A critique of the Hindu faith from a Christian perspectiveIntroduction
The Hindu faith started to take shape around 3,000 BC. It is not a static religion, but has continued to change by absorbing other religious beliefs. During this process, there has been no attempt to standardize beliefs, so today Hindus can quite happily hold a multiplicity of opposing views. It is therefore nearly impossible to outline Hindu belief.
India has been the cradle of Hinduism. It can be traced back to 1500 BC through archaeology, with its earliest literature dating from around 1000 BC. Today there are some 440,000,000 followers of the Hindu faith.
There is a tremendous quantity of sacred writings, much of which has not yet been translated into English. Scripture is divided into two groups:
Sruti. Scripture that has been passed on orally from generation to generation within Brahmin families. They claim it is the mind of God, an embodiment of the Divine, discovered by seers through the ages. These scriptures are known as the "veda" and are the primary revelation.
Smrti. Sacred writings which explain and expose the hidden meanings of revelation. They are secondary to Sruti, but are more widely used by Hindus. The most popular book in this group is the Bhagavadgita, ("The Lord's Song").
On many points Hindu scripture seems to be in conflict and so the individual is left to decide for themselves where the truth lies. Hindus happily hold different points of view. Each view, if arrived at properly, contains an element of ultimate truth which is, in the end, beyond comprehension.
Brahman is an impersonal being, infinite, eternal, uncreated, transcendent and the source of all things. Brahman is revealed in three distinct beings (Trimurti, or trinity) performing separate roles:
Visnu, the maintainer, who has lived out 10 rebirths on earth.
Siva, the Destroyer and
Brama, the Creator.
There is a host of other lesser deities which are also emanations of Brahman.
The creation is made up of two elements:
Matter. Matter is an extension of God - One myth describes God blowing his nose to form the creation.
Atman, the divine self; soul. All living things contain atman. Atman is good.
It is important to take note of how the Christian notion of sin is handled by Hindus. Evil is improper behaviour - nothing is evil of itself.
Imagine God as a lump of mercury from which part has been broken away and has been polluted with matter. Whenever the mercury (atman) comes in contact with matter there is life. A seed germinates when God infuses it with Atman. All living things exist between matter and pure Atman (God). So, the creation is not in the process of divesting itself of sin, but rather of matter.
The cycle of existence is described in two different ways. Hindus do not agree on which of these cycles is correct, but then correctness doesn't matter.
i] A tree or an animal receives a soul, exists and sheds matter at death and so the soul (atman) is again reunited with God. A human, because they have free will, may be unable to attain union with God because their soul is tainted with worldly influences. They will therefore, sometime in the future, be reborn into another human life. Their rebirths will continue until their soul is purified and they are able to be united again with God.
ii] All living things move through a cycle of rebirths from vegetation through animal life to human life, for the soul to finally be united with God. A human, because they have free will, may taint their soul with worldly concerns (matter) and so be reborn into a lower life cycle, eg. a tree, a bird etc.
3. Salvation (moksa)
Using the mercury illustration - the only way the separated mercury can return to its mother lump is by removing all pollution from itself.
The aim of all life is to divest itself of matter so that the Atman (soul) might again become one with God, ie. find Nirvana. Until this happens, the Atman is caught in a cycle of rebirths (samsara).
Each living thing reaches Nirvana when it faithfully follows the path set before it. A vegetable that grows finds Nirvana. A person who is faithful to the path (marga) set before them, reaches Nirvana. They will fail in this quest if there is evil in their life, ie. their behaviour is not right. In that case they will face samsara (rebirth).
A human may be reborn many times if they fail to follow the path faithfully. They could well bring upon themselves, in the next life, much suffering if they are unfaithful in this life. Retribution is unmerciful.
The Bhagavadgita describes three paths to Salvation for a person:
i] Karmamargak - "The path of duties" - The fulfilling of religious (ritual) and social duties.
Dharma - Corrupt Duty. This involves avoiding: Kama - Lust; Lobha - Greed (including pride); Krodhak - Anger.
Practice: straightforwardness, truthfulness, compassion, sobriety, gentleness, modesty, forgiveness, purity, etc.
Suadharma - Particular Duty.
Caste - this works out to mean faithfulness to one's vocation in life.
Asramas - Faithfulness to life stages: Infancy - capable of no sin; Learning; Householder - no taboos; Vanaprastha - beginning to leave world - abstinence from meat, alcohol, sex etc; Sannysiam - Leave everything at 60 years of age.
Ritual - Careful observance of the religious duties set before you. These are determined from: Family customs - caste/subcaste; Astrological and scriptural determinations made at birth; Personal determinations.
ii] Jnanamarga - "The Path of Knowledge" - Deep study of the scriptures using meditation (Yoga) to gain insight into identity with Brahman.
iii] Bhaktimarga - "The Path of Devotion"
Most Hindus follow the path of duty, but in the long run each person must work out their own path and follow it.
If a person has been faithful to the path before them, they become one with God. There is some disagreement, but usually it is felt that personal identity is not lost in Nirvana, since memory is part of the atman (soul).
