|Hinduism is not only one of the oldest of all religious systems, it is also one of the most complex. During its history Hinduism has spawned a variety of sects holding diverse beliefs; therefore, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of Hinduism without considering a vast array of history and commentary.
But all the various sects believe in:
» Brahman, the eternal Trimutri, or Three-in-One God: Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer;
» Submission to Fate, since man is not outside, but part of Brahman;
» The Caste System, determined by the laws of Manu;
» The Law of Karma, that from good must come good, and from evil must come evil;
» Reincarnation, as a chain of rebirths in which each soul, through virtuous living, can rise to a higher state;
» Nirvana, the final stage reached upon the emancipation of the soul from the chain of rebirths; Yogas, the disciplines which enable the individual to control the body and the emotions; and Dharma, the Law of Moral Order, which each individual must find and follow to reach nirvana.
John Baker observes:
It is the essence of Hinduism that there are many different ways of looking at a single object, none of which will give the view of the whole, but each of which is entirely valid in its own right.
Hinduism is tolerant of other religions because Hindus see a sameness in all of them.
The Hindu scriptures, written through a period of 2,000 years (1400 B.C. -A.D. 500) are voluminous. They reflect the practices and beliefs, which arose during the different long periods of Hindu history.
The word Veda literally means wisdom or knowledge. It is the term applied to the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, originally transmitted orally and then subsequently preserved in written form. The vedas contain hymns, prayers and ritual texts composed during a period of a thousand years, beginning about 1400 B.C.
The upanishads are a collection of speculative treatises. They were composed during the period 800-600 B.C., and 108 of them are still in existence. The word upanishad conveys the idea of secret teaching. Its treatises mark a definite change in emphasis from the sacrificial hymns and magic formulas in the vedas to the mystical ideas about man and the universe, specifically the eternal Brahman, which is the basis of all reality, and the atman, which is the self or the soul. The upanishads reportedly had an influence upon Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, as can be observed in some basic similarities between the upanishads and the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism.
The Ramayana is one of the two major epic tales of India, the other being the Mahabharata. Authorship is ascribed to the sage-poet Valmiki. The work consists of 24,000 couplets based upon the life of Rama, a righteous king who was supposedly an incarnation of the God Vishnu.
The Mahabharata is the second epic; an immense story of the deeds of Aryan clans. It consists of some 100,000 verses and was composed over an 800-year period beginning about 400 B.C. Contained within this work is a great classic, the Bhagavad Gita, or the "Song of the Blessed Lord."
The Bhagavad Gita is not only the most sacred book of the Hindus, but it is also the best known and the most read of all Indian works in the entire world, despite the fact it was added late to the Mahabharata, sometime in the first century A.D.
The story revolves around man's duty, which, if carried out, will bring nothing but sorrow. The significance this story has on Hindu belief is its endorsement of bhakti, or devotion to a particular god, as a means of salvation, since Arjuna, the story's main character, decides to put his devotion to Vishnu above his own personal desires. The Gita ends with Arjuna devoted to Vishnu and ready to kill his relatives in battle.
This poem has inspired millions of Hindus who, because of their own situation, have identified with Arjuna and his dilemma. The poem offers hope, through the way of devotion, to all people no matter what their caste or sex. The poor and downtrodden who could not achieve salvation through the way of works or the way of knowledge can now achieve it through the way of devotion.
These two epic stories, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, depict characters who have become ideals for the people of India in terms of moral and social behavior.
The Puranas are an important source for the understanding of Hinduism. They include legends of gods, goddesses, demons and ancestors, and they describe pilgrimages and rituals to demonstrate the importance of bhakti, caste and dharma.
Moksha, also known as mukti, is the Hindu term used for the liberation of the soul from the wheel of karma. For the Hindu, the chief aim of the existence is to be freed from samsara (the binding life-cycle) and the wheel of karma with its endless cycle of births, deaths and rebirths. When one achieves this liberation, he enters into a state of fullness or completion.
The word karma literally means action and refers to a person's actions and the consequences thereof. In Hinduism, one's present state of existence is determined by his performance in previous lifetimes. The law of karma is the law of moral consequence, or the effect of any action upon the performer in a past, present or even future existence. As one performs righteous acts, he moves toward liberation from the cycle of successive births and deaths.
