Hinduism began around 1500 BC as new people groups mingled with the people already living on the subcontinent of India. Over the centuries their religious beliefs combined and changed, forming what is known today as Hinduism.
This new religion of worshipping many gods (polytheism) and the forces of nature was at first very simple in its rituals and practice. As time passed Hinduism grew and changed, becoming increasingly complex. It is reported that there are approximately 330 million gods that can be worshipped in Hinduism.
Today, there are nearly one billion Hindus, living primarily in India. Hindus also make up large portions of the populations of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Trinidad and the Indonesian island of Bali.
The poetry, hymns, prayers and mythical legends of early Hinduism were written down and became known as the Vedas, Brahamanns, Aranyakas and the Upanishads. Together these writings are known as the Vedic literature.
The Upanishads developed the idea that behind all the multitudinous gods there is one force, and “Ultimate Reality”. This new Ultimate Reality was called “Brahman”. Brahman is an impersonal, monistic (“all is one”) force that takes no personal interest in any individual person.
With the passage of time, Hinduism developed the concept of Ultimate Reality toward a more personal notion of Brahman, who manifested i n three forms: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Protector/ Preserver, and Siva the Destroyer.
Beliefs Of Hinduism
Hinduism teaches that the universe is not real, and thus it cannot be the creation of a loving and personal God. For Hindus, the universe exists only in the mind of Brahman, the Hindu god.
According to Hinduism, the universe is in an endless cycle of destruction and recreation that occurs approximately every 4 billion years. Humanity must play its part in this endless “cycle” by constantly seeking to become “one” with Brahman.
To the Hindu, each human is part of the divine. They use the example that just as the air inside a jar is the same as the air outside a jar, so the “self ‘ (air in the jar) is part of the Divine essence (air outside the jar). Therefore, the goal of enlightenment is to lose the individual self and its separate identity into the Universal Self of Brahman.
Hinduism is not a religion with a single belief system. It is comprised of many beliefs and ideas that interact with and blend into each other. A person could be considered a staunch Hindu and believe in one god, many gods, or no god at all. This is not considered contradictory by a Hindu because all reality is seen as “one”.
Three other religions have developed out of Hinduism: Jainism, Buddhism (to be discussed in the following section) and Sikhism (which combines elements of Hinduism and Islam).
To the Hindu, mankind’s primary problem is his unawareness of his “divine nature”. Because of this unawareness, people become attached to earthly desires and individual needs.
Therefore, according to Hinduism, mankind must go through innumerable cycles of birth, death and rebirth in order to be purified of these desires and thereby attain to a loss of self in oneness with Brahman.
Two Major Beliefs
All Hindus essentially agree on two major facets of Hinduism: reincarnation and “karma”.
Reincarnation is the belief that the soul (atman), which is uncreated and eternal, must go repeatedly through recycling in this world. These repeated lives can be lived as a person, an animal, a plant, or even as an inanimate object (i.e., a rock). These continued reincarnations into various lives on “the great wheel of life” (samsara) are part of the “journey through suffering”. This journey supposedly purifies the soul in order to reach moksha – freedom from suffering and total union with the impersonal infinite.
The law of karma is the moral equivalent to the natural law of cause and effect. According to Hinduism, a person can build up good karma (merit) or bad karma (demerit) in this life. This karma (good or bad) becomes attached to the person’s soul and determines what kind of life and degree of suffering a person must endure in their next reincarnated life on the wheel of samsara.
These Hindu concepts of reincarnation and karma differ from the Word of God. The Bible states, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27).
The Hindu idea that the soul (atman) is uncreated and eternal, making possible endless reincarnations, also differs from Scripture. The Bible teaches that people are created by God (Gen 1:26, 27; 2:7) and each person will die once and then be resurrected at the judgment (1 Cor 15; Heb 9:27; Rev 20:11-13). All people have but one life to live.
The human soul is eternal in the sense that it will live on when the physical body dies. However, it will live on either in the presence of God (2 Cor 5:8), or in eternal judgment (Rev 20: 11-15). The human soul does not live on in another life on the earth.
The Hindu teaching on karma has a small amount of similarity to the biblical concept of sowing and reaping: the relationship between our choices or actions and the results that are produced by those choices and actions in our lives(Job 4:8;Prov 11:18;22:8;Gal 6:7,8).
However, karma differs from the Bible in the following significant ways:
- A person’s oneness with Brahman (“god”) is the same whether the person’s karma is good or bad. The Bible teaches, however, that sin damages and breaks mankind’s relationship with a perfectly holy and moral God. Sin reveals man’s selfish heart and his rebellion against a loving Creator.
