Parallels Between Hindu and Mormon Scripture

by John P. Pratt

A paper submitted to World Religions (Honors) class at University of Utah 30 Oct 1967
©2012 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

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A Comparison of the Upanishads (Hindu Scripture) to the Doctrine & Covenants (Mormon Scripture).

In the face of the overwhelming differences between Hindu and Mormon theologies, can there exist any similarities between them? Since both religions have a set of writings considered scripture, what parallels are to be found among them? Millions of people believe that Hindu scriptures contain many "truths," and likewise many people accept Mormon scripture as "truth." If, in fact, both sets of scripture are based on fundamental verity, then there should exist similarities. If no similarities exist, then the proposition that both contain truth becomes difficult to support. If, on the other hand, several parallels exist, then the possibility arises that these theologies do contain true principles and that perhaps they even had the same Source.

In this treatise, such parallels will be considered, and to strengthen the comparison, only similarities will be considered that differ from most non-Mormon Christian doctrines. Only one book of Hindu scripture will be considered ­ the Upanishads, which were written over a period of about four centuries, terminating near 300 B.C.[1] Some of them are perhaps the oldest philosophical compositions of the world.[2] They are believed by the Hindus to be inspired, although not in the sense of direct revelation from God.

Mormonism is based on the teachings of Joseph Smith, who claimed to receive several revelations of truth directly from God. Mormon scripture consists, in part, of a collection of such revelations and other teachings of Joseph Smith.

Immediately, therefore, the possibility exists of comparing the teachings of the Upanishads to those of Mormonism. It is realized at the outset that the Eastern and Western ways of thought are so dissimilar that any attempt to compare them effectively must overcome a myriad of obstacles. A values comparison of an Eastern religion, such as Hinduism, and any Christian sect could prove an almost overwhelmingly difficult task to do objectively, because the matter is mostly subjective. Each person must decide for himself what religion best satisfies his needs. Thus, in this treatise, the author shall make no attempt to expound on the virtues of this or that faith, or point of view. In fact, not even a full comparison will be attempted, because of the vast gulf of differences encountered, but only an observation of the similarities of the two systems.

It is further understood that an attempt to find parallels between a Western and an Eastern religion must necessarily be exposed to an attack that any similarities are merely superficial; that the underlying principles are so entirely different that any apparent similarities are only coincidental and of as little consequence as saying that a dog is similar to a chair because they both have four legs and a back.

However, the author takes issue with the latter contention. Mormonism, for example, has a doctrine fundamentally different in many respects from most other Christian religions, and it will be seen that in many of these very areas of dissimilarity Mormonism has much in common with Hinduism. Admittedly, the similarities are only similarities, the basic doctrines being totally different, but these parallels cease to be superficial when the degree of similarity is considered and contrasted with opposing teachings of other religions.

There also exists the problem of false similarities built upon verses taken out of context and twisted to agree with common Christian, or in this case, Mormon notions. As an illustration, consider the following from the Upanishads:

Therefore he who has crossed that bank, if blind, ceases to be blind; if wounded, ceases to be wounded; if afflicted, ceases to be afflicted. Therefore when that bank has been crossed, night becomes day indeed, for the world of Brahman is lighted up once for all.[3m]

Compare with Mormon teachings:

Old people will not look old when they come forth from the grave. Scars will be removed. No one will be bent or wrinkled.... If there has been some deformity or physical impairment in this life, it will be removed.[4]

Here, both Hindu and Mormon philosophy seem to be saying the same thing ­ that in the eternal world we will be freed from the physical problems of this life. However, the underlying doctrine is drastically different. That is, for the Mormon it means that he will resurrect with his same physical body, free from imperfections, while to the Hindu it means that he will be free from all physical bodies, the cycle of reincarnation will stop and he will become literally "one" with the Eternal Being and so be free from all physical handicaps. Thus, the danger of simply finding similarities of words is recognized; however, if the majority of Christianity believed that in the eternal world we would retain all physical imperfections, then the similarity would take on newfound significance, in spite of the gulf separating the two systems of thought.

