Christianity And Hinduism

There are many forms and expressions of Hinduism. Associated with Hinduism are at least several hundred images of God. Houston Smith has written of these images:

Valued as ends in themselves these could, of course, usurp God's place, but this is not their intent. . . . It is clumsy to confuse Hinduism's images with idolatry and her many images with polytheism. They are but runways from which man's heavily sense-embodied spirit can take off for its "flight of the alone to the Alone."1

Nevertheless, regardless of the original intent of the use of images in Hinduism, millions of Hindus may be within the firm grip of idolatry. Among the many important symbols of Hinduism is the cow, which is considered sacred. This is in direct contrast to Christianity. Paul writes, "they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Romans 1:25).

It is often said that Hinduism is pantheistic. Pantheism is the idea that the universe and all that it contains is God, or a part of God. This brings us back to idolatry, since one can worship the creation, or its components, if when all is said and done, these things are really a part of God. In contrast, Christianity recognizes that, while the universe (and everything within it) has been created by God (and is therefore to be respected as God-given and as a manifestation of His power and majesty) it is not God, or a part of Him. If all that exists in the created universe were suddenly to cease existing God would not disappear, nor would He be diminished in any way. He existed before its creation, and He would therefore exist if it were somehow annihilated.

According to pantheism, all that now is had an impersonal beginning. That is, according to pantheism, the universe was not created by a personal God. Francis Schaeffer has observed that if this were so, then there would be no explanation for the fact that the universe exists at all, in all of its complexity and order, nor would there be any explanation for the existence of man's personality. Personality cannot arise from that which has no personality.

Moreover, as Schaeffer points out, pantheism leaves one with no real reason for drawing any distinction between cruelty and non-cruelty. Cruelty is just as much a part of what exists as non-cruelty. There is ultimately no real basis for morals if one holds to a pantheistic world view.2

There may be, however, forms of Hinduism which are not pantheistic. Huston Smith feels that the following quotation form a Christian author is as applicable to Hinduism as it is to Christianity:

The union [of man with God] . . . is no Pantheistic absorption of the man in the one . . . but is essentially personal in character.3

One must ask why it is necessary to quote from a Christian author to explain the Hindu viewpoint of oneness with God, but even so, let us give him the benefit of the doubt, and consider Hinduism in greater depth.

According to Hinduism, anybody can have what he or she wants. The wants of mankind are four: (1) pleasure, (2) wealth, fame, and power, (3) to be of service, and (4) infinite being, infinite awareness, and infinite joy. As long as the basic rules of morality are observed, every person is free to seek as much pleasure as he or she wishes. However, eventually people do come to realize that there must be more to life than momentary pleasures. The second goal, that of success, also has its limitations. It is fleeting, and the lust for power and wealth is never satisfied. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such things, people usually eventually recognize that, in and of themselves, such things fail to satisfy. With this realization, people pass beyond the wish to succeed into the wish to be of service to others. Nevertheless, even this is ephemeral. Even a life of service will not bring society to a place of perfection. There must yet be something beyond service for which people yearn.

First, we want being. Nobody wants to die. We all want to continue our existence. Secondly, we want to know and to be aware. Thirdly, we want joy. These three things we want to an infinite degree, and therefore we want to be released from the limitations of our present existence. What man most wants, he can have. Infinite being, awareness and joy are within our reach. In fact, they are already ours. Each of us has a reservoir of being that never dies and is without limit in awareness and bliss. This beyond that is within the hidden self, or Atman, is Brahman, the Godhead. However, the eternal is buried under the morass of distractions, false ideas, and self- regarding impulses comprising our surface being.

According to Hinduism, the purpose of life is to pass beyond the imperfections of lack of strength, inability to fulfill our deepest dreams, susceptibility to illness, ignorance, discouragement, the aging process, and death. This can be done by passing beyond the attachment to the things of this life. If we have no expectations, then we cannot be disappointed. When we become detached from the finite self and from an attachment to reality as a whole, we are lifted above the possibility of frustration.

