Around the same time that the Israelites were serving the kings of Egypt as a slave labor force, the winds of change were blowing across the geographic area we know today as the Ukraine. For reasons that are unknown to us today, a great dispersion of the nomadic Indo-European tribes known as the Aryans was occurring causing them to migrate eastward. While many are known to have remained in Turkey and Iran, a good many continued the trek until they landed in India. While next to nothing of the Aryan civilization remains for the archaeologist’s spade, they have left for us their scriptures known as the Vedas or book of wisdom or knowledge. These form the foundation for the religion known as Hinduism, a religion that, while mostly concentrated in India, is practiced by 13.3% of the world’s population. As we consider this great world religion, we will concentrate on its major belief systems, its ordinary practice, and finally how it compares to Christianity, a religion it predates by nearly 1500 years.

In the ancient Vedas a picture is painted of the Aryan tribes fighting their way across the Indus and Ganges plains. Their religion consisted of the head of the tribe offering animal sacrifice in much the same way as did the Jewish patriarch Abraham. Once settled, the Aryans developed a regular priesthood that moved from monotheism to henotheism and finally into polytheism: the worship of many gods. However, Hinduism has continued to develop since the time of the ancient Vedas until now. It has become not one religion but rather an entire family of religions with a wide variety of beliefs and practices to choose from. Hindu believers range from monotheists to polytheists to pantheists to agnostics and atheists. Hinduism is, to say the least, very fluid by nature.

Despite the fact that Hinduism has no formal creeds or doctrines, there are some major beliefs that are generally held and readily apparent in the cultures where it dominates. Two of their beliefs are ones that remain in the background most of the time while three of them are often seen in the foreground of Hindu thought.

In the background are Monism and Dharma. Monism is the very essence of Hindu philosophy. The self is related to ultimate reality or Brahman and with everything and everyone else. Put another way, all is one and one is all. Dharma is an eternal law which enables all things to function harmoniously. Dharma regulates the life force within plants, animals, humans, and inanimate objects. The law of Dharma also ensures the continuous life of everything even if it is in another form. This reinforces the idea of reincarnation.

In the foreground of Hindu thinking is Karma, Maya, Samsara. Karma is an eternal law of cause and effect. Karma will determine your present lot in life but also your future life as well. Karma will bring good fortune on the person who does good deeds and bad fortune on the person who does bad deeds. Since no one is totally good or totally bad in their behavior, one can only hope that there is more good than bad. Good or bad karma may not effect your present life or the life after that either. But at some point you will receive the benefits of either in determining your status in future lives. Technically, in the Hindu conception of reincarnation you have no memory of your previous lives. This means that you can’t really learn from your previous mistakes and therefore will probably never be able to ascend into a higher life form anyway. 

Maya is the idea that all of reality is illusory. If something is good, beautiful, tragic or evil, truly it is not. While it is an illusion it is to be taken seriously even as a person takes their dreams seriously while they are asleep. It may be a false reality but its the only one you are experiencing at the moment. Maya is very closely related to karma. If a Hindu person walks by a young man ravaged by disease or a woman being raped, they are only receiving the karma that is due them. As the rainy season in Bangladesh dislocates and kills thousands every year with flooding, it is no concern. It is all illusion.

Samsara is the endless cycle of change in the world. Everything is constantly changing and in the process of becoming something different. This works perfectly with the principles of karma, maya, and reincarnation. It also allows the person living in the squalor of India to adapt more easily to the precariousness of life.

Out of these general beliefs emerge some specific Hindu behaviors. One of these that is particularly hard to understand outside the pale of Hinduism is the caste system or the classing of people on a scale of worth, value, and privilege. In the western world this would be called discrimination or racism because we have, at least as a public ideal, the belief in the equality of persons before God and each other. In the Hindu belief system, Brahman created “Manu” the very first man. Out of him came the many different classes of people, thus the caste system is one that is inspired by the force behind all reality. Two other resulting behaviors of the Hindu belief system are resignation and Ahimsa or compassion. Because Samsara means all is forever changing and reincarnation means a person will have innumerable lives ahead, life can be lived with an attitude of resignation. No privilege, problem, sweetness or sorrow is really of final consequence to the Hindu. Part of this resignation is the importance of playing your part in this life well. If you have been born to a low caste or born to a high one and you do it well, it will produce good karma and elevate you in a future life. As the law of Dharma regulates the life force that is in all things, so Ahimsa is the next logical belief. If everything is alive and has its harmonious place in this world, so we must be compassionate to all things. Live and let live as the saying goes.

