The Info List - Ishvara

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ISHVARA ( Sanskrit
: ईश्वर, _Īśvara_) is a concept in Hinduism , with a wide range of meanings that depend on the era and the school of Hinduism. In ancient texts of Indian philosophy, depending on the context, _Ishvara_ can mean supreme soul, ruler, lord, king, queen or husband. In medieval era Hindu
texts, depending on the school of Hinduism, _Ishvara_ means God, Supreme Being, personal god, or special Self .

In Shaivism
, _Ishvara_ is synonymous with " Shiva
", sometimes as _Maheshvara_ or _Parameshvara_ meaning the "Supreme lord", or as an Ishta-deva (personal god). In Vaishnavism , it is synonymous with Vishnu
. In traditional Bhakti
movements, Ishvara
is one or more deities of an individual's preference from Hinduism's polytheistic canon of deities. In modern sectarian movements such as Arya Samaj and Brahmoism , Ishvara
takes the form of a monotheistic God. In Yoga school of Hinduism, it is any "personal deity" or "spiritual inspiration". In Advaita Vedanta school, Ishvara
is a monistic Universal Absolute that connects and is the Oneness in everyone and everything.


* 1 Etymology

* 2 Schools of thought

* 2.1 In Samkhya school of Hinduism * 2.2 In Yoga
school of Hinduism * 2.3 In Vaisesika school of Hinduism * 2.4 In Nyaya school of Hinduism * 2.5 In Mimamsa school of Hinduism

* 2.6 In Vedanta school of Hinduism

* 2.6.1 Advaita Vedanta * 2.6.2 Vishishtadvaita Vedanta * 2.6.3 Dvaita Vedanta * 2.6.4 Achintya-Bheda-Abheda

* 2.7 In Carvaka school of Hinduism

* 3 See also * 4 References


The root of the word Ishvara
comes from _īś-_ (ईश, Ish) which means "capable of" and "owner, ruler, chief of", ultimately cognate with English _own_ (Germanic _*aigana-_, PIE _*aik-_). The second part of the word _Ishvara_ is _vara_ which means depending on context, "best, excellent, beautiful", "choice, wish, blessing, boon, gift", and "suitor, lover, one who solicits a girl in marriage". The composite word, _Ishvara_ literally means "owner of best, beautiful", "ruler of choices, blessings, boons", or "chief of suitor, lover".

As a concept, _Ishvara_ in ancient and medieval Sanskrit
texts, variously means God, Supreme Being, Supreme Soul, lord, king or ruler, rich or wealthy man, god of love, deity Shiva, one of the Rudras , prince, husband and the number eleven.

The word _Īśvara_ never appears in Rigveda
. However, the verb _īś-_ does appear in Rig veda, where the context suggests that the meaning of it is "capable of, able to". It is absent in Samaveda , is rare in Atharvaveda , appears in Samhitas of Yajurveda
. The contextual meaning, however as the ancient Indian grammarian Pāṇini explains, is neither god nor supreme being.

The word _Ishvara_ appears in numerous ancient Dharmasutras . However, Patrick Olivelle states that there _Ishvara_ does not mean God, but means Vedas
. Deshpande states that _Ishvara_ in Dharmasutras could alternatively mean king, with the context literally asserting that "the Dharmasutras are as important as _Ishvara_ (the king) on matters of public importance".

In Saivite traditions of Hinduism , the term is used as part of the compound " Maheshvara
" ("great lord") as a name for Shiva
. In Mahayana Buddhism it is used as part of the compound "Avalokiteśvara " ("lord who hears the cries of the world"), the name of a bodhisattva revered for her compassion. When referring to divine as female, particularly in Shaktism
, the feminine _Īśvarī_ is sometimes used.


Among the six systems of Hindu
philosophy , Samkhya and Mimamsa do not consider the concept of _Ishvara_, i.e., a supreme being, relevant. Yoga
, Vaisheshika , Vedanta and Nyaya schools of Hinduism discuss Ishvara, but assign different meanings.

