Religions of the World: Hinduism
Rev. Sandy Johnson
April 12, 2015
We begin today a new series about five faith traditions besides Christianity. We will be delving into Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and then finish with Christianity. You may be asking yourself, why are we learning about other religions? Why is Pastor Sandy presenting this series? I have several agendas actually in presenting this sermon series.
The first is to talk about how we treat others, how we accept those who are different than we are. We have already dealt with race and gender earlier this year and I think it is important to also talk about how we treat those who believe differently that we do. Are we called to convert the Hindus and Jews to Christianity? Or should we simply accept them as they are, respecting that they have found a faith tradition that is meaningful for them?
In the United Methodist Tradition, as a general rule we are accepting of everyone, regardless of pretty much anything. Jesus gave us the new Covenant, to love one another as he has loved us. That’s what being a Christian means; that is how we demonstrate our faith, they will know we are Christians by our love.
But how do we treat someone who believes differently? There are daily news reports about adherents of different faith traditions inflicting atrocities on others. We have to educate ourselves so that we know and understand what it means to be a Muslim or a Jew; it is up to us to know enough so that we can eliminate ignorance and hate.
How should we as Christians view other religions? We are in the majority faith, with one third of the world’s population claiming Christianity; one-fifth are Muslim, one-seventh Hindus; five percent Buddhist. “Judaism has approximately 14 million adherents. That is a very small part of the world’s population; yet Judaism is central to a study of religions because the two largest faith traditions, Christianity and Islam, are both linked to Judaism.”
In the United States we have a mix of people from a variety of faith traditions living next door to one another. Some have no faith tradition at all. Most are seeking the “truth,” most long to understand their purpose in life and to make sense of their world; many seek to understand God or the divine being. There are three ways to look at our non-Christian brothers and sisters. We can chose to adopt a pluralist perspective, allowing that all paths lead up the mountain to the same Creator God. With this view people try to show respect and acceptance for others, especially those who adhere to a different faith tradition.
A second perspective is just the opposite, it is the exclusivist perspective. This perspective says that “all who do not accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will be condemned to hell.” This perspective doesn’t take into consideration that faithful or devout persons may be earnestly seeking God, but because they are not following Jesus, they are condemned. Many exclusivists point to John 14:6 as their proof text: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This way of seeing our world seems to me to be “inconsistent with the way God interacts with people in the bible. It does not mesh with the very spirit of the gospel, which tells of God’s love for a broken world. And it paints a picture of God that even a lost soul finds difficult to fathom – a God who punishes two-thirds of the world’s population because they were not born in a predominantly Christian culture.” Jesus walked on the earth, seeking lost souls and offering a new life. I can’t imagine this same Jesus turning his back on someone who never had an authentic opportunity to learn about him and accept him.
“I cannot imagine Jesus responding to such a person by saying, “Away from me! For though you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, worshiped my Father, bowed in prayer daily, and sought to submit your life to God, you never personally invited me to be your Savior.” This seems utterly inconsistent with the actions of Jesus in the Gospels.”
A third perspective is called the inclusivist perspective. “This position maintains that God is at work among all people everywhere, even where there is no Christian witness. The inclusivist Christian believes that Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God: God’s Word made flesh. Therefore, all other religious truth claims must be measured in the light of Jesus. Inclusivists believe that Jesus is the most complete picture of God. His life, death, and resurrection are the good news for all people.”
With this in mind, remember that God hasn’t written off those who haven’t yet come to understand the fullness of the Gospel, in fact he continues to be actively involved in reaching these non-Christians. “Instead, with divine mercy, wisdom, and grace, God may actually work through their religious practices to seek to draw them near. Even if those of other faiths have yet to understand or accept God’s definitive Word to them, God accepts the intent of their hearts – that they are reaching and yearning – and God credits this to them as faith. Inclusivists would note that it is Jesus Christ who saves us and that faith is our only prerequisite to salvation according to the Christian gospel. People of other religions may not understand or have knowledge of the gospel, but their service to God is a demonstration of the fact that they do have faith.”
So this bring us back to the question about John 14:6; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What does this suggest? In this text Jesus is speaking to his disciples before his death and he is doing his very best to convince them that he is the Messiah, that he is God incarnate, God in the flesh. It may mean that the only way to be with God in eternity is to be a Christian, to claim Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is also possible that it means that “no one will come before God and enter God’s eternal realm without passing before Jesus, since Jesus and the Father are one,” so this scripture simply states that fact.
It may also mean that another way of “understanding the text…is simply to recognize that, while the merits of Jesus Christ’s death are essential for all persons to enter heaven, it is up to God to apply those merits as God chooses. So if anyone – for instance, a faithful Hindu who has never had the opportunity to know Christ – were admitted to heaven, this gift of salvation would have been possible because of Christ’s work on the cross. God could choose to give this gift of salvation to someone, based upon his or her faith, even though the individual did not know to call upon the name of Jesus.”
I have spent quite a bit of time in introduction to this morning’s topic, really it is an introduction to the entire series – a framework to understand and process the information that is to come. It will be up to all of us to wrestle with the different perspectives and come to our own decision about which perspective we will adopt. So, let’s turn to the faith tradition for this morning.
