One of the most baffling questions facing a visitor to India is, “What is Hinduism?” Surrounded by temples, garlands of flowers, small shrines on every corner and pictures of various gods on everything from trucks to candy wrappers, the answer seems to be everywhere — and nowhere.
The Religion of India
Hinduism’s roots are found in Vedaism, a religion based on the Vedas, the Sanskrit hymns of the Aryans who invaded India around 1500 B.C.
Unlike modern Hinduism, Vedaism included the hope of an eternal life in heaven. As it developed from about 500 B.C. to A.D. 1000, however, Hinduism began to take on the concepts of reincarnation and karma, and the dominant sects of Vishnu and Shiva were developed.
The Eternal Cycle
The differences between Hinduism and Christianity are as great as their views of God, time, and the universe.
For the Christian, God is a distinct personality. He created the universe, interacts with it as it moves through time, and will culminate it by gathering His people for eternal fellowship with Himself.
One of the outgrowths of this concept of linear time is the idea of progress. If we are moving from a “past” to a “future,” we can conceive of something we call “progress” along the way.
For the Hindu, humans, and even the gods themselves, are part of an endless series of cycles. Souls migrate from body to body, going up or down the life scale depending on their deeds.
Your karma is the culmination of the good or bad you bring with you from your last life. Your purpose in the present life is to “work it out.”
One caution for the Hindu, for instance, is to avoid helping the poor too much, because that may interfere with their process of paying for their past sins.
The goal of the human being, by using meditation, yoga, and other devices, is to escape the desperate cycle of life. When this goal is reached, it is said, the individual ceases to exist and, like a drop of water entering the ocean, simply merges with the eternal “force.”
In classic Hinduism, there are five major gods: Brahma created the universe; Vishnu sustains it along with his female consort, Lakshmi; and Shiva is the destroyer along with Kali, his consort.
These five, however, are but the centerpiece of a pantheon of gods who inhabit creation.
It is said that in Hinduism, one can find a god to suit almost any need or desire. One of the most popular is Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva, a happy god of wisdom. Kali, with her necklace of skulls and her enemies’ blood dripping from her lips, is one of the most feared.
Hindus and Christ
A Hindu may be devoted to several gods. And it is not uncommon for a Hindu, upon hearing of a god named Jesus, to incorporate this new deity into his or her personal pantheon as well.
This “acceptance” of Christ without acknowledgment of His uniqueness is one of the more subtle barriers to evangelism.