What do Hindus believe? What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is the world's third largest religion with over 900 million followers. This vast religious system includes over 80% of India's population that practices some form of Hinduism. In the United States, there are over one million Hindus.
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The origin of Hinduism can be traced back to the Indus valley civilization around 4000 to 2200 B.C. Much of its history is uncertain. However, it is clear that around 4,000 years ago a developed group of people lived in Northwest India. The major influences of Hinduism occurred when nomadic, Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India (around 1500 B.C.) from Russia and Central Asia. They brought the religion of Vedism (an ancient religion that included chanting and sacrifices). Their beliefs mixed with the local Indian native beliefs. Religious principles mixed, including the Hindu beliefs of reincarnation, multiple gods (polytheism), and the spiritual unity of humanity (monism or "one ultimate reality").
Over time, this religious mix of ideas grew through written scriptures known as the Vedas. Originally passed down orally, these ideas were written down between 1400 and 400 B.C. The Hindu scriptures are massive, and consist of:
The Veda: The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Veda, which literally means "wisdom" or "knowledge." The Vedas contain hymns, prayers, and ritual texts. The four Vedas are the Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajuraveda, and the Artharvaveda.
The Upanishads: The Upanishads are a collection of writings composed between 800-600 B.C. that marked a change to mystical ideas about humanity and the universe, particularly noticeable in the idea of the Brahman and the atman (the self or soul). The Upanishads came to have a great influence on Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
The Ramayana: The Ramayana is one of the two major epic tales of India, the other being the Mahabharata. A sage-poet named Valmiki wrote the Ramayana that consists of 24,000 couplets describing the life of Rama, a righteous king who was supposedly an incarnation of the God Vishnu.
The Mahabharata: The Mahabharata is the second epic. It is the story describing the deeds of the Aryan clans. It consists of some 100,000 verses composed over an 800-year period beginning about 400 B.C. Contained within this work is a great classic, the Bhagavad Gita, or the "Song of the Blessed Lord."
The Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita is the most sacred of all Hindu books and is also the best known and the most read of all Indian works in the entire world. This is despite the fact it was added late to the Mahabharata sometime in the first century A.D. The story in the Bhagavad Gita describes man's duty, which, if carried out, will bring nothing but sorrow. This story has had great impact on Hindu belief in its endorsement of bhakti, or devotion to a particular god, as a means of salvation.
Since Hinduism does not share a unified system of beliefs, all that can be done here is to identify its main concepts in comparison with the Bible.
God: In Hinduism, God (Brahman) is believed to be unknowable, the one impersonal, ultimate, spiritual reality. Hindus claim that there are 330 million gods. The Bible, in contrast, teaches there is one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—who can be personally known. God is all-powerful and omnipresent, but is not monistic (God as everything).
Creation: Hindus accept various forms of pantheism and reject the Christian concept of creation where God is separate from his creation (Genesis 1:1). According to Hinduism, Brahman alone exists; everything (the universe, earth, man, rocks, animals, fire, etc.) is ultimately an illusion (maya). Brahman caused the illusion of creation. There is no beginning or conclusion to creation, only endless repetitions or cycles of creation and destruction. History has no value since it is based on an illusion.
Humanity: The eternal soul (atman) of each human is supposedly a manifestation of Brahman mysteriously trapped in the physical body. A person must live repeated lives or reincarnations called Samsara before the soul can be liberated (moksha) from the body. On the other hand, the Christian God says each person is important. God created all people, including you (Genesis 1:26-27), so you could freely choose to know and love Him (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-10).
Sin and Salvation: Hindus have no concept of rebellion against a holy God. There is no clear plan of salvation in Hinduism. Moksha (freedom from infinite being and final self-realization of the truth) is the goal of existence. Yoga and meditation are taught by gurus (religious teachers) and are supposedly ways to attain moksha. Hindus hope and strive to eventually leave the cycle of reincarnation. In contrast, Christianity teaches that one's personality, soul, body, and mind are important to God and unique. God desires to have a personal relationship with every person, not have people become a part of Him.
Jesus: Jesus is not seen as the Messiah, God's Son, or as physically resurrected. He was simply a man who realized his divine nature. In contrast, the Bible presents Jesus as God's perfect Son, holy, divine (second person of the Trinity), resurrected, and also fully human.
Hinduism stands in complete contrast with the Bible's view on many of the key issues of life. Hinduism is not just another way to God; it is a completely opposing system of belief that promotes worship of a multitude of gods. Ultimately, the Bible compels Hindus to leave their beliefs and come to faith in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) and calls Christians to share the message of Jesus with Hindus whenever possible (Matthew 28:18-20).
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