Religious Beliefs

What do Hindus believe about ultimate spiritual reality or God?

Hindu conceptions about God are among the most expansive and arresting in the history of religion. Scores of “names and forms” (nama/rupa) make up the enormous Hindu theological lexicon. Some names and forms emphasize divine majesty and power, others divine beauty and attractiveness. For Hindus generally, the purpose of religious belief and devotion is to cultivate a relationship with the Holy, the source of benevolence and blessing as well as of death and difficulty. Most of all, God is a mystery that is willing to be unveiled. Hindu theologians define two broad ways of talking about the God, Ultimate Reality, called Brahman in Sanskrit. God is beyond all imagining and impossible to shoehorn into humanly devised words and concepts. But believers can still refer to the Ultimate Reality in a roundabout way, hinting at what God is by saying explicitly what God is not. From this perspective, theologians call God “Brahman without Qualities” (Nir-guna Brahman). But the “negative way” of thinking about God can be very abstract and difficult. Human beings generally need something more concrete, something that engages the feelings and imagination as well as the logic-bound mind. Hindu tradition therefore acknowledges that one can approach the truth by considering God as “Brahman with Qualities” (Sa-guna Brahman). In this approach, one always has to keep in mind that those qualities are remote approximations at best, and ultimately just a concession to the human need to imagine the unimaginable.


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