I believe that Hinduism could be regarded as both Atheistic and Animistic / Pantheistic, depending on how one defines the word "God". From my article The Atheistic approach to God… or how to bridge the gap between Atheists and Theists :

An Atheistic perspective on Consciousness

We know from evolutionary biology that multi-celled organisms evolved from single-celled organisms. It is unclear to what degree single-celled organisms gave up their autonomy to be able to act as a single organism and it is reasonable to suggest that our individual cells have maintained some degree of autonomy (consciousness) that we are totally unaware of. A lot of human behavior is associated with subconscious processes in the prefrontal cortex that psycho-analysts refer to as the super-ego. This super-ego reflects the internalization of cultural rules in the form of memes. Such memes often influence human behavior in ways individuals barely realize and can be considered a form of collective consciousness. A group of humans that is connected by means of memes can act as a single conscious organism, much like a cell of our body can act as a single conscious organism. This and many other factoids directly imply that consciousness is not so much a product of our brains but rather a product of complexity and connectivity. From that perspective, the concept of consciousness can both be reduced to the molecular level and expanded to the universe as a whole, with the universe as a very complex holographic quantum computer

The relationship with Hinduism and Animism

In Hinduism, death is understood as the collapse of the Ātman (individual consciousness) and its dissolution into many different other components that make up the Brahman (universal consciousness). If you look consider the Trimurti (the Hindu triniti), one can clearly see them as anthropomorphic representations of nature (Vishnu) and its two fundamental opposite forces: emergence (Brahma) and entropy (Vishnu). Similarly, many other Devas (Gods) are mere anthropomorphic representations of lesser natural phenomena.

The same applies to the Kami of Shinto religion or equivalents in other "polytheistic" religions. One could easily argue that all "polytheistic" religions are really Animistic religions, which are perfectly compatible with the Atheistic framework depending on how one defines concepts like "Consciousness" or "Soul".

Pantheism and Shamanism as forms of Animism

Pantheism is a simplified version of animism, which removes all "Gods" from the picture except Vishnu (nature). Advaita Vedanta is a form of Hinduism that belongs to this category. Many other religions (eg. Germanic paganism) have a Pantheistic variation, although these advanced forms of religion are rarely known beyond a small esoteric circle of initiates. The Traditionalist School is a school of philosophers from the early 20th century that attempted to explore these esoteric religions and discover a perennial philosophy running throughout all religions. Like Animism, Pantheism is also perfectly compatible with Atheism, again depending on how one defines concepts like "Consciousness" or "Soul".

Shamanism is a variation of animism that involves the notion that the chemical modification of one's consciousness provides access to higher knowledge that is otherwise filtered from our perception. Shamanic practices do not require a belief in any "Gods" and are not uncommon among Atheist intellectuals, especially since the popularization of LSD and Mescaline in the '60s. Aldous HuxleyErnst JüngerAlexander ShulginTimothy Leary  and Terence McKenna are among the more prominent shamans in Western culture, although not all of them would use the term "shamanism" in reference to their chemically induced self-exploratory consciousness expanding sessions.

The link between Shamanism and Hinduism

Much of Hindu belief and practice grew out of the use of Soma, a god, plant, and drink which is the focus of the Rigveda. The continued entheogenic use of drugs such as Cannabis is not uncommon among various Hindu sects. Cannabis is connected with the god Shiva who is said to have rested in the shade of the Cannabis plant on a particularly hot day. In gratitude Shiva gave the plant to mankind.  Often the drink Bhang is drunk in Shiva's honor, it is a tea typically cooked with milk, spices, cannabis leaves and flowers. The leaves of the Kratom tree have also been used traditionally as an ingredient in a tea with mild stimulant and opioid properties. 

The Pantheistic "God" concept from the Atheist's perspective

The Atheistic naturalistic position of the universe as a very complex quantum computer is pretty much the same as the Pantheistic position of the universe as one highly advanced mind. The differences between Atheist naturalism and Pantheism are really more a matter of different semantics and different cultural bias than a difference in concept.

If one considers the notion that the clock ticks of a computer and awareness are basicly of the same nature (which is a perfectly reasonable consideration), the following statements would mean the exact same thing :

  • The universe is God. By being a part of God, all matter and living beings are essentially divine. Time is our perception of his thinking process. God's thinking processes comprise of all our thinking processes and all other processes of the universe combined. Our awareness is a tiny fraction of divine awareness.

  • The universe is a giant computer. By being operating systems somewhat autonomicly operating a part of that computer, all living beings are components of the same computer. Time is our perception of the giant computer sequentially processing information. The computer's sequential processing comprises of all our thinking processes and all other processes in the universe combined. Our awareness is but a tiny fraction of the universe's operating system.

