Hinduism and Christianity:
How Does Hindu Teaching Compare to the Bible?
Hinduism compared to Christianity and the gospel of Jesus Christ: What about such Hindu concepts as polytheism, pantheism, idolatry, reincarnation, karma, nirvana, and meditation?
How does Hinduism compare to Christianity and the gospel of Jesus Christ? How do Hindu gods such as Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Rama, and Krishna compare to the God of the Bible? Should people accept polytheism, pantheism, and the use of images (idolatry)? What about Hindu concepts of reincarnation, karma, nirvana, and meditation? Should a Christian accept or oppose Hinduism?
The purpose of this study is to compare the main doctrines of Hinduism to the teachings of the Bible. Can Christian teaching be harmonized with such Hindu concepts as polytheism, pantheism, idolatry, reincarnation, karma, nirvana, and meditation?
Influence of Hinduism
Hinduism is gaining significantly in influence in the U.S.A. and western cultures.
Hinduism has several missionary movements:
(1) Ramakrishna Mission
(2) Krishna Consciousness Society - The Hare Krishna movement
(3) Divine Light Mission
(4) Transcendental Meditation
As evidence of the success of these movements, consider:
(1) The Krishna Consciousness movement claims it is "gradually becoming the most popular movement in the entire world, especially amongst the younger generation" (BG, p. xi). It has built palaces in the United States and its devotees are often seen in airports and other public places.
(2) Many popular musical groups have songs that relate to Hindu themes including Moody Blues, The Who, John McLaughlin, John Lennon, and George Harrison of the Beatles.
(3) Transcendental Meditation has become extremely popular.
(4) Games such as "Dungeons and Dragons" and similar computer games are filled with Hindu concepts.
(5) The New Age Movement also promotes Hindu ideas.
Definition of Hinduism
The term Hinduism refers to the religious and social institutions of India. We are concerned mainly with the religious aspects, but both are tied together and are referred to by the term.
Hinduism developed progressively, so modern Hinduism differs from its historical roots. We will consider mainly present beliefs and practices.
There is much variation and sectarianism in Hinduism as in other religions. The views we discuss will generally be held in common by most, if not all, Hindus.
[See bibliography for sources cited.]
Hindu Religious Authority
The highest written authorities in Hinduism are the Vedas of which there are four chief ones: Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharva-Veda, and Yajur-Veda.
The Brahmanas are authoritative commentaries on the basic Vedas. Upanishads and Aranyakas are more recent writings generally considered authoritative.
Lesser authorities include the epic poems Ramayana and Mahabhrata. The latter includes the Bhagavad-gita (BG, p. 24). These are not considered quite as high in authority, yet in practice they have had greater popular influence.
"The Absolute Truth is contained in the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in the world. The essence of the Vedas is found in the Bhagavad-gita, a literal record of Krishna's words" - Statement of Krishna Consciousness (Back, inside front cover; cf. BG, p. 13).
In addition, the highest caste called the Brahmans (religious teachers) are considered authorities.
Hindus do not claim these authorities were all revealed by a deliberate act of God (as the Bible claims to have been). In general Hindus believe God is everywhere in nature, and godly men can perceive the truth revealed within or around them. These Scriptures are viewed as truths these godly men have perceived from their own study. The Bhagavad-gita, however, does claim to be the very words of Krishna.
I. The Doctrine of God
A. The Hindu Concept of God
Hindus believe that God is ultimately an impersonal, eternal force, essence, or power of existence, which has none of the attributes or characteristics of persons (such as knowing, thinking, loving, etc.). This force is called Brahman.
God (Brahman) is present everywhere in everything in nature, especially in all living things: every plant, every animal, and especially every man.
Brahman can be thought of as a sort of spirit force which has no personal qualities, but which pervades everything in the Universe. The attributes of personality are believed to exist only in physical, material things. But God, in pure form, is impersonal and has no personal characteristics.
