Hinduism

by The online Bible school

Hinduism is the oldest religion in the history of human civilization. Unlike Buddhism, Islamic or Judaism, Hinduism has no founder, and it is the only major world religion lacking an adequate explanation as to its origin and its development. It is estimated that its origin could date back several thousands of years. It’s very beginning of time is unknown; however, some biblical scholars claim its earliest roots go back as far as the time of the Tower of Babel.

The Bible is silent as to what kinds of religions came from that era; however, it is very explicit to record the history of the children of Abraham and the beginning of the religion of Judaism. It is only through the documentation in secular history can we follow the beginnings of Hinduism and other world religions.

Hinduism did not originate as a religion

According to history, Hinduism originated not as religion, but a geographical marker. It had its historical beginnings in the country of India, deriving its name from the River Indus, which flows through northern India. In ancient days, the river was called the “Sindhu;” as spoken in the ancient language of Sanskrit. The Persians who migrated to India called the river by the name of ‘Hindu,” and its inhabitants “Hindus. (1)

Its development from its inception consisted of a conglomerate of religious, philosophical, and cultural ideas and practices. Through the centuries, and even millennias, its conglomerate has been influenced by several cultures and religions. The oldest of these influences are the symbols and deities indigenous to the Indus Valley in India. Archaeologists date this society to about 3000 B.C., making it one of the oldest known civilizations. This early date also places the religion of the Indus over 1000 years before the writings of the Torah. It has been only through archaeology findings that s cholars have been able to piece together the earliest forms of Hinduism. From later texts and extractions from existing traditions, other clues have been concluded. Evidence for the historical digression from the worship of Jehovah God to the worship of nature and nature-gods is found in the ancient texts and myths of South Asia. Because of this, Christian scholars have re-interpreted that the Hinduism religion fits into a biblical scheme of world history and could have had its earliest roots as far back as the Tower of Babel episode. (2)

One cannot place Hinduism into any particular belief system, such as polytheism, monotheism, theism, or pantheism, because all these systems are reflected in its many facets. Although it follows pantheism quite a bit, it is primarily a way of life for its followers - a way of living where knowledge is revealed to awaken certain transcendental eternal truths. Its purpose is to become “one” with the Divine. Believing the soul is immortal, Hinduism supports the belief in reincarnation, believing he or she must work through the process of becoming “one” with the Divine. Its process supports the continuation of birth, life, death, and rebirth – resulting in living several lives to attain such a status as being “one” with the Divine. Upon completion of this spiritual evolvement, the person then graduates from physical birth to become “one” with the Divine. At that point, they enter into Nirvana.

Sacred writings

The sacred “Veda” of Hinduism contains writings of ancient Hindu sages and seers, similar to that of the Christian Bible. The Veda, meaning knowledge or wisdom, is the main source of sacred writings, and claims to show the path of spiritual advancement for those who are in a quest for self realization. It forms the basis and is the governing source for Hindu beliefs. While the Veda serves primarily as a guidebook for Hindu beliefs, truth ultimately comes through direct consciousness of the divine or the ultimate reality. In other religions, ultimate reality would be known as God. Hindus refer to it by many names, but the most common name would Brahman, (first god), followed by Vishnu and Shiva, and other gods. When an idea of spirituality is promoted as a principle rather than a personality, Hindus call it Brahman instead of god. Hinduism also supports the belief in many gods, called lesser gods.(3) Their various gods have been reincarnated into many forms, which include man, animals, fish and other forms of nature, such as storms and fire. All in all, Hinduism claims to have millions of gods and goddess. Religious life consists of devotion to the gods, the duties of family life, and concentrated meditation.(4)

Later portions of the Vedas, one called the Upanishads, was included as sacred writings, reflecting a significant development in Hinduism's concept of the divine. Though Brahman is impersonal in nature, it is sometimes referred to in personal terms by the name of Isvara. The Upanishads also teach that at the core of one’s being (referred to as "Atman"), man is identical with this ultimate reality. ”(5) The aim is to reach that core to be united with the ultimate reality. Shortly before the Christian era, Hinduism added the writings of the Bhagavad Gita, similar to that of the New Testament. It records a conversation between the warrior-prince Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna (who is unveiled as an incarnation of the god Vishnu), in which personal devotion to deity is endorsed as a way of salvation for all classes of people.