Basic to any religion is the concept of man. Though Hindu and Mormon concepts differ in most points, one strong point in common between them is the declaration that man is eternal, that his true, inner self was never created nor can it be destroyed.


The knowing Self is not born; It does not die. It has not sprung from anything; nothing has sprung from It. Birthless, eternal, everlasting, and ancient, It is not killed when the body is killed.[5n]


Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be.[6]

. . . if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.[7]

This conflicts, of course, with most Christians doctrines claiming that God created man. It is because of this that the author submits the similarity as valid, however great the differences between the two doctrines of man's relationship to the Supreme may be.

The concept of God is also fundamental to religion. Consider the following descriptions of Brahman, the Ultimate for the Hindu:

In the beginning this (world) was only the self, in the shape of a person. Looking around he saw nothing else than the self. He first said, "I am." [8r]

Verily, in the beginning this world was Brahman, the infinite one, infinite in the east, infinite in the south, infinite in the west, infinite in the north and above and below, infinite in every direction. For him, indeed, east and the other directions exist not nor across, nor below, nor above. Incomprehensible is that Supreme Self, unlimited, unborn, not to be reasoned about, not to be thought of (unthinkable), he whose self is space. At the dissolution of all he alone remains awake. Thus from that space, he awakes this (world) which consists of thought only.[9r]

The immortal Self is the sun shining in the sky, he is the breeze blowing in space, he is the fire burning on the altar, he is the guest dwelling in the house; he is in all men, he is in the gods, he is in the ether, he is wherever there is truth; . . . he, the changeless reality, the illimitable![10p]

When He shines, everything shines after Him; by His light everything is lighted. That immortal Brahman alone is before, that Brahman is behind, that Brahman is to the right and left, Brahman alone pervades everything above and below; this universe is that Supreme Brahman alone.[11n]

Now that light which shines above this heaven, higher than all, higher than everything, in the highest world, beyond which there are no other worlds, that is the same light which is within man.[12m]

The concept of Brahman is twofold. One aspect, the Nirguna Brahman, is devoid of all qualifying characteristics and cannot be comprehended. It is neither "gross nor minute, neither short nor long, neither redness nor moisture, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor akasa, unattached, without savour or odour, without eyes or ears, without vocal organ or mind, nonluminous, without vital force or mouth, without measure, and without interior or exterior." The Inferior Brahman, Brahman with positive attributes, on the other hand, has been described as He "whose body is spirit, whose form is light, whose thoughts are true, whose nature is like akasa, from whom all works, all desires, all odours, and all tastes proceed." The Inferior Brahman is often called Saguna Brahman. The Upanishads tend to designate Brahman with attributes by the masculine 'He', and the attributeless Brahman by the neuter 'It'."[13] It is to be remembered, however, that there is but one Reality, the Personal Saguna Brahman being a manifestation of the Supreme Nirguna Brahman.[14]

In Mormon theology, God is a Personal God, and is not all-pervading. He has a definite form and can be in but one place at a time.[15] However, his influence is everywhere present, this being accomplished through a medium called the Spirit of Christ or the Light of Christ.

He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;

As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;

And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space ­

That light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.[16]

He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever. . . . Behold, all these (sun, moon, and stars) are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.[17]

The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God; . . .[18]

This Spirit of Christ, however, is not worshipped as a God by the Mormons, but it is a medium through which God operates, and nothing more. Emphasizing this distinction between the Personal God and this Impersonal Spirit through which He operates, one Mormon scriptorian states that, "we should speak of the Holy Ghost as a personage as 'he' and this other Spirit as 'it,'. . ." [19]

What is the relationship of man to God? What is the ultimate that man can obtain? Both Hinduism and Mormonism affirm that man can become as God. The Upanishads state:

When a seer sees the creator of golden hue, the Lord, the Person, the source of Brahma, then being a knower, shaking off good and evil and free from stain, he attains supreme equality with the Lord.[20r]

One translator, commenting on this verse, states, "Eternal life is said to consist in attaining an absolute likeness to God and enjoying a life of personal immortality."[21]

Mormon doctrine states, concerning those who keep all the Mormon laws and covenants, that

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject to them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.[22]

Again, let it be understood that the manner in which man may become "one" with God is completely different in the two religions; the Hindu being in a much more literal sense and without a physical body, whereas the Mormon emphasizes the equality, which includes a physical body, and not the "oneness," though this unity is important in a more figurative aspect. The author's only claim is that both religions exalt man, giving him an importance comparable to that of God, and claim his potential is unbounded.

