While this has been discussed before, I am not the only one who has pointed this out. Many use ‘brahman’ to show Hinduism as “monotheistic”. (A part of me thinks this is done to ease Westerner’s fears of Hinduism.) Hinduism is not monotheistic, inherently! There is definitely monotheistic sects, but they’re nothing like this!
The story of brahman and what it is, needs to be affirmed here as much misinformation is present in Western regions about Hinduism. Most paint it as something similar to the Abrahamic concept of God. I believe this to be inaccurate and only sold to be easily digestible to Westerners. In my opinion, especially in brahamn’s nirguna aspect, it is far more likened to primordial chaos; a concept that is not far from Indo-European religions. (I.e. Greek and Nordic, and in such myths as chaoskempf.)
Hinduism is not strictly any theism. Some Hindus can even be atheists. This is one of the many holes in the logic that “Brahman is God!”. As a famous scholar notes:
“The jealous God who says, “Thou shalt have no other gods but me” belongs to the Jewish-Christian-Muslim tradition, but not to the Hindu tradition, which tolerates all gods but is not a monotheism, monism, yes, but not monotheism.”
If anything, Hinduism should be called “pan-theistic” because of the vast religious beliefs diversity it holds. None of the presented types of theism present in Hinduism are as invalid as the other. They are all valid.
Furthermore, one look into the etymology of Brahman it does not even translated to “God”. It has a root “to grow, to swell”. It was not meant to be “worshiped” nor a deity, it is above the devas or the gods. (On another note, “brahman” should not be confused with the god Brahma and the “brahmin” which are essentially holy men.)
The above picture is an example of inaccuracy. Hinduism has no single founder and it does not claim that. It does not necessarily rely on teachers and prophets, either. It’s not about “revelations” as the other religions are. It’s about a personal relationship and moksha. It is not Abrahamic, so why should it be like that? (There are sects that do use prophets/teachers, don’t get me wrong, but there is no ultimate one way of doing Hinduism.) Brahman is once again, depicted as something similar to the Abrahamic god because it is omniscient, omnipresent, etc. The only thing that is accurate, is the last sentence in the picture.
To take a deeper look, we need to peer into the concepts of brahman. Saguna brahman describes it’s personal attributes. This is manifested in the gods and atman-the immortal human soul. It is the self. We call it by many names and descriptions. All of reality is manifested as it and is from it, for it is the ultimate reality; the ultimate existence. From it’s nirguna, or impersonal aspect, see here, it can be likened to primordial chaos, the number zero, infinite, void, and formless. It cannot be accurately described with words, unlike the sarguna aspect.
This is very similar to the idea of chaos (Also, called in Greek religion “void”.):
CHAOS (Chaos), the vacant and infinite space which existed according to the ancient cosmogonies previous to the creation of the world (Hes. Theog. 116), and out of which the gods, men, and all things arose. A different definition of Chaos is given by Ovid (Met. i. 1, &c.), who describes it as the confused mass containing the elements of all things that were formed out of it. According to Hesiod, Chaos was the mother of Erebos and Nyx. Some of the later poets use the word Chaos in the general sense of the airy realms, of darkness, or the lower world.
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
This could be due to Hinduism’s relation to emerge out of proto-Indo-European religion. Or it’s connection to Greek philosophy through trading. Brahman is a concept that has been molded into Hinduism, over time, making it at the very least-monistic. But never monotheistic just because the same description is used for the Abrahamic God.
The Abrahamic god originally stemmed from Canaanite polytheistic religion, with the ancient Israelites syncretizing “El” with Yahweh. Brahman was never intended to be a ‘god’ in the way the devas and early asuras were. Therefore, translating it as “God” is fallacious, when the entire concept has a different evolution and origin than the Abrahamic god. Each have their own histories. Each have adherents with many different perspectives and interpretations.
Hinduism, needs to stop being viewed from the Western lens. It needs to be viewed from the perspective of what is intended. When it is compared to other religions, there, it needs to be made into a valid comparison without trying to push an Abrahamic religion agenda. Brahman is not the ‘exclusivity clause’ that God is. It should not be treated as such.