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Vishnu (miniature from 1730)

The Vishnuism or Vaishnavism (from Sanskrit वैष्णव Vaiṣṇava [ ʋaiʂɳʌʋʌ ] "to Vishnu belonging") is a direction of the Hindu , the Vishnu assumes All-Being as the highest. All other gods are subordinate to him here or arise from him. Along with Shaivism and Shaktism, Vishnuism is one of the three most important directions of Hinduism.

Vishnuism contains several religious currents of different origins. The three main currents refer to Vishnu, Vasudeva Krishna and Rama , the heroic prince in the epic Ramayana . According to their self-image, some Vishnuitic currents are monotheistic , since they worship Vishnu , the “one without a second”, or rather his incarnations , the avatars . Other deities such as Shiva and Brahma are subordinate to Vishnu and understood as his servants. Apart from Shiva, these devas are considered demigods or ordinary souls . According to the Vishnuitic teachings, Vishnu can multiply into innumerable spiritual forms, all of which are identical with him. This is considered to be an expression of his unlimited power, and not the manifestation of various competing deities. In order to distinguish this attitude from the traditional monotheism of Abrahamic character, the Indologist Friedrich Max Müller called it henotheism . Today's literature on religious studies, on the other hand, often regards Vishnuism as monotheism .

The Avatara teaching is closely linked to Vishnuism : After that, Vishnu returns to the world in countless incarnations when the Dharma , law and order, vanish. The best known are the "Ten Avataras" of which the last, Kalki , is only supposed to appear in the Kali-Yuga , the end of the present age. The other "descended ones" are Matsya , the fish, Kurma , the turtle, Varaha , the boar, the lion man Narasimha , Vamana , the dwarf, Parashurama , Rama, Krishna and Buddha , whom some traditions are taught by Balarama, the elder brother of Krishna, replace. The idea of ​​a multiplicity of incarnations is suggested in the Bhagavad Gita and presented in detail in the Bhagavatapurana .


The worship of Vasudeva Krishna was probably already at the end of the 2nd century BC. Spreads what the Garuda column of Heliodorus ( Heliodoros as envoy ) proves. Vishnu himself was already mentioned in the Rig Veda and it is assumed that in the 9th to 6th centuries BC. Developed a monotheistic theology around him. Rama and Krishna were understood as the incarnations of Vishnu. The term Vaishnava (Vishnuiten) was used around the 4th / 5th. Century for these movements, but the origins are much further back.

With Vishnuism, a royal, domination- oriented Vishnu mythology, committed to the Kshatriya ethos, developed , which is particularly visible in the form of the incarnation Rama, in the great epic the king of Ayodhya.

What was new about Vishnuism at that time was the conception of this God as the highest and only true God who carries and produces the world and all beings including the other gods. The way to salvation was also new: on the one hand dutiful and above all selfless action in society, karma yoga , and on the other hand bhakti , the unconditional, loving devotion to Vishnu. Bhakti, especially at the incarnations of Krishna or Rama, became an important part of religious practice. Bhakti marks the new relationship between man and deity, which replaces the Vedic sacrifice and at the same time integrates the intellectual search for redeeming knowledge, jnana yoga , into a strong emotional relationship. Especially in the Bhagavad Gita, Bhakti-Yoga is described as one of the ways to salvation . What was also new was an extensive rejection of the traditional caste system . Even with the Alvars , influential Vishnuit poets in South India, who were active in the 8th century , it was of no importance; among the twelve recognized saints there were some shudras , members of the lowest caste. Even later exponents of Vishnuism such as Ramananda (13th century), Kabir (15th century) and Chaitanya (15th / 16th century) made no distinction among their followers according to caste affiliation, they decidedly rejected inequality. Even if one did not attack the system as such, one saw all people equally in the face of God.

Traditional schools

Vishnuism consists of several directions that have developed divergent philosophies. These are passed on through various traditional schools, the Guru Sampradayas with numerous branches, which are often perceived as independent Sampradayas. Most of the teachings today are derived from one of these philosophers. In all of them Bhakti, the loving devotion to Vishnu-Narayana, the avatars Krishna and Rama is a central point of their worship and teaching.

Sri-Sampradaya and Ramanandi-Sampradaya

The best-known representative of the Sri Sampradaya named after the goddess Sri Lakshmi is the philosopher Ramanuja (1017–1137). He taught vishisht-advaita , "qualified non-dualism", according to which "the all-one God Narayana is not an all-encompassing being that is inherently free of all differences, but by nature already possesses the individual souls and the inanimate as qualities" . Ramanuja represents the concept of a personal supreme being, Narayana . The connecting factor between the highest being and the individual souls is divine love.

A branch that appears independently today is the Ramanandi Sampradaya. It goes back to Ramananda (13th century), who was a student in the Ramanujas lineage, but later became independent. Ramananda placed Rama and Sita at the center of religious worship. A large part of the Vishnuit sadhus today are Ramanandis. The most famous followers were Kabir (1440–1518), who founded his own school and the later founder of Sikhism , Nanak . The Ramanandi Sampradaya itself has numerous sub-branches.

