One is helplessly forced to adopt the tag of a 'Hindu' or a 'Vendantist' or 'Sanatana Dharmi' etc, because that is the only way to differentiate one system from the other. So, for the argument sake here, I will use the tag 'Hindu' or the 'brahmanical' (not to be confused with the caste brahmin, but the divine Brahma) to refer to the vedic or the vedantic system.
There are some trivia that I want to mention here before I proceed. Are these mere coincidences? Now, whether we call this an 'coincidence', or 'inheritance', or 'natural progression', or 'inspiration', or 'plagiarism', or 'design', or 'intentional distortion' or whatever, the fact remains that the Vedic texts existed since time immemorial, and as such there is little doubt which have inspired which?:
1) 'Abrahamic' religions originate from Abraham, and the Vedic system from 'Brahma'? Again, is it a coincidence that Abhram's wife's name is Sarah, and the companion of Lord Brahma is Saraswati? In Sanskrit "abrahma" means "Not Brahma", and "aabrahma" means "upto and including Brahma"!
2) Yahova or Jahoa or Yahweh is the 'Name of God of the old testament'. In Sansksrit "yahvu" means "great", and 'yahva' means "the great, the magnificent, the powerful; an epithet of heaven and earth".
3) Jesus, actually is "yEsu" or "yeshuva", "eeshua". In Sanskrit, 'eesha' means the "ruler, the Lord" and "Ishvara" actually means "the Lord, the controller, the all powerful, the Supreme Soul".
4) Allah, the God of Islam; is conceptualized as who is one without a second; one who cannot be seen; one who is out of this world, out of this creation, and there is nothing like him in this world etc. In Sanskrit:
- "alOka" which means that which does not have a space, that which cannot be seen, one who/that does not belong to this created worlds, the resident of a spiritual world. "Allah" is NOT the name of God, it just means God and thus a divine bundle of divine attributes that no "created being" can have.
- अल् ("all") means "to adorn, to be competent, to be able", and "alam" means "self sufficient". Quran, when describing "Allah" says repeatedly "Allah is over all things competent"!
- अल्लाय (allAya) means "an epithet of Indra".
- अल्ला (allA) means Supreme Goddess
These are just a cursory look at few of the most significant words in the Abhramic religions in the light of Sanskrit. The intention is not to claim that all religions are the same, but that other religions may have derived inspiration from the Vedic texts and then improvised on them.
What are some primary differences between Vedantic ('Brahmanical') system and the Abrahmic religions?
To show the differences I specifically take the example of a Muslims because they attempt to follow Quran verbatim, unlike many Christians who have learnt to live beyond (not without) the Bible, i.e. they do not take the texts too literally, they are more secular now. As such there are very few 'extreme' Christians; this applies to a majority of the Jews as well. However, Muslims generally continue to 'religiously' live by the 'word of God', as they have no choice; they are obligated to.
- Differences in the concept of God. Most 'abhramanic' religions are monotheistic - there is only one God and nothing else. Brahmanical system talk about one ultimate truth but then affirm that there are multiple reflections of that one truth.
- There is a far better writing on this matter http://voiceofdharma.org/books/hindusoc/ch4.htm (thanks to Dr. Bhargava for the link)
- For a Muslim, God is a dictator waiting to punish the wrong doers. God is to be feared. God is non-spiritual; God seems to have many 'human like qualities', and is partial:
- Allah does not listen (which is a human quality) to disbelievers,
- Allah will show wrath (human emotion) upon disbelievers,
- Allah is partial (like humans are) to the disbelievers; Allah seals their hearts, ears and sight, and expect them to feel, hear and see - unjust (like humans)!
- Allah has a very complaining tone ("do they not see this", "tell them this")
- Allah has a limited purview of the world - it seems that Allah did not know much beyond the middle-east (human limitation)
- Allah is limited in space - He sits in His throne in the heavens somewhere and cannot come down at all (according to most Islamic Scholars).
- According to Islamic Scholars (viz Dr. Zakir Naik), Allah is Omniscient but not Omnipotent or Omnipresent; He cannot lie, cheat, come into the world he creates etc etc. He can be in one place at a time, because Islamic Scholars question the 'avatara' concept because if God has come down He cannot be there. He cannot be there and here simultaneously. So, for a Muslim God has limitations.
- A Muslim has to continuously fear committing a Shirk (unforgivable sin)
- However, the God of the Hindus is variegated. He is Spiritual. He can be everywhere at the same time. He can do ANYTHING. There is nothing He cannot do.
- God and his beings share similarities spiritually in some respects (check Gita for more). He resides in the heart of everything; He is in everything and everything is in Him but nothing controls Him; He can descend to His creation whenever He wants to. He is both formless and with form etc etc.