This impersonal essence, pervading all things, is also found within us. Hence, the "spirit" within us is Divine. It is part of God. The real inner you is God. Your inner essence is the essence of Deity.
Our eternal souls are "part and parcels of God." "The soul is a small God" (Back - inside front cover and page 6).
When you are aware of it, you begin to notice everyday references to such concepts - consider, for example the "Force" in the Star Wars movies. It is also part of the New Age Movement.
This Divine Essence manifests or expresses itself in the physical world in the form of physical beings that have personality. As such, Deity is manifested in many gods of many forms.
There are three Supreme gods: (1) Brahma, the creator, (2) Vishnu, the preserver, and (3) Siva, the destroyer. These are generally recognized as equal. Certain sects, however, emphasize one or the other, while recognizing the others too.
Avatars are incarnations of these gods who have come to earth as men. The best known are avatars of Vishnu: (1) Rama, and (2) Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita.
There are also many lesser deities having various levels or realms of authority. Some rule over certain areas of the earth or certain aspects of nature, such as fire, sun, wealth, water, etc. These can be reincarnated to various higher or lower positions.
Dead ancestors and religious teachers are also worshiped.
This worship often involves the use of many images.
The worship of various deities and images is popular among the people. The concept of the all-pervading Brahman is mainly theoretical among the religious leaders.
Hinduism has no concept of Creation in the Biblical sense. To Hindus, God forms physical beings from things already existing or from Himself, but He did not create out of nothing.
[WR140-142; EB-III, 1011ff; EB-XI, 577ff; EB-XII, 182f]
B. The Bible Concept of God
God possesses the characteristics of a personal spirit Being.
The Bible says that God is spirit (John 4:24), and is not flesh and blood (Matt. 16:17).
However, His characteristics are those of a living, personal, individual Being. These include the following:
* He lives (John 5:26).
* He loves (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-11).
* He speaks (Matt. 3:17)
* He works (John 5:17,20)
* He knows (Matt. 6:8,32)
* He wills (Matt. 7:21)
* He sees (Matt. 6:4,6,18)
God is not just an impersonal force, nor does He need a physical body in order to possess personal characteristics. God is spirit, not material or physical, and yet He possesses the characteristics of a personal individual.
Man is not Divine.
Spiritually man is in the image or likeness of God (Gen. 1:26f; 5:1; 9:6; James 3:9; 1 Cor. 11:7). But our inner being is not Divine, not of the essence of God, and not to be worshiped. To believe we are Divine is blasphemous.
Acts 10:25,26 - Peter refused to accept worship from Cornelius because Peter himself was "a man." [Cf. Rev. 22:8,9; 19:10]
Acts 14:15 - When the people of Lystra tried to offer sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas as gods (v8-18), the inspired men said the people should cease such practices and worship the living God. They said they were men of like passions with those attempting to worship them.
1 Samuel 15:29 - God is not a man.
It is not true that our inner essence is that of God. Therefore, it is not right to worship any man, neither ancestors nor religious teachers.
[See also Matt. 23:8-12; Ezek. 28:2,6-10; Gen. 3:5; Acts 12:22,23; Isa. 55:8,9; Heb. 2:7; John 10:33; Num. 23:19]
There is only one true God.
Three separate Beings possess Deity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But unlike Hindu deities, these three are completely united in will, goals, purposes, etc. All have complete authority over all aspects of creation (in contrast to one over fire, one over wealth, etc.). Hence, they are completely united to form one God (John 17:20,21).
Deuteronomy 4:35-39 - The Lord is God and there is none else besides Him.
Isaiah 43:10,11 - Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior.
Exodus 20:3 - You shall have no other gods before Me.
[Isa. 44:6-8; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Matt. 4:10; 2 Cor. 6:16-18]
Use of images in worship is forbidden.
Exodus 20:4,5 - You shall not make any graven image nor bow down to such.
Acts 17:29 - Since we are God's offspring, we should not think the Godhead is like gold or silver or stone graven by art or device of men.
