The early roots of Hinduism have been traced back over 4,000 years. It is one of the top three largest religions in the world, with roughly half of the population residing in India. Scouring through numerous articles, the fact that is repeated throughout is that Hinduism does not have a concrete founder. This paper will be describing and evaluating the Hindu religion from the perspective of the Christian worldview. Also this paper will address present the history of the religion, present the doctrinal beliefs and practices of the religion, compare and contrast the Christian understandings, critiques the major doctrinal beliefs, and provide remaining thoughts.
According to History Network it suggests that, “most scholars believe Hinduism started somewhere between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. in the Indus Valley, near modern-day Pakistan” (History.com Editors, 2017). This is predicted because of archaeologists have found prominent evidence of early civilizations. The people of the Indus Valley lived ratherly sophisticated Gavin Flood author of BCC Network mentions, they had advanced irrigation systems, “most houses having drainage systems, wells, and rubbish chutes. Grain was the basis of the economy and large grain stores collected grain as tax” (Flood 2009). This is quite interesting, in Lagaan (2001) a film about the British Rule in 1893 imposes high taxes on the people of India. The tax, lagaan, or grain is used as the tax. Grain was used as tax payment way back then is pretty significant. Gathering information from Flood’s article and History Network, there was little evidence of early practices of the religion at this time; but Flood’s article goes into more depth by providing information about early Hindu temples, sacred bath houses, and plausible animal sacrifices. Flood points out archaeologists have found a unique statues which is said could be an early depiction of the god Shiva.
Around 1600 B.C. the Indus Valley is invaded by Aryans, along with that Sanskrit language is introduced to the people. English language is originated from Sanskirt, many words are roots, then adapted to English. From there, the Vedic Era begins. According to SoftSchools it states, “the Vedic Age, the period in which the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas, are written, begins. This period signals the rise of large, urbanized areas and the shramana movements, which include Jainism and Buddhism” (Hinduism Timeline, n.d.). The History network notes in agreement, “this collection of verses and hymns was written in Sanskrit and contains revelations received by ancient saints and sages” (History.com Editors, 2017). Flood discusses the two main theories associated with the Vedic Age which are:“The Aryan migration thesis that the Indus Valley groups calling themselves ‘Aryans’ (noble ones) migrated into the sub-continent and became the dominant cultural force. Hinduism, on this view, derives from their religion recorded in the Veda along with elements of the indigenous traditions they encountered. “The cultural transformation thesis that Aryan culture is a development of the Indus Valley culture. On this view there were no Aryan migrations (or invasion) and the Indus valley culture was an Aryan or vedic culture.”
What is the Vedic Religion? Based upon the information Flood gives it suggests that the Vedic religion practiced rituals and sacrifices, which some of those traditions are still prevalent in present days. Flood also comments interestingly, that the sacrifices are not limited to just animal sacrifices. For example, according to Flood they offered milk. In accordance with the Vedic Religion, Britannica mentions, “ Veda (“Knowledge”), the oldest core of Hindu religious utterance, and organized through the centuries primarily by members of the learned Brahman class”(Dimock, et al. 2014). Also during this time the idea of Moksha is created. Moksha is the perceived flawed world which also is similar to karma. Hindus believe in the doctrines of samsara (the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation) and karma (the universal law of cause and effect) (History.com Editors, 2017). These are the basic pillars that form the Hindu doctrine, Veda, Moksha and karma. The Brahman is the highest ranking a person can obtain in the Hindu caste, these people were often prestigious people who sought to protect the sacred aspects of learning. They were mostly made up of priests and teachers.
Skipping forward to the Classical Age, the basis doctrine of Hinduism is formed here. Some theologians and Archaeologists would consider this to be the beginning of the formation of Hinduism. Flood mentions, “ This period, beginning from around the time of Buddha (died c. 400 BCE), saw the composition of further texts, the Dharma Sutras and Shastras, the two Epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and subsequently the Puranas, containing many of the stories still popular today. The famous Bhagavad Gita is part of the Mahabharata” (Flood 2009). The Dharma roughly translates to the law or truth. In this era, the two gods Shiva and Vishnu became prominent.