But if man is to return to God and have eternal life, how is he to do it? Here, both Hinduism and Mormonism provide intricate systems and methods to perfect oneself and return to God. The detailed mechanisms of the religions shall not be treated here; suffice it that both include self-control, love, and other fundamental principles common to many religions. However, unlike most religions, both agree that knowledge of God is the most basic saving principle. This is perhaps the main theme of the Upanishads, that eternal life comes only through knowing God.

He who knows the Supreme Brahman verily becomes Brahman. In his family no one is born ignorant of Brahman. He overcomes grief; he overcomes evil; free from the fetters of the heart, he becomes immortal.[23n]

However, this true knowledge of God is attained only by following
certain principles, which are outlined in detail in the Upanishads.

By learning, a man cannot know him (Brahman), if he desist not from evil, if he control not his senses, if he quiet not his mind, and practice not meditation.[24p]

Thus the righteous, controlled life is a means toward the end of knowing Brahman. In Mormonism, the life of keeping the commandments is also a means toward the goal of knowing God and becoming like Him. Although generally the latter concept, that of becoming perfect, is stressed, the former, that of knowing Him, is actually the more fundamental.

If any man does not know God and . . . will search diligently his own heart . . . he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle. . . .

It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, . . .[25]

This is eternal lives ­ to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.[26]

While Christianity debates whether a man is saved by grace or by his works, both the Upanishads and Mormonism affirm that both knowledge of God, upon which "faith" for the Mormon is usually based, and works are necessary for eternal life. Consider, for example, the following verse:

Into blinding darkness enter those who worship ignorance and those who delight in knowledge enter into still greater darkness, as it were.[27r]

Various translators seem to agree on the meaning of this verse. One
says that

The verse refers also to the dichotomy of work and wisdom and suggests that while those who are lost in works without the wisdom of the spirit enter into darkness, those who are exclusively devoted to the pursuit of wisdom, to the neglect of works, enter into still greater darkness. Selfish seekers of spiritual wisdom miss their aim. The Upanishad repudiates both schools of thought ­ those who hold that salvation is attained only by means of works and those who hold that it is attained by knowledge alone.[28]

That salvation for the Mormon is based on knowledge has been shown; that it is also based on works is to be seen in many Mormon scriptures:

the last great day of judgment, which I shall pass upon the inhabitants thereof, judging every man according to his works and the deeds which he hath done.[29]

One of the first questions a religion is faced with is, Is there life after death? If so, what is it like? The Hindu and Mormon answers to the second question have little in common, the former responding with reincarnation of the soul until it comes to really know Brahman, the latter declaring a literal resurrection. However, one interesting similarity arises in the description of the three possible spheres of existence after this life. Consider the Hindu doctrine:

The year, verily, is Prajapati, and there are two paths thereof: the Southern and the Northern. Those who perform sacrifices and engage in pious actions, as duties to be done, win only the World of the Moon; verily they return hither again. Therefore the rishis who desire offspring travel by the Southern Path. This Path of the Fathers is rayi, food.

But those who seek the Self through austerity, chastity, faith, and knowledge travel by the Northern Path and win the Sun. The Sun, verily, is the support of all lives. He is immortal and fearless; He is the final goal. Thence they do not return. This path is blocked (for the ignorant).[30n]

Then Satya-kama, son of Shibi, asked him: Venerable Sir, what world does he, who among men, meditates on (the syllable) Aum until the end of his life win by that?

To him, he said: That which is the sound Aum, O Satya-kama, is verily the higher and the lower Brahman. Therefore, with this support alone does the wise man reach the one or the other.

