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Much like "lord" (dominus, kurios) in Western usage, the Sanskrit īśvará primarily (late Vedic Sanskrit) has a temporal meaning of "lord, master, prince". It is in origin a nominalized adjective meaning "capable, able, being in control", like īśa "owning, possessing" derived from a root īś- "to own, possess; rule over", ultimately cognate with English own (Germanic *aigana-, PIE *aik-). The theological meaning "the Supreme Being" first arises in the Manu Smriti, while īśa is used as a name of Rudra somewhat earlier, in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (c. 300 BCE), considered the first evidence of the development of that deity, the later Shiva, into a supreme, cosmological god.
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.
Schools of thought
Among the six systems of Hindu philosophy, early Samkhya and Mimamsa do not consider the concept of Ishvara, i.e., a supreme being, while later Samkhya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, Vedanta and Nyaya believe in the existence of an Ishvara.
Ishvara is a transcendent and immanent entity best described in the last chapter of the Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita, known as the Isha Upanishad. It states īśā vāsyam idaṃ sarvaṃ, "enveloped by the Lord must be this all", suggesting a kind of panentheism.
He created all this, whatever is here. Having created it, into it, indeed, he entered. Having entered it, he became both the actual and the beyond, the defined and the undefined, both the founded and the unfounded, the intelligent and the unintelligent, the true and the untrue. (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.6.1)
The conception of Ishvara in Hinduism is very much dependent on the particular school of thought. While any one of five forms of a personal being can embody the concept of Ishvara in Advaita Vedanta, schools of Vaishnavism, on other hand, consider only Vishnu and His incarnations as the ultimate omnipotent Ishvara and all other forms as merely expansions or aspects of Vishnu.
Advaitism holds that when human beings think of Brahman, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit is projected upon the limited, finite human mind and appears as Ishvara. Therefore, the mind projects human attributes, such as personality, motherhood, and fatherhood on the Supreme Being. An interesting metaphor is that when the "reflection" of the Cosmic Spirit falls upon the mirror of Maya (Māyā; the principle of illusion, which binds the mind), it appears as the Supreme Lord. Brahman is not thought to have such attributes in the true sense. However it may be helpful to project such attributes onto Brahman.
Vishishta Advaita Vedanta
In Vishishtadvaita, Ishvara is the supreme cosmic spirit who maintains complete control over the universe and all the sentient beings, which together also form the pan-organistic body of Ishvara. The triad of Ishvara along with the universe and the sentient beings is Brahman, which signifies the completeness of existence. Ishvara is Para Brahman endowed with innumerable auspicious qualities (Kalyana Gunas). Ishvara is perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal, independent, creator of the world, its active ruler and also the eventual destroyer. He is causeless, eternal and unchangeable — and is yet the material and the efficient cause of the world. He is both immanent (like whiteness in milk) and transcendent (like a watch-maker independent of a watch). He is the subject of worship. He is the basis of morality and giver of the fruits of one's Karma. He rules the world with His Māyā — His divine power.
According to the Dvaita school, Ishvara possesses all the qualities seen in Vishishtadvaita. Ishvara is the efficient and material cause of the universe and the sentient beings and yet exists independently. Thus, Dvaitism does not separate Ishvara and Brahman, and does not believe that the highest form of Brahman is attributeless, or that Ishvara is incorporeal. Instead, Ishvara is the highest form of truth and worship of Ishvara involves belief in an infinite and yet personal and loving being.
Acintya bhedābheda is a school of Vedanta representing the philosophy of inconceivable one-ness and difference, in relation to the power creation and creator, Ishvara, (Krishna), svayam bhagavan. and also between God and his energies within the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition. In Sanskrit achintya means 'inconceivable', bheda translates as 'difference', and abheda translates as 'one-ness'. It is believed that this philosophy was taught by the movement's theological founder Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and differentiates the Gaudiya tradition from the other Vaishnava Sampradayas.
"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). He strongly opposed Śaṅkara's philosophy for its defiance of Vyāsadeva's siddhānta". (See Satsvarupa dasa Goswami)
Ishvara is simultaneously "one with and different from His creation". In this sense Vaishnava theology is not pantheistic as in no way does it deny the separate existence of God (Vishnu) in His own personal form. However, at the same time, creation (or what is termed in Vaishnava theology as the 'cosmic manifestation') is never separated from God. He always exercises supreme control over his creation. Sometimes directly, but most of the time indirectly through his different potencies or energies (Prakrti).
Additional School of Thought by Ananda Marga is Advaitadvaitadvaitadvada (Non-dualistic Dualism Non-Dualism)
Thus, in addition to their belief in the abstract principle of Brahman, most Hindus worship less abstract personal forms, such as Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, Shiva, or Devi. Some Hindus worship these personal forms for a practical reason: it is easier to cultivate devotion to a personal being than to an abstract principle. Other Hindus believe the personal form which they worship is Brahman's Supreme form and that the unmanifest (Nirguna Brahman) is a less complete aspect of the personal form. Therefore, the Hindu scriptures depict not only as an abstract principle or concept, but also a personal being and this is understood differently by different schools and different Hindus.
- See generally, Sinha, H.P. (1993), Bhāratīya Darshan kī rūprekhā (Features of Indian Philosophy). Motilal Banarasidas Publ. ISBN 81-208-2144-0.
- See generally, Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism (Viveka Press 1994) ISBN 1-884852-02-5
- White Yajurveda 32.3
- Kaviraja, K.G. Sri Caitanya-caritamrita. Bengali text, translation, and commentary by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.Madhya 20.108-109 "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
- Prabhupada, A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami (1972). Bhagavad-gita as it is. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Los Angeles, Calif.7.8
- "Additional information". Krishna.com. Retrieved April 16, 2008.[dead link] "Lord Chaitanya taught that as spirit souls we are part of God and thus we are one with Him in quality, and yet at the same time we are also different from Him in quantity. This is called acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva, inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and difference."
- Satsvarupa, dasa Goswami (1976). Readings in Vedit Literature: The Tradition Speaks for Itself. S.l.: Assoc Publishing Group. pp. 240 pages. ISBN 0-912776-88-9