Self-realization versus Monotheism – All paths are not the same

The Limitations of Exclusive Monotheism

Abrahamic traditions are monotheistic and recognize that there is only one God. Yet their monotheism is largely exclusivist. Their One God does not tolerate any other Gods and is often at war with them.

In addition, Abrahamic monotheism is usually intolerant of the use of images, as if the use of images inherently implies a denial of the One God and a worship of inferior or dangerous spirits.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians do use images, but only regard their images as holy, while the images worshipped by non-Christians they see as unholy. Jews, Protestant Christians, and Muslims deny all use of images as idolatry, sometimes criticizing Catholics for using images as well. This rejection of images has magnified their exclusivist mentality and denigrates traditions that use images, particularly of a non-Christian nature, as a denial of the One God.

Such exclusivism is behind the obsession of Christian and Muslim groups to convert the world to their beliefs, whatever other calamities their efforts may cause. Most missionary efforts in Bharat today still promote this aggressive monotheism and use it to denigrate Dharmic traditions as unholy, if not evil.

This conversion-based monotheism may have One God but has two humanities – those who are saved and those who are damned. Anyone who does not subscribe to belief in the One God is consigned to error or damnation, and their spiritual practices deemed as unsacred. Various Abrahamic sects also condemn each other for theological differences. The intolerance born of excusive monotheism harms people within monotheistic traditions as well as those on the outside.

Self or Atman

In the Hindu tradition, the highest idea of divinity is Self, Atman or Purusha, defined as pure consciousness that pervades the entire universe, transcending time and space. The Atman also exists within the hearts of all creatures as our true nature behind body and mind.

Along with this understanding of the inner Self is a recognition of the underlying unity of all existence, which some thinkers might like to equate with monotheism. Yet the monotheistic idea that there is only One true God is not the same as the recognition of a universal consciousness that finds the Divine in all as all.

Exclusivist monotheism follows a dualistic world view. Its usual goal is for the soul to go to heaven or paradise after death, which is often described as a glorified physical world. It does not recognize the need for Self-realization, but holds that faith and belief alone are enough for immortality.

Among the many names for God in Abrahamic traditions we do not find the term Self or any other term comparable to Atman. God is usually an other to the soul, though the two may have an intimate connection. To say that “I am God” in the Upanishadic sense, is regarded as heresy.

Mystical Traditions

Yet we do find a few mystics within monotheistic traditions who speak of unity consciousness to various degrees. We find such mystics even in Abrahamic religions, and from philosophical and artistic disciplines as well. We also find these unity statements in Greek and Gnostic mystics in the ancient period, as well as in pagan and Native Traditions worldwide throughout history.

Exclusivist traditions have often rejected or even killed such mystics within their own faiths, like Al Hallaj of Bagdad who proclaimed Anal Haqq or “I am the Truth” only to be cruelly executed for heresy. Meister Eckhart, who had similar mystical views in medieval Germany, was accused of heresy by the Pope and died under church arrest.

Yet not all mysticism is unitary or oriented to Self-realization. There are also militant and orthodox mystics who have upheld exclusivist dogmas with great religious fervor. We should not blindly equate all mysticism either.

The Way of Self-realization

The way of Self-realization or Atma Vidya is clearly explained in Yoga-Vedanta traditions in an accessible manner for everyone who wants to pursue the higher truth. Along with it the process of karma and rebirth is described in detail. We rarely find such clear teachings elsewhere in mystical traditions, particularly when the sword of monotheism hangs over people.

There is no path to Self-realization recognized in orthodox Christianity or orthodox Islam. There is some approach to unity consciousness among unorthodox groups, but seldom a complete system.

So let us not equate monotheism, the idea that there is only One God, with Self-realization, unity consciousness or the idea that all is God. In honoring religious pluralism let us not mindlessly equate contrary religious doctrines or different philosophical views.  

That there is only One God is not necessarily to honor the Divine Self in all beings. In fact, monotheism is usually based upon a denial of the Self. Accepting that there is only One God is very far from honoring the need for Self-realization. If the belief in One God promotes an exclusivist approach to truth, demanding conversion, such a belief blocks the true spiritual development of the person who has it, and breeds religious intolerance and violence in the world overall.