Contrariwise, if one's deeds are evil, he will move further from liberation. The determining factor is one's karma. The cycle of births, deaths and rebirths could be endless.
Samsara refers to transmigration or rebirth. It is the passing through a succession of lives based upon the direct reward or penalty of one's karma. This continuous chain consists of suffering from the results of acts of ignorance or sin in past lives. At each successive rebirth, the soul, which the Hindus consider to be eternal, moves from one body to another and carries with it the karma from its previous existence.
The rebirth may be to a higher form, i.e., a member of a higher caste or god, or down the social ladder to a lower caste or animal, since the wheel of karma applies to both man and animals.
The caste system is a unique feature of the Hindu religion. The account of its origin is an interesting story. Brahma created Manu, the first man. From Manu came the four different types of people, as the creator Brahma determined. From Manu's head came the Brahmins, the best and most holy people. Out of Manu's hands came the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors. The craftsmen came from his thighs and are called Vaisyas. The remainder of the people came from Manu's feet and are known as Sudras.
The caste system became more complicated as time went on, with literally thousands of subcastes coming into existence. Today the caste system is still an integral part of the social order of India, even though it has been outlawed by the Indian government.
From early times the Hindus revered the cow and considered it a possessor of great power. The following verses from the Atharva Veda praise the cow, identifying it with the entire visible universe:
Worship to thee, springing to life, and worship to thee when born! Worship, 0 Cow, to thy tail-hair, and to thy hooves, and to thy form! . . . The Cow is Heaven, the Cow is Earth, the Cow is Vishnu, Lord of Life . . . He who hath given a Cow unto the Brahmans winneth all the worlds . . . Both Gods and mortal men depend for life and being on the Cow. She hath become this universe; all that the sun surveys is she (Atharva Veda X: 10).
Hinduism and Christianity
On the subject of God, Hinduism's supreme being is the undefinable, impersonal Brahman, a philosophical absolute. Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that there is a supreme being who is the infinite, personal Creator. The God of Christianity, moreover, is loving and He is keenly interested in the affairs of mankind, quite in contrast to the aloof deity of Hinduism.
The Bible makes it clear that God cares about what happens to each one of us:
And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you and you will honor Me (Psalm 50:15, NASB).
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28, NASB).
The Hindu views man as a manifestation of the impersonal Brahman, without individual self or self-worth. Christianity teaches that man was made in the image of God with a personality and the ability to receive and give love. Although the image of God in man has been tarnished by the fall, man is still of infinite value to God. This was demonstrated by the fact that God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die to redeem sinful man, even while man was still in rebellion against God.
The Bible says,
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own loved toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8, NASB).
Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:19-21, NASB).
In Hinduism there is no sin against a Holy God. Acts of wrongdoing are not done against any God but are mainly a result of ignorance. These evils can be overcome by following the guidelines of one's caste and way of salvation. To the contrary, Christianity sees sin as a real act of rebellion against a perfect and Holy God. All acts of transgression are ultimately acts of rebellion against the laws of God.
The Scripture states:
Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge (Psalm 51:4, NASB).
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, NASB).
Salvation in Hinduism can be attained in one of three general ways: the way of knowledge, knowing one is actually a part of the ultimate Brahman and not a separate entity; the way of devotion, which is love and obedience to a particular deity; or the way of works, or following ceremonial ritual. This salvation is from the seemingly endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. By contrast, in Christianity salvation is from a potentially eternal separation from God and cannot be obtained by any number of good deeds, but rather is given freely by God to all who will receive it.
The Bible says:
For by grace have you been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9, NASB).
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, NASB).
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see lire, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36, NASB).
Hinduism views the material world as transitory and of secondary importance to the realization of Brahman, while Christianity sees the world as having objective reality and its source in the creative will of God. Hindus see the world as an extension of Brahman, part of the absolute, while Christianity views the world as an entity eternally different in nature from God, not part of some universal or monistic one.
The Bible says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Since the earth, therefore, was created by God, it is not to be identified with Him or His eternal nature.
These contradictions represent major diversities between the two religions. Many other differences remain which we cannot discuss in this small space. However, even with this limited spectrum of differences, one readily can see that the two faiths of Hinduism and Christianity never can be reconciled. The basic foundations on which each is built are mutually exclusive.
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To read more about Christianity and/or to do comparative study on Christianity and Major religions of the world - a good place to start would be whoisjesus.org