that Hindus are hard to convert.  “Hindus may listen with great interest and enthusiasm to the story of Jesus’ life and then go home and lovingly place a picture of Jesus on their home altar, right next to the images of Shiva, Krishna, and the Goddess. They have a hard time grasping that Jesus is supposed to be the only God whose picture is on the altar.” 7
  • Buddha and Jesus are typically regarded as avatars (incarnations) of major God Krishna, and their lives are sometimes depicted in Hindu temples. 8

This tolerant, welcoming world view is a clear Strength of Hinduism.  It would be a much more rational, peaceful, and joyful world if Muslims and Christians had the same attitude.

Professor Prothero writes that Hinduism is “An over-the top religion of big ideas, bright colors, complex rituals, and wild stories. Underneath all its color and liveliness, Hinduism teaches a spiritual path of profound depth and wisdom.” 9

As we shall see, Hinduism, like the other major Asian religions of Taoism and Buddhism, comes closer, in many ways, to our own Way of Nature’s Continuing Creation than do the Western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Historical Layers of Hinduism

Although Hinduism contains a broad range of philosophies, it evolved across what Steven Prothero calls five historical eras or “layers.” 10 The five layers are:

The Five Historical Layers (Eras) of Hinduism, in chronological order:

  1. Pre-Hindu religion of the Indus Valley — Its effect on Hinduism is largely unknown.
  2. Vedic (ritualistic) Hinduism — Priestly rituals to supplicate Gods for victory, good crops, no plagues.
  3. Jnana (wisdom-seeking) Hinduism — What is the nature of God?  What is the nature of my “soul?” How are the two related?
  4. Bhakti (devotional) Hinduism —I will love a particular God, and He or She will guide & protect me.
  5. Modern (eclectic) Hinduism — Any combination of the above, plus colorful, joyous festivals.

Of course, many concepts, rituals, theology, textual resources, and sacred sites are carried, with evolved changes, from old layers to new.  We will talk about each layer, or era, in this Essay.

Throughout the historical layers of Hinduism there is a consistent questioning of authority, and Hinduism continues to have no single founder, and no shared creed, and no hierarchical organization. This “questioning quality” is a Strength of Hinduism.  11

When this book, The Practice of Nature’s Continuing Creation, evaluates a religion, we aim to primarily analyze its sacred documents, rather than the behavior of its modern followers, because followers can always go back to the sacred writings to find “commandments” that justify their evils like wars and subjugation of women.  Nevertheless, in this Essay, we will try to evaluate the themes in Hinduism’s sacred documents which are the most persistent.

Before we can evaluate the additional strengths and shortcomings of Hinduism, we need to have some sense of which historical era, or layer, of Hinduism each strength and shortcoming comes from.

Early Indus Valley Civilization

A thriving Indus Valley Civilization started as early as 4500 years ago, i.e., 2500 years BCE (P139).  (As a point of reference, the earliest Egyptian pyramids were built around 2686 BCE.)  Indus Valley Civilization comprised a large population with urban centers, architecture, and a written language. The people spoke and wrote Dravidian languages, not Sanskrit, which came later. Since linguists have so far been unable to translate the ancient Dravidian language, we don’t know if this very early civilization contributed much to Hinduism.

Note: the majority of the people now living in southern India speak modern languages that are considered to be evolved from ancient forms of the Dravidian languages.

Vedic (Ritualistic) Hinduism – 1500 to 600 BCE

Around 1500 BCE, the Aryan people from the region we now call Iran completed a large migration into (or conquest of) the Indus Valley, which now lies partly in Pakistan and partly in northwest India. The Aryans spoke and wrote Sanskrit. 12 It is likely that they brought domesticated horses with them – a powerful animal-based technology, including chariots — that may have been new to the Indus Valley.

Location of The Indus Valley

In the Indus Valley, the Aryans established and documented what we now call Vedic Hinduism. Vedic Hinduism, like nearly all early religions, started with people making sacrifices to gods in order to gain favors.  It was a practical and action-oriented religion, concerned with day-to-day survival. (In Judaism, a parallel would be the early-written Book of Leviticus, which also specifies detailed rules for ritualistic behavior.)

In the earliest Hindu texts, the poetic Vedas, the gods and goddesses were abstract forces of nature such as fire, wind/lightning, sun and moon. Agni, the god of fire, and Indra, the god of war and weather, were the most important. Vishnu was only a minor deity at this time, but he becomes a major Hindu god in the Philosophic Era that comes next. In another example of cultural evolution, Rudra, a minor god of this Vedic Era, will transform into the major God Shiva in the Philosophic Era.  13

A priestly class conducted the Vedic rituals and made burned animal offerings to gain favor from gods, entreating them to maintain order, bestow good harvests, provide healthy sons, help win victories in battle, and prevent natural disasters. “Ritual, not law, was seen as the glue that held society together.” 14

Using their Sanskrit language, the Aryan-Indus civilization wrote the texts now called The Vedas. The Vedas are detailed instructions for their priestly rituals, along with accompanying hymns to sing and mantras to chant 15 Today, The Vedas are considered to be the first sacred texts of Hinduism.

For hundreds of years, India has suffered under an oppressive caste system. The system so pervades the country, even today, that we need to talk about this terrible Shortcoming, even though it may not be part of Hinduism per se.

Scholars suspect that the caste system began to take root when the Aryans, with their superior technology and ability to make war, sought to institutionalize and preserve their dominance over the older, less-advanced ethnicities already living in India. The system confined people to the category (caste) of occupation and status that they were born into.

There were (and subtly still are) five main castes: 16

  1. Brahmins or Brahmans – the intellectuals and the priestly class who perform religious rituals.
  2. Kshatriya (nobles or warriors) – who traditionally had power.
  3. Vaishyas (commoners or merchants) – ordinary people who produce, farm, trade and earn a living.
  4. Shudras (workers) – who traditionally served the higher classes, including laborers, artists, musicians, and clerks.
  5. Dalits (“untouchables,” i.e. street cleaners, leather tanners, latrine cleaners, garbage collectors, etc.)

The five castes were further divided into over 3,000 sub-castes and/or clans. 17

Under India’s historical caste system, because a Dalit’s (an “Untouchable’s”) misery working in the malodorous latrines and tanneries were decreed to be “pre-ordained,” those oppressed people supposedly “learned” to endure and accept their earthly fate.

Linda Johnsen writes that the caste system “assured that different subcultures, whether they ranked high or low in the pecking order, survived relatively unmolested within the framework of India’s highly structured society.” 18 The guilds of the Middle Ages in Europe also worked to keep trades inside extended families from generation to generation, but their traditions were not as strict as those of India’s caste system.)

Today, the caste system is illegal and there are major efforts to afford Dalits admittance to universities and professional careers. Some states in India require a minority of Dalits among their elected politicians. 19 Nevertheless, the caste system still has sway in India’s economic and social life. Indian last names often indicate class, thus perpetuating the caste system in the arena of arranged marriages. 20 “Caste-based discrimination does exist in many parts of India today…. Caste-based discrimination fundamentally contradicts the essential teaching of Hindu sacred texts that divinity is inherent in all beings.” 21

Philosophic (Jnana) Hinduism – roughly 600 to 100 BCE

In the historical layer or era called Philosophic (jnana) Hinduism (jnana meaning “wisdom’), the animal sacrifices made by Vedic priests to secure survival and social order gave way to individuals trying to learn who they really are and how they relate to the universe. 22 Western scholars sometimes refer to jnana as “classical” Hinduism. Most of Hinduism’s fundamental theological concepts come from this layer.

The Philosophic Era was the time of the Upanishads, sacred texts written roughly 600 to 100 BCE (roughly from the time of the ancient Kings of Rome, through the Caesars, until about the time of Emperor Hadrian). 23 Written in prose, the Upanishads explore philosophical questions, usually in the form of fictional stories. Prothero writes that Hindus “prefer stories over dogmas, revel in mysteries and paradox, and are averse to fixed boundaries and settled borders.” 24 True enough, but many of the Bible’s teachings are also conveyed through stories and parables. All people love to hear a good story, and illiterate people can remember stories more easily than speeches.

In India, the gods and goddesses were also given pictorial and sculptural images, allowing people to separately identify each one and remember them more easily, especially when so many different languages were (and still are) spoken in the Indian subcontinent.  We will revisit this topic later in the Essay.

Strength:  Hinduism’s sacred literature is not seen as the absolute “Word of God,” as is done in other, principally Western, religions. It is seen as written human interpretation of Brahman’s nature and Dharma (teaching).

“By the end of the 5th century BCE, about 200 Upanishads had been written (Hist. of God, 29), including 12 or 13 major texts. The Upanishads were a real departure from the early Vedas because they take up new abstract topics centered on the meaning of life, such as:

  • How does my atman (my inner self) relate to Brahman (God, Universe, the Ultimate)?
  • Why is life so hard? Why do we all die? What happens after death?
  • Is there any escape from suffering?
  • How should I conduct my life?
  • What is right, and what is wrong?
  • What are my obligations toward other people? Toward my clan? Toward the animal kingdom (i.e., should I kill animals and eat meat)?

The Upanishads contain two major epic stories – the Mahabharata (which holds the famous Bhagavad Gita) and the Ramayana. The Bhagavad Gita is mostly about the nature of Brahman, the human condition, personal authenticity, and duty. The Ramayana is mostly about interpersonal ethics and relationships (and it is ten times longer than the combined Iliad and Odyssey of Greek literature).

Brahman: Ultimate Consciousness, Ultimate Reality

In the Jnana era, the concept of Brahman becomes more fully defined. Brahman – the Godhead, or Ultimate Consciousness, or True Reality. Brahman is the supreme cause and sustenance of the universe, eternal and all-pervading. 25 In the west, progressive Unitarians might call it the Mind, Intelligence, Ground of All Being, Whole of All Wholes, or the Creative Force of the universe. Traditional Christians might think of Brahman as “The Word” or perhaps the “Holy Ghost” form of the Trinity. Black Elk, a Medicine Man of the Oglala Lakota (Teton Sioux) Nation, might think of Brahman as “Grandfather Spirit.”

