World Religions Fact Sheet: Exploring Hinduism
Hinduism is a religion practiced in many forms. Most Hindus do accept the Vedas as sacred writings, honor many deities, and most importantly, follow the caste system, a social class system that determines where a person works, with whom he socializes, and whom he marries. Today, there are hundreds of castes. The lower levels exist to serve the higher levels.
Hinduism has no single founder but developed from the 1500s BC through several stages, each marked by certain characteristics. Originally, Hindus focused on the following the sacred writings and keeping rules set up by the priests. Today, Hindus more often focus on the inner practice of meditation to reach enlightenment and/or worship of a specific personal god.
Locations: There are about 800 million Hindus worldwide, with many in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Surinam, and Trinidad. One million live in the US.
Sacred Writings: The writings considered sacred depend upon the type of Hinduism practiced. The four Vedas, a compilation, are the earliest and considered most sacred, and focus on priestly ritual. The Upanishads (commentaries on the Vedas) tend to focus more on withdrawing from the world to focus on one’s inner experience. The Bhagavad-Gita, the Sutras, the Code of Manu, and the Puranas may also be considered sacred.
God: Though Hinduism is primarily pantheistic (all things make up one non-personal God called Brahman), in everyday life Hindus worship many gods that are part of the bigger one God. Some branches such as Bhakti Hinduism say that choosing to worship one god is enough for salvation. Some forms of Hinduism suggest God is expressed as three: Brahama created the universe; Vishnu maintains it; and Shiva destroys it when it’s beyond repair so a new universe can be created.
Jesus: For many Hindus, Jesus was a man who reached enlightenment. He is not Savior, or God, and He did not rise from the dead. Some forms of Hinduism would allow worship of Jesus as one’s god as a personal preference.
Humans: The human soul (called atman) makes up part of God, like water drops in an ocean, but humans have forgotten their identity in God and need enlightenment.
Sin: The problem is not that humans have offended a personal God (sin) but that they are unaware they are actually one with God. So, they need enlightenment.
Salvation: Salvation is the release from the cycle of reincarnation and reabsorption back into God (moksha) when after many cycles one finally realizes he is one with God (Brahman).
Afterlife: A person is destined to die and return in another body, whether as a worm or a male human of the highest caste. The law of karma, or cause and effect, determines at what level a person will be reincarnated, bad deeds yielding very bad prospects. One hopes to eventually reach a high enough level to be released from the cycle and be reabsorbed into God (Brahman).
Avatar: This is an incarnation of a god. Krishna, for example, was considered an incarnation of Brahman. Human being incarnation of a god and will worship them.
Brahma: the personal God who created all; Brahman: the God who is everything (like a force)
Caste: The class/level of society into which a person is born. Karma justifies the caste system because Hindus believe people return into whatever class they earned during their previous life. So Hindus may not help a suffering person since they believe that person is working off karmic debt and to interfere would only make the sufferer have to work harder to pay the debt.
Karma: Karma is the natural law of cause and effect in that whatever one does in this life good or bad, impacts the next. t is not the same as the Christian view of what a man sows he reaps because in Hinduism there is no personal, moral God against whom someone is sinning.
Mantra: A word or a phrase repeated to help a person reach enlightenment through an altered state of consciousness.
Maya: Since the only real entity is Brahman, everything in the world is really illusion, or maya.
“OM”: Hindus repeat this syllable to reach an altered state of consciousness and enlightenment.
Reincarnation: After death, a person comes back in another body, animal or human, based upon the law of karma. In the East (such as India) reincarnation is dreaded because reincarnation traps a person into returning over and over to a suffering life, with the added fear that making one mistake will result in a reincarnation to a lower level. The goal, then, is NOT to be reincarnated but to be reabsorbed into Brahman, which can only occur with enlightenment. Only in the West has reincarnation become a positive concept due to New Age thinking.
Sanskrit: The holy language developed by Hindu priests for recording the holy writings. The language has never actually been spoken by any people group (it is not a living language).
Yoga: Though popularized in the West as simply relaxing exercise, Hindus practice yoga to attain altered state of consciousness.
1. Bhakti Hinduism-This branch says devotion to just one god (of one’s own choosing ) is enough for salvation and this is one of the most common forms of Hinduism now. Devotion to Vishnu is common. Also, when a goddess such as Durga or Kali is worshipped it is called Shakti Hinduism.
2. Hare Krishna- Krishna was one of the most well-known Bhakti gods and developed into its own movement, with 5 main teachings: Krishna is the highest form of personal god. For salvation, one must chant the Krishna mantra “Hare Krishna” 1000 times a day. The Bhagavad-Gita is the inspired holy writing. Devotion to God includes eating no meat, caffeine, sweets or sex for pleasure. Responsibilities include distributing literature.
3. Sai Baba-This movement focuses on an ancient holy man whose current incarnation is worshipped as God, currently Satya Sai Baba, who is said to perform miracles.
4. Vedantic Hinduism
Keys to Sharing Christ with a Hindu:
1. Do ask questions and listen. Remember that knowing a person is Hindu may not tell you very little about what she believes and practices in daily life.
2. Do be aware that many Hindus are vegetarians, even excluding eggs from their diets.
3. Hinduism proclaims itself to be tolerant and accepts other religions as valid alternative ways to “God.” Hindus often say that there is no such thing as true or false. Remind them that even that statement is either true or false (it can’t be both).
4. Worship may include caring for a statue of a family’s god or many gods. While they do not believe the statue itself is a god, they do believe that a god dwells in the statue in a mystical way as long as the statue is dressed and cared for. Hindus celebrate each god’s “day of descent” (2, 210) like a birthday. Hindus may have a shrine in their home.
5. Be careful to clarify that “trusting Christ as Savior” requires giving up all other gods. Many Hindus respond easily to the gospel because they believe there are many gods and quickly accept Jesus as Savior because they don’t want to miss one.
6. Be encouraged. Christianity offers what Hinduism cannot: the true love of Christ. Hindus, like all humans, know in their deepest hearts that they are not god—that they are imperfect and sin. Christ offers true hope for sin and true release from the hopeless cycle of reincarnation.
1. Ron Rhodes, World Religions: What You Need to Know, Quick Reference Guide, Eugene, Oregon, Harvest House Publishers, 2007.
2. Winfried Corduan, Neighboring Faiths, Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press 1998.