I have been studying Hindu scriptures for few years out of curiosity to know the concept of God. The more I study the more confused I am about the identity of God according to Hindu scriptures. I am seeing atheistic philosophies which are denying the existence of God (like samkhya which basically claims there are only two realities - prakriti and purusha ie souls); then I come across mystical philosophies that define God as the spirit in all living beings - nirguna (attributeless), nirakara (formless), sudha chaitanya (pure consciousness); then I come across opposite conclusions that say God is saguna (having atributes), sakara (having form) and saying he is Vishnu; Some saying he is Shiva ..

Its really confusing. I will be thankful if any one can explain in simple terms how to understand all these contradicting concepts. Saying that everything is ok and referring to same God is not convincing.

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    Very good! You have now arrived at the right conclusion. Hinduism is not a single religion, it is actually a collection of various religions. Hinduism is a name given to these collection of philosophies. Different philosophies within Hinduism reconcile these seemingly conflicting statements about the nature of God in various ways. :)! Even they disagree on which texts are considered as valid scripture! All the best
    – Sai
    Apr 18 '16 at 15:06
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    Geeta is very vivid in mentioning that Krishna is God. His author sage VedVyas always refer to Krishna as God in Geeta; and, Krishna declars himself as God to Arjuna.
    – user5375
    Apr 19 '16 at 3:41
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    I went through the answers, Sorry to say that once again I have confusing explanation about God - Some saying Krishna is God, some saying he is the elements in nature; some saying God is both saguna, nirguna; formless and having form etc., (Adi sankara strictly defined him as nirguna, nirakara suddha chaitanya) Pls dont say everything is ok, if all these are theories only then how can we claim that everything is ok? Sri Ramakrishna's "Brahma is our own consciousness" is Advaita philosophy. The issue is there are counter philosophies. So I feel my question is yet to be answered Apr 19 '16 at 11:57
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    @AbdurRahman: Also, Who is God is not the correct word usage. The right one is What is God? Apr 19 '16 at 12:48
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    @AbdurRahman No human can answer this. Indian history has been very complicated. There was no single person who laid rules of Hinduism. Every stanza of its story was added by different person. Everyone had his own perceptions for god. So, you cannot define god with a single sentence. Each definition was given by different person, with its own reasons. Apr 19 '16 at 14:36

You have read the scriptures. So I will not waste your time by quoting scriptures. I will instead quote Sri Ramakrishna on this topic. It might clear up the confusion.

"No one can say with finality that God is only 'this' and nothing else. He is formless and again He has forms. For the bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world as another. Therefore God reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani – the Vedantist, for instance - always reasons, applying the process of 'Not this, not this'. Through this discrimination he realizes, by his inner perception, that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He can not describe what Brahman is."

"Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shore-less ocean. Through the cooling influence as it were, of the bhakta's love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn't feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God's forms. What He is can not be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his 'I' anymore."

[The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, October 28, 1882, p 148]

"What Brahman is cannot be described. All things in the world - the Vedas, the Puranas, the Tantras, the six systems of philosophy - have been defiled, like food that has been touched by the tongue. Only one thing has not been defiled in this way, and that is Brahman. No one has ever been able to say what Brahman is."

[The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, August 5, 1882, p 102]

"Brahman is beyond word and thought. It is said in the Vedas that Brahman is of the nature of Bliss. It is Satchidananda. ..... In Samadhi one attains the knowledge of Brahman - one realizes Brahman. In that state reasoning stops altogether, and man becomes mute. He has no power to describe the nature of Brahman."

[The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, August 5, 1882, p 102-103]

Sri Ramakrishna also says,

" Brahman is without comparison. It is impossible to explain Brahman by analogy. It is between light and darkness. It is light, but not the light we perceive, not material light."