Strength: Hinduism’s concept of The Ultimate, Brahman, is abstract; not a father-figure God who gives orders, nor intervenes in the lives of individuals to punish and reward.

Every individual has an inner-consciousness (Christians would say “soul”) called the atman, which is an imperfect or incomplete part of Brahman, the Ultimate Consciousness. The goal of every human’s life is to eventually have his or her atman merge fully and perfectly with the Ultimate Consciousness that is Brahman.

Paraphrasing from Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, Brahman is neither he nor she; nor is it experienced in the will of a sovereign deity. Brahman does not meet or speak to men and women; it transcends all human activities. Brahman does not respond to us in a personal or emotional way: immorality does not ‘offend’ it, and it cannot be said to ‘love’ us or be ‘angry.’ However, it does pervade, sustain, and inspire us.” 26

Note:  Many modern “New Age” thinkers with a Hindu background, such as Deepak Chopra, also think of atman as consciousness, and Brahman as Universal Consciousness. 27

Brahman is like our own Interlocking Processes of Nature’s Continuing Creation in a number of ways.  Both are creating, sustaining, and abstract. Both are “too grand” to directly involve themselves in the lives of individual humans; or to answer human prayers; or be appeased by burned animal offerings. (History of God p. 28) Nor do we see them or represent them as human or super-human beings. We regard this similarity to the Processes of Continuing Creation as a Strength of Hinduism.

Notes: (For more about each of the bullet points below, see our Essay, Forerunners to Our Path & Practice.

  • The Tao (the Way) in Taoism is also similar – “The Tao is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God.” 28 See our Essay, “Evaluating Taoism & Zen.”
  • Western Deism also teaches that if God exists, “He” is concerned only with overall creation, not with the individual lives of one particular species on one particular planet in the entire universe.
  • The philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) defined “God” as a singular self-subsistent Substance (Substantia) or Nature (Natura). He wrote that matter and thought are attributes of Substance. Over the centuries, scholars have noted the similarity between Spinoza’s Natura and Hinduism’s Brahman. 29
  • Hinduism influenced Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), the eminent American Transcendentalist. Transcendentalism is major forerunner to our book, Nature’s Path of Continuing Creation.

However, Brahman is unlike Nature’s Processes of Continuing Creation in two important ways.  We regard the following two points as key Shortcomings of Hinduism:

  1. First, Brahman is seen as Ultimate Consciousness, which in Hinduism is supposedly more real than matter and energy, and to which each human’s consciousness (Atman) can return. Our own Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos, our “System of All Systems” includes the consciousness of many creatures; but it also includes matter and energy. All the matter and all the energy of our human bodies came from the stars (including our own sun), and all our matter and energy will return to the stars. But our consciousness neither comes from stars nor returns to stars.
  2. Second, Nature’s Continuing Creation is self-creating, emerging, and progressing; not a system existing before and outside the physical Universe as Brahman is said to be.

Let us elaborate.  While Hindus believe Consciousness gives rise to brains, we Practitioners of Nature’s Continuing Creation understand that brains give rise to consciousness.  We see that “brain precedes mind” in the evolutionary history of life on Earth. Consciousness requires a structure of highly organized matter and a flow-through of energy in order to exist. Thus, consciousness resides only in brains and collections of brains (assisted by our computers).  Nervous systems and brains evolved to conduct perception, analysis, memory, cooperation and communication; all of which disappear when each nervous system dies.  If there is no physical structure and no energy flow, there can be no consciousness.

Our culture and technology do increase despite the deaths of individual brains. Libraries get bigger; computers get smarter and talk to each other. Perhaps our civilization is growing toward “Ultimate Knowledge,” but it would be a stretch to says that our culture is “aware” or “conscious” of all knowledge all the time (Ultimate Knowledge is a central idea of Process Theology, which we discuss in our Essay, Forerunners to Our Path & Practice.)

Very, very shortly after the big bang, the universe had sub-atomic particles and the four fundamental forces.  In our Essay, Mathematics Evolves in Nature’s Continuing Creation, we explore the idea that mathematical forms (like the circle and the spiral) might also have been present at the beginning as well. If so, might mathematics be what Hindus call “Brahman”? On the other hand, maybe Mathematics, like the rules of grammar, is a construct of the human brain.  (For more, see our Essay, Mathematics and Continuing Creation.)

As we have said in other Essays, we come back to the fact that we cannot know if there was a God or an Ultimate Consciousness existing before the creation of the universe, because we cannot stand outside the Universe. In fact, we humans cannot stand outside our own brains… but perhaps our artificially intelligent computers will.     

But if there is “something” before and behind the universe, it seems unlikely to us to be Consciousness, and more likely to be the combination of the Four Forces in a “Grand Unified Force (GUF),” or maybe the GUF plus The Laws of Physics and/or Mathematics.  

Hinduism Says Earthly Things Are “Not Really Real”

Hinduism further argues that since Brahman is Ultimate Reality, the seemingly real things we see and do here on Earth (including our own bodies and our actions) are illusions (maya). 30

Nature’s Path of Continuing Creation regards this as nonsense. The Hindu rejection of Earthly reality is a clear and major Shortcoming of Hinduism.

Is this a difference between the general cultures of India and the West?  Johnsen believes that to be the case. She writes, “Here in the West, we see things as either true or false, black or white, animate or inanimate…For Hindus, life is multidimensional, and to nail things down to yay or nay is to miss the bigger picture.” Thus, the pervasive “head bobble” that Indians so often do when asked a question – a bobble that incorporates both the nod of yes and the shake of no and which means both. 31

Communications to and from Brahman, God, or Nature’s Continuing Creation

Despite the magnificent image of God that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, most modern Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not believe that their God looks like a person. But they do believe God acts like a person in that He listens to, speaks with, visits, and acts with respect to individual humans. If religious people don’t really hear God’s voice, they claim to feel or intuit His thoughts.

Our Spiritual Practice says that if a person can actually hear the voice of God, or any other disembodied voices, that person is likely suffering from delusions and needs to see a mental health professional.

But in a way, Nature’s Continuing Creation does communicate with and/or influence individuals through words spoken by other living people; through the actions of other people; through books, music, and films made by people; and through all the events of history, and certainly through Nature.

Apparently, Hindus also understand that Brahman communicates in many ways and through many mediums. This Strength has given rise to all the different schools of Hinduism, to its many gurus, and to its “cast of hundreds” of gods and goddesses.

The Way of Continuing Creation is also open to multiple sources of knowledge, wisdom, and spirituality… as long as the new insights conform to reason, to factual history, and to scientific knowledge.

Hindu Creation Myths

There are many stories of creation in the Hindu texts. One of the most fanciful stories says that the Earth is supported on a giant elephant, and the elephant stands on the back of a giant turtle. When a teacher asked a student what supported the turtle, he famously replied, “Teacher, it’s turtles all the way down.” 32

The important difference between creation lore in Hinduism and in the Abrahamic religions is that Hinduism views (as do Buddhism and Jainism) the birth of material things (e.g., the Earth, people, civilizations) as cyclical, while the Ultimate Consciousness/Reality of Brahman is supposedly eternal. 33 In short, during and after the Jnana Era, Hindus have wasted little time and effort on creation myths, and this is a Strength.

The Path of Nature’s Continuing Creation holds that we cannot know whether there was a Creator or an “Ultimate Consciousness” that preceded and caused the creation of our universe at the Big Bang. We do know that while we are not “one” with the other materials, energies, processes, and life forms on our planet, we share many things with them.  For example, all things on Earth, including every human, is made up of “stardust” – made up of chemical elements formed in stars which long age exploded into gas and dust.  That gas and dust coalesced into the planets (including planet Earth), that orbit a newer star known as the sun.

The Purpose of Life According to Hinduism

In Hinduism, there are the four proper goals or aims (“purusarthas) of human life:

  • Dharma (ethics/duties),
  • Artha (prosperity/work),
  • Kama (desires/passions) and
  • Moksha (liberation/freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth/salvation).34

Unfortunately, none of these four goals of human life includes Continuing Creation’s teaching that the purpose of life is to create – to discover, repair, build, research, improve, and achieve progress.  This is a Shortcoming of Hinduism, although the Hindu concept of artha (work) is related to our concept of creating.

Like every other Old Religion, Hinduism was developed before there was any modern technological or medical progress. Those life improvements awaited the arrival of the scientific and industrial revolutions, which first happened in the West.   

Therefore, the stated goal of Hindu life has been to escape Earthly existence, and somehow transcend into a blissful merger (moksha) of one’s individual consciousness (the atman) with the Cosmic Consciousness (the Brahman). This union is not a heaven where people frolic in eternally heathy bodies with their families and friends. Moksha with Brahman is not an embodiment or even a physical state, but a mental merging: a union of consciousness.

In their pursuit of spiritual escape (moksha), some Hindus retire and retreat from their social world, dispose of all material possessions, and engage in lifelong sannyasa (monastic practices – poverty, wandering, begging,) to achieve Moksha. 35

Hindus seek escape into mystical union with Brahman; Travelers on the Path of Continuing Creation seek to improve life here on Earth.  We are not about building a metal path to Brahman, we are about building technological and behavioral paths to sustainable agriculture and industry. The goal of escape into Brahman is a Shortcoming of Hinduism.

Hinduism’s idea that Earthly creations change over eons of time is similar to Continuing Creation’s understanding of evolution.  However, Co-Creators in Our Practice discern a clear arrow of progress, a growing elaboration of structure and information, whereas Hinduism sees only repeating cycles of sameness.

Atman (Self) and its Relationship to Brahman (Ultimate Consciousness)

Jnana Hinduism teaches that the essence of each person is his or her Atman, i.e., their consciousness, sense of self, or “soul.”