Hindu worship

Today, like most other religions, Hinduism is divided into three major sects: 1) Saivism – worship of Lord Siva (Iswara), the supreme Brahman. 2) Vaishnavism – worship of Lord Vishnu as supreme Creator (having Krishna, who is unveiled as the incarnation of Vishnu – and personal devotion to him is endorsed as a way of salvation for all classes of people (6), and 3) Shakti, considered the Mother Goddess as the Universal Self and creator of all. In all the sects, there are sub sects. Then there are cultic beliefs that branch off from the traditional beliefs of Hinduism which center around the worship of the sun god.(7) Hindu religious rites are classified into three categories: 1) Nitya (daily offerings), 2) Naimittika (certain times during the year), 3) Kamya (optional, but encourages pilgrimages).

In its simplest terms, Hindu worship involves the worship of several images (or icons), which can is worshipped at the temple and at home. Their homes have a shrine (room or altar) where offerings are made and prayers said three times a day. Worship is primarily an individual act rather than one of community, involving personal offerings to their deity. By repeating the names of their favorite gods and goddesses, prayers are recited by offering water, fruit, flowers, and incense.

One a year many Indian Hindus share in ritual bathing where the waters of the Ganges and Jumna meet. The belief is that their sins will be washed away. The bathing is followed by spiritual purification and a ceremony which they believe they have received the blessings of their deity(ies). Carrying the belief in cremation, a Hindu who dies and has their ashes scattered on the Ganges River is said to have experience the best death possible.(8)

Foundational beliefs of Hinduism

Karma
The doctrine of cause and effect - the theory of karma, meaning "action," or "the effect of action"


Hinduism has two core belief systems: 1) What they believe about the source of evil and suffering, and, 2) what they believe about life after death.

1. What Hinduism believes about the source of evil and suffering

The first core foundational belief of Hinduism is the doctrine of karma which claims that all good actions produce good effects and bad actions produce bad. The fruit of good deeds bring pleasure and enjoyment, while the fruit of bad deeds cause suffering and pain to the doer. Either action brings on an energy that comes back, much like a boomerang effect to the doer. Hindus believe that all suffering is due to one’s own past actions, in this or in a previous life. While Hinduism does not believe in fatalism, it does believe one’s future is the product of one’s own actions.(9)

Some Christians have equated the doctrine of karma with the Christian doctrine of sowing and reaping, as stated in Galatians 6:7… whatever a man sows, that he will also reap . While the sowing and reaping doctrine is a principle in life, meaning our actions do have consequences for good or evil, danger comes when it is believed that every experience in life is a consequence of one’s own past action, which borders on the belief of the doctrine of karma. This kind of thinking brings on guilt and condemnation, which violates New Testament teaching. We live in a sinful world; there are times when accidents or other negative things do happen to innocent people, regardless of one’s actions. While we pray and believe for God’s protection, there are certain things that are just happen in this sinful world.

2. What Hinduism believes about life after death

The second core belief of Hinduism is the doctrine of reincarnation, called samsara. It is believed that it is impossible that all of one’s karma could be experienced in one’s lifetime; furthermore, according to the Hindu writings, one needs to be reborn after death back into this world – in another body. That body could be another human, animal or even a lower nature life. Who or what they become depends on how their past life was lived. If their life was filled with evil or suffering, their new life would be that of a lower nature; if successful, they received a higher new life. Because the belief that reincarnation could bring on lower lives of nature, the protection of any human, animal, or even plant life is protected under Hinduism. This is the main reason why some Hindus are vegetarians.
The Caste system: Associated with reincarnation is the caste system .