Ignorance is removable by knowing that which brings the knowledge of everything. When one achieves this insight, it so illumines all things that the point of existence becomes crystal clear. This transcendent knowledge is available to man.

Infinite being is also available. If you identify yourself with your family, finding your joys in theirs, you will have that much reality. If you could identify with mankind as a whole it would be proportionately greater, and if you could identify yourself with being as a whole, your own being would be unlimited.

There is, according to Hinduism, more to ourselves than we realize. We tend to concentrate ourselves upon our present lifespan. If we could only grow up completely we would realize that our total being is more vast than we suppose.

One of the objects of Hindu literature is to open our imaginations to the infinite which lies concealed in the depths of every life. In one parable, a king fell victim to amnesia and wandered throughout his kingdom in tatters not knowing who he really was. According to Hinduism, we are in the same position. We must come to a realization of our total being. This can only come through actual experience.

There are four possible paths to the higher state of being, rendering the surface self transparent to the divinity beneath: (1) through knowledge, (2) through love, (3) through work, or (4) through psychological exercises. A prerequisite for all four methods is to be cleansed of all serious moral impurities and to cultivate habits of truthfulness, non-injury, non-stealing, self- control, cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, and a compelling desire to reach the goal. The path one should take is dependent upon the individual. Two or more paths are often used in combination depending upon one's personality and inclinations. One of the important tasks of a Hindu master is to help each initiate determine the path this is best suited for him or her.

The first, the path of knowledge, consists of a series of meditations and logical demonstrations that there is more to a person than his or her finite self. It is necessary to become able to distinguish the surface self that crowds the foreground of our being from the larger self lying behind it. Three steps are involved: (1) hearing, (2) thinking, and (3) shifting one's self-identification from the passing to the eternal part of one's being. The first step involves listening to sages and reading scriptures and philosophical treatises demonstrating that there lies at the center of one's being the infinite fount of being itself. The second step involves being transformed in outlook. Various exercises can be used to achieve this purpose. One such exercise is to examine one's use of language and consider its implications. How often, for example, does one use the word "my," implying a distinction between the possessor and what is possessed? I talk about my body, my mind, and my personality as though I stand apart from these things in some sense. The third step involves deep and profound meditation on one's identity with the Eternal Spirit. One way of doing this is to think of one's finite self in the third person. Finally, through a knowledge identical with being, one become in full what one always was at heart.

The second path to divine realization is through love. The object in this case is to direct toward God the fountain of love that lies at the bottom of the human heart. According to Hinduism, Christianity is one great highway toward God that makes use of this path. This second path involves loving God dearly, not merely in word but in deed. It involves loving Him only, and loving Him with no ulterior motives. This is accomplished with the use of symbols, images of God, and ritual. Another practice important for the realization of this goal is that of repeating the name of God, which soaks down into the subconscious, turning one's total self toward the divine. Another feature of the path of love is "ringing the changes on love," or meditating upon the love of a parent for a child, the child for its parent, the conjugal love of man and wife, the love of a devoted servant for his benevolent master, and so on, and understanding their implications for our love for God. A final feature is the worship of God in the form of one's chosen ideal. According to Hinduism, a number of representations can equally point to god, but each devotee should attach himself on a lifelong basis to some manifestation, usually one of God' human incarnations such as Christ, Rama, Krishna, or Buddha.

The third possible path to God is through work. God can be found in the world of everyday affairs as easily as anywhere. One can throw oneself wholly into one's work, if it is done wisely, in a way that will bring the highest rewards. The path of work can be practiced under the mode of knowledge or the mode of love, similar to the two paths that have already been discussed.

The fourth path is raja yoga, the way to God through psychological experiment. It beings with the suspicion that our true selves are vastly more wonderful than we now realize and with a passion for a direct experience with this true self. One undergoes a series of eight experiments upon oneself, observing their effects upon one's spiritual condition. The goal is a direct personal experience of the "beyond that is within."