A strict Hindu's world-view affects their whole life-style:
i] They live with a deep respect for life (ahimsa) because of their belief in the unity of all life. Therefore they tend to be vegetarian. Even their treatment of nature expresses this principle. The tending of a vegetable patch is carried out with care and deep respect for the life-force within each plant. Those Hindus who do eat meat raise the animals without cruelty and take their lives painlessly. Even the preparation and eating of food expresses this principle. For this reason Hindus refrain from talking during a meal.
ii] As matter is something to be cast off - an impediment to the soul - a Hindu puts a low value on material possessions and sensual desires (gluttony, drunkenness, sex, etc.) To dwell on these things, rather than divest them, can only bring rebirth (karma) rather than salvation (moksa) and the attainment of Nirvana. Therefore eating and drinking is carried out in moderation, with certain days set aside as fast days, while sex is held in esteem only for procreation. For this reason marriages of "love" are frowned upon and therefore mostly arranged.
iii] To break from the cycle of rebirths and attain union with God (Nirvana) is a Hindus aim in life. Unless they follow the path set before them (marga), they have no hope. Therefore the performance of their religious and social duty is uttermost in their mind.
Religious duty is extremely involved and varies between caste and subcaste. A good Hindu's home will have a separate room for a temple with a shrine containing pictures and statues of the personalized form of Brahman that the family worships. On rising in the morning, each member of the family performs ritual washing, offers prayers inside and outside of the household temple, and eats breakfast separately. Lunch is usually vegetarian. In the evening, there is ritual washing again, evening prayers and offerings in the temple (pudja) chanting of mantras (verses from the Veda), the singing of hymns (Bhajans) and a reading from scripture in Sancript, which is then translated. After prayers, there is the sharing of fire and then the evening meal. A Hindu is not bound to visit a public temple or holy place and only does so on special occasions and pilgrimages. Their religion tends to be personal.
Social duty must also be faithfully performed. Inward righteousness is stressed, ie. the motive. The intent of any action determines its worth, ie. its spiritual value. All action must seek to purify self. Performance of dharma (correct duty) will achieve this. It will also inspire others to follow your path and so find Nirvana themselves. For this reason a Hindu lives their faith rather than preaching it. They will answer questions, but will not evangelize.
Comments from a Christian perspective
i] In the living of their faith most Hindus would put many Christians to shame.
ii] Hindu scripture tends to express too many divergent truths to be accepted as an authoritative revelation from God. The Bible, on the other hand, stands as a homogeneous whole and so can well claim of itself Divine authority. Yet, we should note the following:
Biblical revelation is a developing phenomena , ie. the Bible expands on the truth from book to book.
Some Biblical revelation is in tension and impossible, from a human standpoint, to resolve, eg. human free will and God's sovereignty.
iii] From the beginning of time humans have sought after God. Their search has led them in many directions. In the Bible we read of God taking the initiative and revealing himself to mankind and finally revealing himself in his Son. Jesus claims of himself to be the complete and final revelation of God to man - one with God, the only way to God, the true image of God. Other religions may move us toward God, but in Jesus we meet God and through him become one with God. Our search for God ends in Jesus. Such a view is quite distinct and apart from the Hindu faith. In the end, only one "way" can be true.
iv] Hinduism stresses personal effort in attaining salvation. Yet, can a person ever free themselves from ego, lust, anger etc.? How then can they find salvation? Every day we fail to attain perfection, so there is little hope of getting to God by our own effort. In Jesus, God provides the way. God no longer sees our imperfection, but the perfection of his Son. Jesus has taken our imperfection upon himself in his death on the cross. Union with God is therefore freely ours when we accept Jesus' offer of salvation through his death for us. His resurrection from the dead guarantees our union with God.
The difference between the Hindu and Christian faiths
A Christian believes that God is an eternal, personal, spiritual being in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Matt.3:13-17; 28:19; 2 Cor.13:14.
A Hindu believes that Brahman is a formless, abstract, eternal being without attributes. Takes form in a trinity, as well as millions of lesser gods.
2. Jesus Christ
Christians believe Christ to be the only begotten Son of God the Father. He is God as well as man; sinless, and he died for our redemption, John 1:13,14; 10:30; 8:46; Heb.4:15; Mark 10:45; 1 Pet.2:24.
Hindu's believe that Christ is just one of many incarnations, or sons of God. Christ was not "the" Son of God. He was no more divine than any other man and he did not die for our sins, cf. 1 Pet.2:24.
Christians believe that sin is a proud, independent rebellion that separates humanity from God. It is falling short of the standards God has established in his Word. Sin must be punished, and its consequence is death and eternal separation from God, Rom.3:23; 6:23.
Hindu's believe that good and evil are relative terms. Whatever helps is good; whatever hinders is vice. People cannot help "stumbling" over these obstacles as they strive to know themselves. If they cannot succeed in this life, they may try again in a reincarnated form.
Christians believe that a person is justified through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who died in our stead, Rom.3:24; 1 Cor.15:3.
Hindu's believe that a person is justified through devotion, meditation, good works and self-control.
Good News. The Christian faith.
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