Self-realization is more characteristic of Dharmic traditions. It is at best a secondary if not questionable and heretical pursuit in Christianity and Islam. Yet Self-realization is the true goal of life for all, not just for one religious community or another.

Let us honor the Self in all beings, but let us also not confuse other religious teachings that propound different goals with genuine paths to Self-realization. Religion and spirituality have many types and levels and can reflect not only higher truths but human prejudices.

This is just as in the case of science in which we cannot simply equate all proposed scientific theories as true. Spirituality should be a science of Self-realization, not any sort of religious dogma. It should teach us how to change our own consciousness –not merely make us target other people for conversion, when we are ignorant of who we really are.

About the Author

Dr. David Frawley
Dr. David Frawley, D.Litt (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is the Director of American Institute of Vedic Studies ( He is a renowned Yoga, Ayurveda and Jyotish Teacher. He is also a Padma Bhushan awardee and author of 'Shiva, the Lord of Yoga' and over thirty other books.
  • Missuniverse db

    God has no religion.~
    Mahatma Gandhi

    Facts are many, but the truth is one. ~
    Rabindranath Tagore

    Truth is one, paths are many. ~
    Mahatma Gandhi

    The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark.
    The small truth has words which are clear;
    the great truth has great silence.~
    Rabindranath Tagore

    There’s a world of difference between truth and facts.
    Facts can obscure the truth.~
    Maya Angelou

    All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered;
    the point is to discover them. ~
    Galileo Galilei

    All the religions of the world,
    while they may differ in other respects,
    unitedly proclaim that nothing lives in this world but Truth.~
    Mahatma Gandhi
    Religion is not requirement at all…

    • Praveen Hegde

      I did not understand what you are actually wanted to say? All are same? or all should be treated equally being different with mutual respect without interfering?

      • Missuniverse db

        Dear @Parveen Hegde
        v only meant Truth = God
        cause its an universally accepted Idea by any & every Religion-thanks

        • Polytheist

          I consider the gods to be an advanced race. They may know things about the afterlife/life/universe we don’t but I am not sure why they would be truthful. The gods are capable of lying.

          • Missuniverse db

            The subject is “Truth” here & not God.. thanks

      • Missuniverse db


        Dear @Praveen Hegde

        Now how the world may resolve the issue of “Rape” being treated as different crime.. some say the women [ raped person ] is an accuse or convict & some say its the person who raped the woman is accuse or convict ?

        • Polytheist

          Any who says the victim of a sexual crime is a convict is a moron. Whether that victim is a women, man or child. Rape also isn’t a sexual crime but a power crime. That is why men in prison rape each other even though they are straight.

          • Missuniverse db


          • Missuniverse db

            But dear @polytheist:disqus u r commenting as if u r not a polytheist wch = many God.. so u r contradicting of being single dimensional.. tho v r only asking what might b Truth here & what shd be the Law based on Truth a universal GOD – thanks

          • Polytheist

            You seem to be a real bigot.

          • Missuniverse db

            Dear @polytheist:disqus u r taking it personally though v spoke about your nature but in there the subject is important.. if u really desire to know what is what u must not b personal- thanks


    Well it was a well explained article. Yes Islam is dangerous only believes in one God. Even clerics in Mecca which is holiest place of Islam says that we should demolish all non-muslim worship places. According to Arabic Islamic texts Muhammad used mosques to plan attacks against non-muslims


    Even Christianity is evil but they limited Pope only in Vatican and many people in countries like Canad are atheist!

  • Polytheist

    Wonderfully written. The lack of self exploration and an unwillingness of the God of Abraham to let his followers explore the unknown is why I don’t participate in that faith. I feel my gods honor my intelligence, self exploration and the recognition of my honored dead.

    • Missuniverse db

      Dear @polytheist:disqus
      Does polytheist mean or = secularism?