Note: The spoken syllable or mantra Om (or “Aum”) represents Atman and Brahman, the practice and the purpose of life, the world and the Truth behind it, and the material and the Sacred. Om has grown to represent Hinduism itself and is one of the most chanted sound symbols in India. [ref]

Note: A bindi is a colored dot worn on the center of the forehead. The word dates back to the hymn of creation in the Rigveda. It symbolizes the point at which creation begins and may ultimately return to unity.  It is said to be a person’s “third eye,” the gate that leads to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness.

Samsara – The Cycle of Birth, Suffering, Death, and Reincarnation

Until the 19th century, Hindus experienced deep and unavoidable suffering from disease, poor medical knowledge, crop failures, violence, and death. This suffering was (and still is) called samsara, the tragic cycle of birth, suffering, and death.

Each person’s atman (inner self) was believed to be reincarnated, over and over, until one’s atman accumulated enough good karma to escape the cycle and merge with Brahman. According to author Linda Johnsen, “Direct personal experience of God [Brahman] is the purpose of life.” 36

We Followers of Continuing Creation find this purpose to be too passive. It is a Shortcoming of Hinduism that it invites and even advocates such escapist defeatism. Nature’s Path of Continuing Creation generally does not support any renunciation or retreat from reality that takes up a majority of a person’s time and energy. (We do, however, recognize the right of individuals to retreat from active life.)

According to our own spiritual practice, the purpose of each human life is to contribute to the Weave of the Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Universe in ways that also sustain our Biosphere and preserve our human identity, character, and morality.


For Followers of Nature’s Continuing Creation, this would include sharing human love with family and friends; reaching out to others similarly afflicted; practicing mindfulness, meditation, and physical yoga; and taking consolation in the great beauty of Nature enhanced by your knowledge of Nature’s interlocking systems. 


Hindu teaching about all subjects – science, philosophy, morality, religion – can be called the Dharma.  Any truthful knowledge about the universe, the world, and human life is part of the dharma.  In Hinduism, dharma is symbolized by the eight-spoked ship’s wheel (the steering wheel that guides the ship on its course).

The Eight-spoked Wheel symbolizes the Dharma (the Teaching).

However, Dharma usually means ‘duty’, ‘virtue’, ‘morality’, and “spirituality.’  It even refers to the power which upholds the universe and society. Professor Gavin Flood of the Oxford Centre for Hindu

Studies has written that “Dharma is the power that maintains society, it makes the grass grow, makes the sun to shine, and makes us moral people or rather gives humans the opportunity to act virtuously.” 37

Strength: Hinduism teaches that all knowledge and teaching, all dharma, is connected. Similarly, all the processes of Continuing Creation (differentiation, emergence, evolution, branching, convergence, specialization, communication and many others) are connected.

Hindus also use the word dharma instead of the word “religion” to describe their entire spiritual path. (Hindu traditionalists call it Sanatana Dharma — the eternal or ancient dharma). This is a Strength of Hinduism because we Followers of Continuing Creation hold that our Practice is more of a “teaching” than a “religion.” We associate the word “religion” with myths of anthropomorphic Gods. 

Note: The word dharma has the same meanings in Buddhism as it does in Hinduism.

The Bhagavad Gita – a Tale of Truth and Duty

The sacred Upanishads texts from Hinduism’s jnana era contain the epic tale called the Mahabharata.  In turn, the Mahabharata contains the famous story called the Bhagavad Gita.

Krishna as Charioteer

The Bhagavad Gita is a tale about the final epic battle between two warring families. Arjuna, a young warrior-prince of one family is reluctant to fight and kill his cousins who are soldiering for the other family.  He is also concerned that the level of slaughter on both sides will break down the families, mix the castes, and even perhaps lead to an increase in rape and prostitution.

The God Krishna

The God Krishna

The god Krishna, in the avatar form of Arjuna’s charioteer, explains to Arjuna why he should fulfill his duty and fight.  Krishna assures Arjuna that his personal dharma (proper path) is to fight in the battle because the battle is just and because he is a warrior. However, he must fight (a) within the rules of the warriors’ code, and (b) with detachment from the results of his actions. 38

Krishna’s most fundamental argument is that the world we humans live in, with its strife and suffering, is not the “Real World of Ultimate Consciousness.” In fact, while Arjuna’s body may kill the body of an enemy soldier, Arjuna’s real self (atman) will not be doing that killing; nor will Arjuna be killing the real atman of the enemy soldier. The soldier’s Atman is destined to be born again. Therefore, Arjuna should go ahead and fulfill his Earthly duty as a warrior for his clan… because in the Reality of Ultimate Consciousness, it doesn’t really matter.

Krishna explains that Arjun’s motives flow from his attachment to the things of Earth — attachment to relatives, to society, to the greater good, attachment to the results of his actions. Instead, Krishna says that in Earthly life, a person should take “selfless action,” i.e., action without regard for one’s personal feelings of gain or loss.

Shortcoming: Nature’s Path of Continuing Creation argues that Krishna’s advice to Arjuna is wrong because it really does matter whether or not Prince Arjuna kills an enemy in battle. We assert that what happens in life on Earth is indeed very real, and our actions do matter. 

Note: Despite Krisha’s teaching to Arjuna, Mohandas Gandhi and his followers, who led India out from under British colonial rule, practiced pacifist civil disobedience. (A minority of Christians are also pacifists, including the Quakers, Amish, and the Mennonites.)  On the other hand, Indian Hindus fought a war with Indian Muslims around the year 1947, when the land and population of India was split between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, and again in 1965 and 1971. 39

Lila — The Concept of “Divine Play”

Followers of the major Hindu God Krishna, who is an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu, subscribe to the concept oflila,(or “leela”) meaning ‘divine play,’ as the central principle of the universe. This concept is discussed in the Bhagavad Gita, and it runs like this:

“To say thatBrahman has some purpose in creating the world would mean that it wants to attain, through the process of creation, something which it has not. And that is impossible, because Brahman already is everything. Hence, there can be no purpose in Brahman’s creating the world. The world is a mere spontaneous creation of Brahman. It is a lila, or sport, of Brahman. It is created out of Bliss, by Bliss, and for Bliss. Lila indicates a spontaneous sportive activity of Brahman as distinguished from a self-conscious volitional effort. The concept of lila signifies freedom, as distinguished from necessity.”  — Ram Shanker Misra, The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo, July, 1998. 40

Note: In the West, The God of the Abrahamic Old Testament and the Qur’an wrestled with Jacob, and He brought Job to the brink of death merely to win a wager with the devil. But the Abrahamic God was hardly known for his playfulness! The pantheons of Greece, Rome, and Norse-land were far more capricious toward the humans below them.

If this Hindu concept of “Divine Play” is true, then we should not be surprised when our telescopes see stars exploding into gasses that are later re-collected to become new stars, nor when we learn that entire civilizations have lived and died before the ones on Earth today, nor when we learn that 99% of all the species that ever lived on Earth have gone extinct, even while new species are constantly evolving. In other words, the human cycle of life and death is repeated on higher levels… perhaps even at the level of the universe itself.  41

The Path of Nature’s Continuing Creation acknowledges these larger cycles of birth, death, and re-birth. Nevertheless, for our human time and place we must work to preserve and extend the Growing, Organizing, Direction of Progress on Earth, and on any other worlds we may come to occupy. This work must include preservation (and possibly the enrichment) of the ecosystem and biodiversity of the planets we inhabit.

The Growing, Organizing, Direction of Progress may be halting (two steps forward, one backward, two forward), or it may be both circular and advancing, like a spiral.  But its progression is clear, as we discuss in our Essays that deal with complexity and evolution. 

The concept of lila is likely related to the observation that Modern Hindus are tolerant of imperfection; their acceptance of “living in the way things are.” Here is a vivid example from religion and classics scholar Laura Emerson:

“We are in southwestern India, in the town of Shimoga. We saw a six-legged bull the other day – two vestigial legs dangling from the spine, painted and decorated with flowers and incense, as something holy, wandering around town.” — Laura Emerson, in a letter written in India to J.X. Mason, 2019. 

The doctrine of lila, like the caste system and Hindu tolerance for Imperfection in general, is a Shortcoming of Hinduism as viewed from Our Secular-Spiritual Path, because it can obscure the Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos, and instead falsely lead to passivity, particularly in pre-industrial societies.

Counter-Argument:  On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt if the Followers of God, along with the Jews, Christians, and Muslims, would lighten up a bit!  Stop talking about things like original sin, Satan, damnation, and holy war. Stop doing things like female genital mutilation, jihadi holy war, Catholic self-flagellation, and Orthodox Jewish post-menstrual sacred bathing (mikveh).

Hinduism Says Evil Results from Ignorance, not from a “Satan”

Some schools of Hinduism believe in evil spirits and have various methods for exorcising them. But there is no “Satan” or “Devil” whose power challenges the power of God. Brahman has no rivals, and since Brahman is present everywhere, there is no “hell” in which people spend eternity after they die. There are hellish worlds in Hinduism, but they are like today’s drug rehab centers – souls go there to undergo “expiation and purification.” 42

In Hinduism, ignorance – not the devil – is the root of all evil.  “What Christians call evil is called avidya in Sanskrit, which means ‘lack of knowledge.’  When a conscious human being “fails to recognize that everything in interconnected, that we are all one, that harming another is literally harming oneself, then that person is acting out of ignorance of the underlying universal reality.” 43

Hinduism’s non-personification of evil is a Strength because it is akin to the Book of Continuing Creation, which describes how evil usually happens when human competition sup-optimally outweighs human cooperation, or when hereditary, evolutionary, or psychological factors cause individuals to be sociopathic.

The Dharma of Personal Morality and Virtue

The Bhagavad Gita mostly focuses on the right relationship between Brahman and atman. The other major epic of the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, mostly focuses on the day-to-day duties, rights, laws, conduct, and virtues of individual people living in families and communities.