Hinduism first began in India somewhere between 3800 – 2200 B.C.E., Before the Common Era. To put in perspective, Abraham was alive in 2000 B.C.E. Hindus believe in one true god, although some would say that they have as many as 330 million gods and goddesses. Although they speak about many gods, they acknowledge that there is only one god, but at times this god takes many forms.
“The Hindu word for God, at least a word for God, is Brahman. By this Hindus mean that God is above all and yet in all. God is unknowable, beyond personality, holding all wisdom. To be caught up in God is to experience complete bliss (nirvana). All of life emanates from God, and our soul is actually part of God. ” The Hindu representation of god is impersonal and although God is a life force it is not a personal being.
“Yet there is a second, very different conception of God in Hinduism – of God as personal. As Hindus have explained it, the multitude of Hindu gods and goddesses in reality are but manifestations of the one God. They represent different ways of knowing the attributes and character of God. Human beings long to know God in a personal way; so Hindus believe that God is manifested to humankind in a variety of forms, such as the gods Vishnu and Shiva.
“It is true that Hindus will worship before statues of gods. Worshipers offer sacrifices to each god. But the informed Hindu believes that all these are really just different manifestations of the one God.” Through the stories and manifestations Hindus are trying to connect with God in a personal way, in much the same way as other faiths utilize icons, windows really to see spiritual truth, not objects of worship themselves.
“Hinduism holds that the human soul – which actually is God within us – longs to be reunited with God. This God within us is known as Atman. Because God is part of us and God is perfect, we cannot be marred with sin. We simply are ignorant. We do not fully understand the reality or what it really means to be human.”
Hindus believe “we are not born sinners, because we have divinity in ourselves. We have the divine spirit in us, through which we can do great things. But we are ignorant of that. That’s why we do all kinds of bad things.” “So our struggle is not with sin but with ignorance. If we do bad things, even though we have God within us, it is because we do not understand. We do not recognize spiritual truth, and we do not recognize our destiny. We need to gain knowledge.”
Hindus believe we can find salvation in spiritual knowledge that in turns sets us free. Having this spiritual knowledge leads followers to do good works or dharma. Literally the word dharma means “duty.” By striving for spiritual knowledge and doing good works, Hindus believe that they can “be released from this life and ultimately achieve nirvana.”
Karma is a law that Hindus follow in which they literally store up Karma by doing good works, or bad through their thoughts or deeds. So doing good deeds would produce good karma, doing wrong or making bad decisions would produce bad karma. At the end of your life all the good is totaled up, the bad is subtracted and if you end your life with more good than bad you are reincarnated at a higher level than the current life. This cycle of birth, death and rebirth continues Hindus believe, until you finish life with no bad karma and at that point you reach nirvana. The cycle of life, death and rebirth is ended and you are set free.
“The ultimate goal of life as a Hindu, is to unite your soul with the Eternal Soul. But it’s not easy to do, so you have to go through several cycles of birth and death, and practice yogas” which include learning, devotion, action and contemplation. Once knowledge is attained and all of the bad karma is eliminated, nirvana is achieved, you are united with God. Some Hindus believe that at nirvana they “become like a drop of water in a vast ocean, individuality and distinctness forever lost. Other in Hinduism believe there is a sense in which we remain somewhat distinct, perhaps like a fish that dwells in the ocean but is distinct from it.”
Some of these beliefs sound familiar to our own, don’t they? “In Hinduism, God is in everything and everything is part of God. In Christianity and Judaism, God is distinct from creation. We look upon the creation as God’s handiwork, a reflection of the Artist, but not he Artist himself. We are made in God’s image, but are not to be confused with God.”
This distinction is key to our differences – God lives within us but we are not God, our souls are distinct from God. Hindus long to have a personal relationship with God and strive for multiple reincarnations to achieve what we have found in our close personal transformation relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ. “For Hindus, such a relationship is possible only for the giants of the faith, those who are near nirvana.”
Hindus utilize images, statues and other icons in their worship of God. As Christians we follow the Old Testament teachings not to make or worship idols. We do this not only because it would be impossible to create something that did justice to the image of God but also to avoid worshipping a thing instead of the Creator.
There is tremendous difference between Christian and Hindu interpretation of the human condition and salvation. As Christians we struggle with sin and as much as we try, we aren’t able to make it on our own. Only through God’s help, through the work of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice Jesus made for us can we receive God’s grace, not by works but by grace alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” With Christianity our work, our good deeds, are a response to God’s love and grace and the gift of salvation we receive.
I do see similarities with karma and our Christian faith. Galatians 6:7-8 says
7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
Probably the most dramatic difference between Hinduism and Christianity is what happens when we die. With our faith we believe not only do we only die once but that we go to be with those who have predeceased us and to live in heaven with God. The Hindu tradition is one of repeated incarnations until they finally “get it right.” When we die and go to be with God, we will be welcomed and finally receive our rest.
I hope that when you come across someone from the Hindu faith you will demonstrate respect and love, knowing that although our traditions and beliefs differ, we are all beloved children of God. Let us pray:
Gracious God, we may never fully understand your greatness and the immense magnitude of your creation and realm, but we do know that you love us. As we study other religious traditions give us the courage to embrace them or reject them but never allow us to reject the people they represent. Remind us that you are love and we are called to love one another. Amen.
 Hamilton, Adam. Christianity and World Religions: Wrestling with Questions People Ask. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 2005. Page 21
 Hamilton, Page 23