Desmarais states that Isvara is a metaphysical concept in Yogasutras. It does not mention deity anywhere, nor does it mention any devotional practices (_ Bhakti
_), nor does it give _Ishvara_ characteristics typically associated with a deity. In Yoga
school of Hinduism, states Whicher, Isvara is neither a creator God nor the universal Absolute of Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism. Whicher also notes that some theistic sub-schools of Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, inspired by the Yoga
school, explain the term _Ishvara_ as the "Supreme Being that rules over the cosmos and the individuated beings". Malinar states that in Samkhya- Yoga
schools of Hinduism, _Isvara_ is neither a creator-God, nor a savior-God.

Zimmer in his 1951 Indian philosophies book noted that the Bhakti sub-schools refer to Isvara as a Divine Lord, or the deity of specific Bhakti
sub-school. Modern sectarian movements have emphasized Ishvara as Supreme Lord; for example, Hare Krishna
movement considers Krishna as the Lord, Arya Samaj and Brahmoism movements – influenced by Christian and Islamic movements in India – conceptualize Ishvara
as a monotheistic all powerful Lord. In traditional theistic sub-schools of Hinduism, such as the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Ramanuja and Dvaita Vedanta of Madhva, Ishvara
is identified as Lord Vishnu/Narayana, that is distinct from the _Prakriti_ (material world) and _Purusa_ (soul, spirit).

Radhakrishnan and Moore state that these variations in _Isvara_ concept is consistent with Hinduism's notion of "personal God" where the "ideals or manifestation of individual's highest Self values that are esteemed". Riepe, and others, state that schools of Hinduism leave the individual with freedom and choice of conceptualizing Isvara in any meaningful manner he or she wishes, either in the form of "deity of one's choice" or "formless Brahman (Absolute Reality, Universal Principle, true special Self)".


Samkhya is called one of the several major atheistic schools of Hinduism by some scholars. Others, such as Jacobsen, Samkhya is more accurately described as non-theistic. Isvara is considered an irrelevant concept, neither defined nor denied, in Samkhya school of Hindu


The Yogasutras of Patanjali, the foundational text of Yoga
school of Hinduism, uses the term _Ishvara_ in 11 verses: I.23 through I.29, II.1, II.2, II.32 and II.45. Ever since the Sutra's release, Hindu scholars have debated and commented on who or what is _Isvara_? These commentaries range from defining _Isvara_ from a "personal god" to "special self" to "anything that has spiritual significance to the individual". Whicher explains that while Patanjali's terse verses can be interpreted both as theistic or non-theistic, Patanjali's concept of _Isvara_ in Yoga
philosophy functions as a "transformative catalyst or guide for aiding the yogin on the path to spiritual emancipation".

defines _Isvara_ (Sanskrit: ईश्वर) in verse 24 of Book 1, as "a special Self (पुरुषविशेष, _puruṣa-viśeṣa_)",

Sanskrit: क्लेश कर्म विपाकाशयैःपरामृष्टः पुरुषविशेष ईश्वरः ॥२४॥ – Yoga
Sutras I.24

This sutra of Yoga
philosophy of Hinduism adds the characteristics of _Isvara_ as that special Self which is unaffected (अपरामृष्ट, _aparamrsta_) by one's obstacles/hardships (क्लेश, _klesha_), one's circumstances created by past or one's current actions (कर्म, _karma_), one's life fruits (विपाक, _vipâka_), and one's psychological dispositions/intentions (आशय, ashaya).

Patanjali's concept of Isvara is neither a creator God nor the universal Absolute of Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism.