[Isa. 42:8,9; 40:18-26; 44:9-20; 46:1-11; 48:3-6; 41:21-24; Psa. 115:1-9; 96:5; 97:7; Lev. 19:4; 26:1; Ex. 32:1-35; 23:24; 34:12-17; Hab. 2:18,19; Deut. 16:21-17:7; 27:5; Dan. 3; Rom. 1:23,25; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 John 5:21; 1 Cor. 5:10,11; 6:9,10; 10:7,14; Rev. 21:8; 22:15; Acts 14:8-18.]
2 Corinthians 6:16-18 - What should be a Christian's attitude toward idolatry as practiced in Hinduism? We should have no agreement with it, but separate ourselves from it and do not touch it.
II. Doctrine of Human Destiny
A. The Hindu Concept of Man's Destiny
Hindus believe that, when a person dies, his spirit is given another earthly body, that of an animal, a person of another caste (social level), or a god, depending on how he lived his current life. This cycle or death and rebirth continues on and on until one is finally released.
"As the embodied soul continually passes, in the body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death" (BG-2.13).
This concept is widely believed in our society. People often speak of what they were or did "in another life."
Hindus believe that ones circumstances in life are completely determined by his previous conduct, either in this life or in previous lives. This is called "karma" (action).
Everything good and everything bad that happens to us in this life comes as a payment for our own past conduct. Nothing is ever the fruit of what others did, but always the consequences of our own conduct.
By doing good deeds in this life, therefore, one can improve his circumstances in the future, especially in future reincarnations. (BG, p. 9,10)
This term also is becoming popular and is often seen or heard in the entertainment industry - movies, music, television, etc.
The final goal is to escape or be released from the cycle of reincarnation. We should seek to be set free from birth, death, and rebirth, so that we exist in a state of pure impersonal being without a physical body.
Because we become so attached to physical existence we lose sight of our real nature as Divine Beings. To be released we must somehow recognize ourselves for what we really are and act accordingly, thereby losing our attachment to our earthly existence.
The exact nature of this final state is not clearly defined. We are somehow absorbed into the eternal Being (Brahman). Some view it as a ceasing of consciousness, others as a sense of bliss.
To the Hindu, therefore, punishment consists of continuing to exist on earth. "Eternal life" consists of ceasing to exist in a bodily form. There is no concept of a bodily resurrection.
[BG, p. 19-28; WR142-144; EB-III, 1014; EB-XI, 580; cf. Renou, 40-44]
B. The Bible Concept of Man's Destiny
Man has only one earthly life and death.
Hebrews 9:27 - It is appointed unto man once to die.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 - At death, the body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God who gave it (not to another body).
Luke 16:26 - When one has died, his destiny is fixed. He cannot pass from a destiny of suffering to one of bliss, nor vice-versa.
[Ecc. 9:5,6; 2 Cor. 5:10]
After Jesus died, His spirit was reunited with His body. Likewise after death, the spirit of each man will be reunited with his body when Jesus comes again. It will then be changed to a spirit body to receive an eternal reward.
John 5:28,29 - All in the tombs will come forth to the resurrection of life or damnation.
1 Corinthians 15:22 - As in Adam all die, so in Jesus shall all be made alive. The guarantee of this is the fact that Jesus Himself arose (v1-23).
We will come back as ourselves, not as an animal, a god, or some other person. We will be reunited with our own body, not that of someone else.
[Matt. 22:23-33; Acts 24:15; John 11:24; James 2:26]
In contradiction to the doctrine of karma, the Bible teaches that, on earth, men often do not receive fair or just rewards for their lives. [Note Luke 16:19-25; Matt. 5:11,12; Rom. 8:17,18; 1 Pet. 4:12-16; 1 Thess. 3:2-4; Acts 14:22; Heb. 11:32-38; Job 1 & 2; 2 Tim. 3:12; John 15:20; 1 Pet. 2:19-23]
Instead, when Jesus returns, He will judge all men and declare our eternal rewards on the basis of our lives, good or bad.