Around 320 BC The Maurya Empire was founded, the most significant event during this time is the rule of Ashoka. His rule is quite interesting as he turns the empire to embrace Buddhism (Flood 2009) How is this significant to Hinduism? For starters, Ashoka translates to The Great. Ashoka was the third ruler of the Mauryan Empire, “
Ashoka led a war against a feudal state named Kalinga (present day Orissa) with the goal of annexing its territory, something that his grandfather had already attempted to do. The conflict took place around 261 BCE and it is considered one of the most brutal and bloodiest wars…What is actually supported by historical evidence is that Ashoka issued an edict expressing his regret for the suffering inflicted in Kalinga and assuring that he would renounce war and embrace the propagation of dharma. (Violatti, 2019).
The stories state that Ashoka had a revelation on the battlefield to where he fell to his knees and announced that he would ever kill another human again. This is similar to Buddhism because later Ashoka writes buddist teachings on pillars. For example, “no one should touch/harm humans or animals and not to consume animals. This is present today as some Hindus are vegans and vegetarians. Ashoka became the pacifist ruler, adopting Buddist ideology into his empire.
Skipping forward once again to 1600’s, this is where the British East India Company wins trading rights in the Mughal empire. According to SoftSchools, “Hoping to make money trading with India, the British East India Company wins trading rights on the fringe of the Mughal empire in 1617. As the Mughal empire declines, the East India Company’s influence in India grows steadily” (SoftSchools, n.d). At first the British did not try to intervene with India’s religion and practices. According to Flood, “Later, however, missionaries arrived preaching Christianity. Shortly after, the first scholars stepped ashore, and though initially sympathetic, were often motivated by a desire to westernise the local population. Chairs of Indology were established in Oxford and other universities in Europe” (Flood 2009). Around this same time Hindu reformers started to spread the Hindu faith, however there were seeds sowing tension in India. These splinter off into Muslim and Islamic faith.
Referred earlier in the paper, the film Lagaan was mentioned. The film is about the people of India finding common ground with each other over a common enemy, the British India army. In this film it portrays the white man as vulgar. A small snippet of this is found in one scene with a disagreement with the British Commander and the Raja Puran, trying to get the Raja Puran to forfeit his religion and eat meat. Melanie Wright’s Article Religion and Film: An Introduction. States, “Conversely, its unique narrative, and visual style are a stumbling block to interpretive methods that rest on mistakenly universalized, culturally specific assumptions” (Wright 144). As a viewer who is not familiar with Hindu culture we do not think much of it. With the knowledge behind the disagreement one can see that this disagreement is more than on eating meat but to disrespect the religion (Wright, 2007).
In June 1940 Britain agrees to grant India independence. After World War II, Britain finally agrees to grant India independence. However, the Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, insists that the Muslim minority have its own separate state, Pakistan. Britain decides to partition the subcontinent into two states: Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. This causes massive migration and death as members of the two religious groups travel to their new states (Flood 2009). Flood then goes into deeper detail on the tensions of trying to convert Hindu people to other religions. Some of these growing tensions happen to be between Muslims and Islamic religious aspects.
Moving into the similarities between Christianity and Hinduism starts with the Bible itself. The Bible states that the one true God is God himself. This can be found in the passage John 14:6 says, ‘Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” To critique this is placing an error on God, that God is wrong for stating that he is the only God or that Hinduism is wrong. Or perhaps God is right. To claim this would be inclusivism. Moreover, Hindu people view themselves as a monothesic religion because they don’t see their gods as independent deities but rather parts of a whole. This can be explained better by understanding the holy trinity, three persons in one. In Hinduism the god Krishna is a manifestation of Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu. A difference with this is that many of the gods in Hinduism are animal spirits whereas in Christianity, there are no animal spirits depicted as God. However there is a comparison to Jesus being a lamb but he is never depicted as a lamb god or spirit. The next comparison is the Hindu ideology of reincarnation, like Buddists reincarnation will continue to happen until the moksha is fixed. In Christanity, some churches incorporate incarnation. It is often debated if this should be taught as there is no direct clear indication in the Bible of reincarnation. There are similarities in the way Christians and Hindu’s practice their religion utilizing tools. For example, bread beads are quite common. For Chirstians it is called rosary. Another example of this is burning incense, and consumption of sacred bread.