- Differences in the idea of Liberation - Salvation:
- For a Muslim Salvation is possible only by believing in one God, believing in Prophet Mohammed, following the Principles of Islam etc. And there is a Day of Judgement. Muslims will go to Jannat (Heaven) and rest are destined for Hell - eternally.
- For a Hindu liberation can happen in a number of ways; there are multiple paths for salvation; there are multiple levels of liberation; Heaven and Hell (which are argued to be non-physical, but there are both sides of argument, which is allowed in Hinduism) are not permanent destinations but temporary; anyone can attain heaven or hell according to one's own deeds; there is repeated birth until perfection is attained; one has to complete the 'karma' cycle before getting liberated.
- Both the cases are thesis topics summarized in a paragraph each.
- Spiritual Vs Religious differences:
- The brahmanical System is SPIRITUAL in nature while the Abrahamic are very RELIGIOUS.
- Because of its religious nature, most Muslims simply, blindly follows something that is given in Quran. However a Hindu has the freedom to choose good from bad by logic. A Muslim is obligated (and thus blindly follows, because according to him Allah knows best, so no logic or reasoning is applied). It is more or less a RULE in most cases for a Muslim, all of which can be figured out by the human mind, and does not need a divine intervention - according to logic, science and a Hindu. Some examples:
- Personal Level: There is a debate on how long the beard should be, how long should a pant be; beard is not to be shaven and the mustache is to be trimmed; pants have be above the ankles and women should cover their head etc etc. A Hindu does have such RULES, at best they are guidelines and the rest is left to the practitioner to find his own best, and the belief is he can.
- Food and Choice of Recreation: what to eat, what not to eat, how to kill an animal etc. A Muslim cannot listen to Music; whereas as a Hindu is told what are good and what are not and the guidelines are enough, he can figure out the right and the wrong; for a Hindu Music could be used to glorify the Lord instead of rejecting it; the idea is to dovetail everything the service of the Lord.
- Social Level: Quran will tell how many a man can marry, how to beat wife, not marry people from other religions without converting,
- Religious level: friendship is often between fellow Muslims; one who decides to relinquish Islam is to be killed; believe that Satan resides in one's nose or whatever, to perform the wudu ritual exactly the same way without deviations etc etc.
- A Muslims relies entirely on Quran for his day-to-day activities, it is a rule and not a guiding principle.
- However, a spiritual 'hindu' has the choice, the freedom to choose - by scriptural injunction too (yAni anavadyAni karmAni tani tvayOpAsyAni, na itArani; yAni asmAkagaM sucharitAni tAni tvayOpAsyAni nOyitarAni). As said before, for a Hindu, the scriptures are "guiding principles", and he lives by the spirit and not verbatim.
- A knowledgeable Hindu understands everything from Spiritual perspective and is thus often more broad minded and open than most Muslims can ever be. Example, for a Muslim, his religious circle is of key significance - rest are all khafirs, the disbelievers. Whereas a Hindu guided by the principle "ayaM nijaH parO vEti gaNanA laghuchetasAm |udAracharitAnAM tu vasudhaiva kuTumbakam" “This is mine and others are not”, is the consideration of the less intelligent (narrow minded), but for an open minded (charitable) person, the entire world is family (responsible for the society).
- Religious Extremism Vs Spiritual Extremism: More 'fundamental' or 'extreme' a Hindu becomes spiritual, calmer, peaceful, open and loving he tends to become. Because of his spiritual perspective, he views and treats everyone equally. He will learn to let others be who they are; he becomes more welcoming and respectful of all the differences and learns to see similarity in the differences. He becomes more flexible and accepting.
- However, more 'fundamental' or 'extreme' a Muslim becomes, more religious he becomes and thus dangerous he becomes to the society: he is bound to become anti-social and restless; examples of which can be seen in the society. He will learn to love his 'religious brethren' but ridicule, look down upon and mock those outside; more he feels like 'converting' others to Islam. He will look to kill the 'khafirs' and establish a Islamic Law.
- It is better than a Hindu is extreme, on the contrary it is better that a Muslim is moderate. Sam Harris aptly says in his talk "The only problem with Islamic fundamentalist are the fundamentals of Islam".
- So, 'religious extremism' is not the problem but it is the direction a religion leads one to in that 'extreme' mindset that is. I am not referring to the scriptures themselves but the effect they may have on those who follow them. The danger is in following things 'religiously' and not living by the spirit of the scriptures; in now using a scripture as a reference or a guiding principle but a verbatim word of God.
- The religoin, culture, history, politics etc etc are all mixed up in Islam. Everything is by the order of Allah and as such they are static, hard and closed to changes in the times; as such many aspects become irrelevant and outdated over time However, there is a clear distinction between spirituality, 'dharma', culture, and traditions in the brahmanical system, which makes it more open to the changing times and situations. A Hindu can remain upto date and yet be spiritually independent of the changes.