Brahma-Sampradaya and Gaudiya Sampradaya

The best- known representatives of the Brahma-Sampradaya named after the god Brahma are Madhva (probably 13th century), also called Anandatirtha, and the mystic Chaitanya (1486–1533), who mainly worked in Bengal , whose lineage, the Gaudiya Sampradaya, a subgroup of the Brahma-Sampradaya is. Madhva emphasized dualism, dvaita , and made a strict distinction between God, the material world ( Prakriti ) and souls. The goal is not becoming one with the divine, as followers of the Advaita doctrine, which he vehemently opposed, saw it, but bliss in Vaikuntha , Vishnu's "heaven", in the presence of the divine.

Chaitanya, on the other hand, emphasized both the duality and the simultaneous unity of God, souls and world. His philosophy is called acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva , the highest truth, God, is in an unimaginable way one (bheda) and yet different (abheda) from everything. The teaching is provided with the addition acintya , meaning “inconceivable”, since it cannot be grasped rationally.

While Vishnuites in the Madhva sense only make up a very small part, the many branches and twigs that emanated from Chaitanya's line are hardly manageable these days. Outstanding is Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakuras Gaudiya-Math, from which the Hare Krishna movement known in the West emerged as a branch.


In the Rudra-Sampradaya, named after the god Shiva ( Rudra ), the most famous representative is Vallabha (1479–1531). He represents suddha advaita , "pure non-dualism". According to this, Krishna is identical with the highest world soul, the Brahman , and includes the diversity of the world in himself. In his comments it is a particular concern of Vallabha to lead his followers on the “path of grace”, pushiti marga .

Vallabha's teaching is said to have descended from Vishnu Swami (approx. 13th century), an older master. He had taught advaita , the pure nonduality.

Kumara Sampradaya

The Kumara-Sampradaya, also Sanakadi-Sampradaya, was named after the four sons of the god Brahma , the Kumaras. The most important representative of this now less popular school is Nimbarka (probably 13th century). He established the philosophy of dvaita-advaita , the simultaneous duality and non-duality: God is simultaneously one and different from the world. According to this school, moksha , liberation, is attained through true knowledge, which in turn can be gained through true worship. For Nimbarka, in contrast to the other Vishnuitic teachings, Krishna is not an avatar, but the actual essence of God and, like Vallabha, he identifies Krishna with the Brahman. Nimbarka was known as a special devotee of the divine couple Radha and Krishna.

Reformed groups

In addition to the main sampradayas mentioned, there are about twelve larger Reformed groups, whose monks, the sadhus , sometimes practice extraordinary practices, such as those of the Sakhi Sampradaya, which adopt a female identity in their worship.

Followers of the Mahanubhoa Pantha completely reject the typical Hindu worship of the divine in the image . Even after their initiation, monks of the Harshachandi Pantha remain street sweepers, from whose caste they mostly come.

The Kabira Pantha goes back to the poet and mystic Kabir . Kabir was initially a Muslim, but turned away from it early on. He also incorporated the teachings of Islamic mysticism, Sufism , into his philosophy . His songs are still popular throughout India today.

The school of the spiritual teacher Swaminarayan , founded in the eighteenth century, is especially widespread in the Indian state of Gujarat . Members of this line maintain temples and centers around the world, especially through emigrated Hindus, such as the largest Hindu temple in Europe in London-Neasden .


In addition to the philosophical representatives, Vishnuism also knows another series of important saints, whose works, in addition to the Vishnuitic writings, are still an important basis of Vishnu worship today. In South India these include the Tamil Alvars , twelve poets (7th to 9th centuries) whose fervent hymns are said to have played a major role in the disappearance of Buddhism , which was then widespread in India . In western India it was above all the poet Tukaram (17th century), who was popular during his lifetime and a passionate follower of Krishna, whom he revered in songs and poems. He was sued by angry Brahmins because as a member of the lowest caste he was not allowed to spread the wisdom of the Vedas. For the Hindi-speaking population, however, Tulsidas (17th century) was particularly important, the author of the Hindu Ramayana . Even the songs of the mystic Mirabai (1498 to probably 1546), who already felt like Krishna's wife in her childhood, are still singing by Hindus in honor of God.

The most important texts of Vishnuism

Today Vishnuism is perhaps the largest among the Indian religions in terms of the number of believers, closely followed by Shaivism . He dominates the Indian middle class and is mainly represented in North India by the Brahma- Sampradaya and in South India mainly by the Shri-Sampradaya. Many famous people were followers of Vishnu, such as Mahatma Gandhi , who used a Rama mantra throughout his life. The first known western worshiper of Vishnu was Heliodoros (2nd century BC), a Greek ambassador to the court of King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra , who documented his worship on a pillar.

See also

Web links

Commons : Vishnuism  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Rigveda 1,154 de sa to 1,156 de sa , see Vishnu in the Rigveda .
  2. Helmuth von Glasenapp , The Philosophy of Indians
  3. ^ Website of the London BAPS Temple
  4. The Garuda Pillar of Heliodurus.