If he meditates on one element (a), he, enlightened even by that, comes quickly to the earth (after death). The Roas (verses) lead him into the world of men. There, endowed with austerity, chastity and faiths, he experiences greatness.

Then, (if he meditates on this) as of two elements (au) he attains the mind. He is led by the yajus (formulas) to the intermediate space, the world of the moon; having experienced greatness there, he returns hither again.

But if he meditates on the highest person with the three elements of the syllable Awn (a, u, m), he becomes one with the light, the sun. Even as a snake is freed from its skin, even so is he freed from sins.[31r]

The Mormon concept of the hereafter is found in a very descriptive revelation, sometimes referred to as "The Vision."

And again we bear record ­ for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just ­ . . .

They are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.

And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo,, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fullness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament....

And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.[32]

Here the three kingdoms are compared to the sun, moon, and stars rather than to the sun, moon, and earth, but the parallel is strengthened upon understanding that, in Mormon teaching, this earth is now in a "telestial" state, the same as the kingdom compared to the glory of the stars.[33]

Fundamental to Hinduism is the concept of maya. Brahman is unchanging; the universe is Brahman ­ but the universe is constantly changing ­ or appears to be. This paradox is explained by maya ­ the illusion of reality displayed by Brahman. From the standpoint of the Absolute, the world is not real, but is a mere manifestation of maya. The figure of a veil has often been used by Hindu philosophers to describe maya.[34] As long as man's contact with the world is only through his physical body and senses, he will be deceived. He finds truth only as he looks within himself and, penetrating the veil of maya, finds reality.[35]

If the sage desires to see his fathers of the spirit-world, lo, his fathers come to meet him. In their company he is happy. . . .

And if he desires to see his friends of the spirit-world, lo, his friends come to meet him. In their company he is happy. . . .

Indeed, whatsoever such a knower of Brahman may desire, straightway it is his; and having obtained it, he is exalted of men. The fulfillment of right desires is within reach of everyone, but a veil of illusion obstructs the ignorant. That is why, though they desire to see their dead, their beloved, they cannot see them.

Do we wish for our beloved, among the living or among the dead, or is there aught else for which we long, yet, for all our longing, do not obtain? lo, all shall be ours if we but dive deep within, even to the lotus of the heart, where dwells the Lord. Yea, the object of every right desire is within our reach, though unseen, concealed by a veil of illusion.[36p]

Mormon teachings also use the idea of a veil quite commonly in referring both to our apparent separation from the eternal world and also to our forgetting of pre-earth existence. However, a man of great faith can, under certain circumstances, penetrate this "veil" and see the eternal.

And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil; and he saw the finger of Jesus, which, when he saw, he fell with fear; for he knew that it was the finger of the Lord; and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting.[37]

. . . could we all come together with one heart and one mind in perfect faith the veil might as well be rent today as next week, or any other time .. . [38]

. . . we are looked upon by God as though we were in eternity; God dwells in eternity, and does not view things as we do.[39]

A common Christian notion is that God, being all-powerful, created the universe out of "nothing." Such reasoning is unacceptable to both the Mormon and the Hindu points of view.


Some say that in the beginning there was non-existence only, and that out of that the universe was born. But how could such a thing be? How could existence be born of non-existence? No, my son, in the beginning there was Existence alone ­ One only, without a second.[40p]


Now, the word "create" came from the word "baurau," which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize . . . Hence we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos ­ chaotic matter, which is element and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had.[41]

Finally, both Mormon and Hindu scriptures contain several similar aphorisms, especially concerning truth and joy.

There is no joy in the finite. Only in the Infinite is there joy.[42p]

. . . men are, that they might love joy.[43]

Truth alone conquers, not untruth.[44r] (This motto is inscribed on the seal of the Indian nation.)[45]

The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.[46]

The good is one thing; the pleasant, another. Both of these, serving different needs, bind a man. It goes well with him who, of the two, takes the good; but he who chooses the pleasant misses the end.[47n]

If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.[48]

As a man acts so does he become. . . . As a man's desire is, so is
his destiny.[41p]

Can there be similarities between Hinduism and Mormonism? Yes, most definitely. Although the outward ceremonies and methods are vastly different, many fundamental concepts are strikingly similar, including those of God, man, and man's potential. Though the religious superstructures are not recognizably related, the hidden foundations are of the same pattern. Could they have had the same Architect?


