Greetings to all,
A recent thread on the spirituality forum has prompted this post in regards to hindu deities. I’m hoping that a hindu on caf or even someone who is learned in Hinduism can clear this up for me. Anyway here goes-hope I make sense.
It is my understanding that in Hinduism there is only one creator or supreme being that is really worshipped. All the other deities such as kali, Vishnu, hanuman, ganesh, etc… are more like names given to characteristics of that one supreme being Similar to the characteristics listed for Jesus-as in the protector, redeemer, etc… These deities aren’t really worshipped but there is a special devotion to them by individuals similar to a catholic having a devotion to Mary or any other saint by praying to them and asking for favors(help with finding keys) or asking for intercession with a prayer.
Am I way off track or am I at least in the ballpark with this way of thinking? Any help would be appreciated in helping me to understand this a bit better. Thank you.


I am happy give you my opinion which will very likely make you even more puzzled.

First of all there many, many different schools of Hindu thoughts and beliefs, what I say applies only to a majority of Hindus (ie more than 50%). So people with some knowledge of Hinduism, please resist the urge to jump in and say that this is not true and that many Hindus are atheistic or many Hindus are monotheistic (I know some may be, just as some Christians believe in handling snakes).

Many Hindus believe that there is One being that underlies all reality - this includes the Universe as well as all the Gods and deities. This is a panentheistic belief (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism) and the being is called Brahman. But nobody worships this being and there are no temples dedicated to Brahman.

So Hindus believe in many Gods/Goddeses and worship about seven main ones - Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Saraswati, Laxmi, Kali/Durga, Hanuman. Many Hindus choose one among these which they would consider their main deity and worship him/her more than the others or even exclusively (this chosen deity may be chosen by their family/community or by the individual).

The main Hindu sects are Shaivas (worship mainly Shiva), Vaishnavas (worship mainly Vishnu or Krishna), Shaktas (worship mainly the Goddess), Smartas (worship five of these Gods).

However, I believe the three main Hindu Gods - Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma are equivalent to the Christian - Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

A detailed analysis of Hindu Gods is at thehindugods.com/

From your post I’d say it is better to get a firm grip with one’s own religion first. :wink:

Had a Hindu roommate in undergrad. I was cataloguing some interesting objects that had been brought back by an early-century missionary, and I asked her a few questions to help me better understand what I was looking at— since the notes attached to the objects were very much through the filter of a Baptist missionary from the 1900’s.

That agrees pretty much with what she said— there’s one god, and the other deities are aspects of that god. How that works in practice probably varies with the individual.

Thank you for your posts, insight, and links. As for getting a firm grip on my own religion that will be a bit difficult as I don’t subscribe to any particular belief. I’m more of a cafeteria person. My ego won’t allow me to make a commitment to anything that it doesn’t agree with 100% so I do the best I can with the knowledge I gain here and there. Again Thank you and stay safe.

This is from a Jain source, rather than a Hindu one, but the story is common throughout Indian history:

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

Source: Jain World.

We are the blind men, trying to understand something which we can only sense imperfectly.


Thank you Rossum, I like to try to keep things simple but sometimes get sidetracked with details and theories that really don’t help with that. The story you related reminded me of this and that I’m quite often blind to what is important. Be well.

I know a little bit about Gaudiya Vaishnavism, having watched some Youtube videos about it. It’s primary text is the Bhagavad Gita, but it also has many others, like Srimad Bhagavatam. In the Gita, Krishna shows his student, Arjun, His Universal Form, which is to say that Arjun sees all of Krishna’s incarnations simultaneously. Rama, Hanuman, Ganesha and others are examples of incarnations that Krishna has taken throughout the ages. It is believed that God has had many incarnations throughout the course of history; the most complete one being Krishna.