So if time = awareness = clock ticks, I can't distinguish between those two statements. Conceptually they mean exactly the same to me.

In the comment section of an answer somewhere on Philosophy.SE, Swami Vishwananda pointed out there there are some flaws in my description of Hinduism. As I would like to avoid misrepresenting Hinduism, I would ask you kindly if you could please point out any flaws you can find, so I can correct them.

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    What exactly is your question? Seems like you are asking for a review of your article and it's too broad for the main site. You should take this up in a chat room. – sv. Aug 11 '17 at 15:44
  • @sv : I'm merely asking if you can find ANY inaccuracies, where I address Hinduism. And if so, which ones? I can't be more specific, because - until Swami Vishwananda told me there were - I assumed there to be no inaccuracies... – John Slegers Aug 11 '17 at 15:47

You use the term 'animism' loosely with an outdated understanding of the term. Before reading my response I would suggest you first read the Wikipedia page on animism.

Animism is an anthropological term. It is not a philosophical or theological term. Neither philosophers or theologians use the term as all religions are, under a modern interpretation, animistic. No one, even in anthropology, uses the term as you use it which is the 19th century outdated idea.

Let me now address each section of your article. First your section entitled "An Atheistic perspective on Consciousness". You start with scientific facts and then jump to scientific speculations as if they were established scientific facts. What scientific theory (not hypothesis, but established theory) is the basis for the 'factoids' and memes being a collective consciousness? And a holographic quantum computer is the sky? All speculation, not proven scientific facts.

The next section 'The relationship with Hinduism and Animism' shows a complete lack of understanding of some basic Hindu beliefs. You write "In Hinduism, death is understood as the collapse of the Ātman (individual consciousness) and its dissolution into many different other components that make up the Brahman (universal consciousness)." No, that is not what occurs at death. Please read my answer to this question - Where does a Soul attach to the Body?. Upon death, the individual subtle body separates from the gross body. The subtle body survives death. The universal 'Atman' (Brahman) when encased in the koshas is referred to as the jiva. There is no concept of 'soul' as in Western theology and to use the term 'soul' leads to a lot of misunderstanding in Hindu theology. If a jiva attains Liberation, then the atman separates from the subtle body, the subtle body dissolves and the individual atman realizes its oneness with the universal Atman. If there is no Liberation then the jiva goes on to its next incarnation, either in the heavens or on the gross material plane.

You next address the trimurti. See the question and answers here - Do the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) cleanly map onto the 3 gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas)?

You then state 'Similarly, many other Devas (Gods) are mere anthropomorphic representations of lesser natural phenomena.' Understand that the word devas as lead many a Westerner to understand that Hinduism is polytheistic. It never was and never is. There is no reference to polytheism in any Hindu scriptures. The translation of the Sanskrit 'deva' as 'god' is a loose translation. A more literal translation is 'shining one'. The devas are more akin to the term governor than the Western concept of god. An individual jiva becomes a 'deva' for a cycle. After that, it is reborn in this world. It is not an eternal god. It is a temporary office. The gods are anthropomorphic - because we are and the highest concept of 'being' we have is of humans.

The rest of this section you again again make references to animism under the outdated 19th century definitions.

The next section is called 'Pantheism and Shamanism as forms of Animism'. The Wikipedia page referred to previously states:

Animism is not the same as pantheism, although the two are sometimes confused. Some religions are both pantheistic and animistic. One of the main differences is that while animists believe everything to be spiritual in nature, they do not necessarily see the spiritual nature of everything in existence as being united (monism), the way pantheists do. As a result, animism puts more emphasis on the uniqueness of each individual soul. In pantheism, everything shares the same spiritual essence, rather than having distinct spirits and/or souls.

It would seem you have the same confusion. You now say that Advaita is a form of Pantheism. Unequivocally it is not. I would suggest you gather a greater understanding of Advaita and Visistadvaita before making that statement. I would suggest that you read the two beginning sections of the Brahma Sutras I referred to you in my comment on PhilosophySE rather than relying on Wikipedia.

The next section is entitled 'The link between Shamanism and Hinduism'. It will be a great revelation to Sanskrit scholars and Hindus that the Rig Veda arose out of the consumption of Soma - a drink that no one really knows what it was or how it was made. The scriptural references to soma are few, and to jump to the conclusion that the Rig Veda is a result of it, is a mind boggling jump. You then make it sound like the use of drugs is a common event that is accepted by most Hindus and by many sects - it is not.