The first step involves abstaining from injury, lying, stealing, sensuality, and greed. The second involves observing cleanliness, contentment, self-control, studiousness, and contemplation of the divine. The third and fourth steps are concerned with keeping the body from intruding to distract the mind from its concentration, while the fifth step involves becoming oblivious to outside distractions. In the sixth step, the distractions of the mind itself are quieted, while in the seventh, concentration deepens to the point at which the duality of the knower and the known is to be resolved into a perfect unity. Finally, the eighth step is the final state of samadhi, in which man's mind is completely absorbed in God. The individual is brought to the knowledge of total being and dissolved into it.

Now that we have considered Hinduism in greater depth, it will be possible to evaluate it in the light of Christian revelation. At the outset, it should be pointed out that any aspects of Hinduism that are consistent with Christianity should be viewed positively. Many of the world's great religions contain a great deal of truth.

While there may be a great deal of truth in Hinduism, however, there is also much that is left unexplained for which Christianity give us the answers. Jesus Christ is the key that unlocks many of the mysteries that are left unsolved by Hinduism. There are also many irreconcilable difference between Christianity and Hinduism. The idea of reincarnation, for example, is central to Hinduism, but cannot be reconciled with the Christian understanding of the bodily resurrection at the end of the age.

Hinduism correctly observes that we are imbued with an innate desire to live forever. Normally, nobody wants to die. This desire for immortality is explained by the Judaeo-Christian world view, while it is never really explained by Hinduism. According to the Christian Bible, physical death is a judgement from God resulting from the fall of man. Mankind was made to live forever, and, indeed, the Bible speaks of a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15), although for the former it will be an awakening to everlasting life, while for the latter it will be an awakening to everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2) and to judgment (John 5:29).

Hinduism also correctly observes that man really wants a complete liberation (mukti) or release from the limitations that press so closely upon his existence: illness, tiredness, error, ignorance, discouragement, old age and death. Here, Jesus Christ is the key to the problem that Hinduism has correctly diagnosed. Jesus Christ has redeemed us from these things, and all of creation eagerly awaits the time of the complete fulfillment of this redemption, as we see in Romans 8:18-23. Hinduism wrestles with this problem, but it never really explains why the problem exists in the first place. In the Bible, we see that all of creation has been subjected to futility as a result of the fall of man.

The great object of Hinduism is to find union with God. Here again, Jesus Christ is the key that unlocks the door to the fulfillment of this objective. Through His death, Jesus brought reconciliation between God and man, and made possible our union with God. This union requires no unusual feat on our part. Rather, it is the free gift of God given to us as a result of the atoning work of Christ, reconciling us, and all of the fallen creation, to God. If we repent and believe the Gospel, He freely fills us with His fullness.

One question that often arises has to do with Christian mysticism, which is the attempt on the part of some Christians to seek oneness, or unity with God. It is asked, first of all, whether this is really necessary if we as Christians have been freely given the gift of His fullness through the atoning work of Christ, and, secondly, whether such practices might lead to satanic deception. The great reformer Martin Luther drew inspiration from some of the great Christian mystics, such as Johann Tauler, who referred to the unity of will with God in one's heart at rare moments as a foretaste of eternal blessedness.

Luther felt that there was an important distinction to be made between two types of mysticism. One type, which was to be avoided, was the seeking of oneness with God in a Neoplatonic sense. The God of Neoplatonism was a pantheistic, impersonal God. Neoplatonic mysticism was speculative, and sought oneness with the essence, or being, of God, bypassing the incarnate and crucified Christ. A second type of mysticism, which is perfectly acceptable and desirable, seeks a union with God through Jesus Christ in emotions, thought, and will. This union is achieved through prayer and meditation, especially upon Scripture, and often culminates in a fullness of joy redolent of heavenly bliss. Luther had such a mystical experience, and referred to it in a sermon he preached on May 25, 1523, in which he reminisced that he was once "carried away to the third heaven." This union with God could be described and given content, in contrast to the experience of oneness with God in Zen Buddhism, for example, which is said to be incommunicable and indescribable.

One may ask why a Christian would need to seek oneness with God if this has already been made freely available by the atoning work of Christ. Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the fact that it is sometimes necessary, through spiritual warfare, to appropriate that which has already been made available to us through Christ's death.