It begins at birth and it believed that one’s lot in life is dependent on one’s past life. According to Hindu teaching, there are four basic castes or social classes (including thousands of sub-groups). Each has its own rules and obligations pertaining to nearly every facet of life. The top rank includes the Brahmins or priests, followed by the class of the warriors and rulers. It is then followed by the class of the merchants and farmers. The lowest cast is the laboring class. Salvation is possible only for the top three castes. All others would have to be reborn again and again until they reached a higher level. Outside the caste system are the untouchables or outcastes. Many who live in the countryside are considered outcastes. It's understandable to see why the chief aim of a Hindu would be to experience release from the cycle of death and rebirth caused by karma. Hindus call this liberation moksha – their salvation.

There are four goals in life that are permissible to Hindus

Throughout the course of many lifetimes, Hindus can legitimately allow the following things (or aims) in life. The first called kama is pleasure or enjoyment, particularly through love and sexual desire. The second aim in life, called artha, is to have wealth and success. The third aim in life, called dharma, is moral duty to oneself and others by renouncing personal pleasure and power to seek the common good. The final aim in life, called moksha, is the liberation from the cycle of lives in this material world, and entrance into Nirvana.

Three ways of salvation

The chief aim in Hinduism is to gain release from the cycle of reincarnation caused by bad karma -the consequences of past actions, in this or in previous lives. There are three primary ways to gain their salvation (moksha): 1) karma yoga), meaning social duties that overcome the results of bad karma, 2) jnana yoga, meaning learning (knowledge) the cause of the bondage to the cycle of rebirths, or avidya, meaning ignorance. Each results in good or bad karma and the rebirth to a lower or higher nature in the next life. Salvation can be achieved through attaining a state of consciousness in which one realizes his identity with Brahman through deep meditation, often as a part of the discipline of yoga. The term yoga means to yoke or join, suggesting the union of self with the Highest Self (Brahman). It is the means to integrate the body with the mind and the lower self with the higher self. Through this practice, it is said that one can achieve perfection of the physical, mental and lower selves and prepare ones journey into higher consciousness through the awakening of kundalina (meaning “the Devi who is concealed in the internal dhooni or smouldering fire pit”(10) and other latent powers within. Done as a physical exercise, it is claimed that yoga aids in keeping the body and mind in perfect balance and at peace. 3) bhakti yoga, meaning self-surrender to one of the many gods or goddesses, pleading for mercy to be released from the cycle of reincarnation. This is more favored by the common people of India and is expressed through acts of worship at the temple, or home, through participation in the many festivals to honor the gods. It can also be accomplished through pilgrimages to one of the many holy sites in India.(11)

The practice of yoga today in the United States

The practice of yoga has become very popular in today’s society throughout the United States as a way of relaxation and meditation. Even Christians practice this physical exercise, having no idea that it is prevalent in the New Age movements, with its roots steeped in Hinduism.

The difference between Christianity and Hinduism

Hinduism: god created the world as a “playful” exercise of His power.
Christianity: God created the world out of love for mankind.

Hinduism: Man is divine at the core of his being – one with god. Man, however, is ignorant and deceived by his focus on this temporal and material world. This gives rise to acts that result in bad karma and traps him in the cycle of reincarnation to reach the oneness with deity.
Christianity: God is holy and righteous. As His creation, we are accountable to Him for the way we conduct our lives. Man became alienated from God by sinful rebellion.
Hinduism: Hindu grace sees no need for the atonement for sin. Salvation from the cycle of reincarnation is achieved by man’s own efforts--good works, meditation, or devotion to a deity.
Christianity: God’s Son became a man, died a sacrificial death on the cross, making real forgiveness possible to those who place complete trust in Him. He offers salvation and eternal life with Him!
Hinduism: Reincarnation, the belief in the cycle of death and rebirth is part of Hinduism.
Christianity: The Bible states in Heb 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.

Today, there are over a billion followers, making Hinduism the world’s third largest religion (after Christianity and Islam). About 80% of India's population regard themselves as Hindus, as well as 30 million more Hindus live outside of India. There are a total of 900 million Hindus worldwide.(12)

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End Notes

(1) http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2579
(2) ibed
(3) http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/index.shtml
(4) http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/hindu.html
(5) ibed
(6) ibed
(7) http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_sects.asp
(8)http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/worship/worship.shtml (9) http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/karma.asp
(10)http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Kundalina/id/148754
(11) http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/hindu.html
(12) ibed