- Karma does not allow for the possibility of forgiveness or mercy. The law of karma is an unchangeable concept with absolutely inevitable consequences.
But the Bible reveals a God Who is both just and merciful. Through what Christ did for all of mankind at the Cross – by dying in our place and fully satisfying the penalty for our sins – we can receive God’s forgiveness and have the broken relationship with Him mended. Christ’s willing sacrifice was the fulfillment of God’s sovereign will. He did this for all of mankind because God loves us all with an eternal love.
As with all false religions and cults, there is a small portion of truth contained in their beliefs. But this small amount of truth is corrupted by a large amount of deception and lies, which leads one away from what is true and real.
The full and undistorted truth is found ONLY in the Person of Jesus Christ and God ‘s plan of salvation as revealed in the Bible.
The chart below compares Hinduism and Christianity on other important doctrines:
- God – Infinite yet Personal Being.
- Humanity – Separate from the Person of God, created by God in His image for personal relationship with Him.
- Humanity’s Problem – Moral rebellion against a sovereign Lord and God.
- Solution to Humanity’s Problem- To repent of our selfish rebellion, receive God’s saving grace, and be reconciled to Him in personal relationship
- Means of Salvation- Trust in Christ’s finished work at the Cross to pay for our sins, and surrender of our lives to His Lordship in personal relationship with Him.
- Result of Salvation- Restoration of eternal and personal relationship with God.
- God-Impersonal force.
- Humanity-Extensions of the being of Brahman, always existing.
- Humanity’s Problem– Ignorance of man’s divinity.
- Solution to Humanity’s Problem– Enlightenment that sets one free from ignorance and the illusion of this life.
- Means of Salvation- Continuous striving to be free of one’s desires, seeking through personal effort a consciousness of unity with the divine within one’s self.
- Result of Salvation – Absorption into the “Oneness”; loss of all individuality.
For the Hindu, enlightenment is a major key to finding unity with Brahman, the “Ultimate Reality”. There are three basic paths to this unity:
- dharma: a path of works – by trying to fulfill a specific set of religious and social obligations. This will include staying within your caste, marrying within your caste, and raising up at least one son who will do the same.
- inana: the path of knowledge – a life of self-renunciation and meditation upon the pantheistic realities of Hinduism . This path includes the practice of yoga (a difficult physical regimen using breath control, posture and concentration in order to control one’s consciousness) . This path is open only to men in the highest castes.
- bhakti: the path of passionate devotion – this focuses usually on one god out of the 330 million gods of Hinduism. This path has its greatest appeal to the lower castes, and consists primarily of passionate worship of that one god, goddess or demigod chosen.
Worshipping Many Gods
This brief overview of Hinduism shows its orientation toward a kind of salvation by works and through the worship of many gods.
The practitioner of Hinduism is engaged in a search for enlightenment. The direction of his effort is from mankind toward God. All of his work is based on his own effort to attain this mystical state in the face of an impersonal god.
By contrast, in biblical Christianity it is God Who has taken the initiative. The direction of revelation and divine effort is God reaching toward humanity in love. And, as shown earlier, salvation is a free gift given by God which cannot be earned by human effort and striving (Rom 6:23; 1 John 4: 10). It can only be received by a person.
Also, the goal of Hinduism is the complete and total absorption of self into the divine, where there is no longer personal identity. This concept is often illustrated by the picture of a drop of water (a person’s soul) falling into and being completely absorbed by, or becoming one with, a larger body of water (the “Ultimate Reality” of Brahman).
For the Christian, biblical salvation means a restoration of relationship between a person and His sovereign God and Creator. Relationship, in order to be accomplished, requires two separate identities – God and a person. We were individually created by God and are called to be in communion with Him as an infinite yet personal and caring God; we are NOT called to be dissolved and absorbed into an impersonal force.
Practical Guidelines For Sharing With A Hindu
The following are some practical suggestions to help you effectively answer the questions of people who have a Hindu background:
- Seek first to understand.
Hinduism is more of a philosophical view of life and a perception of how the universe supposedly works, rather than a formal religion. Therefore, Hinduism has no single concept of Who God is. Hinduism seeks to bring all religions under its canopy, believing that there are many paths to God, and that He has many different names.
Because of this wide diversity and apparently tolerant attitude toward other religions, people who follow Hindu ism may have a wide variety of beliefs. It is essential that you ask key questions regarding God, man, sin, salvation, etc., and listen closely to their answers. Once you understand what they believe, you can better explain to them what the Bible teaches, and describe to them God’s true plan for humanity.
