|What the Bible says about God:||What Hinduism says about God:|
|There is one true and living God, who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Deut. 6:4; John 20:28; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:13; 1 Peter 1:2).||God (Brahman) is the one impersonal, ultimate, and unknowable spiritual reality. Sectarian Hinduism personalizes Brahman as Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer). Hindus claim there are 330 million gods. Belief in astrology, evil spirits and curses is common.|
|What the Bible says about Jesus:||What Hinduism says about Jesus:|
|He is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:35). He is the eternal God, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-14; Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-13). Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3), rose physically from the dead (Matt. 12:38-40; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4-8; 1 Peter 1:18-21) and is coming back physically and visibly one day (Matt. 24:29-31; John 14:3; Titus 2:13; Rev. 19:11-16).||Jesus was a teacher of Hinduism, a guru of the past whom Christians greatly misunderstand. He was neither the unique God-man nor our Savior. In fact, many modern Hindu leaders ignore, ridicule or condemn Jesus as a false Messiah, describing Him as “a mental case … a fanatic … a fascist … a salesman” (Rajneesh). He also is called a “false idol” and “a perversion of the truth” (Da Free John).|
|What the Bible says about salvation:||What Hinduism says about salvation:|
|Christ’s death at Calvary completely paid our sin debt so that salvation comes by grace alone through faith in the person and work of Jesus (John 3:16, 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; 1 John 1:7).||There is no clear concept of salvation in Hinduism. Moksha – freedom from infinite being and selfhood, and final realization of the truth – is the goal of existence. The paths to moksha are dharma marga, or the way of works; inana marga, or the way of knowledge; and bhakti marga, or the way of love and devotion. Hindus hope one day to get off the cycle of reincarnation. The illusion of personal existence will end and they will become one with the impersonal God.|
|What the Bible says about the Bible:||What Hinduism says about the Bible:|
|The Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God, and is His sole written authority for all people (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).||The essence of Hinduism is not to be found in the Bible, but in writings such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabhrada, Vedangas, Puranas, Darshanas, Sutras and Tantras.|
|What the Bible says about man:||What Hinduism says about man:|
|God created man in His image – with a human spirit, personality and will. A person’s life begins at conception and is everlasting, but not eternal; that is, our lives have no end, but they did have a distinct beginning (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 139:13-16).||The eternal soul (atman) of man is a “spark” of Brahman mysteriously trapped in the physical body. Many reincarnations are required before the soul may be liberated from the body. The physical body is an illusion (maya) with little permanent value. Bodies generally are cremated at death, and the eternal soul goes to an intermediate state of punishment or reward before rebirth in another body.|
|What the Bible says about sin:||What Hinduism says about sin:|
|Sin is a violation of God’s perfect and holy standards. All humans are sinners (Rom. 3:10) and are under the curse of sin – spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17, 3:17-19; Rom. 3:23). Only faith in Christ and His work on our behalf frees us from sin and its consequences (John 3:16, 5:24; Eph. 2:8-9).
|Hindus have no concept of rebellion against a holy God since God (Brahman) is impersonal and unknowable. Ignorance of unity with Brahman, desire, and violation of dharma (one’s social duty) are humanity’s problems.|
|What the Bible says about death:||What Hinduism says about death:|
|Physical and spiritual deaths come upon all people as a consequence of their sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 3:23; Eph. 2:1). A person becomes spiritually alive when he or she is “born again” by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-6; Eph. 2:1-5). At physical death, our souls and spirits separate from our bodies [which go into the grave to await resurrection and final judgment] and enter an everlasting state of blessedness [for those born again] or torment [for those who die in their sins] (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Cor. 5:8).||Death is the freeing of the soul (atman) from the body. The atman goes to an intermediate state of reward or punishment as it awaits rebirth in another body. The cycle of death and rebirth goes on indefinitely until the atman reaches moksha, in which the illusion of personal existence ends and the soul becomes one with the impersonal God.|
|What the Bible says about heaven and hell:||What Hinduism says about heaven and hell:|
|Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 14:9-11, 20:10). As for Heaven, all believers have God’s promise of a home in Heaven, will go there instantly upon physical death, and will return with Christ from Heaven to earth one day (Luke 16:19-31; John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 19:11-16).||Neither heaven nor hell exists in the biblical sense. Since reality is but an illusion, the goal of man is to achieve moksha, ending the cycle of reincarnation so the soul becomes one with the impersonal God. There is no eternal reward or punishment; however, an individual’s present life is determined by the law of karma – actions, words and thoughts in previous lifetimes.|
Hinduism is the world’s oldest living organized religion. With an estimated 850 million followers, it is the third largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Founded in India beginning as early as 2500 B.C., Hinduism is most prevalent in that country, where an estimated 785 million people engage in Hindu practices. Hindus also are found in significant numbers in Bangladesh, Nepal (where it is the state religion), Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and other countries. There are an estimated 1.5 million Hindus in North America.