      • Polytheist

        No. Polytheism is the belief in more than one god. Secularism is the belief that politics should be religion free or at least religiously balanced.

        • Missuniverse db

          Dear @polytheist:disqus
          Secularism doesn’t mean religiously balanced or even religion free.. secularism mean not related to religion not necessarily against religion.. but Atheism mean there is no God also against & in war with Religion & God

          • Polytheist

            Yes it does mean just that. America is secular not religion free or atheist.

          • Missuniverse db

            though u have diverted from the subject .. neva mind but no US is not secular coz religious freedom is not there – thanks

    • Jose Luis Soler

      “Monotheism”..”Polytheism”…we become lost in word trickery. CArl Jung used to say that in “monotheism” there is hidden polytheism, and viceversa.
      The Mystery of Reality is beyond opposites and all-embracing…
      “The Gods are personalities or Powers put forth by the Divine – they are therefore in front limited Emanations, although the full Divine is behind each of them”
      Sri Aurobindo

  • classyoga

    This is precisely why, when one become a Hindu, they renounce their former Monotheistic names, David!!

    • summerishere

      Hinduism is least interested in changing names

      • classyoga

        How would you know?

  • Jose Luis Soler

    “I have practiced all religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity – and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths. ”

    Sri Ramakrishna

  • Dr. Frawley as always nicely written !
    May be Hindus will have to civilize the uncivilized other — but who is other?

  • Jose Luis Soler

    “It is an integral knowledge that is being sought, an integral force, a total amplitude of union with the All and Infinite behind existence. For the seeker of the integral Yoga no single experience, no one Divine Aspect, – however overwhelming to the human mind, sufficient for its capacity, easily accepted as the sole or the ultimate reality, – can figure as the exclusive truth of the Eternal. For him the experience of the Divine Oneness carried to its extreme is more deeply embraced and amply fathomed by following out to the full the experience of the Divine Multiplicity. All that is true behind polytheism as well as behind monotheism falls within the scope of his seeking; but he passes beyond their superficial sense to human mind to grasp their mystic truth in the Divine. He sees what is aimed at by the jarring sects and philosophies and accepts each facet of the Reality in its own place, but rejects their narrownesses and errors and proceeds farther till he discovers the One Truth that binds them together.”

    Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga

  • Jose Luis Soler

    The view of totality expresses a new kind of freedom. It is not the freedom from self, not the freedom of being pure consciousness or awareness, not the freedom of ripening and completeness, but the freedom from having to be anything. It is the realization of not being anything, where “anything” includes all possible forms and formlessness. Life becomes the freedom of Being to manifest whichever realization -ultimate or completeness- that addresses the moment most optimally. Life is a continual discovery of reality and its secrets. It is not a seeking and not a looking after anything. It is like the creative dynamism of being is liberated totally so Being is free to manifest its truths in endless ways. It is absolutely non sectarian, and totally inclusive. It celebrates the differences between the traditions and teachings, for they all express it purely and genuinely.

    It is my understanding that this is an interesting outcome of the meeting of traditions in our time. We do not have to adhere to an ultimate but we can. We do not need to take a view whether ultimates is a valid way of expressing reality or completeness is, for they both do and many others do. Freedom becomes the value, and it is both defined and defies definition. But it expresses itself as the all rounded openness for ourselves as the very reality to express itself in whatever way its intelligence moves it. There is no end to realization, kinds and types of awakening, or enlightenment and completeness. There is no end for Reality – Being or God – is simply too infinite and indeterminate to be circumscribed by any experience, realization, insight, teaching or understanding. Remembering Godel’s proof, we see how for a teaching to be self consistent it cannot be complete. There is bound to be fundamental truths about reality and its nature not encompassed by it.

    – A. H. Almaas, Which of the Ultimates is Ultimate, Part 2: View of Totality

  • mukund

    All paths are not the same – very true. But Mr. Frawley better apply logic with full intellectual integrity. This logic applies within dharmic traditions as well. Vaishnavism, Saivism, Jainism, Saktism all are different paths. Dont brush them under the dirty carpet of neo-advait.