World Religions: Hinduism

Hinduism is the third largest of the world’s religions.  It numbers about 1.05 billion.  Most of these live in South Asia (Largest Religions in the World, worldatlas.com).  More than 3 million live in the U.S.A. (Wikipedia).

Origin

The word ‘Hindu’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Shindu’ which is the local name for the Indus River.  The Greeks used the word ‘Hindu’ or ‘Indu’ to denote the country and people who lived beyond the Indus River (wikibooks).  It appears the Greeks actually adopted the word from the Persians.  In time, the dominate religion of the sub-continent became known as Hinduism, and its adherents Hindus (This is how this article will use these words).

The origin of Hinduism is unknown.  Ron Clayton has written, “Hinduism is the only religion in the world without a definite founder… It has no clearly identifiable date as to its beginning, no geographic center as its starting point” (Editor Don Simpson, The Light Shineth In Darkness, 1998 Ft. Worth Lectures, p. 326).  “Most Scholars believe Hinduism formally started somewhere between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. in the Indus Valley” (Hinduism – Facts & Summary, history.com).

Beliefs

What do Hindus believe?  This is difficult to answer.  The religious beliefs vary from individual to individual and village to village (Simpson, p. 326).  However, here are some major points of belief:

     (1) God.  Some claim to be mono-theistic.  The claim that there is one God, Brahman.  This God is personified in three forms (Trimurti): Brahma (creator); Vishnu (preserver); and Shiva (destroyer).  {This may have been borrowed from Christianity [See – God: One or Three (Part 5) by B.H.]}.  In reality, Hinduism is for most very poly-theistic.  There are wives and offspring to the three forms.  There are many avatars – (or incarnations) of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – and their wives.  There is the worship of ancestors.  There is worship of animals (e.g. the holy cow, The Temple of Rats – where it is considered a blessing to eat food which was first gnawed on by a rat, Nag Panchami or Cobra Festival).  Some say that there are as many as 300 million gods in Hinduism.

    (2) The Caste System.  The Hindu word is ‘Varna,’ meaning ‘color.’  The Hindu caste system appears to have been originally based on skin color (Simpson, p. 327).  Ron Clayton has written, “According to Hindu mythology, Brahma… issued from himself four groups (classes) of offspring.  From his head came those who would be most in his image… These were Brahmins.  These became priests, the teachers of Hindu practice, and the scribes.  Next, came the Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors, fashioned from the shoulders and upper arms of Brahma.  The third caste was called Vyshyas, from the thighs of Brahma, and destined to become merchants and tradesmen.  The last caste was from the feet of Brahma – these were the common laborers, called Sudras… But beneath the feet of Brahma were those without caste, who had no standing – the untouchables.  These outcasts were left to do the filthy and ‘unclean’ tasks of society such as sweeping streets and cleaning latrines” (Simpson, pp. 327-328; Also see: What is India’s Caste System? bbc.com).  Other teach that these caste were created by Brahma from the head, hands, thighs, and feet of the first man, Manu (Josh McDowell & Don Stewart, Handbook of Today’s Religions, pp. 289-290).

     (3) Karma (actions) and Samsara (reincarnation).  The atman (soul) is eternal.  What one’s standing is in the next life depends on the balance of good and bad karma (not only in this life, but the sum total from all lives previously lived).  One may improve his standing (e.g. attain a higher caste).  One may worsen his standing (e.g. attain a lower level caste, or even become an animal, or a plant).  If one accumulates enough good karma, reincarnation ceases.  Moksha (liberation) and nirvana (blowing out) is achieved.

     (4) Salvation.  In Hinduism man “saves” himself.  Salvation can be attained in one of the following ways: (a) Karma Marga (the path of action).  “In Karma Marga, a person is expected to avoid nisiddha karma (sinful actions) and perform nitya karma    (obligatory daily actions) without selfish motives” (hindupedia.com).  (b) Gyana Marga or Jnana Marga (the path of knowledge).  “It is Hindu asceticism” (hindupedia.com).       It involves coming to know “one is actually a part of the ultimate Brahman and not a separate entity” (McDowell, p. 293).  It involves “the use of meditative concentration preceded by a long and systematic ethical and contemplative training – to gain a supra – intellectual insight into one’s identity with Brahman” (Britannica, 1979).  (c) Bhakti Marga (the path of devotion).  It involves love and obedience to a particular deity” (McDowell, p. 293).  “The act of Bhakti or devotion can take on several forms such as listening and singing the glories of God, ritualistic worship, repetition of the divine name” (hindupedia.com).

This love of God is to manifest itself in love for others.  “If one has supreme love for God and also loves his master as God, then the light of this teaching shines in a great soul” (Svetasuatara Upanished, Part 6).  It also affects behavior.  “Let the lover of God attain renounciation” (Mundaka Upanished, Part 1, Chapter 2).

Note, our love for God should affect our behavior (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 1 John 2:5; 5:3), and our relationship with others ( Matthew 25:31-46; John 13:34;  1 John 4:7-9, 20).

Things to Consider

It must be difficult.  It takes many reincarnations for most, is the general thinking.  One source says that one receives a human body only after his soul has traveled through 8,400,000 species (Reincarnation, hindufacts.org).  I have yet to meet the person without sin.  I have not met the one with consistently perfect actions, the perfect mind of God, or consistently perfect devotion to God.

How different Christianity is.  It is by God’s grace and mercy – and not our own perfect works, perfect thoughts, or perfect devotion – that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5).  There are no do overs after this life (Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:25-26).  God is distinct from creation (Romans 1:25; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:1-2; Acts 12:21-23).

 

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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1 Response to World Religions: Hinduism

  1. Paul Lockman says:

    I have been going to India on mission trips since 1998. Before going to India I had always heard they worshiped cows. I learned from the Indian preachers that the cows have been released by their owners who have given up the value of their labor as a sacrifice to a god, thereby fitting the definition of holy.

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