You can lovingly show them that there is ONE SURE WAY to God: Jesus Christ – Who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
- Focus on the life and teachings of Jesus.
Hindus regard Jesus as a “great teacher” or an “enlightened person”. Even Gandhi, a revered Indian Hindu leader, encouraged Hindus to study the teachings of Jesus (Hingorani 23). Hindus do NOT, however, consider Jesus Christ to be the only Son of God.
Hindus are attracted to Jesus’ suffering. They see it as a lifestyle to emulate, but not as the Bible describes it: an essential part of His mission to die for the sins of humanity.
Two facets of Jesus’ ministry are very effective in reaching Hindus: love and forgiveness. These two principles are powerful in drawing Hindus to Christ because they offer relief from the law of karma. Karma teaches that whatever you experience in life, especially suffering, is what you somehow deserve. According to karma, if bad things happen to someone, they must deserve it. Hindus believe they are suffering for something wrong they did in either this life or a previous life.
Thus, Hindus are openly responsive to love and acts of service and kindness. Show them passages in the Bible that reveal God ‘s unconditional love for them which is not based on their behavior (such as John 3:16; Romans 2:4, 8:31-39; and 1 John 4:16,19).
Forgiveness of sins is very important to everyone, but especially to Hindus. For the typical Hindu, there is no forgiveness for wrongdoing, only the accumulation of more bad karma. This bad karma results in worse suffering in this life, and more suffering in future reincarnated lives.
Remember that Hinduism is a salvation-by-works religion. Therefore, the truths of forgiveness of sins in Christ and God’s abundant love and grace will be excellent witnessing tools. Matthew 11:28-30 reveals that Jesus has taken on the burden of salvation for us. Also, Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5: I through 7:29) provide a good example of what it means to truly be a Christian.
Hindus often see Christians as spiritually inferior. That is because Christians will eat meat (which most Hindus will not); and Christians may consider material things to be blessings from God, whereas Hindus believe having less makes a person more spiritual. Hindus, therefore, regard poverty and suffering as virtues. For the Christian, however, neither wealth (Ps 62:10; Matt 6:19-24; Luke 12:15; 1 Tim 6:6- 10) nor poverty (Prov 30:7-9; Phil 4:11 -13) in and of themselves gain favor with God or achieve greater spirituality. The one thing of supreme importance to the Christian – whether rich or poor – is his true relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, keep a humble attitude when witnessing to a Hindu; but do not be timid. A Christian has a message that will be welcome news to a Hindu!
- Present the Personhood of God
For the Hindu, God (Brahman) is an impersonal “force”. Hindus believe that since their god (Brahman) is an impersonal force, then it follows that there could be many “paths” to finding Him.
However, the Bible reveals God to be loving, caring and personally interested i n each human being. We must continually show a person of Hindu background exactly how the Bible reveals God: as a loving Father, as a sacrificing and compassionate Savior.
We must also emphasize that Christianity is not about more empty religious practices or another “path to God”. Rather, Christianity is about a personal relationship between the God Who is personal and each individual who turns to Him in faith for salvation.
Jesus continually showed His personal nature in His warm and approachable way of ministering to:
- the poor (Luke 4:18; 7:22);
- the diseased (Matt 11:4-6; Luke 4:40);
- the demon-possessed (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 4:41);
- the lame (Matt 4:24 ; 9: 1-8);
- the social outcast (Luke 19:1-10);
- the sinner (Luke 15:1-7; John 8: 1-11).
When asked by His disciples to show them what God is like, Jesus answered: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:7-11).
The God of the Bible is intensely interested in the life of each person. He cares about each daily need (Matt 6:25-34; 7:7- 11) as well as each eternal destiny (Luke 19:10; Rom 5:6-8; 2 Cor 5:19,20).
Hinduism teaches that mankind’s failures and sins are due to ignorance. But it is clear that many people know what is right to do – yet they do not do it. Sin and failure are a result of rebellion and disobedience. Our sin is against a holy and morally perfect God; no amount of works (dharma), knowledge (inana) or devotion (bhakti) can bring us to God or save us (Matt 7:21-23; Gal 2: 16; Eph 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5).
God the Father loves each person with an everlasting love (Rom 8:37-39; 1 John 4:19) and sent God the Son into the world (john 3:16-21) to save us from sin and from an eternity of separation from Him. God loves us so much that He was willing to make a great sacrifice in order to show His love for us and to provide a way back to Him through Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9,10).
God loves the Hindu as much as He loves any other person, and is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). The Gospel is truly glorious news for the Hindu – and you have this news to share!