Vaiśeṣika school of Hinduism, as founded by Kanada in 1st millennium BC, neither required nor relied on _Ishvara_ for its atomistic naturalism philosophy. To it, substances and _paramāṇu_ (atoms) were eternal, they moved and interacted based on impersonal, eternal _adrsta_ (अदृष्ट, invisible) laws of nature. The concept of _Ishvara_, among others, entered into Vaisheshika school many centuries later in 1st millennium AD. This evolution in ideas aimed to explain how and why its so-called "atoms" have a particular order and proportions. These later-age ancient Vaiśeṣika scholars retained their belief that substances are eternal, added Ishvara
as another eternal who is also omniscient and omnipresent (not omnipotent). Ishvara
did not create the world, according to this school of Hindu
scholars, but He only created invisible laws that operate the world and then He becomes passive and lets those hidden universal laws do its thing. Thus, Vaisheshika's Ishvara
mirrors Deus otiosus of Deism . Vaisheshika school's _Ishvara_, states Klaus Klostermaier , can be understood as an eternal God who co-exists in the universe with eternal substances and atoms, but He "winds up the clock, and lets it run its course".


Early Nyaya school scholars considered the hypothesis of Ishvara
as a creator God with the power to grant blessings, boons and fruits. However, the early Nyaya scholars rejected this hypothesis, and were non-theistic or atheists. Later scholars of Nyaya school reconsidered this question and offered counter arguments for what is Ishvara
and various arguments to prove the existence of _Ishvara_.

In Nyayasutra's Book 4, Chapter 1 examines what causes production and destruction of entities (life, matter) in universe. It considers many hypotheses, including _Ishvara_. Verses 19-21, postulates Ishvara exists and is the cause, states a consequence of postulate, then presents contrary evidence, and from contradiction concludes that the postulate must be invalid.

सिद्धान्तसूत्र : ईश्वरः कारणम्, पुरुषकर्माफल्यदर्शनात् पूर्वपक्षसूत्र : न, पुरुषकर्माभावे फ्लानिष्पत्तेः सिद्धान्तसूत्र : तत्कारितत्वादहेतुः

Proposition sutra: ISHVARA is the cause, since we see sometimes human action lacks fruits (results). Prima facie objection sutra: This is not so since, as a matter of fact, no fruit is accomplished without human action. Conclusion sutra: Not so, since it is influenced by him. — Nyaya Sutra, IV.1.19 - IV.1.21

Centuries later, the 5th century CE Nyaya school scholar Prastapada revisited the premise of Ishvara. He was followed by Udayana , who in his text _ Nyayakusumanjali _, interpreted "it" in verse 4.1.21 of Nyaya Sutra above, as "human action" and "him" as "Ishvara", then he developed counter arguments to prove the existence of Ishvara. In developing his arguments, he inherently defined _Ishvara_ as efficient cause, omnipotent, omniscient, infallible, giver of gifts, ability and meaning to humanity, divine creator of the world as well as the moral principles, and the unseen power that makes the karma doctrine work.


Mīmāṃsā scholars of Hinduism questioned what is _Ishvara_ (God)? They used their _pramana _ tools to cross examine answers offered by other schools of Hinduism. For example, when Nyaya scholars stated God is omnipotent, omniscient and infallible, that the world is the result of God's creation which is proved by the presence of creatures, just like human work proves human existence, Mimamsa scholars asked, why does this God create the world, for what reason? Further, they added, it cannot be because of Ishvara's love to human beings because this world – if Ishvara
created it – is imperfect and human souls are suffering in it. Mimamsa scholars of Hinduism raised numerous objections to any definition of Ishvara
along with its premises, deconstructed justifications offered, and considered Ishvara
concept unnecessary for a consistent philosophy and moksha (soteriology).


Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism posits _Ishvara_ in a number of ways (metaphysically, epistemologically), then cross examines it, reasoning that there is no room for gods and deity. Ishvara
is defined as a creator God, but shown to be inconsistent and unnecessary. Mohanty asserts that _Ishvara_ is a theoretical instrument, not a sacred reality in Advaita Vedanta. Adi Sankara of Advaita sub-school of Hinduism states that Self-knowledge is the paramount and soteriological goal of Man, where the monistic principle of Oneness of Self, every living being and everything in the universe is part of self-realization and moksha. Sankara states the Self and every individual is _Ishvara_, in his text Upadesasahasri
, everyone and everything is connected, integral oneness of Brahman (Ultimate Reality, Universal Absolute, Supreme Principle). Ishvara
is that which is "free from _avidya_ (ignorance), free from _ahamkrti_ (ego-sense), free from _bandhana_ (bondage)", a Self that is "pure, enlightened, liberated". To Advaitins, Ishvara
is the efficient and material cause of the creation, yet another name for the creative and expressive aspect of the Brahman that is in every living being and everywhere. There is no otherness nor distinction between _Jiva_ (living being) and _Ishvara_, and any attempts to distinguish the two is a false idea, one based on wrong knowledge, according to Advaita Vedanta.