The differences between Christanity and Hindu doctrine is the stark contrast on the idea of karma. As mentioned earlier, karma is the universal law of cause and effect. In Hindu belief, karma affects one individual and the debt cannot be transferred onto another person. Karma can only be broken by achieving enlightenment. In Christanity, Jesus Christ died for all the sins of the world and offered atonement for our sins. Jesus transferred that karma onto himself to save us. This is shown in the Gospel. In Hinduism karma strictly has no room for this ideology. This is shown in the passage Revelation 22:5 “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” According to Flood “Hinduism and Buddhism have many similarities. Buddhism, in fact, arose out of Hinduism, and both believe in reincarnation, karma and that a life of devotion and honor is a path to salvation and enlightenment” (Flood 2009).
How are we saved? In Christianity we are saved by salvation and faith in God. This can be obtained by recognizing our faults and wanting forgiveness from God. In Hinduism salvation comes from the Buddist belief of understanding the illusion of this world and letting go of ignorance, once this has been achieved then enlightenment can be fulfilled. To undergo enlightenment, the soul must shed desires and worldly attachments in order to be pure. Fritz Rideour states, “Like Buddhism, Hinduism believes in “salvation” through the accumulation of karmic merit (more good karma than bad karma), leading to being reincarnated myriads of times 193 into successively higher life forms (“samsara”), ultimately leading to “moksha” (nirvana/enlightenment). Moksha reunites one to Brahma” (Rideour, pg 110). They are saved by works alone.
According to Robert Plummer he states, “While Islam predicts the afterlife will be a time of leisure for those who truly pleased Allah, Christianity has a different vision. In Isaiah 60, in the picture of the new heavens and new earth, there is mining, farming, building, shipping, and trade. We realize these are likely symbolic images in some sense, but they point to a continuity in the old and new creation (much like we find in the resurrection body)” (Plummer, 2018 pg 14). Although Islam and Hinduism are slightly different it offers a window into the perspective of Hindu beleif in the afterlife opposed to the picturesque afterlife of Christanity. Though in different Christain churches they have different views on what the afterlife looks like, with that we have only what the Bible says about the afterlife and what to expect.
Another contrast is the idea of creation, Christians belief God has always existed and is the creator of the world. This is stated in Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth. ”Hinduism rejects this idea that God was just created and had existed. They belief that the world undergoes a constant cycle of birth and rebirth, which is the cycle of reincarnation in a sense.
There are striking similarities and big differences between Christianity and Hinduism, we must recognize and respect other religions. I think that this something people have lost, it has been prevalent throughout history, people try to convert each other through force. I think we should spread the Gospel to all but with love and grace, not through force and violence. We need to take into account that there are other denominations and must respect their culture.
- Dimock, Edward C., et al. “Hinduism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 Aug. 2014, www.britannica.com/topic/Hinduism.
- Flood, Gavin. “Religions – Hinduism: History of Hinduism.” BBC, BBC, 24 Aug. 2009, www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/history/history_1.shtml.
- “Hinduism Timeline.” Math, SoftSchools, www.softschools.com/timelines/hinduism_timeline/381/.
- History.com Editors. “Hinduism.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 6 Oct. 2017, www.history.com/topics/religion/hinduism.
- “Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism.” Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism, by Robert L. Plummer, Zondervan, 2012, p. 14.
- “So What’s the Difference?” So What’s the Difference?, by Fritz Ridenour, Regal, 2001, p. 110.
Violatti, Cristian. “Ashoka the Great.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 20 Oct. 2019, www.ancient.eu/Ashoka_the_Great/.