Is the Hindu state of samadhi, in which man's mind is completely absorbed in God, comparable in any way to Christian mysticism? One must be very careful in drawing any parallels here, because in Hinduism, the individual is said to be brought to the knowledge of total being and dissolved into it. In fact, the Hindu union with God is often very similar in many respects to that of Neoplatonism, and tends to conceive of God as pantheistic and morally neutral. In all such cases, one must exercise extreme caution, especially because of the fact that there is a deceiver, Satan, who appears as an angel of light and can and does counterfeit all of the things of God.

On the positive side, it must also be recognized that God can do what he pleases. If He sees fit to grant a foretaste of heavenly bliss to somebody who has not yet had contact with the Christian gospel, this is His prerogative. For this reason, one should not automatically pass judgement on those who have had such experiences apart from Jesus Christ. Such people may have had contact with Him without recognizing who He is. However, He is the key that unlocks the door to the question of union with God. He has brought reconciliation to God through His death, and apart from Him, there can be no union with God. If His claims are true, and if Christian revelation is genuine, the He is the only true path to infinite being (or immortality), infinite awareness (or revelation), and infinite joy (or heavenly bliss).

Hinduism cannot be faulted for its attempts to struggle with the great problems of existence. Yet it is not surprising that it could not really come up with satisfactory solutions. Apart from revelation from God Himself, no solution would be discernable.

We see, therefore, why evangelism is so important, and why Jesus told the disciples to spread the good news unto the uttermost parts of the earth, making disciples of all men. All people recognize, to one degree or another, that they are in bondage to sin, illness, the aging process, and death, and we all need to know that Jesus Christ has redeemed us from these things. Why leave people in ignorance about it? Can we in good conscience keep this information away from the Hindus simply because they already have a world view that struggles with these questions and attempts to give an answer?

If the claims of Christ are true, Christianity does not simply provide another possible answer to the questions of existence. Rather, it provides the answer. What right do we have to say that as long as others have a great religion they don't need Jesus Christ? If He is going to judge the entire world in righteousness as He said He would, should not the entire world be told that this is what will happen to it?

Some people argue that it is a form of bigotry not to accept all of the religions of the world as equally valid means of coming to know God. "After all," it is said, "Hinduism accepts Christianity as one possible way of knowing God. Why can't Christianity be tolerant of Hinduism in the same way?"

In answer to this objection, it should be pointed out, first of all, that Jesus Christ stressed that He was unique. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the one through whom all of the world has been redeemed cannot be overemphasized. The fact that He emphasized this point demonstrates its importance. As we have already seen, it is impossible to dismiss His own insistence that he was God incarnate without also dismissing his authority as a great moral teacher.

Secondly, one must remember that, while we can feel free to affirm all that other religions affirm as long as it is consistent with the Bible, we cannot affirm both what the Bible states and what other religions teach when those teachings contradict the Bible. To do so would be to reject the possibility of any real truth, since two things that are mutually contradictory cannot both be true. Our preference for the Bible's teachings arises, first, from the Bible's claim to be revelation from God, and secondly, from all of the evidence that we have examined that validates this claim. If God has spoken, we had better pay attention. And the evidence that He has indeed spoken to us in the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures is quite overwhelming.

Some people will ask whether it is not merely a matter of cultural conditioning whether we are Christians or Hindus. Ideally, one's beliefs should be based upon evidence, not upon whether one's culture happens to hold to a particular world view. As it happens, Western culture no longer holds to a Christian consensus. It is often the case that, in the twentieth century, those who hold to a belief in the Bible do so despite the culture in which they live. Thus, it can no longer be said that, to be a believing Christian is to be the product of one's culture.

1 Huston Smith, The Religions of Man (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 47.

2 Francis A. Schaeffer, He Is There And He Is Not Silent (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972), pp. 24-26, and Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1976), pp. 177-179.

3 Bede Frost, The Art of Mental Prayer (London: S.P.C.K., 1950), pp. 29-30, quoted by Huston Smith, pp. 46-47.

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