[The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, October 16, 1883, p 307]

Then again Brahman has also been compared to a chameleon by Sri Ramakrishna:

"Listen to a story. Once a man entered a wood and saw a small animal on a tree. He came back and told another man that he had seen a creature of a beautiful red color on a certain tree. The second man replied:'When I went into the wood, I also saw that animal. But why do you call it red? It is green.' Another man who was present contradicted them both and insisted that it was yellow. Presently others arrived and contended that it was grey, violet, blue and so forth and so on. At last they started quarreling among themselves. To settle the dispute they all went to the tree. They saw a man sitting under it. On being asked, he replied,'Yes, I live under this tree and I know the animal very well. All your descriptions are true. Sometimes it appears red, sometimes yellow, and at other times blue, violet, grey, and so forth. It is a chameleon. And sometimes it has no color at all. Now it has a color and now it has none.'

In like manner, one who constantly thinks of God can know His real nature; he alone knows that God reveals Himself to seekers in various forms and aspects. God has attributes; then again He has none. Only the man who lives under the tree knows that the chameleon can appear in various colors, and he knows, further, that the animal at times has no colors at all. It is the others who suffer from the agony of futile arguments........ God reveals Himself in the form which His devotee loves most."

[The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, October 28, 1882, p 149]

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    You can add specific page and link from here
    – The Destroyer
    Apr 19 '16 at 15:42
  • So is Ramakrishna saying that God is how you imagine it/him to be? So if someone imagines there is no God or no need for God, that's also a possibility? May 19 '17 at 1:31
  • The answer to your first question is that God will appear to you as a person if that is what you want and as an Impersonal Reality if that is your wish. God is kalpataru (wish fulfilling tree). God will not appear to any person who thinks there is no God or no need for God. God's existence does not depend on what any person imagines. May 19 '17 at 11:34
  • You are telling the story from a person, what Hindu scriptures says? Are you trying to confuse, he is light but not light, person but not a person, can be explain but cannot be explain
    – Ali Adravi
    Apr 29 '19 at 14:30

"Its really confusing. I will be thankful if any one can explain in simple terms how to understand all these contradicting concepts." ... :) It is not at all surprising that you're completely confused by these, and this is because Hinduism is conglomeration of many different concepts about God in their many traditions and different explanations.
I suggest you to learn by yourself what God is, and that by studying one of the most widely read Hindu scriptures called the Bhagavad gita. Many people will tell you God is this and that ..., but if you see by yourself how God is explained there you'll see what is the most convincing to you, and that is the most important thing, and not that what others may tell you about God. After all we are all individuals and our own realization, experience and conviction (belief) is the most important to us, and not what others say.
But even the study of the Gita will not be quite simple because there are different interpretations, monistic (Advaita), and also dualistic (Vaishnava). Here again my advice is the same, we are all individuals and our own realization and conviction (belief) is the most important to us, and not what others say, so you can study the Gita with explanations by a few different traditions and see by yourself what you are convinced the true representation of the text is.
If I may suggest, here is one Vaishnava translation with an elaborate commentary of the text of the Gita as it is understood in that particular tradition: http://www.vedabase.com/en/bg

But all that would be just a first step in knowing God. Practically speaking to know God does not depend on the study of scriptures only, but is something much more than that. This should be complemented with the development of our relationship with Him, through reverence to Him, meditation (remembrance) of Him, our devotion to Him, etc, all that you can learn from the Bhagavad gita, and then He will help you from within your heart to understand Him even more than by just some theoretical reading of scripture, as the Lord himself says in the Gita 10.8-11:

"engage in My devotional service and worship Me", "The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service"

and then if they did so what will happen? It will happen this:

"To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.

To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance."

Bhagavad gita 9.34:

"Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me."

That is the point. This is the essence of Hindu Dharma. If you turn to the Lord, He will help you from within the heart because He is within everyone's heart, and He can help you to understand Him.
Sometimes people do not understand this simple point. So it is not just about reading and studying the scriptures and trying to fathom what is God on the mental level, but the secret of knowing God is stated in the above verses.

  • This doesn't answer OP's question, this sounds like commentary on the question. The answer to 'What is God?' cannot be 'Go read the Gita, you'll figure out on your own.' May 10 '17 at 20:34
  • @sv. Actually I have answered the question by stating that God is Lord Krishna who is dwelling in everyone's heart, and if we are a surrendered soul to Him he will help us from within our heart. In my answer I have focused on this part of the question: Its really confusing. I will be thankful if any one can explain in simple terms how to understand all these contradicting concepts. May 18 '17 at 22:08

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