(Note: All direct quotes from the Upanishads are indicated by a lower case letter following the footnote number, the letter being the first letter of the translator's surname. See Bibliography.) [m ­ Müller; n ­ Nikhilananda; p ­ Prabhavananda; r ­ Radhakrishnan.)

1. John B. Noss, Man's Religions, McMillan, New York, 1964, p. 139.
2. S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanisads, Harper, New York, p. 22.
3m. Chandogya VIII. 4. 2. (p. 130.)
4. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1954, vol. 2, p. 292.
5n. Katha 1. 2. 18. (p. 73)
6. Doctrine and Covenants 93:29.
7. Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3:18.
8r. Brhad-aranyaka I. 4. 1. (p. 163.)
9r. Maitri VI. 17. (p. 829-830.)
10p. Katha II. 2. 2. (p. 22.)
11n. Mundaka II. 2. 10-11. (p. 115.)
12m. Chandogya III. 13. 7. (p. 47.)
13. Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads, Harper & Row, New York, 1963, p. 32. 14. Ibid., pp. 32, 39.
15. Orson Pratt, Orson Pratt's Works, Deseret News Press, Salt Lake City, 1945, p. 39.
16. Doctrine and Covenants 88:6-13.
17. Ibid., 88:41, 47.
18. Ibid., 93:35.19. Joseph Fielding Smith, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 50.
20r. Mundaka III. 1. 3. (p. 686.)
21. Radhakrishnan, op. cit., p. 687.
22. Doctrine and Covenants 132:20.23n. Mundaka III. 2. 9. (p. 118.)
24p. Katha I. 2. 24. (p. 19.)
25. Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1946, vol. VI, pp. 305-306.
26. Doctrine and Covenants 132:24.
27r. Isha 9. (p. 573.)
28. Radhakrishnan, pp. 573-574.
29.Doctrine and Covenants 19:3.
30n. Prasna I. 9-10. (p. 148.)
31r. Prasna V. 1-5. (pp. 664-665.)
32. Doctrine and Covenants 76: 50, 70-71, 81.
33. Joseph Fielding Smith, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 87.
34. Nikhilananda, op. cit., p. 40.
35. Katha II. 1. 1.
36p. Chandogya VIII. 2. 1,5; VIII. 3. 1-2. (pp. 74-75.)
37. The Book of Mormon, Ether 3:19.
38. Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith , Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1963, p. 9.39. Joseph Smith, Jr., op. cit., vol. VI, p. 312.
40p. Chandogya VI. 2. 1-2. (p. 68.)
41. Joseph Smith, Jr., op. cit., vol. VI, p. 310.
42p. Chandogya VII. 23. 1. (p. 73.)43. The Book of Mormon, II Nephi 2:25.
44r. Mundaka III. 1. 6. (p. 688.)
45. Radhakrishnan, op. cit., p. 688.
46. Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.
47n. Katha I. 2. 1. (p. 71.)
48. Pearl of Great Price, The Articles of Faith, 13.
49p. Brhad-aranyaka IV. 4. 5. (p. 109.)


Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1963.

Doctrine and Covenants. Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1964.

Müller, F. Max, The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 1, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1879.

Nikhilananda, Swami, The Upanishads, New York, Harper and Row, 1963.

Noss, John B., Man's Religions, New York, Macmillan, 1964.

Pearl of Great Price. Salt Lake City, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1964.

Prabhavananda, Swami, and Manchester, Frederick, The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal, New York, New American Library, 1957.

Pratt, Orson, Orson Pratt's Works, compiled by Parker Pratt Robinson, Salt Lake City, Deseret News Press, 1945.

Radhakrishnan, S., The Principal Upanisads, New York, Harper, 1953.

Smith, Joseph, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, periods I and II, 7 vols., Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1946.

Smith, Joseph Fielding, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1954-1956.

Smith, Joseph Fielding, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1963.