Hinduism’s teaching about personal conduct — morality, virtue, and spirituality — is a particularly important part of the dharma. Each individual has their own personal dharma (sva-dharma). Different people have different obligations and duties according to their age, gender, social position, abilities, and personalities. 44

It is an important Strength that Hinduism teaches a realistic morality that is situational, as it is in life.

Judeo-Christians like to think that God handed down all the morals and virtues in the world to Moses in the form of the 10 Commandments.  In fact, every stable human society has a set of morals and virtues, and nearly every major society that developed a written language has them in writing. They are all remarkably similar, because they are evolved and then codified behaviors that promote cooperation within and between human societies.

Hinduism has no original sin. This is a clear Strength because Practitioners of Continuing Creation know that the Judeo-Christian idea of original sin is ridiculous on its face. Humans are not inherently bad from birth; except for psychopaths, people have evolved to naturally have a mix of good and bad. (See our Essay, Leading a Moral Life.)

Shortcoming:  The idea that all suffering is caused by bad behavior in this life or in prior lives prior lives may work to reduce the practice of charitable giving in Hindu cultures. People can be perceived as deserving of poverty and disease due bad karma carrying over from their past lives. However, there is a very strong tradition of giving and sharing within Indian extended families.

Strength:  Hindu morality extends beyond humans to protect animals. Most practicing Hindus consider it immoral to eat meat, because it needlessly kills living creatures. However, there are no absolute moral precepts about eating in Hinduism.  Moderation in diet is almost universally a virtue, but of course virtues are not moral rules. This is an important strength because it promotes sustainable agriculture and the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (See the Wikipedia article, “Diet in Hinduism.”)

It is illegal to kill a monkey in India, ostensibly because the god Hanuman has the head and tail of a rhesus money and the body of a man. 45 Cows are deeply respected (“sacred”) as symbols of motherhood and nurturing, and it is particularly immoral to kill cattle or to eat beef. 46

Hindu Moral Precepts (Yamas)

Strength: Hinduism has a balanced conception of right and wrong that takes circumstances into account.

Johnsen writes that for Hindus, every human owes duty to parents and teachers, guests, all other humans, all other living things. Common people should perform their daily duties with intent for the greater good, as if our activities are offerings to the gods. 47

In Hinduism, yamas are moral imperatives, commandments, rules, or goals. 48

Strength: Hinduism does not have a set list of absolute moral precepts, because Hindus recognize that the moral course of action depends partly on the circumstances. This is very much in agreement with Nature’s Continuing Creation.

The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) might claim that morality is absolute – e.g., “Thou Shalt Not Kill” – but shortly after Jehovah issued this commandment, He helps the Israelites slay the Canaanites in the battle of Jericho, so that the Hebrews can take over the “Promised Land.” What Jehovah (Moses) really intended by the Commandment was “Thou shalt not murder,” meaning that the members of each of the twelve tribes of Israel should stop killing members of the other 11 tribes. 49

In our own Essay, Leading an Ethical, Moral Life, the Practice of Nature’s Continuing Creation points out that today there are even finer gradations of murder – 1st -degree murder, 2nd-degree, premeditated, etc.

At least fifty different texts in Hinduism discuss the yamas.  50 Here are the ten yamas listed in the Śāṇḍilya Upanishad: 51

  Hinduism’s Ten Yamas (Moral Imperatives)

  1. Nonviolence
  2. Truthfulness
  3. Not stealing
  4. Chastity, marital fidelity, sexual restraint 
  5. Non-avarice, non-possessiveness
  6. Forgiveness
  7. Fortitude
  8. Compassion
  9. Sincerity, non-hypocrisy
  10. Measured diet

Hindu Virtues (Niyamas)

The Niyamas (positive duties; virtues), represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules within Hinduism. The niyamas appeared in vedas and Upanishads. Over time, new virtues were conceptualized and added by ancient Hindu scholars; some replaced, others merged. 52

Consumption of alcohol is not recommended in Hinduism, but it is begrudgingly allowed for special occasions and occupations.

The fifteenth century manual on Hatha Yoga called the Pradipika lists ten niyamas in the following order: (See the Wikipedia article, Niyamas.)

     Hinduism’s Ten Niyamas (Virtues)

  1. Tapas: persistence, perseverance in one’s purpose, austerity.
  2. Santoṣa: contentment, acceptance of others and of one’s circumstances as they are, optimism for self.
  3. Āstikya: faith in Real Self (jnana yoga, raja yoga), belief in God (bhakti yoga), conviction in Vedas/Upanishads (orthodox school).
  4. Dāna: generosity, charity, sharing with others.
  5. Īśvarapūjana: worship of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality).
  6. Siddhānta vakya śrāvaṇa: Listening to the ancient scriptures.
  7. Hrī: remorse and acceptance of one’s past, modesty, humility.
  8. Mati: think and reflect to understand, reconcile conflicting ideas.
  9. Japa: mantra repetition, reciting prayers or knowledge.
  10. Vrata: Fulfilling religious vows, rules and observances faithfully.

Strength:  Jnana Hinduism correctly has no shortcut to moksha; it strictly depends on one’s net accumulation of good karma. Unlike Christianity, Jnana Hinduism has no quick baptism whereby all past bad karma is magically forgiven. A shortcut doctrine did emerge in Hinduism’s later Devotional (bhakti) “layer,” as we shall see in the next section of this Essay.

Nature’s Way of Continuing Creation agrees that there is no shortcut to moral behavior and ethical virtue. Those qualities must be practiced by each person.  However, we also hold that people can get a second chance — but in life, not in “heaven” or in Brahman.  Such second chances are granted by other humans and/or by good fortune, not by a God or a saint.


Karma” – written in Sanskrit

Hinduism teaches that each person’s intentions and deeds, both good and bad, are recorded in a summation called karma. If a person accumulates enough good karma, he or she can escape the suffering of life and unify, non-physically, with the Universal Ultimate Consciousness of Brahman. The process of escaping suffering (samsara) and unifying with Brahman is called moksha (which is analogous to nirvana in Buddhism).  The first clear discussion of the Hindu concept, karma, appears in the Upanishads.  53

Karmic retribution is not supported by any scientific or historical evidence. True, sometimes a culprit “gets what’s coming to him” during the span of his own life, but it is due to normal factors of causation, including (1) the culprit has a habit of doing wrong, and is eventually caught at when he or she does it again;  (2) people uncover a past wrongdoing an bring the culprit to some kind of justice, or (3) the culprit simply earns a bad reputation and cannot overcome it.


Very few people (especially as seen in the Jnana era), are able to accumulate enough good karma in one or even in several lifetimes to achieve moksha and merge with Brahman. So, atmans (souls) must be reincarnated. However, sufficient progress along the karmic path will likely get you advanced to a higher caste of humans. A record of worsening karma would get you “demoted” into a lower caste, or even reincarnated inside some loathsome animal’s body. This cycle of birth, life-suffering, death, and rebirth (samsara), can repeat many, many times.

Like the concept of karma, reincarnation is not supported by any scientific or historical evidence. Karma and reincarnation are not accepted concepts in the Practice of Continuing Creation.


A principal activity of Philosophic Hinduism is meditation (dhyana).  Meditation aims at deep understanding of one’s true self (atman) so that self can be unified with Brahman.


In the West, we know yoga as a Hindu discipline which trains the body, mind and consciousness for health, tranquility and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practice control of the body and mind.

A Woman Practicing Hatha Yoga

For observant Hindus, yoga (meaning “to yoke”) is a set of methods for “attaining super-consciousness that can involve work, breath control, meditation, and asceticism.” 54 “By training our mind not to react to body sensations such as pain or pleasure we’ll supposedly learn to reduce aversion and craving, thereby leading us to liberation and true happiness.” 55

Depending on the Hindu text one reads, there are 3, 4, or even 8 different types of yoga. Below are the four types of yoga according to Gavin Flood’s An Introduction to Hinduism, 1996, Cambridge University Press 56 Note that these types of yoga roughly correspond to the “layers” or “eras” of Hinduism that we have referenced from Professor Prothero’ book, God Is Not One. 57

  1. Karma Yoga (the discipline of right action),
  2. Jñāna Yoga (the discipline of knowledge),
  3. Rāja Yoga (the discipline of meditation), and
  4. Bhakti Yoga (the discipline of love and devotion).


The era of Jnana Hinduism also introduced gurus into India. Gurus are like prophets or teachers. They teach their followers the techniques of study, meditation, and yoga that can help each individual find release from samsara (the suffering cycle of life, death, reincarnation, life, death) and go on to attain moksha (liberation). The tradition of independent gurus, without any central leadership, continues into today.


Like the much later teachings of Jesus, the Upanishads sought to smash social taboos, including family ties. 58 In the era of Jnana Hinduism, thousands of homeless sages called sadhus or sannyasins (renouncers) wandered over India. They abandoned work, property, family, sex, and even their own names for a life of meditation, asceticism, and poverty in pursuit of moksha.  Some renouncers even actively sought suffering as a supposed path to moksha. (Similarly, some Catholic priests and monks have been known to beat themselves on their backs with whips, a practice called self-flagellation, a technique for “mortification of the flesh.”)

Indian “sadhu”
Practicing asceticism

There are fewer wandering Hindu renouncers in the Modern Era, although it is still a somewhat popular life-choice for people (mostly for retired men). Some modern elderly Hindu couples elect to stay in one place, but they give up their social world and material possessions, and then engage in ascetic practices in pursuit of moksha. 59

Mohandus Gandhi, now commonly called Mahatma (“Ascended Master”) Gandhi, led the struggle for Indian independence from Great Britain between 1920 and 1947. He started out his career as a well-dressed lawyer but elected to follow the path of renunciation during his later life as a political and spiritual leader.

