Terror preacher Dr Zakir Naik’s common refrain in his discourses used to be that monotheism was the ultimate message of all religions, including Hinduism, and that Quran is the last word on this. He often belts out a glossary of quotations from Hindu scriptures to drive home his point. In most cases, he misinterprets Sanskrit shlokas to suit his version and many of his claims, no doubt, were outrageous.
Non-dualism in Hinduism is quite different from the monotheism in Islam. The Advaita philosophy (monism or non-dualism) says there is only one ultimate Brahma and what we see around are its different expressions or maya (illusion). Although the Hindu pantheon is over-populated with 33,000 crore gods, the message is very clear — the God is one and can be worshipped the way one wants. He is formless but can assume any form. The Hindu never wielded a sword to drill this principle into the minds of millions or establish kingdoms over dead bodies of innocents to reinforce the point. His emphasis was on unity amid diversity and not uniformity. Our rishis have explained it very beautifully in a shloka which says: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different path which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”
Sri Shankaracharya, the proponent of the Advaita philosophy, had no problems with people worshipping different gods or idols. Dr S Radhakrishnan writes: Shankaracharya found people worshipping many gods – Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, etc. He looked upon all of them as the legitimate and valid forms of the Supreme and he asked us not to quarrel about these names and other things. He was regarded as the Sanmatastapanacharya, the founder of six systems of religious worship.”
President of the Vivekananda Kendra P Parameswaran writes: “…The Advaitin in Shankara did not revolt when he wrote devotionally surcharged hymns for various deities. Such was the catholicity of his conviction and the concession he gave to human limitations.” Delving deep into the topic, Parameswaran writes: “…Advaita says that the ultimate reality is only one and that is Sat-Chit-Ananda. Everything else is unreal. That is what is meant by the Vedic dictum Brahma satyam, jagat mithya, which means that only Brahman is absolutely real whereas every other thing is either only an appearance or relatively real….There is no Advaita in Islam. The pre-Islamic tribal Arabia was socially, culturally and philosophically in such a primitive condition that it is foolish to expect that a highly evolved and sophisticated philosophical concept like Advaita could ever evolve in such a backward social frame of mind. What the Prophet actually did was to abolish blind idolatry and bewildering multiplicity of names and forms of God that prevailed in contemporary Arabia. The connotation of the very word “Islam” unmistakably shows that the central concept is dwaita. Islam means submission and surrender. Submission is possible only when there are two – the Almighty God above in heaven, and the helpless servant of God below on earth. In Advaita, this dualism is abolished.”
The Advaita philosophy is much more than mere worship of a God or meticulous practice of a set of rituals or dogma. Its approach is logical and scientific. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in The Discovery of India, writes: “….it is interesting to compare some of the latest conclusions of science with the fundamental ideas underlying the Advaita Vedantic theory. These ideas were that the universe is made of one substance whose form is perpetually changing and further that the sum-total of energies remains always the same. Also that ‘the explanations of things are to be found within their own nature, and that no external beings or existences are required to explain what is going on in the universe’, with its corollary of a self-evolving universe.”