Advaitin's _Ishvara_ is similar in some ways to _Adi Buddha_ of Madhyamika Buddhists; Advaita Vedanta shares monism foundations and methodology with, but is not a _nastika_ philosophy, as the Madhyamika school of Buddhism. Like other schools of Hinduism, Advaitins believe that there is a "Self" and "Soul", unlike Buddhism which believes in "no self, no soul". Advaitins use the construct of Ishvara, to build their concept of "transcendent self".

Nelson states that Ishvara, to Adi Shankara, is a paradigm for living liberation.

ईश्वरः अहम् Ishvara, I am. —  Adi Shankara , Upadesasahasri
2.3.1, 2.10.8

Other Advaitin Hindu
texts resonate with the monist views of Adi Shankara. For example, Isa Upanishad, in hymn 1.5-7, states Ishvara
is "above everything, outside everything, beyond everything, yet also within everything"; he who knows himself as all beings and all beings as himself – he never becomes alarmed before anyone. He becomes free from fears, from delusions, from root cause of evil. He becomes pure, invulnerable, unified, free from evil, true to truth, liberated like Ishvara.

Vishishtadvaita Vedanta

_Ishvara_, in Vishishtadvaita Vedanta sub-school of Hinduism, is a composite concept of dualism and non-dualism, or "non-dualism with differentiation". Ishvara, Vishishtadvaitin scholars such as the 11th century Ramanuja state, is the supreme creator and synonymous with Brahman . Equated with Vishnu
in Vishishtadvaita or one of his avatar , he is both the material and efficient cause, transcendent and immanent. Ishvara
manifests in five forms, believe Vishishtadvaitins: _para_ (transcendent), _vyuha_ (emanations), _vibhava_ (incarnations), _antaryamin_ (dwells inside), and _arca_ (icons). According to this sub-school, states John Grimes, Ishvara
possesses six divine qualities: _jnana_ (knowledge), _bala_ (strength), _aisvarya_ (lordship), _sakti_ (power), _virya_ (virility) and _tejas_ (splendor).

Ramanuja's Vishishtadvaita concepts provided the foundation for several Bhakti
movements of Hinduism, such as those by Sri Aurobindo
Sri Aurobindo
and has been suggested as having influenced Basava's Lingayatism .

Dvaita Vedanta

The Dvaita (dualism ) sub-school of Vedanta Hinduism, founded by 13th century Madhva, defines _Ishvara_ as creator God that is distinct from _Jiva_ (individual souls in living beings). Narayana
(Vishnu) is considered to be _Ishvara_, and the Vaishnavism movement arose on the foundation developed by Dvaita Vedanta sub-school.

_Ishvara_ (God) is a complete, perfect and the highest reality to Dvaitins, and simultaneously the world is separate reality for them, unlike competing thoughts in other sub-schools of Vedanta. In Dvaita sub-school, _Jiva_ (individual soul) is different, yet dependent on _Ishvara_ (God). Both possess the attributes of consciousness, bliss and existence, but the individual soul is considered atomic, while God is all encompassing. The attributes of _Jiva_ struggle to manifest, while of God it is fully manifested.

Madhva states there are five permutations of differences between _Jiva_ (individual souls) and _Ishvara_ (God): between God and souls, between God and matter, between souls and matter, between one soul and another soul, and between one material thing and another material thing. The differences are both qualitative and quantitative. Unlike Advaita Vedantins who hold that knowledge can lead to Oneness with Everyone and fusion with Universal Absolute, to the state of moksha in this life, Dvaita Vedantins hold that moksha is possible only in after-life if God so wills (if not, then one's soul is reborn). Further, Madhva highlights that God creates individual souls, but the individual soul never was and never will become one with God; the best it can do is to experience bliss by getting infinitely close to God.