Finally your section entitled 'The Pantheistic "God" concept from the Atheist's perspective'. You state that the pantheistic perspective is that God is one highly advanced mind. God is not mind. God has no mind. Mind is derived from consciousness, not the other way around. God has nothing to think of - what is there to think of when you are omnipotent? Brahman, God, is Perception. Swami Vivekananda says (Complete Works V7, p 55 - available here: http://cwsv.belurmath.org/):

We cannot say positively what differentiation is. All that we see and feel about things is pure and simple existence, "isness". All else is in us. Being is the only positive proof we have of anything…Shankara says again, perception is the last proof of existence. It is self-effulgent and self-conscious, because to go beyond the senses we should still need perception. Perception is independent of the senses, of all instruments, unconditioned. There can be no perception without consciousness; perception has self-luminosity, which in a lesser degree is called consciousness. Not one act of perception can be unconscious; in fact, consciousness is the nature of perception. Existence and perception are one thing, not two things joined together. That which needs no cause is infinite; so, as perception is the last proof of itself, it is eternal. It is always subjective; perception itself is its own perceiver. Perception is not in the mind, but perception brings mind. It is absolute, the only knower, so perception is really the Atman. Perception itself perceives, but the Atman cannot be a knower, because a "knower" becomes such by the action of knowledge; but, Shankara says, "This Atman is not I", because the consciousness "I am" (Aham) is not in the Atman. We are but the reflections of that Atman; and Atman and Brahman are one.

Finally, time does not equal awareness. Time is within the causal universe of time and space, within the sensual universe. Brahman is timeless, eternal. Again, Swami Vivekananda says (V7 p 89):

The cardinal features of the Hindu religion are founded on the meditative and speculative philosophy and on the ethical teachings contained in the various books of the Vedas, which assert that the universe is infinite in space and eternal in duration. It never had a beginning, and it never will have an end. Innumerable have been the manifestations of the power of the Spirit in the realm of matter, of the force of the Infinite in the domain of the finite, but the Infinite Itself is self-existent, eternal, and unchangeable. The passage of time makes no mark whatever on the dial of eternity. In its supersensuous region, which cannot be comprehended at all by the human understanding, there is no past and there is no future.

  • As I understand it, "animism" is the notion that all that exists in the universe has some level of consciousness, with our own consciousness and that of a rock sharing the same fundamental essence. I don't consider this point of view outdated at all - quite the contrary - nor can I think of any equivalent term in philosophy or theology. Nor do I see why the lack of popularity of this concept among modern philosophers of theologians is relevant at all to the argument I'm trying to make. – John Slegers Aug 13 '17 at 16:03
  • (continued) With respect to memes being references to collective consciousness, there's a vast body of data to support this. Much the same, there's ample scientific data to support the models of the universe as a hologram of quantum computer. Either way, it would go way beyond the purpose of my article to address all the scientific arguments for this position. And even if you ignore all the data from multiple scientific fields and consider it as "just speculation", that doesn't invalidate these models whatsoever. Nor would this be relevant to the question I'm asking here... – John Slegers Aug 13 '17 at 16:08
  • (continued) Where you said that "the atman separates from the subtle body, the subtle body dissolves and the individual atman realizes its oneness with the universal Atman", how exactly is that different from the notion that "death is understood as the collapse of the Ātman (individual consciousness) and its dissolution into many different other components that make up the Brahman (universal consciousness)". Both are just different ways to describe the same process IMO. I honestly can't tell the difference. – John Slegers Aug 13 '17 at 16:12
  • (continued) I would argue it is the term "polytheism" that is outdated, not "animism". I'm aware of the fact that Shinto's "Kami", Hinduism's "Devas" & Ásatrú's "Götter" have little in common with the Abrahamic concept of "God", but are all fundamentally animistic. Where you're arguing that "the devas are more akin to the term governor than the Western concept of god", we're totally on the same page. So, I'd say your disagreement with me on the Devas being an animistic concept seems to be more based on your misunderstanding of animism than my misunderstanding of Hinduism. – John Slegers Aug 13 '17 at 16:23
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    Maybe... Judging by your answer, it seems to me it's you who fails to grasp concepts like "polytheism" & "animism", but I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree if you're not interested in addressing my previous comments in greater detail. Either way, I'd nevertheless like to thank you for time and effort spent answering my question! And I'm sorry if I may have offended you by what you consider misrepresentations of your heritage. I care deeply about representing Hinduism correctly, which is why I raised this question in the first place! – John Slegers Aug 16 '17 at 8:27

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