Acts 17:30,31 - Paul told the idol worshipers of Athens that they must repent because God has appointed a day in which He will judge all men. The proof of this is Jesus' resurrection.
2 Corinthians 5:10 - At judgment, each one will receive a reward according to the life he lived in the body, good or bad. Note that this reward is for what he did in the body - just one body, not many.
[Luke 16:19-31; Rom. 2:1-16; 14:10-12; Ecc. 12:13,14; Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-15; Heb. 9:27]
Matthew 25:46 - After judgment, men receive their eternal destinies. The righteous receive eternal life, a state of bliss, in the presence of God. The wicked receive eternal punishment, suffering and sorrow, separated from God.
Hence, both the rewards and the punishments taught in the Bible are to be received after we leave the earth, not while on the earth.
[Matt. 25:34,41; Tit. 3:7; Rom. 6:23; 1 Thess. 4:17; 5:9,10; Matt. 18:8,9; 5:10-12,22; 13:39-42; 1 Pet. 1:3,4; Rev. 20:10-15; 21:1-22:5; Phil. 3:20,21; 2 Thess. 1:5-9]
III. Doctrine of Salvation
A. The Hindu Concept of Salvation
Hindus generally do not refer to their goal as "salvation." The hope is to escape the reincarnation cycle and material existence. Other terms are used for it. Anything that pertains to leaving this material life or moving beyond it is commonly said to be "transcendental." (This term is used repeatedly in the introduction to the Bhagavad-gita.)
There are several ways taught by which this can be done. Different groups emphasize different methods, but they do not reject the methods taught by others.
Good deeds (karma)
It is believed that, if people do enough good works, especially works that are unselfish and de-emphasize material interests, they will achieve a better reincarnation. This process continues till finally one escapes reincarnation and material existence completely.
Austerity and self-denial
One must withdraw from the pleasures and personal interests of life, live as a recluse, putting no emphasis on possessions, etc. So physical life loses its hold on the person's inner being. When he dies, he is released forever.
As one learns more and more, especially by studying the Vedas, he comes to understand that his true nature is part of the Diving Being. As he fills his mind with such ideas, his thoughts and deeds are less concerned with material interests. When he dies, physical life has no power over him, so he is released.
If one continually expresses love and dedication to God, he will become so concerned for God that this life loses its attraction. When he dies, he is released from the reincarnation cycle.
This is especially emphasized in the Hare Krishna movement. It is guaranteed that, if one dies thinking proper thoughts about Krishna, he will be immediately taken out of the reincarnation cycle to the spirit realm. In order to be sure one is thinking right when he dies, his life must be filled with constant thought of Krishna.
This proper thinking comes by reading the Vedas. But especially it comes by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra (BG, pp. 19-28).
"The recommended means for achieving the mature stage of love of God
is to chant the holy names of the Lord. The easiest method for most people is to chant the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare" (Back - inside front cover).
"The Hare Krishna mantra is both a glorification of God and an appeal to be engaged in His service" (Back, p. 3).
Life (physical circumstances) is thought to be a temporary illusion (MAYA). It is not the ultimate reality. We think it is reality only because we do not understand that our inner self is part of God, which is the ultimate reality.
By deep inner meditation in his self-conscious mind, one can experience and discover his real self. This is called self-realization. As we understand this and begin to think and act accordingly, we become detached from the importance of this life. Things in this life become better, but especially when we die we are released from the reincarnation cycle.
This is the method involved in Transcendental Meditation. It is also described in the Bhagavad-gita (6.20-23).
In all these avenues, repeated reincarnations may be required as a person gradually moves to higher and higher levels till he leaves the cycle. He must bring this about by his own effort. The gods may help, but there is no concept of a Supreme Being who pays the penalty of sin on behalf of the sinner.
[WR, 144-148f; EB-III, 1014; EB-XI, 580; Renou, 40-44]
B. The Bible Teaching about Salvation
Our sins spiritually separate us from God.