The most notorious of today’s renouncers are “the ‘Naked Ones” (Nagas) who clothe themselves in nothing more than the ashes of cremation grounds. The most extreme of these are the Aghoris, devotees of Shiva, who have been known to eat excrement, drink urine, and use human skulls as begging bowls.” 60 Nagas and Aghoris can be seen in the right neighborhoods of Indian cities. 61

An ascetic or yogi who has been initiated into a Hindu religious order is called a swami. Ochre-robed swamis usually belong to orders of monks that goes back centuries. They have suffixes at the end of their names like -giri (“firm as a hill in spiritual practice”) or -sagara (“immersed in knowledge as in an ocean.” 62

    • We should step aside for a moment to note that the Buddha’s teaching in Northern India (600-500 BCE) may have been in reaction to the fatalism of Hinduism and its strict caste system. Buddhism set aside or “renounced” all concern with rituals, offerings, gods and goddesses, and set aside all questions about Atman versus Brahman. Buddhism focused instead on how individuals can solve the problem of suffering on their own, through meditation and ethical behavior 63
    • Other split-offs from Hinduism are Jainism (originating 600-500 BCE) and Sikhism (1100s CE). Both remain independent from Hinduism today, but both share many Hindu beliefs including karma and reincarnation. Sikh men wear turbans and are known for their service in the Indian armed forces. The Jains are strictly non-violent toward all living creatures.

Devotional (“Bhakti”) Hinduism

In India, the disciplines of Jnana Hinduism – study, meditation, physical yoga, and renunciation — proved to be too hard for most people (especially uneducated and lower caste working people), so India evolved a popularized movement called Devotional (Bhakti) Hinduism. Because it developed between 500 CE and 1200 CE, Western scholars sometimes refer to Bhakti as “medieval” Hinduism. 64

Bhakti Hinduism is an example of religious popularization, which can occur in many religions. It gets started when a religion’s leaders introduce song, dance, exciting stories, and magical powers to increase participation and fervor among their believers. The stories and texts are sensational and supernatural. This development succeeds because common people do not have the time, money, or literacy to completely dedicate themselves to a philosophical discipline. They must earn a living and take care of their families.

What historians call a “popularization,” the faithful call the “The Way of Faith,” or “The Way of Devotion.” It is a way that provides an easier path to a perfect afterlife. It is easier because a god, saint, prophet, Hindu guru or Buddhist bodhisattva, uses his or her “special powers” to boost ordinary humans up into heaven, moksha, or nirvana.

Note: Similarly, in European Catholicism during the early Middle Ages, a “cult of veneration” grew up around the Virgin Mary, providing the common people with a feminine face of the divine (actually, of the near-divine). In Mexico, the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared to a peasant near the Villa de Guadeloupe (now a suburb of Mexico City) in the year 1531 and spoke to him in his native Nahuati language. A strong tradition of worship grew up around this vision, now called “The Virgin of Guadalupe.”

In bhakti, people devote themselves to one, several, or even to hundreds of Hindu gods and goddesses. The adopted god or goddess becomes the personal divinity (saguna Brahman) of the devotee. 65 A follower gives sincere devotion to the chosen deity, and that chosen deity provides the follower with a quicker way – a shortcut – to moksha. In other words, the bad karma which Hindu people accumulated during their lives upon Earth is neutralized or cleansed through sincere devotion to the chosen god or goddess.  66

This popularized Hindu bhakti concept is similar to Christianity’s doctrine, “Accept Jesus as your personal savior and you will easily enter the kingdom of God.” It also has a parallel in Mahayana Buddhism, (“Mahayana” meaning “Great Vehicle”) whereby Buddhists attain nirvana (liberation) through the grace of a bodhisattva (guru) of their choosing.

A Hindu devotee’s chosen deity also helps out with the devotee’s day-to-day problems – hunger, disease, oppression, and family problems. The help can come by inspiration, intervention by the god’s human agents, or by perceived miracles. “Many of these Hindu gods and goddess now have followings rivaling those of St. Jude or the Virgin Mary.” 67 This idea that anthropomorphic gods and goddesses can intervene in peoples’ individual lives and change them for the better is a major Shortcoming of Hinduism for Followers of Continuing Creation. We reject the fantastical notion of divine intervention.

Bhakti routinely generates hundreds of “saints,” holy gurus who are “self-realized.” Sometimes a god or goddess just “zaps” someone into sainthood, but most saints have to undergo intense work of self-development. 68

Bhakti argues that when a person acts without regard for personal consequences (as Krishna recommended to Arjuna before the great battle in the Bhagavad Gita), he or she is acting out of Devotion. Johnsen writes that the South Indian saint Amma once said: “Devotion (bhakti) without spiritual knowledge (jnana) cannot free us. But knowledge without devotion is like eating stones.” 69

The Hindu Gods and Goddesses

Although today’s very large cast of Hindu Gods and Goddesses (hundreds if not thousands) were pretty much sorted out and defined by the end of the Jnana Era, conceptually it makes more sense to talk about them as part of the Devotional Era, when they take center stage in popular Hinduism.

Many writers say that most Hindus understand that the super-powered gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon are “not real;” that they are only characterizations of the many facets of Brahman. Other Hindus would say that the nature of Brahman flows into real gods and goddesses who then represent Brahman’s different powers and aspects on Earth.

Note:  We list the deities below to give the reader a small introduction to the complexity of the Hindu Pantheon. Readers need only remember “Brahman,” the name for Ultimate Consciousness, Ultimate Reality.

  • Many Hindus believe that Brahman flows first into three primary deities (the Trimurti) – the Gods Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver), and Shiva (The Destroyer-and-Recreator); and from them into all the lesser deities.
  • Shiva has four arms, and in the West he is often depicted doing his “Dance of Creative Destruction” (a term which economists have since adopted as their own.)
  • Parvati, (also called Mahadevi, “The Goddess,” or Shakti), is the first wife of Shiva and a major deity in her own right. She is often incarnated as Kali, the goddess of cremation grounds and battlefields. Kali is depicted as wearing a necklace of skulls.
  • Lakshmi is another wife of Vishnu and is the goddess of wealth and fortune.
  • The Goddess representing “Mother Earth” is Prithvi (Vast One) or Prithvi Mata (Vast Mother).
  • The well-known God Krishna (the “Prankster”), is an incarnation of Krishna is a major God in his own right. He has dark blue skin and likes to have sex with gopi (cow-herder) girls. Krishna was the most popular major god in devotional Hinduism. 70
  • The most popular god of the modern era is probably Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is the son of Shiva and Parvati.

The Hindu gods and goddesses often take the form of other lesser gods, or of human beings. These incarnations are avatars of the deities. Vishnu has at least nine avatars.  (See Wikipedia entry on “Avatar,” and use the illustration there.)  Hindu gods and goddesses are not constrained by human conceptions of morality and virtue. 71 In this respect, they are like the pantheons of Norse or Ancient Greek mythology.

Statues of gods and goddesses in Hindu temples are called murtis. Upon installation, each murti is invested with the living spirit of the deity by a priest who has performed a dedication rite called Prana Pratishtha, which means “to establish.” 72 Other Hindus say the murtis only symbolize the gods. 73

Note: To quickly review the major Abrahamic religions, Christianity has statues and images and also saints. Protestants have images, but no saints. Judaism and Islam have prophets but eschew images.

If Brahman Cannot Be Portrayed, How Can its Gods and Goddesses?

Blue skin, four arms, an elephant’s head on a human body — given these wild portrayals, surely Hindus cannot believe these gods and goddesses are real. How does Hinduism hold both the abstract Brahman and the pantheon of colorful deities within itself at the same time? Here are three possible explanations:

  • Perhaps Hinduism says that Brahman has so many unknowable and incalculable aspects, that they might as well create many images, with each image representing a different aspect of Brahman! The Practice of Nature’s Continuing Creation says this might work, as long as followers fully understand that the images and statues are representations, everyone will be happy – both the intellectuals and the illiterate.  But what if followers get off track?
  • Maybe Hindus would say they are real and not real at the same time! In the sacred text Tripura Rahasya, Brahman (speaking as the Mother Goddess) says, “What I am is utterly beyond the capacity of your mind to conceive…Therefore, worship Me in whatever form that appeals to you.  I promise, in that very form I will come to you.” 74 This is analogous to how Christians try to explain the Trinity — Jehovah in three persons; Brahman in a thousand characterizations.
  • Hindu philosophy teaches that Ultimate Consciousness is the only true reality, and that the physical things of our daily world are not.  Therefore, if Hindus can imagine these Gods and Goddesses in their minds and in their collective consciousness, they must be real, right?

The Path of Continuing Creation Reaches these Conclusions:

  • Being abstract, we agree that Brahman, like Nature’s Continuing Creation, should not (cannot) be portrayed in an image. This is a Strength of Hinduism.
  • The colorful gods and goddess of Hinduism are not real, i.e., they do not think or act in the real world. It is a Shortcoming of Hinduism (as it is for any religion) to invoke anthropomorphic deities having superpowers.
  • Some of the Old Western Religions, like Judaism and Islam, decide that their Creator-Mind (God) is too grand to be represented in images drawn by humans. And the Practice of Continuing Creation agrees.
  • As we’ve discussed, Our Spiritual Path holds that matter and energy are very real, and that consciousness, when it evolves, evolves out of them over a great deal of time. The Hindu rejection of Earthly reality is a clear and major Shortcoming of Hinduism.

It is likely a further Shortcoming to make icons of the gods and goddesses that are highly fanciful and bizarre, because it undercuts the gravity of the spiritual path established in the jnana era. (On the other hand, the Hindu concept of lila reminds us that the processes of Continuing Creation can also be playful, and this reminder is a Strength.)

The convenience and popularity of popular fictional images risks descent into “Magical Thinking” with all its distortion, falsehood, and conspiracy theory. Once we symbolize a natural force with an anthropomorphic image (e.g., we use a statue of Mother Nature to stand for nature), we risk coming to worship that statue.  We risk coming to think that there is a “super-woman in heaven” who can magically make our crops grow better. This ever-present danger is clearly another Shortcoming of Hinduism.