According to some sources, the word “Hinduism” comes from the Indus River, which flows through modern-day Pakistan. Hinduism has no single founder. It began as a polytheistic and ritualistic religion with simple rituals. Over time, the rituals became more complex so that it was necessary to create a priestly class. During this time, the Vedas were written to give the priests instructions for performing the rituals; eventually the priests became mediators with the gods, which gave them control over people’s lives. Around 600 B.C., the people revolted. The form of Hinduism that resulted emphasized internal meditation as opposed to external rituals. Between 800 B.C. and 300 B.C. the Upanishads – also called the Vedanta, or the end of the Vedas – was written. Roughly the Hindu equivalent of the Christian New Testament, the Upanishads teaches that behind the many gods stands one Reality known as Brahman, an impersonal force. Later, Hinduism developed the concept of a personified Brahman known as Ishvara. According to Hindu tradition, Ishvara became known to humanity through the three manifestations of Brahman: Brahma (the Creator); Vishnu (the Preserver), and Siva (the Destroyer). Ishvara became even more personified through 10 mythical incarnations of Vishnu called avatars, who took on the form of animals or persons.
Beyond the principal deities and the avatars it is estimated that there are 330 million other gods in Hinduism. Besides Hinduism’s different concepts of God, the religion also may be divided along the lines of whether the physical universe is real or illusory. The nondualists (advaita) see Brahman alone as real and the world as an illusion. “Qualified nondualists” say the universe is extended from the Being of Brahman. And dualists (dvaita) see Brahman and the universe as distinct realities. Throughout history, Hinduism has spawned three other religious movements: Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
Although Hinduism is complex and diverse, most Hindus hold these beliefs in common:
- The impersonal nature of Brahman. Hindus see ultimate reality, Brahman, as an impersonal oneness that is beyond all distinctions, including personal and moral distinctions.
- The unity of Brahman and Atman. Most followers believe that their true selves (atman) are extended from and are one with Brahman. “Just as the air inside an open jar is identical to the air surrounding that jar, so our essence is identical to that of the essence of Brahman” (The Illustrated Guide to World Religions, p. 88).
The law of karma. This is the moral equivalent of the natural law of cause and effect. The effects of our actions follow us throughout the present lifetime and into the next lifetime. Humanity’s main problem is that we are ignorant of our divine nature. We have forgotten that we are extended from Brahman and so we have mistakenly attached ourselves to the desires of our separate selves, or egos, and thereby to the consequences of our actions.
- Reincarnation (samsara). This is the seemingly endless cycle of life, death and rebirth. We reap in this lifetime the consequences of the deeds of previous lifetimes. A person’s karma determines the kind of body he or she will receive in the next life, whether human, animal or insect.
- Liberation (moksha). The goal of Hinduism is to be free of the cycle of life, death and rebirth. This liberation is attained by realizing that the concept of self is an illusion and that only the undifferentiated oneness with Brahman is real. Hinduism offers at least three paths to enlightenment: karma marga (the way of action and ritual); jnana marga (the way of knowledge and meditation); and bhakti marga (the way of devotion). When enlightenment is reached, the individual self loses its separate identity and is merged into the universal self, or Brahman.
Hinduism generally is viewed by the West as a polytheistic religion – one that worships multiple deities – but this is not necessarily accurate. Others view Hinduism as monotheistic because it recognizes one supreme God, Brahman. Still others see the religion as Trinitarian because Brahman is simultaneously visualized as one god with three persons: Brahma (the Creator who continues to create new realities); Vishnu, or Krishna (the Preserver who sustains these new creations); and Shiva (the Destroyer). Strictly speaking, most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic, meaning they recognize a single deity and see other gods and goddesses as manifestations of Brahman.