Like Buddhism’s Nirvana, Hinduism also seeks a final escape from endless reincarnation and embodied existence under the name of Moksha. The goal is to be a spirit being no longer having to endure the pains of this life. It is the responsibility of the Hindu to find his own pathway to Moksha. There are three major pathways to Moksha; the first is the way of action or Karma Marga. This entails rightly doing the rituals and requirements of your caste in every stage of your life. Fulfill these and you are living in the way of action. The second path is Jnana Marga-the way of knowledge. This requires a heavy commitment to the disciplines of yogic meditation. As you meditate for long periods of time you will slowly discover your true self. This will make it possible to attain Moksha even in this life. Bhakti Marga or the way of devotion is the Hindu pathway most well known to westerners because of the Hare Krishna movement. The way of devotion entails finding one of the 3 million gods of Hinduism and learning to worship, love, and bargain with it-him-her. This is usually done with the help of a guru or spiritual teacher.

Hinduism is a highly individual religion. Because of this worship and rituals may be practiced at home or in a temple or sacred place with equal validity. Before worship can begin the Hindu must go through purification rites. These might entail ritual bathing and foot washing, perfuming, rinsing mouth, dressing in special clothing, bell ringing, hymn singing, and burning of incense. Once purification has been made then the adherent is to offer Puja or worship. This would be showing respect to the god, making requests, offering ritual food, presenting flowers and gifts at the alter, chanting, and reading the Hindu scriptures. While images and statuary are used in Hindu worship they do not believe they are the gods, but rather they are indwelt by the gods.

While there is a chasm between Christianity and Hinduism as religions, there are at least some truths both would affirm albeit from differing trajectories. The Hindu belief that reality is an illusion is one example. Certainly the Christian worldview would affirm that while the physicality of the earth is true, much of life as it is lived here is an illusion and vanity that is to be avoided. While the Hindu seeks release from embodied existence and its miseries through Moksha, there is also the desire and hope of Heaven for the Christian where he will also escape once and for all the sin and death which afflict his earthly existence and be with his God (Rev. 21). Finally there is the belief in the law of Karma. Once again, in Christianity there is a law of cause and effect. If a Christian lives a life of sin he bears consequences for it in this life and possible loss of reward in the next. Conversely, while living righteously is no guarantee of reward in this life (see Job) it is certainly guaranteed in the next.

The differences between Christianity and Hinduism are radical. Hinduism sees the physical realm as more or less one and the same as God. It considers the cosmos of no importance in seeking God. Christian belief sees God as separate from the physical realm of earth and yet it is a reflection of His goodness and glory. Though it is under a curse, it still speaks to man about His creator and one day will be redeemed with man.

Christians worship one God whose name is Yahweh. He is infinite, personal, holy, and loving. He is our creator and has made man for His pleasure and our blessing. In Hinduism, God is impersonal and indefinable. Lesser gods are worshipped and known but they still have a god behind them that is unknowable.

In Hinduism, Man is without self or self-worth. He is of equal value to a rock or cow and of one essence with all of life created by an unknowable and impersonal god or principle. Christianity teaches that Man is created in the image of God and this one fact elevates him above the rest of creation. Though he has fallen into sin, he is so valuable to God that God came in human flesh and paid the penalty for man’s sin making it possible to forgive and redeem him.

Finally, sin and salvation in the Hindu conception are defined as not living in accordance with your caste or ignorance and seeking a release from the endless cycle of reincarnation. In Christian doctrine sin is an act of personal rebellion against a perfect and holy God. Salvation is an escape from eternal punishment to an eternal life as a gift from a loving God to all who call on His son Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

As Christian thinker and apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote: “If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” Hinduism is one religion that fits such a description. While the culture it is tied to is exotic, beautiful, and to be respected, Hinduism as a religion is not logically consistent and has almost no historic basis. While some of its teachings might have a hint of truth behind them, they are quickly overshadowed by an even greater amount of error.

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