A further Shortcoming presented by thousands of images and murtis is that some could easily be constructed or construed to advocate evil or violence. While the processes of Nature’s Continuing Creation also encompass evil and violence (because they are part of reality), we should never make idols that glamorize or advocate those qualities.

We’re better off sticking to actual processes in Nature and civilization as they are described by science and history.  The Path of Continuing Creation chooses reality and rejects fantasy.  

Secular Illustrations in the Practice of Continuing Creation

Our Practice is not averse to non-supernatural illustrations of the Processes of Nature’s Continuing Creation. We use the spiral, mobius ring, the branching pattern, Fibonacci sequences, scalar graphs, power laws, attractors, and many others; but none of them are personified, let alone worshiped. (For more on the role of mathematical patterns in Continuing Creation, see our Essay, Information Patterns– How Creation Works.”)

Mother Nature (Gaia)

We do anthropomorphize Nature when we use the image, “Mother Nature” or “Gaia” but everyone knows she is not real and her Western images have no supernatural powers. Furthermore, our “Mother Nature” never wears a necklace of skulls around her neck like the Hindu Goddess Kali does (even though Kali supposedly uses violence to combat evil, not to do evil).  

The Way of Continuing Creation also uses Shiva’s “Dance of Creation and Destruction” (the Nataraja) as a metaphor to illustrate processes like the birth and death of cultures and technologies. 75

Shiva’s Dance of
Creation, Destruction, & Creation Anew

But when Nature’s “Dance of Continuing Creation” goes around and around, the dancer also progresses across the dance floor.  It is a Shortcoming of Hinduism that Shiva’s dance goes around and around but never goes anywhere, meaning that Hinduism sees no “arrow of progress,” sees no trend toward greater complexity.

Further, even secular Western culture uses the image of a blindfolded woman to hold the “scales of justice;” and economists (such as Adam Smith) use the image of an “invisible hand” to convey the process of emergence in market-based economics.

Our Path of Continuing Creation Has “Exemplars” Instead of Murtis

Practitioners of Nature’s Continuing Creation regard historical nature-loving humans – such as St. Francis of Assisi, Ansel Adams, John Muir, and Rachel Carson — as exemplars of NCC. Many if not most of us are inspired even more by non-human aspects of Nature such as by babbling brooks, jumping deer, flowers, the industry of an anthill, and beautiful sunsets.

We are also inspired by the processes of evolution; along with the logical beauty of the sciences (including the science of evolution), of technology (including computerization and medical science), and the processes of social progress (including democratization and the progressive evolution of justice and law). Human exemplars in these arenas would be Jonas Salk, Florence Nightingale, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson, Mahatma Gandhi, Malala Yousafzai, and many other historical figures.

The Way of Continuing Creation benefits by having human exemplars from many walks of life. But not one real-life human would embody all our principles, not one of them would be without faults, and not one of them would have supernatural powers.  (See our forthcoming Essay, “Our Heroes, Stories, and Songs.”)

Tantric Hinduism

Hindu Tantrism can be seen as a further extension of the Bhakti movement, although its origins go back to the Vedic era. Tantrism means using ritual practices as “shortcuts” to reach moksha more easily and quickly. These practices include repeated sayings (mantras), symbolic drawings (mandalas), healing via chakras, and disciplined yogic sex positions. The methods were elaborated in texts known as Tantras (“Looms”). 76 There is also a significant tantric tradition in Tibetan Buddhism.

Modern Hinduism

Flowers, birds, animals, instruments, symmetric mandala drawings, objects, and idols are all part of symbolic iconography in Hinduism. In the past and continuing today, there are scores of colorful rituals and religious celebrations, including Diwali, the autumn Festival of Lights, and Holi, the Festival of Spring (and of Love), during which hundreds of thousands of Indian and Nepalese Hindus gleefully pour colored powders and water over each other in joyous celebration of life.

The Holi Festival in full swing

Bhakti Continues into the Modern Era

Today, the Hindu world has only a few million Renouncers, while hundreds of millions of people practice Bhakti. 77

The central theme of Bhakti Hinduism continues into the Modern Era. Like other popularized religions, a devotee chooses a god or goddess who will, in exchange for the devotee’s adoration, give that individual a major leg up and into moksha. 78 Evangelical Christianity and Pure Land Buddhism (also known as Amidism in English) offer the same thing: instead of individuals studying, meditating, and following righteous behavior to attain heaven or nirvana, Jesus or a bodhisattva will “gracefully” accelerate the spiritual progress of those individuals. This central theme is a clear Shortcoming Hinduism.  We hold that there is no “easy” way to either moksha or heaven. In fact, neither moksha nor heaven really exists.

On the other hand, Hinduism’s Bhakti Movement correctly teaches that “second chances” in life are often deserved, and this is a Strength.  One’s attitude of service to Brahman or a surrogate of Brahman can improve one’s sense respect and outlook on life.  Our Spiritual Path also agrees with this: being mindful of Nature’s Continuing Creation, making amends, and doing good and constructive work help a person establish a new and better life.   

Modern Activities of Bhakti

The modern bhakti movement involves pilgrimages, ceremonies, offerings, and prayers. It can also involve singing about one’s deity of choice, feelings of self-transcendence, rolling on the ground in ecstasy (analogous to the “holy rollers” of American protestant Christianity), going into trances, chanting mantras, and daily mental “contact” with one’s deity. 79 For certain sects, the activities can be ecstatic, or even erotic.

Shortcoming: Hinduism’s openness and tolerance makes it vulnerable questionable gurus, and irrational, even bizarre activities. “Rolling on the ground in ecstasy” and other excess emotionality could lead to unquestioning loyalty to charismatic gurus who, like cult leaders, have selfish or immoral motives. People need to keep their reason and their common sense engaged.

Darshan – Loving Adoration of a God or Goddess

Starting in the bhakti era and continuing today, millions of Hindus regularly visit their local temples to perform darshan, (“auspicious sight”).  Prothero describes it as follows: “Worship begins by circumambulating the temple itself and then the image of their god. Only then do they take darshan by engaging their deity in an intimate, eye-to-eye encounter.” 80

The visit also calls for the worshipers to perform puja by placing attractive arrangements of food at the feet of their favorite god’s murti.   Often, the food offerings are taken away by other people, including the very poor, so this custom (like church supported foodbanks in the United States) is a Strength of Hinduism.

Note: It is the custom for traveling pilgrims doing darshan at the Sri Venkateshvara Temple to donate all their gold and valuables and also to shave their heads. This major Hindu Temple is said to take in $6,000,000 per day from this once-in-a-lifetime religious custom.  81

Cupboard Shrines

Millions of Hindu families keep a small unobtrusive shrine in their homes. It might be kept anywhere, even in a kitchen cupboard, where it would display tiny statuettes of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity). These deities might be devotionally followed by the father of the family, his wife, and their teenage daughter, respectively. 82

Hindu prayer and meditation can take place at any time, at either temple or in the home, as each devotee sees fit.  This quite a favorable contrast to the insistently prescribed “five times a day” obligation in Islam.

Ganesha — The Elephant-headed God

Nearly all the Gods and Goddesses of Devotional Hinduism continue into the Modern Era. However, the supposedly minor God Ganesha is likely the most popular of all in modern Hinduism. Ganesha is the elephant-headed god of good fortune, of crossing thresholds, knowledge, wisdom, success, and good luck. He is “the remover of obstacles.” 83 If you are starting some new venture, project, or phase of life, Ganesha is the practical go-to guy who can help you get things done here in the real world.

The God Ganesha
(portrayed by a murti)

Ganesha goes by many different names, and many different stories try to explain how he got his elephant’s head. But Hindus are not as “hung-up” on explaining things as Westerners are. If the Gods and Goddesses are playful, according to the principle of lila; if outcomes are merely tosses of the cosmic dice; then our human spirituality can be playful as well.

Other devotees of Ganesha may know that the God’s outlandish appearance is fictional because it was drawn by a human, and all humans are ignorant of the Gods. These devotees are interested in centering themselves in the particular channel of Ultimate Consciousness” that supposedly flows through Ganesha.  For these followers, Ganesha’s elephant-headed murti is just a cartoonish, man-made icon that stands for that channel.

But according to Prothero, still other devotees, when they perform darshan, “engage their deity in an intimate, eye-to-eye encounter.” That strongly suggests that those devotees believe their murti holds the being, the spirit, of a god or goddess who is very real, who possesses magical powers supernatural powers, and who may come to the aid of humans. 84 The Path of Continuing Creation regards that magical belief as a Shortcoming of Hinduism.

Magical Thinking in Modern Hinduism

Author Linda Johnsen flatly says that many Hindus indeed do believe in magical thinking. She writes:

Hindu Spiritual Leader
(Born in 1953)

“The reality of psychic phenomena, like telepathy and precognition… is taken for granted in Hindu culture.  These experiences are accepted as evidence that everyone in the universe is interconnected in a vast inner network of consciousness…Unlike us, they haven’t been taught that miracles can’t really happen.  To them, the laws of consciousness, as understood by saints and yogis, allow miracles to happen routinely.” 85

Johnsen writes that the South Indian saint Amma (see www.amma.org) made enough rice suddenly appear to feed a whole village, and she cured leprosy and cancer. (LJ 285).  Amma also brought people back from the dead. 86

As we said earlier, Nature’s Path of Continuing Creation rejects the Shortcomings of magical thinking, miracle stories, and intervention by anthropomorphic gods.  Nothing happens in the real world outside the realm of scientifically explainable cause and effect (although many things, especially in physics, remain unexplained at this time).  Scientific evidence does not support psychic phenomena. The great interconnection of minds is not supernatural.  It takes place through the physical mediums of conversation, books, photographs, broadcasts, videos, computer databases, and internet messaging.