But yeah, I suppose you could draw a few parallels between the Catholic intercessory prayer and what some hindus do with their deities. When asking for protection, for example, the hindu may offer a prayer to Narasimha, which is an incarnation of Vishnu. When asking for prosperity, the hindu may pray to Ganesha, since he is the diety of good fortune (that’s why you’ll often see hindu store owners place a statue of Ganesha in their store).

The scene is in Chapter Eleven on the Bhagavad Gita. See here for a picture, Krishna and Arjuna are in the chariot at the bottom.

It is a fun game to see how many of the different heads you can recognise.


This conversation makes me wonder about Buddhism which also has multiple deities (or maybe Bodhisattvas ?).

Are you saying that the three Taras are actually different forms of one single God? Or maybe there is no God, so in fact the Taras don’t exist?

The deities are other inhabitants of the universe. Bodhisattvas are well down the path to Buddhahood. A deity may, or may not, be a Bodhisattva. In Christianity, the literal OT God kills far too many people to be a Bodhisattva. Jesus very likely was one.

Are you saying that the three Taras are actually different forms of one single God?

I do not follow Tibetan Buddhism so I cannot give an authoritative answer. I suspect that the Taras, and other god/desses are treated more as convenient targets for visualisation meditations.

Or maybe there is no God, so in fact the Taras don’t exist?

Nothing exists in the way that we tend to think that it exists. A mirage does not exist in the way that real water exists, but a mirage is not nothing either. Nothing does not appear to be like water. Things are like a mirage, they are not what we think they are, but neither are they nothing.


So you are are saying that in whatever Buddhism you follow, there are no Gods and Goddesses like the Taras?

I understand that existence is not something we can understand easily.

But I am trying to answer the following (if possible a Yes/No):

Does Your Buddhism have only one God?
Does Your Buddhism have multiple Gods?
Does Your Buddhism have multiple Goddesses?
Does Your Buddhism have No God or Goddesses?

I am Mahayana, though not Tibetan. I have as many gods as I want, there are tens of thousands of them in the Saddharma Pundarika (Lotus sutra).

All those thousands of gods are part of the audience when the Buddha speaks. A few get to ask questions; most just applaud in the right places. Gods exist, but are not of any great importance in Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism assigns a high importance to Bodhisattvas, but Amitabha is a Bodhisattva rather than a god. Some Western Buddhists are developing an atheist version of Buddhism, as opposed to one which (mostly) just ignores gods. The impact of the Abrahamic religions in the West gives a different meaning to “god” as opposed to the Sanskrit “deva”. There are different preconceptions to be overcome, so different methods are needed.

I understand that existence is not something we can understand easily.

But I am trying to answer the following (if possible a Yes/No):

Does Your Buddhism have only one God?
Does Your Buddhism have multiple Gods?
Does Your Buddhism have multiple Goddesses?
Does Your Buddhism have No God or Goddesses?

Buddhism covers many different denominations. I am not aware of any single-god version of Buddhism. Concepts like the Adi-Buddha are in part a reaction to contact with Islam, an Abrahamic religion, and in part a personalisation of the already existing concept of the Dharmakaya. Both are more philosophical than part of popular Buddhism.

There are multiple gods and goddesses in the sutras but they are not of any great importance. Buddhism is a ‘salvation by works’ religion, so gods cannot enlighten you. That is something you have to do for yourself. If you want to win the lottery, then by all means pray to a god. If you want to be enlightened then it is up to you, and you alone, to do the required work.

The gods and goddesses are part of the window-dressing; nice to look at, but not essential. Maybe they are similar to angels in Christianity? They are not essential to the core of the religion.


OK, I think I get it:

Buddhism does not have a concept of One God, but it has many thousands of unimportant, nonessential Gods and Goddesses who may be actually angels.

I guess the difference then is that Hinduism also has millions of Gods and Goddesses (the number often used in 330 million).

However, a few of these millions (I can count about fourteen) are important and essential and regularly worshipped as Gods and have temples dedicated to them (and the rest of the millions are probably angels).

The One God in Hinduism is a impersonal one called Brahman who is not worshipped and has no temples.

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