Hinduism: The View of Other Religions
“That Hinduism has shared her lands for centuries with Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians may help explain a final idea that comes out more clearly through her than through other great religions; namely, her conviction that the various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal. To claim salvation as the monopoly of any one religion is like saying God can be found in this room but not the next…” (Smith, 73)
Hinduism is very religiously tolerant in that it views all other religions as different paths to the same goal. But it is also important to point out that Hinduism teaches all souls will be reincarnated until they reach Samadhi or another yoga’s equivalent.
It is also important to note that many of the religions mentioned here are associated with Hinduism already. Jainism and Buddhism, in particular, focus on the sannyasin stage of life in Hinduism and go about as beggars meditating on God. Sikhism arose when the Muslims took over India and religious conflict ensued; the Sikhs tried to reconcile the two religions in theirs.
But differences between Christianity and Hinduism could not be emphasized enough. For Hindus honestly believe that Christ is a reincarnation of their own god Shiva or goddess Kali. For “Many Hindus acknowledge Christ as a God-man, while believing that there have been others, such as Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha” (49).
There are several other examples of Smith comparing Hinduism and Christianity. For example, bhakti yoga uses a method called Japam in their practices. Simply repeating God’s name, over and over, Smith compares this to a Russian, Eastern-Orthodox tale in which a pilgrim desiring to know what it means to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is told to repeat the name of Christ over and over.
Most proof of the alleged connection between the two religions focuses on bhakti yoga in particular, since it is based on love and a personal God.
“[The bhakti God is] the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of philosophers [i.e. the impersonal, formless, infinite God of jnana]. It is God as parent, lovingly merciful, almighty, our eternal contemporary, the companion who understands.” (Smith, 61)
“All the basic principles of bhakti yoga are richly exemplified in Christianity. Indeed, from the Hindu point of view, Christianity is one great brilliantly lit bhakti highway toward God, other paths being not neglected, but less clearly marked.” (33)
Evidence of such claims lies in the bhakti use of the word ‘love.’ By using brotherly, conjugal, childlike and parental, it is easy to point out similarities in Christian practice. Smith reminds his readers that Christians view God as loving Father, Christ as the bridegroom of His church and of the friendship Christians strive to have with Him. There is one difficulty, however, in how Christians could possibly have a parental love for God.
“The attitude of regarding God as one’s child sounds somewhat foreign to Western ears, yet much of the magic of Christmas derives from this being the one time in the year when God enters the heart as a child, eliciting thereby the tenderness of the parental instinct.” (36)
If this is Smith’s idea of the magic of Christmas, he is sorely mistaken! Perhaps calling Christmas “the one time of year when God enters the heart as a child” is but a poor use of words; at any rate, Christians certainly do not wonder with the delight of a parent but in the awe that God has come from His throne in heaven “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8) The magic of Christmas is that Christ would love us so much as this, to enter the world as a man and die for us. It has nothing to do with “eliciting the tenderness of the parental instinct.”
This, then, is a brief Hindu argument on the connection between their own God and the Biblical one. But are they really that similar? The bhakti, personal God has already shown to be indifferent to death and suffering as well as being the creator of evil in this world; the Biblical God hates evil and sees death as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). An impersonal God of any kind is by very definition different from the Christian’s. What does Hindu doctrine have to say about God in general?
“The chief attributes to be linked with the name [Brahman] are sat, chit, and ananda; God is being, awareness, and bliss. Utter reality, utter consciousness, and utterly beyond all possibility of frustration – this is the basic Hindu view of God.” (60)
Such a deity is unapologetically Hinduistic and has nothing to do with the Christian God, whose attributes include jealousy, justice, holiness, forgiveness, mercy, and perfect, boundless, agape love. The Hindu God is also said to have two contradictory aspects.
Nirguna Brahman, the “god of philosophers” is the jnana depiction of God. Infinite and impersonal, he has no attributes, physical, emotional or otherwise, and only is.
Saguna Brahman is the bhakti God, omnipotent, personal, and attributed with love for his people (as well as the sat, chit and ananda as quoted above).
This problem is glossed over by stressing God’s infinitude and our finitude, but such contradictions are logically impossible. For if the Nirguna Brahman really is completely and infinitely without attribute, isn’t the Saguna aspect of his nature an attribute?
From just one logical contradiction, a worldview is impossible; perhaps, however, that is not a bad thing for the Hindus. I said, for example, that to say we must live our lives as though they have meaning even though we know it is illusion is arbitrary. But arbitrariness is only to be avoided when one accepts that logic exists, and that we are logically bound to have solid reasons for what we believe.
“Conceived in personal terms, God will stand in relation to the world as an artist to his or her handiwork. God will be Creator (Brahma), Preserver (Vishnu), and Destroyer (Shiva), who in the end resolves all finite forms into the primordial nature from which they sprang. On the other hand, conceived [im]personally, God stands above the struggle, aloof from the finite in every respect.” (62)
To say that God is both intimately involved in everything in his creation AND indifferently detached to it is to say that two mutually exclusive attributes are true at the same time.
But even this is not the chief problem with Hinduism; its errors run into the law of morality etched into every human being, made in the image of God.