The world, called _Maya_, is held as the divine will of Ishvara. _Jiva_ suffers, experiences misery and bondage, state Dvaitins, because of "ignorance and incorrect knowledge" (_ajnana_). Liberation occurs with the correct knowledge and attainment unto Lord Narayana. It is His grace that gives salvation according to Dvaita sub-school, which is achievable by predominance of _sattva_ guna (moral, constructive, simple, kindness-filled life), and therefore Dvaitins must live a dharmic life while constantly remembering, deeply loving _Ishvara_.


Acintya bhedābheda is a sub-school of Vedanta representing the philosophy of _inconceivable one-ness and difference_, in relation to the power creation and creator, Ishvara, ( Krishna

In Sanskrit
_achintya_ means 'inconceivable', _bheda_ translates as 'difference', and _abheda_ translates as 'one-ness'. Spirit souls are considered part of God and thus one with Him in quality, and yet at the same time different from Him in quantity. This is called acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva, inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and difference.

Caitanya's philosophy of acintya-bhedābheda-tattva completed the progression to devotional theism . Rāmānuja had agreed with Śaṅkara that the Absolute is one only, but he had disagreed by affirming individual variety within that oneness. Madhva had underscored the eternal duality of the Supreme and the Jīva : he had maintained that this duality endures even after liberation. Caitanya, in turn, specified that the Supreme and the jīvas are "inconceivably, simultaneously one and different" (acintya-bheda-abheda).


Cārvāka , another atheist tradition in Hinduism, was materialist and a school of philosophical scepticism . They rejected all concepts of _Ishvara_ as well as all forms of supernaturalism.


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Terms Defined in English, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791430675 , page 143 * ^ Thomas Padiyath (2014), The Metaphysics of Becoming, De Gruyter, ISBN 978-3110342550 , page 151 * ^ Carl Olson (2007), The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-historical Introduction, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 978-0813540689 , pages 243-244 * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ R Prasad (2009), A Historical-developmental Study of Classical Indian Philosophy of Morals, Concept Publishing, ISBN 978-8180695957 , pages 345-347 * ^ _A_ _B_ Thomas Padiyath (2014), The Metaphysics of Becoming, De Gruyter, ISBN 978-3110342550 , pages 155-157 * ^ Kaviraja, K.G. _Sri Caitanya-caritamrita. Bengali text, translation, and commentary by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada_. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust . _Madhya_ 20.108-109 Archived 11 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine . "It is the living entity's constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna
because he is the marginal energy of Krishna
and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire." * ^ Kṛṣṇa Upaniṣad 1.25: _...na bhinnam. nā bhinnamābhirbhinno na vai vibhuḥ_ * ^ Mukundananda, Swami (2013). _Spiritual Dialectics_. Jagadguru Kripaluji Yog. p. 96. Hence, he called his philosophy Achintya Bhedabhed vad, or Inconceivable Simultaneous Oneness and Difference. * ^ Satsvarupa, dasa Goswami (1976). _Readings in Vedit Literature: The Tradition Speaks for Itself_. Assoc Publishing Group. pp. 240 pages. ISBN 0-912776-88-9 . * ^ Robert Flint, _Anti-theistic theories_, p. 463, at Google Books , Appendix Note VII - Hindu
Materialism: The Charvaka System; William Blackwood, London * ^ V.V. Raman (2012), Hinduism and Science: Some Reflections, Zygon - Journal of Religion and Science, 47(3): 549–574, Quote (page 557): "Aside from nontheistic schools like the Samkhya , there have also been explicitly atheistic schools in the Hindu
tradition. One virulently anti-supernatural system is/was the so-called Carvaka school.", doi :10.1111/j.1467-9744.2012.01274.x * ^ KN Tiwari (1998), Classical Indian Ethical Thought, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120816077 , page 67, Quote: "Of the three heterodox systems, the remaining one, the Caravaka system, is a Hindu system."

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