The Hindu Scriptures
The earliest of the Hindu scriptures are the Vedas (Veda means “knowledge”): Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the Mantras, or basic verses or hymns sung during the rituals; the Brahmanas, or the explanation of the verses; the Aran-yakas, which are reflections on their meaning; and the Upanishads, or mystical interpretations of the verses. Besides these primary scriptures are secondary ones known as smriti, or “remembered.” Included in these are the Ramayana (Rama’s way) and Mahabhrata (the great story), which includes the most popular of all Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad-Gita, the main character of which is Krishna. Other smriti scriptures include the Vedangas, or codes of law; the Puranas, the genealogies and legends of the gods; the Darshanas, philosophical writings; the Sutras, rules of ritual and social conduct; and the Tantras, writings on attaining occult power).
Hinduism has no single creed and recognizes no final truth. The extensive collection of scriptures allow a diverse belief system. Simply put, Hinduism has a pagan background in which the forces of nature and human heroes are personified as gods and goddesses who are worshiped with prayers and offerings. Hindu worship is varied and features color symbolism, offerings, fasting and dance. Most Hindus worship an image of their chosen deity, with chants (mantras), flowers and incense. Worship tends to be individualistic rather than congregational. Hinduism may be dived into Popular Hinduism, characterized by the worship of gods through offerings, rituals and prayers; and Philosophical Hinduism, the complex belief system that requires the study of ancient texts, meditation and yoga.
Paths to Moksha
The goal of Hinduism is to liberate oneself from samsara, the seemingly endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, and be reunited with Brahma. This “salvation” is known as moksha and there are three paths that may be pursued to attain it:
- Dharma, or the path of works. A person has a set of specific social and religious obligations that must be fulfilled. For example, he must follow his caste occupation, marry within his caste, eat or not eat certain foods, and produce and raise a son who can make a sacrifice to his ancestors as well as perform other duties. By fulfilling these responsibilities, the person on the path of works may obtain a better reincarnation in the next life and, perhaps, after thousand of reincarnations, achieve moksha.
- Inana, the path of knowledge. This is a more difficult path and involves self-renunciation and meditation. This aesthetic path is open to men only in the higher castes. It most often includes the practice of yoga, an attempt to control one’s consciousness through posture, breath control and concentration.
- Bhakti, the path of passionate devotion. This is the most popular way to achieve moksha. A devotee may choose any of the 330 million gods, goddesses or demigods in the Hindu pantheon and passionately worship that god. In practice, almost all Hindus who follow this path worship Vishnu or Shiva. The most popular god is Vishnu, who has appeared as avatars (saviors, the incarnation of deity) in the form of a giant turtle, as Gautama Buddha and as Rama and Krishna, two important Hindu heroes. Shiva is popular as well. Rituals performed by his devotees are similar to the worship of the Canaanites, whom God commanded the Israelites to destroy.
The Caste System
Around 500 B.C. a social hierarchy known as the caste system was established. One Hindu hymn tells how four castes of people came from the head, arms, thighs and feet of Brahma, the creator god. The four castes were the Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors and nobles); Vaisyas (merchants and artisans); and Shudras (slaves). Each caste was then subdivided into hundreds of subcastes. Only the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas were allowed to take full advantage of the Hindu religion, but the Shudras were forbidden from hearing the Vedas or using them to find salvation. Even lower in status were the Untouchables who, until the 20th century, were considered outside the caste system and were treated as subhuman. They did the dirtiest work, drank polluted water, wore tattered clothing and were denied property, education and dignity. When India became a nation in 1947, the government officially outlawed discrimination against Untouchables. Today, the caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas but remains virtually unchanged in some rural parts of the country.
The Mark on the Forehead
The colored dot often seen on the forehead of Hindus is called by a number of names, including bindi. It is a sign of piety and symbolizes the third eye – the one focused inward toward God. Both men and women wear the bindi, although the practice among men is going out of style. Today, many women wear dots that match the color of their saris.
The Sacred Cow
The cow is considered sacred in Hinduism. She is symbolic of abundance, the sanctity of all life, and the earth that gives much while asking nothing in return. The cow is respected as a matriarchal figure for her gentle qualities and for providing milk and related products to people who consume a mostly vegetarian diet. The reverence for cows may be found throughout Hinduism’s major texts.