We strongly suspect that most educated Hindus focus on Brahman, while uneducated Hindus focus mostly on one or more of the various fictional gods-goddesses and their murtis.  A similar split is evident in modern Catholicism: highly educated Catholics, (typified by the Jesuit priesthood) are comfortable with an abstract and conceptual God delineated in advanced theology, while the common laity take their workaday spiritual sustenance from iconic figures like the Virgin Mary, the saints, and a fictionalized, miracle-working Jesus. 

Modern Hinduism — Still No Leader, No Creed, No Hierarchy

It is a Strength that Hinduism has no single founder, no shared creed, and no hierarchical organization. 87 It is also a Strength that Hinduism is an open religion; it is willing to explore, change, and absorb new ideas. People find and follow hundreds of different gurus, as they have done for centuries. Krishna says, “In whatever way people approach me, in that way I show them favor.” 88

Although Hinduism does not know about the science of biological evolution, it understands the concept of cultural evolution, particularly the evolution of Hinduism itself. This a Strength because it makes Hinduism amenable to knowledge of biological evolution.

It is a Strength Hinduism questions authority. Practitioners of Continuing Creation also question authority because we are dedicated to evidence-based thinking, including the scientific method. Our Way must be revised to follow newly discovered facts about the world and better (more encompassing, more accurate) explanations of how the Processes of Continuing Creation work.

Note: The openness and questioning stance of Hinduism stands in stark contrast to Islam, which is the most dogmatic and absolutist of all the major religions.

We must note that right after India earned its freedom from Britain, there was violent war between India’s Hindus and Muslims, resulting in the division of India into the smaller Hindu India to the southeast and a new state of Muslim Pakistan in the northwest. To this day, serious conflict, sometime violent, occurs over the disputed area of Kashmir.

From time to time, Fanatical Muslim leaders destroyed almost every temple and shrine in northern India during and after the early Muslim takeover of that land. For example, Mahmud of Ghazni (circa 1000) and Emperor Aurangzeb (1658 to 1680) annihilated whole cities. But Hindus managed to keep their household shrines. Later, under calmer Muslim leaders and then under British rule, the temples were rebuilt. 89

Diversity and Hindu Fundamentalism in Modern India

We have seen that deities in Modern Hinduism are as diverse as its traditions, and a Hindu can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist. 90

On the other hand, we’ve also said that as a result of Western influence, modern Hinduism increasingly emphasizes that all religions are “paths up the same mountain” and that all gods (and goddesses) are ultimately One – i.e., Brahman. 91

Since the 1980’s, however, India has given rise to a large militant movement of conservative observant “fundos” (short for “fundamentalists”) who emphasize return to the Vedas and campaign for a less-diverse, Hindu-centric nation. Given Hinduism’s natural tolerance for other spiritual ideas, we suspect this movement is in reaction to the militance of their Muslim neighbors, who follow a religion that recognizes only one God, Allah, and which seeks to convert the entire world to the “correct” religion of Islam.  92

Modern Indians who practice devotional Hinduism tend to concentrate their practice around the God Vishnu, or the God Shiva, or the Devi (feminine goddesses).  However, there are hundreds of different sects within those major schools.  93

  • The Vaishnavas are the largest denomination in India. These people are devotees of Lord Vishnu and his avatars, especially Krishna and Rama. “Many Vaishnavas believe God has six special qualities: complete knowledge, total power, sublime majesty, supreme strength, unlimited energy, and full self-sufficiency. He’s not just a transcendent undifferentiated blur, but an actual divine person.” 94
  • The Shaivites are principally devoted to Lord Shiva, whom they regard as the supreme being. They aim to “set their inner world upside down so they can shake themselves loose from past mental conditioning and begin to move through the world with true freedom.” Followers can often be flexible in matters of caste, gender, and ethics. Some historical Shaivite leaders were largely responsible for many Indian Buddhists returning to the fold of Hinduism 95
  • The Shaktas worship the Devi, i.e., the goddesses who represent the Mother of the Universe. Some Shaktas mostly practice rituals; others concentrate on meditation. Philosophically, Shaktism is very close to Shaivism. 96

The Role of Women in Modern Hinduism

Strength: Hinduism values women, sees them as powerful, and does not deny their sexuality.

India had a woman as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, from January 1966 to March 1977, and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984. She was the second longest-serving Indian Prime Minister, after her father Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the first prime minister of India.

Indira Ghandi, former Prime Minister of India,
on USSR postage stamp

Indira Ghandi, former Prime Minister of India,
on USSR postage stamp



“In the Hindu tradition, active power is always thought of as feminine while passive stability is masculine.  The Sanskrit word for power or energy is shaktiShakti is the generic name for Mahadevi, the Great Goddess or Great Divine Mother… No male deity can accomplish anything without his Shakti, his female consort.”  97

The goddess Shakti (also called Parvati and Mahadevi) is the wife of the god Lord Shiva (also called Mahadeva). In addition to being the goddess of active power, Shaktism is a major tradition or school in Hinduism. 98

While Shakti is the goddess of beauty, fertility, love, marriage, children and devotion, another major form of the Divine Mother is the Goddess Durga – the warrior goddess. In order to empower creation, Durga combats evils and demonic forces that threaten peace, prosperity and the dharma of the good.

Durga is depicted in the Hindu pantheon as riding a lion or tiger, with many arms each carrying a weapon, and often defeating the buffalo demon. 99

Despite these powerful Hindu goddesses, “There’s no question women have lower status than men in Hinduism.” To gain high status and a wealthy husband, the old tradition has been for brides to take large dowries with them to the husband’s home and family. This makes it very expensive for a family to have a daughter rather than a son.”  100

In addition, “There is overpopulation spurred in part by the preoccupation with producing sons.” Also, women of lower castes are treated very poorly. 101

Modern Westernized Hindus

Professor Prothero notes that Hindus run 40% of the high-tech firms in California’s Silicon Valley (P 133).

He also writes that the educated Indian students in his college classes don’t meditate and seldom do yoga. They follow their religion by attending festivals, visiting local temples, by making food offerings (puja), and doing darshan. 102

Modern-day Hindus tend to overlook or deny the explicit sexuality of Hinduism in the Devotional era. All the authors consulted for this Essay agree that modern Hindus are very sexually conservative. Prothero argues that this reduced sexuality is due to the British colonization of India starting in 1757, followed by two and a half centuries of Western criticism of what the West mistakenly saw as India’s “idolatrous, over-sexualized polytheism.” 103

Mother Nature in Hinduism

While Hinduism is not a nature-based religion, all of nature is sacred to the Hindu. The goddess Prithvi Mata represents “Mother Nature,” going all the way back to the Vedas. As we said earlier, most Hindus do not eat meat, and cows are considered sacred because they provide milk. Legend tells that Prithu, an incarnation of Vishnu, milked Prithi Mata when she was in the form of a cow. 104

Some physical locations in Nature are especially spiritually potent for Hinduism – a certain river, a uniquely shaped rock, a particularly beautiful tree. Throughout India there are also “people’s shrines,” often centered around a neighborhood tree. 105 This practice is echoed in the Zen Buddhist gardens of Japan.

The river Ganges is particularly sacred, and it is personified as the goddess Gaṅgā. She is worshiped by those Hindus who believe that bathing in the Ganges causes the remission of sins and facilitates moksha.

The Hare Krishna Movement

Hare Krishna Movement

We should mention that the Hare Krishna Movement, whose dancing chanters could be found in city street streets and airports all over the United States in the 1970’s, is a school of devotional Hinduism which still exists today. (Formally, they are members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness – ISKCON.)

“The movement is named after its chant — “Hare Krishna” — which devotees repeat over and over. It was started in the 16th century by Sri Chaitanya of Bengal (1486-1533). He believed that chanting the Hare Krishna mantra awakens the soul “just as an alarm clock awakes a sleeping person.”  106

Proselytization in Hinduism

Charismatic Hindu gurus flocked to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. 107 The 1970’s also saw the Hare Krishnas advertising their faith in the streets, as we mentioned just above.

But for the most part, Hindus are not interested in converting others to their faith. There are no Hindu missionaries going door-to-door. There are three likely reasons for this.

  • First, Hindus recognize than no one has definitive answers to life’s mysteries. People everywhere should be free to walk their own spiritual path.
  • Secondly, many Hindus believe that “all religions lead to God.” In fact, because Hinduism is itself so tolerant and so broad, Hindus might as well conclude that it “covers” or “includes” all other religions as well. 108
  • Thirdly, Hinduism is firmly attached to be the ethnic identity and culture of India. Because of this, Indians feel it would be difficult for outsiders to fully “understand” their spiritual dharma. “One of the most common claims among Hindus in the West is that ‘Hinduism is a way of life rather than a religion.’ Many Hindu people call their spiritual life the Sanatana Dharma (“Eternal Teaching”) rather than “Hinduism.” 109

Life is difficult, and if Hinduism works for you, we have no desire to turn you away from it.  But if you seek a different path, or if you have questions, consider The Practice of Nature’s Continuing Creation.

Key Sources for this Essay:

A number of excellent sources were consulted for this Essay. Among those, the four books listed below were instrumental. Three of them were written by highly respected scholars of historical religion, and one was written by a respected Australian journalist who lived and worked in India. All four books were best-sellers. Your author, J.X. Mason, highly recommends all four of them:

  • Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 1993, (Ballantine Books), (See the index for selections on Hinduism). Dr. Armstrong has written twenty-eight critically acclaimed books on theology and the world’s religions. She holds Honorary Doctorates from four major universities, and has won numerous prizes for her scholarship. At the age of 18, she became a member of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, a teaching congregation, in which she remained for seven years.
  • Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism: A New Look at the World’s Oldest Religion, second edition, 2009, (Alpha Books; also Penguin Group). Ms. Johnsen earned a master’s degree in Eastern Studies and did post-graduate work in Comparative Religions at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. In addition, she spent decades studying Eastern traditions with Shakta and Shaivite yogis in India and North America. She was selected to write the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism, (second edition) which came out in 2009.
  • Sarah Macdonald, Holy Cow: and Indian Adventure, 2002, (Bantam Books; also published by Broadway Books). Macdonald is an Australian journalist, author and radio presenter, and has being associated with radio organizations such as Triple J and Radio National (Australia).
  • Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World, 2010, (Harper One). Prothero is professor of religion at Boston University and the author of eight books on religion in America. He has commented on religion in National Public Radio programs and was the chief editorial consultant for the six-hour WGBH television series God in America. Dr. Prothero served as a consultant on American religious history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and he has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal.