Romans 3:23 - All people are guilty of sin, disobedience to God's will.
Isaiah 59:1,2 - Because of our sins, we are out of harmony and fellowship with God. He is then not dwelling within us.
It follows that, contrary to Hinduism, God cannot be found within the heart of the sinner, for He is not there. Our soul is not part of God, nor are we in fellowship with Him.
Because of this spiritual alienation from God, we will be separated from God eternally if our sins are not forgiven.
[Eph. 2:11-19; Rom. 6:23]
Because of God's love and grace, Deity came to earth in the form of man (Jesus) and died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty of man's sins.
John 3:16 - God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that those who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.
1 Peter 2:24 - Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might live.
Acts 4:12 - There is salvation in no one other than Jesus.
John 14:6 - He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Him. Hence, Hindu deities cannot save. They did not die for us.
Ephesians 2:8,9 - Our good works cannot save us apart from faith in Jesus. We ought to live good lives, worship God, pray, etc. But if we do not receive forgiveness by Jesus, none of these can save.
Matthew 6:7 - Endless repetition of certain phrases cannot save. It is vain repetition which heathen think leads them to be heard, but it is not acceptable to God.
[Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:6-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 9:11-14,23-10:18; Isa. 53:4-11; 1 Pet. 1:18,19; 3:18; Rev. 1:5; Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; John 1:29]
To receive the forgiveness God offers, there are conditions man must meet.
Believe - Mark 16:16; John 8:24. Note that this requires belief in Jesus and in His gospel. Without this faith, man cannot be saved.
Repent of sins - Acts 17:30.
Confess Christ - Romans 10:9,10.
Be baptized - Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mark 16:16
Live a faithful life - 1 Corinthians 15:58
These conditions do not earn God's forgiveness but are necessary so He will grant the forgiveness we do not deserve.
[Heb. 10:39; 5:9; James 2:14-26; Rom. 6; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:40; Phil. 2:12]
Men can learn what to do to please God only by means of Divine revelation.
Isaiah 55:8,9 - God's thoughts and ways are higher than ours like the heavens are higher than the earth.
Jeremiah 10:23 - The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.
Galatians 1:8,9 - No teaching except the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring salvation and a right relationship with God.
Meditation within oneself cannot possibly show man the truth about God or about how to have a proper relationship with God. Following any system other than the gospel leaves us in sin without hope for eternity.
[John 6:44,45; Prov. 14:12; Rom. 10:17,14; 1:16; 2 Thess. 2:14; Acts 8:26,29,35; 9:6; 11:14; 2 John 9-11]
Hinduism cannot save because it worships the wrong God, follows the wrong religious authority, seeks the wrong destiny, and teaches the wrong ways to achieve that destiny. True salvation can be found only in Jesus Christ. It can be understood only through the gospel of Jesus. And it can be obtained only by faith and obedience to Jesus' teaching.
Again, Hindus offer no objective evidence that their teachings were revealed by God or that their Scriptures are truly divine. They may try to show they are reasonable, but mainly they urge you to try it to see if you find it satisfying. If you get hooked emotionally on it, like other experiential religions, you will not likely listen to reason. But there is no valid evidence why anyone should believe it.
Only the Bible offers consistent reasonable evidence to convince the unbeliever that it is truly revealed by God. That evidence is found in fulfilled prophecy, eyewitness testimony of miracles, the resurrection of Christ, etc. Only in Christ can we have assurance for our faith.
To see the evidence that the Bible and the gospel of Jesus are the true revelation of religion, see our article on that subject on our Bible Instruction web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct/.
If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.
Back - Back to Godhead, "The Magazine of the Hare Krishna Movement; Vol. 10, No. 12.
BG - Bhagavad-gita (Hindu Scripture)
EB - Encyclopedia Britannica, 1956 edition (followed by volume and page #)
WR - The World's Religions, Norman Anderson, ed.
(C) Copyright 2001, David E. Pratte