[St. Pachomius Library]


The majority religion of India is in fact a web of co-existing systems, the most important division being that between "Vaisnava" (Vishnu-centred) and "Saivava" (Shiva-centred) Hinduism. Most Hindus claim to be monotheists, the different "gods" being manifestations of one supreme being. In the most widely-publicised philosophical systems, this supreme being is identified with Reality itself, so that all things whatsoever are manifestations of the One God; such monism, however, is not accepted by all Hindus. I have noticed that Westerners find it disappointing somehow to learn that there is a dualist tradition in India, but there is.

The Hellenistic world was in close contact with India (at the time largely Buddhist rather than Hindu) and was fascinated by stories about yogis, known in Greek as "gymnosophists" or "naked wise-men". Some early writings seem to conflate them with Jewish ascetics like the Biblical Rechabites (called "Brachmani" in some manuscripts of the Narrative of Zosimus) or with Christian monks. There was of course a strong though short-lived early wave of Orthodox Christianity in India. The Mar Thoma church in Kerala originated with the conversion of high-caste Brahmins by St. Thomas or later in the IV Century, and "the monks of India" are frequently mentioned in Patrisitic literature (although confusion with Ethiopia sometimes makes these references ambiguous). The dualist or "Dvaita" school of Vedanta most likely originated partly from theological debates between the school's founder Madhva and Mar Thoma clergy; probably many other instances of Christian influence on Hinduism could be adduced.

Norman Hugh Redington


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