Footnotes to This Essay:

  1. Sarah Macdonald, Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure, 2002, Bantam Books and Transworld Publishers, p. 107 – 108, IBSN 978-0-7679-1574-8
  2. Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism: A New Look at the World’s Oldest Religion, second edition, 2009, Alpha Books, Penguin Books, p.81. IBSN 978-1-59257-905-1.
  3. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 6.
  4. Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World, 2010, Harper One p. 139.
  5. Lucas F. Johnston and Whitney Bauman, Science and Religion: One Planet, Many Possibilities, 2014, Routledge, p. 179.
  6. “Hinduism on the Religious Other,” Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University, Accessed 9-13-2019. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/hinduism-on-the-religious-other.
  7. Johnsen, Ibid., p.83.
  8. Laura Emerson, letter to J.X. Mason of 10-28-19.
  9. Paraphrasing Dr. Prothero, Ibid., p. 132.
  10. Prothero, Ibid., p. 131-168.
  11. Prothero, Ibid., p. 134.
  12. Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 1993, (Ballantine Books), p. 28.
  13. Mahadev Chakravarti, The Concept of Rudra-Siva Through the Ages (Second Revised Ed.), 1986, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, pp 1-9. ISBN 81-208-0053-2.
  14. Prothero, Ibid., p. 141.
  15. Prothero, Ibid., p. 140.
  16. Johnsen, Ibid., pp. 212-14.
  17. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 214.
  18. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 81.
  19. Laura Emerson
  20. Laura Emerson, Ibid.
  21. Swaminathan Venkataraman and Pawan Deshpande, “Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste.” Hindu American Foundation, Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  22. Prothero, Ibid., p. 145.
  23. Patrick Olivelle, Upaniṣhads, 1998, Oxford University Press, p. xxxvii. ISBN 978-0192835765.
  24. Prothero, Ibid., p. 164.
  25. Prothero, Ibid., p. 149.
  26. Armstrong, Ibid., pp. 29-30
  27. Deepak Chopra’s “What Is Consciousness & Where Is It?” discussion with Rudolph Tanzi, Menas Kafatos and Lothar Schäfer, Science and Nonduality Conference, 2013. See also Attila Grandpierre, Deepak Chopra, P. Murali Doraiswamy, Rudolph Tanzi, Menas C. Kafatos, “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Mind and Consciousness,” NeuroQuantology, 11(4), December 2013, pp. 607–617. 
  28. Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter #4, translated by Stephen Mitchell, 1988, Harper & Row.
  29. “Baruch Spinoza,” Wikipedia, retrieved 9-15-2109.
  30. Johnsen, Ibid., p.134.
  31. Johnsen, Ibid., p.3.
  32. J. Charpentier, “A Treatise on Hindu Cosmography from the Seventeenth Century,” Brit. Mus. MS. Sloane 2748 A, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, 1924, 3(2), pp. 317-342, citing John Hay, De rebus Japonicis, Indicis, and Peruanis epistulæ recentiores, Antwerp, 1605, p. 803f.
  33. Devdutt Pattanaik, “East vs. West – The Myths that Mystify,” TED Talk accessed 9-15-2019. https://www.ted.com/talks/devdutt_pattanaik?language=en
  34. Akhilesh Sivakumar, “The Meaning of Life According to Hinduism,” Philosophy 1100H Blog, Accessed 10-23-19, Ohio State University, https://u.osu.edu/group5/2014/10/12/the-meaning-of-life-according-to-hinduism/comment-page-1/.
  35. Herbert Ellinger, Hinduism, 1996, Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 69–70. ISBN 978-1-56338-161-4.
  36. Johnsen, Ibid., p.17.
  37. Professor Gavin Flood, Hindu Concepts, BBC on Religions, 8-24-2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/concepts/concepts_1.shtml.
  38. Professor Gavin Flood, Hindu Concepts, BBC on Religions, 8-24-2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/concepts/concepts_1.shtml
  39. See “Indo-Pakistani Wars and Conflicts,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Pakistani_wars_and_conflicts.
  40. Motilal Banarsidass, publishers. ISBN-10: 8120813294; Also ISBN-13: 978-8120813298.
  41. The film documentary, Black Hole Apocalypse, 2018, NOVA, https://www.netflix.com/Title/81121172.
  42. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 149.
  43. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 150.
  44. Professor Gavin Flood, Hindu Concepts, BBC on Religions, 8-24-2008. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/concepts/concepts_1.shtml
  45. Johnsen, Ibid., p.162.
  46. Laura Emerson, Ibid.
  47. Johnsen, Ibid., p.278.
  48. Judith Lasater, “Beginning the Journey,” Yoga Journal, Nov-Dec (1998), pp. 42-48.
  49. The Reverend Mark Edmiston-Lange, sermon at the Emerson Unitarian Church, Houston, Texas, circa 2008. See also the Bible’s Book of Joshua.
  50. SV Bharti, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: With the Exposition of Vyasa, 2001, Motilal Banarsidas, Appendix I, pages 672-680. ISBN 978-8120818255.
  51. K. N. Aiyar, Thirty Minor Upanishads, 1914, Kessinger Publishing, Chapter 22, pages 173-176. ISBN 978-1164026419
  52. See the Wikipedia article on Virtue — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue#Hinduism.
  53. Krishan Yuvraj, “The Vedic Origins of the Doctrine of Karma,South Asian Studies, 1988, 4(1): pp. 51–55. doi:10.1080/02666030.1988.9628366. See also Krishan Yuvraj, The Doctrine of Karma: Its Origin and Development in Brāhmaṇical, Buddhist, and Jaina Traditions, 1997, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. pp. 4, 12, 17–19; and for context see 1–27. ISBN 978-81-208-1233-8.
  54. Macdonald, Ibid., p. 51.
  55. Macdonald, Ibid., p. 75.
  56. Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism, 1996, Cambridge University Press, p. 96.
  57. Stephen Prothero, Ibid., pp. 131-168.
  58. Prothero, Ibid., p. 146.
  59. Prothero, Ibid., pp. 144-45. See also, Klaus Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (3rd ed.), 2007, State University of New York Press. pp. 46–52, 76–77. ISBN 978-0791470824.  See also, Jeffrey Brodd, World Religions, 2003, Saint Mary’s Press, ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5.
  60. Prothero, Ibid., p. 146.
  61. Macdonald, Ibid., p. 32.
  62. Johnsen, Ibid., pp. 267-8.
  63. Prothero, Ibid., p. 172.
  64. Prothero, Ibid., p. 153.
  65. Prothero, Ibid., p. 151.
  66. S. Parmeshwaranand, Encyclopedia of the Śaivism. 2004, Sarup & Sons, pp. 210–217. ISBN 978-81-7625-427-4.
  67. Prothero, Ibid., p. 190.
  68. Johnsen, Ibid., pp.293-4.
  69. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 290.
  70. Prothero, Ibid., p. 154.
  71. Prothero, Ibid., p. 132.
  72. Johnsen, Ibid., p.147.
  73. Prothero, Ibid., p. 134.
  74. Johnsen, Ibid., p/ 145.
  75. James G. Lochtefeld, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, 2002, The Rosen Publishing Group, Vol A-M, pp. 147. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8.
  76. Encyclopedia Britannica. See https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hinduism/Tantrism#ref303757.
  77. Prothero, Ibid., p. 152.
  78. Prothero, Ibid., p. 153.
  79. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 297.
  80. Prothero, Ibid., p. 159.
  81. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 258.
  82. Linda Johnsen, Ibid., p. 83.
  83. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 131.
  84. Prothero, Ibid., p. 159.
  85. Linda Johnsen, Ibid. p. 4
  86. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 350.
  87. Prothero, Ibid., pp. 131 & 134.
  88. Prothero, Ibid., pp. 161-2.
  89. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 255 and 361.
  90. Julius J. Lipner, Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, 2nd edition, 2009, Routledge, p. 8. ISBN 978-0-415-45677-7.
  91. Prothero, Ibid., p. 165-7.
  92. Prothero, Ibid., p. 167-8.
  93. Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism, 2009, Alpha Books (Penguin) p. 195.
  94. Linda Johnsen, Ibid., p. 196.
  95. Linda Johnsen, Ibid., pp. 200-202.
  96. Linda Johnsen, Ibid., pp. 203-4.
  97. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 168.
  98. Monier-Williams, Monier. Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, University of Washington.
  99. David R. Kinsley, The Goddesses’ Mirror: Visions of the Divine from East and West, 1989, State University of New York Press. See also Laura Amazzone, Goddess Durga and Sacred Female Power, 2012, University Press of America.
  100. Johnsen, Ibid., pp. 222-3.
  101. Johnsen, Ibid., p.360.
  102. Prothero, Ibid., pp. 133 & 159.
  103. Prothero, Ibid., pp.155 & 164-5.
  104. The River Ganges

    Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, ed., The Rig Veda: An Anthology: One Hundred and Eight Hymns, 2007, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140449891.

  105. Johnsen, Ibid., p.149.
  106. Barnara Bradley Hagerty, “What You Need to Know About Hare Krishnas,” NPR, broadcast of May 22, 2008. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90643796
  107. Prothero, Ibid., p. 168.
  108. Johnsen, Ibid., p. 6.
  109. Prothero, Ibid., p. 135.

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